25. May 2022

How to get your holiday money cheaply

Source: K-Geld (translated by neon)

If you are travelling to Turkey this summer and need cash, the best place to get it is at an ATM at your holiday destination – with a debit card from the Swiss mobile phone bank Neon. For 10'000 Turkish liras, you have to pay just under 670 francs in Turkey (cut-off date: 3 May 2022, see table). At the counter of the Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB) it would be Fr. 743.20. That is Fr. 73.20 or almost 11 percent more.

Holidaymakers can save quite a bit if they compare the costs for cash withdrawals and consider a few points. K-Geld checked with nine major banks, the SBB travel centres, and the mobile phone bank Neon to find out how much they charge for foreign currencies when withdrawing money at home and abroad, and what conditions apply. The Migros Bank was unable to provide the requested data and information in time. The results of the comparison in detail:

Withdrawing money abroad: The sample shows that withdrawing cash with a debit card (Maestro, Postfinance Card, Visa Debit, etc.) at an ATM in a holiday destination is generally cheaper than in a bank in Switzerland – even though the banks usually charge a fee of 5 francs per withdrawal at an ATM abroad. These few francs do not matter because the exchange rate abroad is much more favourable. There, the Swiss banks usually use the favourable foreign exchange selling rate, whereas in Switzerland they use the higher note selling rate. Example: UBS clients paid 1'300 Swiss francs to withdraw 1'000 British pounds in Switzerland, but only 1'253 francs at an ATM in England. This corresponds to a difference of 47 francs or 3.75 percent. 

In a comparison of all six currencies, those who withdraw their travel money with the Mastercard Debit from neon at an ATM in their holiday domicile are the cheapest. Only customers of Luzerner Kantonalbank who use the Visa Debit Prime card at foreign ATMs pay even less. However, this special debit card is only worthwhile for frequent travellers. And it costs CHF 108 per year. 

Table only available in German

Good to know: ATM operators abroad often charge an extra fee for cash withdrawals. This reduces the advantage of the favourable exchange rate. This is often the case with ATMs at airports or tourist locations. However, such an extra fee is displayed to the customer in advance at the machine. Tip: Cancel the transaction and go to another bank's ATM. Travellers must also be careful not to select the conversion into Swiss francs offered at foreign ATMs. Otherwise, the ATM operator determines the exchange rate – and this is almost always worse than the rate of the card-issuing Swiss bank.

Withdrawing money in Switzerland: Euros, US Dollar, and British Pound are usually available immediately at the counters of the larger banks. A wider range of currencies is available at the airport branches of Credit Suisse and UBS, as well as at the larger travel centres of the SBB, and at the headquarters of the cantonal banks. At Postfinance, only Euros can be obtained.

Customers can order more exotic currencies from their bank at the counter, by telephone or online. The waiting time is usually one to three days. At Credit Suisse, you have to pick up the ordered cash at the counter. At the cantonal banks in Basel, Berne, and Zurich, as well as at Raiffeisen, you can pick up the cash at the counter or have it sent to you. At Postfinance, UBS, and the cantonal banks of Lucerne and St. Gallen, you have to have the money sent to your address. The fee for sending the money is usually 5 francs, at Postfinance it's 8 francs. At the SBB travel centres, currencies that are not in stock are available at the counter within one or two working days – or are sent straight home. The currency exchange fee at SBB Travel Centres is always 4 francs. However, this fee is waived for customers with the GA travelcard.

Exchange rate differences: For the currencies Euro and US Dollar, the exchange rate differences between the banks are not too big when purchasing at the counter or ordering online or by telephone. It is hardly worthwhile to go to a rival bank because of this – especially since there is often an additional fee for customers who don't have an account at the bank. At the Luzerner Kantonalbank, for example, this fee is 10 francs. Withdrawing Euros in Switzerland is also most advantageous with the neon debit card at an ATM – despite foreign fees.

With the other currencies compared, there are sometimes big differences when withdrawing in Switzerland: Raiffeisen, for example, charges 674 francs for the exchange of 10'000 Turkish liras. As mentioned above, the ZKB charges 743.20 francs – 69.20 francs more. For the Thai Baht, the surcharge between the cheapest and most expensive bank is 5.57 per cent in comparison, for the Croatian Kuna 6.71 and for the British Pound it's 3.55 per cent.

Change money back: Cash in foreign currencies is best spent in the holiday destination. This is because when you change it back into Swiss francs, the banks apply the unfavourable note buying rate. The banks only take back currencies they sell or distribute at their own counters. Returning exotic foreign currencies at Credit Suisse is reserved for their own customers. Postfinance only accepts Euros. And the banks generally only accept banknotes, which should be of good, resalable quality. SBB Travel Centres also change larger Euro coins.

Author: Thomas Lattmann
Date: 25.05.2022

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