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Created on 17.03.2023

Holiday money in a foreign currency: key things to bear in mind

Is it better to exchange my holiday money in Switzerland or withdraw cash abroad? How can I get the foreign currency I’ll need? Do I actually need cash? Will I be charged fees for using my card? Here you’ll find all the key information about paying abroad.

Planning a beach holiday with the family or a city break with friends? Perhaps you’re dreaming of a longer trip? People travelling abroad often have questions about changing money, paying and withdrawing cash. That’s hardly surprising as there are 195 countries with more than 160 official currencies worldwide. Wherever you’re heading: find out online which currency is used in your destination beforehand.

Changing holiday money into a foreign currency

You can pay with cash almost everywhere. But cashless payment is often preferred in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and the UK. It’s better not to take too much cash. But having a few notes in the local currency won’t hurt. If you’re planning a trip in the eurozone, you can withdraw euros at most ATMs in Switzerland. Ideally, change other (major) foreign currencies, such as the dollar, pound sterling or krona, at your bank in Switzerland. But exchanging money locally can be less expensive for more exotic (non-major)currencies, like the Hong Kong dollar, Thai baht or Mexican peso. It’s a good idea to check the exchange rate in Switzerland and your destination before travelling. Calculate banknote and foreign exchange rates easily online using PostFinance’s currency calculator.

Key information about foreign currencies and foreign exchange

What are foreign currencies?

Every state can issue a legal tender (currency) for its territory. The money of another state is a foreign currency. Some countries have joined currency unions which means they share a currency. One example is the euro or the Swiss franc, which is also used in Liechtenstein.

What’s the difference between currency and foreign exchange?

A currency consists of foreign exchange and notes and coins. Notes and coins are cash which means they can be changed. But foreign exchange can’t be changed as it’s checkable deposits. That means it’s converted directly in the account.

When are the banknote and foreign exchange rates used?

When changing your holiday money at the counter or withdrawing cash from an ATM, the banknote rate is used. But if you’re using your debit or credit car abroad to make purchases, the foreign exchange rate is used. Owing to the fees charged, both rates differ from the rates on the foreign exchange market where the interbank rate applies. The foreign exchange rate is usually more favourable than the banknote rate.

Where can I change money in my holiday destination?

There are bureaux de change at most airports and major railway stations, and you can often change money at hotels too – but usually at a surcharge. Avoid changing money at bank counters abroad as very high fees can be charged. Compare the current rates and go with your instincts. If you don’t think the provider is trustworthy, then look for an alternative way of changing money or use ATMs.

Sound advice on changing money

  • Order foreign currency before departure and it’s better to ask for small notes. Large banknotes are not so welcome in many countries.
  • Avoid changing money with dubious traders who operate on the beach or in tourist hotspots, for example.
  • Don’t change leftover money back at a loss. Instead use it to buy souvenirs or gifts, or keep it for your next trip.

Good to know: order foreign currencies at PostFinance

With PostFinance you can check the current rates, convert currencies online or order 70 different foreign currencies in e-finance or over the phone, which will then be conveniently delivered to your home or preferred address.

Cash withdrawals abroad

An easy way to withdraw cash is at the ATM. The debit card is generally first choice. But it’s well worth checking debit and credit card conditions with the provider before travel – and comparing them if need be. The fees charged for cash withdrawal abroad differ depending on the bank and product being used. Always opt for debits to be made in the local currency and be aware that charges can also be made by operators in countries abroad. It can work out better to occasionally withdraw larger amounts than smaller amounts continuously. Important: if you suspect your card is defective, or if it is retained, block it immediately and check how to order a replacement card.

Tips on withdrawing money abroad

  • Use the ATMs of banks. They’re generally better than providers, such as Travelex or Euronet.
  • Find out about the card limit abroad from the provider, and whether an additional currency conversion fee is charged for payments at the weekend.
  • Make sure you haven’t activated geoblocking for the country you’re visiting before setting off. Check with PostFinance and simply change this in e-finance under settings or in the PostFinance App.

Good to know: withdraw cash abroad with the PostFinance Card

If you’ve got a banking package like SmartYoung, SmartStudents or SmartPlus with PostFinance, you can withdraw money abroad free of charge with the PostFinance Card at all ATMs displaying the Mastercard logo. Do you use the Smart banking package? In that case, you pay CHF 5 per cash withdrawal abroad.

Useful tip: you can change your banking package in e-finance before departure.

Paying by card abroad

Debit and credit cards are now widely used – even for small amounts. Take a debit and credit card with you, just to be on the safe side. This gives you an alternative payment method if a card gets stolen, stops working or its limit is reached. Not all cards are accepted everywhere either. To book accommodation, rental cars or flights, for example, you usually need a credit card.

Find out more about the benefits of credit cards in our article “How does a credit card benefit me on my travels? Tips for stress-free travel abroad”.

Tips on paying by card abroad

  • Don’t forget prepaid credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere.
  • Paying by credit card often means you benefit from cashback or bonus miles.
  • It’s better to avoid more expensive dynamic currency conversion in Swiss francs and instead to pay in the local currency.

Good to know: pay with the PostFinance Card abroad

With PostFinance’s new debit card – a combination of PostFinance Card and Debit Mastercard – you can pay in all shops, hotels and restaurants abroad that accept Mastercard. PostFinance also provides various credit cards.

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