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Currency exchange help??

Hi, quick question here. I am going to Switzerland on Saturday. I've been living and working in Ireland for the last few months and this is kind of a spontaneous trip. Unfortunately I didn't bring my US debit card with me to Ireland and I don't have an Irish bank account as I will be going back home to the US in a few weeks. But I have a Capital One credit card (which has no foreign transaction fees) and euros. Can I just exchange euro cash when I get to Geneva on Saturday? Is it possible/easy enough to do this in the airport?

Posted by
2263 posts

We don't exchange but I can't believe you won't find an exchange booth at the airport.
As long as you notify CapitalOne before you go you should have no problem with credit card purchases (you weren't going to do a cash advance, were you? Would work - at 15%-18% interest starting when you pull the cash). I imagine you will have to set the Swiss travel alert online since you can't call them from your home phone.

Posted by
16165 posts

Should be no problem at the airport, although you may get nicked a bit on the exchange rate. If you are there for just a short period, most places will accept euro cash (especially in Geneva) and give back the change in CHF. This might be a cheaper option than buying CHF at the rip-off airport exchange booths.

Posted by
3548 posts

To repeat Larry's warning: Using a credit card to obtain currency will be a very expensive option.

Posted by
21251 posts

There are always currency exchanges at airport. The rate is not always the best but convenient.

Posted by
4524 posts

The interest rate on a cash advance may be high, but so are the fees for exchanging currency. Pretty much a wash if you pay off the cash advance quickly.

There most certainly will be currency exchanges at the airport.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you for all of the advice! I'm only going to be there for 4 days, so it's a quick trip. Yes, I have notified Capital One that I'll be travelling so I can use my credit card with no problems. No, I am definitely NOT going to do a cash advance. Is a cash advance and exchanging euros for CHF really about the same?? That's crazy. Guess I'll find out when I get there. I plan on paying as much as possible with the credit card for convenience but wanted to have some cash too.

Posted by
5366 posts

It looks like your options are:

Use your credit card with no foreign transaction fees to pay for items.

Exchange the hard currency (euros) you bring into CHF once you are there.

Get a cash advance on your credit card

Of the options, using your credit card to pay for as many things as possible is the cheapest option, providing you do not carry a large balance month to month.

Of the other two, it is a toss up. To be honest, I do not know what the hit will be to exchange euros for CHF. Typically it would be more at an airport, if you exchange at a place that indicates "travel" in the name and rhymes with "sex", then the cost will be about 8-10% (your use of a credit card to pay for a hotel as comparision will only be about 1%) if you are lucky, you may be able to find an exchange bureau for closer to 5%. You just need to get a quote as to what exchanging say 500 euro will get you, plus add any fees, then compare to the daily interbank rate.

Credit Card cash advances get a misunderstood hard time. Not sure of the specific rates of your card, but the most typical are a $10 fee or 5% of transaction, whichever is more. Now interest of ~24% does start right away, but we will address that shortly. So for me dealing in dollars, any transaction (assuming I am doing a cash advance with a PIN at an ATM as opposed to trying to do something at a bank) over $200 is at 5%, not bad compared to trying to exchange hard currency. Now I already hear the Chorus...YEAH BUT YOU ARE PAYING 24% INTEREST IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!! To that I have two points. First, if you plan and use a card that has a zero balance (keep in mind, if you carry a balance on a credit card, you are likely paying the same interest rate on all of your CC transactions, even with "0 foreign transaction fees") then you can go online as soon as the transaction posts and pay it off, incurring typically a flat 0.50 cent interest fee. Second, say you wait and pay your bill in full when your statement arrives, worst case, in a Month. For that same $200, how much will you pay interest? At 24% APR your interest on $200 will be about $4 or 2% of the transaction, taking your total cost to 7%, more than just charging something, but likely still less than exchanging hard currency.

Posted by
9 posts

Ok, I think I understand all that. So what if I just want to withdraw 100 CHF? It's not much, but I'm only going to be there for a few days and I just want to have cash on hand for small purchases/tips. I will pay with my credit card for everything else. I guess for now I just won't exchange euros at the airport and keep an eye out for a better exchange rate. Thank you for all the advice!

Posted by
5366 posts

Well, 100 CHF is right at about 100 USD if that is your "home" currency, so if you used cash advance on a CC, for most terms , (I do not know for your card), you would wind up paying a $10 flat fee, plus 0.50 cents to $2 in interest depending how long it takes you to pay the bill. That is 10-12% cost, but for the $10-12, it may be worth it for the convienance. Exchanging from euros may be cheaper, even at the airport, but as convienent as an ATM cash advance, and no worries about repayment.

The only downside I see is if 100 CHF is not enough, a second advance also would have the $10 fee., where originally you would only pay the fee once.

Posted by
7205 posts

And 100CHF is like pocket change. Seriously! That will fly away from you like buying a pack of gum. Switzerland is expensive. I just read where the 1000Chf is THE most widely circulated denomination in Switzerland. That should give you a clue you're going to an expensive destination.

Posted by
9 posts

Hey all--thank you so much for the advice! I got back from Switzerland a few nights ago--I had a blast!! Got 110 CHF at Dublin Airport, no commission fee. It was the PERFECT amount! I used it for tips, small things and used my credit card for everything else--perfect solution! For the record, I would never have spent 1000 CHF. But then again, I was backpacking and staying in hostels. Not a big spender, just there to enjoy the scenery and the country. Had a REALLY amazing time and can't wait to go back again--totally worth it. Thank you all again for your input! :)

Posted by
26072 posts

I'm glad it worked out well for you!

I'm intrigued by the comment up-thread that the CHF1,000 is the most common note in Switzerland. I go to Switzerland every year, I have friends there, and do go as a tourist, but I have never have seen one single CHF1,000 note.

I have another friend in Lugano who tells me he never used one.

Perhaps our friends here who live in Basel, Bern, Muerren and Buchs can chime in and tell me how much they use CHF1,000 notes....

Posted by
4537 posts

CHF1000 notes make up about 60% of the note issue of the SNB by value. This compares with 30% of the Euro note issue being €500. This does not make them the most common note (only about 10%) or the most commonly used though. They are mostly a storage of value.

Swiss banknote circulation is the second highest in the world behind Japan and more than double that in the United States or the euro zone.