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Bank exchange rates for CHF

So I went to my bank here in the US (PNC bank) to order some currency, happy that the exchange rate is around 1-1.03 USD to 1 CHF. However, when I went to the bank and talked with the teller, she came back to me with approximately a 1.12 to 1 exchange rate. Anyone know what's going on here? There are no fees associated with ordering the currency. Should I wait until I get to Switzerland to get swiss francs? I also need some euros for our 4 days in Colmar...

Posted by
1857 posts

I’ll try a guess.

The lower rate of 1.01 or so is the interbank rate. The rate large banks and institutions get when trading large sums. The higher rate your bank quotes has the fee for the exchange built into it. So instead of selling you CHF at 1.01 usd and tacking on a $ fee they’ve built it into the rate.

Posted by
11499 posts

Yes, wait until you arrive and just use an ATM associated with a bank. Your bank is making money on the exchange rate even if there are no stated fees. Same with euros: get them when you enter France but not too many and not too many Francs in Switzerland . Europe is almost cashless now but you’ll need some pocket money for small purchases.

Posted by
2796 posts

"What's going on here" is that you are not "exchanging" money, you are buying Swiss currency, and at a healthy mark-up for PNC to make money on this (and do not start me on all the bogus fees we watched PNC steal from both our daughter's student account and a non-profit account I set up for my high school reunion committee over the years).

Get to Switzerland and use your ATM card to withdraw your own funds from your bank, which will, if this is one of the many reasonable banks cited here on these boards over the years, be at a cost of under 1%. Same for euros, only you do that from an ATM in a country that is on the euro, not Switzerland.

If your bank is PNC, then I am afraid you will still be charged an unfair percentage to withdraw your cash in Europe, rather than under 1%, and they likely will also impose a 3% foreign transaction fee on each withdrawal, and likely a several dollar surcharge per transaction for using an ATM other than theirs.

Posted by
39 posts

For some reason I had in my head that it would be better to get currency here before going but thanks for correcting me. Turns out with my particular PNC account setup, I won't have any ATM fees for other banks. They will likely charge 3% as you said, but as I'm probably not withdrawing more than $100 each of CHF and Euro, I can bear the $6 in fees. Unfortunately the ATM owner will probably also charge me fees :(

Is there an easy way to exchange the foreign currency back into USD or should my goal just be to spend whatever I withdraw?

Posted by
8664 posts

Its not a cost-free transaction for your bank to get this currency to you, so they have a right to charge and make money on this service. What you've discovered is that there is no "official" government regulated exchange rate: its a free market system. My bank, for example, will charge a flat $15 fee on every such transaction, buy or sell, regardless of the amount. That's on top an unfavorable exchange rate both ways, to begin with. My other bank? Well they buy from the first bank.

No easy way to exchange back (i.e., buy USD with leftovers), without getting hosed by the money changers. My goal is to spend what I have left at the duty-free, or pop into the donation boxes. Or find someone back home who will be traveling and needs some.

Posted by
27451 posts

You might be able to use most of your leftover local currency to clear part of your final hotel bill in each area. I always like to have a bit of local currency left as I get ready to leave in case I run into a paid toilet somewhere.

I do keep some euros and British pounds at home so I have something in my wallet at the beginning of future trips.

It's true that everyone is saying much less cash is being used these days than was the case pre-COVID. Several people in Oslo have assured me virtually everything is paid by card now. The soda machine in my hotel lobby takes only cards.

Posted by
29 posts

Here is an example of why every bank has a giant skyscraper in every major city. They're soaking you. Check if they have free ATM use and get $ at the arriving airport. Wells Fargo's ATM are straight conversion on the day of, and no fee. (alert banks you're traveling before-hand)

Posted by
198 posts

Make sure you’re using an ATM machine associated with a bank. I made the mistake of using a machine that was associated with a money exchange company. I was in a hurry and didn’t pay attention and the exchange rate was horrible!

Posted by
39 posts

Another money question: can I get Euros and/or Swiss Francs from an ATM in Zurich airport or will I have to wait to find an ATM in France to get Euros?

Posted by
1594 posts

I specifically bank with a credit union that does not charge foreign ATM withdrawal fees.

Also, when using Swiss ATMs (or any local ATMs), there is usually a choice between two currencies to withdraw: the local currency and USD. Make sure you choose the former to ensure the best exchange rate.

Posted by
4604 posts

Standard recommendation to get a Charles Schwab account just for travel, no fees for withdrawals from any ATM anywhere in the world.

And just a reminder that changing money is not a favor, it's a business. So you gotta pay someone something. Don't come home with a lot of CHF, they're basically worthless anywhere else. Unlike euros.