Moving to Switzerland (cellphone and credit card advice please)

Inspired by some of the suggestions in this thread: Can I use my iPhone in Italy? - Travel, Wine Tourism, and Restaurants Forum - WineBerserkers

So my family will be moving to Switzerland for, presumably, 2 or maybe even 3 years. I have a number of things that I need to figure out over the next 7 weeks, and I suspect that some of the very worldly Berserkers will have excellent advice on how to handle this. (Please note that I am working on getting official advice from the embassy as well.) When we are gone we will likely visit the US a few times in a year. When we are done with our overseas stint, we plan to return to our normal lives in our current house in Seattle.

  1. Cell phones: We want to obviously maintain our current US cell numbers, but we will want Swiss cell numbers and plans for the stint of our time there. I would rather not have multiple phones. While our phones are in Swiss mode, I would still like US calls to ring through. Is that possible? What are the implications for the use of the phone if/when we are back on US soil for visits?

  2. US Land line: Yes, we still have a land line in Seattle. Cell coverage is dicey enough that it is often necessary for outbound calls. I really never expect to be reached via land line. However, we do have credit cards and other financial things keyed off the line. What can/should I do while we are gone to maintain that number and perhaps be able to receive calls. I am not sure if our tenants (we will have friends house sit) will even want land access or will just rely on their cellphones. I am assuming the latter. (EDIT: Our home security system is tied to the current land line which makes me think we should leave it alone…)

  3. Credit cards: We will clearly need European savvy credit cards (both in terms of chip & pin and avoiding intl. transaction fees). Currently we have AMEX and VISA. I have not yet approached either about their recommendations.

  4. Banking: This may tie to the former question on credit cards. We will open a Swiss bank account and presumably transfer some funds over there on occasion to handle living expenses. All of our income will continue to flow to US accounts. Our banks are setup to be able to transfer funds. I am wondering if part of our credit card solution will be to get credit cards via our bank in Switzerland.

So with that, I humbly put myself before the worldly Berserkers to suggest the best solutions. Thanks in advance!

You can get a quick tutorial on Swiss banking by watching Wolf of Wall Street.

I knew a Swiss bank joke was coming, but first post? WB does not disappoint.

Definitely open a local bank account and get a local credit card through it. And even probably a debit card (EC), if it’s anything like Germany. You’ll be avoiding a lot of fees that way.

Re: phones, there are phones accepting 2 sim cards I think. The other option I used when leaving abroad was to switch SIM cards when I changed countries, and listen to the voicemail of the currently “inactive” SIM on the web. If these solutions don’t work, I think it’s easier to have 2 different phones.

Man, I wish I had a diplomatic pouch. Great luck on the preparations and mine, Eric.

I would think the state department has this all figured out. You will be living in a country where the currency is the Swiss Franc, surrounded by countries that use the Euro but you want to bank from the U.S? That seems very risky in terms of exchange rates, foreign transaction fees etc. The people that I know that live and work in Switzerland have accounts in Germany or France in addition to those in Switzerland. They also have multiple phones. It is a great country but seems complicated financially. I think you are going to have to get more deeply involved financialy in Switzerland and maybe the EU than you expect.


Eric, are you at liberty to say what city, exactly, you will be stationed in (and if you’ve already said, apologies in advance)? A buddy of mine works for Novartis in Basel, and lives across the border in Germany and shops in France and Germany where things are cheaper. He still maintains a US bank account and credit card (to buy iTunes things only available in the US). He also has bank accounts in Switzerland and Germany, and cell phones in both. His US phone was skyped, so he can have his calls there forwarded to him. Good luck. And if you ever get a chance to ski in Davos, you’ll have a smile the rest of your life!

The city is Bern. (My wife is the US Ambassador to Switzerland.)

Eric, my brother in law moved to Lausanne last year, happy to connect you, you have a bit in common professionally.

Hi Eric,

Get a swiss bank account and european credit cards. Carefully check the result when transferring funds into your Swiss account in Euros and try the same thing in dollars. I find a massive 3% difference in instructing my Australian bank to transfer funds in Euros vs. dollars (best for me when I send dollars). It may be different for your situation but worth checking.


Go to Europe twice a year. Just returned from Portugal and Paris. Capital One Master Card has no international transaction fees. As to card chips, I have only found this an issue when buying transportation tickets from a machine in France. Also, my PNC debit card has no transaction fees on cash withdrawals, but does on purchases. In both countries, I was asked to insert pin # by the merchant. I didn’t have one, but no problem as pushing enter skipped the requirement and went straight to payment. Am clueless on your other questions.

I’d go with the one on the lower left. flirtysmile

Ironically, the one machine that would not accept my Chip-and-PIN (note, not Chip-and-Signature) credit card from State Department Federal Credit Union was a parking garage paystation in Basel. Otherwise it worked great. Having US-based customer service for one’s credit card is not something I would give up on, and the folks at SDFCU are, ahem, accustomed to your situation. However, you will need a local bank account (or at least one with an IBAN number, which is equivalent to the U.S. routing number) to pay bills. I was surprised that not even all cellphone providers accept credit cards, requiring a bank account instead.

I wish I could be more help on the money transfer front; we used which cut our transfer fee from US → France from $50 (thank you very much, Bank of America) to about $5. However I don’t know how much Xe will allow you to transfer, so it might not work for you.

You are quite tech savvy; it is possible to set up an account with that will let you port your land line to a VOIP Box like the Obi 110. The interface isn’t super easy, but I got it set up in a couple hours. Then leave the phone jack on the Obi hooked up to your security system, with the Obi hooked up to your choice of Internet (which presumably your housesitters will need). Then you can use to forward calls from there to your Swiss phones. Their service is cheap, something like $5 a month including unlimited calls in the U.S., and $.02/min for calls to Swiss landlines. (Since Switzerland is caller-pays, if you forward to your Swiss mobile it will be $.25/min.)

On the phone front, I don’t know of any good 2-SIM phones. As far as I know, they’re more common in emerging markets, so it’s not like you can just get a 2-SIM iPhone or good Android. I think you’re stuck using your existing phone and receiving voicemails on the Web. T-Mobile has some international roaming, but I think it’s time-limited and not intended for people living outside the country. Of course, you’ll still be paying for the cell plan and not using it, though you might be able to switch to a cheap pay-by-the-minute plan, depending on your carrier. The other option is porting your cell number to, which would forward calls and texts (the latter in beta). Then you’d have to port the number back when you return. It depends on how important it is to be continuously reached at the old number, I guess.

Very exciting, Eric. Good luck. I’m sure you are in touch with expat groups who can give more specific advice, but I hope you have a great time.

Many of my Euro friends have two cell phones depending on what countries they are going to be in or getting calls from. I suspect once there it would be easier for you to get a second basic phone for use in Europe. So you can keep your regular US one active.

Until they make a dual sim iPhone for the US and Europe, I’ll continue to travel with two; one with a local sim card and one with my US sim card. An incomplete workaround is to use Google Voice for cellphone voice mail and set it to email the audio voicemail messages to yourself. I like to have a local number during long visits for lots of reasons; restaurant reservations and confirmations being an important one.

Stick to a US credit card. Most of the good ones have No forex fees and much better points/rewards than EU equivalents. Among the ones I’d consider depending on your spend habits/preferred perks are: Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa or Amex Platinum, I believe both are now chip and pin. Regarding banks, I would just pick one with the lowest friction costs in terms of inter country transfers (probably Citi or BoA), I’m sure you have a couple different options. Best of luck with the move and enjoy Switzerland.

Get a Chase Sapphire Preferred visa - great reward program, no fx fees, and is chip/pin ( i have one).

keep the land line… it costs next to nothing…

I’d open a swiss bank account… just so i can say i have a swiss numbered bank account. :wink:

Best of luck!

Buy lots of Sion, Meuchatel and Petite Arvine. Let us know how the French varieties are doing (mostly PN & Bdx blends, some great Merlots) and please reveal any new discoveries. Mazel Tov and all the best in your travels.

When we had our house in France, we had a local bank account and a debit card that worked off that account.

Was much better than our US. Credit cards and avoided any currency conversion fees … Which IIRC have been dropped recently by one of my credit cards. Can’t remember which.

I lived for three years in Gstaad which is just “over the hill” from Berne. If you want info on the Bernese Oberland in addition to what you can get from your staff, just ask.

I did a post-doc in Bern, and visit often 1-2 times a year as part of collaboration with the people at the University . Had a room overlooking the Hungarian Embassy, although I regret to say that I never once saw anything interesting happening there. Still my favorite city in Switzerland, although it probably has to grow on you.

Good luck with the Swiss bank account. Americans I know (even originating as citizens of Switzerland) were asked to close their Swiss bank accounts. I guess the banks got fed up with dealing with the U.S. tax investigators.

I had problems using American credit cards some places, mostly automated parking meters and bus/tram stations. Perhaps with the pin they work?? United (Chase) travel card now has no international transaction fees from what I understand (I guess most banks now have this option, no longer just Capital One).

Swisscom seems to be the major cell phone carrier.

When you get there, check out Brasserie Barengraben, my favorite place to eat in Bern. Not as high end as some of course, but I love the food and the ambience there (across the street from the BarenGraben, which now has a beer hall next to it). The Brasserie even let me BYO once when somebody gave me a wine gift and I did not want to lug it back to the U.S.

For wine shops, MunsterKellerei is still one of the best, on the main street in the old town. Bought two bottles of 1996 Latour from deep in their cellar in the distant past. Nice selection of Swiss wines.