When it comes to credit cards, Switzerland offers a wide range of options. In addition to the usual suspects, such as banks and financial institutions, credit cards are also available from supermarket chains like Coop and Migros, the post office, a hardware store, a Swiss airline, and a Scandinavian flat pack furniture giant.
Update June 2022: The Migros Cumulus-Mastercard no longer exists since June 2022 because the partnership between Cembra and Migros ended. Your existing Migros Cumulus-Mastercard will automatically be replaced by Certo. If you are completely new, then you could try applying directly to Certo or the new Cumulus-Visa. Take note that if you hold a carte de legitimation you may be rejected by the latter 🙁
As international civil servants, we also have access to credit unions and financial institutions that are not available to the local Swiss. Like many shoppers, we need to consider the following scenarios and it depends a lot on the currency:
- Local currency CHF – Local or online purchases
- Foreign currency USD, EUR etc. – Foreign or online purchases
But, before we get into the specifics of how to maximize your spending power and save money, let us first address the following questions.
What’s the criteria for a good a credit card?
Ideally, a credit card should not have any annual fees. Otherwise, it should offer some benefits with greater value than the annual charges. For example, it could offer some form of cashback or vouchers for using the credit card. It should have very low or no transaction fees for foreign purchases. Finally, it should provide some form of insurance.
Warning: Do not carry a credit card debt!
If you noticed, I made no mention of choosing a credit card based on the lowest interest rate. As you should be aware, credit cards have a very high-interest rate (usually at least 11.95% per year) and therefore if you can, you MUST pay off all your credit card debt every month.
The top 3 credit cards for international civil servants
To take advantage of your unique situation, I have selected for you the top 3 credit cards with the best benefits that are available to international civil servants.
If you can, you should get all 3 as they all complement each other.
- UNFCU Elite card – Annual fee of USD50 per year, ideal for foreign transactions.
- Cashback American Express – No annual fee, ideal for CHF transactions. (Enter code: FC4F3R5BU to get CHF40)
Migros Cumulus Mastercard– No annual fee, ideal for CHF transactions.
What are the advantages of each of these credit cards?
Every time you use these credit cards, you will earn points based on the amount you spent. After a certain number of points or time depending on the card, they are converted into cash credits or vouchers.
Since each of these cards have their point system, it can be quite tricky to find out which one to use to get the most out of your spending.
But don’t worry, I have summarized a neat table below for each card.
|Description||UNFCU Elite Card||Cashback American Express||Certo|
|Annual Fee||USD 50||CHF 0||CHF 0|
|Foreign transaction fees||0%||2.5%||1.5%|
Once you reach 10,000 points you can convert it to USD100 in your savings account
Automatically credit into your credit card every year
|1% in Migros, Coop, SBB |
0.33% outside Migros
Automatically sent as Migros Cumulus vouchers
|Airport lounge access||Free 5x per year (Free Priority Pass)||None||None|
|Travel insurance including your companion||Up to USD 3,000||None||None|
|Lost luggage||Up to USD 3,000||None||None|
What are the pros and cons of each credit card?
All of these credit cards offer 1% cashback/voucher. So, this means that for every CHF100 you spend, you will get back CHF1. It does not sound like much, but if you charge everything on your credit card from groceries to petrol, shopping to travels, an average total spending of CHF5,000 would give you back CHF600. Here are some of the pros and cons:
- UNFCU Elite card
- Pros: No foreign transaction fees, 5 free visits to airport lounges every year using the Priority Pass card (which comes free with the Elite card), travel and car rental insurance.
- Cons: USD50 per year (this is outweighed by the lounge access and 0% foreign transaction fees).
- Cashback American Express
- Pros: Free credit card.
- Cons: 2.5% foreign transaction fees (you should only use this card for CHF transactions)
- Pros: Free credit card.
- Cons: 0.33% cashback for transactions outside of Migros, Coop, SBB (only use this card in Migros or when AMEX is not accepted).
The strategy in using these credit cards
Now comes the most important part: the strategy in using these credit cards. We want to make sure that every CHF or USD or EUR etc. charged provides you with the best possible return!
|Spending Scenario||Currency||UNFCU Elite||Cashback AMEX||Certo|
|Outside of Switzerland||Not CHF||Y|
(0% foreign transaction fees and 1% cashback)
(Travel insurance and 1% cashback)
|Migros (Switzerland)||CHF||–||–|| Y|
|Within Switzerland (except Migros) or online||CHF||–||Y|
|Within Switzerland when Cashback AMEX is not accepted||CHF||Y|
Let’s look at some examples,
- If you were in Val Thoiry, doing your grocery shopping in Migros (France), you would use the UNFCU Elite card.
- If you wanted to book an easyjet flight in CHF from Geneva to London, it would be the UNFCU Elite card.
- If you were shopping in a Coop (Switzerland), you would use the Cashback American Express.
- If you were shopping at Migros Gare Cornavin, you would use the Certo.
Remember to bring your Migros and Coop loyalty cards when shopping at these supermarkets to earn additional points!
BONUS TIP: A REVOLUTionary Credit card
Have you heard of Revolut? You can sign up for a FREE Revolut account on the Apple App Store or Android Store.
What is interesting with this card is that, Even though it doesn’t give you any cashback benefits (yet), they have a “disposable” credit card (the one in pink) which you could use for online purchases. This is very convenient and secure especially if you are purchasing items from unfamiliar websites or canceling subscription services that you do not want to renew.
Every time a transaction is done, the credit card is automatically discarded and a new one appears in the Revolut app. Works like magic. Furthermore, it provides free foreign exchange transactions with a monthly limit of CHF 1’250.
Use the UNFCU Elite card for any purchases for non-CHF denominations for 1% cashback and 0% transaction fees) or when purchasing airline tickets or hotels in any currency (for travel insurance).
And never use Cashback American Express for foreign currency transactions.
Finally, make sure you always pay off your credit card debt in full each month and do not withdraw any cash from ATM machines. Any benefits derived from these strategies would be completely ruined by late fees and charges!
What other credit cards do you use? Comment in the section below and don’t forget to subscribe!