Switzerland, home to an influential financial sector, is a sought-after destination for travelers and business enthusiasts alike. Since Switzerland is not in the EU, questions about the prevalent payment systems arise, particularly around the acceptance of international credit cards like American Express (Amex).
Is Amex popular in Switzerland? – Short answer:
Amex is popular in Switzerland but not as widespread as Visa and MasterCard. There are about 90,000 places in Switzerland where Amex cards are welcomed, compared to about 100,000 places where Visa and MasterCards are welcomed.
Now, let’s take a closer look:
Amex in Urban and Touristic Hubs
In major Swiss cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne, the acceptance of Amex is relatively common. Upscale hotels, renowned restaurants, large retailers, and other establishments that cater to international clientele often accept Amex.
Touristic zones, such as Lucerne, Zermatt, and the Jungfrau region, which see a significant influx of global travelers, also show a fair level of Amex acceptance. Particularly premium credit cards like the Amex Platinum card are seen quite often.
As one moves away from the bustling cities and into the serene Swiss countryside, the acceptance of Amex can be somewhat limited. Smaller towns, family-run inns, local eateries, and shops might not always accept Amex, preferring the more widely recognized Visa, MasterCard, or even cash.
So, most people coming to Switzerland with an Amex carry some cash as a backup.
Challenges Faced by Amex
While American Express is a global brand and carries a certain prestige, it isn’t as universally accepted in Switzerland as some other card types. There are two main reasons for this:
- Merchant Fees: Amex typically charges merchants higher fees than its counterparts like Visa and MasterCard. As a result, some businesses, especially smaller ones, might hesitate to accept it to keep operational costs low.
- Market Dominance: Visa and MasterCard have had a longer presence and arguably stronger marketing strategies in Europe, making them more prevalent in many places, including Switzerland.
It is planned, however, to build out the American Express brand more and more in Europe and Switzerland over the next decade.
The Swiss and Their Preference
It’s essential to understand the local perspective. The Swiss, while appreciative of diverse payment methods, often gravitate towards what’s most convenient and universally accepted. The local population does use Amex, but perhaps not as extensively as other card options. This is often a mix of personal preference and the card’s acceptability in everyday places. Also, some conservative thinking might play a role here and there;)
As a Swiss citizen, I use an Amex credit card because it has by far the best reward system out of all the different brands. Only seldom I can’t pay with it, but then I still have some other cards I can use.
Amex, while recognized in Switzerland, especially in urban centers and tourist hubs, doesn’t hold the same ubiquity as some other credit cards. If you’re an Amex cardholder planning to visit Switzerland, it’s wise to have alternative payment methods handy, be it another credit card that’s accepted in Switzerland or some Swiss Francs.
This ensures that your Swiss journey remains smooth, irrespective of the payment preferences of the establishments you visit.