Many hotels and some public places have Wi-Fi (in Europe: WLAN) hotspots. About half the time you will have to pay a fee to log on, although some hotels and many bars, cafés, and restaurants provide the service for free. The cost is generally high, at 5 SF for a half hour or 25 SF for one full day's access. A few cities (such as Geneva) provide Wi-Fi service for free. If you didn't bring your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you'll often find Internet terminals in airports, train stations, and hotels.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can't always do so cheaply.
Mobile roaming charges can be steep ($1/minute, $20/MB and tolls for incoming calls are the norm), so it's a good idea to ask your service provider about any international plans it offers before setting out. Once abroad, it's almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call, since texts have a low set fee (often less than 5¢).
Cellular phones (natels) for use in Switzerland can also be rented before you leave on your trip or at the airport. You can arrange for a rental on a weekly or monthly basis.
If you want to make local calls and your smartphone is already unlocked (or your provider will unlock it), consider buying a Swiss prepaid SIM card, which can be cheaper and easier than using your U.S. card abroad. SIM cards are available in phone stores (Sunrise, Swisscom, etc.) and supermarkets (Coop, Migros, etc.). Purchase requires a passport and costs approximately 40 SF, which usually includes 20 SF of credit/data. Micro or Nano SIM cards used in most iPhones are also available, although less widely.
Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive way to keep in touch; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. In Switzerland pay phones and calling cards keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase the cards locally.
The country code for Switzerland is 41. When dialing a Swiss number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local area code.
Calling Within Switzerland
Dial 1811 or 1818 for information within Switzerland (1.90 SF for the initial connection and the first minute, and around 0.22 SF thereafter) 24 hours a day. All telephone operators speak English, and instructions are printed in English in all telephone booths.
Dial the local area code (including the 0) when calling any local number.
There's direct dialing to everywhere in Switzerland. For local area codes, consult the pink pages, and for international country and city codes, consult the green-banded pages at the front of the telephone book. Include the area code preceded by 0 when dialing anywhere within Switzerland.
To make a local call on a pay phone, pick up the receiver, insert a phone card, and dial the number. A local call costs 0.60 SF plus 0.10 SF for each additional unit. Toll-free numbers begin with 0800. Swisscom phone cards are available in 5 SF, 10 SF, 20 SF, or 50 SF units; they're sold at post offices, train stations, airports, and kiosks. Slip a card into an adapted public phone, and a continual readout will tell you how much money is left on the card. The cost of the call will be counted against the card, with any remaining value still good for the next time you use it. If you drain the card and still need to talk, the readout will warn you: you can either pop in a new card or make up the difference with coins. Many phone booths now also accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express cards.
Calling Outside Switzerland
The country code is 1 for the United States and Canada, 61 for Australia, 64 for New Zealand, and 44 for the United Kingdom.
You can dial most international numbers direct from Switzerland, adding 00 before the country code. If you want a number that cannot be reached directly, or if you need an international phone number, dial 1811 or 1818 for a connection. It's cheapest to use the booths in train stations and post offices: calls made from your hotel cost a great deal more.
A variety of international phone cards in denominations of 5 to 50 SF are available in kiosks located in every train station. They often offer the cheapest rates. You can use the code on the card until you run out of units.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap, unlocked one on the Internet; you can then get various pay-as-you-go SIM cards in each destination.
Cellular Abroad. 800/287–5072; www.cellularabroad.com.
Mobal. 888/888–9162; www.mobal.com.
Planet Fone. 888/988–4777; www.planetfone.com.
Rentaphone. 044/5050130; www.rentaphone.ch.