Stay connected with friends and family in Switzerland and beyond with our guide to getting a Swiss SIM card and mobile phone number.
As an expat living in Switzerland, you’ll know just how important it is to keep in touch with your friends and family in your new home and elsewhere. Luckily, Switzerland has a very well-developed mobile network with decent 4G coverage to help you do just that. It also has a number of local mobile operators that offer a number of SIM and contract options for expats and visitors in Switzerland.
Although the population of Switzerland is under 10 million, the country’s mobile phone market is surprisingly competitive. Alongside its three mobile network operators, Switzerland has a growing number of smaller providers that offer a range of affordable options. But with all this choice, it can be confusing for expats to know which Swiss mobile option to choose. So to help you out, this guide provides the following information:
- The Swiss mobile network
- Can I use my mobile phone in Switzerland?
- Swiss mobile operators
- Prepaid vs mobile contracts
- Mobile contracts in Switzerland
- Swiss SIM cards
- Swiss mobile phone numbers
- Repairing a mobile phone in Switzerland
- Making a complaint about a Swiss mobile operator
- Useful resources
The Swiss mobile network
If you’re arriving in Switzerland, you’ll be pleased to know that the beautiful alpine country has a high-quality mobile network for both expats and visitors alike. Like other countries in Europe, the Swiss use the GSM network for mobile communications which means that getting connected will be easy for most new arrivals. However, even if you are coming from a country that uses the alternative CDMA network, your smartphone should still work in Switzerland.
Switzerland has a very well-developed 4G network, with much of the country enjoying 4G or 4G+ connectivity. The Swiss have also developed one of Europe’s most widespread 5G networks, with 5G available throughout much of the country’s more populated areas. That said, with much of Switzerland being mountainous, this connectivity can vary significantly between regions. Therefore, if you are planning to spend a lot of time in these alpine areas, be sure to check the connectivity ahead of time to avoid being left without a signal.
Wi-Fi connectivity in Switzerland
If you’re looking for public Wi-Fi, then you’ll find plenty of free hotspots throughout the country. These are largely concentrated in more heavily-touristed areas, including Zurich, Luzern, and many ski resorts. You may also find free Wi-Fi at some libraries, museums, and transit hubs. To use these public networks, you’ll typically have to complete a brief registration process before you get online. If you’re looking to set up Wi-Fi at home, you can read our guide to setting up internet, home phone, and TV in Switzerland.
Can I use my mobile phone in Switzerland?
If you’re a new arrival to Switzerland from a country on the GSM network, you should be able to easily connect your mobile phone (handy). However, even if you’re coming from a country that uses the CDMA network – such as Japan, Canada, and parts of the US – your smartphone will still likely be able to connect. That said, you should always check your options before you travel to avoid any unforeseen issues.
Notably, arrivals from EU countries may not be able to enjoy free roaming while in Switzerland as the country is not a member state of the EU or EEA, and was excluded from the move towards free roaming in Europe. However, what you actually pay to use your phone in Switzerland will largely depend on the network in your home country. Some charge relatively high fees, while others don’t. Therefore, check with your operator ahead of time to see what your options are. You may want to purchase a world phone before traveling to avoid any hefty bills.
If you’re moving to Switzerland – or planning to stay a little longer – then you’ll probably want to buy a local SIM card or sign up for a Swiss mobile contract. Getting a SIM card will probably be the cheapest option in terms of up-front costs, but you’ll typically still need to provide proof of identity to get one. However, whichever contract you want, you’ll find that you have a host of Swiss mobile operators to choose from. Some also offer home internet and TV packages, so check if there are any bundle discounts available.
Swiss mobile operators
For a relatively small country, the Swiss mobile phone sector is surprisingly competitive. The country has three major operators, each with its own network. These are Swisscom, Salt Mobile, and Sunrise Mobile. In addition to these three, there are a growing number of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) that operate using one of these three main networks. With so much choice on offer, be sure to shop around. This is especially true if you’re in need of home internet and TV, as many operators offer discounts if you take out more than one service.
Swiss mobile operators include:
In terms of subscribers, Swisscom has by far the largest market share of Swiss mobile operators. The former public telecoms provider has just under 60% of the market. This is followed by the other two network operators, Sunrise (25%) and Salt (16%). Alongside these three main operators, there is an ever-growing number of MVNOs to choose from. These MVNOs typically don’t offer as much coverage in rural areas, but in larger towns and cities there is usually little difference in terms of coverage.
Comparing Swiss mobile operators
Unsure on which operator to choose? Don’t worry. These days, it’s easier than ever to compare the market and find the right mobile deal for you. These can give you a better idea of your options as well as making it easier to see if you can add any additional services to your package, such as home internet or TV. Swiss comparison sites include:
Mobile phone coverage in Switzerland
Despite Switzerland’s modest size, Swiss mobile phone coverage can vary significantly through the country. For example, in the large towns and cities – and, indeed, much of the Swiss Plateau – coverage is typically very good. In these areas, you’ll find 4G and 5G is accessible, depending on your mobile plan. However, coverage in the largely mountainous areas to the south of this plateau can be more temperamental. Therefore, if you live or spend a lot of time in the Swiss Alps, then you’ll probably want to make sure your operator has coverage. To check this coverage, visit nPerf.
Are you moving to one of Switzerland’s border cities? Then be aware that some MNVOs may not have strong coverage in places like Geneva and Basel. This means that your phone might automatically switch to a stronger signal from either France or Germany, leaving you with unexpectedly hefty roaming charges. However, in most other cities, you’ll probably find very little difference in terms of coverage between operators.
Prepaid vs mobile contracts
If you want to get connected in Switzerland, you have two options: prepaid SIM card or mobile phone contract. Prepaid SIMs are typically the quickest and easier way to get yourself a local number and data access without the commitment of signing up for a lengthy contract. This is probably the best option if you’re simply looking for an easy way to make calls, send SMS messages, and get online. If you’re not planning to stay in Switzerland long-term, however, a prepaid SIM may well be your only option. This is because you can’t sign up for a Swiss mobile contract without a work permit or long-term residency.
If you’re eligible, the alternative to getting a Swiss SIM card is taking out a mobile phone contract. Typically speaking, this will work out cheaper for calls, texts, and data – especially if you use your phone a lot. This often works out cheaper if you’re planning on traveling internationally, as some providers let you use your contract’s monthly allowance in other countries. Mobile contracts are also a good choice if you’re thinking about getting the latest smartphone. Be aware, though, that many contracts have a minimum duration which is often 12 months.
Mobile contracts in Switzerland
Generally speaking, you’ll find that Swiss mobile subscriptions offer cheaper rates for calls, texts, and data than prepaid SIMs. Mobile contracts include a pre-determined allowance of call minutes, texts, and mobile data consumption. What you pay will depend on the tariff you choose. You can often find discounts if you combine your mobile plan with your home phone, internet, and TV services. For more information on this, you can read our guide to Setting up Swiss TV, internet, and home phone.
Swiss mobile contracts are either SIM-only or include a handset, and are typically 12- or 24-months in length. To avoid signing up for a contract you cannot see out, make sure you read the small print before signing up. Some providers also offer contracts with no minimum contract length. These can be great if you’re unsure of how long you will stay in Switzerland, but be aware that these don’t usually offer such good rates.
As Switzerland is not included in the EU’s free-roaming scheme, you may also want to find a contract that offers data and calls outside of the country. This is particularly important if you are planning to live in one of the border cities, such as Geneva or Basel.
Youth discounts for Swiss mobile contracts
If you’re under 30, then you’ll be pleased to know that your Swiss mobile contract is likely to be cheaper. Most providers offer a discounted “youth” or “student” rate for those under 30. Typically speaking, these youth contracts can offer excellent savings, so it pays to sign up if you’re eligible. Providers highlight these youth contracts prominently on their websites, so you’ll quickly be able to assess your options and see what you could save.
How to get a mobile phone contract in Switzerland
Signing up for a Swiss mobile phone contract is fairly straightforward. You can either do it online or sign up in your local telecoms shop. Most of the main Swiss mobile operators have retail stores in local centers. However, be prepared to speak the local lingo as shop assistants may not be able to speak English. Many expats will probably find it easier to sort it out online. To set up your mobile contract, you’ll likely need to provide the following:
- Valid ID
- Proof of address
- Swiss work permit (or letter of confirmation)
- Swiss social security number
- Local bank account details
Monthly payments are collected by automatic collection (direct debit), and you’ll need to provide payment details when you sign up. If you don’t already have a Swiss bank account, it’s a good idea to set one up before you sign your mobile contract. One of the easiest ways to do this is with a mobile bank account, which you can apply for in minutes. You can read our guide for more information on opening a bank account in Switzerland.
Swiss SIM cards
Prepaid SIM cards offer more freedom than a lengthy mobile phone contract. However, they are also generally more expensive when it comes to calls, texts, and data usage. This means that they are a good option if you don’t use your phone much, or if you’re only staying in Switzerland for a short period. All major Swiss mobile operators offer prepaid SIM cards, so be sure to shop around and find the right one for you and your lifestyle. This is particularly true if you’re planning on crossing the border a lot, as you may prefer one that offers more flexibility with international usage.
Swiss SIM cards can be picked up in a number of places. This includes dedicated telecoms stores, convenience stores, and a range of other outlets. Simply look out for operator signs on the shop windows. You can also buy them online. To buy a Swiss SIM card, you’ll need to provide proof of identity (such as a passport). This is a legal requirement. You’ll also need to complete a registration process, which will take at least a few minutes.
Prepaid SIM cards usually come with credit already loaded onto them, meaning that you can call and use mobile data immediately. Credit can be added online at your operator’s website, or at any store that displays any mobile operator signs. In-store, you’ll be able to pay with cash or card.
Swiss mobile numbers
Telephone numbers in Switzerland are grouped into three main categories: geographical numbers, mobile numbers, and other services. Numbers typically have 10 digits and start with a 0. The first few digits of a phone number dictates which category the number falls into:
- 02/03/04/05/06/071 – these are geographical numbers based on regional location within Switzerland. For example, phone numbers in the Zurich and Luzern regions start with 04 followed by eight further digits.
- 074/075/076/077/078/079 – these are mobile phone numbers.
- 08/09 – these are special and non-geographic numbers, covering free phone numbers and other services.
When calling a Swiss phone number from outside of Switzerland, you’ll need to add the country’s international dialing code. This is 0041 or +41. You then leave off the first “0” from the mobile number.
If you’re changing mobile phone providers in Switzerland, you may be able to keep your existing number. Speak to your new operator and see if you can simply swap your phone number across.
If you need to make an emergency call, such as to the pan-European number 112, you will be able to make the call from your mobile phone, regardless of whether you have a functioning SIM or coverage. It’s a good idea to save this full list of emergency numbers in Switzerland and keep it handy.
Repairing a mobile phone in Switzerland
Have you just had to fish your phone out of one of Switzerland’s many pristine mountain streams? Or perhaps you’ve dropped it during a wander around a picture-perfect lakeside city? Whatever’s happened, if you need to get your phone repaired in Switzerland, then you have a number of options. Some operators and manufacturers offer in-store repair services at their outlets, so check online to see if your local store has this. Alternatively, you’ll find mobile phone stores in most towns that will offer repairs.
Making a complaint about a Swiss mobile operator
Every mobile operator in Switzerland has its own complaints process should you encounter any difficulties. You should use this if you have problems or feel that the service has not been what you expected. You’ll be able to find this information easily on their website. However, should you want to complain about the operator itself, you can do so by contacting Switzerland’s Federal Communications Commission (ComCom), the country’s telecoms regulator. Through the agency, you’ll be able to submit your complaint along with any relevant supporting documents.
- Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) – a Swiss regulatory body