A free Swiss Pass card is necessary to buy public transportation savings deals and passes for use on trains, buses, boats, and cable cars in Switzerland.
The Swiss Pass is a card used by almost all public transportation systems in Switzerland to store travel deals and passes. Although mostly associated with Swiss Railways and the half-fare card and Junior travel cards, the Swiss Pass is used by 250 companies in Switzerland and linked to all forms of public transportation including trains, buses, boats, cable cars, and ski lifts. Foreigners may obtain a Swiss Pass although the procedure is somewhat more cumbersome than for residents of Switzerland who could easily obtain the card via any train station. Railway passes aimed at international visitors do not use the Swiss Pass system.
Swiss Pass Travel Card in Switzerland
The Swiss Pass is a transportation and travel card system used in Switzerland for almost all forms of public transportation passes and discount cards for trains, buses, and ski passes. The Swiss Pass itself is free — it is simply used to store and link all other purchased savings passes and travel cards in a central place. Products bought from around 250 different transportation companies in Switzerland may be stored on the card.
The red, credit-card-sized Swiss Pass has two RFID chips to store information, displays a photo, and the name of the bearer (and is thus not transferable). A physical card is essential (and still required before details could be uploaded for display on a mobile app instead). This card is mailed within two weeks to addresses in Switzerland and orders are also possible (but more complicated and slower) to many addresses outside Switzerland.
It is not possible to obtain the physical card for immediate use, although many travel products would issue for example a temporary paper ticket valid for two weeks if needed. However, enquire details before paying.
How to Buy the Swiss Pass
There is no need to buy a Swiss Pass as the card is currently issued for free. Each individual is allowed only one Swiss Pass, which is issued free (CHF30 for a replacement card).
Two options are available for obtaining a first Swiss Pass when buying a travel product:
- The easiest way to obtain a Swiss Pass for the first time is to buy a travel product such as a half-fare card or Junior Travel Card from a Swiss train station. A passport, a recent photo, and a different email address for each card are required. The Swiss Pass is then automatically issued and mailed to a physical address. (A temporary half-fare card or similar may be issued for immediate use.)
- The Swiss Pass is available online from Swiss Railways (SBB) subject to an ID check but only if a travel product is purchased at the same time, e.g. a half-fare card. The physical card must be received before the travel product may be used.
It is also possible to obtain a first Swiss Pass without a further travelcard purchase but only by visiting a manned railway station inside Switzerland. Once again, the actual card is sent by post to a mailing address. This is well worth considering when planning future visits to Switzerland as the card is generally valid for five years.
How to Use the Swiss Pass Card
The Swiss Pass card is just a storage of information and probably an increasingly handy identification card as it has the full legal name and photo of the bearer. All products bought are simply linked to the card — as a result, the SwissPass.ch website is used to manage the account but does not sell any products itself.
Any product bought from a transportation provider, eg the popular half-fare card or Junior Travel Card of Swiss Railways, is linked to the card and can be confirmed electronically when tickets are inspected. Ski-lift passes are commonly added too and easy to read via the RFID chips.
For example, a traveler using a half-fare card must be able to show the ticket inspector both the Swiss Pass to confirm the validity of the half-fare card and the half-priced ticket used for traveling at the specific moment.
Swiss Pass for Foreign Visitors
Foreigners may obtain a Swiss Pass in the same way as Swiss residents but should bear in mind that the card is only mailed and never issued on the spot. Furthermore, transportation deals and passes aimed at international visitors are not linked to a Swiss Pass and are usually only available to non-residents of Switzerland.
For example, only non-residents may also buy the one-month international half-fare card online from SBB for mobile use or as a print-at-home ticket. Similarly, the Swiss Travel Pass — a railway and public transportation pass — is only available to foreign visitors and despite the name, never linked to a Swiss Pass card.
More Tips for Saving on Swiss Transportation:
- Swiss Transportation Savings Deals (include information on dogs and bicycles too!)
- Omio and Trainline sell train and bus tickets for Switzerland and most of Europe. Both are easy to use and often have very good deals for specific trains.
- How to Get and Use the Swiss Pass Card
- Swiss Railways English website for timetables and online tickets — note half-fare tickets are the default choice.
- Switzerland Transportation Map (PDF File showing where the discount deals are valid)
- Save with the Swiss Half-Fare Card on Public Transportation
- International Savings Passes on Swiss Transportation (including information on the Swiss Family Card and international Half-Fare Card)
- Families Save with the Cheap Junior Card on Swiss Public Transportation
- Using the Swiss Travel Pass and Flexi Swiss Travel Pass.
- Buying Swiss Travel Passes from Get Your Guide.
- Book holidays by train from Great Rail Journeys (UK).