|Phones and fax in Switzerland|
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Another first for Switzerland: the country has more public phones per square kilometre (some 60,000 of them) than anywhere else in the world. There are always at least one or two phones (sometimes ranks of them) outside post offices and at train stations, and invariably you’ll find that the most remote mountain refuge or country cottage has a phone or two, maybe a fax as well. The former public utility Swisscom was privatized in 1998, and although it currently retains its monopoly over land-lines and local calls, and still owns and operates all the public phones, there is now rapidly increasing competition in the long-distance and international call markets, and prices are dropping.
Note that phoning direct from your hotel room to anywhere can add outrageous surcharges of 100 percent or more onto the cost of the call.
CALLING FROM SWITZERLAND
A few ancient public phones still accept coins, but the majority take only Swisscom phonecards (“taxcards”), available from post offices, many hotels, newsagents, kiosks, train station ticket counters, and some vending machines in Fr.5, Fr.10, Fr.20 and Fr.50 denominations. Pressing button L on the phone switches the display to English.
For calls within Switzerland, note that numbers beginning %156, %157, 0900 and 0901 are more expensive than normal; %155 and 0800 are free; 0842 and 0848 are charged as local calls. Domestic rates are highest on weekdays between 8am and 5pm, and between 7pm and 9pm, but the minimum charge at any time is still a whopping 60c. For the domestic operator call %111 (minimum charge Fr.2), but you can search the complete Swiss phone directory in English on the self-explanatory Teleguide screens in phonebooths for free.
To call internationally, there’s already a wide choice of carriers. It’s no problem to use a Swisscom taxcard to dial internationally direct from phonebooths, but this ties you to Swisscom’s prices, which are some of the highest in Europe. You’d do better to go for one of Swisscom’s many competitors, who can give you equal service for a fraction of the cost. The two best carriers at the time of writing were diAx and Teleline – but you have to ask for their taxcards (in Fr.20, Fr.50 and Fr.100 denominations) by name, and even then they may take some sniffing out. Some kiosks may stock them but not know what they’re for (beware of being sold cards intended for use in Swiss mobiles, which look the same, are produced by the same companies, but which are useless for public phones), while others may not stock anything other than Swisscom cards.
You can also use credit cards in public phones (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc), with no surcharges – you’re charged only for the call cost, but have to put up with Swisscom’s inflated rates. Slide the card in, then pull it out straightaway, and dial.
CALLING FROM LIECHTENSTEIN
In 1999, as part of a diplomatic and trade agreement, Swisscom lost the right to provide phone services in Liechtenstein, which now has its own phone company – Telecom FL – although all the public phones look and work the same as those in Switzerland, and you can still use Swisscom taxcards in them. Local calls within Liechtenstein are straightforward. However, whereas formerly the whole of Liechtenstein was covered by a Swiss area code (the now-defunct 075), these days dialling between Liechtenstein and Switzerland counts as an international call. Many of the pre-paid discount taxcards may not work from Liechtenstein.
You can type a short fax on the screens in public phonebooths, and send it within Switzerland for Fr.1, to Europe for Fr.1.50, or worldwide for Fr.2; you must insert a Swisscom taxcard into the phone in order for the cost to be deducted from it. Otherwise, if your hotel can’t help out, main post offices have phone sections where you can send a paper fax for about Fr.2 plus the cost of the call.
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