Dear Netherlands…please start using credit cards!

Whilst the folks in the USA are happily churning away and earning a million points per year, or getting 5 points per dollar with triple bonus on travel expenses, The Netherlands seems stuck in the mid-1980s with their lack of acceptance of credit cards.


Picture from Fiamma Fireplaces

There are only two train stations in the whole of this country which accept credit cards: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Amsterdam Centraal. Even then there is a €0.50 surcharge on buying any ticket. To buy a ticket from a manned desk that attracts the €0.50 surcharge too. The only way to avoid paying this fee is to use the automated kiosks and pay by coins or Dutch debit card. Even still not all machines accept coins, and none accept notes!

Let me recount coming to The Netherlands for a job interview this time last year. It was a day trip from London, and when I arrived at Schiphol I had to take a 2 hour train ride to the Drenthe province in the North. Since return train tickets cost precisely double that of a single, I decided to buy one ticket at Schiphol with the intention to buy the return leg in the evening on my way back, in case my plans had to change for any reason.

At around 30 seconds past 5pm I arrived at the train station for my return journey. I went to the ticket machine to find out for the first time that I couldn't buy my return journey because it didn't have a coin slot. (I didn't have €24 in coins anyway!) It only accepted Dutch debit cards, which I didn't have. I remember the time well because the Dutch Railways agent at the ticket office had just locked the door and gone behind her desk to count the money and refused to help me. I met someone else who had travelled from London for the day and was in the same predicament. We had around €50 in notes, but no method to pay. Eventually we had to jump on the train without a ticket and hope the ticket inspector would accept our story.

As it happened he/she never showed up. So for Dutch Railways they lost €24 of revenue from someone who was willing to pay it.

It's a similar story in supermarkets. It's only possible to pay with cash or with a Dutch debit card. Foreign debit cards are unusable.

For day to day use, Visa and Mastercard are the two card you'll ever be able to use. American Express is not welcome in the high street. The only places that will ever take Amex are in the multi-national chains like Hilton, and some car rental companies.

But the funny thing is that I know so many Dutch people who like to collect points and follow loyalty programmes etc. There's a programme here called Air Miles (which by the way is utter crap) which everyone is a member of, but the general public are so against credit cards. I work in an office full of geniuses, but the thought of holding any sort of credit card, even if only for extra protection on internet purchases, is met with a cold nonchalance.

However…if American Express decided to release a card with a 100 000 point sign up bonus, rather than their stingy 8000 MR offering,  then I believe things would change. This sort of number is enough for the layman to fly to another continent and back, and the Dutch love a good deal. I can foresee mass sign-ups, and shops would almost be forced into accepting Amex so people can trigger their holidays of a lifetime. Or maybe I'm just dreaming.

They say when you move to a new country you should embrace their culture and adapt to it…but I find it totally irrational that things like ticket machines don't accept foreign cards! What kind of message does that send to tourists visiting this country?

And as for Amex…well earning points on spending is such an important part of my life that I simply buy things from the UK and spend as little as I can in NL. Too bad they're missing out on quite a decent portion of cash!

So what do you think? Am I whinging too much, or do I have good reason to hate Dutch commerce? Should I make more of an effort to accept how things are, or am I justified to circumvent things the way I do? What are your experiences around NL using your cards? Leave a comment below!


Other related posts:

Visa Prepaid, the Eurozone's gamechanger

What do you do with your expired membership cards?

BBC's video on air miles, and what beginners should learn from it

About Tim

Tim is a Chartered Engineer and a typical nerd who analyses every travel deal, travel hack. He has travelled to around 90 countries and also speaks Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin.

More articles by Tim »



    • I’m like you, I dislike carrying any cash. If my wallet gets stolen then at least I can cancel my credit cards quickly, and not risk losing €50 in cash!

  1. What a stupid rant…. Instead of taking the time to write this maybe it’s time to familiarize yourself with what the difference is for a business in processing a credit card transaction or a (Dutch) debit card. And then the answer why businesses don’t accept credit cards for small transactions will reveal itself.

    You will have no problem finding ATM’s here to get some cash, and no problems either for paying with your credit card for larger amounts in most hotels, restaurants, etc or high-volume businesses like most petrol stations.

    So yes, we like to keep the transaction costs low. Because we all know who pays those in the end….

    • I know exactly how much it costs businesses to process credit vs. debit cards, and even still I think it’s still viable. Why do you assume I don’t know? Several other countries around the world do it…take even developing countries like Latvia and Estonia. Pretty much every store accepts credit cards including Amex. I therefore think your argument is unfounded based on the wider evidence. You’d have to crunch some detailed numbers to convince me.

      Also I can see there are ATMs around, but I also still feel it’s much safer to carry credit cards than to carry a wallet full of cash in case it gets lost or stolen.

    • Hi Gerard, A bit unfair to call it a “stupid rant”. I can understand that credit cards may be frowned upon in Dutch culture and on a personal level I sympathise. I also accept that the charge to businesses for credit card transactions could be considered punitive. However when spending a large amount at an Amsterdam supermarket to be told at the checkout that you can’t pay with a globally accepted VISA DEBIT card is a bit Hard to take. Who carries 100’s of Euros in cash? And who wants to spend half an hour running around trying to find a functioning ATM. Leaving behind bags of shopping and two confused children.

  2. I lived in Amsterdam for four months and dealt with the same thing. I finally gave up 1 month in and spent 5 hours day at the ABN-AMRO main branch in Amsterdam to get a Dutch debit card. The line was so long since it is the only branch in the only bank in the country that would give you a debit card on a student visa.

    • ouch… 5 hours! I persuaded ABN Amro to give me a debit card without having my BSN set up, but as a knowledge migrant. Had no such problems there!

  3. I work in a supermarket and often foreign people are surprised we don’t take credit cards (although I have only encountered 3 people in 1.5 year trying, I always spot for the Flying Blue Amex LOL). We do take all other foreign debit cards though, as long as they have Maestro.
    I think the issue in NL is that people often think CC’s are expensive and come with high penalties when you don’t pay in time. Also, a debit card is included in almost all packages at the bank for little cost. I think many customers won’t take a card for a third company (e.g. Amex, Flying Blue) which isn’t their own bank. People have little incentive to get a CC as they are hesitant for the cost and trouble. It is considered as a luxury item, not something for everyday purchases.
    In addition, it is true very little companies accept CC’s and if they do it’s often with surcharges. I think this has to do with fraud protection for the companies.
    If CC’s want to become big in NL, everyday stores have to accept them and the CC companies will have to do big marketing and give incentives.
    The question is, who begins? Will companies offer more opportunities to use CC’s and will customers follow? Or will the growing demand from customers force stores to accept creditcards?

    • You’re right, it’s a little bit of chicken vs egg.

      Over time stores will get more pressure to accept it. I imagine this is how Schiphol and Amsterdam Centraal came to their arrangements too. Part of my vision of this blog is to accelerate the growth to critical mass of consumer interest. If you search for “Money Saving Expert” then you can see the influence he’s had over in the UK.

  4. I completely share your feelings, it would really help if Albert Heijn would start accepting AMEX 🙂

    In some areas the Netherlands are top of the world, in other areas we are 10 years behind on the USA. Unfortunetaly this is also the case with the acceptance in the Netherlands of creditcards, and Amex cards more specifically. But what can we do?

  5. TOtally Agree with everything your saying. I used to live in Spain and the story sometimes was even creepier.
    Sadly it won’t get any better anytime soon, but the more people start to realise what they’re missing, the more less conservative (and boring) they’ll become. Hopefully…
    All the best to you! And thanks for all your work!

    • My last few trips to Spain have been ok on Amex, so things are progressing there.

      I just find it funny that NL is the first to adopt social movements like gay marriage, but the last to accept arguably easier changes like payment methods!

  6. Interesting to read your view from outside the netherlands. As Dutch guy I can tell you the reason most people are not using creditcards. Like the word already shows it is seen as living on money you do not have. Culturally it is frowned upon to live beyond your means. So people use debit cards to pay with money they have not on credit. Similarly many people that lived in the US are amazed by the concept of credit history because they are trying to never live on credit.

    You could also look at it from the other end. When I am in the US it is hard to pay anything with my debit card. You could almost write the same story you did and calling it backward. I think it is just a different culture and what makes traveling so nice.

    • This is ridiculous view point that people who use credit cards are living beyond their means . This is not true of credit card customers. I pay balance in full every month so I am never charged interest . At both home and as a tourist I find It safer than carrying large notes every where. In UK I live in a city and frequently move through it alone so don’t want to have purse full of notes. While traveling I do not wish to carry thousands of euros worth of cash needed for a holiday . I now view NL as anti tourist and don’t wish to return until I find out that Credit cards or at least visa debit cards are more widely accepted.

    • Before 2000s inflation was high in Turkey but people were buying things locally it was somehow fine. There virtually no credit cars use. Then banks starting popping credit cards, you can now buy things and pay next month or give interest and pay minimum. Luxury started to take over people bought things they do not actually need. Now every one is giving all their wages as soon as they get to credit cards, they are always with debt, and it increases and locks you in system.

      Before coming to NL I used to have at least 2X my wage on credit card, now I have so low.

  7. If you know the cost difference (which I doubt) I’m sorry to say your argument is even harder to understand.

    You cannot compare it simply to other countries, most haven’t invested heavily in the setup of an independent debit card network that operates without the involvement of the big credit card companies. That’s why costs for processing are so much lower here. It would be rather stupid to charge everyone an additional 2% for day-to-day items just because it’s more convenient for you and you can earn a few points.

    Couple that with the fact that you can pay the larger amounts with a credit card (but also with that same debit card) and that people here don’t rely on cards for credit and you know why it is what it is.

    • I’m intrigued by stance, because the other Dutch people (not just within the comments, but in normal day-to-day life) seem to show more compassion than you have so far.

      Yes it would be stupid to charge everyone 2% just so I can earn a few points…but what about for the general tourists who rely on their cards? This post is more general than just earning points.

      To invest heavily in a network which only applies to domestic debit cards, to me, is the bizarre issue. Granted it might have been a while back, but we live in different times and technologies now.

      • The interesting fact is the cultural bias. Why do we need to change for you and you not for us. We also have a hard time paying with debit cards in the US. Same issues there:
        – You lose business
        – It costs us more
        – We have to carry cash

        • Of course, there’s no right for me to demand a whole culture to shift just for me or any other foreigner. But at the same time, if a country (any country, not just NL) claims to have multi-cultural way of life, then acceptance of new ideas or global trends should be part of daily life.

          The clear example was my train ride. I was willing to pay €24 but couldn’t despite my best intents. Who’s right/wrong there?

          • It has nothing to with not being open to changes… our (local) payment instruments are evolving quite rapidly to adapt to changes. It just makes no sense from a cost perspective (and a factor is also that banks are protecting their revenue instead of handing that over to Visa/Master/Amex).

            It’s quite easy for a merchant to accept credit cards though, all POS systems can handle them without a problem. They just decide against it because of the transaction costs. It’s simply not worth it for the incidental visitor that has no other means of payment. And who can simply go to an ATM to get some cash…

          • And don’t get me wrong… I also think it’s a bit stupid that train tickets cannot be bought with a credit card. But I also feel it’s completely justified they charge €0,50 for the privilege. When the paperless tickets are fully implemented you will be able to carry a balance on your ticket/card so that extra charge will be a bit easier to swallow.

    • I think that dutch people has their own choice to just use debit cards instead of credit cards or whatever they think is better for their pockets. However, the main point of this article is that people from abroad have a hard time to purchase with cards like AMEX and VISA. In USA, Southamerica, Asia, and other countries in Europe these cards are accepted in all stores to buy clothes, food, etc. Thus, NL should accept these kind of cards, thinking in a more inclusive way for the rest of the world visiting their country so we all have nice experiences.

      • VISA -able to use it everywhere I go.. but no, not in the netherlands. why? because they have to pay a monthly fee to charge from visa customers.
        so, one might think i can take money from the atm? besides being charged from £1.90 to £3.60 depending on the atm, quite often they are not working.

  8. Just to provide some reference for NL in a recent 2012 study for 2012, covering an estimated 85% of branches/payment volumes).
    Total calculated costs for “over the counter” payments:
    €1,38 billion ($1.8billion)

    Type of transactions:
    58% cash, 38% debit cards, 4% other (credit cards, fuel cards, other)

    Total costs per transaction type:
    51% cash, 31% debit cards, 10% credit cards, 8% other

    Cost per transaction:
    Cash 24, debit card 21, credit card 215 cents.

    The study didn’t include hotels, car rental services and airlines since that is only a very small percentage of the market, credit card usage there will be more substantial (but still quite low).

    And since the average transaction amount in this study was €69 it’s fair to say that the costs of a credit card transaction will be quite a bit higher for those payments while the cost of a debit card transaction will remain about the same (Dutch debit cards are issued/processed by banks and transaction charges are a flat fee per transaction with volume discounts).

    So it’s really not that difficult to understand why most merchants hate credit card payments….

    • Could you provide the link to the study please? It’d be interesting to see their point of view.

      It also seems bizarre to eliminate hotels from the study, as that is where the majority of people are likely to use cards (debit or credit) instead of cash, regardless of the size of the market.

  9. Germany is just as bad. Aside from points, I don’t necessarily mind getting cash, but I think this is a big issue for foreigners (who wants to carry around hundreds of Euro around for a fancy dinner?). It’s also tough for businessmen/women, as they often need to use their company cards.

  10. The link (although the document is in Dutch):

    The reason they exclude hotels is that this study is performed for “toonbank” (over the counter) businesses. But that’s 85% of business so it should suffice. Hotels will probably not have a lot of cash transactions, and due to larger amounts being charged will need to accept credit cards. As a lot of them do.

    But it simply makes no sense to promote credit card usage here since the debit card charges are so low. You will not have a problem spending larger amounts here with your credit card, you just need to carry some cash (or a Dutch debit card) for small day2day expenses and things like train/bus tickets and parking.

    Even for internet shopping there are low cost alternatives to a credit card like iDeal. Credit card usage is simply too expensive, with Amex as the most greedy.

  11. I also work in NL as a kennismigrant. When I searched for credit card deals, those in NL seem to be a crap. But my colleague is still happy with his Buienkof card. lol

    I think the extra cost of payment by CC and less competition lead to less use of CC, which will again make the CC less attracting.

    BTW, I like your articles very much

  12. The Bijenkorf card is about the only Dutch card with a somewhat decent member program. It’s simply lack of demand, and the fact that most people get their credit card from their bank “for free” because they are included in an account package. Hardy anybody is interested in additional cards.

    That’s why I needed to go to Germany for my M&M card, with a measly 15k signup bonus.

  13. In my experience it is common for many smaller European countries not to accept AmEx. It may not be the best for travelers but it deducts from their bottomline, so I see why they do it. I agree with Spike that credit cards are frowned upon in some countries because it basically appears you can’t pay for what you’re buying outright.

    • It is my first time to be in the continent of Europe after I have been to US, UK, Australia, most part of Asia and some Latin American countries. The Netherlands is the only place where credit cards are not well accepted. It is not because of the size of economy – Asian and Latin American countries are with many or even more small businesses in total or on a per capita basis, nor the transaction cost – small businesses in those countries swallow that cost, which, in return, is bring them more business. The key, I think, is still that the credit card companies to work with local banks and invest more to push on consumer demands, and consequently force the merchants to adapt to it.

  14. I was in a supermarket in Vught Holland last night. They did not take Visa/MasterCard/Amex DEBIT or CREDIT !!!!! there were no signs in the supermarket even saying what they would take for payment! In the end I had to ask if there was a cash point near (which there was luckily). Much to the disgust of people in the queue, I had to pay cash….
    I pay my credit card in full every month so there is not an issue that I cannot afford the food and I want it on credit! Surely though it should be about a service the supermarket offers. So, I have now found out that unless you have a Dutch credit OR Debit card you are stuck? Does not make me want to visit Holland again and probably wont. This is CRAZY…

    • Same here. They even don’t like embossed debit cards, they call it prepaid credit card. Prepaid credit, sounds silly.
      On the other side Dutch betaalpas is completely useless in any online store that doesn’t accept IDEAL payments. Paypal sometimes is an option but often you just have to provide 16 digits and CCV.

  15. Dutch people like to be independent.
    When we use bamk cards there aren’t Any costs involved for The consumer and The retailer.
    (No. commercial VISA MasterCard Costs )
    We have The best banking systems in The world with The latest technology.i
    That s why we don t need iT.
    Dutch people have a creditcard which we only USE if we go to these countries where people stil have CHECKBOOKS,
    The Last time I used a checkbook was in The early 80’s
    creditcards are so 80’s

    • I’d like to point out that NL appears to be one of few countries to charge for a checking/current account and a debit card! ABN Amro charges me something like €15 per year compared to my UK account which is free and gives me all the same privileges plus a credit card if I want to buy stuff over the internet. That credit card would cost an extra fee in NL.

  16. I CAN definitively relay to your story, i found myself one day with 3 different credit. Are in my pockets plus a 50 euro note, having to beg a student kid to give me 50 cents to complete my 5euros coins to buy myself a ticket home. Not a good feeling.

    But to be fair, if Amex and its competitors were not asking retailers for such a high premium , these shops will take our cards regardless of what the Dutch public does.

  17. Well I can confirm that Den Haag Centraal now accepts Visa or Mastercard credit cards. I wonder if someone’s able to find out about Rotterdam Centraal and Utrecht Centraal?

  18. Moved to the Netherlands from the UK 4 years ago, and have had a MasterCard for almost all of that time. I use it loads, but 100% online, I don’t even know my PIN anymore so even if I wanted to buy something in a brick and mortar shop I couldn’t.

    Plenty of the more global companies here seem to accept credit cards online.

    • The emphasis is in global, but even with that they don’t always accept credit cards. For instance Subway sandwiches in The Hague didn’t!

  19. Dear Americans, please start getting properly informed before traveling to NL and get a simple debit card before you come here. Instead of using this much securer payment option, the USA seems to be stuck in the 1950s with their insecure credit card, enabling anyone who steals that card to plunder your bank account with no trouble at all. Please join the rest of the world and open a normal bank account that comes with a normal Maestro or V-pay card, which is accepted pretty much everywhere in the world, including the Netherlands. Tourists from all over the planet use their cards in the NL, it’s only those Americans that keep on complaining about the credit card acceptance.

    • I’m not sure whether you were intending to direct that at me (I’m not American). You’ll find that the problem extends to British debit cards too and NL appears not to like any of the cards I have issued by 3 large banks. Hence this post.

      Also realise that credit card companies, at least in the UK, are liable for purchases over a certain limit. Thus if you ever need to claim compensation for a defective product or a company going bust, then you can claim via the credit card provider.

      • As for your British card, several British friends of mine have used their cards in the NL just fine. So apparently, at least *some* British cards are accepted here. Unfortunately, I don’t know what banks they’re with (I’ll ask next time I see them) but could it be that your bank card doesn’t have Maestro or V-pay on them? According to Wikipedia, the British branch of Bank of Ireland is the only UK bank issuing Maestro cards. After some googling I learned that the UK is basically phasing out debit cards and started using Visa Debit (which, to the point, is in fact a credit card but directly linked to a bank account) instead. Apparently the UK feels more American than European. For now, however, the UK is the only country in Europe to use this system (according to Wikipedia, there are only two other countries where they use Visa Debit, namely Canada and… yes…). It would be fair of British banks to clearly inform their clients that Visa Debit is in fact not a debit card, is not accepted at places that only accept debit cards are you may be charged extra at places that do accept credit cards. For British people, like Americans, there’s no other option than to buy a prepaid Maestro card probably (can be bought in the UK). And to take extra care of your bank card as I assume it’s just as unsafe as any credit card.

    • This is not true UK debit cards are usually administered by visa or MasterCard and therefore not widely accepted in NL. My UK visa debit card saved me from fraud the theft once I reported it was refunded by my bank immediately I would not want to go back to the old debit card system which is largely been phased out of UK Banking as it was less secure.

  20. Hi Tim, I can fully relate to what you wrote here and I’m glad that you care enough to share this so that the Dutch society can realize the many advantages of credit card acceptance not just for the locals but to tourists and visitors.

    I also have Amex and because not too many stores accept it, I hardly do my shopping spree here. Luckily, I have relatives in the UK, so I just go there to buy my stuff :-)It’s not only because Amex is widely accepted there but because I get the customer service provided by all establishments – just like in North America.

    In fairness, I think it’s improved lately (credit card acceptance). Jumbo (a big supermarket chain) started accepting Amex last year when they opened their biggest branch in NL here in Breda. We used to get our groceries at Albert Heijn but not anymore :-)so hopefully they soon realize that they are losing business by not accepting credit card payments. FYI, Amexco in the Netherlands is not entirely a “credit card” where you can defer all of your purchases – it is like a debit card, wherein you can charge your purchases and then pay everything in full every month – and you earn airmiles. Having charged most of our groceries and purchases using Amex for only 2 yrs, I have been able to travel to London twice almost for free!!!

    • Hi Helen,

      I’ve been looking all over for a Jumbo that accepts AMEX, as the ones up north near Groningen did not. They realise that the expats tend to use credit cards, and with Dutch people liking free stuff (like air miles) then the competition will start to heat up.

      To make a point I’d happily move my shopping away from Albert Heijn if I could find somewhere else that accepts AMEX for free!

  21. I’ve been to the Netherlands twice: once in 2013 and once in 2015 and payment has been a real problem for so many reasons. Between myself and my bf we have credit and debit cards from France, UK, Canada, USA and none of them work. One time we tried to park our car and the machine only accepted Dutch debit cards, not evEn cash! We were stuck for an hour until my friend who lives in den haag came to save us.

    • One of my biggest gripes with some of the parking machine was only accepting Chipknip which seemed like the most financially-xenophobic decisions possible. I’m so glad it got discontinued this year! The credit card situation in NL has improved slightly but I still get frustrated by places like Gamma or Praxis (both are DIY supplies shops) where one might spend thousands if redecorating.

      • Just be sure to fill your wheelbarrow with bills smaller than €100 and you’ll be fine 🙂 You’ll even get those amazing Air Miles and maybe be able to go to the cinema after spending €500 at Praxis.

  22. Hi Tim,

    bang on with your remarks. A good counter-example of another supposedly “backward” country is Italy where they take just about every credit card possible at every grocery store. Even Trenitalia has moved into the 21st century and accepts them as well (including AmEx) without any surcharge.

    @Gerard, your remark about there being plenty of ATM’s in NL, whilst valid doesn’t compare to countries like Italy and Indonesia who also readily accept credit cards as well as cash. However, do you care to explain why a tourist should pay huge bank withdrawal fees for the priviledge of having cash that can get stolen and which in some stores is not even accepted! Some stores now only accept PIN.

    The fact that NS cannot even get their act together and implement ticket machines that accept notes and not just coins is long overdue. By the way, since paper ticket were obsoleted, you now have to pay not just €0,50 surcharge for using a credit Card (if it accepts it) but also a €1 surcharge for the paper OV chip ticket (a paper ticket with a chip inside).

    Re: supermarkets, as far as I only, only Dirk v/d Broek accepts MasterCard (perhaps also Visa) but you also have to pay a surcharge. You also cannot pay with €100 notes (or anyathing higher) anywhere. Vomaar and Blokker even verify €5 notes to check if they are counterfeit. Is this what you call a culture that prefers cash? Germany is also lagging behind but at least they barely blink at large notes if you pay cash so they are still one up on the Netherlands.

  23. Just come across this post after searching for solutions online after being rejected for a credit card with SNS (they say I need to have employment in the Netherlands but I still work in the UK).

    I personally applaud the Netherlands for not having a credit card “culture”. Perks and points are all very well for the minority of people who use a credit card correctly but these perks can only be offered if the credit card company is making money. Where do they make this profit? From people having outstanding balance and incurring 15%+ interest. Personal debt, besides a mortgage, is frowned upon in the Netherlands. None of my friends here have loans or credit card debt which is definitely not something I could say about my friends back in the UK!

    If credit card use is low among residents then it makes no sense for retailers to offer the ability to pay by credit card.

    • Abn-Amro/ICS rejected me because my residence permit is not permanent, even though I have well paid job. It took them 3 month asking me for more and more payslips and refused because of fact known right from the application day.

      Very Dutch way of customer service

  24. Dear Tim,

    I also feel compelled to write something, having just stumbled across your post and the associated comments.

    I am a British national and recently arrived in the Netherlands to study for a semester. I have two British debit cards, a French debit card, an Italian debit card and several credit cards (which, by the way, are just for emergencies). I was only mildly annoyed when I had to pay a €0.50 surcharge at the station for paying with a debit card, but more surprised and a bit put out when I realised I couldn’t pay by any of my cards at the COOP supermarket (but at least they accept cash!) and absolutely livid when I queued for 10 minutes in the Utrecht University library café for a coffee the other day, only to find that they ONLY ACCEPT DUTCH DEBIT CARDS! (I.e. they do not even accept cash). I understand the rationale behind retailers refusing to accept credit cards because of high fees, but what on earth is the rationale behind refusing to accept LEGAL TENDER? I find this mind-boggling, and to be honest, a pretty unacceptable form of indirect discrimination.

    I have had the same problem with ordering course books online (they can only be bought online) – they can only be purchased with a Dutch payment system. I have had to ask my Dutch friend to buy them for me – but what if one doesn’t have a Dutch friend?!! I have now managed to open a bank account, and to obtain a Dutch debit card (but this is not without its difficulties given the requirement of the BSN number, as you noted, which one cannot have without a permanent address, which is difficult to have quickly in a city like Utrecht where the housing market is very difficult – my other international friends have been living in hostels for weeks whilst they look to find a long-term housing solution). Is this how the Netherlands, which markets itself as an open, internationally-mind country, treats its international students? It is one thing to refuse the credit card of a rich businessman, who can afford to pay all the cash withdrawal fees and additional transaction fees (not to mention the international fees I will have to pay when making an IBAN transfer to my Dutch account, so that it actually has money in it), but what about us poor students, who are just trying to study in your country as you appear to be encouraging us to do?

    I also object to the comments above by somebody who said that the British have chosen to “follow the Americans” by adopting Visa debit cards. My debit card in France was also a Visa, and in Italy it was a MasterCard. What the Dutch seem to be saying is that everybody must open an account here, just so that they can buy things here. Irrespective of the difficulties that may be associated with opening a bank account (as mentioned above), this seems to be a sort of covert protectionism by the Dutch banks.

    I am a lawyer in the UK, and I studied EU law for several years; I am now wondering: isn’t this a breach of EU law? It certainly seems to me to be a barrier to the free movement of goods and services (namely, the purchase by other EU nationals of goods and services here in the Netherlands, whether or not those EU nationals are based abroad or living here, or coming here for a job interview, as in your case). Do you happen to know if this issue has been raised with the European Institutions, or any type of financial services ombudsman?

    I apologise if this sounds like one big rant, but personally I am quite disappointed with the Netherlands as I was very much looking forward to living in this open-minded and outward-looking country, and instead this payment issue has left me feeling like a second-class citizen (as well as a little bit humiliated) now on several occasions.

    • Totally agree I have felt humiliated here too, had one horrible experience that has put me off. I am here as tourist and it is so impractical to travel with large sums of cash , will be re thinking this as a destination until I find out credit card or at least visa debit cards become more widely accepted. Such a shame but it’s a dealbreaker for me. I feel the Dutch society are being shortsighted as visa/ MasterCard debit cards offer greater protection from card fraud. I suffered debit fraud in UK and got all my money back Almost immediately it took one short phone call to the bank and they refunded the theft.

  25. I am Not Dutch. But I see the reason is just simply. It’s way too expensive for small businesses to adopt CCs payments( they need buy or rent a terminal, and sign contract. Commission for every transaction). No one cares when existing pin network is available( with lower fee). I think for supermarkt chain like AH, they don’t generate their major revenue from foreigner( outside of Europe. Or visa MasterCard). If these people plan to stay in holland for longer periods, they will have to get a Dutch bank card. Even if they don’t plan get a local bank card , they have no other alternatives. Since other major chains don’t accept it neither. Maybe they are some “high end” grocery stores where they accept cc. But the target group is different then AH. Also the premium price covers the commission fee. Since foreigners are not their main revenue streams, why should AH or Jumbo ask domestic customers to pay for it.( meaning the cost of investment and add a markup to cover the commission fee). So it’s a cost and benefit analysis for businesses. That’s why some restaurants or hotels may accept it. Besides, for CCs payment you need someone to verify the signature( without a chip). That means current self scanning system also has to be updated.

  26. It’s ridiculous. My husband just tried to buy a train ticket online and couldn’t use his company credit card so he has to either use his personal Dutch debit card and write an expenses sheet or hope he can pay at the station with a credit card when he gets there. For such a modern country some things are very backward.

  27. Oh and I once went into the SNS bank, my husband’s bank, with 7000 euros and was told they don’t accept CASH! What kind of bank doesn’t accept cash? So I had to pay it into my bank and transfer it over (of course that cost me commission).

    • ABN AMRO doesn’t accept cash either. I was in very funny situation when I found an appartment to rent, had to pay the 1st month + deposit but my bank account wasn’t ready yet. GWC Travelex helped me for EUR 50+ comission.

  28. One Dutch person comments that Dutch see credit cards as living beyond your means this is possible as credit cards do always give generous amount of credit however this does not have to be the case with modern credit cards . My credit card as UK resident a has a reward system on spending so i collect point and then get large sums of money back every quarter. I NEVER go into debt and pay the balance in full every single month no interest is ever charged to me. I’m on holiday at moment and now realising I will not have brought enough cash . Like many tourists I don’t want to travel with huge sums of money needed for a family holiday for 2 weeks. Tried to pay for a large shop in albert Heinjk about 60 euro and check out person looked at me like I had 3 heads when I tried to pay by card luckily I had enough cash but the whole experience was awful large queue of people all staring while I struggle with small children . I know I should have researched this more but I thought this is Western Europe and have visited many other parts Spain and Portugal no card problems. The checkout person said use your bank card but UK debit cards are operated by visa and so do not work either . Visa debit card system is a good thing also for us as it makes them so secure to pay for things. If there is debit card fraud which did happen to me I got all my money back. I will definetly be re thinking ever visiting here agin which is such a shame as this is the only negative experience we love this country. I am amazed the card companies haven’t tried to crack it more by making it more appealing for businesses and the public . By lowering the fees to business and raising awareness to public That it’s not about running up huge debts but about collecting reward points and paying in full is an option as well. And that it makes your transactions more fraud proof.

  29. I agree with the original post. I was frustrated by the fact that every Dutch bank charges for an account as well as a credit card (if CC is free it’s already part of the package and thus paid for). Also the IDEAL system that is frustrating when trying to pay outside the Netherlands is annoying. Furthermore, the contactless payment option is 99% only possible via debit card and not credit so contactless payment is impossible outside NL (i.e. London subway system).

    As a Dutchman I closed my Dutch account and opened a German one. Free Vpay card (Visa) accepted everywhere in the NL/EU and a free Visa creditcard accepted virtually anywhere outside NL. EU law states that all EU account numbers must be accepted inside the EU so aside from some companies ILLEGALY not accepting my German IBAN, most do.

    The Dutch banking system should leave the choice for debit/credit up to it’s clients like for example in Germany. And it should stop charging for a simple account. In other words: it should adapt to the Germany, UK, Belgium, most of the EU.

    I do not agree with US being ahead, still mostly using signatures as verification. It’s simply not safe.

  30. I know I’m late to the party but would like to contribute. I am Dutch but moved away to live in Australia. As a now non-resident visitor to the Netherlands, I can confirm what an absolute pain in the behind it is to travel there without a Dutch bank account. The cause of this: the Maestro/Cirrus system. Widely used in the Netherlands, this is a debit version of MasterCard. But the two are not backwards compatible, meaning Mastercard or Visa holders will struggle paying at most locations in the Netherlands.

    I won’t address American Express as I find their international support rather limited, including in Australia.They are either not supported or charge a hefty surcharge.

    There is a common misunderstanding in the Netherlands that Visa or Mastercard apply only to credit cards, and not debit cards. This is simply not true: from experience I know that ie. the UK and Australia widely use Visa/Mastercard as their debit card system.

    This means that international visitors with a Visa/Mastercard DEBIT card miss out on most of Dutch payments. Dutch residents don’t seem to understand this and respond in general with “Yeah, we don’t like credit cards in the Netherlands.” This is because Dutch credit cards use Visa/Mastercard (remember, debit cards there are Maestro/Cirrus only).

    On top of that, Paypal is not widely accepted there either – they have some local system called iDeal which ironically is not safe or insured: my mother ordered an iPhone, the Dutch shop went bankrupt and did not deliver. She lost all her money whilst she would have been refunded by Paypal or Visa/Mastercard.

    This is coming from a Dutch person: Netherlands, you are years and years behind the rest of the world. Get your act together and start accepting Visa/Mastercard.

  31. Gosh, I posted the above on a Dutch message board and their response was ‘Stop your propaganda, we don’t want credit cards’… The battle for knowledge continues.

    There is light on the horizon though, with V Pay becoming widely accepted now. I believe V Pay is backwards compatible with Visa.

  32. Here in the Netherlands on holiday, and as others have said, it is a pain that neither MasterCard, Visa nor UK debit cards are accepted in many locations. If it is a cost issue, by all means add a percentage cost to cover the charge, but at least accept the payment mechanism.

    Having to have cash means that I need to have sufficient to hand to cover the bill, which in the case of restaurant bills can end up higher than expected. With a card payment I could cover the bill straight away, without having to find an ATM.

    As far as low value payments go, it is cheaper to use credit cards, as they charge a percentage rather than a flat fee. With the advent of contactless cards, the transaction charges are lower still.

    Also, very often for businesses cash still has a cost to handle – there can be charges for depositing cash, although I don’t know if this is the case in NL.

    Either way, if it is a cost issue, pass it on to the customer and they can decide. It is cheaper for me to pay in Euros on a credit card than to pay the commission charges to change GBP to Euro. I’d rather pay by card and cover the extra charge than have to deal with extra cash.

    In the UK I can go weeks without using cash. I don’t much like having to carry wads of the stuff around, not to mention the chance of having to change excess back again at the end of the trip.

  33. If it helps: the very few places that DO except Visa or Mastercard usually have a sticker on their entrance door.

    I agree with Joel, mire than happy to pay a surcharge for the use. Rather that than being stuck on an unmanned train station with no ATM in sight.

  34. As this issue has buggered me for years, I’m considering starting an informal campaign to highlight the issue in the Netherlands.

    I believe a win-win situation can be created with a bit more knowledge on the merchant’s side: more profits for them and a smoother paying experience for tourists.

    Will let you know the outcome!

    • The funny thing there are some companies operating in the Netherlands still want a normal Visa/Mastercard. Car rental companies for example. Also TUI travel operator accepted over 1K EUR iDEAL payment for tour order but iDEAL was not an option for seats booking (26 EUR for two roundrip)

  35. In 1993 we moved from the Netherlands to New Zealand.
    About every 3 years we go to the Netherlands on a holiday.
    Each time I am amazed how backwards the payment system is.
    The funny thing is that I spoke to an old colleague who was an interim bank director and he told me proudly that Holland had the best banking system in the world.
    This guy had never been anywhere in the world but happily made a completely unsubstantiated statement.
    In New Zealand retailers have a GSM POS terminal on a fair in the middle of nowhere. While in Holland you cannot even pay your train trip or parking ticket with a credit card.
    This is why we still have a bank account in the Netherlands.
    Getting a bank account in the Netherlands is a time consuming activity.
    In many small cities you will have to make an appointment with a bank before you can even apply !
    If you are used to a service minded economy you will be in for a surprise, not just in the banking sector.

  36. I am Czech, but I live in the Netherlands since 2004. I have Maestro card, which is valid everywhere in the Netherlands and I find more and more shops and restaurants accept it in Czech Republic as well. My parents struggle when they visit me. I remember how they came in shock that their credit card was not accepted in the supermarket and train station. Actually they had to find ATM and get some cash. They travel a lot and can always use the credit card, well not here..My father has a foreign debit card and that one was not accepted either. I understand that for people living here its easy to get their (pinpas) Maestro card but how about the tourists? Maybe the lucky ones who have a Maestro card from their home countries there is still a hope, but for all the others? Not very easy.

    • Maestro is owned by MasterCard. In the UK, nearly all banks that had Maestro debit cards migrated to Visa debit cards (or some to MasterCard debit cards). Maestro has effectively disappeared from the UK market – not an issue because the POS networks accept VISA and MasterCard, and it is growing with the growth of contactless payments (which have lower transaction charges to compete with cash payments). This has helped the acceptance of new schemes like ApplePay.

      The issue isn’t around whether it is debit or credit cards, but around the apparent resistance of NL to electronic transactions to international norms.

      If it is a cost issue, allow the customer to decide. Put on a surcharge for credit card payment if necessary (or offer a discount for payments using your native debit card system).

      One other thing – don’t refer to accepting payments with debit cards unless you accept ALL debit cards. It is REALLY confusing for visitors. If you only accept one variety of debit card system, refer to it by that name. That is why you look for signs denoting acceptance of VISA, MC, Amex, Diners Club etc, rather than simply “credit cards”.

      • Credit cards in NL are handled by single company called ICS, which got stuck in ’90s with horrible website and often failing mobile application.
        ICS means International Cards Services but they didn’t even bother to translate their website to English.

  37. Just moved here from the USA and thats exactly how I feel Tim! About the bank accounts, I just opened one with ING and it was fairly easy assuming you are a student or have a BSN. Smaller branches don’t even require a appointment and I was out of the bank within 20 minutes. It is a bummer that I wont be using much of my miles anymore…

  38. Basic comment: I was born and raised in The Netherlands. Met this wonderful American, who is already for almost 40 years my husband. When I am visiting my home country I feel like I am a criminal and I am disappointed with the looks and impatience I get, when I have trouble not knowing how to pay or what the customs are. Every time I come, and that is at least once, if not twice a year now, since I have a 97 year old mother, something has changed again. I still have a bank account at a bank in The Netherlands, however, service is terrible and when I am there for three weeks, I mostly have to wait for three weeks for anything new I need. And then they look at me with such an authority, like I am some poor pauper out of a third world country! Maybe true, but it leaves a lot to be desired as far as customer service! At home I walk out with a new pass in two minutes! So, it meant walking around with waddles of cash, which, luckily, I had obtained at Schiphol Airport, otherwise I would not have been able to get any Euro’s anywhere else, as there are no banks anymore who exchange foreign currencies, but at the border or at the airports.
    And that is the most modern banking system of the world? What about convenience for a traveler, who, maybe at a later time, wants to exchange some more Euro’s? I suspect that the Americans start to rule our country for the security and fear for terrorism of theirs. And as The Netherlands is one of the major hubs to the US, their power starts to extend somewhat too strong and I am not sure why the Dutch government must have something hanging over their heads that makes it so difficult, especially for Americans, to deal with finances. The Americans want to know exactly what you do with your money over there, what your address is and how much you have! It will even become difficult to have a bank account in The Netherlands and when you can’t carry cash out of fear it is counterfit, not have the use of a credit/debit card, what are you supposed to do? I can’t go home anymore? I am afraid in the end it is going to be that way and hope I can make it to my mother’s funeral! I like to have a credit card for use next to my bank card, as I am used to that.
    Besides, if you do not have credit in the US, you are a person not to be trusted, as it means YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SPEND! You cannot get a job, nor a house, an apartment, etc. You need a creditcard first in order to be “known”. Come on, you inventive, clever Dutch; this is going too far!
    People are not coming back anymore as tourist and your expats are going to stay away, which is sad, as your home will always remain your home.

    • “So, it meant walking around with waddles of cash, which, luckily, I had obtained at Schiphol Airport, otherwise I would not have been able to get any Euro’s anywhere else, as there are no banks anymore who exchange foreign currencies, but at the border or at the airports.”

      Look, I’m on your side but this doesn’t make any sense. There are ATMs everywhere, and any ATM will accept Visa or Mastercard for withdrawals. The issue is with retailers not accepting them.

  39. When I moved to the Netherlands, I also didn’t know what Visa Debit or Visa Electron were practically not accepted anymore, but I had my Slovenian Maestro card with me (I still keep some of my finances in Slovenia), and I keep using it to date with 100% acceptance rate, with the exception of cash-only locations. So the statement that only Dutch Maestro are accepted is definitely incorrect (article dates back to 2013 that might explain it..). I can also say from personal experience that many smaller gas stations in Germany (those next to Real supermarkets) also only take Maestro or cash (not even V-PAY). And in Austria, gas stations next to Hofer discount stores, didn’t take my Visa Debit, only Maestro (not even cash); also in Billa supermarkets only Maestro worked.

    As for why I don’t use credit cards: zero benefits on my Visa credit and almost no spending limit (couple hundred Euros), whereas with Maestro or Visa Debit/Electron I can spend as much I put on that bank account at that moment. ICS also offers a prepaid Visa Debit (for online purchases for example).

  40. Back in the Netherlands for a few weeks and pleased to report that I have been able to pay with MasterCard in some Albert Heijn shops, including random little towns. There has been improvement since my last visit in 2016. Some local banks like Buna are offering debit Mastercards now, which should be good for local awareness. Still most locals seem to associate Visa/Mastercards with credit cards only.

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