The Mad World of Dutch Banks and Credit Cards

8 Feb

There’s something you’ll realise when you first come to the Netherlands that you would never have thought of. Suddenly all your bank cards don’t work. Sure you see all the Dutch happily put their cards into the chip and pin machines and – yes – their card is accepted. Something is up? What? You don’t accept Visa? The biggest credit card company in the world and this small land has decided it’s having none of it?

Unfortunately if all your cards are Visa you’re going to have to go back to the old school days where you carry cash all the time. Or you could get a Dutch bank account.

That sounds easy right, I mean if you live here how hard can it be?

Previously me and my dad learnt that it can be quite hard. It appears the global banking network is a fallacy and no country is actually connected to another. You call up your home bank and say “Hi, I’m going to study abroad for a year what do you recommend I do with my bank account? If I keep the current one I’ll be charged all the time for changing money into euros” Turns out they have no clue and they can’t make you a bank account in euros.

What about ING? They are a Dutch bank that also exists in the UK, can they help? “We don’t talk to our Dutch branches.” WHAT? How ridiculous, what do business men do when they have to travel the world? People move to different countries constantly and live there for only a short amount of time. The outgoing and influx of exchange students into the UK alone must be enough for the banks to consider a solution.


For people going on a year abroad there are some things you can get to help. Norwich and Peterborugh do a debit card which doesn’t charge for withdrawing money and Halifax does a credit card with the same thing. However, it took all summer asking banks what they can do with no response – and then asking someone else coming to UC what they were doing to find them. Thanks Ben! Slight problem is these are both Visa cards – so it still can’t help you with buying things in shops.

Now to that Dutch bank account. You now live in the country so it must be easy. Wrong. First you have to fill out an online form. This is all fine of course. However you have to wait a month until you’ve visited the municipality to officially register yourself with the city, and then wait another week for the letter saying you have done so, to arrive through the post.

Now the bank send you an email saying you have to go see them in person with ID. Previously I had learned (by having to bike to and from the post office twice) that other countries do not like the ID that we would consider to be OK (as in your driving licence). This is very annoying as your only other identification is your passport (as the UK doesn’t want ID cards) and this is a lot more valuable than the driving license. Anyway easy lesson, when they want ID bring your passport. What is more you’d think you could go into any building that said “Rabobank” on the side (which there are quite a lot) and sort it out there. No – you have to go all the way across the city to a slightly scummy Turkish area to sort it out. You get lost on the way but eventually find the place. You sign some forms and your PIN will be with you in a week.

It’s now two months since you’ve arrived, but at least everything is looking up and you’ve dealt with the banking bureaucracy. By this time, though, you’ve been living on cash and so you think, “why change? The account will close when you leave at the end of the year and you get a bonus of a Rabobank souvenir.”

Too bad when in December you get an angry email saying how they tried to take €15 out of your bank for opening it, but there wasn’t anything in there so could you kindly put €15 in there so they could have it. Why do I have to pay these people to open an account? Surely they are in competition with the other banks for my money and slapping some price tag on the account makes me want to use them less. If I can open one for free at home, plus it only takes an hour to chat with a lady to do so, then why can’t they? They also want to look after my money too so they can invest it!

Also, as you haven’t been using the card, you don’t know how to put money into the account. But you figure you can just go to the far away bank again and give them the €15 in cash over the counter and that’ll be done with. You eventually find time in your busy schedule to go there. You wait in a queue and after a while get to talk to someone, but they are about to tell you some shocking news.”We don’t deal with cash here”. You are a bank! How can you not deal with cash, that’s why you exist?! However there is some good in the system, and as you are not using the bank account and can’t remember the PIN he can just close the account and you won’t have to pay. Plus – added bonus – you can keep the card. Win! But if you’ve opened the account and shut it for free then, why did you try to make me pay in the first place?

So you emerge triumphant – but there are minor problems you have to overcome when you don’t have a Dutch bank account;

  1. You can’t get a phone contract so looks like you’ll be on pay-as-you-go
  2. All the printers in academic buildings use ‘chipknip*’ in order to pay for them
  3. The snack machines also use this
  4. You can’t buy train tickets from the machine at the station, which means you have to pay an extra €0.50 to buy one from a person at the desk (which is also always on the other side of the station to the on you are on)

*Chipknip is another stupid Dutch system, as the Dutch agree. Mostly its how you pay for parking, but UC also uses it. I’ll explain. Like other bank cards, Dutch ones have a chip, but this chip also doubles as your “Chipknip”. What this means is you need to go to a machine where you can take money from your account and then put some of it onto the Chipknip. Only then can you use the chip to pay for things. This does not make sense, as it would be easier just to deduct money from your main account and not some weird second account thing. Plus the chip is the same chip you use for paying in the shop. Just take out this silly step, its pointless!

Rant nearly over. Maybe if you are Dutch you don’t notice these things and it’s all roses for you? Not true. Ingeniously Dutch bank cards don’t have a CVC number on the back. This means unless internet shops use the ‘Ideal’ system you can’t buy anything. This includes plane tickets on Wizz Air, which means you have to set up a complicated bank transfer, or get your foreign friend to do it. Yay for foreign friends!


14 Responses to “The Mad World of Dutch Banks and Credit Cards”

  1. Granpa Birch February 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Greetings Nichola,
    It’s a mad, mad, mad world we live in, dos’t anyone have any common sence in this ‘socalled’ Common Market? It seems Cash is King, the electro-systems are just very fast idiots. Still, the way things are going in Greece, Italy and Sain, maybe the Euro will be just a distant night-mare in a few years time and we can all go back to Pounds , Shillings and Pence. Dividing by 20 and 12 instead of boring 10s. You all seem to be having a great ‘fun’ time, is any work ever done, you know, lectures, essays and study? Pleased to hear you are enjoying the life in distant lands and meeting some very interesting people.
    Take care, L. Gp Birch.

  2. John Birch February 11, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    I see that you can buy Chipknip cards that are not linked to a bank account – what a great idea! Perfect for tourists, students etc.

    But then you look and find that they are only available in Rotterdam, it seems! More madness – perhaps the Dutch do not want visitors to use their railways etc? Unless they are in Rotterdam…

  3. Lindsay Cobb April 15, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    That sounds terrible! Its pretty complicated in Spain too. I figured all of Europe was just difficult- but I’m glad to hear that England keeps it simple. Its really easy back in the States too.
    I’m glad they didn’t charge you the 15 euro since they didn’t do anything for you! And why in the world would the Dutch not use Visa, thats crazy!
    The thing I’ve hated the most about my Spanish bank is how confusing they make getting to your account online. They try to make it really hard so that its safe and know one can hack it- but they’ve made it so hard I’ve yet to get to my online account!
    Hope all that cash spending is going well for you- I really on that pretty heavily too.

    • Nichola April 15, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      It’s also interesting to see it’s not just the Dutch. However the Visa thing does put them over the top, I can happily use it all over Europe but not NL. It’s especially annoying when you get to the front of the queue and then you have no cash and a useless card. Embarrassing.

  4. Santa Kask September 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Absolutely true! I have just started my exchange year in Amsterdam and I can experience the frustration first-hand. It seams that the Netherlands is boycotting Visa cards because of their higher commissions. You can still use Visa in selected shops, but it costs extra. Or you can take money out of an ATM, but it costs extra.

    I think that it’s absolutely idiotic to fight a greedy corporation’s high costs by implementing even higher costs of your own. Aarrggh!

    • Nichola September 8, 2013 at 4:10 am #

      Really, is that why? I font think it cost mne extra to withdraw from an ATM. At least I didn’t notice if it did. That was the way I got all my money so I hope someone wasn’t making money from me!

      It does seem silly, especially if no one knows that is the reason why. Or gives you any notice that it is even an issue..

  5. Matthew Brown September 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    One week into living at Utrecht University and I could not agree more! It’s nearly impossible to pay for anything, without a Rabobank card and it costs £25 a time to transfer money from home to here. I wonder if they want paying sometimes, but the place is beautiful which makes up for it 🙂 For a random find, this blog is a really good!

    • Nichola September 14, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

      Thanks so much for the kind words about my blog 🙂 If you are British you should consider getting an account with “Norwich and Peterborough”. Your account is in GBP but you can use the card to withdraw and pay for things (if you can find somewhere that accepts visa!) and they won’t charge you a conversion fee – this applies for anywhere in the world. You also get to business exchange rates so I highly recommend it. I have no idea how much money it has saved me! I hope you enjoy your time in Utrecht, it really is an amazing city!.

  6. JON Sael October 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Yeah !! , I am having this problem right now
    why is it so complected to get a dutch account which you cant use on the internet .
    the best part of the story was the foreign friends! .
    man believe it or not , when I want to buy a air plane ticket online , I would kiss my friends balls in Sweden to buy me one .
    and if you want to use IDeal to buy an air plane ticket, you can use a local web site which takes too much fees .
    I fu**ing hate it here ..

    • Nichola October 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      It’s definitely true having foreign friends does often come in handy. Sometimes for more reasons than a cheap holiday 😛

      Here’s to the Dutch system sorting itself out one day!

      • missy May 24, 2014 at 7:13 am #

        I don’t think the Dutch system every will change their banking system or debit cards. It is absolutely ridiculous that there is no cvc no on the back of the card, neither a long card number. This indeed means you cannot pay for Internet purchases, and even worse when you are a British National living in The Netherlands with a British passport you cannot use the online renewal form of the Britisch Consultant in NL, no because UK does not accept the maestro cards, no they need a debit or credit card with CVC number. For The Netherlands I find it truly unacceptable as they are quite involved in International businesses and love the tax overseas companies settling here are bringing in, increasing their Capital significantly, Yet they are so unwilling and stubborn to just make things easier for International payments and banking. It may sort itself out one day, but knowing the Dutch, it probably won’t ever. They hate changing old rules and love bureacracy!

  7. Sam Harrison February 6, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    As a Dutch citizen who has left the Netherlands for a few years, I’m back to see how the Netherlands are still light years behind (banks and credit cards) of other countries they might think as even third world or backwards.

    I have found the issue to be related to a social/societal mind set. Obviously if the Dutch do not want to use a credit card, then you will not be able to pay with one.

    (1) The Dutch do not like to change things that they are comfortable with and (2) they are very suspicious about anything that can compromise their financial security. The second point is related to the fact that the Dutch do not like to take any risks….they try to keep risk to an absolute minimum. Both these points can be very good things, but also have their disadvantages, in some cases it can hinder creativity, innovation and development. Anyways, this is just who they are and how they are brought up.

    I will leave off by citing someone else that commented in an expat blog:

    rick glass posted: 2014-02-03 22:03:25
    Having lived all over the world it is rather disturbing that the dutch cannot see the benefits and flexibility offered by the use of credit cards, not only for the economy but for the public also. It is a matter of financial freedom and yet another example of the deep rooted conservatism in The Netherlands. A liberal nation it is not for sure, but a financially backward one was a surprise to me.


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