There is no chip in my card, but there is one on my shoulder!
The “chip in my card” that I am referring to is the one in the direct-debit cards, or “PIN” cards used everywhere here in Amsterdam. Who doesn’t have a chip in any of her cards? Me, that’s who! And, why don’t I have the latest in payment card technology? Because I am an American and we don’t have this technology yet. What?! That’s right, we don’t have chips in our cards yet so all of my debit and credit cards are mostly useless here in Amsterdam.
“PIN” cards are used everywhere here, from stores to vending machines. These direct-debit cards look like credit or bankcards, but they have these little gold printed circuit chips on them. I just have magnetic strips on my cards.
So, get a chip card, you say? Not possible for an American, or any visitor for that matter. You have to have a Dutch back account and you cannot open a Dutch bank account if you are not a legal resident.
So, in places like the grocery store and the drycleaner, most café’s, etc. you have to pay with cash. My magnetic strip cards do work at the ATMs however at a 3% fee, plus $5 transaction fee, so getting cash is not that hard, but you just have to carry a lot of it with you.
A new problem occurs when you try to ride the public transportation system here. They have their own chip cards and you either need to buy one, with cash, every time you ride a tram, bus or train, or you can purchase an ov-chipkaart that you can reload. Buying the card is easy. You go to one of those tobacco-selling shops and they will sell you a card for 7.50 Euros that is already loaded with 10 Euros. The average ride is about 2 Euros. However, reloading the card is not so easy.
As a tourist, without a “PIN” card you cannot use the convenient vending machines that are everywhere here to load your ov-chipkaart. You have to use cash, which means you have to be at one of the major stations to load the card because that is the only place they have machines that accept cash. And, you have to be sure you have your cash in the coin denominations because the machines do not accept paper bills!
Tomorrow, I will take my weighty change purse down to Centraal Station and load up my card for another week’s worth of rides, then I will stop at the ATM and withdrawal a hefty pile of paper money for my week’s worth of groceries and other purchases. Then, finally, I will pick up my Latte at Starbucks. Starbucks? Oh, yes, that card does work here!