No credit cards!? Why won’t the Dutch just take my money?

The Dutch hate debt, credit cards, and anything associated with them — and they’re not shy about it.

One of my first stops in the Netherlands was at the grocery store. I went to Albert Heijn, one of the biggest Dutch supermarket chains. After spending a good 20 minutes looking around, I picked a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for €7.99 — based on the €8.50 in change I had jangling around my pocket.

But when I went to the register and tried to pay, the cashier said: “geen contant“. I had no idea what that meant, so they pointed at a sign that said “No Cash Accepted”.

Flustered, I just left. I was puzzled. Why was it so difficult for me to pay? Don’t you want my hard-earned money, Albert Heijn?

Next round on you? Nope, not here

I would soon learn that the attitude towards finance is quite different compared to elsewhere in the world. The concept of going Dutch, after all, is the opposite of the Australian tradition of ‘shouting your mates’ (buying a round of drinks).

The Dutch habit of splitting the bill stems from the Netherlands’ extremely debt-averse culture.

Be it at a bar or a restaurant, the Dutch usually tend to split the bill. Image: Depositphotos

But the Dutch weren’t always so socialist, in fact, quite the contrary. It’s well documented that the Dutch were the innovators of the stock market and the VOC, a multinational corporation in the 17th century.

It also wouldn’t be an understatement to say that capitalism developed in large part thanks to the activities that were going on in the Netherlands during that time.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #18: refuse to go into debt

It’s a surprise, then, that what has emerged here is a semi-socialist system, which contrasts the consumer mindsets that we see in places like the USA.

Sorry, no credit cards

Besides resulting in the habit of spending 20 minutes to sort out your individual tabs in a restaurant, this has also caused the lack of credit card services generally.

READ MORE | Money transfers in the Netherlands: the easy (and cheap!) guide

Coming from Australia, where debt and credit cards are more commonplace, not being able to pay with cash or credit somehow offended my free-market sensibilities.

Maestro debit card and card reader
“Alleen pinnen.” Most Dutch supermarkets only accept debit cards. Image: ING Nederland/Wikimedia Commons/CC2.0

And this isn’t just the local Chinese takeaway without credit services to avoid a surcharge. These are major corporates, like the main railway operator NS, and institutions like the Dutch Immigration Service — all refusing to accept credit cards.

READ MORE | Transaction declined: why don’t my bank cards work in the Netherlands?

There are some exceptions: some Albert Heijn’s in Amsterdam will take credit cards, for example, but in general, it’s a maestro card, debit card (if you’re lucky), occasionally cash, or doei. 👋

A higher standard of living

The flip side is that, generally, everyone here enjoys a higher standard of living. This is made possible through social policies some other countries might consider extreme — the highest income earners are taxed at a staggering 52%.

The idea is that everyone has roughly the same amount to spend at the supermarket on some kaas en brood (cheese and bread).

READ MORE | New to the Netherlands? 7 reasons why bunq is the ideal bank for internationals

Simply not being able to use a credit card, along with the idea that debt is bad, also forces people to live within their means and to take part in an age-old practice called ‘budgeting’.

Cashless Societies

But what about cash? Well, the Dutch are moving towards a more cashless future.

The idea is that an electronic point of sale is safer for the vendor and the consumer. It can avoid midnight robberies or hold-ups, and offer a more efficient form of exchange with instant digital transactions.

So, where does that leave us on our question: “Why don’t you want my money?”

Well, in other countries, the supermarket will say something along the lines of: “Yes! I want your money, and I’ll make it as easy as possible for you to pay, too.”

READ MORE | This online savings platform is the solution to the Netherlands’ stingy savings rates

The banks will also jump in and say: “Wait a sec, here’s a credit card as well, so you can pay for your groceries if you don’t have enough money.”

But in the Netherlands, Albert Heijn is saying: “Nope: cash, debit card, or nothing.”

What has been your experience with debit and credit cards in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2016, but was fully updated in September 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Oh this must be a very old article (or old experience). Albert Heijn started to accept credit cards (visa and MasterCard) a couple of months ago. Consequently, its friends, including Etos and Gall and Gall all take them too. Other supermarkets like Jumbo even takes AmEx. Yes, civilisation has finally come upon us.

    While the Dutch might still have 1980s mindset of credit card = debt = bankruptcy, I feel that they love using cash, to the point love counting little euro coins. I think there was a report by the Dutch central bank saying that 30-40% transactions are still made in cash. (Surprise surprise). This is a much much higher proportion than say in Denmark and Sweden.

    • You remind of when i was busking in Holland in the 80’s and an ‘oul fella on the tram asked me how much money i made. After I told him he freaked out and said,” In Guilders? Dutch Guilders? Give me those Guilders.” Now that does seem to be a mean as shite attitude, and likely was, but at the same time he probly was suffering from early onset Alzheimer. Still a bit sad tho.

  2. I think that you might have gotten in the ‘pin only’ line at the Albert hein. It’s a faster line because everyone pays by debit card. Credit card companies charge shops a lot of money per transaction so most shops won’t have it. Paying with a debit card has become e so easy in the last few years, it’s even avaliable at the street markets.

  3. You do know that the Dutch have one of the highest total private debts in the world, don’t you? 😉 I think if the shops would offer credit card payments without extra fees (like it happens in some other countries, maybe in Australia too), then this “tradition” could change. But… why would they? So basically, we cannot really talk about what the Dutch consumers want, because they are not given this choice. And if they don’t have enough money, they will still have to buy food, they will just “go read” and pay crazy percents to their bank. Sounds nice… for the bank.

  4. Holland uses the Maestro payment system, and not Visa. It is the same in Germany. Travel to Europe, and ask your bank for a card that is Maestro compliant. I know that in the UK some banks have these for their clients. Might be possible in Australia too.

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  6. The Netherlands is a 3rd world country when it comes to innovation especially payments. Its the only country that doesn’t accept credit cards.

  7. Albert Heijn are terrible when it comes to their bad reputation. They started accepting cards in Nov 2022 and then stopped few months after. So many people hate Albert Heijn, mostly because they don’t care and continue with such a bad service.

  8. I came here for this article as indeed today, in a large AH in the centre of Groningen I was unable to use a CC to pay for my purchase. Wait! What? As an Aussie who never has cash on them and travelled through all of Finland, Denmark and the UK, paying via tap & go, this was a rude shock! The day we arrived in the Netherlands, we grabbed some basics at a tiny Jumbo, paid on card and had no issue. Cut to today and I had to go to the ATM for cash. Cash! I need to do a big supermarket shop so I guess I’ll be going to a Jumbo, where I know I can pay on card as there’s no way I’m carrying around pockets of Euros, just to pay for groceries. I haven’t done that since the 90s!

    Thanks for the article

  9. Albert Heijn are the exception. Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Just write more bad reviews about Albert Heijn and they will fix their problem.

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