In the Netherlands, cash isn’t king – Maestro is. But, while cash is also widely accepted, you may be surprised when arriving at this popular country that Mastercard, Visa and American Express are often not.

So, what do the Dutch use, and why are you being left red-faced and unable to pay at the local supermarket?

Maestro, please 

So, why don’t my bank cards work in the Netherlands? Well, the majority of the Dutch use Maestro, a payment platform owned by Mastercard. Maestro is a debit card system which is typically comparable to Visa or Mastercard – which most comparable countries use.

However, how the different cards talk to each credit card machine and the corresponding banks is where the big difference between these cards is.

Maestro cards work on a single-message debit system, where when you swipe your card the money moves from your bank account to the merchant.

However, most other payment platforms now rely on dual-message debit and credit cards, where when you swipe your card your bank makes a “promise” to the merchant that the money will be there. A few days later the merchant will present these “promises” to the bank, and collect their dues. This is why credit transactions typically show as ‘pending’ and offer an ‘available’ and ‘current’ balance.

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There’s more to this, but we won’t bore you with the details – although here’s a really good explanation if you do want to know it all. The crux of it is though is that a credit card machine that relies on single-messaging systems thinks it can’t talk to a dual-messaging system. But, vice-versa? It works perfectly.

What does that mean for you? Well, it doesn’t bode well if you don’t have a Maestro card in the Netherlands.

But my card is still a debit card?!

Why don’t my bank cards work in the Netherlands when they’re debit cards? Sorry, that’s tough luck. Even if you have a Visa Debit card or a Debit Mastercard it doesn’t matter – stores will treat it as a credit card and may decline it. Dutch people typically don’t like credit cards in general because they’re very debt-adverse people. In fact, in Dutch, the word for debt – schuld – also has another meaning: guilt.

Whether a shop will accept or decline your foreign card is completely up to the owner. Credit card transactions cost the owner a lot more than debit card sales, and the Dutch love to save money. As a general rule of thumb, if they service a large portion of international customers (for example, at tourist locations or similar,) they will accept Visa, Mastercard and sometimes American Express. But, bizarrely, some major chains will refuse these and only take Maestro (Albert Heijn, we’re looking at you.)

Okay, so what’s the deal with iDEAL then?

You’re online, creeping around doing a bit of splurge shopping. Stoked with your purchases you click on the magical checkout button to send the items fluttering to your door. Suddenly, ‘huh? iDEAL only?!”

With online shopping basically made for credit cards, and the Dutch not liking credit cards, these totteringly-tall people needed to find an alternate solution that would still let them fulfil their online shopping desires. That’s where iDEAL came in, way back in 2005.

iDeal utilises online banking to make a direct transfer to internet vendors via bank account. Sound eerily familiar? Well, it certainly shares similarities with Maestro’s immediate transfer from one bank account to the other.

However, some websites only accept iDEAL, which means you need to have an online bank account, which means – you need a Dutch bank account. Yeesh!

So how can I spend all my hard-earned euros? 

Let’s be honest. If you can’t get a Maestro only card from your home bank then you’re left trying to get a Maestro card in the Netherlands. The easiest solution then is to open a Dutch bank account – if you qualify that is. If you’re living in the land of the Dutch for only a short period you may not be accepted.

Alternatively, you can look into an online bank account that will offer you a Maestro card – these can be a little easier to obtain, but still come with a long list of requirements.

Finally, if you can go without online shopping at some retailers you may just find that cash is still king – but, if you’re averse to paying stodgy ATM fees and against carrying stashing large amounts of cash, this probably isn’t for you.

It’s still manageable to get by in the Netherlands without a Maestro card or iDeal – but be prepared for some occasional disappointment (or embarrassment!) when left unable to pay.

What’s your experience with banking cards in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!

Feature Image: stevepb/Pixabay 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Check Transfer Wise. You can get a debit card with a chip, which you can use everywhere and you won’t be charged when changing valuta as well!

  2. If you would like to or need to use a Mastercard for your daily shopping, then Jumbo is te chain to go to.

  3. I refused to open a Dutch bank account (no real reason, I’m just stubborn like that) so I ended up opening an account with N26. They gave me a free MasterCard and free maestro that works everywhere, and didn’t have to do any paperwork or go anywhere so no complaints there. The only downside is that they don’t have iDeal :/

  4. I live up the north of the Netherlands and both MasterCard Debit and Visa Debit cards are refused in many, many, many, many shops and restaurants. Your best to get a Mastro Debit card for making payments in the Netherlands.

    Open a N26 bank account. Just download their android app from the playstore.

    Opening the account only takes about 5 minutes in the app, enter your details and take a photograph of your passport/ID.

    There are no monthly fees to open the basic account, it’s totally free.

    You will receive a N26 MasterCard Debit card in a few days in the post, they say 14 days but in my experience it only took 3 days.

    Once you transfer at least €101 into your new account the app will then give you the option to order a free Mastro card which they will post to your address.

    Mastro cards work in 99% of shops and restaurants in the Netherlands.

  5. Originally hailing from the Netherlands, now living in Australia. This Maestro dependance has always annoyed me when I return home to the NL. It is also extremely hard to explain to the Dutchies that a Visa or MasterCard is not a creditcard per definition.

  6. Just returned from another visit to province South Holland including Rotterdam where neither my visa debit or my MasterCard credit card were accepted in any of the shops or restaurants or clothing stores which is a bit tricky when you want to spend more than your daily cash withdrawal limit will allow or you are somewhere far from an ATM of an evening. You really just assume being in an EU country that the same general cards are accepted,
    Really really disappointing and backward for such an advanced nation. Especially when I have been able to use my visa debit in countries like Morocco, Kenya France Croatia Spain etc. Using excuses like the Dutch don’t like Debt is just silly.

  7. Well the answers and information doesn’t cover my problem,
    Of drawing a little cash from a ING Bank in NL from Lloyds Bank UK.
    As i have been withdrawing cash at the same Banks from & to for over 2 years every month as its my OAP Pension with only one other time it has stopped giving out at my Branch of ING cashpoint machine and it said I must contact my Lloyds Bank as you cannot withdraw that amount of 220.00 Euros,
    But it turned out it was ING’S fault being the weekend much activity going on in Town,
    It turned the ING’S cashpoint had run out of notes (or cover from a human to refill it )
    So no need to contact my Lloyds at all so,
    The ING machine lied and blamed Lloyds,
    and I have to say ING’S cashpoint machines at my own local one that I have an account in to are the worst cashpoint machines in 9 Countries I visited I have used inside and out @ my Branch all 4 machines are the slowest ever used creaking and groaning taking your card in the slot and out + notes and everything else it’s asked to do,
    Infact I would say these machines should be in a museum & the queue an all 4 during the day and at night with 2 outside can be over 10 deep so many eyes can see what those are doing at the machines to so not ideal for anyone except a naughty person as their everywhere in every Country,
    and myself and many others I am sure would have seen on TV to of criminals up to no good at cashpoints..

  8. Reasons for iDeal and Maestro versus creditcards are also the fabulous way the Dutch payment/banking system works. For both parties.

    The shopkeeper immediately gets its money with no holds and far less costs than with a credit card. No chance for the customer to easily ‘challenge’ the charge of his creditcard.

    For the customer the bankaccount balance is immediately updated. So no surprises later.

    17,5 million Dutch people are happy with that system. Should they really change it for that million tourists a year? Why don’t they change their daily amount to draft each day from an ATM? Most problem solved right?

    BTW, every hotel and car rental accepts a credit card. Most (expensive) restaurants as well.
    All shops at the airport do.
    Exclusive shops (fashion, jeweler) as well.

    Oh, the other way around doesn’t work either. My Maestro debet card doesn’t work in the USA or Canada. Had to get a creditcard to pay a hotel or rent a car overthere.

    Think we should blame Mastercard who owns the creditcard division as well as Maestro (according to the article above)

  9. As a seasoned traveler, I’ve certainly been annoyed with this in the Netherlands, and to a lower extent, Germany and Denmark. I liken it to the European practice of businesses offloading standard overhead charges to the end customer (ie. Charging to use the toilets, per-minute charges when calling customer service telephone hotlines, and insisting on cash/debit payments to avoid Visa/MasterCard interchange fees). Unfortunately, Dutch merchants’ reluctance to pay a 0.3% swipe fee ends up costing foreign visitors 2.5% or 3% foreign transaction markups to their bank, in addition to a $3 to $5 cash withdrawal charge, as no Dutch bank has joined the Global ATM Alliance (Scotiabank, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Deutchebank, Westpac) allowing their members to withdraw cash abroad without fees. Elsewhere where Visa/MC is readily accepted, you can just use a credit card with 0% foreign transaction fees to cover all your expenses, while keeping the rewards, extended warranty, and purchase protection benefits your home credit card may offer. And don’t even get me started on the foreign cash exchange kiosks in Amsterdam charging 7 or 8% off the spot rate and having the audacity to claim “no commission”!

  10. > Dutch people typically don’t like credit cards in general because they’re very debt-adverse people.

    Lol, really? Except the huge 100+% LTV hypotheeks I guess?

  11. As far as I know, in the Europe region the Dual Message System is always used with all Mastercard and Maestro cards. In general, Maestro transactions can – in any case – be made over the Dual Message System as well as Mastercard transactions can also be Single Message.

    The terminals in question are simply not programmed to accept Mastercard cards in general. With EMV that can be implemented via a list of EMV applications the terminal will accept which have well-known IDs (i. e. A0000000043060 for Maestro or A0000000041010 for Mastercard). With MagStripe processing that can be done by looking at the first few digits of the card number which identify the card as “Maestro”, “Mastercard”, “Visa” or something else. By using a list of ranges of card numbers it is also possible to tell whether a card is “Credit” or “Debit” provided that list is kept up-to-date. With guaranteed online authorizations that destinction is becoming less relevant in my opinion, because it does not matter whether a card is “Debit” or “Credit” at the backend as long as the merchant gets a guarantee directly from the issuer at the time of the authorization at the POS that the authorized amount will indeed be transferred to her/his account.

  12. some of the info in this article is blatantly wrong and out of date. for at least ten years or more, all debit and credit transactions at EFTPOS in the Netherlands as well as all cards issued in the Netherlands including Maestro and V-Pay [more on that one later] have been dual-msg.

    Then for the dominance of Maestro, it is true it’s very cheap for banks ans shops alike, but not so cheap as advertised, actually Mastercard Netherlands company is keeping it artificially low for merchants and banks so as to make creditcard transactions and creditcards in general seem prohibitively more expensive, which they aren’t. In recent years due to rules and regulations, mainly from the EU, to straighten out the varying fees across Europe, creditcard acceptance has become much more affordable for merchants then 10 years ago.

    But still we have a Maestro dominance. I suspect some kind of cartel. But can’t prove this. Mostly it is because of miscommunication by the banks/MC, either intended or not intended to keep shops locked in on Maestro and V-Pay only acceptance and to keep fictitiously high creditcard charges on the minds of shopkeepers.

    Which brings me to V-Pay, V-Pay is the rival debitcard scheme from Visa Europr, which was launched some years ago in the European market, and for The Netherlands^, Belgium*, Germany**, Italy, Spain, Danmark*** specifically to compete with and temper the dominance of Maestro, safe to say, they have not really succeeded at that, only a handful of banks issue V-pay cards at all, and some banks only to a segment of users while continuing to issue Maestro alongside.

    Which brings me to debitcards:
    Yes, it’s true, most locations do not, I repeat DO NOT, accept your vanilla Visa Debit or Debit Mastercard, which again, I ascribe to being caused by the misconception in Dutch users and shopkeepers eyes, and possibly suspected intentional misinformation being spread by banks and such, that that always is or must be, a creditcard. Which of course it isn’t. And it shouldn’t be not in the least of which since for many many years European and local Dutch rules have assured that for most debitcards in existence the fee is the same as for Maestro/V-Pay cards. However, here we come to the free market, and there are many many companies offering till and EFTPOS systems. These companies actually like the markup on creditcard fees and like to bundle it with the major debitcard brands, hence why for most shops it’s very hard to only accept Visa Debit and Debit Mastercard alongside Maestro/V-Pay. Which they could totally do, but this is not know by most shops, hence they will most likely only accept your debit card if they also accept creditcards. Ignorance for the most part i think. As EU rules spcifically allow a shop to start accepting debitcards without the need to also accept credit. But this is not really know.

    For online I can be succinct: Credit and Debitcards have been and still are accepted for years and years by all major shops. At least I haven’t run into any wabshop, large and small, in the last 10 years or so that didn’t also accept creditcards and paypal and such. That has really been common for many many years.

    Notes/asterixs:

    Only a very very few number of banks for the asterix marked countries issue V-Pay, if they do at all, the following remarks apply:

    *also competing with the national Bancontact scheme, though nowadays most cards in Belgium are either cobranded with Maestro or sometimes V-Pay. Which would compete again against the opposite card company. (visa vs mc).
    **same as above, but the local card scheme is called Girocard. Some are co-branded, but most in circulation have not yet been replaced and are not.
    ***same again, but local scheme is Dankort. Not known by me if those are co-branded. But I believe so.

    ^Supposedly SNS have switched to V-pay completely, but reports on that are sketchy at best. As for ING, they issue V-Pay (physically) alongside Maestro but then activate a virtual Maestro debit card for any user wishing to use Apple Pay, regardless of that users existing debitcard brand. So to sum-up a V-Pay card owner at ING would get a virtual Maestro card when attempting to activate Apple Pay. Even though Apple already supports V-Pay for use with and in Apple Pay including for online (webshop) transactions). Where as a Maestro owner would gat another standalone virtual Maestro card in Apple Pay. Other banks in the Netherlands offering Apple Pay do so mostly based on the existing physical cars of customers.

  13. oh i forgot to add the following, V-Pay is accepted and has been accepted at points of sale of physical shops, bars, atms, restaurants etc, for many many years, even though the number of issued cards in the Netherlands of the V-Pay brand, remains ridiculously low compared to the amount of issued Maestro or even Mastercard Credit or Visa Creditcards.

  14. Part of the issue is the Dutch fanaticism, or their delight in ‘cutting off their nose to spite their face’.
    In Haarlem there is a Big Market every Saturday and one on the stalls sells wonderful cakes. On many occasions I’ve seen Tourists trying to buy €30~€40 worth of cakes only to be told ‘Oh we don’t take foreign cards, but their is a Bureau de Change back at the train station’

    I have jokingly suggested they get a card terminal that takes foreign cards but get told ‘but I’d have to pay 3% on every transaction’! They then admitted they make 50% profit on every sale too 🙂

    Any normal retailer would see the obvious solution, but here they turn away at least 10-15 customers on every Saturday, madness.

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