Why don’t my bank cards work in the Netherlands?

…A question we have all asked at least once.

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 want to know more. 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.

Why don’t my bank cards work in the Netherlands? 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, I’m 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.

7 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..

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