Paying for things.

Exchanging currency: very retro

Nederland adopted the euro as its currency starting in 2000. A lot of people here feel that during the transition, everything in life became more expensive. They look back with fondness on the days of the Dutch guilder. The euro's plus side, for travellers, is that you can go to most places in Europe without having to change money at all. In the UK and in Switzerland they still have their own traditional currencies, as do several countries in eastern Europe. Poland was due to switch in 2012, but the people there took a look at the economic crisis in the Euro zone and said 'hmmm, nah, let's wait.'

A money exchange office is called a geldwissel kantoor in Dutch. As I recall, they have them at Schiphol airport, inside Amsterdam Centraal Station, some on the Damrak and at least one on Leidsestraat. There are not as many as there used to be.

A Pytlowany

Bank machines and 'pinning'

For visitors: to my knowledge, most cash machines here accept foreign bank cards, so that for example people from the US can just take euros from the wall instead of visiting a currency exchange with their dollars. However I do remember one case, years ago, where a visiting friend discovered to his dismay that his bank card did not work in the machines here. So rather than trust my judgment on that, it's better to check with your own bank before you come.

The bank machine, or ATM, is called a geldautomaat in Dutch. You'll find them here and there in the streets. They usually also have a geldautomaat inside the front end of an Albert Heijn supermarket, of which there are many — but they close around ten in the evening.

As in other parts of the world, there's a strong trend toward using the bank card to pay for stuff in shops and restaurants, instead of cash. I think in America they call it 'debit'. Here the verb is pinnen, as in 'Mag ik pinnen?' — can I pin for it? The cashier presents you with the little machine, you punch in your number and press OK to approve the transaction. It's acceptable to do this even for small amounts. Not every place has one though, so if you're planning to pay your restaurant bill with your bank card, ask before you eat.

Lately I'm hearing rumors that soon, even pizza delivery guys will use PIN machines exclusively. No cash. I suppose that's to reduce the risk of their getting robbed during their missions. Not sure yet if that's really happening, or just an idea.

Internet banking

Internet banking. It's what people do here. They do not write checks to each other, they just 'write over' (overschrijven) money from their account to the other. With my account, I make a payment on the bank's web site, then the bank sends a text message to my mobile phone, giving me a 'TAN' code to enter on my computer to complete the transaction. Works great for me, except when my phone breaks.

I remember when I first moved here, you couldn't pay internationally by internet banking — you still had to fill out a special card and bring it to the bank. That changed several years ago, and now it's no problem writing over money to a foreign bank account.

They have a bank system for online purchases as well. It's called 'iDEAL', and it's an alternative to buying stuff online with a credit card. The commerce site routes you to a page from your own bank, where you complete the transaction.

Credit cards

Speaking of credit cards: I know that some card companies will temporarily disable your credit card if they notice that somebody is using it to make purchases in a foreign country. I suppose the idea is to protect you from some stranger running off to Bora Bora with your Mastercard. But it's extremely un-handy when you're planning to pay for your hotel in Amsterdam that way. If you're travelling, it is a good idea to phone your credit card company in advance, let them know you're going on the road, and ask if there will be any problem using the card. Also, when paying with your credit card, you may be obliged to enter your secret four-digit PIN number for your card, just for security. This number is so secret, a lot of people don't even know they have one, and only find out when they're trying to pay.

Getting a Dutch bank account

If you're staying here for a while — and particularly if you want to start your own accounts for things like energy, telephone, water, and the rent — I think you will find it very important to get a Dutch bank account. But here's the hitch: you can't do that until you have registered to live in this country, and been given what they call a 'BSN' by the tax office. BSN stands for burger service nummer, citizen service number, and it's what used to be called a 'sofinummer'.

To my knowledge, no Dutch bank will give you a bank account if you don't have a BSN. I heard of one bank years ago that made exceptions for the very rich, but most regular folks need that number.

The BSN is not actually that big of a deal, it just creates a relationship between you and the state, so they can tax you like anybody else who lives here. The difficulty is that only people who either have a residence permit, or do not need one, can get a burger service nummer. It's easier for citizens of EU member states, as they are not required to get a residence permit. But everyone is legally obliged to register as living here.

I say 'legally' obliged because of course not everyone does it legally. Some people just move in with a friend, never register with the Gemeente, and look for some kind of 'black' work, like a job in the horeca, where they get paid in cash. Living off grid may have some romantic appeal, but it does make the newcomer dependent on others, who are legit and can start accounts. So the newcomer feels like kind of a burden on their friends, and their choices are limited. Doing everything the legit way is nice, if you can afford it. Almost everything about getting legal here has a fee attached to it. Some folks move here, get established illegally, and then get legal later on.

We'll talk more elsewhere about the whole bureaucratic marmalade of moving to Amsterdam .