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I am a student who'll be staying at the Netherlands for 2.5 months for an internship. I have been told that the most reliable way to pay in the NL is using a Maestro debit card, and that many establishments there do not accept a Visa or MasterCard debit card. However, I cannot obtain a Maestro debit card anywhere (I have tried several banks and Forex places).

I am leaving in a week and it seems like my best bet is to use a pre-paid Visa Forex debit card which, as far as I understand, does not carry any transaction charges. Is this card commonly accepted in the NL i.e. do these establishments that do not accept a normal Visa debit card consider a Visa Forex card to be an acceptable form of payment since it does not include transaction charges? (But I am not sure if this is how it works)

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    Merchants decline credit cards (or debit cards on credit card networks) because of the transaction fees charged to them, not because of any foreign transaction fees that may be charged to consumers. Visa cards are Visa cards (unless double-branded) and if the merchant does not participate in the Visa network they won't be accepted.
    – xngtng
    May 27, 2022 at 14:08
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    Most companies in the Netherlands accept Visa as well as Mastercard/Meastro, but not all accept all versions of both companies.
    – Willeke
    May 27, 2022 at 14:52
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    Note that although not all shops will accept Visa or Mastercard, all ATMs do, so you can always take out cash and use that as a backup.
    – gerrit
    May 27, 2022 at 14:54
  • @gerrit Yes I do plan on relying on cash as much as I can (my stipend is paid in cash too). I just worry about those places (like Albert Heijn or buses) that don't accept cash either. Do most places accept cash?
    – justauser
    May 27, 2022 at 16:23

2 Answers 2

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As far as I understand most places that accept credit cards will accept your prepaid card, but it is a while since my friend had one of those. All cash points will accept all credit cards, including the prepaid ones, but check with the provider what the costs will be per transaction and/or which percentage. That can be expensive for some credit cards. It might be better to bring a bank card from home, as long as that is cheaper, even if you can not pay with it in shops.

Most shops, including all main supermarkets, will accept cash, if not at all pay points. For buses and trains, get an OV chip card, which will work out cheaper if you use the bus or train more than a few times. You can buy those cards and load a first amount in main stations for cash, or with coins out of a ticket machine, if your card does not work with them.

As far as I know all places that accept cards will accept Visa as well as MasterCard/Meastro, but they may not all accept credit card. Some Dutch banks work with their cards on the Visa system and others on the MasterCard/Meastro system, so shops and restaurants are used to the diverse cards.

My boyfriend, from the UK, uses Visa based cards and has/had a prepaid card at least once. Card acceptance has improved since that time so I expect you have even less problems than he had and he did not have many.

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  • Thanks a lot for the answer! Would you say this is applicable in the less touristy spots like Leiden as well?
    – justauser
    May 28, 2022 at 3:39
  • It is applicable in less touristy spots as well but Leiden is a more touristy spot.
    – Willeke
    May 28, 2022 at 6:07
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    Leiden is not only a very touristy city, it also has a universty with many foreign students, as well as many companies with expat workers and visiting foreign employees.
    – Willeke
    May 28, 2022 at 6:21
  • Willeke: while I agree with your assessment of Leiden, it is nonetheless, relative to much of central Amsterdam, "less touristy" :-)
    – phoog
    May 28, 2022 at 6:45
  • @phoog, if the center of Amsterdam is your benchmark, parts of the center of Amsterdam are less touristy than parts of Leiden. Most of London is less touristy than the center of Leiden. There are enough toutists in Leiden that it will not be a problem to use foreign bank cards and such.
    – Willeke
    May 28, 2022 at 8:18
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Willeke's answer is certainly correct. I'm posting this answer to make a couple of additional points.

Is a Visa Forex card commonly accepted in the Netherlands?

In general, a merchant who accepts Visa cards will accept all Visa cards. From their point of view, they pay the same fee to their payment processor for all Visa transactions. The amount you pay for the transaction isn't important to the merchant. Merchants who decide not to accept Visa cards (or any other card) have decided that they don't want to pay the necessary fees. This is about the fees that the merchant pays to the payment processor; it has nothing to do with fees you pay to the card issuer.

it seems like my best bet is to use a pre-paid Visa Forex debit card which, as far as I understand, does not carry any transaction charges.

Be careful: in my experience, a prepaid card that does not carry any transaction charges will typically employ a very poor exchange rate. Most credit card and debit cards that do charge fees use a rate that is much closer to the market rate. When I was a foreign student in the Netherlands, I paid for most things using a US credit or debit card with no foreign transaction fees or with cash that I took using my US bank card with no foreign transaction fees. These gave an exchange rate that was very close to the market rate.

I was able to avoid transaction fees on my debit card by opening an account jointly with my mother, who had another account at the same bank with a balance that exceeded a certain minimum. Even if you don't have a possibility like this, it might be worthwhile to shop around a bit. Ask a few banks what their fees are and how they calculate the exchange rate. Maybe it makes sense to switch banks or open an additional account.

But also consider how much money you expect to funnel through this payment method. If you're not planning to spend a lot, then getting an exchange rate that's 1% better won't save much money -- just $10 for every $1000 you spend.

Also, be careful of foreign merchants who offer to charge your card in your home currency. They typically include a significant markup to do this (after all, they have to convert those dollars or pounds to euros before they deposit them into their own account). Furthermore, the transaction is still a foreign transaction even though it is no longer a foreign currency transaction. So, depending on the fee structure of your card, you may still be paying an extra fee on top.

You may want to try a small test purchase first. A few months ago I did this with a Geneva public transportation ticket. The ticket was 2 francs, but they offered the choice of being charged USD 2.31 if I recall correctly. I elected to be charged in CHF, and the debit from my account was $2.17.

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  • Thanks a lot @phoog! I hadn't considered many of the points you suggest. This is useful.
    – justauser
    May 28, 2022 at 12:37

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