Updated: Feb 22
Hi everyone! Eve here. It’s a rainy Thursday in Rotterdam and I’m ashamed to say that I’m not Dutch enough yet to choose cycling over the bus on a day like today.
The bus is already a better choice than driving your own car, but in the Netherlands it has been getting even better! The buses on my route have been switched out for new, electric buses! This is a phenomenon happening all over the Netherlands and I have to say, I’m pretty excited about it.
I've traveled all over the Netherlands in my short time here and very little of that travel was done in a car. Between the buses, trams, trains and waterbuses, it's pretty easy to get around. Of course, I use my bike a lot too... when it's not a cold, rainy, February day.
So how do the locals use public transit? Surely there must be a local transit card. There definitely is. Since I’m a Dutch resident now with a Dutch bank account, I have a personal OV-Chip Card. This is the golden ticket of public transit here, especially since it’s gold in color. You can use your OV-Chip Card for any public transportation in the Netherlands. Personal Card holders can add monthly travel passes to your transit account for the train. They also give you very cheap access to the OV-Fiets, bike rentals found at many Dutch train stations. You can’t use these bikes unless you have a personal OV-Chip Card. The bad news for foreigners is that if you don’t have a European bank account you’ll have a very hard time getting a personal OV-Chip Card. It is possible, though, from what I've heard.
So what’s a transit conscious traveler to do?
In the last few months I’ve had two American friends come through. Both times, they were confused about how the transit system works here. "Should I get a day pass? How can I pay for the buses? Will every tram car have an attendant? I heard you have to be Dutch to get an OV-Chip Card." I even ran into a long-time Amsterdam hostel worker who didn’t know how to use the public transit. Thankfully, I have a Dutch partner who told me exactly what I needed to do, so I could pass the wisdom on to my friends.
I can only offer one solution, if you want to use public transit:
Get an Anonymous OV-Chip Card. If you’re looking for any other answer (aside from cycling, which I’ll talk about below) then you’ve come to the wrong place. If you plan to only stay in Amsterdam (boring) or any of the other Dutch cities (better) then you may want to look into the local passes offered in those areas. If you want to travel around the country though, and you plan to use a combination of trains and local transport, you want this card.
On my first visit to the Netherlands getting this lovely blue card was the first thing I did, after kissing my boyfriend “hello” at the airport. I have to say that both were good choices.
The cost of the Anonymous card is € 7.50 and you won’t get that back. This may seem steep, but the disposable OV-Chip Cards carry a €1 fee per card, so they often end up being more expensive than the Anonymous cards. If you’re savvy, and frequent the hostels, you might be able to sell your Anonymous card to another traveler on your way out.
Anonymous OV-Chip Cards can be shared by more than one person, but not at the same time. So, if you're a couple traveling together, you'll each need a card if you plan to travel on the same transit at the same time.
You can load the card with credit or a variety of travel passes for the train or for local transit (i.e. Amsterdam or Utrecht). I’ve only ever loaded it with credit, so I can't personally tell you whether the regional passes are valuable.
If you’re transferring from one form of transit to another, you’ll receive a discounted overall rate. You can visit the OV site for more info on that. Best of all, you can pre-load your card using cash at a counter or a credit/debit card (more info on that) and then you don’t have to worry about digging out transit fare each time you board a bus or train or tram or waterbus.
So why is it called an Anonymous card? And how is it different from a personal card? It differs visually from the personal OV-Chip Card in a couple of ways. It's blue, rather than gold and it does not have your name and photo on it, hence the anonymity of it. A personal card has your name and bank account information tied to it and it has to be applied for ahead of time.
If you get an OV-Chip Card during your time in the Netherlands, don't throw it out! Your card and credit will be good for 5 years, so if you or a loved one plans to come (back) to the Netherlands, the card can be used again. You can also get your credit returned to you at one of the transportation service counters. But Let op! (Pay attention!) if you have more than € 30 of credit left on the card, you'll need a Dutch bank account to get your money back.
There are a few tips that I can offer you about the OV-Chip Cards from my time here in the Netherlands:
Always check in and out! There are signs that say this in Dutch all over the place on public transit, and it's really true. In some places, like the big city central stations and on buses, it's pretty obvious, but in smaller train stations, it may be easy to miss the little blue and yellow check in/check out stands. If you're "overstappen" (transferring) from a regional train service to a national train service, you will need to scan your card. Failure to check-in or out can result in a fine. And nobody likes fines.
Are you from the United States or any country that doesn’t use Maestro cards? You may have a hard time buying/reloading your card at the blue and yellow NS ticket machines at the train stations. I found that the pink and white OV machines, commonly associated with the metro, almost always accepted my American cards. You can also check the service point page of the OV Site for more information on where to buy a card
Dutch public transit is pretty expansive. You can cross the country easily without ever setting foot in a car or jumping on a bike. It can also be confusing, though, trying to navigate it all. Every Dutch person will tell you that the place to find transit info is 9292.nl (this link will connect you with the English site). A great feature of the site is that it will tell you the total cost of your journey. So, if you’re trying to decide whether to buy a transit pass or to just travel on credit, you can do your calculations here. It will also tell you the latest service disruptions, which is an advantage over other route planners like google maps.
Dutch transit is also pretty expensive, if you use it a lot. If you’re planning to base yourself in Amsterdam and travel out each day to different cities and sites, you may find the train fares stacking up. This is where that fare calculation in 9292 comes in handy.
If you're traveling on a budget and you really want to keep an eye on your finances, but the travel passes don't quite work for you, something that I've done is pick a pre-determined amount like € 60 to load on the card. When the credit is getting low, I know that my long distance travels may need to slow down a bit. Everyone has their own style of budgeting and this might be a good option for long-term travelers or for people who aren't as good at sticking to pre-made plans.
If you want to keep things really sustainable and potentially cheaper than the trains, you might want to consider a one-way bike rental with EURO2 Bikes.
Yes, I did just mention my own company. No, I won’t feel bad if you take my transit advice and don’t rent a bike from me. I just thought should be fully aware of your options! (cue cheesy grin)
So there is my diatribe on why you should get an Anonymous OV-Chip Card. Do you have any questions in particular? Ask away! I’ll be happy to lend any insight that I have.
Thanks for reading!