The Mad World of Dutch Banks and Credit Cards

There’s something you’ll realise when you first come to the Netherlands that you would never have thought of. Suddenly all your bank cards don’t work. Sure you see all the Dutch happily put their cards into the chip and pin machines and – yes – their card is accepted. Something is up? What? You don’t accept Visa? The biggest credit card company in the world and this small land has decided it’s having none of it?

Unfortunately if all your cards are Visa you’re going to have to go back to the old school days where you carry cash all the time. Or you could get a Dutch bank account.

That sounds easy right, I mean if you live here how hard can it be?

Previously me and my dad learnt that it can be quite hard. It appears the global banking network is a fallacy and no country is actually connected to another. You call up your home bank and say “Hi, I’m going to study abroad for a year what do you recommend I do with my bank account? If I keep the current one I’ll be charged all the time for changing money into Euros” Turns out they have no clue and they can’t make you a bank account in Euros.

What about ING? They are a Dutch bank that also exists in the UK, can they help? “We don’t talk to our Dutch branches.” WHAT? How ridiculous, what do business men do when they have to travel the world? People move to different countries constantly and live there for only a short amount of time. The outgoing and influx of exchange students into the UK alone must be enough for the banks to consider a solution.

No.

For people going on a year abroad there are some things you can get to help. Norwich and Peterborugh do a debit card which doesn’t charge for withdrawing money and Halifax does a credit card with the same thing. However, it took all summer asking banks what they can do with no response – and then asking someone else coming to UC what they were doing to find them. Thanks Ben! Slight problem is these are both Visa cards – so it still can’t help you with buying things in shops.

Now to that Dutch bank account. You now live in the country so it must be easy. Wrong. First you have to fill out an online form. This is all fine of course. However you have to wait a month until you’ve visited the municipality to officially register yourself with the city, and then wait another week for the letter saying you have done so, to arrive through the post.

The bank now send you an email saying you have to go see them in person with ID. Previously I had learned (by having to bike to and from the post office twice) that other countries do not like the ID that we would consider to be OK (as in your driving licence). This is very annoying as your only other identification is your passport (as the UK doesn’t want ID cards) and this is a lot more valuable than the driving license. Anyway easy lesson, when they want ID bring your passport. What is more you’d think you could go into any building that said “Rabobank” on the side (which there are quite a lot) and sort it out there. No – you have to go all the way across the city to a slightly scummy Turkish area to sort it out. You get lost on the way but eventually find the place. You sign some forms and your PIN will be with you in a week.

It’s now two months since you’ve arrived, but at least everything is looking up and you’ve dealt with the banking bureaucracy. By this time, though, you’ve been living on cash and so you think, “why change? The account will close when you leave at the end of the year and you get a bonus of a Rabobank souvenir.”

Too bad when in December you get an angry email saying how they tried to take €15 out of your bank for opening it, but there wasn’t anything in there so could you kindly put €15 in there so they could have it. Why do I have to pay these people to open an account? Surely they are in competition with the other banks for my money and slapping some price tag on the account makes me want to use them less. If I can open one for free at home, plus it only takes an hour to chat with a lady to do so, then why can’t they? They also want to look after my money too so they can invest it!

Also, as you haven’t been using the card, you don’t know how to put money into the account. But you figure you can just go to the far away bank again and give them the €15 in cash over the counter and that’ll be done with. You eventually find time in your busy schedule to go there. You wait in a queue and after a while get to talk to someone, but they are about to tell you some shocking news.”We don’t deal with cash here”. You are a bank! How can you not deal with cash, that’s why you exist?! However there is some good in the system, and as you are not using the bank account and can’t remember the PIN he can just close the account and you won’t have to pay. Plus – added bonus – you can keep the card. Win! But if you’ve opened the account and shut it for free then, why did you try to make me pay in the first place?

So you emerge triumphant – but there are minor problems you have to overcome when you don’t have a Dutch bank account;

  1. You can’t get a phone contract so looks like you’ll be on pay-as-you-go
  2. All the printers in academic buildings use ‘chipknip*’ in order to pay for them
  3. The snack machines also use this
  4. You can’t buy train tickets from the machine at the station, which means you have to pay an extra €0.50 to buy one from a person at the desk (which is also always on the other side of the station to the one you are on)

*Chipknip is another stupid Dutch system, as the Dutch agree. Mostly it’s how you pay for parking, but UC also uses it. I’ll explain.

Like other bank cards, Dutch ones have a chip, but this chip also doubles as your “Chipknip”. What this means is you need to go to a machine where you can take money from your account and then put some of it onto the Chipknip. Only then can you use the chip to pay for things. This does not make sense, as it would be easier just to deduct money from your main account and not some weird second account thing. Plus the chip is the same chip you use for paying in the shop. Just take out this silly step, its pointless!

Rant nearly over. Maybe if you are Dutch you don’t notice these things and it’s all roses for you? Not true. Ingeniously Dutch bank cards don’t have a CVC number on the back. This means, unless internet shops use the ‘Ideal’ system, you can’t buy anything. This includes plane tickets on Wizz Air, which means you have to set up a complicated bank transfer, or get your foreign friend to do it. Yay for foreign friends!

You Sunk My BattleShot

Sadly the inevitable has occurred and the first day of term arrived. My courses for this term (after mean administration didn’t let me do organizational psychology, like I really wanted) are Discovering the Dutch (apparently they are a particular rare creature and quite hard to find), Psycholinguistics, Introduction to Sociology and Evolution, Culture and Human Nature.

Minus the coffee, of course

This is what I think of them so far.

Discovering the Dutch will be the fun I expect it to be, with the added bonus I get to learn a little Dutch – yay! This was particularly amusing as I learned the Dutch are quite depressing when they introduce themselves.

  • “Hoe heet je?” (“What’s your name” pronounced similarly too ‘who hates you?’)
  • “Ik heet *[insert name here]*” (i.e. I hate myself).

They really need to get some more self-esteem! What is more, they didn’t even realise that’s what it sounds like so I have since enlightened Dutch society.

Psycholinguistics seems like it will also be fun, though we’ve only had one class so far as it was cancelled on Wednesday. The guy is Russian and funny, so, after we get through the dull neurons and brain structure stuff and onto the language disorders, it’ll be much more my thing.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature, as we have discovered with a lot of UC courses, is not as inter-departmental as it claims to be. Mostly it will be about biological evolution, to the point where the teacher said “If you have done the human and animal biology course before then, you are welcome in the class, but I don’t think you will learn anything”. So that sucks a bit, but I have done some of the readings and it’s reasonably interesting and they will hopefully get onto the social science perspective sometime.

 

Sociology was not what I was expecting in the first class. I thought it would be similar to psychology – but I was wrong!  It’s a lot of theory and no experiments. The intro is basically a history lesson on the big sociologists who have been – Marx, Weber, Tocqueville. All except Marx I have never heard of. I don’t like history that much and having a lot of theory doesn’t sound very scientific to me, though of course it claims it is a science. I didn’t really learn anything so left disappointed. However in the next class it became a little more interesting as we learned what Tocqueville thought about democracy so I think and hope it will be OK.

Now to more important things, the non academic stuff. On Monday, even though they complained it was so bad Myrte, Sofie and I had a mini Tru Calling marathon so hopefully we can start disc 3 soon and start watching the episodes I haven’t seen many times over. Tuesday I tried to sort out Linda’s life by planning her courses for her, though this turned out to be complicated as she wanted to do so much and hadn’t planned her priorities, e.g. she wanted an Anthropology track at the beginning and near the end we had crossed out quite a few courses.

The next day Gerrianne and I discussed this further and though the liberal arts and sciences syllabus seems so free it’s actually quite restricting. So you take four courses a term:

4 courses x 2 terms per year x 3 years = 24 possible courses.

However there are quite a few requirements you have to factor into this:

  • First you have to take ‘Academic Skills and practice’ (now 23 courses).
  • Do the language requirement – take another language class (22) and when you know no others languages (like me), you will have to take two to get to the UCU standard wanted (21).
  • You also have to do methods and statistics (20) and the follow-up statistics courses in your discipline area, humanities, social science or science (19).
  • You also have to do a breadth requirement – take at least one course in all three departments, so this assumes two are not useful to your overall degree of Science, Humanities or Social Science (17).
  • Now to what you really want to do at university! To gain your degree title you have to take 10 classes in your desired department, which includes at least two tracks – a level 100, 200 and 300 in a subject e.g. psychology, history, physics (7).
  • So you are left with 7 free choices of course that you would like to do for fun – that’s the reason you chose this kind of degree anyway.  Well what if you want to do a semester abroad (and who doesn’t it’s awesome), that’s a semester away (3).
  • Not much to play with anymore! What about your thesis at the end? That takes up two courses (1).
  • Then, with all the clashes, and courses only running in one particular term, this final option may be taken up by your tutor putting you on a course as you didn’t have the priority for other courses you wanted, e.g. me and sociology.

So too bad on choice really, especially if you want to do a minor- a track in another subject – or something else like that.

There are summer courses that run however to ease the burden (one in spring and one in summer per year=6) and not all courses are run in the summer and you have to do a level 100 before you can do the 200 etc. In the end it’s nowhere as flexible as you would’ve liked it to be. Similar to my flexible combine honours degree really…

I also drew an excellent picture of her bedroom with a certain Mr. Right as Mr. Philosophy serenading her, her pet dolphin a pool, Mr. Grizzly the bear protecting her, a whole chicken on the floor for breakfast, the EU flag on the wall and her dreaming of French guy flying round the world and back for her in the love ship. Too bad she didn’t see it that way but it was awesome.

Wednesday, and I went to Student Scouts and Guides Utrecht (StudentenStam Utrecht). Princess Maxima had lost her teddy bear so we had to split up into two teams and follow clues around the city to find out the captors name, which country he fled too and of course the location of the bear. It was quite fun though it wasn’t the evening for being outside as it was super cold.

We ended in Havana, a bar where we had hot chocolate and played a game. It was called ‘Becker’ and the aim was to discover the famous person a player was thinking of. First of all they gave you the first letter of their name. From here on you had to describe a famous person to everyone in the group beginning with the same letter. If a non-describing player knows the answer then they would call “Becker” count to three and both describer and guesser would say who they were thinking of. If you got this right then you earned the next letter of the initial famous person, for which you then have to describe a new famous person starting with those first two letters. However the person who knows the initial famous person can jump in and guess the description without counting. If they get it right you have to describe a new person. If you describe the initial famous person then the knower can’t jump in and you win. It sounds complicated but it’s really fun so I taught it to my unit mates when I got back and we played till 1am!

Thursday was the opening of something really cool, UCU’s very own ice skating rink. The football pitch had been sprayed with water and left to freeze in the cold temperatures. Sadly I, coming from a less skating enthusiastic country, don’t own my own skates but hopefully one of the Dutchies will bring an extra pair back from home at the weekend. I also don’t agree well with the Dutch ideals of skating. If you hear the Dutch say skating you have to learn this means speed skating and not figure skating which comes to mind when heard through English ears. When I skate (which is rarely, twice in my whole life) I like to just have fun by playing tag, pushing people over and crashing into the barrier. I am also not a fan of speed, the same as I wasn’t when skiing in Macedonia. We decided it makes sense though with it being flat everywhere and water abundant!

Myrte and I had other exciting plans, that day, we were going to buy Advocaat from the store and drink this instead of the usual beer before Lujain’s birthday party. This is because it is her favourite alcoholic drink and yet it is not the one she drinks. I was like why not? My friends drink it at home and it’s really cheap, so that was the plan. Unfortunately we thought everyone else was going but it just turned out to be us two and we chatted to Klementina till 12am so had to go straight to the bar. Oddly Lujain wasn’t there but Gerrianne, Linda and Veerle were so we had a dance and went home when Veerle and Linda decided they wanted to watch Vampire Diaries.

Friday was the big day of the week. We were going to cook again and Klementina, Veerle, Reinder and I had decided that evening we were going to play Battleshots. It is similar to battleships except when your boat get’s hit you have to take a shot. It’s quite heavy going with 23 shots per side. Hence we had teamed up, but it was still going to be a lot. We had got some Sambucca and vodka in especially for the occasion. Even better it had been snowing all day so our plan was to play and then have a snowball fight and make snow angels afterwards. This is exactly what we did.

Veerle and Klementina were ahead at the beginning, hitting four of our boats in quick succession,  though in the end we won as they could not find our two boat. Off into the -18 degrees night we went where we fell about in the snow and made some perfect snow angels. However we had decided to finish off the rest of the vodka too and as we still weren’t really feeling the effects added a bottle of beer. This did not agree and one of us had an accident by the bar and had to go to bed where they promptly made more mess as I looked after them. So it was an experience and one I’m not sure we will repeat – if we do perhaps without finishing the vodka and extra beer.

The Sambucca after 20 minutes

In the morning we we’re a little delicate and Klementina’s couch surfer friend was over for the weekend, but I was boring and spent most of the weekend reading – got to love UCU! The chapter on Marx for sociology took a particularly long time to get through, i.e. most of Saturday. Luckily there is still snow on the ground so UCU has been transformed and looks beautiful. Plus the UK only had some yesterday and none fell in Exeter, so well done the Netherlands!