Amsterdam Travel Guide
The price tags in Amsterdam are considered reasonable in comparison with those in main cities in neighboring countries, although with the strength of the euro versus the dollar, they may feel expensive to North American visitors. Good value for the money can still be had in many places, and as a tourist in this Anglophile country, you are a lot less likely to get ripped off in the Netherlands than in countries where English is less widely embraced.
Here are some sample prices: admission to the Rijksmuseum is €14; the cheapest seats at the Stadsschouwbourg theater run €20 for plays, €25 for opera; €7.50–€11.50 for a ticket at a movie theater (depending on time of show). Going to a nightclub might set you back €5–€20. A daily English-language newspaper is €3–€5. A taxi ride (1⅓ km, or ¾ mile) costs about €8. An inexpensive hotel room for two, including breakfast, is about €60–€110, an inexpensive dinner is €25–€40 for two, and a half-liter carafe of house wine is €10. A simple sandwich item on the menu runs about €3.50, a cup of coffee €1.80. A Coke is €2.50, and a half-liter of beer is €5.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you're planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don't wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you'll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PINs with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
The Dutch word for ATM is Geldautomaat. They are widespread, and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The majority of machines work with Maestro, Cirrus, and Plus.
It's a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you're going abroad and don't travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you're prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you're abroad) if your card is lost, but you're better off calling the number of your issuing bank, since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank's number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases you'll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don't always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the additional surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn't an option.
Major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, gas stations, restaurants, cafés, and shops. Be aware, however, that you cannot use credit cards to purchase train tickets in the Netherlands.
Reporting Lost Cards
American Express (800/528–4800 in the U.S.; 1–336/393–1111 collect from abroad. www.americanexpress.com.)
Diners Club (800/234–6377 in the U.S.; 1–514/877–1577 collect from abroad. www.dinersclub.com.)
MasterCard (800/307–7309 in the U.S.; 636/722–7111 collect from abroad. www.mastercard.com.)
Visa (800/847–2911 in the U.S.; 0800/022–3110 toll-free in the Netherlands. www.visa.com.)
Reporting Lost Cards in Amsterdam and the Netherlands
American Express (020/504–8000.)
Diners Club (020/654–5511.)
Currency and Exchange
The single euro is the official currency of the Netherlands. At press time, 1 euro = 1.29 US$. Shop around for the best exchange rates (and also check the rates before leaving home).
There are eight coins—1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents. Bills are 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, 100-, 200-, and 500-euro notes. Note that because of counterfeiting concerns, few shops and restaurants will accept notes higher in value than 50 euros. If you do find yourself with higher denominations, change them in a bank. The Dutch also consider the 1- and 2-cent coins to be an irritation, and many shops round prices up or down to the nearest 5 cents.
These days, the easiest way to get euros is through an ATM, called a geldautomaat in the Netherlands. You can find them in airports, train stations, and throughout the cities. ATM rates are excellent because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. At exchange booths always confirm the rate with the teller before exchanging money—you won't do as well at exchange booths in airports, or in hotels, restaurants, or stores. To avoid lines at airport exchange booths, get some euros before you leave home.
GWK Travelex is a nationwide financial organization specializing in foreign currencies, where travelers can exchange cash and traveler's checks, receive cash against major credit cards, and receive Western Union money transfers. Many of the same services are available at banks.
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there's some kind of huge, hidden fee. (Oh … that's right. The sign didn't say no fee.) And as for rates, you're almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
Exchange Services in Amsterdam
GWK Travelex (bureau de change). Throughout the Netherlands, GWK Travelex (bureau de change) branches are found in or near railway stations. 0900/0566. www.gwktravelex.nl.Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The exchange service offices at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 0900/0141 €0.40 per min. www.schiphol.com.