Sunday, 20 January 2013

50 Grades of Pay

“She brought her selections to the counter, eyeing his long fingers poised over the till, and wondered whether to give him a warm bit of plastic or cold, hard cash….” Paying for merchandise and living expenses is something you normally do without a great deal of thought. But as an international student in the Netherlands, you must get a passing grade in paying your way in order to live here for any length of time. So, here’s everything you need to know about paying in the Netherlands.* (*But were afraid to ask)

First, you need a Dutch bank account. You cannot get a phone plan, personal OV chip card, or make any sort of automatic payment without one. Everything is geared toward payment with a debit (“pin”) card from a Dutch bank. Without that pin, it don’t mean a thin’! And with the pin card comes the “random reader” for internet purchases and online banking. (Not a Kindle, a “Pindle”!) You must slide your card into this device, follow numerous prompts, obtain a code and submit it online before you can complete any sort of internet transaction. No, it really isn’t a field sobriety test, just a means of protecting your bank account from internet rogues. Safe text, as it were.
Second, forget about linking anything for automatic payment to your credit card, or for that matter, using your credit anywhere other than places accustomed to tourists. It just won’t be accepted. Again, you need that pin card, or cash. Understand that credit cards are the exception here, not the rule. And most Dutch credit cards are automatically paid off monthly from the cardholder’s Dutch bank account, which for most people negates the whole point of having a credit card in the first place! But also the reason personal debt here rarely spirals out of control. More than one person has commented to me that moving here has forced them to live within their means, in a liberatingly debt-free way. Nothing like an honest buck with no strings attached!
Getting a Dutch bank account is not so simple, however. It is a rather lengthy  courtship. As with everything else, it is highly regulated. You must get a residence permit, a BSN number (like a social security number), and register with the city in which you reside. UU does a great job in efficiently taking care of the residence permit for students, as well as providing details on city registration and so forth. And, UU works with Rabobank to provide for student accounts that can be activated as soon as school begins, before the rest of the details have been completed. But you must later provide the bank with those details or they will freeze your account, as I discovered to my chagrin. There I was, horrified to think someone had hacked my account, and it was just good ole’ Dutch regulation at work! Regulation, I might add, that tends to prevent such fraud in the first place.
So there you have it, the ins and outs of paying in the Netherlands. As easy (and as regulated) as a red light district. Have fun, spend wisely and  be safe!

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