One of the first things that you’ll want to do after arriving in the Netherlands is setting up your phone plan! I include a helpful explanation of how phone plans work in the Netherlands. how much you should expect to pay for a mobile phone plan in the Netherlands, the best phone carriers in the Netherlands for expats, and some tips for saving money.
Prepaid SIMs v. subscription (abonnement)
In the Netherlands, you typically see two kinds of phone plans. You can purchase prepaid SIM cards that you can pop into your phone (after showing ID) if you’re looking to quickly get a Dutch number.
If you’re going to be staying in the Netherlands for a while, it’s best to set up a subscription service. These contracts are generally for about a year, however, some phone companies in the Netherlands allow to decide monthly on whether you want to continue your contract.
Once you get a phone number in the Netherlands, it’s generally best to transfer your old Dutch phone number as you often use your phone number for second-level authentication for various tasks. It might take a few weeks for your number to transfer once you sign a phone contract in the Netherlands. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle by not changing numbers more than once!
Sim only v. SIM with phone
You can choose to buy a SIM only (only phone number) or to buy your phone plan together with a phone. It’s generally cheaper to buy your own unlocked phone as a FYI, but you might see some deals with slightly older phone models if you’re looking to upgrade your phone!
How much you should expect to pay for your Dutch phone plan
A phone plan in the Netherlands should cost between 8 euros monthly (no data; unlimited calling) to 20 euros (3-10 gigabytes of data; unlimited calling) to 25-40 euros monthly (unlimited data). For a more minimal phone plan, you should expect to pay under twenty euros easily, but it depends on how many calls you make and how much data you use. You may need to pay an activation fee for your Dutch phone plan!
Good things to know about getting a Dutch phone plan
Most Dutch carriers are essentially equal within the Netherlands as coverage will be fairly similar, however, depending on how much you travel abroad within Europe (or worldwide), you will want to choose your phone carrier in the Netherlands carefully.
In general, customer service for most Dutch phone carriers (in my experience) is pretty limited compared to countries with notable good service (e.g. the United Kingdom or the United States). They heavily advertise and court consumers, but the deal might be less sweet when you have a problem. Facebook or Twitter is a good way to get an answer from customer service.
Unfortunately, most of the major Dutch phone carriers only have websites in Dutch, which is a major inconvenience when you’re first arriving in the Netherlands. The advantage of going with a service like Vodafone or T-Mobile, rather than an online-only SIM subscription, is that you can pop into the shop to talk to someone in English about your Dutch mobile phone plan and/or get issues resolved in person.
The best phone carriers in the Netherlands (so far in my experience!)
If you’re a fresh arrival, I recommend picking up a Lebara SIM card. This expat-friendly SIM card can be easily purchased at most supermarkets and drug stores in the Netherlands. Service is in English and they often have sales if you’re still in the early stages of getting settled here. (I had Lebara for my first 1-2 months in the Netherlands.)
For the best European network and most reasonable roaming charges abroad, I recommend Vodafone. Its infrastructure is quite good and I’ve found that the fees associated with a small amount of data (a few euros) outside of the EU were quite reasonable. However, you’ll pay a slight premium for their service. Overall, I had positive experiences with Vodafone and minimal problems.
Similarly, T-Mobile has a good European network as well as a US network. My only note is that I had a horrific experience with their customer service after being charged 50 euros for calling emergency services while abroad. They refused to refund the charges and told me that the whole situation was my fault that I had to call. Other friends have had better experiences
If you’re looking for a reasonable SIM card and just want a simple phone plan, I’ve recently switched to Ben. This online-only service is one of the best options for budget-friendly SIM-only phone plans in the Netherlands.
You can change your plan monthly depending on your needs, so if you intend to cut back on your data, you can easily do this! I only pay about 17 euros monthly for 7
Setting up your mobile phone plan in the Netherlands
I’d recommend waiting to set up your mobile phone subscription until you’re settled if you don’t have a European bank account yet. Initially, it’s best to get a temporary number using a prepaid SIM card that you can reload using credits while you’re getting settled. You will also need access to an address where you can
Once you have your European bank account set-up as well as an address, you head to a phone plan store in Amsterdam (e.g. Vodafone or T-Mobile) while bringing relevant information (below) to sign your contract.
You can also buy your SIM card online with signing any contract online if you’re a bit more comfortable in Dutch. Then, your SIM card will be shipped to you.
Things you’ll need to need for your phone plan
- Passport or European identification
- Set-up a Dutch or European bank account
- Possibly proof of address
Buying a smartphone in the Netherlands
If you have an unlocked smartphone with GSM service, you should be fine. I recently upgraded my smartphone to a Huawei smartphone. You can save quite a bit of money by going directly to the consumer retailers (e.g. Coolblue or MediaMarkt) to buy your phone new prior to popping your SIM card into the phone. You generally don’t save that much money by buying your phone from your carrier although some carriers offer promotions worth considering. This can include discounted phones.