Looking to stay connected in the land of windmills and tulips, canals and bitterballen?

The Netherlands has plenty of free Wi-fi in cafes, bars and even on the trains, but if you prefer your data to be mobile, the good news is that buying a local SIM card is easy and doesn’t have to be particularly expensive.

There are some big differences between vendors, however, and the top-up process isn’t always straightforward.

Here’s what you need to know.



COMPANIES

  • We recommend Lycamobile for most travellers

There are three main cell networks in the Netherlands, operated by KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile. KPN has the largest network, followed by Vodafone and T-Mobile, but its resellers offer better pricing for prepaid customers.

I tested with Lebara and Lycamobile SIMs, which both use the KPN network.

HOW

Purchasing either SIM card was extremely simple. I just walked into the nearest mobile phone shop with a Lycamobile or Lebara sign in the window, and had a working connection within a few minutes.

In both cases, the vendor activated the SIM for me, but as instructions are in both English and Dutch, you could probably do it yourself if necessary. You don’t need to be in a major city to buy a card — I picked up mine in Leiden and Utrecht, for instance.

Getting set up with a data package on Lebara was also straightforward — I just asked the vendor to add credit to my SIM after he activated it, and then texted the code WEB1GB to a given number.

It wasn’t as easy with Lycamobile, however. For reasons best known to itself the company operates a strange dual-pricing system, which essentially means you need to buy different packs for data versus calls and texts if you want a good deal.

To make matters worse, none of the three places I tried in Leiden (two phone stores and a major supermarket) had data top-up packs available.​

​In the end, buying data credit online was the easiest and cheapest option. There was no problem using an international debit card to do this, and took a lot less time than walking around the shops!

COSTS

I paid a total of 20 euros for the Lebara SIM and 1GB of data — €10 for the SIM (with €5 of credit), and €10 for the data package.

Compared to the competition, that’s not a great deal.  The Lycamobile SIM, for instance, cost 5 euros with the same amount of credit on it, and 5GB of 3G data was on special at the time, costing just €5. Those specials change all the time, so check what's on offer before you commit. 

 

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TOPPING UP

You can buy top-ups almost anywhere you see a sign for Lycamobile or Lebara — which in the Netherlands, seems to be about every hundred metres.

Supermarkets, convenience stores, mobile phone stores and many others sell them, or you can buy online (at least with Lycamobile) and save yourself the hassle.

COVERAGE AND DATA SPEEDS

When it came to data speeds, Lebara was a total disappointment. Despite being on the KPN network which spans the entire country, I’d regularly see my phone struggling to maintain a data signal as it switched between HSPA+, 3G and Edge while standing in the centre of a major town or city.

I ran speed tests in Utrecht, Leiden, Amsterdam, Maastricht and The Hague, and never got a download speed above 1Mbps, or an upload speed of half that. Web pages would often timeout, or take minutes to load.

Given the higher cost and poor data speeds, I just can’t recommend using this company in the Netherlands.

Lycamobile was much better, although still not particularly fast. Speeds were similar to those shown in the screenshot below, regardless of where in the country I tested.

If your phone supports the right bands, you’ll get LTE coverage throughout the Netherlands with Lycamobile, but not Lebara. Note that you’ll need to buy a different data package, however — at the time it was €7.50 for 3GB, which still wasn’t a bad deal.

Lycamobile speed test, Netherlands
Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.
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18 Responses

  1. Native Dutchman

    KPN prepaid isn’t too bad either, for data use. I pay 7,50 euros for 30 days UNLIMITED amount of internet (the speed is rather low though). If you make a lot of international calls or SMS, KPN is very expensive, in this case you can rather use Lycamobile and so.

    Reply
  2. Kevin

    Where do you get 5 GB of Lycamobile data for €5? The link you provide above offers 500 MB of data for €5. 5 GB of data is listed as costing €30 on the same site.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      I guess that pricing must have been a promotion (although it wasn’t listed as such) — you’re right, it’s definitely changed now, for both the 3G and 4G bundles. Lycamobile is still better value, and faster, than Lebara, but the gap shrinks with that new pricing.

      Ahh, the ever-changing world of prepaid SIM cards. :/

      Reply
  3. Will

    How do I sign up at Lycamobile website if I don’t have their phone #? I am planning to get a data sim package for myself to use at Amsterdam in a month later. Thanks

    Reply
  4. Tej Pulakunta

    Hi Dave,
    Thank you for this informative post. I am a first time visitor to the Netherlands. I will be in Leiden and Amsterdam. I want to get a nano sim card for the data. I looked up lebara they said it was only if you had a local address. The lycamobile site is not in english. But is it available for visitor without a dutch address?

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      I suspect the local address requirement you’re seeing is more for getting a SIM sent out to you, than a legal requirement for buying one.

      I had no problem purchasing either a Lyca or Lebara SIM in person while I was in the Netherlands — I don’t recall if I was asked for an address, but if I was, I would have just given the address of my hotel.

      Reply
  5. Pete

    Hi Dave,

    I visit Netherlands very often & wish to keep my SIM. I have a HI sim card which was taken over by KPN. How often do we have to recharge it so that the my balance remains & also the number remains the same?

    Thanks in advance.

    Pete.

    Reply
  6. Ashok

    Halo Dave, Are pre-paid sim card available at Schipol airport arrivals area? Can a tourist buy & get it activated immediately?

    Reply
  7. Susan

    Hello
    My dad is in Holland and has purchased a pay as you go SIM card which charges him every time he receives calls from overseas, is this normal? Also its not possible to send him a text message from UK. He is old and not very techie, i just cant think what his doing wrong. Hope you can help. Thank you

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Without knowing which company he’s using, it’s hard to offer much advice. It’s not common to be charged to receive international calls, but it’s not unheard of. Is he able to send texts internationally but not receive them, or can he not send either?
      In any case, he (or you) are probably best to contact the cell company he’s using, for a faster and more accurate answer. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Bettina

    Hi… Just googling and found this site :-)… Hope you Can help me. Just arrived to eindhoven, staying for 6 month. Have a mobilephone with sim-card and added some foreign within the EU solution, from back home , before going so that i can Call, SMS and mms nummers from my home country. A minimum of data goes with it, and i need a solution to go online for maps, Facebook and so on, with my mobile. What can you recomment ? A simcard with free data ? Or ? I understand that lycamobile is the cheapest and fastest ? Do i just find a store that sell mobilephones, and they can help me ? Thank you SO much !!!!

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Yes, just go to a phone store and ask them to help you out. Lycamobile has good rates and reasonable speeds, but I found that quite a few of the stores sell SIMs from a range of different companies, so they may have a better option depending on your exact needs for six months.

      Reply
  9. Tal

    Hi,
    ok, so today i’ve seen that the sim card is free and i want 1gb of lte data with the saver plan so i just topup 15 euros and activate the plan? so i will pay only 15 euros for the sim + 1gb lte data?
    thanks.

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      This page has instructions on how to activate the Saver plan. Once you’ve done that, I believe you top up online with 15 euros and activate the plan, as per this page.

      That said, you’re always better off to ask the person you’re buying it from for the specific information, and/or get them to do it for you.

      Reply

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