Keukenhof Gardens

Buying a SIM Card in the Netherlands

In Get Connected by Dave Dean26 Comments


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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. Iif you prefer your data to be mobile, though, 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.


Note: The Netherlands is part of the European Union, which introduced new roaming regulations in June 2017. These “roam like at home” rules effectively ended roaming charges across much of Europe, meaning you’ll usually pay no more for calls, texts, and data in other EU countries than you would in the country of purchase.

There are some exceptions and limits, however. Double-check the details at time of purchase if you’re planning to use your SIM elsewhere in the region.


Companies


  • We recommend Lycamobile for most travelers

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!



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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 five euros with the same amount of credit on it, and 5GB of 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.

Topping Up


You can buy top-ups almost anywhere you see a sign for Lycamobile or Lebara. In the Netherlands, that 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.

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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. It would regularly switch 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

Lycamobile 3G speeds, Netherlands

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this Dave.

    Off to the Netherlands in a couple of weeks and your experience matches my research.

    Cheers, Paul

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Author

    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. :/

  5. 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

  6. Author

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. Which phone number do you need/want?

  7. 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?

  8. Author

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. Author

    I’m not sure, sorry. You may want to check their site or contact the company direct.

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

  12. 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

  13. Author

    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. 🙂

  14. 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 !!!!

  15. Author

    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.

  16. 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.

  17. Author

    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.

  18. Our family of three is going to Netherlands (Utrecht) for 5 months beginning Aug. 1, 2017. I’m a total neophyte. WE have iphones with AT and T. Can we use these? How? If you buy a card (SIM or what kind?) is it better to buy it in Utrecht or in the US online (40.00). After you have a Sim card what is the best way to get use of the phone. Dumb questions no doubt. Is it better to buy a plan or can you just buy time. In Argentina you could just buy time.

    How can you avoid being charged for receiving calls?

    Is it better to use wifi at your apt.? or in cafes? to make calls? If so, why not just use Skype?

  19. Author

    If your phones aren’t locked to AT&T, you’ll be able to use them outside the US. Check out this article for more on finding out if your phones are ready for overseas travel, and what to do about it if they aren’t.

    Buying in the Netherlands will be cheaper, buying before you leave will be easier — it’s your choice.

    If you only want to make calls and sent texts, you can probably just add some credit and use it up as you go. If you want to use data as well, you’re better off buying a set amount up front — it’s much cheaper. You won’t be charged for incoming calls if you’re using a local SIM — the caller bears the costs.

    If all you want to do is make phone calls, and you don’t need to do so while outside your apartment, there’s no need for a SIM card at all. Just use Skype. You’re better off doing so at your apartment rather than in cafes, since it’s more secure, and the connection should be better as well (fewer people using it).

    If you want to make/receive calls and texts outside the apartment, and/or have data while out and about, you’ll want a local SIM as above.

  20. Hi hi, lovely post.
    I’ll be going to Amsterdam for 2 weeks.
    I need a SIM card for unlimited data for Emails, Google Maps and Instagram. I do not see myself making any calls.
    Which mobile company would you recommend?
    thanks so much for your help.

  21. Author

    As per an earlier comment, unlimited (but very slow) data is available with KPN. As far as I know, no other provider offers it.

  22. Do you know if it’s possible to acquire 2G SIM cards in the Netherlands?

  23. Author

    You can’t buy a SIM card that’s only 2G anymore, but all of the service providers still operate a 2G network, so any SIM card will fall back to the 2G network if that’s all that’s available (or presumably, if that’s all your phone/device can support). That said, you may want to confirm your requirements beforehand with whichever provider you choose, just in case.

  24. I will be in Amsterdam for a couple of days in June, followed by a 2 week cruise to Norway. I live in the US and ideally I’d like to get something set up while I’m still home so I can just swap SIM cards on the flight over and have it working as soon as I arrive. I see that you recommend Lycamobile and found that I can get a SIM for a penny on Amazon, but that’s for their US service that I read does not work in Europe. I found that I can buy a Vodafone NL SIM on Ebay for around $8 shipping and then sign up for service and it would appear that for 10 euros I’ll have at least 1gb and maybe 2gb with the signup bonus, and that will work in Norway. I can probably find a Lycamobile Europe SIM on Ebay if I look harder but I don’t know if it will be as good a deal.

    I have a Samsung S7 Edge on Verizon. I could just pay them the $10 a day for Travelpass access for the 2 days pre-cruise in Amsterdam and then just look for Wifi while we’re in Norway, although if I can do something relatively simple like getting the Vodafone SIM set up in advance and it will work reliably, it’s probably a better choice for roughly the same price.

    Suggestions? Buying a SIM when I get to Schipol is an option, but we will be arriving at 6am and I’m not sure that the mobile store there will be open.

  25. Author

    I’m not a huge fan of buying SIMs on eBay, just because you don’t really have much recourse if things don’t work as expected, but if you want to get set up in advance, that looks pretty good in terms of price. The only other thing I’d consider for your particular trip would be this Three UK SIM option — it’s a bit more expensive, but with a lot more data, and it comes ready to go throughout the EU/EEA (and several other countries) for a month. Worldwide shipping is free.

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