How To Use Your Mobile Phone In Amsterdam

Last Updated: July 19, 2023

Gerrit Vandenberg

Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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Hi, I'm Gerrit

I enjoy sharing useful tips about the beauty of this county.

Have you planned a trip to Europe? But are you worried about keeping in touch without spending a fortune?

You’re not alone. Keeping that mobile connection outside our home country can cost a pretty penny, even though we live in an interconnected world.

But it doesn’t have to.

In this post, I’m sharing tips about using your phone in Europe without breaking the bank. 

For most of us, at least for me, it’s essential to connect. To stay in touch with home, whether making a video call to the kids or sharing your latest photos and videos with friends.

Most apps will also need an internet connection to work. Checking the weather, booking tickets, showing these tickets at venues, looking up the latest train times, and finding our way with navigation apps. And I’m not even talking about these pesky required update notifications right when you’re trying to pay. 

You will complicate your trip if you can not use your phone in Holland. It would be so much easier if you could use everything like at home.

There’s only one problem – the cost.

It’s not always cheap to use your cell phone in Europe – but with the tips below, you won’t be surprised by a nasty surprise on your next bill.

Let’s dive in.

Woman taking photo with mobile phone in Amsterdam.
Taking photo with mobile phone in Amsterdam.

6 Mobile Phone in Amsterdam Tips

Roaming and data charges in Amsterdam can cost serious money if you’re not careful. These tips will keep you connected at affordable prices. Let’s explore the different options that are available to most of us. Each option has its own pros and cons. Traveling in Europe doesn’t have to be complicated.

  1. Turn your data off when in Amsterdam
  2. Use Wifi Hotspots across the country to connect
  3. Use your device without thinking about it – ouch!
  4. Use-it-like-you-do-at-home travel package from your provider
  5. Getting a local SIM card
  6. Rent a Pocket Internet device

Option 1. Turn your data off when in Amsterdam

Suppose you’re going on a digital sabbatical and don’t want your phone to connect for anything. Kudos to you! Your brain will be thankful for this break. If you want to go this route, disable your data connection before leaving home the right way! 

Setting your phone to airplane mode is not enough. Sure, this will disconnect your data. But the moment it gets turned on (accidentally), the meter starts ticking. Sometimes you don’t even realize this. There can be updates running in the background. 

The correct way to turn data abroad off is to go into your phone settings and set it to turn “Data Roaming” off. This will ensure you will only connect at home but not abroad.

Realize if you do this, many apps will stop working, including apps that could hold your digital tickets. Make sure you get everything on paper and printed.

This is too much for me. There is a difference between not working while traveling and complicating your trip in a digital world. 

Using navigation on mobile phone in Amsterdam.
Using navigation on mobile phone in Amsterdam.

Option 2. Use Free Wifi in Amsterdam

This can work great in many situations. Making a video call, looking up today’s weather, check some locations on Google Maps for later in the day. It’s great for that.

There are many locations across Amsterdam. Every hotel now offers it for free. As do most restaurants and cafés. And in public spaces like train stations, even in the trains themselves, you can connect at no cost. Finding a free wi-fi location anywhere in the city or the country will be easy. 

But there are a few problems with this.

1. Safety – Connections are public. Meaning others can listen in on your browsing and see everything you do and type, including passwords. Make sure to connect safely. You do this by not typing passwords during your session, using things like Google Maps, and it’s okay. But do not do your financials. You can also purchase a paid VPN service. This will protect you from prying eyes.

2. Speed – speeds are all over the place. Sometimes you get lucky and experience blazing speeds while your connection comes to a crawl at other locations. A sloth will pass you by faster. This happens more often than you want.

3. Annoying to connect to – Ever tried to get online, but first, you had to tell them your life story? I don’t like leaving my details like my name, email, address, and/or phone number. You don’t know what they’re using it for. This practice should be illegal, but unfortunately, many suppliers of see this as a golden marketing opportunity. So if you don’t want to sign up as Mickey or Donald, opt for a different solution.

4. They’re not everywhere – Maybe the most important of the issues with connecting this way is that it sounds great at home. “I don’t need the internet all day. I use free hotspots across town if I need them.” But then you get here, and you get lost. You curse yourself seeing that phone in airplane mode when opening Google Maps. Or you want to use e-tickets for tours and admission, but the app tells you unexpectedly it can’t work offline. 

Option 3. Use Without Any Changes

I understand when you expect not to use your internet connection that much, you should be okay with the small amounts you use. 

This likely results in a painful phone bill when you come back home. No matter how little you used it.

Apps update information in the background that you don’t see or notice. If your settings allow for it, even new app updates can be downloaded this way. Then your phone checks for emails and other messages.

Data is used all the time. And roaming charges without optional travel packages are incredibly high. 

Options 4. Use-it-like-you-do-at-home Package

Many travelers decide this is a good option. In the USA, almost all providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have something similar to this idea with travel passes. They all charge $10 a day, but data limits vary. 

This is already a much better option. And if it’s just you traveling and you’re out of the country for a few days, it’s not that bad. But check limits. AT&T, for example, is notorious for their low number of GB in their travel package. Some things eat up your data quite quickly (don’t think about starting a Netflix movie and burning through a lot of data).

If you are from the UK, most providers like EE, Vodafone, and Three charge between £2 and £3 per day for roaming in Europe. 

Do you have a European phone from within the EU? Then you can use everything like at home without any extra charges. If you’re from anywhere else, you can check with your local provider for options and costs. 

These roaming plans are per phone. If you are a family of four and everybody has a phone, all costs are times four. So in this example, a family of four on a 14-day vacation from the US would be charged 4 x $10 = $40 x 14 days = $560. That is more than just some change. Keep reading for better deals.

Using Your American Phone in Europe

I would also like to ask you to please make sure your American phone works in Europe. European mobile phones use different frequencies than the US. And often, in the US, phones are locked. You’d need to check your phone contract for that. In many cases, unlocking your phone from your mobile phone carrier is possible. You would need to check both things before you leave.

PS To get around the lock issue, many people buy a cheap unlocked phone for this, but do this in the US since they’re cheaper and more readily available at Target or Walmart. Ensure they work on the EU 900 and 1800 frequencies. Otherwise, they won’t work within The Netherlands. 

Option 5: Using a European SIM card

Replacing a SIM card.
Replacing a physical SIM card. An eSIM is usually much handier.

Buying a prepaid SIM in the Netherlands is not as easy as elsewhere. To fully use it, you must register a new SIM card with a Dutch address and a European bank account number. Not impossible (you get an EU bank number with a low-cost WISE travel Debit card, for example; read more about Getting a Wise card in my article here). But it’s not ideal.

The best alternative to buying a SIM card locally is a European SIM or eSIM. With an eSIM – if your phone allows for it (but most modern phones do) – you can easily add a virtual sim card and use it for data overseas.

Often, they come around $30-$50 per 14 or 30 days, making them great value for many travelers, including large data allowances. The great thing is that these bundles are valid within Europe on any European network, making traveling across Europe a lot easier!

An eSIM is preferred over a physical SIM card you’d need to replace. With an extra virtual card, you can keep your US number so people can still be calling your mobile phone (your American cell phone), and you receive text messages as usual. Then, you can use mobile data from your international sim card.  

I’ve written a complete post on the best Amsterdam SIM card plans.

One caveat: travel sims usually do not allow for tethering (mobile hotspots) and sharing your mobile with other devices. It’s not always possible to share your connection with others or your computer. Each device still needs its SIM.

One thing not to do is get a Lebara sim card at the airport after arrival. That is the worst prepaid SIM card you can buy for your smartphone. They’re expensive for the data plans they offer.

TIP: Connecting with a SIM brings the benefit of choosing between different providers at the same price. All providers offer good service in the Netherlands, but KPN has consistently been selected as the network with the best service, like connecting even in remote places. You can set your phone to KPN manually.

Option 6 Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

Pocket Wifi Hidden Holland.
A Pocket Wifi device is perfect for sharing your connection abroad.

Rent a mobile wifi unit. Different companies offer this service. What is great about a mobile hotspot device is that you can share your connection with many devices simultaneously, and often you have unlimited data or high data usage limits. 

This is how they all work. The device is delivered to your accommodation or pick-up location nearby. You can use the device as much as you need during your stay. You turn it on, and you can connect to any network like you would. On the final day of your rental, you return the device in the return envelope, and that’s it.

These devices are handy because they’re small, allow many devices to share simultaneously, and you usually don’t have to worry about the amount of data you use. And they cost about the same as a travel plan for just one phone from home.

The downside is that the battery life is an issue. For some devices, it’s 5 hours. For others, double. Of course, the more heavily you use the connect, the faster your battery will be empty. You must also have it and switch it on to share a connection. You don’t want to leave it on when you’re not using it or your battery empties out. And weirdly enough, you can’t charge and use data simultaneously. So when the device is charging, you’ve got to wait. It’s best because of that it charges only at night. But also plug it in while you’re having a meal or somewhere you don’t need data for a minute.

Here is a link to an option through our partner Get Your Guide. This is a reasonable offer, but their device is of lower quality regarding battery life. I’m working on offering this service myself. I’m building the technical part as we speak. You can also email me for costs and availability because I already have the device. This device has a battery life twice the power of the Get Your Guide offer.

Tips for Saving Money And Making Your Data Last

  • Turn off background syncing and automatic app updates in your phone settings
  • Do not run your phone with a package for data in Europe
  • Watch videos (Netflix, YouTube, et cetera) on a hotel network, this avoids much data consumption
  • Get an EU travel SIM or Pocket Internet for lower costs on data 
  • Consider if you need to make calls within Europe when choosing sim card plans
  • Unlimited Calls are available using your data package and call through Skype, Google Voice

Frequently Asked Questions Mobile Phone in Amsterdam Tips

Is it realistic to take a digital sabbatical when traveling in Amsterdam?

Not really, you can opt for a “digital sabbatical” by turning off your data entirely. Just remember to disable “Data Roaming” in your settings, and not only use airplane mode. So your phone won’t connect abroad at all. However, that is not very practical. It will be difficult to use apps that hold your e-tickets and transportion tickets like the trams. It will also limit you severely in using navigation apps like Google Maps if don’t use mobile data in Amsterdam, and when you get lost you wish you’d have it.

Is it safe to use free WiFi in Amsterdam?

Using public WIFI always comes with a risk. While free WiFi is available anywhere, so are malicious people who might try to steal your data. Caution is always advised in busy public spaces, due to the security risks associated with these connections. To ensure safety, refrain from typing passwords or conducting financial transactions. You might also consider purchasing a paid VPN service for added protection.

What if I want to use my mobile phone in Amsterdam just like I do at home?

Many mobile providers from outside the EU offer travel packages that allow you to use your phone as you usually would, but these can come at pretty high costs and sometimes lower data limits. If you’re traveling as a family, remember that these costs multiply with each device. What I do when I travel, and I would advice you the same if you only want to use your phone to go online is to get yourself an eSIM if you’re traveling alone, or two if you traveling together (since tethering is usually not allowed). If you’re traveling with a family, or you want to connect multiple devices like a tablet and or laptop then I would always rent a pocket wifi device, for optimum flexibility.

What type of power outlets does Amsterdam use? Do I need an adapter?

It depends where you’re traveling from. Amsterdam uses the same power outlets as the rest of the EU. These are type C and type F power outlets. Basically those with two round poles in the middle. If your device’s plug doesn’t match, you’ll need a travel adapter. If you’re traveling from the UK, the USA, Australia or Asia you will certainly need an adapter. Before traveling, ensure that your devices can handle the 230 volts standard in the Netherlands. For example the US is on 110 volts. Your power adapter should print which voltages it can handle. Most mobile phone chargers can handle both.

What are some useful local apps to have on my phone while in Amsterdam?

What a great question! There are few depending on your needs. Let’s start with weather first. The Apple Weather App that comes standard on your iPhone is useless in Amsterdam. You can just as well draw your own images of the weather you would like to see. Much more accurate is the YR.no (Norwegian weather app), that’s the one I trust. Then download “Buienalarm” pretty accurate to predict the next rain shower. Staying on the topic of rain “Buienradar” is also great. You see the clouds literally rolling in on a map. For transport I would advise the “NS” app for the national rail system. It can also plan local transportation. But I find myself using Google Maps most for this. I just tap the transit button at the top. 9292 is often recommended elsewhere. Personally I don’t like it. If you’re going for a bike ride “Fiets!” is great for bike routes.

Conclusion

Wether using a travel plan from home, getting a European SIM card, or rent a pocket wifi. It will be different for all of us. But I hope this article clarified the different options for you. And gave you a better idea what works best for you. No matter your choice don’t forget to take plenty of photo’s when you’re here and share them with your loved ones. Because that is what travel is all about after all: creating experiences!

You might also be interested in my post 40 Practical Netherlands Travel Tips For Your Trip 🔌.

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Did I Answer Your Question About Using Your Mobile Phone?

I’d love your thoughts: How will you connect to the Internet while traveling in Europe? Or will you go offline all together?

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Gerrit shares his love for the Netherlands from his home near Amsterdam, helping thousands plan unforgettable trips to the lowlands. Discover his inspiring journey "From a critical health scare to celebrating Holland's charms". If you want to send Gerrit a quick message, you can contact him here.

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