Mobile phone subscriptions in The Netherlands: an Expat Guide
Are you planning to move to The Netherlands for an uncertain amount of time? Or are you already living in this cold, but cosy country?
If you want to keep in touch with your relatives, while also remaining in contact with your Dutch friends, you best start looking at Dutch mobile phone subscriptions.
But where to start? You don't want to be stuck in a contract when you don't even know how long you'll be staying for. What kind of mobile phone subscription is the best choice for you?
That's where this guide comes in handy.
- The Dutch landscape - mobile operators edition
- Things to keep in mind before placing your order
Maybe you're moving to Holland for your studies. Or you're here for a different reason, and you're not sure how long you will be staying.
In any case: you want to learn more about Dutch mobile providers: the different speeds they offer when choosing your mobile data package - and of course, the hidden costs you want to avoid.
So that's where we will start: the different packages you can choose from.
The best kind of subscription for you to choose depends on your mobile data usage and other personal wishes. For instance: are you already in possession of a mobile phone that you can use? And how much data would you prefer to have? Maybe you don't even need mobile data and are you just looking for a simple phone to call or message people with.
These are all the possibilities in The Netherlands:
- Subscription with data/calling plan including a mobile phone
- Choose to pay (part of) the phone up front or
- Pay off your phone monthly
- SIM only subscription with data/calling without a mobile phone
- Prepaid plan
Here’s a step-by-step guide for choosing your subscription (or just quickly scan our overview of the most important pros and cons):
If you're looking for a mobile phone
If you're still looking for a phone, you have 3 options:
Option 1: Choose a subscription including a phone
Option 2: Choose a SIM only and buy a phone separately
Option 3: Buy a phone and get a prepaid plan
Depending on the phone you've set your eyes on, it's best to choose either a subscription including a phone or to buy the phone separately and get a sim only for your data and calling plan. For example, if you want the newest iPhone but you don't want to throw away a capital all at once, you can choose to pay for it monthly. In the end, there's usually not much of a price difference, whether you're paying for it all at once or monthly. Except of course if the provider offers a one-time discount or if you buy a secondhand phone.
So what about a prepaid plan? Read on to learn more about when a prepaid plan is the right choice for you.
Option 1 (subscription including a phone) is the best option if you're sure about how long you will be staying in The Netherlands for. If you get a subscription with a phone with monthly payments, you're always looking at contracts that last at least one year. Are you not sure yet if you're going to be staying half a year, one year or maybe more?
Do you already have a phone? Then go for option 2 or 3.
Not sure how to navigate the comparison tool? Use our chat function to ask help!
Option 2 (SIM only) is an excellent option if you don't want to tie yourself to too long of a contract. If you choose this option, you usually have the possibility to cancel your contract after one month. Do check this with your provider before choosing your SIM only. Here you can find sim only contracts that are monthly terminable:
The name kind of speaks for itself: you receive a SIM card from your provider. On it is your data and calling plan and you don't have any additional monthly costs for a mobile phone. You can choose to buy your phone separately or use your existing phone.
Not sure how to navigate the comparison tool? Use our chat function to ask help!
Option 3: choosing a prepaid plan. This is considered a bit ouderwets (old-fashioned) by the Dutch, but it can be beneficial for expats. Especially when you're not sure how long you will stay in the country and when you don't have any Dutch documents.
For instance, you can easily buy a prepaid SIM card in the supermarket. You're not stuck in a fixed contract you can't get out of with a prepaid plan, which is great. Another pro is that you can never get a bill for using too much data because when you exceed your data plan, you're not able to use any more.
Please note: a prepaid plan is only useful if you occasionally call your friends/mum/colleagues and very rarely use 4G for Whatsapp. So if you're addicted to watching Netflix, streaming Spotify - and doing all this through mobile data - you're better off choosing a SIM only. Otherwise, it will get very expensive and impractical pretty quickly.
Or: be like Michelle and use an extra prepaid SIM card for Dutch stuff only. This is ideal when you only need it to sign up for Dutch stuff:
|Data subscription with a phone||
*Costs are spread out over a long period of time
*You get a phone
|*You're legally tied to a one or two year contract||...you're staying for at least one year|
|Sim only subscription||
*You can easily renew your monthly contract or cancel it when needed
*Plenty of choices even if you don't need a lot of data or calling
*You will still need a phone
*The phone needs to be without a simlock
|...you're staying for at least one month|
*No hidden costs: you pay up front
*You don't need Dutch documents
*Expensive if you need a lot of data
*You will still need a phone
*The phone needs to be without a simlock
|...you're staying for less than a month|
So you're already getting a lot of information thrown at you. Maybe you're asking yourself: do I really need to get a Dutch mobile phone subscription? Can't I just use my existing one?
Well, that depends. Have you heard of the phrase Roam like at home?
Roam like at home
If you're an EU-citizen, you can use the 'Roam like at home' rule. Maybe you've already heard of it. In short, it means that you can use your current mobile phone plan anywhere in EU-countries without having extra costs. Going on a long holiday to Greece? Use your existing data plan. Going on a work trip to Spain? Use your data plan!
Are you moving to The Netherlands from the United Kingdom? Then keep in mind the roam like at home rules don't apply as of 31 December 2020.
The big pro of using Roam like at home is that you can call your family and friends still living in your home country. If you choose a Dutch mobile subscription, you have to pay extra if you want to make a call to a country abroad - even if it's an EU-country.
On the other hand: using your existing phone plan doesn't allow you to call Dutch phone numbers without extra costs. And the Dutch can't call you unless they want to get international fees for each call. Of course, there are still solutions like Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts. Just make sure you think about your phone usage priorities!
When using Roam like at home, you should still pay attention to your data and calling limits. If you exceed those limits, you can still end up paying more than you intended to. And of course, like all things: there are exceptions to the rule.
What are the exceptions?
Okay, so you're moving to The Netherlands, and you really want to keep using your existing phone plan. When is that possible, and when is it not?
Your mobile phone operator keeps track of your data usage. If you're using your phone plan more in The Netherlands than in your home country for a period of more than four months, your mobile operator may reach out and contact you. At first, your operator will give you a warning. But if you continue with your extensive usage 14 days after this warning, you will start paying extra for your usage.
Even though these are the rules set up by the European Union, talking with a few expats revealed that some providers seem to modify these rules. For example, some don't look at four months of data usage, but two months. Others have different experiences and admit they use their original phone plan all year, without getting any complaints from their provider. We advise that you contact your mobile phone provider, specifically if you want to be absolutely sure about roaming charges.
Allison, United Kingdom
The maximum amount mobile operators are allowed to charge you, is € 3,50 (+ VAT) per GB you will use. This will even get less over the years through rules that are already set up by the EU:
- € 3,- (+ VAT) per GB as of January 2021
- € 2,50 (+ VAT) per GB as of January 2022
This is all based on your data usage. What's the maximum price like when you exceed the calling or messaging limits?
- €0.032 per minute of voice call made (+ VAT)
- €0.01 per SMS (+ VAT)1
I have an unlimited data plan, can I still use that?
Your unlimited data becomes limited when you're abroad (in an EU-country). The amount of data you can use, depends on the price you pay for your phone plan. There's a rule mobile operators must follow to provide you with enough data: the roaming data volume must be at least twice the volume obtained by dividing the price of your mobile bundle (excluding VAT) by € 3.502. As you can see above, this € 3,50 applies to the maximum price operators can charge you for 1 GB.
Is this unclear to you? Then let's set an example:
Let's say you pay € 30 excluding VAT for your mobile phone plan, including unlimited data. This means you get at least 17 GB from your provider to use in other EU-countries (2 * (30 / 3.5) = 17,14).
Of course, you can always just check with your provider.
You don't have to keep track of your usage when you want to roam like in your home country. Your mobile operator will do that for you and will give you a warning when you are using your phone plan more than you're allowed to. And even when your data or calling usage exceed the limits, your costs won't be extremely high. Do keep in mind that you can only use a fraction of your data in The Netherlands if you originally have an unlimited data plan.
So... not sure which Dutch subscription to choose just yet, or even if it's necessary for you? You don't have to make any choices straight away. If you already have a mobile phone subscription in your home country, just use that one first. If it turns out you'll be staying longer than expected, choose a sim only or a new Dutch mobile phone subscription!
To summarise, these are all pros and cons of using your own phone plan - or getting a Dutch one:
|Roam like at home||
* You can call your family/friends in your home country and they can call you - without extra costs
* You don't have to terminate the contract you already have. Just continue using it in The Netherlands!
* Can't be used more in NL than in your home country
* You have to pay extra if you want to call Dutch phone numbers
* Do you have unlimited data? Only a fraction of this can be used in NL. For specific amounts: check with your provider
... you don't want to call to your home country through Skype or FaceTime
|Using a Dutch subscription||
* Can't live without unlimited data? Then definitely choose a Dutch subscription!
* No extra costs when you call Dutch phone numbers or when locals call you
|* You have to pay extra if you want to call to a country abroad - or you can use Skype||... you're going to be staying for a longer period than four months|
You've probably seen enough pictures of the real Dutch landscape: endless flat plains with cows, mills, fields full of tulips and other flowers...
So we will sketch you a different painting: of mobile operators.
Maybe you've already dipped your toe in all the possibilities of Dutch providers... only to get cold feet afterwards. There's a lot of options to choose from, and that's a good thing! But how can you make a decision, and how do you know it will be the right choice? That's what we hope to make clear in this chapter.
To start with, Dutch mobile operators are divided into two groups: providers with their own network and virtual providers, who offer their services on the existing networks.
It doesn't matter whether you choose a virtual provider or a provider with its own network. For instance, if you choose Simyo who offers their services on KPN's network, you get the same quality you would get if you'd choose KPN.
Here you can find the providers who have their own network (in bold) and the smaller providers who operate on these networks:
- Budget Mobiel
So the next question that pops up is: which provider offers the best network coverage and the fastest internet connection?
Overall, T-Mobile is said to have the best mobile network in The Netherlands3. Close behind is KPN, who's network coverage is also 'outstanding'. Lastly follows Vodafone who also scores 'very good'.
Does this mean the other providers are far behind? No. You may not even notice the difference if you'd choose a different provider, as the network coverage of each provider is over 95% throughout all of The Netherlands.
You can also get a great 4G speed in The Netherlands, depending of course where you're located. If you're standing in a bollenveld to admire the tulips, your 4G speed may disappoint you. Either way, the high maximum 4G speed and great coverage are the things that make the Dutch mobile market one of the best in the world4!
Maybe you're familiar with triple play: combining internet, tv and a landline in a single bundle. Providers love it when you bundle all their services and often offer discounts if you choose triple play. Quad play5 - or combivoordeel in Dutch - is bundling your internet with your mobile subscription to receive a lot of extras. For example: let's say KPN is your Dutch ISP (Internet Service Provider). If you'd choose KPN as your mobile provider as well, the ISP gives you extra data and higher internet speed for free. More providers that offer extras like this are:
- T-Mobile: Combine T-Mobile internet with a T-Mobile mobile subscription for extras
- XS4ALL: Combine XS4ALL internet with a KPN mobile subscription for extras
- Ziggo: Combine Ziggo internet with a Vodafone mobile subscription for extras
Good to know:
The name 'quad play' suggests that you have to get at least a subscription with the internet, landline and tv before receiving a discount. However, this isn't always the case. Since less and less people in The Netherlands use a landline phone, combining internet and TV often suffices for getting a discount.
Do you have a Dutch internet connection and are you curious about what kind of extras you could get? Find out online on the website of your ISP or ask the people of Prijsvergelijken!
The frequency used by mobile providers isn't something you immediately think of when moving to a different country. Or maybe it is. Anyway, you can easily check if your mobile phone is compatible with the frequency used by the Dutch. Go to frequencycheck.com to check for your specific device.
Are you still hanging in there? There are only a few more things to keep in mind before choosing your mobile operator. First of: what kind of documents do you need if you want to place your order?
In most cases, mobile operators want to know a few things from you, such as the address you are registered at, passport or residence permit. But what if you don't have one of these things?
Instead of choosing a subscription, including a phone, you can also consider choosing a SIM only. With SIM only, providers usually ask for less information. Probably because this is less expensive and they're not at risk of you running off with a phone you still haven't fully paid for.
There is another possibility, though. You can also order your mobile phone subscription directly at the shop of a mobile operator. Of course, it's a bit of a drag, but providers like KPN and Tele2 recommend doing this. Still, there are stories of expats that experienced something different:
Do you need a Dutch bank account for ordering your subscription?
If you're going to order it online: yes. This is because a lot of Dutch webshops use iDeal, a method that's only compatible with Dutch bank accounts. But again: by going to the store of your future mobile operator, you can try to avoid this.
This probably requires a bit of explanation, but you already made it this far, so let's hold on a little bit longer!
BKR stands for Bureau Krediet Registratie (credit registration bureau). This is a credit registration agency that registers everyone who has gotten a loan. If BKR is indeed registering you, it can have negative impacts on getting a mortgage.
So... what does this have to do with your mobile phone subscription?
Well, since May 2017 some mobile phone subscriptions are being considered a loan6.
Phones are becoming more and more expensive, and you can easily choose to pay off your phone subscription via a monthly plan. This way, you'll avoid paying a small fortune all at once. But in some cases: paying off your phone monthly is being considered a loan.
How to avoid getting registered by BKR
There are a few ways to avoid getting registered by BKR. You can, of course, skip the headache and go for a sim only (so you don't have any monthly costs for your phone), but you can also:
- Pay off your phone immediately
- Pay part of your phone so less than € 250 remains
- Choose a 'cheaper' phone, so the costs for your phone are below € 250
Hidden costs and how to avoid these
Maybe you're familiar with the extra costs you have to pay if you exceed your data limits. Imagine you have 5 GB in your mobile data plan. But you accidentally watched a Netflix movie using 4G, and now you spent over 5 GB...
In The Netherlands, these hidden costs can vary per provider. Sometimes you don't have any extra costs if you use more data than you intentionally pay for. Instead, your internet speed lowers, and you can still use your data. Your Netflix movie will just buffer very, very slowly.
What are the hidden costs per mobile operator?
Extra costs when you exceed your data plan
|Ben||31 cents per extra MB. Or set up a limiter so you can't use your data anymore (free)|
|Hollandsnieuwe||1 cent per extra MB. Or set up a limiter so you can't use your data anymore (free)|
|KPN||No extra costs, you can still use your data but at a lower speed.|
|Lebara||5 cents per extra MB.|
|Budget Mobiel||No extra costs, you can still use your data but at a lower speed.|
15 cents per extra MB. Or set up a limiter so you can't use your data anymore (50 cents per month)
|Simyo||You pay 15 cent per extra MB. You can't set up a limiter.|
|T-Mobile||You pay 15 cent per extra MB. You can also choose to set up a lower data speed when you exceed the limit.|
|Tele2||No extra costs. You can't use your data when you exceed your data limits.|
You pay 1 cent per MB over your data limit. You can also choose to set up a lower data speed when you exceed the limit.
|Youfone||10 cents per extra MB. Or set up a limiter so you can't use your data anymore (50 cents per month)|
Conclusion: what to choose?
Before choosing your mobile operator, you have to take these things in mind:
- Do you already have an ISP or are you going to choose a Dutch ISP? Check beforehand if you can get that sweet, sweet combivoordeel.
- The maximum speed via 4G varies per provider, but don't get too hung up on this. Usually, providers boast of offering speeds of 200 Mb/s or higher, but you'll only reach these kinds of speeds in optimal circumstances. Like standing outside, next to a mobile phone mast. What - unless you live next to one - isn't something you regularly do.
- Lastly: there isn't really a bad choice. All Dutch operators have great 4G coverage. So choose one that feels good or offers a great deal.