The OV-chipkaart (OV-chip card) is the national public transport ticket system in Netherlands and has replaced old paper tickets such as the strippenkaart.
The OV-chip card is in use on all forms of public transport including trains, trams, buses and metros.
The OV-chip card system is rather complex and we will do our best below to explain how the system works. We will start with this summary:
3 types of OV-chipkaart - disposable (one-time use tickets), anonymous
(best for visitors who will travel a lot) and personal (residents only).
"OV" stands for Openbaar Vervoer which simply means "public transport" in Dutch. Like London's Oyster and Hong Kong's Octopus, the OV-chip smart card system works using an embedded RFID chip inside the card.
Passengers need to "check-in" and "check-out" respectively, at the start and end of their journey. This is done by placing the OV-chip card onto the special free-standing card readers - these are found at station platforms and halls, metro gate barriers and near the doors on board trams and buses.
There are 3 types of OV-chipkaart available:
1. Disposable OV-chipkaart - this is a card which is bought as a single travel product only. Examples include the standard GVB 1 hour or 24 hour tickets in Amsterdam which can be bought on board trams and buses. For train travel there is the NS Dutch Railways disposable ticket which carries a €1 surcharge over the standard fare. Disposable OV-chip cards are made from paper card and can be discarded after use. If you only plan to use public transport once or twice on a short visit then stick to disposable tickets.
2. Anonymous OV-chipkaart - this is a plastic card which has a printed expiry date valid for 4-5 years. It costs €7.50 (non-refundable) to purchase an 'empty' card with no credit - to this you can load travel credit onto the "e-purse" up to a maximum of €150. The card can be used on any public transport in the country as long as you have sufficient e-purse credit - though some cards may need to be pre-activated for rail travel (see below). Travel using the e-purse on metro/trams/buses is generally cheaper than buying single 1 hour tickets, especially for shorter trips.
It's also possible to load one-off travel products (such as 24 hour tickets, night bus tickets) onto the card which are then automatically used instead of the e-purse balance. An anonymous card can be shared between different people but not at the same time - everyone travelling together must have their own card.
An anonymous OV-chip card can be purchased by anyone, with no registration required. The card is useful for (1) frequent visitors to Amsterdam or the Netherlands and (2) anyone planning to travel a lot on Dutch public transport. One advantage is that you don't have to worry about buying a new ticket every time you travel so long as you have sufficient credit.
Where to buy an anonymous OV-chip card? Cards can be purchased at any of the following locations:
NS (Dutch Railways) stations - service desks or OV-chip marked ticket machines
At Amsterdam Schiphol airport and Amsterdam Central stations you can purchase at the Tickets & Service desk or at one of the automatic ticket machines marked in blue at the top with the NS symbol. Note, there are some payment limitations at NS stations which are discussed in full here: How To Buy a Dutch Train Ticket - most main stations are now accepting credit card payments.
The main GVB Tickets & Info office is located just outside Amsterdam Central station, next to the tourist office. You will also find GVB Tickets & Info desks at Amsterdam Bijlmer-ArenA, Amsterdam Lelylan and Amsterdam Zuid stations. GVB has automatic ticket machines at all metro stations.
Note, the anonymous card may be branded with the travel provider you purchased it from - however the card is valid as normal on all public transport companies.
Once purchased and loaded with credit the anonymous card can be immediately used. Note, the anonymous card is not insured against any loss or theft. Credit under €30 can be refunded with a €2.50 service fee at a transport company service desk but the initial €7.50 fee cannot be returned.
3. Personal OV-chipkaart - this is a personalised OV-chip card available to anyone resident in Netherlands who registers their details with the OV-chip card operating company (Trans Link Systems bv). Each personal card contains the holder's name, date of birth and a digital photograph. It costs €7.50 and lasts for 5 years.
Dutch residents can buy online at ov-chipkaart.nl and pay by iDeal, the domestic internet banking payment network. Alternatively some transport providers offer a paper application route though you will pay an extra €3 fee. Expect the card to arrive after 7 working days (online) or 2 weeks (paper forms).
Similarly to the anonymous card, the e-purse of a personal card can be loaded with a maximum of €150 travel credit - standard transportation fares are exactly the same.
The benefit of the personal card is that it can be linked to a Dutch bank account for automatic top-ups when the e-purse balance falls below a certain level, say €5. Personal card holders can register for the online "My OV-chipkaart" portal which shows all card use - this can be useful for employees claiming back travel expenses. Lastly, if you lose a personal card it can be blocked - you can then apply for a replacement card.
Only holders of personal OV-chip cards are entitled to travel with discount (if eligible) or travel on a monthly pass or season ticket. For example, resident children aged 4-11 and OAPs 65+ get a 34% reduction off the standard fare when using their personal cards. Students in further education can get a mixture of free or discounted travel.
This means most non-resident visitors are NOT entitled to discounted travel on Dutch public transport. Non-resident visitors 65+ need to pay standard fares on GVB public transport in Amsterdam. Children aged 4-11 can travel on a GVB children's day ticket (€2.50) in Amsterdam as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket.
Can a non-resident purchase a personal OV-chip card? Yes, but only those who live or have an address in Belgium, Germany or Luxembourg. Initial payment for the card can be made by credit card or Paypal - however, automatic top-up is only possible via a Dutch bank account.
It should be noted that residents who do not wish to register their details should opt for the anonymous card or just use disposable tickets.
Which tickets do I need in Amsterdam? See public transport ticket types for Amsterdam
Using the OV-chip card on public transport (excluding rail travel)
To check-in hold the card once against the card reader. If check-in is successful a green light flashes accompanied by a single beeping sound. The card reader displays "Goede reis" ("Have a good trip") when using the e-purse balance or "IN OK" if using a travel product. A ticket inspector will require that you have a checked-in OV-chip card for valid travel so be careful not to check-out by accident! If there is an error on check-in the card reader will beep 3 times.
When you check-in on public transport (buses, metro or trams) a deposit of €4 is taken off the e-purse balance - so you must always have at least €4 credit on the e-purse to check-in successfully.
At the end of your journey hold the card against the reader again to check-out. If successful the card reader beeps twice and will show either the journey cost and the remaining e-purse balance or will display "UIT OK" if using a travel product. The cost of the journey will have been deducted but you get the €4 deposit back. Note, if you fail or forget to check-out you will lose the €4 deposit which will likely be more expensive than the journey cost! If you have 12 failed check-outs in a 2 week period the card is disabled - it can only be restored by visiting a customer service desk.
The cost of a trip has 2 components - a fixed boarding fee and a variable distance fee. The current boarding fee in Netherlands for 2014 is €0.87. On top of this each transport company sets its own distance fare. GVB in Amsterdam charges €0.148 per km travelled which during a journey is calculated every 50m. So this means e-purse journeys of 3km and 10km will cost about €1.31 and €2.35, respectively. Compare this with the GVB 1 hour disposable ticket which costs €2.80.
If you need to make a transfer you should generally check-out and then re-check-in. If this is done within 35 minutes, you will not be charged the €0.87 base fare again. Note if transferring on the Amsterdam metro to another line you only need to check-out and -in again if you are changing platforms.
On the Amsterdam metro you can meet or say goodbye to someone on a station platform for free - as long as you check-in and check-out in less than 20 minutes.
At all metro stations in Amsterdam there are additional blue card readers which only display the balance of your card. These are labelled "Saldolezer" (balance reader). They cannot be used to check-in and check-out - this must be done using the yellow card readers.
Once your card validity date expires you can no longer travel on it - you must invest in a new one. Also be wary about having other contactless cards close to each other in your purse or wallet.
Using the OV-chip card on NS Dutch Railways services
The OV-chip card is now obligatory for train travel with NS. To use a personal or anonymous OV-chipkaart for NS train journeys the card must be activated for Reizen op Saldo (prepaid travel with NS) unless it was initially purchased from the NS. This activation procedure can be done at NS service desks or ticket machines.
Train travel requires a minimum check-in deposit of €20 (for standard personal and anonymous cards) or €10 (with one of the NS discount cards which are effectively personal OV-chip cards, again only available to residents). On check-out the standard single train fare for your trip is charged and the deposit is returned.
During the initial card activation, the default class of rail travel for the OV-chip card is set to 2nd class. At a ticket machine you can set the default to 1st class if you wish (this can be done permanently or temporarily for a single day's travel). Remember that 1st class fares will be about 70% higher.
You can check-in up to 30 minutes before the scheduled departure of your train. You must complete check-out on the rail network within a maximum of 6 hours after check-in. Officially you are not allowed to backtrack, you must be travelling away from your check-in station.
Check-in and -out at the same station - There may be occasions where after checking-in at a station you decide not to travel. In that case if you check-out within 1 hour you will not be charged. As a security measure you cannot check-out again within 100 seconds of checking-in. If you leave it longer than the hour you will lose the €20 deposit (unless you check-out at another station within the 6 hours).
Intercity Direct trains (Amsterdam-Schiphol-Rotterdam-Breda) require a small supplement for travel between Schiphol and Rotterdam. This costs €2.30 (2nd class) or €3 (1st class) - it can be paid by anonymous or personal OV-chip card e-purse balance by holding the card once against the special red supplement card readers.
Disposable OV-chip card tickets (singles and day returns) were introduced on 9th July 2014 replacing the old style paper tickets. They can only be bought on-the-day of travel. Passengers are required to check-in and check-out of their journey to validate the ticket. These tickets carry a €1 surcharge in addition to the standard fare.
It is expected that more NS Dutch train stations will introduce gate barriers in the future.
The OV-chipkaart system has been set up at great expense with 2 main benefits for the transport companies and authorities:
1. Revenue protection - to reduce the ability of people to ride for free, something which was endemic on the Amsterdam metro. If you are caught without a ticket or not having checked-in you face the standard fine of €37.50 on GVB or €35 plus rail fare on NS. Additionally, by requiring all travellers to have sufficient pre-paid credit the transport companies are effectively getting an interest-free loan on any unused credit.
2. Journey tracking - obviously such a system is able to log all public transport journeys made. A small minority of Dutch people have expressed privacy concerns although the issue has been somewhat glossed over and sidestepped in the marketing blitz. Discounts are frequently offered to induce public uptake of the personal card. Even the "anonymous" card could easily be tracked, analysed and cross-referenced in the data-rich world we are living in.
Another criticism of the new system is that large groups travelling together (such as a teacher with students) must each buy separate cards and all check-in and check-out individually. Under the old strippenkaart this was achieved with a single stamp of one ticket.