The OV-Chipkaart (OV-chip card) is the national public transport ticket system in Netherlands and has replaced the old paper tickets such as the strippenkaart.
This OV-chip card is in use on public transport such as trams, buses and metros - and can also be activated for use on trains.
Like London's Oyster and Hong Kong's Octopus, the OV-chip smart card system works using an embedded RFID chip in 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 card onto the special free-standing card readers installed at station platforms and near doors on buses and trams. Some metro stations in Amsterdam also have gate barriers in place.
"OV" stands for Openbaar Vervoer which simply means "public transport" in Dutch.
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. It is made from paper card and is discarded after use. If you only plan to use public transport once or twice then stick to disposable tickets.
2. Anonymous OV-chipkaart - this is a plastic card which lasts 4-5 years. It costs €7.50 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 then be used on any public transport in the country as long as you have sufficient e-purse credit. Travel with the e-purse is generally cheaper than buying single 1 hour tickets, especially for shorter trips. It's also possible to load other travel products (such as 24 hour tickets, night bus tickets) onto the card.
An anonymous OV-chip card can be purchased by anyone, with no registration required. The card would be useful to (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. Anonymous cards can be used by different people but not at the same time - everyone travelling together must have their own card.
Where to buy and add credit? Basically you can buy an anonymous OV-chip card and load it with credit at any NS train station or GVB (Amsterdam public transport) ticket outlet. At Amsterdam Schiphol airport station and Amsterdam Central station you can purchase at the Tickets & Service desk or at one of the automatic ticket machines labelled "kopen OV-chipkaart" at the top. Note, there are some payment limitations at NS stations which are discussed here: How To Buy a Dutch Train Ticket
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 metro stations.
Note, the anonymous card is not insured against loss or theft.
3. Personal OV-chipkaart - this is a personalised OV-chip card generally offered to Dutch residents who register their details with the OV-chip card operating company. It is also available to those living in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. It costs €7.50 and lasts for 5 years. Each personal card contains the holder's name, date of birth and photograph.
Similarly to the anonymous card, the e-purse can be loaded with credit and used for travel. Fares are the same as using an anonymous card.
Some groups are entitled to discounted travel - children aged 4-11, students in further education or OAPs 65+. They all must have a personal OV-chip card - this means non-resident visitors are NOT entitled to discounted travel on most forms of public transport.
The personal card can be linked to a Dutch bank account for automatic top-ups. An online portal can show card use which is useful for employees claiming travel expenses. If you lose the card it should be reported to the OV-chip company and it will be blocked - you can then apply for a replacement card.
Which tickets do I need in Amsterdam? See public transport ticket types for Amsterdam
OV-Chip Card on Public Transport
To check-in hold the card against the card reader. You should hear a beep and a green light flashes. The card reader display should say "Goede reis" ("Have a good trip"). 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! When you check-in a deposit (€4) is taken off the e-purse balance - so you must have at least €4 credit on the e-purse to check-in successfully.
On check-out the card reader beeps and will show the journey cost and the remaining e-purse balance. The cost of the journey will have been deducted but you get the 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.
Each transport company sets its own fare rates which include a boarding fee and distance fee. In Amsterdam, travel on GVB metro/trams/buses will cost €0.86 (boarding fee) and then €0.145 per km travelled - 2013 prices. This means a 3km journey will cost about €1.30. Compare this with the GVB 1 hour disposable ticket which costs €2.80. If you need to make a transfer within 35 minute of check-out, you will not be charged the €0.86 base fare again.
If you are saying goodbye to someone at a station and not travelling you can check-in and check-out for free as long as your stay is within 20 minutes.
Be aware of the validity date as you cannot travel on an expired card and you must then invest in a new one.
Using the OV-Chip Card on NS Dutch Rail Services
A lot of locals are now using the OV-chip card for train travel. 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 at 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/anonymous cards) or €10 (with one of the NS discount cards which are effectively personal OV-chip cards). On check-out the standard train fare for your trip is charged and the deposit is returned.
During the initial card activation, the default class of rail travel is set so the card always debits either 2nd class or 1st class fares. You can change the default class whenever you wish at a ticket machine. It is also possible to change class temporarily for a single day's travel.
However, it is still possible to buy paper tickets (fares are exactly the same) which do not need any validation. We do expect paper tickets to soon become disposable OV-chip cards which will then require check-in and check-out.
See here if you still want to buy paper tickets from the NS ticket machines.
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. For NS trains the fine is €35 plus the rail fare.
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 and analysed 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.