The OV-chipkaart (OV-chip card) is the public transport contactless ticket system in the Netherlands which has replaced most of the old paper-style tickets.
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 around a lot) and personal (residents only).
• Anonymous and personal cards (empty) cost a non-refundable €7.50, last up to 5 years.
• Load and top-up credit on the card’s e-purse (max €150) for travel.
• Passengers must check-in and check-out of every journey using card readers.
• Minimum card balance of €4 (public transport) and €20 (train) – taken off as a deposit on check-in.
• Correct fare deducted on check-out, deposit is refunded.
• Every traveller aged 4 or higher must have their own OV-chip card.
“OV” stands for Openbaar Vervoer which 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. Unlike Oyster, contactless debit cards are NOT valid for use on the OV-chip card system.
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 either at station platforms/halls, gate barriers or 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 for GVB (public transport in Amsterdam) include the standard 1 hour ticket and multi day tickets (1 day to 7 days). 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 are on a short visit to Amsterdam it’s probably best to stick with disposable tickets. Special disposable OV-chip tickets include the Amsterdam Travel Ticket, Amsterdam & Region Travel Ticket and the Holland Travel Ticket.
Which tickets do I need in Amsterdam? For a full analysis see public transport ticket types in Amsterdam
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 anonymous OV-chipcard 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. Travel on trains with the anonymous card saves paying the €1 disposable ticket surcharge.
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 on a journey 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 – OV Servicewinkel shops/ticket desks or ticket machines
• GVB (Amsterdam public transport) – Tickets & Info offices or ticket machines
• Other transport providers – such as RET (Rotterdam), HTM (Den Haag), U-OV (Utrecht)
• Newsagents – such as AKO, Bruna, Primera
• Supermarket service desks – such as Albert Heijn, Dirk, Jumbo
Some outlets may sell cards already pre-loaded with credit.
At Amsterdam Schiphol airport you can purchase at the Tickets & Service desk, one of the yellow and blue ticket machines or at the AKO Newsagent.
At Amsterdam Central station you can purchase at the main service ticket desk, OV Servicewinkel shop, ticket machines or the “GVB Tram Bus Metro” tickets & info office, next to the Iamsterdam tourist office.
You will also find GVB Tickets & Info desks at Amsterdam Bijlmer-ArenA, Station Noord and Amsterdam Zuid stations. GVB has automatic ticket machines at all metro stations.
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.
How to load credit onto an anonymous OV-chip card? We recommend visitors immediately load some credit when buying their anonymous card at the NS or GVB ticket desk. To top-up the card either return to the desk, use a NS ticket machine (cards and coins only, no banknotes) or GVB ticket machine (cards, coins and banknotes).
Some sales outlets have small yellow machines which can be used to top-up credit – unfortunately they only accept Dutch debit cards.
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.
You can view up to 18 months of travel history of anonymous cards online at the ov-chipkaart.nl portal by registering an account. Alternatively, you can see the last 10 transactions at ticket machines or counters.
For more on rail travel with the OV-chip card see How To Buy a Dutch Train Ticket
Refunding credit from an anonymous OV-chip card – Credit under €30 can be refunded with a €1 service fee at a transport company service desk. The procedure is a bit bureaucratic and you will have to fill in a form and show ID (so much for the name “anonymous” OV-chip card). Bear in mind that the initial €7.50 fee cannot be returned.
Credit over €30 cannot be refunded over-the-counter – one requires a Dutch bank account to process such a refund.
3. Personal OV-chipkaart
This is a personalised OV-chip card available to anyone resident in the 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 application) or 2 weeks (paper forms).
As with 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.
Some travel companies (such as NS and GVB) have recently introduced various Flex products which allow travel using an OV-chip card without balance. You are invoiced monthly for your travel costs.
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.
Non-resident children aged 4-11 can travel on a GVB children’s day ticket (€3.75) in Amsterdam as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket; they can also travel on the Dutch rail network all day with a RailRunner ticket (€2.50).
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 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.
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 (using the card balance) has 2 components – a fixed boarding fee and a variable distance fee. The current boarding fee in the Netherlands for 2020 is €0.98. On top of this each transport company sets its own distance fare.
GVB in Amsterdam charges €0.170 per km travelled which during a journey is calculated every 50m. So this means e-purse journeys of 3km and 10km will cost about €1.49 and €2.68, respectively. Compare this with the GVB 1 hour disposable ticket which costs €3.20.
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 €0.98 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 Railway network
The OV-chip card is in use 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 zonder NS-abonnement (pre-paid travel without NS subscription) 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). At 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 change 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 unless it is an allowable route.
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 €2.60 and 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. There is a discounted rate for using an OV-chip card during the off-peak hours (0900-1600 and 1830-0630).
Disposable OV-chip card tickets (singles and day returns) were introduced in July 2014 replacing the old style paper tickets. 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.
There are other smaller rail companies in the Netherlands which operate train services. These have their own card readers so you must always check-in and check-out of one company first before using another.
Most of the larger Dutch train stations have gate barriers installed. Smaller stations tend to have the self-standing card readers.
OV-chip card criticisms
The OV-chipkaart system has attracted a significant amount of criticism and privacy concerns over the years.
The obvious attraction to the transport companies and the authorities is the ability to log and analyse all public transport journeys down to the individual level. Even the holder of a so-called “anonymous” card could likely be tracked and identified by cross-referencing various data sources.
The OV-chip card was also brought in for revenue protection purposes. The transport companies wanted to reduce the ability of people to ride for free, something which was endemic on the Amsterdam metro. Some passengers still try to get round the system by checking out early (before their stop) or by using children’s day tickets.
However if you are caught without a valid ticket you face the standard fine of €37.50 on GVB or €50 on NS.
At €7.50, the OV-chip card has always been too expensive, particularly for short-term visitors. The whole transport ticket system has become overly complex with over 27 different ticket options in Amsterdam.
Another criticism of the 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 (strip-ticket, abolished in 2011) this was achieved with a single stamp of one ticket!
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. This is slowly changing with the introduction of invoiceable Flex products, as mentioned.
Finally, people can easily make mistakes by not checking-in or out properly, thus losing the deposit or risking a fine.
OV-Chip Card: The Future
The Dutch government is looking at phasing out the OV-chip card in the coming years. It will likely be replaced by contactless payment using phones or debit cards. A date of 2023 has been mentioned, so watch this space.
This article was originally published in 2010 and has been regularly updated. Last update 18 November 2020.