If you are visiting Amsterdam, it’s convenient to have data on your phone so you can use Google Maps and find your way around. Yes, there’s wifi in many places, but there’s also a lack of wifi in many places. I have split a lot of hair and lost a lot of Euros experimenting with the different services available to visitors and I’ve finally figured out the best way to do this right. This post assumes you have an unlocked phone and you already know why you need to get data on your phone.
The most common card that people go for is Lebara. They are the easiest to get started with. You can find Lebara folks at the airport, at the railway stations, on the street etc. They do a good job marketing, have the best prices, are easy to recharge and have the best customer service. Yet, Lebara didn’t work for me. Why? The internet speeds are very slow. And Skype/Facetime calls are blocked on them. Lebara resells bandwidth from KPN, but it caps it at a speed that’s just barely enough to use Google Maps and to load pages very slowly. It was always between 0.2MBPS – 0.9MBPS. Everything is very slow, things time out. If your internet needs aren’t heavy, then sure, go wit Lebara. If you need more, read on.
The only real alternative is to go with KPN directly. Now, KPN has a larger set of resident customers and they haven’t yet figured out how to make things really work well with transient/visitors. Amsterdam, outside of the very touristy central area, is like the rest of Europe when it comes to customer service. To an American, “appalling” or “severely lacking” are the nicest words to use for the customer service in Europe. I think it’s a cultural thing, the expectations are just very different. And yet, KPN does have the best speeds and the best network in Amsterdam. So here’s how to go about it:
- Find a KPN store – they are a few in the centre and also in most neighborhoods
- Get a new SIM and ask them you also want to get a dataplan with it. They will inform you that the max package is for 1GB for a month. That’s the one I usually get. But now, pay special attention to the next part.
- Most KPN staffers are actually clueless about what actually happens when you activate a new SIM and try to get data on it.
- $10 is the cost of a new SIM. $16 is the cost of the 1GB data plan. So you basically pay $30 to get a new card and data.
- Before you put the SIM card in, make sure you go into Settings>Cellular and turn off Cellular Data. This is super super important.
- Now put the SIM in and see that it works, finds the KPN network and you may get a few welcome text messages. You can now use the phone to make phone calls etc. But keep your cellular data turned off until you activate the internet bundle
- You have to dial *147# to enable the data bundle.
- You will get a message back in Dutch confirming that your request was received. This is a very misleading looking message. If you have ever done this before, you might think it’s already active at this point. But it is not.
- No one will tell you this, but it actually takes more than 24hrs for the data bundle to be active. You have to keep cellular data turned off until that happens.
- Wait until you get one more message from KPN about the 1GB data plan.
- If you don’t get a message, try again after 24hrs with the *147# call.
- While you wait, install the MyKPN app from the app store. Create an account, sign-in, and associate your new SIM card and phone number with that account.
- I have found this to be the only reliable way to know what’s going on with your account. Here, you will see your balance, and if the data plan is truly active or not.
- Only once you have verified that the data plan here is active, you can now go ahead and turn on cellular data. If the settings are missing, use these below
- APN: portalmmm.nl
- Username: <blank>
- Password: <blank>
- Now you are set
It takes longer to get a new KPN connection, but if you are planning to be in Amsterdam for more than 3-4 days, and do need a faster connection, I recommend this approach.