Making a big move into the city often means leaving the car behind. Amsterdam, with its ingenious bikes and comprehensive public transport, is pretty friendly to the car-free, but sometimes you just need a set of wheels! Here's how to get them.
It’s pouring rain, blustery, and cold … and somehow you have to bring all the precious art from your daughter’s year-long art classes home and it has to be today; you want to take a jaunt into the countryside to see some sights and getting there by bus or train will take hours compared to 30 minutes by car; you have to get to to an event very early in the morning, too early for the metro, but too far away for a taxi/Uber ...
Let’s face it. Sometimes only a car will do! Here are some options for you.
Car Hire/Car Rental
Using a major rental company is often the easiest way to grab a car for a quick trip.
- They have more flexibility than car-sharing for longer trips, one-way trips and last minute needs, and offer a variety of models, and more payment options.
- They are also simple to procure: you must be over 18 and have a license, although the license does not have to be Dutch or EU (check with your agency if you have any concerns about your driver's license).
- They're economical: if you can drive them, manual transmission cars are a much cheaper rental option – you can save as much as 30-50% compared to an automatic!
Normally, you do have to get yourself to the rental agency, but some have free pick-up and delivery within a specified radius. Here are some of the biggest car rental companies serving the Amsterdam area:
Car Share Services
If you have a driver’s license, a pin card, and are over 18, you can sign up for car share services online. Here are three of the biggest:
car2go (currently requires valid EU license of at least one year)
All of these car share services:
- require a deposit that is returned when you close your account and all outstanding fees are paid in full
- offer an option where you only pay when you take a car out
- accept debit/pin cards.
Some companies also accept credit cards, and have monthly subscriptions for those who plan to use a car more regularly. There is usually a deductible (eigen risico) in case of accident. There are other penalty fees for not following rules, such as returning cars late or leaving the car a mess, so read all the information carefully and ask questions before taking a car out.
How It Works
The registration process is not complicated, but providing the required documents and setting up payment can take a little while, so allow a week or two before the date you need the car for this process to take place. Some services also have to send you a card for locking and unlocking the car (Green Wheels allows you to use your OV-chip card to do this).
Car-share reservations can often be made up to the very last minute. It's possible to make a reservation from a phone app while standing next to a car you want! You have to get yourself to the car, which can vary from very convenient to not so convenient, but it is still generally closer and easier than getting to a rental car. Most of the time you must return the car to the same spot. You can arrange for a car in a different city or location from your own, such as from a train station. There are instructions in the car for starting it, for reporting damage before and after use, for using a gasoline card found in the car, and for returning the car. Billing takes place online after the car is returned. Currently, car2go has trip distance limitations, but many of the companies do not, and you can even take a car for multi-day trips, and to nearby countries.
What You Get
The cars themselves tend to be pretty basic: most do not have GPS, none have or even allow towing. Some, however, have air-conditioning or automatic transmission. If you need a specific feature and it is available, you can request that model car in your reservation, though it may mean you have to go further afield to get your car. Child car seats are not provided, but some companies rent them. Each company varies on pet policy, from none at all to pets-in-carrier only, and all the companies have extra cleaning fees if pet hair or messes are reported by follow-on users.
Carsharing is a rapidly growing business model that works very much like Airbnb: companies provide a space for car owners to meet renters needing a car for a fixed period. As in Airbnb, providing feedback about owners, renters, and the overall rental experience is an important part of ensuring the integrity of the process. Just as in carsharing, users must register and be approved to drive. There are different locking/unlocking procedures, and fees are outlined on websites. One nice feature of renting privately owned cars is the great variety of models you can find. In fact, Snappcar has filters that allow users to search for a specific type of vehicle: vans, campers, electric cars, antique, and even open-top convertibles (if you simply want to go for a spin)!
The most prominent carsharing companies are:
If you enjoy having company while you travel, a carpoooling service might be a good option for you. It allows you to find someone who would like to fill any empty seats in their car and share gas costs. You increase your carpooling options the more flexible you are about your pickup and dropoff points. Although using carpooling for short trips does not appear to be cheaper than using public transportation, the equation changes when you have a more distant destination like Paris or Berlin. The biggest carpooling company at present is:
Taxis and Uber
With a little planning, car share and rental car services can save you money over taxis, but taxis and Uber are your best bet for last minute car needs.
Taxis are very easy to use in Amsterdam. A licensed taxi has roof lights displaying the name of the operator and blue number plates. Because space in Amsterdam is limited, taxis cannot stop anywhere they like and this is one of the reasons why there are so many fixed taxi stands. Gemeente Amsterdam has a list of approved taxi companies, including photos of what their roof lights look like.
Amsterdam Taxi Online has a very nice fare calculator program and makes it easy to order a cab.
Uber can be less expensive than taxis, but it requires a bit more work on the user end. The best thing to do with Uber is download the app to your mobile device and enter all your info, including payment details. Then any time you need an Uber, you can call it from your smartphone and without needing to have any cash or cards handy – it will automatically be billed to your account.
The Uber app can be fun, too! You can watch the graphic of the little car approaching, and you can clearly see how much time you have to wait. Make sure to check how far away an Uber car is before requesting a pickup; it could be 25 minutes away, or only a few minutes, in which case you need to be ready to go! If you ever have a problem with Uber billing incorrectly, the customer service part of the app is easy to use. You can fill out a form and get your refund all online.
Be aware, however, that in major locations, like airports or big hotels, Uber cars often cannot pick up at taxi stands, which are in prime locations. In such cases, a taxi is often easier because they are right where you need them to be.
Lori Evans is a musician, piano teacher, and writer from the USA, heading into her third year in the Netherlands. She lives with her techie husband, her delightful 15-year-old son, and two cats that also braved the transatlantic crossing, and fiercely misses her 19-year-old daughter now attending college in NYC.