Business Hours -- Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm (some stay open until 5pm). Some banks open on late-hour shopping nights and Saturday. Stores generally are open Monday from 10 or 11am to 6pm, Tuesday to Friday from 8:30 or 9am to 5 or 6pm, and Saturday to 4 or 5pm. Some stores close for lunch, and nearly all have one full closing day or one morning or afternoon when they're closed -- signs are prominently posted announcing closing times. Many stores, especially in the larger towns, have late hours on Thursday and/or Friday evening. In the cities, stores along the main streets are open on Sunday.
Drinking & Drug Laws -- There is no minimum legal drinking age in the Netherlands -- but other laws may be used against a parent, guardian, or other third party who permits or causes a minor to abuse alcohol. For purchasing drinks that have less than 15% alcohol by volume, the minimum legal age is 16; for drinks with more than 15% alcohol by volume, the minimum legal age is 18; in both cases ID must be produced.
The use of controlled narcotic drugs is officially illegal in the Netherlands, but Amsterdam and some other local authorities permit the sale in licensed premises of up to 5 grams (1/5 oz.) of hashish or marijuana for personal consumption, and possession of 30 grams (1 1/5 oz.) for personal use. On the other hand, peddling drugs is a serious offense.
Electricity -- Like in most of Europe, Holland uses 230 (220-240) volts AC (50 cycles), compared to 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles) in the United States and Canada. Converters that change 110-120 volts to 220-240 volts are difficult to find in Holland, so bring one with you.
Bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Embassies & Consulates -- Both the U.S. and the U.K. have consulates in Amsterdam and embassies in the Hague (Den Haag). Other English-speaking countries only have embassies in the Hague.
The embassy of Australia is at Carnegielaan 4, 2517 KH Den Haag (tel. 070/310-8200; www.australian-embassy.nl).
The embassy of Canada is at Sophialaan 7, 2514 JP Den Haag (tel. 070/311-1600; www.canada.nl).
The embassy of Ireland is at Dr. Kuijperstraat 9, 2514 BA Den Haag (tel. 070/363-0993; www.irishembassy.nl).
The embassy of New Zealand is at Carnegielaan 10, 2517 KH Den Haag (tel. 070/346-9324; www.nzembassy.com).
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at Lange Voorhout 10, 2514 ED Den Haag (tel. 070/427-0427; www.britain.nl).
The embassy of the United States is at Lange Voorhout 102, 2514 EJ Den Haag (tel. 070/310-2209; http://netherlands.usembassy.gov).
Emergencies -- For police assistance, an ambulance, or the fire department, call tel. 112.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- A gas (petrol) station is a benzinestation, a pompstation, or a tankstation in Dutch. Gasoline is lead-free and sold in two varieties: euro 95 or euro 98 (for its octane number). Diesel is sold in all stations; autogas, also known as LPG (liquid petroleum gas), is sold in many. Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters, and 1 imperial gallon equals 4.4 liters. The Netherlands "boasts" some of the highest gasoline prices in the world.
Internet Access -- The number of "cybercafes" has been declining, but most towns still have some.
Language -- Dutch people speak Dutch, of course, but English is the second language of the Netherlands and is taught in school from the early grades. The result is that nearly everyone speaks fluently -- so you may speak English almost as freely as you do at home, particularly to anyone providing tourist services, whether hotel receptionist, waitperson, or store clerk (cab drivers might be another story).
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Local emergency numbers to call are: American Express (tel. 020/504-8666), Diners Club (tel. 0800/555-1212), MasterCard (tel. 1-800/307-7309 or 1-636/722-7111 in the U.S.), and Visa (tel. 0800/022-3110).
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks in Belgium are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 1-800/325-6000 in the U.S.; www.westernunion.com).
Mail -- Most offices of TNT Post are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Postage for a postcard or an ordinary letter up to 20 grams (.7 oz.) to the U.K. Ireland, and other European countries is 0.80€ ($1.30); to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of the world, it's 0.92€ ($1.45).
Newspapers & Magazines -- The main British and Irish daily newspapers, and the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal Europe, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Business Week, Fortune, The Economist, and more are available from news vendors at major railway stations, and from other outlets in the main towns and cities.
Pharmacies -- In the Netherlands, a pharmacy is called an apotheek and sells both prescription and nonprescription medicines. Regular open hours are Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm. Pharmacies post details of nearby all-night and Sunday pharmacies on their doors.
Police -- Holland's emergency phone number for the police (politie) is tel. 112.
Smoking -- Since July 1, 2008, smoking is forbidden in restaurants, bars, cafes, hotel public areas, and most hotel rooms. Exceptions are in separate enclosed areas for smokers, in which staff are not allowed to provide drinks, meals, or other services. Smoking tobacco in "coffeshops" is likewise forbidden, but smoking the pot that is their stock in trade is allowed -- don't ask me! Trams, buses, Metro trains, and trains are smoke-free.
Taxes -- There's a value-added tax (BTW) in Holland of 6% on hotel and restaurant bills (19% on beer, wine, and liquor), and 6% or 19% (depending on the product) on purchases. This tax is always included in the price. Visitors residing outside the European Union can shop tax-free in Amsterdam. Stores that offer tax-free shopping advertise with a HOLLAND TAX-FREE SHOPPING sign in the window, and provide the form you need to recover taxes when you leave the European Union. Refunds are available only when you spend more than 50€ ($80) in a participating store.
Time -- Holland is on Western European Time (WET), which is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), plus 1 hour. Clocks are moved ahead 1 hour for daylight-saving Western European Summer Time (WEST) between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October. For example, when it's 6pm in Amsterdam, it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), 7am in Honolulu (HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
Tipping -- The Dutch government requires that all taxes and service charges be included in the published prices of hotels, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, salons, and sightseeing companies. Even taxi fare includes taxes and a standard 15% service charge. To be absolutely sure in a restaurant that tax and service are included, look for the words inclusief BTW en service (BTW is the abbreviation for the Dutch words that mean value-added tax), or ask the waiter.
Dutch waiters and hotel staff often "forget" that a service charge and a tip are in effect the same thing. If you query them, they'll likely tell you that the tip isn't included in the bill -- slightly true, since it's not called a tip but a service charge. Customers pay a standard 15% whether they liked the service or not. The VVV tourist office's advice is: "Tips for extra service are always appreciated but not necessary."
To tip like the Dutch, in a cafe or snack bar, leave some small change on the counter or table. In a restaurant, leave 1€ to 2€ ($1.60-$3.20) per person, or to generously reward good service, 5€ ($8) per person or 10% of the tab. Since service can tend toward the lackadaisical, you may need to make due allowance for what constitutes "good." If another staffer takes your payment for the bill, give the tip to your waitperson directly.
In a hotel, tip if you wish for a long stay or extra service, but don't worry about not tipping -- you're unlikely to be hassled by a bellboy who lights every lamp in your room until he hears the rattle of spare change.
Should you feel an irrational compulsion to tip taxi drivers, round up the fare by a euro or two, or splash out 5% to 10%.
Toilets -- The most important thing to remember about public toilets in Holland -- apart from calling them toiletten (twa-lett-en) or "the WC" (Vay-say) and not restrooms or comfort stations -- is not the usual Male/Female (Heren/Dames) distinction (important though that is), but to pay the attendant. He or she has a saucer where you put your money. Toilets usually cost only about 0.30€ (50¢), and the attendant generally ensures that they are clean.
Water -- The water from the faucet in Holland is safe to drink. Many people drink bottled mineral water, called generically spa, even though not all of it is the Belgian Spa brand.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.