Admittedly, the three Benelux countries are by no means inexpensive. Clearly, whether you agree with this statement will depend on how much you can bring to bear -- or bear to bring -- in the way of financial resources. If you're used to the prices in New York and London, those in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Luxembourg City likely won't seem too out of whack. But opportunities for scoring genuine bargains run a thin gamut from few and far between to nonexistent. In your favor is that the natives themselves display a reluctance to part unnecessarily with a euro. A sound rule of thumb is that if you lodge, dine, and entertain yourself in the same places where "ordinary" locals do, you can limit the financial damage.
The euro (€) is the currency in Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. There are 100 euro cents to each euro. Eight euro coins are in circulation: 0.01€, 0.02€, 0.05€, 0.10€, 0.20€, 0.50€ (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 euro cents, respectively), 1€, and 2€. The seven euro notes are: 5€, 10€, 20€, 50€, 100€, 200€, and 500€ -- the last two notes listed won't be of much practical use unless you're into money laundering or some other nefarious activity.
The currency-exchange offices at the main rail stations in Brussels, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg City offer fair rates for cash and traveler's checks, as do banks, offices of Travelex in Belgium and Luxembourg; GWK Travelex in Holland; and VVV tourist information offices in Holland. Exchange rates at currency-exchange offices at each country's national airport are lousy. Other currency-exchange offices throughout the Benelux countries, which are open regular hours plus evenings and weekends, may charge a low commission, or none at all, but give a low rate of exchange. Hotels should be avoided as a currency-exchange resource unless there's no alternative.
The Travelex and GWK Travelex offices can arrange money transfers through Western Union.
ATMs are widespread in Benelux cities and towns, and you can even find them in some villages. They accept bank cards and credit cards linked to the Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks. Use the ATMs at Brussels, Amsterdam, and Luxembourg City airports to avoid the bad deals from the airport's currency-exchange offices.
Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) and daily withdrawal limit before you depart. If you have a five- or six-digit PIN, also be sure to obtain a four-digit number from your bank to use in the Benelux. Some cards with five- or six-digit PINs might work, but it depends on what bank you use. The best advice is to get a four-digit number from your bank.
Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
Visa and MasterCard (also known as EuroCard in Europe) are the most widely used cards in the Benelux lands. American Express is often accepted, mostly in the middle- and upper-bracket category. Diners Club is not as commonly accepted as American Express. Credit cards are not as commonly accepted as they are in the United States and Britain. Many restaurants and stores, and some hotels, don't accept them at all, and others add a 5% charge for card payment. They are almost universally accepted by gas stations, and for travel by plane, train, and even taxi (not all taxis). The smaller the business, the less likely it is to accept credit cards.
These days, traveler's checks are less necessary because the Benelux countries have plenty of 24-hour ATMs. However, you will be charged an ATM withdrawal fee if the bank is not your own, so if you're going to withdraw money every day, you might be better off with traveler's checks, which will be replaced if lost or stolen. You can get traveler's checks at almost any bank, and from American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard.
Euro traveler's checks are accepted at locations where dollar and pound traveler's checks may not be, but you'll have to convert any unused ones or keep them for a future trip to a euro-zone country.
You can buy traveler's checks at most banks. They are offered in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and sometimes $1,000. Generally, you'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%.
The most popular traveler's checks are offered by American Express (tel. 800/807-6233, or 800/221-7282 for card holders -- this number accepts collect calls, offers service in several foreign languages, and exempts Amex gold and platinum cardholders from the 1% fee); Visa (tel. 800/732-1322 -- AAA members can obtain Visa checks at a $9.95 fee for sums up to $1,500 at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378); and MasterCard (tel. 800/223-9920).
American Express, Thomas Cook, Visa, and MasterCard offer foreign currency traveler's checks, which are useful if you're traveling to one country, or to the euro zone; they're accepted at locations where dollar checks may not be.
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.