We’re cashless, is the message displayed on the signs at numerous businesses on campus. Many people don’t mind. But for Lizi Burduli (19), a second-year student in the International Bachelor’s programme in Economics and Business Economics (IBEB) from Georgia, things were very uncomfortable during her first few weeks at the university. She had to wait a long time for her Dutch bank account. “I had to ask fellow students who do come from the EU if they could pay for me, even though I didn’t know them very well”, she says. “That didn’t feel good.”
Nothing but Turkish food
Most places at the university no longer accept cash payments. Customers can still pay with cash at Campus Bikes, Hairdesign by Lydia, Spar, Erasmus Sport and the Has. The Canon Shop will soon only accept debit cards. Lizi: “The only thing I could eat in the Food Plaza is Turkish food.”
If customers want to pay with cash in the Food Plaza, they need to have exact change. The main reason: food safety. “We don’t want people to touch money and then prepare meals”, says Marc van Hooijdonk of Tosti World, on behalf of businesses in the food court. Sustainability, costs and lost time also play a role. “The unnecessary fuel consumption for transport, the costs of collecting and delivering the money, and the amount of work are no longer in line with the times.”
Opening an account
Nevertheless, international students want to pay with cash in the first period of the academic year, according to employees of various businesses on campus. This is because it often takes several weeks for students from outside the EU to get a citizen service number, which they need in order to open an account at major Dutch banks. “I got my citizen service number a month after the start of the academic year, then I had to wait another two weeks for my bank account to be opened at ABN AMRO”, Lizi says.
Opening a bank account often takes longer for people who do not come from the EU. “EU passports are highly standardised and can usually be verified entirely automatically by an EU bank, even remotely, via a mobile app”, says the spokesperson for the Dutch Payments Association, an organisation that seeks to ensure an effective payments system. “Passports from outside the EU come in all shapes and sizes and often need to be verified manually or by an external expert.”
While Lizi waited for her Dutch debit card, she was unable to purchase a calculator on campus for an exam. Because of this, she had to use the calculator on the computer. “That kind of calculator is awkward”, she says. “I typed in the wrong number during the exam, so I got a lower score.”
Cara Spall (26) also ran into problems during her first few weeks as a student in the Creative Studies programme. She brought €500 from her home country of Namibia, but could hardly spent it anywhere. “I could use my own debit card, but the conversion fees were so high that a cup of coffee would end up costing at least twice as much”, she says. “I hardly bought anything on campus and I borrowed from friends, which was frustrating.”
For Cara, who is now a lecturer in Media and Communication, it felt ‘strange’ not being able to pay with cash on campus. “In Namibia it’s the other way around: many people pay with cash, and sometimes using a debit card isn’t even possible”, she says. “I hadn’t taken that into account. I had other things on my mind, like finding a place to stay and getting health insurance.”
Nevertheless, she was able to use her Dutch bank account after just two weeks. “I chose the online bank Bunq, because I didn’t need a citizen service number to open an account.” But because Bunq is only online, she couldn’t go to an ATM to deposit the hundreds of euros she had in her pocket. “So in the beginning I mostly got my food from the market on the Binnenrotte.”
Shop owners on campus can decide whether to only accept debit card payments, according to a spokesperson for EUR. Furthermore, several companies that collect cash have closed in the past two years, leaving EUR unable to conclude a new contract for these services. Among other things, this has forced EUR to only accept debit card payments for parking on campus.
Economics student Lizi would have liked to see things turn out differently. “If you say that you’re an international campus and there are lots of international students around, it would be nice if you’d also offer more options for them during their first few weeks.”
It’s important that as many students as staff as possible are able to conveniently pay for things on campus, says the spokesperson for the Payments Association. “First of all, make sure you accept as many card types as possible, including all major credit cards from outside the EU”, the spokesperson recommends. “If that’s not enough, then also make sure that the students and staff concerned can pay with cash.”
For Lizi, getting her Dutch bank account was a celebration. “When my friends and I finally had our bank accounts, we were so happy”, she says. “We celebrated by using our debit cards everywhere on campus, including at the Has, where we always used to pay with cash. That was a really fun day.”