If you are visiting the Netherlands or moving there as an expat, here are must know tips for grocery shopping in the Netherlands.
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Going to the grocery store after we made it to our Airbnb when we first moved to Rotterdam in South Holland was perhaps the single most stressful experience of my life.
I had been studying the language for months and felt fairly confident in my knowledge of Dutch food names but the moment I stepped in the door it was instant overwhelm.
Everything felt so new, from the gates at the doors, to the style of shopping carts, to the layout of the store. Now, I will say that we went grocery shopping as a family and that grocery shopping with 4 kids at the best of times is an awful experience. The second time I went grocery shopping I went alone and it went much better.
I realized later, in all of my time abroad, I don’t think I had ever set foot in a grocery store. Just one of the ways I was sadly unprepared for life as an expat. If you are planning on moving abroad learn from our mistakes!
Things to know about shopping in the Netherlands
Even if you aren’t moving to the Netherlands, going to the grocery store instead of restaurants is one of my favorite ways to save money when traveling as a family. That’s why we generally opt to stay in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, especially since there are limited options for places to stay abroad with a big family.
Instead of buying every meal out, we choose to go to the grocery store for breakfasts and lunch and only pay for one meal out if we have to.
Traveling can be expensive but the benefits of traveling and exposing our children to the different ways people choose to do the same tasks around the world is worth it.
Major grocery chains
There are many major grocery store chains that you can find all over the Netherlands. The most popular one that we’ve shopped at all over the Netherlands is Albert Heijn. Other major chains that are generally easy to find are Coop and Jumbo and both will carry brands that you might recognize. Dirk van de Broek and Lidl are other popular chains but that mainly carry only store brand products.
Albert Heijn (AH) is generally the most expensive but also carries the most products. Jumbo is cheaper than AH. The Lidl and Dirk markets are popular budget grocery stores.
If you are looking for American and other international products, your best bet is to visit a Toko or Asian market. You also might get lucky at Coop, Aldi or Lidl but that is more hit and miss.
One of the most stressful parts of visiting different grocery stores when we moved to Rotterdam was trying to figure out which stores accepted various kinds of payments.
Here, many stores only accept PIN (debit) cards not credit cards. Also, American Express is only accepted at major international retailers. There are also many stores where although they allow PIN cards, they don’t accept VISA or Mastercard debit cards.
I could never keep them all straight and it led to several embarrassing situations where I had to go find an ATM to use.
If you only have a debit card, make sure you let your bank know you will be traveling abroad so they don’t flag your card. Also, I always make sure to have cash with me as a backup just in case the store won’t accept my kind of debit card.
Unlike the US, grocery stores here are not open early in the morning or late at night. Most grocery stores open around 8am and close around 6 or 7pm. Some stores do stay open later but they still close before 11pm.
Using self checkout
If you choose to go the self checkout route, look for the British flag in the corner of the screen. When you tap on it, it will switch the language to English.
Also, make sure you grab the receipt because at some stores you have to scan the receipt to get out. If it asks you for a long or short receipt and you don’t care to have an itemized list of everything you bought, choose the short option and toss it in the trash can they usually have right next to the scanner.
Here are my top tips for grocery shopping
Now that you know a little more of what to expect here are my top tips for grocery shopping here.
Make your list ahead of time and google translate it
Google translating my list ahead of time and having the google translate app on my phone has saved me countless times while at the grocery store. I cannot count the times where I didn’t translate the ingredients in a product and ended up bringing home something that we ended up being unable to eat.
Visit the grocery store’s website before you go
Visiting the grocery store’s website is especially helpful if you have specific dietary needs. It is easier to search for products in English (or your native language) on desktop where you can google translate the entire page and then look for products that fit your needs.
Many major chains like Albert Heijn and Jumbo also have an app so you can add products to a shopping list and have that handy as you shop. It can help to be able to show a picture of the specific product if you need to ask for help finding it.
Don’t forget a Euro coin
If you have visited an Aldi store, then you might already be familiar with the practice of needing to insert a coin to use a shopping cart. Don’t be tempted to try using a US nickel or quarter, trust me, they don’t fit.
There are a few things you can do if you don’t have a coin.
First option, you can ask at the customer service desk and they often will either loan you a coin or they have special plastic “coins” you can use.
Second option, make do with a small rolling shopping basket. A little bigger than the hand held shopping baskets you find in the US, the rolling shopping baskets are a decent size for buying one days worth of groceries, even for my family of 6.