APPsterdam: Reluctantly Going Digital With The Dutch

Shanela Ranaraja
October 15, 2019
All The Apps

I’ve always been a little wary of new technology. I still used a landline phone in 2015; I only joined social media the year I left for college. When someone suggested I download the app they’ve been using forever - GroupMe, Messenger, YouTube - my first question was, “How safe is it?” I’m not exactly a Luddite - I am, after all, flinging this blog into the howling wilds of the Internet - but my approach to tech has been strictly need-based. I’d rather have 55 tabs open on Safari than get the actual corresponding apps. 

However, after arriving in Amsterdam, I’ve had to confront this dilemma anew. In nine weeks, I’ve amassed a dozen new apps. For most people, this seems perfectly normal when moving to a new country; several other IES Correspondents have reviewed the apps that made study abroad easier for them. Unfortunately, my terror of technology waxes and wanes according to which Black Mirror episode I rewatched most recently, so knowing that my phone contains multiple new repositories for my personal information, my location and my credit card details has made me paranoid, to put it mildly. 

Thus far, the only thing that's stopped me going on wild Deleting sprees is that all of these apps do serve a solid purpose. Sure, technology is unpredictable, but I can’t deny that life in Amsterdam is easier with it. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them; maybe you still lead an app-less life and are feeling smug. If that’s the case, please share your secret - if not, read on and commiserate.

Necessary Evils


To me, banking equals standing in queues and making small talk with tellers. I saved every paper statement from Wells Fargo until they went digital last year because it’s reassuring to have tangible records of my finances. But suddenly, there’s an app on my phone that logs every single transaction I make instead (paper statements cost extra); there’s even a QR-code scanner which lets me pay for things instantly instead of entering my details on a website. The ease of it is disconcerting - I still think of apps as a sort of low-consequence item, untethered from reality, but that’s absolutely not the case with these transactions. High-convenience, high-risk. 


I’ve never used an app for my mobile provider before. One of the perks is being able to top up my call credit and data as needed, instead of paying for a monthly plan I might not exhaust. Of course, the app does record all the communications I make, so George Orwell is probably laughing somewhere. Probably has been for a while. 

ISIC Mobility

ISIC Mobility is basically an OV-chipkaart (a contactless smart card system used for all public transport in the Netherlands), but provided by a company that caters to international students in the Netherlands; I ordered it because I could pick it up the day I arrived in Amsterdam and start traveling immediately. The corresponding app records my trips and is excellent at showing me how fast those left-home-late-can't-miss-class tram fares can add up.


Gone are the days of descending into the basement fifty times to check on your laundry cycle. The Wash&Go app is linked to my building’s laundry machines/dryers: it shows when a machine is free, lets you pay for it online and shows how long the cycle has left. Of course, it’s also one more app to which my credit card is linked, but it seems like the only way to pay for the machines. I’ve yet to find the coin slots which they supposedly have.

Making Things Easier

Canvas Student 

If you’re studying at UvA, this app tells you which assignment is due in 43 minutes when you can’t find a computer to get on the website. It’s essentially Moodle’s more streamlined cousin. I use it to match my classmates’ profile pictures to their names during group assignments (because after nine weeks I’m still not sure who everyone is).


It rains a lot in the Netherlands, so it follows that the Dutch have created rain-specific weather apps. Buienalarm is my favourite because it gives you the expected precipitation for the day and a graph that helpfully depicts when the rain will be heaviest in the next few hours. 


This app is like Google Maps, but Netherlands-specific. I haven’t used it as often as I should, but when Google Maps is temperamental, 9292 will offer the most Dutch routes from A to B (tram and ferry included). 


Sometimes you just want food you didn’t have to cook. Enter Thuisbezorgd! (Literally, delivered-at-home). I dodged their riders around my compound a couple of times before I finally got the app. Other services exist, like Deliveroo and UberEats, but Thuisbezorgd has provided ample comfort food so far, from Papa John’s cheese pizza to Selam Afrika’s lamb alicha

Optional Fun


If you don’t plan on taking trains, this app may not be for you, since its primary offering is access to the national railway schedule. However, it’s worth having for the one time you might need it. Facing delays and cancellations during a recent trip to Utrecht, I found myself taking a mini-Dutch lesson as I matched the overhead announcements to the information in the app. 

Het Parool & De Volkskrant

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate on class projects is by reading articles in the apps run by these Dutch newspapers. Once you know some basic Dutch, scrolling through the content to see how much you understand is quite fun, and could give you a heads-up on breaking news. Occasionally, an article piques my interest enough that I save it to read at the tram stop (tram-stop reading material is a whole blog post on its own).


It’s not a new app, but it is the one messaging platform I’ve used since 2015. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of Dutch - and international - students using the app for group projects and the like. Some even have the desktop version to aid with in-class communication, a strategy I’ve avoided for the time being. I have twelve new apps on my phone - the last thing I need is to start spreading them to my other devices. 

After all, this is not Black Mirror.  

More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Shanela Ranaraja

<p>My name is Lalini Shanela Ranaraja. I grew up in Sri Lanka, a tropical island-nation blessed with perpetual summer, and yet I ended up going to college nine thousand miles away, in Rock Island, Illinois! I’m studying anthropology, journalism and creative writing because I couldn’t pick just one. In my spare time, I dabble in languages (I speak four), browse art supply stores, and people-watch. I require at least one long, rambling walk a day, even if there’s eight inches of snow on the ground.</p>

Home University:
Augustana College - Rock Island IL
Katugastota, Sri Lanka
Explore Blogs