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Moving to the Netherlands

Famously liberal and modern, the Netherlands is a global trendsetter in governance, banking and commerce, and consistently ranks as one of the top destinations in the world for expats to live and work in.

Clogs, tulips and windmills are some of the iconic and somewhat archaic stereotypes that one might think of when considering the Netherlands, but the little European country is about so much more. It is a secular state that respects diversity, while the Dutch, in general, are known for their tolerance and liberal ideals, and like-minded expats typically have no problem integrating into a laid-back society that is at complete ease with 21st-century living.

The Netherlands is a country of middle-sized towns where even the capital, Amsterdam, has less than a million inhabitants in the city itself. That said, the Randstad – which contains Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht – is populated by over 8 million people.

The country has an extensive transport system and one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Added to this, the Netherlands is home to excellent schools and expats will have access to both local- and international institutions.

Expats will enjoy swapping the sophistication and bicycle-bustle of the country’s urban areas with the staggering beauty of its pristine coastline, rural villages and flat, picturesque expanses, which are interrupted only by occasional castles, canals and dykes.

These famed dykes, like the waterways that criss-cross the country, are a dominant feature of Dutch life. Most of the population lives on land below sea level that's been reclaimed from the ocean. In fact, one of the country’s famous fables involves a small boy bravely saving his town by plugging a leaking sea wall. 

With cosmopolitan and culture-rich cities, lush landscapes begging to be explored, and friendly, accommodating people, the Netherlands offers an excellent quality of life for expats.


Fast facts

Population: 17 million

Capital city: Amsterdam

Neighbouring countries: The country is bound by Belgium to the south, Germany to the east and the North Sea to the northwest.

Geography: Situated on Western Europe's northern coast, the Netherlands consists of very flat terrain. Much of its land has been reclaimed from the sea and sits below sea level. 

Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Major religions: Mostly secular with a Catholic, Christian and Muslim minority

Main languages: Dutch is the official language. English, French and German are also widely spoken and understood. 

Money: The Euro (EUR), divided into 100 cents. There are ATMs everywhere, and expats can easily open bank accounts.

Tipping: Service charges are often included in the restaurant bill. If they aren't, tipping 10 percent for good service is perfectly acceptable.

Time: GMT+1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Two-pin European-style plugs are used.

Internet domain: .nl

International dialling code: +31

Emergency contacts: 112

Transport and driving: Cars in the Netherlands drive on the right-hand side of the road. The country has an extensive transport system and it's unlikely expats will need a car.

Weather in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a maritime climate that's fairly similar to England's, with rain throughout the year and variable changes in temperature. Owing to its small size, there's little variation between regions. Expats moving to the Netherlands should invest in a good raincoat and umbrella.

The country experiences mild summers and cool winters, with the average temperatures around 66°F (19°C) in summer from June to August, and 36°F (2°C) in winter from December to February. The flat landscape means that it's quite windy, which is seen in the country's famed windmills.

Amsterdam Climate Chart

Embassy Contacts for the Netherlands


Netherlands embassies

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Washington DC, USA: +1 202 244 5300

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7590 3200

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 237 5031

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6220 9400

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 425 4500

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 269 3444

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 800 388 243


Foreign embassies in Netherlands

  • United States Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 310 2209

  • British Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 4270 427

  • Canadian Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 311 1600

  • Australian Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 310 8200

  • South African Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 392 4501

  • Irish Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 363 0993

  • New Zealand Embassy, The Hague: +31 70 346 9324

Public Holidays in the Netherlands

 

2020

2021

New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

Good Friday

10 April

2 April

Easter Sunday

12 April

4 April

Easter Monday

13 April

5 April

King’s Day

27 April

27 April

Liberation Day

5 May

5 May

Ascension Day

21 May

13 May

Whit Sunday

31 May

23 May

Whit Monday

1 June

24 May

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

Pros and Cons of Moving to the Netherlands

Moving to the Netherlands from a Western culture is on the whole a painless experience. The Dutch strive for an egalitarian society and are known for their liberalism, welcoming religions and traditions from elsewhere. That said, the Netherlands certainly has a rich culture and history of its own, some of which may seem unusual at first. Here are some of the pros and cons of moving to the Netherlands.


Accommodation in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Variety of accommodation 

Expats can either rent or buy accommodation in various styles and locations to suit their budget – but it makes sense to live in the city where amenities and new friends will be close by. Though Dutch accommodation can be pricey, especially in major cities, houses and apartments are generally of a high standard.

- CON: Extra costs

Apartments in the Netherlands are either furnished, unfurnished or advertised as a shell. Shell apartments may seem like a bargain, but renting one often means having to buy everything, including carpets and white goods. Finally, some rental agencies charge a month’s deposit and a month’s rent as a finder’s fee on top of all the other relocation costs.


Lifestyle in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Great social life

The country's easy-going café culture and the summer music festivals that pop up in parks and public spaces are ideal for meeting up with friends. There are also well-supported cultural events throughout the year, where museums and galleries open their doors to the public for nominal fees.

- CON: The aftermath

The Dutch do like their organised celebrations, but their aftermath can look devastating as the streets overflow with litter – although, to be fair, it’s almost all cleared away before lunchtime the next day. 


Safety in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Lower than average crime rates

The Netherlands compares favourably to the UK and the USA when it comes to crime statistics. Expats will likely feel secure, and even large football crowds are usually family-friendly and require few police officers. Nevertheless, as with anywhere, there are areas it’s probably best not to hang around at night. New arrivals will find out where these are quite quickly.

- CON: Irresponsible cyclists

Most safety issues in the Netherlands seem to come from bicycles. Cyclists often weave in and out of traffic without safety helmets, and it’s worth bearing in mind that in a collision between a car and a bicycle, the car driver will be held responsible. 


Working in the Netherlands

+ PRO: 30 percent tax ruling and work-life balance

The Netherlands has one of Europe’s lowest rates of unemployment, which, combined with the 30 percent tax-free allowance available to people moving to work in the Netherlands, makes for an attractive work destination. But this allowance is mainly for people with specific skills which are rare within the local labour market. 

The Dutch are known for their healthy work-life balance and many people work part-time. 

- CON: Not many opportunities for non-EU expats

If a Dutch employer wants to hire someone from outside the EU, they have to prove a Dutch citizen or someone from another EU country can’t fill the position – which is rarely the case.


Culture shock in the Netherlands

+ PRO: An egalitarian society

Moving to the Netherlands from another Western country hardly feels like culture shock. Almost everyone is tolerant of non-Dutch speakers and speaks English. They also have an inclusive culture that isn’t materialistic.

- CON: Learning to speak the language

While the Dutch are happy to speak English to new arrivals, they’re justifiably proud of their language and expect expats to learn the basics. Dutch seems like a cross between English and German, so many of the words sound familiar, but getting to grips with its guttural "G" sounds can be challenging.

- CON: Misreading the Dutch 

The Dutch are known for their directness, which takes time to feel comfortable with and can be misunderstood as rudeness when it’s more a desire for clarity and understanding.


Healthcare in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Efficient healthcare service

Healthcare in the Netherlands is efficient, waiting times are usually short, and doctors generally speak impeccable English.

- CON: Healthcare is expensive

Health insurance in the Netherlands is expensive and doesn’t always cover what expats might expect, so it’s important to read the small print. Finding a doctor or dentist after arriving can be difficult and expats may find that dentists don’t offer enough pain relief. Local anaesthetic may cost extra. Doctors’ automated phone systems can also be challenging for non-Dutch speakers – expats may want to note the numbers needed to press to make an appointment and keep them by the phone.


Transport in the Netherlands

+ PRO: A nation of travellers

The Netherlands hosts one of Europe’s busiest airports – Amsterdam Airport Schiphol – and Rotterdam has one of the world’s biggest ports. For a small country, the Dutch do transport on a large scale. The Dutch have long been known as a nation of travellers and it’s easy to see why – most of Europe is easily accessible by car, train or boat, and anywhere else is just a flight away.

+ PRO: The Dutch cycling habit 

Almost everyone uses a bicycle for any journey within a few miles. Embracing this habit will increase expats’ fitness levels while doing their bit for the environment and blending in with the locals. Cars aren’t necessary for city residents and it’s possible to travel throughout the country using its extensive network of trains and buses.

- CON: Traffic jams and cancellations

Due to the sheer density of the population, rush hour congestion is common. The usually efficient Dutch trains can be prone to unexpected cancellations, and it’s important to keep bikes chained as theft is widespread. Also, while cycling in the Netherlands is good for fitness, the rain can make it a wet experience.


Weather in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Four seasons

Each of the seasons brings its own magic to the Netherlands. Skaters fill the frozen canals like a postcard during winter. The blooming tulips are an iconic sight in spring and the almost-Mediterranean summers stay light until late. But autumn is best of all, when the turning leaves transform parks and forests into a golden blaze of colour. 

- CON: Unpredictable weather

Even though it sometimes feels Mediterranean, it isn’t. The Dutch weather changes quickly, especially in the summer. 


Shopping in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Independent shops

Independent stores are common in the Netherlands, and shopping at specialist cheese and chocolate shops is a particular treat. The supermarkets are somewhat small, but expats should still find a few of their favourite home brands. Most places host weekly food markets which sell an abundance of fresh produce. Another bonus is that it isn’t necessary to buy bottled water – the Netherlands has some of Europe’s best drinking water.

- CON: Restricted hours

The restricted opening hours may take a while to get used to. For example, banks and most shops are closed until around noon on Mondays. Most shops close at around 5pm and are open for restricted hours on Sundays. Luckily, large supermarkets in main cities do tend to stay open until 10pm most nights.

Working in the Netherlands

Expats wanting to work in the Netherlands usually find employment before they arrive. Getting a Dutch work permit can be a tricky affair, since local companies have to prove there are no better local or EU candidates if they want to hire a foreign employee.

Dutch is the official language, while English, German and French are also widely spoken. Although many expats get by without Dutch, having a basic understanding of the language is a definite advantage for job seekers.


Job market in the Netherlands

Food processing, chemicals, retail, financial services, transport, gas and oil are among the largest industries in the Netherlands. Highly qualified expats with skills in these sectors are more likely to find employment, especially in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam.

Dutch labour law protects employees and provides them with many benefits. For example, employees are entitled to 20 days of paid leave per year in addition to public holidays, and some companies offer more than this.


Finding a job in the Netherlands 

Networking is an important part of the job search. The Dutch take personal recommendations seriously, and it's often the best way to find a job. The internet is also a good resource for those who don't have a local network, and there are numerous job portals advertising vacant positions.

Doing Business in the Netherlands

Doing business in the Netherlands is an attractive prospect thanks to its strategic position in Europe and its buzzing, internationally oriented economy.

Plenty of expats are making the move to the Netherlands for its modern work environment where equality is valued and hard work is appreciated.

The Dutch are used to dealing with foreign associates and it shouldn't take expats long to adapt to Dutch business culture.

The Netherlands was ranked 42nd out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. As demonstrated in the survey, the country makes it easy to trade across its borders, ranking first in this category. It ranked 7th for resolving insolvency and 22nd for paying taxes. But it ranked at 119th for getting credit, which can present a bit of a challenge for those expats who want to start their own businesses.


Fast facts

Business language

Dutch is the official language, but English, French and German are also widely spoken and understood.

Business hours

Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Business dress

Business attire is usually smart casual. Suits are often worn but ties aren't always expected.

Greeting

A firm handshake with direct eye contact is the usual form of greeting between both male and female associates.

Gifts

Gifts aren't usually exchanged during business dealings.

Gender equality

Dutch society is very liberal, and men and women have equal rights.


Business culture in the Netherlands

Although business structures are hierarchical, the business culture in the Netherlands is collaborative and the input of all workers is valued when it comes to decision-making. But this means that decisions can take time.

Business style

The Dutch are hard-working and disciplined, and tend to be quite formal and reserved in the business environment. Self-control is important in business dealings and showing emotions is rare.

Punctuality is vital and it’s usual to skip pleasantries and get straight to business during meetings.

The Dutch are very private people and prefer to separate work and personal life. It's unusual to socialise with colleagues outside of the office.

Communication

The Dutch communication style is direct and expats will likely always know where they stand with their local associates. Answers will be clear and straightforward which often comes across as being blunt, and it may take a while for expats who are accustomed to more indirect communication to get used to this. 

Honesty is expected and appreciated, and it’s best to be open and direct when dealing with Dutch colleagues.

Personal space is valued and it’s unusual to stand too close to or touch colleagues when conversing. 


Dos and don’ts of doing business in the Netherlands

  • Do be punctual for meetings and expect them to adhere to a strict agenda

  • Don’t expect much small talk at the beginning of a meeting as the Dutch prefer to get straight to business

  • Do maintain direct eye contact when speaking to associates

  • Don’t show emotion or use over-expressive language or gestures when dealing with Dutch associates

  • Do expect decision making to be a drawn-out process where every detail is examined and everyone's opinion is considered

Visas for the Netherlands

As the Netherlands is a Schengen and EU-member state, expats from other EU states are able to travel and live in the country without applying for a visa. However, those from non-EU countries will likely need a visa to enter the Netherlands, whether for work or a short visit.

All visas should be applied for at least four weeks before travelling to the Netherlands. 


Schengen visas for the Netherlands

Expats who need a Schengen visa will have to complete an application form, gather supporting documents and submit them to their closest Dutch embassy or consulate before they travel. All documents must be in English or Dutch. In some cases, applicants may have to provide additional documents at the discretion of the Dutch embassy or consulate.

It's best for expats to bring their documents with them when travelling to the Netherlands, in case border guards request these.

Schengen visas are valid for 180 days and allow entry into any Schengen state (or states) for up to 90 days. To stay longer, a residence permit is required.


Working holiday visas for the Netherlands

Nationals of Canada, South Korea, Argentina, Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand between the ages of 18 and 30 are eligible to live and work in the Netherlands for one year on a working holiday visa. The Working Holiday Program allows holders of the visa to reside in the country on a temporary residence permit.


Residence permits for the Netherlands

Non-EU/EEA citizens will need a residence permit if they intend to stay in the Netherlands for more than three months. Residence permits are generally valid for one year.

Generally they should be applied for at the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service within a few days of arriving in the Netherlands – however, in some circumstances it may be necessary to apply for a long-term entry visa prior to travelling to the Netherlands. This allows entry into the country as a prospective resident rather than a tourist. An application for a residence permit is usually lodged at the same time.

Although EU citizens don’t require a residence permit, they do have to register with their local municipality if they live in the Netherlands for more than four months. Once they've registered, expats will receive a BSN Number (Citizen Service Number).

Expats can apply for permanent residence in the Netherlands if they've lived in the country for an uninterrupted period of five years. Once they have this, they no longer need an employer-sponsored work permit.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for the Netherlands

EU citizens don't need a work permit for the Netherlands and don't have any restrictions when it comes to finding work. But non-EU residents face a number of restrictions that have been put in place to avoid flooding the job market.


Getting a work permit for the Netherlands

Dutch work permits are employer- and job-specific, so non-EU expats will have to apply through a company. Unfortunately, employers who hire foreign employees have to prove that the applicant’s skills can't be found elsewhere in the EU, which is highly unlikely. It is worth noting that those with highly sought-after skills or on an intracompany transfer may find that they are exempt from the labour market tests. 

Should expats wish to change jobs while working in the Netherlands, they won't be allowed to work for another employer until new papers have been issued.

Generally, a Dutch work permit is only granted for a maximum duration for one year.

Upon arrival in the Netherlands, expats should register at their local municipality and apply for a citizen service number or BSN (Citizen Service Number). It's not possible to work in the Netherlands without a BSN, which is also needed to open a bank account, receive a salary, take out insurance and claim other benefits. 

*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in the Netherlands

Prospective expats will have to consider the relatively high cost of living of the Netherlands, particularly in its capital. In the 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Amsterdam was ranked as the world's 58th most expensive city for expats out of the 209 cities surveyed, in the same bracket as European capitals such as Rome, Vienna and Oslo. While other major Dutch cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague are by no means cheap, they do have a lower cost of living than Amsterdam.


Cost of accommodation in the Netherlands

Finding the right accommodation is always difficult and the Netherlands is no exception, especially in large cities, which tend to be quite expensive too. It's much cheaper to live in smaller, rural towns. If expats do decide on city living, but have a limited budget, it's best to search for accommodation in the outlying suburbs rather than city centres.

Buying a house in the Netherlands is complicated and is probably done best with an English-speaking intermediary. Once the house is bought, the buyer has to get house insurance and will also be responsible for sewerage, refuse and annual housing taxes. Renting a house exempts tenants from these costs as these will be the responsibility of the owner, but utilities are often an additional expense on top of rent.


Cost of transport in the Netherlands

Public transport in the Netherlands is relatively cheap by European standards. Most of the country's public transport systems work with a chip card which can be used on trains, trams, metros and buses. On the other hand, taxis are expensive. However, there is a service called the deeltaxi; a shared taxi service that's cheaper than a regular taxi. That said, they usually make several stops along the journey, which can be inconvenient. Several ride-hailing services operate in the Netherlands, which are ordered through an app, and are also slightly cheaper than taxis.


Cost of education in the Netherlands

Tuition at local schools is free apart from a voluntary contribution. Teaching is usually in Dutch. However, there are also a handful of government-subsidised public schools offering international curricula, with teaching being either bilingual or in English. Some public schools also have the option of a bridging year to allow non-Dutch-speaking children time to pick up the language and adapt before moving into mainstream Dutch schooling.

Private international schools are often the preferred option for families who won't be staying in the Netherlands for the long term, but fees can be high and often don't include extras such as school uniforms, textbooks, bus service and canteen lunches.


Cost of living in the Netherlands chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Amsterdam in May 2020.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

EUR 1,500 - 1,700

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

EUR 1,000 - 1,200

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

EUR 2,000 - 2,700 

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

EUR 1,500 - 1,900

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

EUR 1.10

Loaf of white bread

EUR 1.60

Rice (1kg)

EUR 2

Dozen eggs

EUR 3

Chicken breasts (1kg)

EUR 8.50

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

EUR 7

Household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

EUR 0.15

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

EUR 40

Utilities (monthly for average-sized home)

EUR 130

Eating out

Three-course meal at mid-range restaurant for two

EUR 70

Big Mac Meal

EUR 8

Cappuccino

EUR 3.30

Local beer (500ml)

EUR 5

Coca-Cola (330ml)

EUR 2.60

Transportation

Taxi rate (per km)

EUR 2.40

City-centre public transport fair

EUR 3.20

Petrol/gasoline

EUR 1.70

Culture Shock in the Netherlands

The Dutch are among the most liberal people in the world, so more conservative expats may experience some culture shock in the Netherlands. Prostitution is legal and regulated, and is openly on display in Amsterdam's red light districts. Though marijuana is technically illegal, it is decriminalised for personal use and is sold in coffee shops across the country. 

Making new friends can be difficult for expats moving to the Netherlands, especially if they don't speak Dutch, and establishing a social circle often takes a lot of effort.

That said, the Dutch say it like it is and expats will know exactly where they stand with locals. This can seem abrasive, but having an open mind and a sense of humour will go a long way to easing the transition to life in the Netherlands.


Language barrier in the Netherlands 

The Dutch language could be the biggest hurdle for new arrivals. Locals are often multilingual, and in the big cities most speak reasonable English, French or German. However, unless expats can speak some Dutch, they could end up feeling isolated. 

Once they can speak Dutch, most expats find that locals seem friendlier, more helpful and more encouraging. There are several options for learning Dutch, including private individual lessons and intensive courses at language centres and universities. The latter is the most efficient for expats working in the Netherlands. The courses are designed to teach individuals to speak Dutch quickly and offer a wealth of invaluable information about Dutch culture and history.


Work culture in the Netherlands

With respect to the work culture in the Netherlands, the Dutch love to have meetings or vergaderingen. They often run overtime since everyone, regardless of rank, needs to be heard. If a decision isn't reached then they simply adjourn to the next meeting. Rank is also unimportant and it's not unusual to find bosses to be more approachable than what expats might have previously experienced.

That said, the Dutch like to keep their working life and personal life separate, so it can be difficult to socialise with colleagues outside of work.


Service in the Netherlands

The Netherlands isn't the most service-orientated country. It's normal to enter a shop and be left waiting unattended and service in restaurants can be slow. Even the Dutch complain about the lack of good service in their country. One explanation is that employees get their salary no matter what. Commission systems, like bonus and percentage increases on every sale, aimed at motivating staff to perform better, are relatively rare.

Accommodation in the Netherlands

Expats have a number of options when it comes to accommodation in the Netherlands. The country is known for being tolerant and cosmopolitan, and in large cities, dozens of cultures live side by side, so it’s common to find expats from all over the world living and working together in different areas.

Short-term leases are available, but demand for accommodation is high in larger cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Housing in these cities is expensive, but accommodation in their outlying suburbs is generally more affordable than city-centre living.


Types of accommodation in the Netherlands

The Netherlands offers a range of accommodation, including standalone, semi-detached and terraced houses, as well as apartments ranging from small studio units to larger units with multiple bedrooms.

The state of housing in the Netherlands is generally good because of strict laws concerning the environment and construction regulations. However, when buying or renting older houses, it's best to check for damages, which many people do with the help of someone who knows about construction and building. Expats should also note that housing may be more compact than what they are used to, due to the population density of the Netherlands.


Finding accommodation in the Netherlands

Expats can find property to buy or rent using various online property portals. Real estate agents are also available and offer houses and apartments throughout the Netherlands, but normally charge the equivalent of a month's rent for their services. Sometimes real estate agents have access to listings before they go onto the open market, which can be useful in beating the crowds.


Renting accommodation in the Netherlands

When renting accommodation in the Netherlands, expats should confirm what exactly is included in the rental agreement; utilities, for example, aren't always covered and are usually an additional expense for the tenant. Deposits vary from one to three months' rent and are returned when the tenant moves out, provided the house is in the same state as it was when they moved in.

A typical lease is for 12 months or longer, with a mandatory one-month notice period for moving out. It's a good idea for expats to ask that a diplomatic clause be written into the lease, which will allow them to break the lease on short notice if they are urgently required to return to their home country.

Healthcare in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is credited with having one of the best healthcare systems in the world and expats will have access to world-class facilities and highly qualified medical professionals.

The healthcare system in the Netherlands is one of the few in the world that blurs the distinction between private and public care. The government funds long-term health treatment through tax, while short-term treatment is covered by mandatory private insurance. 

What makes the system unique is that Dutch medical schemes have to offer certain basic services for a monthly fee and aren't allowed to refuse anyone based on risk. Belonging to a scheme is compulsory for all residents, including expats with permanent residency. Private schemes are also partially funded by employers.


Healthcare facilities in the Netherlands

High standards and specialist treatments can be found at medical facilities in the Netherlands. All hospitals offer similar facilities and services, but some specialise in particular areas of treatment.

Most doctors understand English, but expats often complain that local doctors lack sympathy and are reluctant to prescribe medications unless absolutely essential. This largely stems from the general non-interventionist approach adopted by most Dutch medical practitioners.

Expats should try to find a general practitioner (huisarts) as soon as possible after they arrive. They're normally busy and it can be difficult to find one who has space for more patients. After finding a doctor, expats will need to register with him or her.

It’s important to note that the Dutch healthcare system is divided into different tiers, with GPs forming a large part of the first tier, and it isn't possible to visit a specialist, on the second tier, without a doctor's referral. 


Pharmacies in the Netherlands

Pharmacies (apotheken) are plentiful in the Netherlands and stock both prescription and non-prescription medications. Large cities usually have 24-hour pharmacies available alongside those operating during regular working hours only.


Health insurance in the Netherlands

All residents and taxpayers in the Netherlands are required to have medical insurance from a private health insurance company.

Insurers are required to provide the same basic coverage for everyone. Health insurers are not allowed to deny coverage to any person who applies for a standard insurance package and all policyholders must be charged the same premium, regardless of their age or state of health. 

Some medical services are not covered by the basic insurance plans, and additional health insurance is optional to cover such costs.


Emergency services in the Netherlands

Several private ambulance services are contracted to the Dutch government and operate within a particular service area. Response times are good.

The emergency number for an ambulance in the Netherlands is 112.

Education and Schools in the Netherlands

The standard of schools and education in the Netherlands is high. While finding the right school is a big decision for expat families, there are plenty of good education options in the Netherlands, so expats are sure to find something that suits them. Most schools in the Netherlands are government-run, though there are a few independent international schools.

It's important to keep in mind that older children usually find it easier to adjust when they study with peers who speak their home language. Almost all public schools teach in Dutch. However, bilingual public school programs are being piloted in select schools across the Netherlands, most of which are in or around Amsterdam. In addition, there are a handful of public schools that offer non-Dutch curricula such as the International Baccalaureate and the International Primary Curriculum. Both these options are good middle-ground choices.

However, should these schools be inaccessible or not fit families' needs, the numerous independently run international schools throughout the Netherlands are well worth considering. These schools offer foreign curricula with teaching either in English or in other languages such as French and German. 


Public schools in the Netherlands

Public schools are government-funded, and all children, including expats, can attend them free of charge. However, most schools will ask for what is known as a 'parental contribution' (ouderbijdrage). This covers activities such as excursions and extra-curricular activities. At the age of 16, school fees apply but as these are subsidised by the government, the cost of public school remains far lower than that of international schools.

Some public schools offer specialised programmes to help non-Dutch-speaking students learn the language and culture of the Netherlands. Between the ages of 6 of 12, these are known as newcomers' classes (nieuwkomersklas) or reception classes (opvangklas). Students from 12 to 18 can join an international bridging class (internationale schakelklas). Students remain in this programme for a year before integrating with mainstream classes.

Teaching standards in Dutch public schools are generally high and schools are efficiently run, albeit with a more laid-back feel than some expats may be used to.

Primary school

Attendance of primary school (basisschool) is discretionary for the first year and becomes compulsory on a child’s fifth birthday.

While there aren't strict catchment areas in the Netherlands, children in a particular neighbourhood are usually given priority spaces at the closest schools. Applying outside one's priority area is possible, but there is a lower chance of being accepted. Therefore, many parents choose to find accommodation in an area close to their preferred school.

Most students live within cycling distance to school and generally go home for lunch. Supervised lunchtime programmes (overblijven) are available for children with working parents, but a small fee is charged and pupils provide their own lunches.

The benefit of local public schools is that expat children learn Dutch quickly, which makes it easier to adapt to their new surroundings and make friends with local children.

Secondary school

After completing primary school, students have three options for public secondary schools in the Netherlands. Primary schools usually make recommendations to ensure students are matched with the avenue that best suits them.

The three options are known as VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs), HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs) and VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs).

They all begin with a generic curriculum for the first few years before going on to specialise in different areas. VMBO offers a practical and vocational programme, and the HAVO and VWO streams are more academically focused, often preparing students for university.


International schools in the Netherlands

International schools in the Netherlands are often the best option for older children or those who won’t be staying long. International school curricula vary depending on the institution and their educational philosophy.

Some schools are based on a particular nationality and teach that country's curriculum in the country's main language. This could be advantageous for children who will return to their home country when they leave the Netherlands. There are also international and local private schools that offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which is a worthy alternative to any national curriculum and makes for an easy transfer to other IB schools around the world.

Fees are expensive if they aren’t subsidised by an employer. Expats lured abroad by a lucrative package should try to negotiate an education allowance in their contract.

Places at international schools can also be scarce. It’s important to apply early, and if placed on a waiting list, some parents send their children to a local public or private school at first while waiting for space to open up.

Enrolment requirements vary between schools and can be seen on their individual websites.

Transport and Driving in the Netherlands

Public transport in the Netherlands is advanced by international standards. An extensive road network, trains and buses connect different areas, while larger cities often have tram and metro services.


Public transport in the Netherlands

The country has an extensive public transport system, and expats will find that getting around the Netherlands is easy, safe and relatively inexpensive.

A contactless smart card system, OV-Chipkaart, is used to pay for the metro, buses, trams and trains. Depending on how long one will be in the Netherlands and how often they intend commuting, there are different options for the OV-Chipkaart.

Trains

The Dutch rail network is one of the busiest in the world, with trains running between all major cities.

There are two different types of trains: intercity (express) trains which connect main cities directly and are faster, and slower trains connecting small stations, with multiple stops along the way.

Buses

There are a number of ways to travel by bus, with city and regional connections being available. However, for longer distances, most travellers prefer to use trains.

Metro

Both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have well-developed metro systems that mainly run on elevated railways outside the city and underground within the city centre.

Tram

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht all have efficient tram networks. Although the tram system can be difficult to navigate, it’s one of the best ways for expats to explore their surroundings.


Taxis in the Netherlands

Taxis aren't a common form of transport in the Netherlands. They're pricey and in some places they can't be hailed off the street, with commuters instead booking by telephone beforehand or getting one at a taxi stand. All official taxis have blue licence plates. Ride-sharing applications such as Uber are a good alternative.


Driving in the Netherlands

Driving in the Netherlands is relatively easy thanks to its good roads and clear signage. However, traffic congestion can be a problem. In addition, fuel is notoriously expensive in the Netherlands. Parking in cities is also often difficult and can be expensive. It’s generally easier to use public transport when getting around larger cities.


Cycling in the Netherlands

Cycling is a popular form of recreation and transport in the Netherlands. Cyclists are well catered for with dedicated cycle paths, which are regulated with their own set of rules and systems, including traffic signals and lanes. When driving, expats should give priority to cyclists if they turn across a cycle lane.


Air travel in the Netherlands

Schipol Airport, near Amsterdam, is the main airport in the Netherlands. Regional airports include Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport and Rotterdam The Hague Airport. Due to the country’s small size and abundance of other transport options, domestic flights in the Netherlands are limited, and there's no real need to fly between destinations within the country.

Keeping in Touch in the Netherlands

Keeping in touch in the Netherlands is easy. Service standards are good and the options are many, with internet, telephone, mobile phone and post available. Expats can also stay informed with newspapers and news sites aplenty.


Internet in the Netherlands

As one of the most connected countries in the European Union, dozens of companies provide internet access in the Netherlands in various forms, including DSL, cable and fibre.

Expats intending to opt for DSL may need to have a phone line installed. A cable network, on the other hand, doesn't require a separate phone line and can be a bit cheaper. Cable service is often available in packages with cable television and telephone services. Unfortunately, cable internet is dependent on location, so customers can't always choose their cable provider.


Mobile phones in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has an extremely high percentage of mobile phone usage. The largest companies in the Dutch mobile phone industry include Vodafone, KPN and T-Mobile.

Phone services from other countries can be used in the Netherlands, provided the network operator allows international roaming. Expats can also buy a Dutch SIM card as long as their phone isn’t locked by their service provider.

The two major calling plans available in the Netherlands are prepaid and contract. Costs depend on the average number of calls made, the time of day the calls are made, whether the phone is used overseas, and whether calls are made to mobile phones or fixed phone lines. Contract plans typically have cheaper calling rates and include a pre-determined number of free calls over a certain period of time. While contract plans require a subscription fee, prepaid plans do not.


Landlines in the Netherlands

KPN Telecom provides all fixed landline telephones in the Netherlands. Expats have to subscribe for at least a year and provide identification, proof of address and their residence permit. Other options might include putting down a deposit, which will be refunded after making regular payments for a specified period of time.


Postal services in the Netherlands

Post offices are usually open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Some post offices in major cities are open late on specified shopping nights, usually Thursday or Friday.

Postal services are generally reliable. Mailing within Europe usually takes two to five days, while postage times outside of Europe vary, depending on destination.


English media and news in the Netherlands

Several international news channels are available in the Netherlands, including CNN and BBC. Good local English news websites include the Dutch Daily News and Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Newspapers from various countries and in several languages can be found at any public library. An expat newspaper called The Holland Times is also available via subscription or free at several locations around the country.

 

Shipping and Removals in the Netherlands

Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port. It's efficiently run, so there should be few delays on the Netherlands side of the shipment. As always with removals, it helps to keep documentation such as invoices, inventories, carrier arrival notices and customs forms.

Removals from within Europe could be handled by train which should be quick and affordable. Expats moving from outside of Europe will have the choice of sea or air freight. Shipping by sea takes longer than air freight but is usually the cheaper option. It's worth shopping around for quotes. it may be a good idea to send the most important belongings that will be needed immediately by air freight with less urgently needed items following by sea freight. 

When shipping pets, ensure all the required documentation is in order and that vaccinations and microchip insertion has been carried out. Note that certain breeds of dog may not enter the Netherlands.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Netherlands

Expats moving to the Netherlands are sure to have many concerns and queries about their new home. To ease these worries, here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about life in the Netherlands.

Do expats need to speak Dutch?

'Need' would be too strong a word, and it depends on how long expats intend to stay. For those who intend to settle in the Netherlands permanently, it's strongly recommended. Most Dutch people can and are happy to speak English, but the language is an essential tool for expats who wish to establish local relationships and navigate Dutch culture.

Are the Dutch friendly?

Expats in the Netherlands often criticise the Dutch for being closed to new arrivals. People make appointments to visit each other and the office culture can be difficult to penetrate. It’s more common for expats to make friends with other expats. Having children or a big passion for a sport or activity makes it much easier to meet others.

Do expats need a car in the Netherlands?

It isn't necessary to buy a car. Public transport in the Netherlands is effective and affordable. There are few locations not on the grid, with most cities and towns connected by road or rail links, and within the major cities there are extensive, rail, bus and tram services. The only caveat is that those living in rural areas might need a car, but there's very little of the country that can be described as rural.

Is the Netherlands safe?

Generally, yes. Violent crime rates are low, and people are generally safe walking alone in the streets. But there is one crime in the Netherlands that is fairly common: bicycle theft. Pickpocketing is fairly common in crowded tourist areas and expats should be wary of anyone brushing past or bumping into them, as they may well be searching for valuables. 

Where are the best places for an expat to live in the Netherlands?

The Randstad, which incorporates Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Rotterdam, is the most popular area for expats to live in the Netherlands. Eindhoven is another good option.

Articles about the Netherlands

Banking, Money and Taxes in the Netherlands

The banking system in the Netherlands is fairly simple, with most banks offering comparable packages. Expats living in the country will need to open a Dutch bank account to receive their salary and pay for many other services. 


Money in the Netherlands

The currency of the Netherlands is the euro, which is divided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: 5 EUR, 10 EUR, 20 EUR, 50 EUR, 100 EUR, 200 EUR and 500 EUR.

  • Coins: 1 EUR and 2 EUR, and 1 cents, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents.


Banking in the Netherlands

The largest banks in the Netherlands include ABN AMRO, ING, Rabobank and SNS Bank. Expats should shop around to find which bank suits their specific spending habits; some banks charge more for cash withdrawals than swiping your debit card at a supermarket, for instance. Most banks offer internet and mobile phone banking facilities.

The Dutch generally do a lot of payments with direct debiting from their accounts, so expats should be prepared to set up this sort of system for their accounts. Debit cards are provided with most accounts, but credit cards have to be applied for.

It’s impossible to rent an apartment or receive a salary in the Netherlands without a bank account, so it is essential to set up an account soon after arriving in the country.

Banking hours in the Netherlands are usually from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Some banks stay open later on Thursdays or Fridays and are open on Saturday mornings.

Opening a bank account

To open a bank account in the Netherlands, expats will need to provide documents such as their passport, proof of address and their BSN number.

A BSN number is a Dutch social security and tax number, and it's needed to get a job or open an account. Expats must get a BSN number from their local tax office soon after they arrive in the Netherlands.

Credit cards

Credit cards are accepted across the Netherlands, but the Dutch usually only use them for large purchases. There may be some trouble finding a pay-point in some places, so carrying some cash is always advisable. 

ATMs

ATMs are widely available and can be found outside most banks, and at airports and train stations. Cash withdrawals are usually free for local account holders. Dutch bank cards can be used in other banks’ machines, although withdrawal limits usually apply.


Taxes in the Netherlands

Personal income tax in the Netherlands ranges from nine to 51.75 percent. In addition, all residents have to pay social security and income-related healthcare insurance contributions.

Expats bringing specific and scarce skills to the Netherlands can apply for the '30 percent ruling'”, which renders the first 30 percent of their salary tax-free. An application has to be made, and qualification is skill-dependent. The 30 percent ruling can make moving to the Netherlands a financially attractive proposition.

Expat Experiences in the Netherlands

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in the Netherlands and would like to share your story.


 

Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Lisa is no stranger to expat life. After falling in love with a Dutch man, she decided to move to the Netherlands. Two-and-a-half years later, she is now a stay-at-home-mom loving life in Haarlem. Read more about her expat experience in the Netherlands.

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Having lived in a number of countries growing up, Monique is a serial expat who now calls Amsterdam her home. She enjoys the city's tolerant attitude and good public transport links. Read more about her expat experience in the Netherlands.

Harini and Eric are an expat couple living in the Netherlands. They moved to Amsterdam because they wanted to live in Europe. They find Amsterdam a very easy city to live in and enjoy blogging about it. Read more about their expat life in the Netherlands.

Dana is a Romanian expat living in Amsterdam. She initially moved to the Netherlands when her partner got a job in Amsterdam. Two years down the line they are enjoying the city, apart from the non-existent summers. Read more about her expat experience in the Netherlands.

Tracey Chalmers is a British expat living in Breda with her husband, aka Mr Sunshine, and their beloved Tibetan terrier, Alfie. She shares her expat experiences with a touch of humour and offers some great tips for those thinking of relocating to the Netherlands. Read about her expat experience in the Netherlands.

Jeremy Holland is an American expat from California who is now living in the Netherlands. Having previously lived in Barcelona with his Spanish wife and their daughter, they now call Oudorp their home. Jeremy is the author of a series of short stories, and his most recent publication, From Barcelona: Stories Behind the City, is available on Amazon. Read about his expat life in the Netherlands.

Edward Chetwynd-Talbot is a British expat who is currently living in Amsterdam with his wife and children. Having lived in many countries around the world, including in Asia, Europe and the US, here he gives us his take on expat life in the Netherlands.

Tiffany Jansen recently moved to the Netherlands after marrying her Dutch husband. Her father is a pilot for Delta Airlines, so she’s lived in places like Japan, Greece and Germany before high school. Read about her experience of expat life in the Netherlands here.

David R. Hampton, PhD, left the USA for England to take a business degree at the University of Cambridge. Once completed, he took a corporate expat assignment in the Netherlands.  He then left corporate to start his own businesses one year ago in the Netherlands. Read about his expat experience in the Netherlands.

Nicola McCall is an expat life coach based between the Netherlands and the UK. Through her work with Live Life Now Coaching, and the International Women's Contact Utrecht, she assists expats to lead more meaningful and satisfying lives abroad. This is her experience of expat life in her corner of Holland.

Amanda van Mulligen is a thoroughbred English woman, who made the short migration down to the Netherlands in 2000. She maintains a blog about expat life called A Letter from the Netherlands, and also runs a company that provides English language writing services.