Guide: “Moving to the Netherlands”

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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. But this doesn’t mean the Netherlands doesn’t have its own rich cultural heritage – far from it.

Accommodation in the Netherlands

One of the world’s most densely populated countries, living in an apartment is commonplace in the Netherlands.

+ PRO: Variety of accommodation 

Expats can either rent or buy apartments 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. Dutch accommodation is generally of a high standard and most apartments feel spacious with large windows and high ceilings.

– CON: Extra costs

Expats will need to move quickly when they find an apartment as the best ones get snapped up quickly. Although light and airy, the Dutch tendency to tack the kitchen onto the living room’s back wall isn’t always practical.

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

The Dutch lifestyle is so lively, it sometimes seems like they’ll use any excuse for a public celebration.

+ PRO: Great social life

The Grote Markts’ 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, in which employers, employees and people of all ages socialise.

– 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

The health service in the Netherlands is efficient, waiting times are usually short, and prescriptions can be ordered via telephone and collected the same day. Doctors generally speak impeccable English and give generous appointment times.

– 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 – Schiphol International – 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, alternating between humid heat and thunderstorms several times a day.

Shopping in the Netherlands

+ PRO: Independent shops

Unlike many other countries, independent stores are common, 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 till 1pm on Mondays and only major cities regularly offer Sunday shopping.