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Living in the Netherlands

What You Should Know About Living Costs and More in the Netherlands

Read this section to find out what is fact and what is fiction about living in the Netherlands. Are they really that direct and frugal? Do they actually love the color orange so much? We also cover important aspects of life here, like how to get a Dutch driving license if you don’t want to use one of the 22 million bicycles in the country.

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Expats often question what it like is to live in the Netherlands, and how they will adjust to living here. It is important to understand Dutch culture to be able to integrate, and we will look more closely at this issue in this section of the guide. It is also necessary to look at the practicalities of moving here. This includes the cost of living. Even if you earn a good wage, you will find living in the country is expensive. Managing your expenses carefully is essential in the first few months, particularly when it comes to groceries, health insurance, utilities, and communications.

This section also explores driving in the Netherlands. You will learn that driving might not be the best idea, especially if you are commuting. This is because drivers in the Netherlands experience endless traffic jams. Instead, many locals opt for cycling. One of the major pros of living here is that bicycle lanes are exceptionally well-maintained, so your commute should be more than manageable. However, you have to overlook the con of the weather (typically gray). If you do not want to get wet when biking on your way to work, choose public transportation. Reliable and well-connected, trams, metros, and buses will take you where you need to be in no time.

Pros and Cons of Living in the Netherlands

If you are considering whether to move to the Netherlands, this is a crucial section to read. If you have already made up your mind—or even, secured your visa—then read on to learn about the benefits of living here. Not everywhere is perfect, so as well as pros, you can learn about the cons of living in the Netherlands.

Pros

High Living Standards

Though life here is expensive, you get good quality goods and services for your money. For instance, housing is usually pricy (see our average rent section for more details) but the standard of properties is high. Forget moldy rooms and broken lights! You will also find high quality dining options, and amazing concept restaurants. There were 8 new Michelin Star restaurants in the country in 2020 alone. 

Super Social

Extroverts will love Dutch culture. From time spent in coffee-shops, to summer festivals, and events at the country’s many museums, there is always something going on here. Your social calendar will fill up fast with expats and local friends alike. Look out for Uitmarkt, the Netherland’s biggest festival of culture that marks the opening of the cultural season.

A Great Base to Explore Europe

Bordering Belgium and Germany, and with a great transport system that includes the Eurostar across Europe and ferries to the UK, the Netherlands is a great base for exploring. You get a minimum of 20 vacation days plus national holidays when you work here; plenty of time to visit new cities in Europe. 

Cons

De or Het?

Learning the local language can be tough. This is not only because of the complicated grammar rules, like remembering if a word is “de” or “het.” The pronunciations are particularly tough for native English speakers, And, with up to 93% of Dutch citizens speaking English, it will be difficult to become immersed in the local language. This can be a plus, since you will be able to speak to almost everyone—just not in their native tongue.

Housing Shortage

One of the reasons rents are so expensive here is a huge housing shortage. The Netherlands needs over 250,000 new houses to meet demand, with over 100,000 new properties being needed each year. This makes it hard for starters to get a foot on the property ladder. It also makes it difficult for retirees to buy a well-priced home. Expats will struggle to find their perfect house to rent; the process  can take months without extra guidance. 

Rush Hour Traffic

Commuters in the Netherlands should beware. The country is densely populated, making rush hour a real problem for workers. If you want to skip the commute and cycle, you need to make sure you keep your bike locked up safely and pack a waterproof jacket in case it rains. Public transportation is the most reliable (and driest) way to get to work. Learn more about how much this costs later in the guide.

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Practical Information

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, more commonly referred to as the Netherlands, is a constitutional monarchy in Western Europe, bordering Germany and Belgium. The kingdom also has territories in the Caribbean, islands of Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, and Saba.

Sometimes, you can hear people referring to the Netherlands as Holland. Technically, that is the wrong term, and the country’s government does not want you to use this name any longer. “Holland” only refers to two provinces of the Netherlands. In the 1800s, this part of the country was the most prosperous, and the name “Holland” became synonymous with the whole kingdom. These days you are better off calling it the Netherlands to avoid confusion or offense.

Emergency Numbers

  • Police, ambulance, and firefighters – 112
  • Police (non-emergency) – 0900 8844
  • Power problems and gas leaks – 0800 9009
  • Animal emergencies – 0900 0245
  • Sexual abuse hotline – 0900 899 8411
  • Child line – 0800 0432
  • SOS helpline (mental support) – 0900 0767

Public Holidays

  • 1 January – New Year’s Day (Nieuwjaarsdag)
  • Sunday in March or April (the Sunday during the first full moon after the spring equinox) – Easter Sunday (Eerste Paasdag)
  • Monday in March or April (following Easter Sunday) – Easter Monday (Tweede Paasdag)
  • 27 April – King’s Day (Koningsdag)
  • 5 May (celebrated every five years) – Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag)
  • 40 days after Easter – Ascension Day (Hemelvaartsdag)
  • 7 weeks after Easter – Pentecost (Pinksteren)
  • 25 December – Christmas Day (Eerste Kerstdag)
  • 26 December – Boxing Day (Tweede Kerstdag)

Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) is not a public holiday. However, some schools, shops, and offices might be closed. Saint Nicholas’ Eve (evening of 5 December) is widely celebrated in the Netherlands, yet it is not a day off.

Main Embassies

Interestingly enough, the main city for embassies is not the capital. Most of the embassies in the Netherlands are located in The Hague.

Embassy of Canada

Sophialaan 7
2514JP ‘s-Gravenhage
+31 70 311 16 00
info@canada.nl

Embassy of the Republic of India

Buitenrustweg 2
2517KD ‘s-Gravenhage
+31 70 346 97 71
amb.thehague@mea.gov.in

Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Lange Voorhout 10
2514ED ‘s-Gravenhage
+31 70 427 04 27
ukinnl@fco.gov.uk

Embassy of the United States of America

John Adams Park 1
2244BZ Wassenaar
+31 70 310 22 09
ircthehague@state.gov

Main Airports

For a country so small, the Netherlands has quite a few international airports. The main one is Schiphol Airport located near Amsterdam. It is one of the busiest airports in Europe, on par with London’s Heathrow and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. Some of the smaller airports are in Eindhoven, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Maastricht (mainly used for cargo).

As the Netherlands has territories in the Caribbean, some islands have airports as well. Those are Flamingo or Bonaire International, Juancho E. Yrausquin, and F.D. Roosevelt airports. 

Culture and Social Etiquette

One aspect of Dutch life that expats comment on is the culture. One big shock is how direct (read: blunt) everyone can be. This is a big challenge for people from countries such as the UK, who are used to indirect forms of speech. Don’t worry—if you are moving into this culture, we explain how you will soon get used to speaking your mind.

What else do you need to know? Well, you have probably heard about the Dutch love for bikes. You may even have heard about the local’s love for cheese. But have you heard of korfball? Do you know about religion in the Netherlands? Read this section to find out about Dutch culture beyond borrels (literally translated as drinks, and referring to drinking gatherings), complaining about the weather (usually the rain), and the love of being direct. 

How to Greet People

When greeting your Dutch friends, do not be surprised if they lean in for a quick peck on the cheek. In fact, they might give you three little kisses. That is the common way of saying hi and bidding farewell to people you know here. If you do get into a situation when a three-kisses-greeting is necessary, start with the right cheek, then left, then back to right. Also, keep in mind that these are air kisses and you are not supposed to actually put your lips on your friend’s cheek.

Please note that this situation does not happen with acquaintances or when you just meet the person. Also, this kissing tradition is only common between women, and between women and men. Two men would greet each other with a handshake.

Dutch Directness

Dutch people are often very direct when it comes to communicating. It could be a comment about your looks, actions, or what you say––they will not hold their opinions back. The people here are blunt no matter the situation, whether they are spending time with family or out on a first date. They also freely express their feelings about certain topics that might seem taboo in other countries.

And while this bluntness might be a little off-putting at first, many learn to appreciate the straightforward honesty. In fact, this often seeps into the lives of local expats. The major advantage of this sort of communication is that relationships are clear, and misunderstandings are dealt with immediately.

The Importance of Agenda

To put it straight, the Dutch do not like spontaneity. Every meeting or get-together is scheduled in advance–sometimes even a few weeks. Some people even schedule their down time at home which they will compromise for nothing. So, do not be surprised if your friend is only available for a quick lunch-time catch-up only in three weeks or so––it is absolutely normal. Remember, if they are avoiding you, they will be direct about it.

Every Penny Counts

Maybe it is due to the high taxes or maybe it’s just in their blood, but the Dutch are generally very frugal. They are known for always staying on their budget and avoiding unnecessary splurging. There is even a common term, “going Dutch”, which means splitting the bill. So, do not be surprised if your Dutch date does not offer to pay for your dinner––that does not mean they did not enjoy your company.

Don’t Show Off

We’ve already seen that the Dutch are careful with money. They also prefer modesty when it comes to splashing cash, perhaps due to their protestant heritage and Calvinist influences in particular. Locals won’t be impressed if you show off your wealth. This covers everything from clothing to the car you drive. Standing out with flash cars and accessories might be popular in your home country, but here it won’t win you any friends.

Why Orange?

The Netherlands country flag consists of red, white, and blue, yet the country’s national color is orange. Why is it so? That is because orange is the color of the country’s respected and widely appreciated royal family. The monarchs are of House Orange-Nassau, which dictates the now-popular hue associated with patriotism and national pride. Many people wear orange during the King day celebrations of 27 April.

A fun fact about the Dutch obsession with orange is that they were the ones responsible for cultivating orange carrots. The Dutch farmers did so as a sign of celebration and respect to their monarch William of Orange that led the country to independence. Over the years, orange carrots have become so popular and widespread, it became the default color of the vegetable.

On Your Bike!

It is well known that the Netherlands is associated with cycling. The Dutch own more bicycles than anywhere else in the world—even more than China. In fact, almost a quarter of people living in the Netherlands cycle every day, with many children cycling to school as well as adults commuting.

What is less well known is that, if there is a road traffic collision, the person driving the car will likely have to pay for all of the damages. This is because it is assumed the driver has liability, and they must prove that the cyclist was in the wrong to avoid paying out. 

Over the past 10 years, there has been a sharp increase in cyclist deaths on the road in the Netherlands. It is recommended that if you are cycling in the country, you wear full protection and stay within cycle lanes where possible. This is particularly important when the weather is bad.

Sports Sports Sports!

There’s more to the Netherlands than cycling. One of the founding members of FIFA, the country is soccer mad. You’ll want to know the name of the premier league, or Eredivisie. 18 teams compete here, and usually include Ajax (Amsterdam), PSV (Eindhoven), and Feyenoord (Rotterdam). 

Other popular sports in the country include field hockey and korfball. The latter is a Dutch game that has gained global popularity. It consists of two teams, each with 8 players (4 male and 4 female). A hand ball game similar to basketball or netball, players attempt to get goals by shooting the ball through a hoop.

Driving in the Netherlands

Driving in the Netherlands can be a little frustrating. The country is quite small with many inhabitants and while many that live in big cities avoid using cars, people who live in suburbia have to. This causes serious traffic jams from 07:00 to 09:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00 every working day.

Driving Rules in the Netherlands

  • You drive on the right-hand side of the road.
  • The driving age in the Netherlands is 18 for cars and 16 for mopeds.
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for all passengers.
  • Cell phones are only allowed to be used with hands-free equipment. Holding a cell phone while driving is an offense.
  • You must stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings.
  • The speed limit in urban areas is 50 km/h (30 mph), 80 km/h (50 mph) in rural areas, and 130 km/h (80 mph) on highways.
  • When driving you need to have your license and your ID on you, as well as your car insurance and registration papers.

How to Get a Driving License in the Netherlands

Driving in the Netherlands with a European license should not cause you trouble. If you own an EU/EEA driver’s license, you can use it in the Netherlands without taking any special action. If the license was issued before 19 January 2013, then it is valid for ten years after the issuance. If you obtained it after 19 January 2013, you can use it for up to 15 years, as long as it is valid.

If you are a third-country national, your original license is valid for six months after you register at your local municipality. After that you will need to obtain a Dutch license.

Requirements for a Dutch Driving License

Exchanging your license to a Dutch one is fairly easy, if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are a registered resident of the Netherlands and you have a valid residence permit.
  • You are a citizen of the EU/EEA or Switzerland.
  • You are eligible for the 30% ruling.
  • You own a non-EU/EEA license that is valid at the time of application.
  • You own an expired EU/EEA license with a statement from your country that indicates there is no objection against you receiving a Dutch license.
  • You obtained a driving license from a country where you stayed for at least six months.

There are some countries that have reciprocity agreements with the Netherlands that allow individuals to exchange their license without having their driving ability tested (categories indicated in parentheses):

  • Andorra (all)
  • Aruba (all)
  • Jersey (all)
  • Canada, Quebec (Class 5)
  • Israel (B)
  • Isle of Man (all)
  • Japan (IB)
  • Monaco (all)
  • Netherlands Antilles (all)
  • Taiwan (B)
  • Singapore (class 2 and class 3)
  • South Korea (second class ordinary license)

When exchanging your license, you will need:

  • a valid ID;
  • your foreign license;
  • your Citizen Service Number;
  • a passport-style photo.

If do not meet any of the above-mentioned requirements, you are not eligible for the exchange. In that case, you will need to take both written and practical exams to get a Dutch driving license.

Renting a Car in the Netherlands

There are some restrictions for driving a rental car in the Netherlands. You must have had your driving license for at least one year to be able to rent a car here. As the legal driving age is 18, most car companies won’t rent to anyone under the age of 19. Many won’t rent to drivers who are under the age of 21. 

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Public Transportation in the Netherlands

In general, public transportation in the Netherlands is great. The country has one of the busiest railway systems in the world that connects all major cities, as well as neighboring countries. The rail system is considered to be so efficient that buses in the country are not common. However, they do cover connections where there is no train service.

Public transportation in cities is frequent and reliable. Metros and trams operate in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Light rail is available in and around Utrecht while buses are common in most other cities. Some areas, such as Amsterdam, also have ferries.

Most public transportation lines run from 05:00 to 12:00 am in larger cities. Smaller cities have regular service from 5:00 to 20:00. Special services operate after midnight in large and small cities alike, usually with longer wait times. Local timetables should be checked according to the city you are moving to.

Bicycles

Many people bike in the Netherlands. The bike lanes here are very well-structured and taken care of and cyclists have priority over all modes of transportation. However, because obtaining a bike is rather cheap and many locals own their own, most bike rental places are aimed at tourists.

Taxis

Flagging taxis down on the street is not common as not all streets allow for cars to stop on the curb. That is why, if you want to get a taxi, you are better off calling a taxi service of your city. Taxis are also available in locations such as airports, bus and train stations, and popular hotels. Still, keep in mind that taxi services are quite expensive. A 5 km drive, for instance, is priced at around 15 EUR (16.5 USD). 

Cost of Public Transportation in the Netherlands

When using most forms of public transportation (train, bus, metro, tram, or light rail), you will need an OV-chipkaart. This can be a single journey or a personalized card. You can get it for about 7.50 EUR (8.20 USD), top it up with a sum of money (anything up to 150 EUR (165 USD)), and use it for your travels. It works across all cities and supports yearly passes. You should validate your chipkaart upon entering public transportation and when leaving it.

How Do You Use A Chipkaart?

To use the chipkaart for inter-city buses, metros, or trams you need to have at least 4 EUR (4.40 USD) on your card. That is because upon entering a public transportation vehicle, your card is automatically charged a 4 EUR (4.40 USD) deposit. However, that is not the price for your journey.

The price consists of the base fare (typically, under 1 EUR (1.10 USD)) and price-per-kilometer (different in every city). When you leave public transportation, you need to validate your card again, so that the correct price for your journey is calculated and paid. If you forget to do that, all 4 EUR (4.40 USD) will be charged. Note that the same rule applies for train journeys, but the base fee is either 10 or 20 EUR (11 or 22 USD). Find out more about the cost of living in The Netherlands.

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Updated on: September 17, 2020

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