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Living in the Netherlands
A practical guide to the way of life in the Netherlands
Thanks to the country’s diverse and liberal society, expats rarely have difficulties adjusting to life in the Netherlands. No reason, however, to treat your future expat life lightly! Get useful tips on living in the Netherlands including housing, healthcare, and education on InterNations GO!.
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Life in the Netherlands
At a Glance:
- It is a challenge to find reasonably priced accommodation, particularly in popular cities such as Amsterdam.
- A point system is used to evaluate all rented properties and can sometimes decide the fixed price.
- The Netherlands has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, ranking 5th in a recent 2017 report.
- After finishing primary school, children receive a recommendation about their further academic options.
Over 17 million people currently live in the Netherlands and it is the 66th most populated country in the world. Foreigners and ethnic minorities make up about 19% of the country’s population, with most of them living in bigger cities like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, or The Hague. It is a very tolerant and internationally oriented country, with trade being essential for its economy.
Expat life in the Netherlands will make you realize that the Dutch themselves are welcoming and cordial, albeit rather reserved. Indeed, it is not common for the Dutch to let themselves be overwhelmed by emotion. In conversation, they tend to be friendly, but also straightforward and honest. If you are used to distantly polite interaction, this may come as a shock.
Renting an Apartment in the Netherlands
There are only a limited number of rental apartments available to foreigners living in the Netherlands, with more than 40% of the Dutch living in rented properties or social housing. Especially in the bigger cities, it is quite difficult to find affordable accommodation. While Dutch nationals have the option of contacting building cooperatives for available housing, expats can only go house-hunting on the open market. This means paying higher rents and, if necessary, moving to the suburbs. A property valuation system (woningwaarderingsstelsel) is used to assess all properties. This establishes a base rental rate which acts as a fixed price.
Most apartments are offered through real estate agents who usually charge a fee of one month’s rent plus taxes for their services. In addition, you will have to pay between one and two months’ rent as a deposit to your landlord. This charge may be even higher if you decide to rent a furnished (gestoffeerd) apartment. Rental prices vary depending on where exactly you will be living.
Buying Your Own Home
If you are planning to spend of the rest of your life in the Netherlands, buying an apartment or house is an attractive alternative to renting. Fortunately, there are no restrictions on buying property for foreigners. An agent can help you find the right place for you and your family. If you want to save the agency fees, you can also check the classified sections of local newspapers.
The following offices provide model contracts for property purchases (in Dutch only):
- the Dutch Consumer Advice Center (Consumentenbond)
- the Dutch Association of Real Estate Agents (Nederlandse Vereniging van Makelaars)
- the Dutch Homeowner Association (Vereniging Eigen Huis — VEH)
The sales contract does not have to fulfill any formal requirements, but it should state the basic rights and responsibilities of both parties. The transfer of property needs to be attested by a notary living in the Netherlands.
The Best Healthcare for Everyone
Leading a healthy life in the Netherlands is quite easy with the country’s comprehensive healthcare system. The government invests a significant share of the annual GNP in the health sector. About 117 hospitals can be found all over the Netherlands, as well as 213 Independent Treatment Centers (ITCs), and 106 private clinics. The Dutch healthcare system came in 5th in a ranking of the world’s best healthcare systems in a 2017 report by Business Insider.
The Health Insurance Act (Zorgverzekeringswet) makes it obligatory for everyone living in the Netherlands to have health insurance. Private health insurance providers are committed to accepting every resident in their area. The insured person pays an annual fixed premium of approximately 1,200 EUR to their insurance provider. Unfortunately, dentist fees are not covered. Employees further pay an income-based contribution that, while reimbursed by their employer, is still taxable. The insurance will in turn provide them with a standard package of essential healthcare services.
Twelve Years of School
School is obligatory for all children living in the Netherlands aged 5 to 16. Most Dutch schools are privately run, but supervised by the state. They are free of charge for all children in the Netherlands up to the age of 18.
The Dutch school system is divided into primary (Basisonderwijs) and secondary education (Voortgezet Onderwijs). After eight years of primary school, a recommendation regarding further academic options is issued to all children.
In 2017, the Dutch education system ranked 11th in the world, according to the World Top 20 Project.
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Education and Driving in the Netherlands
Secondary Education: On Your Own Level
Children attend secondary school for 4 to 6 years. There are three types of secondary schools in the Netherlands:
- Vocational Secondary School (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs — VMBO)
- General Secondary Education (Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs — HAVO)
- University Preparatory School (VoorbereidendWetenschappelijk Onderwijs — VWO)
Admission to HAVO and VWO is subject to academic achievement. Foreign languages have a high priority in all types of secondary education. Besides English, a second foreign language, usually French or German, is obligatory. VWO and HAVO may even require a third foreign language.
International schools are, of course, a popular alternative to Dutch schools for expat children. They are mostly located in bigger cities such as Amsterdam or The Hague. Some primary schools also offer an international academic program for expat children.
The Foundation for International Education in the Netherlands (Stichting Internationaal Onderwijs) has a list of international schools for newly arrived expat families. You can use the search form on their website to find the right school for your child. It also provides contact information for different schools plus additional details on the curriculum and fees.
Going to University
Places in university degree courses are usually assigned centrally by the Centraal Bureau Aanmelding en Loting of the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO) in Groningen. Some universities, however, also offer a decentralized selection system. In that case, you should get in touch with the school of your choice. When you have been admitted, you still have to register with DUO.
Many Dutch universities also offer academic programs in English and/or German. However, for most majors fluency in Dutch is obligatory. The fees are the same all over the country and can be paid at once or in installments. In some cases, students have to pay Instellingscollegegeld instead, for example when they study at a private institution. This sum is determined by the individual university and usually higher than the average annual fee.
Relaxed Driving and Toll Roads
Traffic in the Netherlands is comparatively relaxed. However, in case of any traffic violation, the owner of the vehicle is held responsible. This means that you have to pay any fines which arise even if you were not the driver who caused the offense. If you don’t pay the fine on time, it will be raised by 25–50%.
Interstates and highways are usually free of charge in the Netherlands, with two exceptions: the Kiltunnel and theWesterscheldetunnel. The Kiltunnel is located between Dordrecht and Hoekse Waard and costs 2.00 EUR for motorbikes and cars. Bus drivers have to pay 5.00 EUR to use the tunnel. The Westerscheldetunnel is a 6.6-km-long tunnel under the Western Scheldt (Westerschelde) between Ellewoutsdijk and Terneuzen. This makes it the longest tunnel for highway traffic in the Netherlands. It costs 2.50 EUR for motorcycles, 5 EUR for cars and 18.20 EUR for small trucks and buses.
Insuring Your Car and Paying Taxes
When you buy and register a car in the Netherlands, you have to get insurance for it. This may not be necessary if you travel to the Netherlands for a short visit only. Still, it is advisable to bring an international insurance card along. For a longer stay, however, you will need insurance from a Dutch provider. Insurance companies grant a discount for accident-free driving.
You will also be charged a motor vehicle tax (Motorrijtuigenbelasting — MB) for your car as soon as you register it. The exact amount is determined by the weight of the car, the kind of fuel used and the municipality in which you live. Since 2008, environmentally friendly vehicles have been subject to tax concessions. If you buy a hybrid car, you may benefit from tax advantages.
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