An Expat’s Guide to Living in the Netherlands
We were interested to find out what life was like as an expat in The Netherlands and found Tiffany Jansen. Tiffany moved from the US to the Netherlands in 2008 to marry a Dutchman, you can read her story below:
The Netherlands. Land of cheese and tulips. Country of clogs and windmills. Home to the world’s tallest people (probably a good thing, since more than half of them dwell below sea level).
Most expats headed to the Netherlands end up in the Randstad, which consists of the cities of The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and surrounding areas. While The Hague is the seat of Dutch government, Amsterdam is the nation’s capital.
Though the Netherlands has much to offer, relatively few foreigners live here (as of 2011, only 673,200 people out of more than 16 million were citizens of countries other than the Netherlands).
According to a 2011 survey conducted by Expat Explorer on behalf of HBSC, the Netherlands is the most expat unfriendly destination. Respondents rated integrating into Dutch society as especially difficult.
An expat in the Netherlands myself, I found the results rather harsh and firmly believe that integration and happiness are at your fingertips once you understand the Dutch and their culture.
Life in the Netherlands
For the most part, it’s up to you to put yourself out there in an attempt to fit into Dutch society. If you don’t, the Dutch will assume you wish to be left alone.
They’re not fans of spontaneity, so when you do plan a get together, you may find yourself doing so weeks in advance.
An invitation for coffee is always welcome. The Dutch are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, averaging 2.414 cups per day.
If you’re being welcomed into their home, make sure to have a small gift for your host, such as a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers.
When meeting for the first time, a handshake will do. Once you’re more familiar, the standard greeting (for women to women and women to men) is three air kisses, beginning and ending with the right cheek.
The Netherlands is a small country and personal space is limited. You may find people standing closer than they would in your home country or squeezing past you without so much as an “excuse me.” This can be jarring initially, but is in no way poorly intended.
What you’ll notice right away upon setting foot in the Netherlands is the immense cycling culture. There are more than 29,000 kilometers of bicycle paths and more bikes than there are people.
The Dutch use the two-wheeled contraptions to go everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see Dutchies transporting several people, a couple crates of beer, or even a dishwasher on their bicycles.
Sure, there are fewer foreigners living in the Netherlands as compared to other EU-27 countries, but the international community in the Netherlands is in full force.
There are British, American, Irish, French, Spanish, German, Indian, Scandinavian, Canadian, Kiwi, business, and women’s clubs and schools catering to the various international communities. Expat help desks, publications, expos, and fairs abound.
You’ll feel much more at home in the Netherlands if you can speak the language. There’s very little in the way dual language signs and you’ll be hard pressed to find telephone helplines or information brochures in English.
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, but you’ll quickly find that the vast majority of Dutch people speak excellent English.
Much of the popular music in the Netherlands is sung in English and all television and film is subtitled, not dubbed. Add the fact that English is taught in schools as early as age 3 and it’s no wonder it’s so widely spoken.
The Dutch are so eager to show off their language skills that it’s often a challenge to get them to communicate with you in Dutch. One of the most common complaints expats have is the Dutch tendency to switch to English as soon as you begin to struggle with the language or at the first hint of a foreign accent.
However, there are loads of opportunities to learn the language. There’s an abundance of language courses, covering everything from the basics to prep courses for language proficiency exams.
Cost of Living
There are no two ways about it: life in the Netherlands is expensive.
It’s one of the most expensive countries in Europe, with Amsterdam being among Europe’s most expensive cities.
The country has been recognized as having some of the highest petrol prices in Europe and being the most expensive place on the continent to eat out.
And, move over Queen Elizabeth, the Netherlands has you beat for the most expensive royal family!
The Dutch healthcare system is one of the best in the world. President Obama admired it so much that he used many of the same principles in his Affordable Healthcare Act.
Everyone living or working in the Netherlands is obligated by law to have health insurance. Standard health insurance comes at a fixed price set by the Dutch government and includes basic healthcare provided by general practitioners, hospitals, and pharmacies.
For everything not covered in the standard package, you can pay extra for complementary insurance. This includes dental coverage.
Applicants cannot be turned away or charged extra due to pre-existing conditions or elevated risk of injury or illness.
Surveys show that the Dutch have a higher level of satisfaction with their healthcare than those in any other developed country and are least likely to forego treatment due to costs.
Often referred to (incorrectly) as Holland, the Netherlands ranks in the top 10 happiest countries in the world and has been lauded by UNICEF as having the world’s happiest children. Its diverse culture and rich history make it a fascinating place to live.
Tiffany Jansen moved from the US to the Netherlands in 2008 to marry a Dutchman. She is a freelance blogger and her website can be found here: www.tiffanyrjansen.com. Photographs by Tiffany Jansen.