What Expats Need To Know When Moving To The Netherlands
Expats from another European Union country planning to live in the Netherlands for more than three months must register with the nearest Municipality Administration (GBA) and will need various bits of documentation to register.
As with most countries, moving to the Netherlands will deliver something of a culture shock but expats will soon find ways to fit in. While the expat may make friends they shouldn’t be surprised about not being invited to family events – the Dutch have tight family networks and keep them that way.One of the first things that will become apparent is that it’s a densely populated country and as such is one of Europe’s most crowded places; housing can be difficult to find in places like Amsterdam and it may not be as cheap as expats are hoping for.
The Netherlands has a lot of cultural attractions and there is always something to do regardless of where the expat decides to live. The Dutch are also welcoming of other cultures and religions which helps to create a vibrant, egalitarian society.
As mentioned previously, expats are made to feel welcome and will soon adjust to the Dutch way of life and, for those who have residency status, they will be able to vote in local elections and be a part of the community as a result.
However, as with some other European countries, there’s a lot of bureaucracy to contend with and there are rules that apply to just about everything, which some expats may find frustrating.
Dealing with red tape is one of the downsides to living in the Netherlands as an expat; they will need to deal with long waiting times when interacting with the country’s bureaucracy, even for mundane and basic tasks.
The Netherlands also runs an unusual tax reimbursement system which is known as the ‘30% ruling’ which enables expats working in the country to have a tax-free allowance that equals 30% of their gross salary. It should be appreciated that this ruling is only applicable for those with specific skills that the country is looking to attract.
Income tax for those working in the Netherlands is then set in bands depending on the expat’s earnings with a top rate of 52% being levied on earnings of €56,000 or more.
It should also be noted, particularly for expats from outside of the European Union, that tax will be deducted from their salary every month by their employer. Those discussing employment terms need to bear this in mind when discussing a gross salary and their net after-tax income.
To help expats assimilate, English is widely spoken in the country and for those who may not be fluent in English they will understand basic phrases. The official languages include Dutch and Frisian, which is spoken by just over 2% of the population and is closely related to German. Frisian is used by ethnic groups living on coastal parts of the Netherlands as well as in Germany. French and German are also widely spoken.
Having said that, while many people speak English, Dutch people are proud of their language and expats should make efforts to learn the basics of the Dutch language; there are a lot of similarities to German and English but some pronunciation can be a challenge.
Also, as with the German language, the people tend to be direct with the spoken word which should not be mistaken for rudeness but is aimed at offering better understanding and clarity.
When it comes to the cost of living, there’s no doubt that prices have risen steadily in the Netherlands over the last few years but it’s still a lot cheaper than many neighbouring countries. Amsterdam, however, is one of the world’s most expensive cities – but it ranks well behind the likes of Paris and London, for instance.
Expats will also find that housing is expensive and that competition for even the smallest apartment will be stiff in many areas. Most people tend to live in apartments which come in a variety of styles but are usually of a good standard with high ceilings and large windows.
There are family homes available, which are terraced or ‘row’ houses that will be two or three stories in height and adjacent to similar or identical properties. While many live in urban areas, the limited availability of land means most people live in apartments; indeed, should they find an apartment they really like, the expat will need to act promptly before someone else snaps it up.
Expats also have the choice of renting apartments either furnished or unfurnished, which is advertised as a ‘shell’. These tend to be much cheaper but the expat should be prepared to buy everything they need to furnish it including white goods and carpets.
Landlords or letting agents may also demand the expat pays a month’s rent as a deposit and a month’s rent in advance. This is without the expat’s relocation costs.
It should also be noted that expats can use a certified rental agent to avoid making an expensive mistake when it comes to signing a lease for a property. Another reason for using an agent is they will have access to properties that are not listed on real estate websites so the expat has an opportunity of signing before they are properly advertised.
Expats should also appreciate that some properties they see listed on various portals may be illegal sublets, so they run the risk of being evicted. Another reason for using an agent is that they will be keeping abreast of the regularly changing laws and regulations covering the property market.
On top of this, while the rate of taxation is relatively high, groceries and many items bought in shops will be fairly cheap. There are lots of independent stores, with chocolate and cheese specialists offering particularly impressive treats. The supermarkets are small but will have many favourite brands.
However, not all cities and towns offer Sunday shopping and expats may be surprised to find that many shops, including banks, are closed on Monday mornings.
Expats should also appreciate that if they are working on a permanent basis in the country then they must have basic medical insurance from a health insurance company that is based in the Netherlands. They must do this within four months of arriving in the country. While this medical cover is fairly cheap when compared to other countries, prices have been rising and are predicted to continue doing so.
However, expats should pay close attention to the level of health insurance they are receiving because it may not cover what they are expecting. Also, finding a dentist or doctor can be difficult since many will use automated phone systems in the Dutch language.
Essentially, the basic level of health insurance in the Netherlands – known as basis verzekering – will provide for general medical care, including visits to a hospital or a GP as well as basic dental care. This will cost around €100 per month but for more cover, the expat will need to shop around to find the healthcare insurance that suits their needs.
One of the drawbacks for expats moving to the Netherlands is that the range of jobs available will be restricted to those who can speak good Dutch or have a range of language skills; most expats will be moving to work for their employer so this will not apply to them. It’s also more difficult for expats to find work if they are from outside of the European Union since employers must prove that they cannot fill the job with a Dutch person or an EU citizen.
Another aspect to consider that many expats may not be aware of is that from the age of 14 everyone must carry photographic identification and, if necessary, they will need something that has a proof of residency status on it. Failure to comply will lead to an on-the-spot fine.
However, there’s a lot to recommend the Dutch lifestyle and there are plenty of public celebrations, excellent music festivals in the summer and cultural events are usually well supported throughout the year and galleries and museums are cheap to visit.
It helps too that just about everyone rides a bicycle and most expats will need to invest in one to get around easily. There’s a lot to recommend cycling in the Netherlands, including the fact that the roads in rush-hour can be very congested; the train network is also easy to use.
Along with this, the Dutch people have a healthy approach to a work-life balance and expats will find that many of their colleagues work part-time and some will work a four-day week.
Expats new to the Netherlands should also appreciate that the winters can be very cold; the canals will freeze over so skaters can use them. In spring it’s a warm country with blooming tulips creating impressive vistas.
For those expats moving to the Netherlands with their families, there is a wide variety of schools to choose from, including international schools. It’s also possible to research them thoroughly before moving to the country to find what the schooling options are.
The Dutch education system offers excellent schooling with primary school children beginning their education career at the age of four – all children must attend a school from their fifth birthday until they are 16.
Also, while the quality of teaching is of a high standard, some expats may be taken aback at the relaxed style that many Dutch schools have.
Some expats may also be worried about moving to a country with renowned liberal social policies including the legalisation of prostitution and marijuana. However, these activities tend to be restricted to certain areas and are easy to avoid if an expat prefers not to partake in them.
The Netherlands is constantly ranked as being in the top 10 of the world’s happiest countries and it is a desirable place to work and live.
Have you lived in the Netherlands? Share your thoughts in the comments, or answer the questions here to be featured in an Expat Experience interview!
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