Doing Business in the Netherlands

Doing business in the Netherlands is an attractive prospect thanks to its strategic position in Europe and its internationally oriented economy that offers plenty of opportunities.
 
Expats working in the Netherlands will find themselves in a modern society where equality is valued and hard work is appreciated. The Dutch are used to dealing with foreign associates and it shouldn't take expats long to adapt to Dutch business culture.
 
The Netherlands was ranked 28 out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2016, marking a slight drop from its 2015 ranking of 25. As demonstrated in the survey, the country makes it easy to trade across its borders, ranking first in this category, to pay taxes (26) and start a business (28). But dealing with construction permits (85) and enforcing contracts (95) can be more challenging.
 

Fast facts

 

Business language

Dutch is the official language, but English, French and German are widely spoken and understood.
 

Business hours

Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
 

Business dress

Business attire is usually smart casual. Suits are often worn but ties aren't always expected.
 

Greeting

A firm handshake with direct eye contact is the usual form of greeting between both male and female associates.
 

Gifts

Gifts aren't usually exchanged during business dealings.
 

Gender equality

Dutch society is very liberal, and men and women have equal rights.
 

Business culture in the Netherlands

 
Although business structures are hierarchical, the business culture in the Netherlands is collaborative and the input of all workers is valued when it comes to decision-making. But this means that decisions can take time.
 

Business style

The Dutch are hard-working and disciplined, and tend to be quite formal and reserved in the business environment. Self-control is important in business dealings and showing emotions is rare.
 
Punctuality is vital and it’s usual to skip pleasantries and get straight to business during meetings.
 
The Dutch are very private people and prefer to separate work and personal life. It's unusual to socialise with colleagues outside of the office.
 

Communication

The Dutch communication style is direct and expats will likely always know where they stand with their local associates. Answers will be clear and direct which often comes across as being blunt, and it may take a while for expats who are accustomed to more indirect communication to get used to this. 
 
Honesty is expected and appreciated, and it’s best to be open and direct when dealing with Dutch colleagues.
 
Personal space is valued and it’s unusual to stand too close to or touch colleagues when conversing.
 

Dos and don’ts of doing business in the Netherlands

  • Do be punctual for meetings and expect them to adhere to a strict agenda
  • Don’t expect much small talk at the beginning of a meeting as the Dutch prefer to get straight to business
  • Do maintain direct eye contact when speaking to associates
  • Don’t show emotion or use over-expressive language or gestures when dealing with Dutch associates
  • Do expect decision-making to be a drawn-out process where every detail is examined and everyone's opinion is considered
  • Don’t schedule important meetings during the summer as this is when most Dutch go on their annual holidays

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