Moving to the Netherlands from a Western culture is, on the whole, a painless experience. The Dutch strive for an egalitarian society and are known for their liberalism, welcoming religions and traditions from elsewhere. That said, the Netherlands certainly has a rich culture and history of its own, some of which may seem unusual at first. Here are some of the pros and cons of moving to the Netherlands.
Accommodation in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Variety of accommodation
Expats can either rent or buy accommodation in various styles and locations to suit their budget – but it makes sense to live in the city where amenities and new friends will be close by. Though Dutch accommodation can be pricey, especially in major cities, houses and apartments are generally of a high standard.
- CON: Extra costs
Apartments in the Netherlands are either furnished, unfurnished or advertised as a 'shell'. Shell apartments may seem like a bargain, but renting one often means having to buy everything, including carpets and major appliances.
Some rental agencies charge a month’s deposit and a month’s rent as a finder’s fee on top of all the other relocation costs.
Lifestyle in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Great social life
The country's easy-going café culture and the summer music festivals that pop up in parks and public spaces are ideal for meeting up with friends. There are also well-supported cultural events throughout the year, where museums and galleries open their doors to the public for nominal fees.
- CON: The aftermath
The Dutch do like their organised celebrations, but their aftermath can look devastating as the streets overflow with litter – although, to be fair, it’s almost all cleared away before lunchtime the next day.
Safety in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Lower than average crime rates
The Netherlands compares favourably to the UK and the USA when it comes to crime statistics. Expats will likely feel secure, and even large football crowds are usually family-friendly and require few police officers. Nevertheless, as with anywhere, there are areas it’s probably best not to hang around at night.
- CON: Irresponsible cyclists
Most safety issues in the Netherlands seem to come from bicycles. Cyclists often weave in and out of traffic without safety helmets, and it’s worth bearing in mind that in a collision between a car and a bicycle, the car driver will be held responsible.
Working in the Netherlands
+ PRO: 30 percent tax ruling
The Netherlands has one of Europe’s lowest rates of unemployment, which, combined with the 30-percent-tax-free allowance available to people moving to work in the Netherlands, makes for an attractive work destination. But this tax allowance is mainly for people with specific skills which are rare within the local labour market.
+ PRO: Great work-life balance
The Dutch are known for their healthy work-life balance and many people work part-time.
- CON: Not many opportunities for non-EU expats
If a Dutch employer wants to hire someone from outside the EU, they have to prove that a Dutch citizen or someone from another EU country can’t fill the position – which is rarely the case. Researching appropriate work visas is a must.
Culture shock in the Netherlands
+ PRO: An egalitarian society
Moving to the Netherlands from another Western country hardly feels like culture shock. Almost everyone is tolerant of non-Dutch speakers and speaks English. They also have an inclusive culture that isn’t materialistic.
- CON: Learning to speak the language
While the Dutch are happy to speak English to new arrivals, they’re justifiably proud of their language and expect expats to learn the basics. Dutch is something like a cross between English and German, so many of the words sound familiar, but getting to grips with its guttural "G" sounds can be challenging.
- CON: Misreading the Dutch
The Dutch are known for their directness, which takes time to feel comfortable. It can be misunderstood as rudeness when it’s more a desire for clarity and understanding.
Healthcare in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Efficient healthcare service
Healthcare in the Netherlands is efficient, waiting times are usually short, and doctors generally speak impeccable English.
- CON: Healthcare is expensive
Health insurance in the Netherlands is expensive and doesn’t always cover what expats might expect, so it’s important to read the small print. Finding a doctor or dentist after arriving can be difficult and expats may find that dentists don’t offer enough pain relief. Local anaesthetic may cost extra. Doctors’ automated phone systems can also be challenging for non-Dutch speakers – expats may want to note the numbers needed to press to make an appointment and keep them by the phone.
Transport and driving in the Netherlands
+ PRO: A nation of travellers
The Netherlands hosts one of Europe’s busiest airports – Amsterdam Airport
+ PRO: The Dutch cycling habit
Almost everyone uses a bicycle for any journey within a few miles. Embracing this habit will increase expats’ fitness levels while doing their bit for the environment and blending in with the locals. Cars aren’t necessary for city residents and it’s possible to travel throughout the country using its extensive network of trains and buses.
- CON: Traffic jams and cancellations
Due to the sheer density of the population, rush hour congestion is common. The usually efficient Dutch trains can be prone to unexpected cancellations, and it’s important to keep bikes chained as theft is widespread. Also, while cycling in the Netherlands is good for fitness, the rain can make for an unpleasant experience at times.
Weather in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Each season boasts its own charm
Each of the seasons brings its own magic to the Netherlands. Skaters fill the frozen canals like a postcard during winter. The blooming tulips are an iconic sight in spring and the almost-Mediterranean summers stay light until late. But autumn is best of all, when the turning leaves transform parks and forests into a golden blaze of colour.
- CON: Unpredictable weather
Even though it sometimes feels Mediterranean, the Dutch weather changes quickly, especially in the summer.
Shopping in the Netherlands
+ PRO: Independent shops
Independent stores are common in the Netherlands, and shopping at specialist cheese and chocolate shops is a particular treat. The supermarkets are somewhat small, but expats should still find a few of their favourite home brands. Most places host weekly food markets which sell an abundance of fresh produce. Another bonus is that it isn’t necessary to buy bottled water – the Netherlands has some of Europe’s best drinking water.
- CON: Restricted hours
The restricted opening hours may take a while to get used to. For example, banks and most shops are closed until around noon on Mondays. Most shops close at around 5pm and are open for restricted hours on Sundays. Luckily, large supermarkets in main cities do tend to stay open until 10pm most nights.
►For info on living expenses, see Cost of Living in the Netherlands
"I moved here because of the freedom. I like how men and women are treated as equals. Being homosexual is 100 percent accepted. Being any skin shade is considered beauty. It's my kind of place." Read more in our interview with Monique.
"Dutch people are not known for their culinary traditions. It is rather monotonous and bland consisting of cold sandwiches for lunch and warm meals of meat, potatoes and vegetables for dinner time. I miss proper Asian food." Find out about Lisa's positive and negative experiences in the Netherlands.
Are you an expat living in The Netherlands?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The Netherlands. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
I'm an expat living in Breda in the Nederlands with my own Mr Sunshine, and a hypochondriac Tibetan Terrier- Alfie. I have too much spare time, which I fill by blogging, writing, studying for a degree with the Open University and finding new ways to feel guilty (my lifelong passion). When not fulfilling my main occupations, I walk the streets of Breda with Alfie, meet up with my supportive new expat friends and try to avoid the kitchen. Once in while I take a very expensive trip back to the UK to see my long-suffering family and stock up on Bisto...
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