Transport in the Netherlands is considered advanced by international standards. An extensive road network as well as trains and buses connect different areas, while larger cities often have tram and metro services. Thanks to the efficiency of public transport, it's easy to get around without a car – expats who do choose to own a car will need to consider driving regulations, parking and taxes.
Of course, a discussion on modes of transport in the Netherlands would be incomplete without mentioning the infamous cycling culture. It’s said that the Netherlands is home to more bicycles than people. So, the sooner expats get hold of a bicycle, the sooner they'll feel integrated with their new home.
Public transport in the Netherlands
The country has an extensive public transport system, and expats will find that getting around the Netherlands is easy, safe and relatively inexpensive.
A contactless smart card system, OV-chipkaart, is used to pay for the metro, buses, trams and trains across Dutch cities, as well as city-specific public transport ticketing systems. Depending on how long one will be in the Netherlands and how often they intend commuting, there are different options for the OV-chipkaart. All cards are valid for five years but can be renewed.
The Dutch rail network is said to be one of the busiest in the European Union, with trains running between all major cities as well as across national borders. The main railway operator in the Netherlands is NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), which connects the country with top destinations, including Antwerp, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London.
There are two different types of trains in the Netherlands: intercity (express) trains which connect main cities directly and are faster, and slower trains connecting small stations, with multiple stops along the way.
There are a number of ways to travel by bus, with city and regional connections available. However, for longer distances, most travellers prefer to use trains. Within cities, buses normally have lines covering routes that are not met by other forms of transport, such as trams or the metro.
Several inter-city – and inter-country – bus companies operate in the Netherlands, such as FlixBus, which provides an affordable international travel option.
Both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have well-developed metro systems that mainly run on elevated railways outside the city and underground within the city centre. The RandstadRail Line E consists of a light rail system integrated with Rotterdam's metro system and it connects the city with The Hague and areas in between.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht all have efficient tram networks. Although the tram system can be difficult to navigate at first, it’s one of the best ways for expats to explore their surroundings and commute to and from work.
Some Dutch cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, offer ferry services. Boat travel provides a unique way of getting around and offers an opportunity to explore different areas and get a new perspective. In some cases, ferries and water taxis simply prove a convenient way of getting around.
In some cases, ferries allow the OV-chipkaart as well as cash payments or online booking. We advise expats to follow up with the relevant ferry services online for more on their routes, schedules and regulations.
Taxis in the Netherlands
Taxis aren't a common form of transport in the Netherlands. They're pricey and in some places they can't be hailed off the street, with commuters instead booking by telephone beforehand, getting one at a taxi stand or calling one via a ride-hailing application such as Uber. All official taxis have blue licence plates.
Driving in the Netherlands
There are pros and cons of driving a car in the Netherlands. Driving is relatively easy thanks to the Netherlands' good roads and clear signage, however, traffic congestion can be a problem, and hidden costs and arguably tedious procedures could be faced.
Fuel is notoriously expensive in the Netherlands, as is parking, particularly in metropolitan areas. In moves to be more environmentally friendly and reduce congestion, some Dutch cities have Park and Ride facilities where drivers can park their vehicles in large garages and car parks and complete their journey to the central business district or city centre by public transport.
Getting a car
While public transport is highly recommended, some expats may still choose to buy, lease, ship over or rent a car in the Netherlands.
Buying a car in the Netherlands comes with extensive processes and heavy expenses. Car owners must register their vehicle with RDW (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer), the national vehicle authority, and cars older than three years must be tested annually to ensure they continue to meet road standards.
Taxes are charged when the vehicle is purchased and in some cases where a car is leased from an expat's employer and used privately. Insurance is essential, but costly.
Generally, expats with a valid foreign driving licence in the Netherlands can use it for up to 185 days. Thereafter, they must check with their local municipality whether they're eligible to exchange their licence or if they must apply for a new one. When applying for a local licence, applicants must pass both a theory and practical test.
Cycling in the Netherlands
Cycling is at the very heart of transport in the Netherlands and is an equally popular form of recreation. Before an expat realises, they could be leading a healthier lifestyle than before by cycling to work, school or anywhere else they want to go to.
Cyclists are well catered for with dedicated cycle paths, which are regulated with their own set of rules and systems, including traffic signals and lanes. Just as the sidewalks are not meant for bicycles, pedestrians should watch out for cyclists and not walk in designated bike lanes. When driving, expats should give priority to cyclists if they turn across a cycle lane.
The thought of getting on a bike may seem daunting at first, overwhelming expats who are not used to cycling. However, it's easy to learn and take lessons, and many schools also help children become familiar with getting around by bike.
Expats taking public transport should check whether they can carry their bike with them and if so what rules apply to them. For example, only folding bikes are permitted on trams or buses, while train passengers are recommended to register their bicycle before their train trip.
While safety isn't a major concern in the Netherlands compared to other major destinations, expats should be aware of the risk of bike theft and must ensure they lock their bikes up safely. This can be done at bike stands or around trees or other permanent objects.
Getting a bicycle
Most locals would recommend buying a second-hand bike in the Netherlands as it can save a decent amount on buying a brand-new one. Those that opt for the latter are advised to invest in insurance for their bike. It's also easy to rent a bike, and there are several rental companies to go to. As part of the Netherlands public transport system and integrated OV-chipkaart, rental bikes known as OV-fiets can be rented for a period of time at a small fee.
Air travel in the Netherlands
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, near Amsterdam, is the main airport in the Netherlands. Regional airports include Eindhoven Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport and Groningen Airport Eelde. Airports are easily accessible by public transport and taxis.
Due to the country’s small size and abundance of other transport options, domestic flights in the Netherlands are limited, and there's no real need to fly between destinations within the country. However, the great number of affordable flights does make international travel easy.
Larger airports serve both major and budget airlines, from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, and British Airways to easyJet, Vueling Airlines and Ryanair.
►For more on the OV-chipkaart: www.ov-chipkaart.nl
►Visit the NS website: www.ns.nl
►9292 provides the latest travel information for transport across the Netherlands: 9292.nl
►Learn more about public transport in the capital with Getting Around in Amsterdam
"We get by without a car. Bikes are the quickest way to get somewhere or walking if you want to be different. A car is necessary if you want to go to some place like IKEA or a plant nursery, but you can rent one for those occasions and many stores deliver now. Getting to the airport or coming home is when you really miss having your own wheels." Read what else Jeremy has to say about public transit in the Netherlands in this interview.
"Living in a city centre means everything is either walking or cycling distance. Now, a bicycle that is something you do need if you want to live in the Netherlands, and don’t bother buying one before you arrive in the Netherlands." Check out Tracey's expat experiences with transport and bicycles 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.
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