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10 Tips for Living in The Netherlands

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: Expats share tips for living in the Netherlands.

Culture Shock in the Netherlands

"My biggest shock was smallest amount of couples with children. No parks for kids to play, but a lot of places to go with pets," said an expat in the Hague.

Another expat explained, "culturally, the Dutch can seem a bit curt, abrupt, and also love to poke fun at others, teasing beyond the bounds some cultures are used to. When you understand it's their culture and not personal, you move past it."

"The most difficult thing to adjust to is the lack of what in the United States is considered common courtesy. There are no "excuse me's" or "pardon me's" when someone bumps into you or needs to pass by you or if you happen to be in the way. It's very Dutch just to wriggle past, no matter how close the quarters. The idea of waiting your turn in lines is also rare. I would like to say here that this most certainly does not apply to all Dutch or the Dutch in general. It is just something I and other expats here in The Netherlands have experienced. I have met some very lovely Dutch people who also don't understand why such behavior is common here," said an expat living in Utrecht.

International Schools in the Netherlands

"Our children's school (American School of the Hague) had an excellent model program, Safe Harbour, to welcome new arrivals, integrate and support them and say goodbye as well. One aspect was a Monday Morning Networking program that not only introduced you to others and taught how to get about in the Dutch culture (shopping, driving, public transportation, cultural differences) but also two sessions on the expat transitions process and what we go through as we assimilate. It's open to the expat community, and I highly recommend it," advised an expat living in the Hague.

Expat Exchange has expat reviews of a number of international schools in the Netherlands.

They Speak English, but Learn Dutch!

One expat exclaimed, "every time I try to speak Dutch with the natives, they say something really fast and I say "Pardon?" and somehow they pick up on my accent and say "Ohhh you speak English!" and then they just continue on in fluent English. I'm never going to learn the language if I never hear it!"

" I now speak basic Nederlands. Before moving I did a class in introductory Dutch - after moving I realised how poor the class was. I spent 6 months doing part time classes - after the first term I was able to make very basic conversation. By the time I finished the classes I was able to understand Dutch quite well and can read the newspaper and also did not rely on the BBC TV channel only. I am now able to watch Dutch TV and can even understand the Dutch subtitles in English TV. I have a Job in a company where the official "taal"is English - but I thoroughly recommend that you learn Dutch so that you are able to understand your work associates!" advised an expat in Utrecht.

The Outdoor Life

"The Dutch are very outdoorsy and I love that. They cycle everywhere and any time there is sun, no matter what the weather, you will find them out basking in it. It's the cycling culture that I have completely fallen in love with," explained one expat.

Making Friends in the Netherlands

"The Dutch are friendly on the surface, as in they will say hello and expect a hello back, and they might even want to know where you're from and what you're doing here. But they are not so willing to invite you along to activities or introduce you to their friends. I think most people live in one town their whole lives, so they don't understand what it's like being somewhere new without knowing anyone. Because they don't recognize how difficult it is, they don't think to include you in their social circles. I was here for three months before I started really trying to get out and meet people. As a result, I became depressed and it was much harder to get the ball rolling. If you just moved here or you are thinking of moving here, try to plan in advance as much as you can. Find all the expats you can on this site and others for the Twente region. Contact community or university clubs to try to get involved in some activities. Anything you can do that will force you to have some semblance of a social life will be a huge help!" suggested one expat in Hengelo.

"I would have to say that the biggest challenge is making friends. You really do have to start all over again from scratch. Thanks to the International Women's Club I joined, making expat friends has been easy and I've met some wonderful women. My Dutch classes have also proven to be great sources for friendships. But my only Dutch friends were those of my husband and, even then, they are still very much his friends and not so much mine. To meet more "locals" I joined an all-women Dutch singing group. The girls are lovely, but it has come to my attention that friendships here are valued much differently than in America. It is very American to have tons of "friends" that, in reality, are better described as acquaintances. The average American has several "best friends." Doesn't that sort of defy the meaning of "best friend". Because, there can really only be one best anything. In The Netherlands, once you have build up a strong friend base of 5 or so people, there is no longer a need for anymore friends. At a certain point, the Dutch aren't looking for any new friends. Because of this, they're much more difficult to develop friendships with. After several months in the group, I'm still working at it. But I have observed that once you break in, they are loyal friends for life. Something I think very few Americans really know about," recalled another expat.

Another expat living in Amsterdam described, "the Dutch circles can be difficult to penetrate. Feeling friendless and an outsider after a warm start was confusing to me and I did feel sad, depressed and confused. I'm an intelligent person and it baffled me why I couldn't figure it out or a way in. Having expats around me - who I at first refused to accept their criticism of the Dutch or Holland - became a big help to me to share experiences and feelings. I wasn't so alone after all."

"Overcoming the social barrier between you and the Dutch. It is pretty hard for a "vremdelingen" (foreigner) to get accepted by Dutch to the extent to exchange invitations to dinner or going out in a weekend trip together both families. Third, although they don't say it loud or make an obvious point of it, Dutch tend to consider themselves better than many other nations. And in some respects (quite a lot) they are better than most," said another expat.

The Dutch are Very Environmentally Friendly

"I also enjoy how environmentally friendly they are. Most companies will reimburse employees 100% of their travel expenses as long as they use public transportation. The bikes take people most places and rarely do you get a plastic bag with your shopping purchase unless you pay extra for them. Most people carry their own vinyl bags for shopping or stuff purchases in a large purse, backpack, or bag," said one expat in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Enjoy Time Off from Work

"I appreciate the Dutch appreciation for time off with family and friends. They know when to stop working and enjoy life, people, each other. They also don't consider themselves competitive as we are raised in the US. This has minuses but definite pluses in how they view life and what they feel is important," explained an expat in Amsterdam. Another said, "time is also appreciated. Employees get, on average, five weeks of vacation in addition to the many many holidays. The average work week is 36 hours and an astounding number of people work four days a week."

Deciding Where to Live in The Netherlands

"Think long and hard about how you would live your life, what kind of life you really want. I chose to transition from working outside the home (US) to working at home (writer), so we wanted an urban, Dutch lifestyle. I actually enjoy wandering up to the shopping street to buy my daily groceries and run errands in the late afternoon. We use public transportation for everything except my picking up the kids from school (20 min. away) 3 days a week when they're in the middle of sports and activities (as they're in high school and have tons of homework). My husband walks to/from work, and we're able to eat meals as a family. My friends who live in the 'expat enclave' near the school 1) have no Dutch friends, 2) don't really speak any Dutch and 3) their husbands are 'ghosts' in their families - never around due to long commutes. We rent a 'rijtjeshuie' which is basically a 3-story brick 'town house' on a quiet street in a relatively upscale neighborhood, near a popular shopping street that is a great mix of everyday requirements (good grocery store, hardware stores, drug stores, great specialty stores and also fun boutiques and upscale stuff to window shop). It's fairly typical in this part of Den Haag/The Hague, although probably a bit on the bigger side than some. " explained one expat mom in the Hague.

Having a Baby in The Netherlands

An expat in Leiden said, "in the Netherlands if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy you can choose to give birth at home or in a hospital. I had high blood pressure so I had to give birth in a hospital. Women here do not receive an epidural unless the doctor or midwife thinks you need it. Natural childbirth is the norm here and that's what I had. Since my son was born almost 4 weeks early we both stayed in the hospital for 2 nights. Normally women go home very soon after the birth, within a few hours or so. I did have a positive experience but I would have liked an epidural! The great thing about the Netherlands is that you get home help after the baby is born. A specially trained home healthcare worker came to my house for 8 days, 6 hours a day. She helped take care of the baby, showed us how to take care of the baby and did housework! She was especially helpful with breast feeding!"

Work Visa in The Netherlands

"For those who need to apply for a work permit, in case your Dutch employer has not applied on your behalf, you can apply yourselves at the local immigration and naturalization office which is located in Den Bosh (cca 20 Km from Tilburg). Advice for non-EU citizens: Do not attempt to apply for resident and/or working visa/permit in NL unless:

  1. You have an employment contract from a Dutch/international firm in NL
  2. You are a highly skilled professional (master level or above) in fields that NL does need to fill up
  3. You are already or going to marry a Dutch citizen or a Long-term resident in NL
Do not seek employment in smaller cities/town which do not have international companies if you don't speak good enough Dutch. Although Dutch people (on average) do speak English pretty good, the need for non-Dutch speaking employees is very low (almost non existing)," advised one expat working in the Netherlands.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Mar 22, 2013 07:07

Really interesting perspectives! We're in Oisterwijk (near Tilburg) and there are some of these I couldn't disagree with more. The only one I really agree with is on the language.

Oct 26, 2015 06:53

Hi, How is it living in Netherlands for a coloured or to be specific a Muslim family?

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