Moving to The Netherlands

The images that most readily spring to mind for most people at the thought of moving to the Netherlands are of rows of tulips, windmills, clogs and canals. There is certainly more to this flat European nation than postcard worthy imagery.

The Dutch influence has been so widespread and so deep that we barely notice it all. The modern world is in large part a Dutch creation, and the Netherlands the very epitome of a modern liberalised nation.

The Netherlands was among the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament; is widely regarded as being the first capitalist country; Dutch colonists founded New York (then called New Amsterdam); the Netherlands iss a founding member of the EU, the G-10, NATO, and the World Trade Organisation; and hosts the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The Netherlands was also the first country to legalise same-sex marriage.

Located on the North Sea coast between Belgium and Germany, the Netherlands also enjoys a maritime climate with cool summers and mild-winters. The flat terrain also makes cycling a pleasure rather than a chore - which perhaps explains why 25% of all commutes in the Netherlands are done by bicycle.

Around 70% of the population can speak conversational English, 50% conversational German, and 20% conversational French. This means you have several options for communicating while you perfect your Dutch.

Art and culture have always been held in high regard by the Dutch. During the Golden Age artists like Vermeer and Rembrandt gave the Netherlands a reputation for excellence in painting which was later cemented by Van Gogh and Mondrian. In the same era, philosophers and scientists like Spinoza, Huygens, and Descartes (who lived in the Netherlands for over 20 years) helped redefine Western thought.

Altogether, moving to the Netherlands is a pretty smart move - especially when you take into account the additional fact that the OECD ranked it as the happiest country on Earth in 2011.

Living in the Netherlands

Visas and becoming a Dutch citizen

There are two main ways to obtain Dutch citizenship: the option procedure and the naturalisation procedure. The option procedure is the fastest and easiest way but is only available for individuals who hold residence documents and fulfill one of a list of certain other requirements, such as being married to a Dutch citizen for at least three years. This method of acquiring citizenship usually takes just a few months.

Naturalisation is the alternative and is a little more difficult. To obtain naturalisation, you must hold a valid residence permit, just as with the option procedure. However, you must also fulfill all of a list of requirements, such as being an adult, being able to write and speak Dutch, and being willing to renounce your previous citizenship (almost always required). The whole Naturalisation procedure takes about a year.

Moving to the Netherlands after Brexit

Unfortunately, any non-EU citizen is not automatically blessed with permits to live and work in the Netherlands. This means any Brits wanting to move to the Netherlands post-Brexit will need a residence permit.

The main ways of acquiring one of these permits are by applying to live with your Dutch partnerstudy, or work in the Netherlands – which you'll also need a work permit for.

An employer in the Netherlands can only offer a job to a non-EU candidate if they are able to prove that no EU-based candidates were available or suitable. If you are a ‘highly skilled migrant’ then the process is a bit easier, as you don’t need a work permit.

There are some very useful resources available online, including the VFS and Iamsterdam websites.

Select the size of your move to get free quotes

Healthcare for expats

The standard of healthcare in the Netherlands is rated among the best in Europe. There are many English-speaking doctors here, ensuring that medical care is highly accessible to most expats.

One of the things you need to know about health insurance in the Netherlands is that it is mandatory.

While the government automatically provides all residents with long-term nursing care insurance, each resident is responsible for taking out their own basic insurance to cover regular medical care (with the exceptions of children, who are covered under their parents’ policies, and non-working European students).

Job market

The Netherlands also has a robust economy. Despite hosting a large financial industry, the country managed to emerge from the global financial crisis with relatively low unemployment.

The Netherlands is one of the easiest places for expats to find work because most people here speak not only Dutch but also at least a little English (with many Dutch residents speaking English fluently). However, speaking Dutch will certainly expand your options and open more professional doors, so it’s worth learning if you’re going to be staying long-term.

The unemployment rate here has been holding steady at around 7%, comparable to or lower than other EU countries. Key industries in the Netherlands include fishing, construction, chemicals, electrical machinery and equipment, and agro-industries.

Transferring money to the Netherlands

If you’re thinking of moving to the Netherlands, you’ll probably need to convert some of your British pounds into euros.

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Essential info for the Netherlands:

Official language:Dutch
Capital city:Amsterdam
Currency:Euro (EUR)
International dialling code:+31
Emergency numbers:112
Electricity:230 volts
Drives on the:right
Tipping:Added to the bill already; 10% for excellent service
Unusual fact:70% of the world's bacon comes from Netherlands.

Property information

Throughout the country, apartments and houses are available to rent or buy. House prices have been steadily falling for the last five years, making it a buyer’s market. Here you’ll find a wide variety of styles, locations, and prices. Rent prices in the Netherlands are, on average, lower than in the United States, the UK, and Australia. However, they tend to run higher than in Germany, France, and Italy.

Many expats prefer to look for a home in an area where their jobs, friends, and preferred amenities are within cycling distance; this often means renting a place in the city center, where prices tend to be higher. However, in most Dutch cities it’s easy to get to the city center by train for work or shopping or sightseeing, so choosing a less-expensive housing option outside the city center is perfectly feasible even if you don’t have a car.

In the main cities, such as Amsterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht, there are a variety of types of housing. It’s quite common to find a combination of historical architecture and modern buildings in the same city. Mortgages here range from quite affordable to over-the-top pricey; in general, there is something for every budget.

Cost of moving to the Netherlands

Of course one of the biggest expenses of moving to a new country is the actual move itself. The cost of having your belongings shipped to your new home depends on a number of factors, including how many items you are bringing and how far you are moving.

Below are estimates based on a 20-foot shipping container (enough to hold the contents of a standard two-bedroom home) from popular cities.

London to Amsterdam£360
Amman to Rotterdam£1,200
Los Angeles to Amsterdam£2,500
Dubai to Rotterdam£2,900
Brisbane to Amsterdam£4,300

Living costs

In general, Amsterdam is the most expensive city in the Netherlands, with many of its amenities such as housing, transportation, groceries, and entertainment costing more on average than other cities. However, there is always some variation; for example, basic utilities including electricity, water, and heat average less per month in Amsterdam than in Utrecht.

Of the four largest cities in the Netherlands, Rotterdam comes in as the most affordable in terms of housing, with a one-bedroom apartment in the city center renting for around €707 per month. A similar apartment will cost about €828 per month in The Hague and about €928 per month in Utrecht, with Amsterdam topping the list at €1096 per month for a comparable apartment.

A gallon of gas goes for €6.60 in Amsterdam, €6.18 in Utrecht, €6.15 in Rotterdam, and €5.82 in The Hague. You can buy a 1.5-liter bottle of water in Amsterdam for €1.04, in Rotterdam for €0.96, in Utrecht for €0.95, and in The Hague for €0.90. A 6Mbps Internet connection with unlimited data in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht will cost €24.78, €23.00, €22.25, and €20.69 respectively, per month.

Schools and education

Educational standards in the Netherlands are exceptionally high. It was ranked first in the UN’s Education Index and first for child well-being by UNICEF in the last decade.

There are many different types of schools in the Netherlands, each designed to meet the specific needs of its students. Primary school options include mainstream primary schools, international schools, and even special schools for children with learning or behavioral difficulties or disabilities. Primary school is for children ages four through 12. (Although compulsory school attendance begins at five, many children here start at four.)

Secondary school in the Netherlands

After primary school, students in the Netherlands attend secondary school (or high school). Depending upon the results of testing administered in primary school, students are given a recommendation for either VMBO, HAVO, or VWO.

These secondary school options each provide a certain type of education and last until the age of 16 or 18. All students study:

  • mathematics
  • Dutch language history
  • science
  • arts

In addition different students will study different specialty subjects depending on the student’s vocational goals, such as:

  • foreign language
  • economy
  • nature
  • health

Universities in the Netherlands

There are a number of excellent universities in the Netherlands for students who have completed primary and secondary school and wish to pursue higher education. The three top universities in the country are the University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology, and Utrecht University.

Almost all Dutch universities teach at least a few courses in English, and several schools have a wide range of degree programs available in English. Business and research are major focuses here, but pretty much anything you might want to study is available somewhere in the Netherlands. Schools here are known not only for their tradition and culture but also their quality, with five Dutch universities being ranked on the list of the world’s Top 100 universities.

Driving in the Netherlands

Once you register as a Netherlands resident, you cannot drive a car that is registered in another country; your car must be registered in the Netherlands. In order to drive in the Netherlands, you must also be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, and have third party insurance.

If your license cannot be exchanged for a Dutch license, you can use it for 185 days after you become a resident; you should use this time to take CBR courses and driving tests. It is possible to take these courses and tests in English. Some licenses can simply be exchanged for Dutch licenses, and these include licenses from certain countries including (but not limited to) Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, and Italy.

Expat communities

Expats have lots of choices when it comes to deciding where in the Netherlands to live. If you are moving because of your job, then you probably are limited to a specific city to live in—which is fine, because the bigger cities with the most international companies also have the most thriving expat communities.

In Amsterdam alone, half the population is made up of over 170 different nationalities. You could choose to immerse yourself in the authentic Dutch experience of living in the city center, or you could choose a community more geared toward expats, such as De Pijp, which offers home ownership initiatives, or Jordaan, popular with expats because of its plentiful shopping and beautiful canals.

Utrecht is also popular with expats because of the cultural and religious offerings found here. The genuine Dutch feel and traditional festivals are a great way to enjoy the Dutch lifestyle. The Hague offers many jobs as well as a multicultural experience. And Rotterdam, while not attracting as many tourists as some part of the country, does appeal to many expats thanks to its unique architecture and comparatively low cost of living.

Ranking against the world

The Netherlands ranks as one of the top 20 most expensive countries to live in in terms of rent prices, following countries such as Australia, the UK, and the US. It falls lower on the list of countries with the highest grocery prices to around number 28 in the world. And ranked at number 15 for highest purchasing power for its residents, the Netherlands offers an excellent income to cost of living ratio. Perhaps best of all, the Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the top 10 happiest countries on earth.

The Netherlands clearly has a lot to offer expats, regardless of their reasons for relocating. Between its canals, windmills, tulip fields, cycling culture, thriving business sector, and welcoming attitude toward foreigners of all different cultures and ethnicities, it’s no wonder this country remains one of the most popular destinations in the world.