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Living in the Netherlands

Your guide to expat life in the Netherlands

Want to live in the Netherlands?

With cosmopolitan and culture-rich cities, lush landscapes begging to be explored and friendly, accommodating people, the Netherlands offers an excellent quality of life, and expats who move here rarely regret it.

Accommodation in the Netherlands

Housing in the Netherlands is generally good and a range of accommodation is on offer. Specific expat-oriented accommodation, such as serviced apartments, are usually fully furnished, while houses in the Netherlands are generally unfurnished.

To rent accommodation in the Netherlands, you'll need to provide your citizen service number known as a BSN (burgerservicenummer). Expats working in the Netherlands may need to provide their employment contract, while students need to provide a bank statement as a guarantee of credit.

There are two types of rental agreements in the Netherlands. Fixed-period tenancy agreements set a minimum fixed period for rent, usually six to 12 months. Alternatively, indefinite rental contracts have no set termination date, allowing a more flexible, open-ended lease.

Deposits typically vary from one to three months’ rent. Utilities aren't always covered by the landlord and are usually an additional expense for the tenant. However, landlords will be responsible for general maintenance and insurance.

Buying a place in the Netherlands can seem quite attractive to expats who want to relocate for the long term. Agents have the best information, know the local areas, what’s available and price rates. While some banks might be willing to grant a loan to foreigners, some only offer mortgages to European Union citizens or those who have been a Dutch resident for at least three years.

Local culture in the Netherlands

The Dutch are among the most liberal people in the world, so more conservative expats may experience some culture shock in the Netherlands. Prostitution is legal and regulated and is openly on display in Amsterdam's red-light districts. Though marijuana is technically illegal, it is decriminalised for personal use and is sold in coffee shops in certain areas of the country.

The Dutch language could be your biggest hurdle. Locals are often multilingual, but unless you can speak some Dutch, you could end up feeling isolated. Once you have a decent grasp of the language, you’ll find that locals seem friendlier, more helpful and more encouraging. Making new friends can be difficult, however, especially if you don't speak Dutch. Having an open mind and a sense of humour will go a long way.

There is a strong secular ethic in the Netherlands, and most people believe that religion should not play a role in politics. So, if you follow and practise religion and are from a religious country, you may experience some culture shock. Nevertheless, all religions are welcome and respected in the Netherlands, and finding a community with shared beliefs is possible.

Education in the Netherlands

The standard of schools and education in the Netherlands is high. Most schools are government run, though there are a few independent international schools.

Public schools

Public schools are government funded, and all children, including expats, can attend them free of charge. That said, most schools ask for a 'parental contribution' (ouderbijdrage) that covers excursions and extra-curricular activities. From the age of 16, school fees apply but are subsidised by the government.

Teaching standards in Dutch public schools are generally high and schools are efficiently run, albeit with a more laid-back feel than some expats may be used to. Some public schools offer specialised programmes to help non-Dutch-speaking students learn the language and culture of the Netherlands.

International schools

International schools in the Netherlands are often the best option for older children or students staying in the country short term. Curricula vary, with some schools teaching a particular country's curriculum and main language. There are also international and local private schools that offer the International Baccalaureate programme. Fees at international schools are high, and places can be scarce so it’s important to apply early.

Keeping in touch in the Netherlands

Keeping in touch in the Netherlands is easy. As one of the most connected countries in the European Union, dozens of companies provide internet access in the Netherlands in various forms, including DSL, cable and fibre.

The Netherlands has an extremely high percentage of mobile phone users. The largest companies in the Dutch mobile phone industry include Vodafone, KPN and T-Mobile. Some phone services from other countries can be used in the Netherlands, and you can also buy a Dutch SIM card. Otherwise, you can get a contract or a prepaid plan with one of the Dutch service providers.

PostNL is the major postal delivery service provider and is generally reliable. Post offices are usually open Monday to Saturday from 09:00 to 18:00. Some post offices in major cities are open late on specified shopping nights, usually Thursday or Friday.

In terms of English media, several international news channels are available in the Netherlands, and local English news websites and resources include, NL Times and Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Newspapers from various countries and in several languages can be found at any public library. An expat newspaper called The Holland Times is also available via subscription or free at several locations around the country.

Healthcare in the Netherlands

The healthcare system in the Netherlands is one of the best in the world, and is one of the few that blurs the distinction between private and public care. Most healthcare facilities are non-profit and highly regulated by the government. The government generally funds long-term health treatment through tax, while short-term treatment is covered by mandatory private insurance.

The Dutch healthcare system is divided into different tiers. GPs form a large part of the first tier. On the second tier, it isn't usually possible to visit a specialist without a doctor's referral. That said, high standards and specialist treatments can be found at all medical facilities in the Netherlands. Most doctors can speak English.

All residents and taxpayers in the Netherlands are required to have medical insurance from a private health insurance company. This must be organised within four months of arriving in the country. Insurers are required to provide the same basic coverage for everyone. Some medical services are not covered by the basic insurance plans, and additional health insurance is optional to cover such costs.

Pharmacies (apotheken) are plentiful in the Netherlands and stock both prescription and non-prescription medications. Large cities usually have 24-hour pharmacies available alongside those operating during regular working hours.

Several private ambulance services are contracted to the Dutch government and operate within a particular service area. Response times are good. The emergency number for an ambulance in the Netherlands is 112.

Getting around in the Netherlands

Transport in the Netherlands is considered advanced by international standards. The Dutch rail network is one of the busiest in the EU, with trains running between all major cities as well as across national borders. The main railway operator in the Netherlands is NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen). There are also international and regional buses, as well as inner city buses. Within cities, buses have lines covering routes that are not met by other forms of transport.

Taxis aren’t a common form of transport in the Netherlands. However, both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have well-developed metro systems. The RandstadRail Line E is a light rail system that connects Rotterdam with The Hague and areas in between. Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht all have efficient tram networks. And some Dutch cities, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam, offer ferry services.

Cycling is at the very heart of transport in the Netherlands and 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.

Driving is relatively easy thanks to the country’s good roads and clear signage, but traffic can be a problem. Fuel is notoriously expensive, as is parking, particularly in metropolitan areas. Generally, expats with a valid foreign driving licence in the Netherlands can use it for up to 185 days. Thereafter, they must exchange their licence, if eligible, or apply for a new one. When applying for a local licence, applicants must pass both a theory and practical test.

Cost of living in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a rather high cost of living, but it is still lower than many other European countries. While cities such as The Hague and Rotterdam are cheaper than Amsterdam, all major Dutch cities are expensive when compared to more rural towns and outlying suburbs. That said, no matter where you live, accommodation is likely to be a major expense.

Transport is relatively cheap by European standards, and it may therefore be cheaper to fork out on commuting than to live close to your place of work, if in the city. Expat children also have access to the free public school system but, as classes are in Dutch, many expats parents choose to enrol their children in international schools, whose tuition fees can be very steep.

Top tips for the Netherlands

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in the Netherlands.

The expat community in the Netherlands is very active online. Find the good forums and learn from others' mistakes!

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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