We like to keep our fingers firmly on the expat pulse because it helps us refine our international health insurance products so they’re as good as they can be. Over the years we’ve noticed there’s a consistent high level of interest from people researching what it is like to live in various locations. So this time we thought we’d take a look at what people say about living in the Netherlands.
About living in the Netherlands
Life in the Netherlands has a vibrant international flavour, a country respected internationally for its tolerance and common sense, open and child-friendly. But what about the practicalities? According to Wikipedia:
“The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of twelve provinces in western Europe and three islands in the Caribbean. The European part of the Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east; and shares maritime borders with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The country is a parliamentary democracy organised as a unitary state. The capital city of the Netherlands, mandated by the constitution, is Amsterdam, however, the seat of government is located in The Hague. The Netherlands in its entirety is often referred to as “Holland”, which in strict usage, refers only to North and South Holland, two of its provinces. The former usage is considered incorrect or informal,depending on the context, but is generally accepted when referring to the national football team.”
It’s official – The Netherlands are a happy place to live
In 2011 the nation had the tenth highest income in the world per capita. Residents enjoy a thriving market-based mixed economy, ranked 17th out of 177 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom. Spring 2011 saw the Netherlands ranked as the world’s happiest country by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
What’s life in the Netherlands like?
Expat living in the Netherlands inevitably means living in close proximity to others. It’s a very crowded country with a high population density. On the bright side this has made the Dutch famously tolerant, something that comes through lid and clear when you take a look at what expats say about their life there. Perhaps reflecting this general tolerance, the crime rates are very low.
Sense of humour
Dutch humour is something to look out for. They are tremendously fun-loving as a nation and love to party, but unless you’re used to their particular brand of teasing, you might find their poking fun a bit much at first. But by all accounts it’s a charming national trait and you’ll soon get used to their unique sense of humour. As one expat said on the expatexchange website:
“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 Dutch are not rude. They merely pragmatic, and speak their minds. Most expats seem to find the country’s people remarkably friendly, often more so than elsewhere in Europe. Well-behaved children are more than welcome in almost every public space, eating out included. And if you’re a fan of the beautiful game you will always have something in common with the football mad locals.
Environmentally aware people, excellent transport links
You’re never far from the sea, the Netherlands being a really small country. The nation’s transport links are excellent and although much of the country lies below sea level, the countryside is often very pretty despite being so flat… which makes cycling one of the most popular forms of transport.
As well as being laid back and dedicated to having a life outside work, the Dutch are famously ‘green’. Most employers will reimburse 100% of your travel expenses provided you travel by public transport. And supermarket plastic bags are almost unheard of – people carry their own sturdy bags for shopping instead.
Learning the lingo
It’s always good to pick up the basics of the language in any new country. The thing is, the majority of Dutch people speak excellent English (as well as French and German) and many are more or less bilingual or even multilingual. Despite their impressive language skills, they’ll appreciate it if you make the effort to speak at least a little of their language. It will go a long way towards breaking the ice and actually making real friends as opposed to a string of acquaintances.
What about healthcare?
You are legally required to buy healthcare insurance within four months of arriving in the country. Basic Dutch health insurance covers general medical car like GP visits, hospital visits and basic dentistry, and prices start at around 100 Euros a month, but you’re welcome to shop around for more extensive cover through an expert provider like us.
Particularly interesting to us, since we’re health insurance providers, is the fact that the Dutch are famous for their love of insurance. So much so they’re the second biggest consumers of insurance products on the planet!
The cost of living in the Netherlands
- Since adopting the Euro the cost of living in the Netherlands has increased. Amsterdam sits in 57th place in the Mercer cost of living survey, dropping seven places since 2011. Salaries tend to be average in a EU context, higher than Spain and Italy but lower than Britain and Germany. In 2012 the minimum monthly wage in the Netherlands was 1,446 euros before tax, and just over 30% goes in taxes.
- Having said that, some expats can claim a reduction in tax. are entitled to a tax reduction. This is because the country acknowledges expats often have more expenses to cover than residents, including managing property abroad or making regular long distance calls.
- Clothes are relatively expensive, and you’ll find a host of familiar international high street brands in most big cities.
- Public transport is relatively cheap. But high road tax makes cars particularly expensive.
- Alcohol and tobacco cost less in the Netherlands than in other countries, but it costs more to eat out.
- Local schools are free but international schooling is expensive, from 14,000 Euros a year.
What about working in the Netherlands?
What’s it like living and working in the Netherlands? a big feature of life there is gezelligheid, in other words freedom. As a general rule the Dutch are happy, enjoy life and, importantly if you’re planning to work there, place a lot of value on life outside work.
You can expect life in general to be relaxed and easygoing, without the ‘working all hours’ culture you find in so many western nations. But they value punctuality just as much as the Germans and Swiss. You’ll find the Dutch much less competitive than, say, north Americans. Workers get an average of five weeks or so of official holidays per year plus lots of public holidays. Most people work a 36 hour week and a great many work a four day week.
EU citizens planning to live in the Netherlands for 3 months or more must register with the local Municipality Administration. For more information, you can get in touch with the Town Hall (Gemeentehuis) nearest where you will be living.
You can apply for a residents and / or working visa in NL provided:
- You already have an employment contract from a local or international company in the country
- You’re a highly skilled professional, Masters-qualified and above, in a discipline the country is in need of
- You are married to or about to marry a Dutch citizen or a long-term resident
What do other people say about expat life in the Netherlands?
Word of mouth recommendations are particularly powerful. Here are a few handy quotes from people who have lived, or are still living, the expat life in Holland.
“When the Dutch discuss a difficult topic, they usually get straight to the point. It’s very different from the Italian, Swiss, German and British way to discuss. The Dutch directness in the communication with foreigners regularly causes misunderstandings. Sometimes they hardly take the time to sit and relax. You may have to get used to it, some may even consider it rude or tactless, but in my experience, meetings are much more effective this way: you don’t loose too much time on talking about weather, personal problems etc.”
What about the weather? The OPCW site says:
“The Netherlands has a temperate climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Temperatures range between 24–30 ºC in the warmest months (June–August) and the winter temperature usually does not fall much below freezing point (approximately minus 5ºC). However, winds can be quite strong and it rains quite often, especially in the colder months.”
The Holland University of Applied Sciences says this about recycling and re-purposing:
“The Dutch don’t like to throw away useful household goods like old clothes, shoes, toys, dishes, books and sometimes just plain junk. They would rather find a second home by either donating or selling old, used or unwanted items. Match that with the fact that the Dutch enjoy the sport and challenge of finding a good deal. Then, maybe you can better understand why flea markets and junk markets are a popular form of weekend entertainment for both buyers and sellers. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
They also provide a great deal of excellent advice about Dutch holidays and traditions.
“I was told that 30% of Amsterdam is foreigners; it’s one of the strongest expat communities I’ve ever seen in almost a decade on the road. So much so that you can (and people do) live in the city for years, and learn no Dutch and even make no Dutch friends.”
“Even to this day I find that the Dutch sense of samenleving (community / living together) has great respect for an individual’s freedom to live life as he or she chooses; much more so than in other countries, including those that claim to be the freest in the world.”
“Dutch people are incredibly friendly and would always ask me with genuine curiosity what I was doing in the Netherlands. They gave me the time and patience to help me with their language, never switching to English when they saw how invested I was in speaking to them, despite my poor level at the start, and asked me many interesting and intelligent questions.”
What about your experiences?
We’d love to know about your experiences of living in this famously tolerant and laid back country. Feel free to comment and share your knowledge with our community.