Living in the Netherlands as an ex-pat

There aren’t many places in the world that are more international, accommodating, and better suited for a digital nomad than the Netherlands. Everyone speaks English, the administration is swift and smooth and it’s a part of the EU, which makes it a lot easier for Europeans, and other foreigners, to move to. It also goes without saying that Amsterdam is a wonderful and vibrant city, full of events, concerts, and like-minded people and then there is the picturesque countryside. Having spent a long time there, I think I am qualified to answer the basic questions about moving to the Netherlands as a foreigner.

Moving to the Netehrlands:

If you are an EU citizen, all you need to do when moving to the Netherlands is to register at the municipality, which generally needs to be booked online and then done in person. Once you are registered, you will get a BSN number, which is needed for all kinds of administrative and bureaucratic services. If you also plan on working in the Netherlands, you will need to get Dutch health insurance, even if you are insured in your country. Luckily, the whole insurance process can be done online and is very smooth. Once that is done, you are good to go. There is generally a tolerance period for registration to the municipality and for getting the health insurance, but it’s best to get them as soon as possible in order to avoid fines. You will also need a BSN for a lot of services, and it is good to get that immediately.

For non-EU citizens, the situation is more convoluted and complicated, with arrangements being made on a case-by-case basis. For a prolonged period of stay, usually more than 3 months, you will need a visa. You can read more about that here, but the process is relatively streamlined. On top of the visa, you will still need to register with the municipality and get health insurance. There are many international students, immigrants, and ex-pats in the Netherlands that are not from the EU, so everything should be available in English and easy to figure out.

Money matters in the Netherlands:

One thing that many foreigners find surprising about the Netherlands is the sheer amount of cashless business and payments being made. Many supermarkets only accept cards or have self-checkout areas where only cards are accepted. To add to the confusion, many Dutch businesses do not accept Visa and Mastercard, notably the Albert Heijn grocery store chain, and instead only accept Maestro and Visa Electron. While you can probably handle this annoyance for a weekend in Amsterdam if you plan on staying longer a Dutch debit card becomes a necessity. The largest banks in the country are ABN AMROING, and Rabobank. They offer comparable services and there isn’t much of a difference between them when it comes to day-to-day use. They do require a BSN and a Dutch address, however, which can be a problem for people that have just arrived in the country and need a Dutch bank ASAP. Luckily, there is also bunq, which is a Dutch online bank, that allows for a quick and easy Dutch bank account to be opened with just their app. Arguably the other, larger, banks offer more and better services, but bunq is a fast and simple solution.

Once you have a bank card, you can start sending money, and quickly you will find out that life in the Netherlands is not cheap. It depends from city to city, but the country is on the more expensive side, with only some of the Scandinavian ones managing to rank higher. One of the areas where this is most apparent is housing…

The housing situation in the Netherlands:

There are a lot of factors that go into determining the price of an apartment or a house, the most notable one being the location. Most digital nomads choose to live in larger cities, and in the Netherlands Amsterdam is the most popular destination. Utrecht and Rotterdam are also great options, and are slightly cheaper, but not by much. For a centrally located apartment in Amsterdam, you can expect to pay 1200 euros and up, starting from a tiny studio. The prices can balloon a lot higher if you want to have a view of the city’s famous canals or want a bit more space. Many locals choose to leave the city center to the tourists and live further away, but a good rule of thumb for Amsterdam is to not live outside of the A10 ring road, which draws a neat circle inside the sprawling city. While the Netherlands is a safe country, there are usually some neighborhoods in the larger cities that are best to be avoided, especially at night.

Another thing to consider about the housing in the Netherlands is the shortage of places and the fast-paced market. Once a good rental property pops up on the market, you will only have a few days to respond to the offer, before it is taken. Even when it comes to buying property, things get sold fast and it’s not unheard of for someone to buy a house before actually viewing it. The government is trying to reign in the housing market, but it doesn’t look like the prices will be going down in the near future.

Culture and social life in the Netherlands:

Every ex-pat is in a different set of shoes and your social life will largely reflect your personality, regardless of the location, you find yourself in. The good thing about the Netherlands is that it offers a vast plethora of options for everyone. There is a very large international community in all of the bigger cities thanks to digital nomads, large corporations, start-ups, and universities. This means that you should be able to find a friend group that shares your interests and passions. On top of that, cities like Amsterdam offer a lot to do in terms of nightlife, concerts, culture, and art. There are more than a few great Dutch painters, so there is no shortage of amazing museums around the country, and you can find many contemporary and modern art exhibits too. There is a lot to do and see in the Netherlands and you will not have a hard time meeting other foreigners. When it comes to meeting Dutch people, things are a bit more complicated, as many of them like to stick to their friend groups from school and college and prefer to speak Dutch. That being said, almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English, so you might get lucky and meet some cool locals.

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