I can gladly say I have been living in Haarlem for 2 years. Now with the New Year started I decided to reflect on my time here. I decided to compile a list of things I wished I knew before I moved here. Of course, everyone’s experiences may be different, but I hope whoever reads this article may find any of the information helpful before you decide to move to the flat, windmill filled, cheese obsessed country of The Netherlands.
So here is my list of tips and advice I wish I knew before and during my first year of an expat.
- Learn the language. Even if you learn just basic phrases to begin with, please do invest the time and effort to learn at least something. It will make your life so much easier to begin with. It is NOT true that everyone in The Netherlands speaks English. In my experience there are three types of English speaking Dutchies that you will encounter when you ask, ‘Spreekt u het Engels?’
Dutch Person One: ‘A little.’ This person will proceed to speak to you in perfect English.
Dutch Person Two: ‘Of course! Do you want me to speak in Chinese too?’ This person will be deeply offended that you even had to ask.
Dutch Person Three: ‘Nee.’ This person is rare but you will encounter them. This is when your basic Dutch and your superb body language skills kick in. (A smile is universal after all.)
- Be prepared for Dutch bluntness, or in other words, their straight forwardness. It can come across as rude. You will be embarrassed, upset, offended and put out. But Dutch people do not mean to be rude and will be genuinely upset if you thought they were being nasty. It is just their culture.
- Dutchies are not known for their fantastic customer service. You will come across the phrase, ‘This is not possible.’ A lot. This also translates into serving staff in restaurants and bars. In The Netherlands there is no such thing as a ‘quick bite to eat.’ Going out to eat is an event and will last several hours. Make sure to choose a good table and a comfortable seat, because you will be sitting and waiting for a long time.
- You need a BSN for everything. You will need this to open a bank account, getting yourself a mobile/cell phone, insurance etc. You will receive your BSN when you register at your local council or go to the expat centre in Amsterdam. You can find out more about a BSN here.
- Have an OV Chipkaart. This is a card you use to make traveling via public transport much easier throughout The Netherlands. You can buy one at train station kiosks or at special ticket machines found in train station lobbies. (They cost €7.50) You use this card to tap in and out on public transport. If you want to travel via train, you have to have at least €20 on your card at all times. You can have a Photo OV Chipkaart which means you can register, log in and top up your card online, otherwise you can top up your card at ticket machines, station kiosks or at supermarkets on an OV Chipkaart top up machine. (Mostly found in Albert Heijn) At OV Chipkaart ticket machines, you can only pay using coins or a bank card. (Maestro)
- You can only pay in cash in supermarkets if you do not have a Dutch bank account. There have been numerous occasions when I have had friends and family come to visit and they can’t pay for their groceries with their non-Dutch bank cards. Luckily most supermarkets have an ATM nearby. You will come across pin only check outs too, they are called ‘pinkassa’ The, ‘pinkassa’ check out is normally quiet and don’t be tempted or fooled by this if you do not have the means to pay with a Dutch bank card.
- When me and my partner was looking for our rental home here, we just could not get a straight answer on council tax. In London, you pay a monthly tax which is a fixed rate for everyone. In The Netherlands, council tax varies from each municipality and comes in 6 stages. (If you own a business there are other taxes too).
- Property tax. (If you own where you live)
- Moveable Space tax. (If you own a house boat)
- Waste collection/disposable tax.
- Sewage Tax.
- Dog Tax.(If you own a dog(s))
- Parking Tax. (If you own a car(s))
You can find out more about council tax in Haarlem here: http://haarlem.cocensus.nl/
This is why we couldn’t get a straight answer; everyone’s council tax is a unique bill. This bill comes once a year and you can pay if off in one go or in monthly instalments.
- Get a bike as soon as you can. They are expensive, but they are so worth it. Do not make the mistake I did of waiting for a long time before buying one.
- Learn to say, ‘no’ to your family and friends. Of course your family and friends want to see you, but you also need some time to yourself. Family and friends tend to come over when they are on holiday, but this doesn’t mean you’re on holiday too. Also moving to a foreign country means you will suddenly be in contact with that one (or two) person(s) who didn’t bother visiting you when you lived in the same country but are very keen to see you now for free accommodation. Also don’t feel obliged to travel back to your country of origin whenever you take holiday. You’re in mainland Europe! Take advantage of seeing loads of countries you never seen before.
- Research your new home town/city before you decide to move. If you can, visit the place you would like to live for a weekend. You may decide that you may want to live somewhere else. At first me and my partner were looking at Hoofddorp to live, because he was offered a job there. But we decided to live in Haarlem after we decided Hoofddorp wasn’t for us.
- Everything will be OK. Moving to a new country is a daunting experience. You will be scared, stressed and you will feel stupid at times. But everything works out in the end, trust me.
I hope someone found this article useful. I know I would have found this article useful and reassuring if I found this information before I left London. Is there any tips and advice you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!