new expats

Things all new expats need to know in The Netherlands.

I can gladly say I have been living in Haarlem for 5 years, 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. 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 straightforwardness. 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. To make your time go by quicker, you will need to proactive and get your server’s attention if you want anything at all. Your server will rarely approach your table without being promoted by you.
  • 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 travelling via public transport much easier throughout The Netherlands. You can buy one at the 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 and automatically, 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 or post offices) At OV Chipkaart ticket machines, you can only pay using coins or a bank card. (Maestro)
  • Create a DigiID account. This is a universal government website that allows you to pay your taxes, organize health insurance and more.
  • Learn more about Haarlem and different areas. On the council website, you can learn things about waste collection, road maintenance and any future building projects.
  • Health insurance is mandatory. You can also change your health insurance provider only once a year, in November/December. Compare your health insurance here.
  • Got your Dutch Pay slip, and it makes no sense? Check out this article for a quick explanation.
  • 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 checkouts 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 I 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). Here are the tax regulations for Haarlem in 2019.
  1. Property tax. (If you own where you live or have a business in that property) Also known as WOZ and OZB.
  2. Moveable Space tax. (If you own a house boat)
  3. Waste collection/disposable tax.
  4. Sewage Tax.
  5. Dog Tax. (If you own a dog(s))
  6. Parking Tax. (If you own a car(s))

You can find out more about council tax in Haarlem here:

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 a holiday. You’re in mainland Europe! Take advantage of seeing loads of countries you never have 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, I 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.
  • Have pets but don’t own a car? Guess what! There is a Vet in Haarlem that will travel to your house. Make sure to ask for Nicole (speaks English) for a house visit.

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.

Do you have any tips you want to add to the list?

Katie Joy
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2 replies
  1. Ricco
    Ricco says:

    I’d also add that tipping is different then in the USA (should you be moving from there). Tipping is a gracious gesture and is always advised when service is exceptional but, unlike the USA, it is neither expected nor at the high 20% of the check. Being smart about rounding “up” the tab is a great start, adding in something a little more is very appreciated and will support a memorable experience should you become a regular patron.

  2. Saskia
    Saskia says:

    Thank you for your post. It’s nice to see The Netherlands from the eyes of an expat. This means I’m a Dutchie 😉
    I was quite surprised about your experience in ‘not possible to have a quick bite’. I don’t know Haarlem that well, but at least it’s not a common thing that having dinner in a restaurant will take you hours in The Netherlands. That very much depends on the (type of) restaurant. In Utrecht for example there are plenty of bars or restaurant where you can just take a soup, starter or main dish and then you go. Within an hour or so you can be ready.

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