Moving to the Netherlands: Step by Step Guide

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Moving to another country might be a great adventure, especially when you’re a student. You can expect a lot of fun, new places and new friends from around the world. I was extremely excited moving to Holland to start my second Master’s degree. My goal was to complete my Master’s degree within the official given time-frame, with no delays.

The truth is, as the majority of other expats moving to the Netherlands I had no clue what Dutch bureaucracy is really like. And how many things you have to deal with in order to survive in Holland, even if you only want to study there. Even settling in and registering at the University (even for a short term) takes a while.

You’re lucky enough if your application went smoothly through the University application system, as it takes forever. In my case, it took over 3 months and the acceptance letter came last minute. Actually, only a month before the school started (my experience with Leiden University is a topic for the next post) leaving me almost no time to arrange anything beforehand.


Guide to Moving to the Netherlands: Step by Step (2017)

Guide to Moving to Holland


Housing in the Netherlands

The most important thing when moving to a foreign country is to find a place to live. But, in the Netherlands, you have to be careful when finding a place as it can’t be just ‘any room’ or ‘any apartment’. You need to make sure that you’re able to register at the Local Town Hall and get your BSN number.

There are plenty of rooms to rent, but most of them don’t give you an option to register. In Holland without registration you can’t do absolutely anything – you can’t study, you can’t work, can’t have a bank account and health insurance, etc. Registration it’s unenviable.

My University accommodation

My University accommodation

2013-02-17 16.05.25

Student apartment in Leiden

However, without a semi-fluent Dutch finding a room and a job, is almost impossible. That’s why I’d say it’s easier to accept University accommodation to start with, even tho it’s expensive due to some ridiculous fees for tiny and often crappy spaces.

If you really want to find something on your own, account on Kamernet might be quite useful as well as searching through various Facebook groups.

Be prepared to attend a few hospiteerabond – sort of a casting for roommates, when current flatmates are going to ask you tons of (often ridiculous) questions.

In terms of rent – depending of a place – the price of a room varies from approx. €350+ in Leiden and €550+ in Amsterdam., however a nice place like for instance the The Student Hotel, where I lived, is 650 euros a month.

leiden canal


Registration in the Netherlands

To work or study in the Netherlands, as mentioned above, you need to have a BSN – special identification number. Similar to Social Security in the US. To get a BSN you need to register at the Town Hall (Gemeente) by booking an appointment in advance and depending of the time of the year you might have to wait up to 2 weeks for that.

To register you need a birth certificate (translated to English or Dutch), contract for a house, and a job contract or university acceptance letter. Within 2 weeks you’re going to receive your BSN by mail.


Applying for DigiD

When you get your BSN you should immediately apply for a DigiD number that will give you access to Studielink (if you study in Holland) and health insurance online page. When applying for DigiD you’ll experience your first problems if you don’t speak the language – the website is only in Dutch.


Opening a bank account in the Netherlands

Opening a bank account is easy, as long as your either a student or have an income. The only trouble you can come across is that online banking is obviously all in Dutch, so my advice is to learn some basics. A lot of foreign students might think they don’t need a bank account.

But without a Dutch card it’s card to pay for some things, such as for example train tickets. Basically, from my experiences, it’s hard to pay for anything with a foreign card. Although the same conditions apply when you’re trying to purchase something abroad.2013-10-25 15.01.27


Health insurance in the Netherlands

Health insurance in the Netherlands is compulsory. If you’re not going to organize it within the first 3 months you’ll get a €375 fine and the Dutch service will automatically assign you for one and bill you. Dutch health system requires you to pay at least €110 per month for the basic insurance coverage.

Does it cover everything? My answer is: NO. Let me explain the system for you:

I used to €112 per month and I was officially insured. This fee covers only my basic GP visit, because I didn’t add any ‘extras’ such as physiotherapy, dentist care, maternity costs etc.

My insurance (as any other) asked for the amount of €370 so-called ‘your own risk money’ that you have to pay for yourself to make your insurance cover anything else exceeding this amount. Therefore for example if I break my leg I’ll need an ER, X-ray etc and I’d have to pay the first 370 Euros of the costs.

If you feel like you’re never sick you may lower the cost of your monthly fee to €85 a month and then your own risk will be reduced to €870.

Be careful , because for example ER isn’t automatically covered and goes into your own risk money. The minimum charge for the ER – just the entry, is €360.boat


Toeslagen

When you live in the Netherlands for over half a year you may apply to ‘toeslag’, which is a governmental help in case you don’t earn enough. You can ask for zorgtoeslag – health insurance support, huurtoeslag – additional money for your rent, and other ones concerning for instance your kid. Again, the whole process requires you to have a DigiD and ability to read Dutch.

Make sure not to make ANY mistakes in your predicted yearly income (including holiday pay and other extras)! Dutch social services are very precise and you might be asked to pay some of the money back if you claim an income lower than actual.


Taxes in the Netherlandstax

Taxes are foreigners’ biggest nightmare when moving to Holland. Not only taxes are extremely high and every month eat a huge part of your salary, but declaring them at the end of the year is even a bigger problem.

If you haven’t lived in the Netherlands for longer than a year or lived part of the year abroad, you’ll have to fill a form M.

It’s basically a form containing over 80 pages of questions to fill in – all of them obviously all in Dutch, concerning the income and expenses for the past year.

If you’ve lived only in Holland for the past year you are required to download the digital program to fill in your tax declaration and send it over to the Belastingdienst office by post.

You can’t count on any help from the Belastingdienst office, because by law they aren’t allowed to speak English to you. The only way around is to start speaking Dutch to them and then they MIGHT say it’s fine to switch to English. Because you made an effort to speak Dutch.


Finding a job in the Netherlands

Finding a GOOD job is almost impossible for expats in the Netherlands, unless you’re a very lucky IT specialist or PhD candidate in the science field. Why? It’s hard to say, but my impression is that Dutch people are quite hard to get to know and they aren’t very keen on interactions with foreigners.

I’m not saying that there aren’t any jobs, as there are some companies that hire foreigners. However, these are basic editing and customer service jobs in your native language that pay between 1600-2300 Euros before tax (1100-1800 after tax).

Ironically, most of the jobs require native or extremely fluent Dutch, even tho the main language of the company is English. To give you a background. When you check a job board for big companies, such as Google, Microsoft etc, hire only Dutch speakers, opposite to company policy in other countries where fluency in English is lower, such as Poland or Hungary.

Don’t bother finding an internship in the Netherlands. Country law says that internship salary has to be standardized and it cannot extend over €300-400 euros a month brutto, which doesn’t really make a lot of sense – Dutch tax ranges between 35 up to 42%.

moving to the Netherlands


You’re probably thinking I’m trying to scare you away. I’m not – at the end of the day moving to the Netherlands is your own choice. However, you have to have a lot of patience to live here and it’s better to know what’s your signing up for.

Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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20 Comments

  1. Jun 24, 2014 / 3:18 am

    Very informative and enlightening post Anna. It certainly sounds complicated and bureaucratic.

    I’ve made numerous business trips to the Netherlands but typically they’ve only been for a week or so. I’ve never enquired about living there. It does sound very complicated and prejudiced. I’m not sure how well the anti non-Dutch speaking goes down in EU law but clearly it is tolerated.

    • Anna
      Jun 24, 2014 / 9:51 am

      I guess I can’t blame the Dutch for making is hard for foreigners – in the end it’s better to give jobs to your own citizens 🙁

  2. Maud
    Jun 24, 2014 / 9:36 am

    As a Dutch person, I just wanted to add something to this article.
    I would never say that the taxes and health insurance policies are very efficient in the Netherlands, but I would like to say that, although the Netherlands is known as a very international country, it is important to remember that the first language here is Dutch, and not English.
    So even though it would be nice if it was easier for foreigners to arrange stuff like this, if you move to a country and you do not speak the native language, you can always expect some difficulties.

    • Anna
      Jun 24, 2014 / 9:55 am

      Thanks for the comment! I actually do speak Dutch (I was able to pass Staatsexamen II),although most of my international friends don’t. Even tho I speak Dutch a lot of companies rejected me and claimed I’d have to be a NATIVE Dutch speaker in order to get the job I applied for – and there weren’t jobs that required Dutch at all actually.

    • jeff
      Jul 24, 2014 / 10:19 am

      As a half Thai half Dutch person, I couldn’t help but notice how narrow minded your comment is. First of all, the reason we have languages is to communicate regardless of what language is used. Hence why Lingua Franca was introduced. I’m sorry but there are 100’s of thousands of native dutch people living abroad and quite a large number living in Thailand for decades. Not one can speak Thai fluently and on top of that foreigners are never hassled on which language they speak. If you can speak english and i can speak english then we shall speak english period. If you speak swahili and I speak french, I’m not going to be all snobby and wait till you can learn french. Come on, it is so petty this attitude towards different nationalities and their languages. Plus why would anyone bother learning dutch? It is about as useful as swahili. 16 million people in the world speak dutch. There are more people in my city that speak thai let alone the world, so why would i go through the trouble? If anything i would learn German, at least it’s a useful language – 100 million vs 16? Not just that but there is quite a lot of xenophobia in The Netherlands which is ridiculous as well. It would never survive without it’s relations with foreign countries. What do you think is going to happen in the next generation when all those highly ranked students from Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia, Brazil etc are in positions of power. Do you really think they would want to help or trade on equal terms with the dutch after being treated as lesser humans during there university studies? Another thing, this xenophobia comes from foreigners who haven’t integrated into dutch culture if you can call it that. Do you know what a lot of the dutch go and do in less economically developed countries? Because that makes me sick. I’ve had enough of this. this was for Maud not ANNA, thank you Anna for all your information

  3. Dirk
    Jun 24, 2014 / 11:47 am

    Excellent post! Just a small comment on the tax part. If your income is below a certain amount you don’t have to pay any income tax at all! Which means you can get all the taxes you paid back. I believe this amount you can make is something like 6000 euro’s a year (gross). Even if you made more money then that you can get a lot of the taxes you paid back. For example I myself made something like 8000 euro’s in 2013 and I got 1000 euros of my taxes back.

  4. Jun 25, 2014 / 2:33 am

    Thanks Anna for the info. I’m Holland ready! 😀

  5. Jun 26, 2014 / 4:37 pm

    I wonder how big is toeslag? €108 per month for insurance sounds wildly too much for me, but maybe because I’m from Ukraine and we don’t really care here! 😀

    • Anna
      Jun 26, 2014 / 5:00 pm

      Yeah, it’s a lot and it’s compulsory. Toeslag depends on your salary – it has to be low, but the maximum of what you can get is 72 euros a month.

  6. john
    Aug 20, 2014 / 12:14 am

    108 euros a month is a God send. In Hawai’i your Health benefits for a fulltime working employee is from 700 to 1000 usd a month For Single Person coverage. Which is incorporated in your non taxable income base. Your Co – payment is usually 20 to 100 usd per doctors visit. I’d say the Dutch have it alot easier when it comes to health insurance

    • Anna
      Aug 20, 2014 / 5:51 pm

      Well, salaries in Hawaii are way better than in the Netherlands 😉

  7. Aug 29, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    Now I’m here and I know what you mean :D!!!

    • Anna
      Sep 7, 2014 / 10:34 pm

      Welcome Agness. Your survival training has started 😀

  8. Larry
    Oct 23, 2014 / 8:37 pm

    Hi Anna–really enjoyed this! I’m helping a friend have a car shipped to the Netherlands (from the US) and she’s concerned about the taxes she’ll have to pay. After reading this, it sounds like she may have good reason to be worried. Do you have any experience with owning or registering a vehicle there? The only info I could find without contacting the customs office was here https://www.a1autotransport.com/ship-car-to-the-netherlands.php and there wasn’t a much about tax rates or where to find info about registering, other than there’s a lot to do. No worries if you can’t help, just thought I’d try to ask someone who’s more familiar.

    Best, Larry

    • Oct 23, 2014 / 9:08 pm

      To be completely honest I’ve no idea Larry since I’ve never owned a car in Holland, but it shouldn’t be harder to insure it than it is in the US.

  9. Oct 15, 2015 / 1:55 pm

    Very interesting information. I am going to study in Netherlands. I just have received my letter. I am veryyyy happy. I know that I have a lot of things to arrange. Thank you for helping people like me. 🙂 Best regards!

    • Oct 15, 2015 / 7:45 pm

      Congrats, that’s exciting! Which university?

  10. Beata
    Nov 25, 2016 / 10:04 am

    Ania pieknie napisane. Mieszkalam tam przez 3 lata (Leiden i Haga) i to byl koszmar!Ja tez uwazam ,ze holendrzy sa niemili i niegoscinni w stosunku do obcokrajowcow, a o biurokracji nawet nie wspomne.Szkoda bo kraj sam w sobie piekny 🙂

    • Nov 25, 2016 / 6:08 pm

      Dokladnie hehe! 🙂

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