Expat's essentials in Netherlands
What to do after landing your job?
So, you've landed in the Netherlands. You've found a job, a house, registered for taxes. You've navigated the waters of Dutch healthcare and banking. What do you need now? What are the essential things to sustain human life in Holland? What should expats in the Netherlands know? Here are Mundialz’ top 5 things to get straight away in the Netherlands
Get a bike
Seriously, it’s the number one thing you should do. Well, maybe not number 1, but after all the official stuff, get a bike. The absolute best thing about the Netherlands is the ability to ride a bicycle effortlessly from one place to the next. There's nothing better than racing along an empty cycle path on a summer's day or wobbling home after a night out knowing you've saved yourself €30 on cab fare. Cycling is an inextricable part of Dutch culture. There are over 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, and 36% of people state cycling as their primary mode of daily transport. Because…
(1) Cycling is safe! The cycle paths are flat and smooth, and the cyclist is king of the road. Car drivers will do everything in their power to avoid hitting you because they are always liable for accidents. The Dutch don’t even wear helmets because it is deemed so safe. Just make sure you have good lights and stick to the right side of the lane.
(2) Cycling is cheap! Think about all the money you’ll save on petrol, insurance, bus fare and taxis. Not to mention parking! Speaking of parking… when you park your bike, lock it. Multiple times. Get a heavy-duty U-lock and secure it to something sturdy, preferable in a bike shelter. Bike theft is incredibly common here. Unfortunately, the more snazzy your bike is, the more likely it is to be stolen.
(3) Cycling is healthy! Cycling burns around 300-400 kcal per hour! If you ride just half an hour to work and back each day that’s an extra 1500 calories a week. That’s about 10 beers. Maybe that’s why the Dutch are among the skinniest developed nations in the world.
Get an OV card
Another of the greatest things about living in the Netherlands is public transport. It's fast, reliable and relatively inexpensive. You’re going to need an OV card. Most buses don’t take cash anymore, you need a payment card (OV) or a bank card to pay electronically. There are two types of OV cards, an anonymous card or a personal card. You can buy an anonymous card at a train station or at various supermarkets and shops. You can then load it with credit at a machine at a service point. You scan it when you get on and off the bus. This is sooo much cheaper than paying with a bank card because you only pay from origin to destination. If you want to take the train, you need a minimum of €20 on your card. The anonymous cards are handy because you can lend them to other people, and you don’t need to share any personal details with anyone. The only downfall is remembering to load them up, you don’t want to get stranded out in the sticks with no credit to get home! If you use the bus regularly, you’re better off applying for a personal OV card online. These have your picture on, so they can’t be shared, but they load automatically from your bank account, so they never go empty. You can also add several discount options such as season passes which will save you money on your commute. All in all, the OV system is convenient and fool-proof…. unless you forget to check out of course!
Get some furniture
If you’ve managed to find an apartment in today’s err…challenging market, then congratulations! Now you're going to need a whole lot of things to fill it. The Netherlands has a whole bunch of furniture shops suitable for every budget. From the ubiquitous Ikea to boutiques selling beautiful handmade bespoke creations.
1. If you're operating on a bit of shoestring (or environmentally friendly), then you might want to start at a kringloopwinkel in your neighbourhood. Kringloop means circle, they are a kind of second-hand store where you can buy cheap used items such as clothes, books and furniture. They are often run on a non-profit basis, where the money goes to a charity. Or they employ people who have trouble in the mainstream job market. They’re also a treasure trove of fabulous finds if you're lucky!
2. Another option would be the Dutch equivalent to eBay – Marktplaats.nl. Marktplaats in an online selling site where you can buy and sell new and used items. You can narrow your search down to your surrounding area and price range. The website was initially designed for individuals to recycle their unwanted stuff. Still, inevitably it has been hijacked by online shops advertising their products. Word of warning be careful who you are dealing with, there are scammers everywhere. Only communicate through the Marktplaats app and only pay in cash on collection or through the bank transfer option on the site itself. Facebook also has lots of buy and sell pages, search for one in your local area.
3. Ikea is next on the list, you will struggle to avoid it. There's not much else in the price range offering the same choice or quality. Leen Bakker is probably the next best thing. You'll usually find all these household shops in out of town shopping districts called woonboulevards. At least they're all in one place, and you can get everything in one go. Treat yourself with a 50c Ikea hotdog as a reward.
Food and water, two basic human necessities. There are numerous supermarkets on the high street in the Netherlands, and they are everywhere. In many countries, supermarkets are vast warehouses, purpose-built out of town where you can buy everything except the kitchen sink. In the Netherlands, they prefer lots of small supermarkets opportunely sprinkled around the residential neighbourhoods. This suits the Dutch culture because people tend to travel by bike and do small shops almost every day. The market leaders are Albert Hein (AH) and Jumbo. The shops may be small, but they’ll sell most of the things you need to feed yourself. The Netherlands is known as the farm of Europe and produce is abundant and high quality. The discount chains of Aldi and Lidl are also spreading like wildfire through the Netherlands, and you can make considerable savings if you're willing to give up your brand loyalty. Of course, there are also various street markets selling fresh produce in every town.
Things to remember in the supermarket:
- Take your own bags. Plastic bags are expensive and terrible for the environment. The Dutch are trying hard to cut back on plastic (and spending money!)
- Keep your soda and beer bottles. Plastic bottles and glass beer bottles have a deposit on them called statiegeld. You can return them to the machines at the back of the shop and get a voucher which gives you discount on your shopping.
- Saving stamps. One of the many questions the AH cashier will ask you is ‘Wilt uw koopzegels?’, ‘Do you want saving stamps’. Basically, you can add an extra 10% on your shopping bill and receive stamps to that value. When your book is full, you can cash it in at the service desk. There's usually a different loyalty stamp scheme happening alongside, where you can save for discounted glassware or amusement park ticket for example. AH also has its own bonus card which gives you small discounts on products throughout the store. Don’t forget to scan it!
- Supermarkets don’t take credit cards such as Visa or Mastercard. In fact, many shops in the Netherlands only take Dutch bank debit cards or cash. Some shops are beginning to accept Apple pay and other methods of mobile payment.
- One of the unexpected side effects of moving to the Netherlands can be learning how to cook. They don’t have many options in the way of convenience food. Ready meals and even take out are few and far between.
So, we’ve covered transport, shelter and food. The next basic human need must be Wi-Fi! According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Netherlands is tied with Switzerland in having the most broadband subscriptions per capita. There are no bandwidth restrictions, and most homes have 50 Mbit/s or higher. Most people get their internet via cable with fibre optic connections in most big cities. There are various types of subscriptions providing different Internet/TV/telephone packages at different prices. The major players are KPN, Ziggo, T-Mobile and Tele2.
Now you’ve got a bag full of groceries, bought a chair and downloaded a movie on your phone. The next challenge in the integration process is trying to carry all those things home on your bike! Then you're truly on your way to feeling at home living in the Netherlands.
Mundialz is a community of like-minded expats who have been through the process of moving abroad. We understand how challenging working abroad can be and we aim to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Emma Samson | Content writer of Mundialz.com | December 2019
Emma is a British expat, living in the Netherlands with her family for the past 12 years. Working as a freelance copywriter and English teacher, she has a light-hearted insider view of the expat experience. Suffering from a severe Netflix addiction, she enjoys spontaneity and procrastination in equal measure.