Dutch life and personal matters

Published by:
Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
10 min read

If you want to come to the Netherlands as an entrepreneur, you'll need some facts about the country and about Dutch life.

Dutch life

The Netherlands is often called Holland. However, Holland actually refers to only two of the Netherlands' twelve provinces – the two western, coastal provinces of North and South Holland. Its official name is the Netherlands, which translates from the Dutch 'Nederland(en)' as 'low countries'. Contrary to common belief, it's not a reference to the fact that a large part of the country is below sea level. Actually, it's a geographical reference from the 13th century to the lower parts of northern western Europe. Its residents refer to themselves as the 'Dutch'.

Facts about the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a small country that covers an area of 41,450 km² (16,038 sq mi), 27% of which is below sea level. With a population of over 17 million, it's one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

The country is a democratic kingdom in which power is shared by its ministers and parliament.

The country is divided into twelve provinces and each province has its own commissioner, executive and council. Its economy is one of the world's Top 20. The Netherlands was a founding member of the European Union (EU) and uses the euro (€) as its currency.

Dutch Language

The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, a West Germanic language, closely related to German and also resembling English. Dutch is also spoken in Belgium and in Suriname. Friesland (in Frisian: Fryslân) is the only one of the twelve Dutch provinces with an officially recognised regional language.

The Dutch are known for their mastery of foreign languages. Most have a good grasp of English and/or German, and to a lesser extent French or Spanish.

If you're living in the Netherlands, it's important to have a basic understanding of the Dutch language. This will allow you to converse more easily with your colleagues, supermarket employees, etc. Also, for most immigrants learning Dutch is compulsory as part of their civic integration process.

Public holidays

The Netherlands has several public holidays:

  • New Year's Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Monday
  • King's Day (Koningsdag, 27 April)
  • Liberation Day (5 May)
  • Ascension Day
  • Whit Monday
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

On Liberation Day, you only get a day off once every five years (in 2020, 2025, 2030, and so on). On Good Friday, most people have to work, but many schools are closed. It is customary to get all other public holidays off work, but it depends on your employment contract.

For additional information about cultural and social life in the Netherlands, please visit Holland.com, where you'll find a calendar of events and exhibitions.

Arranging your personal life

When you move to the Netherlands to do business here, you will also need to arrange several personal matters. Business.gov.nl does not offer this information, as we focus on Dutch business matters. But there are websites that can help you:

  • Is the Netherlands the place for you? Or are you still making up your mind? Visit the Welcome to NL platform. This website offers information about industry, daily life, healthcare, childcare and education, and things to consider before you move. Find out about the different regions and the reasons to make the Netherlands your new home.
  • On the Government.nl website, you can find a checklist that will help you sort out everything you need to arrange before moving to the Netherlands.
  • The government has developed a special website called The Netherlands and You for details on all kinds of personal matters.

Various personal matters

If you are from a country outside the EEA or Switzerland, and you are coming to the Netherlands to live and work here, you need to comply with Dutch civic integration requirements. This means you have to learn the Dutch language and familiarise yourself with the way Dutch society works. You can find more information on what the requirements are on the website of the Education Executive Agency (DUO).

If you apply for a permit or a subsidy, or have to pay tax in the Netherlands, you will be dealing with various government bodies. Dutch government administration is ranked in 3 levels:

  • Central government - The central government is responsible for nationwide policy. Although many duties are decentralised, central government continues to be responsible for a number of duties. Examples are the granting of residence permits, air operating licences or gas production licences. The Dutch government consists of 13 ministries, like the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Every year, on the third Tuesday in September, the new parliamentary year is officially opened in a ceremony called Prinsjesdag, or Budget Day. On this day, the government announces its plans for the year ahead in a special ceremony.
  • Provincial authorities - The Netherlands has 12 provinces. Provincial authorities form the level between municipal authorities and the central government. They focus on environmental affairs beyond the level of municipalities, spatial planning, traffic and transport, agriculture, etc. Provincial authorities often serve as 'area-based directors' and closely cooperate with the other levels. They can also issue permits in a number of areas, including the environment.
  • Municipal authorities - The Netherlands has just over 400 municipalities or town councils. They focus on all matters relating to their own jurisdiction. Examples are zoning plans, traffic matters, environmental aspects, management of public spaces, business parks, etc. The municipal authorities issue permits. They are also the place to go to apply for official papers like a passport, driving licence or birth certificate, or to register for your citizen service number.
  • Other government bodies - There are also other organisations that perform government duties: the regional water authorities (waterschappen), autonomous administrative authorities, such as the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer) and the Authority for Consumers and Markets (Autoriteit Consument en Markt), regional partnerships, and public bodies for specific professions and trades, such as the Netherlands Bar Association (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten). Some of these organisations are responsible for granting permits and licences or managing professional registers.

Always check which government body or organisation is responsible for executing which policies. If you have any doubts, contact the council in which your business is operating. They can tell you who to turn to.

  • Should you have any questions for the Dutch government as a citizen you can call: 1400
  • For questions about consumer law, you can contact ACM ConsuWijzer (in Dutch). Call them on 088 0707070.
  • If you are in need of legal advice call Het Juridisch Loket(in Dutch) on 0900 8020. Advice is free of charge. You can also visit one of their offices.

The Dutch social security system is one of the most comprehensive in Europe, but access to the Dutch welfare system is becoming more restrictive. In the Netherlands, employees receive insurance cover for a wide range of eventualities, e.g. illness, maternity leave, disability, workplace accidents, occupational illness and unemployment. Schemes are also in place for old-age pensions, surviving dependants and child benefit. If you're self-employed, you don't have to insure yourself, but this means that you will not receive any money from the Dutch government if you fall ill. You can, however, take out voluntary insurance cover with the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) if you so choose.

Everyone in the Netherlands is legally obliged to take out health insurance under the Health Care Insurance Act (Zorgverzekeringswet, ZVW). Mandatory basic health care insurance plans cover standard health care services provided by general practitioners, hospitals, pharmacies, etc. Please contact your insurance company before you leave your home country to check if your current health insurance plan will cover you during your stay in the Netherlands. If not, you'll have to take out a basic health care plan (basisverzekering) with a Dutch insurance company. There are two forms of insurance relevant to medical care and nursing:

  • The Health Insurance Act (Zorgverzekeringswet, ZVW) covers the costs of regular medical care, e.g. general practitioner visits, hospitalisation, pharmacy prescriptions, etc. The ZVW is also referred to as basic insurance.
  • The Exceptional Medical Expenses Act (Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten, AWBZ) covers the costs of exceptional and expensive medical care, e.g. long-term nursing and home care. The AWBZ is one of the Netherlands' national insurance schemes.

It may be possible for your family members to join you in the Netherlands. If and under which conditions your family member is allowed to work depends on your own employment status and on your nationality. You can find out which steps you need to take from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND).

Do you have children? Be aware that under Dutch law, all children aged 5 or older have to go to school. However, most children start school aged 4. Parents receive a letter from their local authority when their child turns 3, explaining how to enrol their child at a primary school. Because of the high expat population in the Netherlands, there are also numerous international schools and day care facilities. You can find a listing of these on I amsterdam.

When you arrive in the Netherlands, you'll be responsible for finding your own accommodation. You can either rent or buy. These days, you will probably be able to find what you're looking for online. There are countless websites offering property for sale or for rent.

If you're looking to rent, you can register with a housing association. However, it's often quicker to find accommodation through a private letting agency because association waiting lists are often long, especially in the larger cities. As a tenant, you'll be protected under the Rent Act (Huurwet). This means that accommodation has to meet certain criteria and be well maintained. However, rules apply to both tenants and landlords alike. Rules cover issues such as deposits, rent, rent increases, maintenance, service charges, etc.

If you're looking to buy property and you need to borrow money, you'll get a lot of information from the banks and other finance providers, e.g. mortgage brokers. Mortgages in the Netherlands usually run for a twenty to a thirty-year term, but it's also possible to opt for a shorter term. The interest you pay on your mortgage is tax-deductible. The best place to get information about accommodation is from the local authority in the place where you intend to live. Most local authorities have their own website, where you'll find all the relevant telephone numbers.

The Netherlands is a relatively small and densely populated country. Besides an extensive road and public transport network, bicycles are one of the main and best forms of transport, especially in the larger cities. A quick overview:

  • Transport infrastructure - One of the Netherlands' key transport assets is Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. There are also some regional airports: Eindhoven Airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport and Groningen Eelde Airport. The country is served by a dense and intricate network of motorways and secondary roads that offers access to international routes throughout the rest of Europe. It is also the starting point for a widely extended network of waterways for international transport throughout Europe. The Netherlands constantly upgrades its transport system and allocates substantial budgets to reducing rush-hour congestion, for instance by promoting 'The Blue Road' (transport via water).
  • Public transport - The Netherlands has an extensive public transport system. Its rail network is modern and efficient. You can plan your trips in advance using 9292.nl or the Dutch Railways (NS) website. Both offer free apps. The Dutch use a contactless smart card system (OV-chipkaart) on trains, buses, metros and trams throughout the Netherlands. Public transport providers now also allow passengers to check in and out using a (contactless) bank card or smartphone with mobile payments enabled.
  • Importing a vehicle - If you plan to bring your own vehicle to the Netherlands, you'll have to register it with the Netherlands Vehicle Authority (Rijksdienst voor Wegverkeer, RDW) within 6 months of arriving in the Netherlands, after which you'll have to pay Dutch road tax and switch to Dutch number plates. To get Dutch number plates, you'll first have to have your vehicle inspected. For more information on importing a vehicle, visit the RDW website. If you plan to import a car or motorcycle into the Netherlands, you'll have to pay Motor Vehicle & Motorcycle Tax (Belasting van Personenauto's en Motorrijwielen, BPM), VAT on the value of the car or motorcycle and customs duty (when importing a vehicle from outside the EU). For additional information about taxes levied on imported vehicles, please visit the website of The NetherlandsTax Administration.

Moving to another country means dealing with all sorts of queries and practical issues to do with living and working abroad. Expat centres will be able to answer your questions about immigration, housing, taxes, insurance, finance, social life, etc. Several local authorities in the Netherlands have an expat centre that will extend a warm welcome to anyone settling in the Netherlands. Expat centres will be able to help with a wide range of formalities at a local or national level:

  • finding a place to live, finding your partner a job, arranging a parking permit, information about the civic intergration exam, registering a birth, or even sorting out your immigration papers;
  • dealing with the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), e.g. arranging residence permit (verbijfsvergunning), citizen service number (burgerservicenummer, BSN) and work permit (werkvergunningen).

Expat centres operate in cities, or on a regional level.

Questions relating to this article?

Please contact the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO