Living in the Netherlands: 11 Reasons why it's Perfect for Internationals


Updated on Jun 19 • 11 minute read

The Netherlands is becoming one of the most popular countries on the planet for expats, drawing in a record number of international students and young professionals each year. And whether you have your eye on bustling Rotterdam and its vibrant nightlife, or the historic beauty of Utrecht and its lovely canals, you’ll find that the Dutch cities have a common denominator that is the unique, appealing Dutch lifestyle. Let’s take a look at a dozen reasons why the Netherlands is an ideal choice for expats and international students!

Would you like to hear a practical tip or few about living the Dutch dream? In our HomeAbroad podcast, we discuss the realities of expat life in the Netherlands and share our own experiences over the past years here.

1. The Dutch people are friendly

One of the best things to experience when you’re in an unfamiliar environment is friendly people. Fortunately, the Dutch people are open, welcoming and don’t hesitate to engage when they pass you on the street.

People new to the area may find that they can easily strike up a conversation with a complete stranger on the bus, or realize that they’re only a few words away from finding the best restaurant in Tilburg.

Most students easily build relationships with their neighbors. Always remember to at least give a quick smile or a wave, even if you’re rushing out the door, late for class or for that important meeting with your new boss!

2. The Dutch directness is very welcome

When you’re acclimating to a brand new city, a bit of directness can actually go a long way. Part of the Dutch lifestyle means saying what you mean, and then doing what you say. However, don’t misunderstand this with not being polite. The Dutch people are extremely accommodating, straightforward and honest.

This directness can easily come into play when working on a project or asking for an opinion or for advice. A Dutch person will not hesitate to give you a truthful answer, even if it’s something that you might have the inclination to sugar-coat.

Being so direct can also save a lot of time, leading to better organization and the knowledge of always knowing where you stand.

3. You can speak English in the Netherlands everywhere

It seems that almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English. You’ll hear it on the streets, on the bus and in the grocery store. You will most definitely hear it spoken in the university areas and even in the workplace. Typically, if you are attempting to have a conversation with someone who is speaking Dutch, and they sense that you are struggling, they will almost always switch over seamlessly to English.

However, don’t use this as an excuse not to learn the Dutch language. It is considered to be somewhat similar to English, making it easy to pick up. Often, the universities will offer Dutch language classes, or they may even be community classes available.

Learning a few basic phrases in Dutch before you even relocate, might prove to be helpful. Plus, even your minimal efforts will be appreciated by the locals, and speaking the language will make you feel like less of a visitor and more at home.

4. Cycling is practically a Dutch tradition

Cycling is definitely popular all throughout Europe, but in the Netherlands, it indeed is a huge part of the Dutch lifestyle. In fact, you’ll even see residents cycling in the rain, some with a seat on the back and a child in tow. The Dutch people don’t necessarily keep cycling to getting back and forth from short distances, as that it’s quite normal to cycle 20 miles roundtrip.

Of course, nearly all students turn to the bicycle as the simplest and most economical method of transportation, and it’s great exercise. Many purchase a secondhand bike as quickly as possible upon moving to the Netherlands. However, there are also bike sharing schemes that allow riders to rent a bike and then return it to one of many stations throughout the city in which it was checked out.

It’s also not a bit strange to see a business person cycling to work in a shirt and tie. It’s a great source of exercise, and parking a car in the business areas can be expensive and even difficult, depending on the day and events that might be taking place.

5. The Netherlands offers good organization and infrastructure

Organization is extremely important when it comes to any type of setting, but it makes a living in a particular country with a balanced and well-thought-out infrastructure so much simpler and enjoyable.

There are several regulations in place that allows everyone and everything to be in compliance. For example, there are very strict rules regarding waste. Trash must be placed in a specific spot at a set time, or the resident could face fines, especially if it is actually in or too close to the street.

The Dutch public transportation system is well-structured and offers fast, reliable ways to get from one end of the city to the other. So even if you're working or studying in Amsterdam but aren't able to afford living there, you can explore homes for rent in Utrecht as it's only 20 mins away by train. You can even search for homes for rent in Rotterdam as the commute to Amsterdam is only 40 mins by train!

All modes of transportation utilize the OV-chipkaart as a method of payment. The card may be loaded with credits, which you can easily do at vending machines at the metro stations and at additional locations throughout the city. You must remember to scan the card at both the start and the end of the journey, or you could receive a fine. The card can also help you save 40 percent on train travel.

The Dutch postal service also deserves mention. PostNL is a privatized mail system in which the service is extremely fast. All communication with the municipality will be via the post. Plus, rules about receiving or signing for packages aren’t nearly as strict as with some other postal systems.

6. The work-life balance in the Netherlands is one of the best in the world

The Netherlands seems to have quite a list of things that outrank most other countries, and their work hours are also something to be admired. You’ll find that the Dutch people tend to work fewer hours than the European average, placing much more of a value on family time or leisure activities.

Statistically speaking, about 75 percent of women and 26 percent of men work around 35 hours per week part-time, with some even working a day or two from home. To counteract this, the average pay is somewhat higher, which also leads to a higher degree of standard of living.

Dutch workers also like to start early and leave early. They’d much rather finish their daily tasks sooner so that they have the entire night to enjoy with friends and family. You’ll also rarely see a Dutch professional running into work late.

Additionally, workers also receive more time off, with an average of 20 vacation days every year. Perhaps this is why the Netherlands is also listed as one of the top ten happiest countries in the world!

7. The Netherlands is known for its safety and tolerance

When you’re in a new city, things can definitely get a bit overwhelming. However, knowing that you’re in a safe, welcoming place can do wonders to set your mind at ease.

The Netherlands has a very low crime rate - one of the lowest in the world. There is great speculation as to why this is, including referencing the country’s drug policies, lower levels of poverty and the system’s usual favoring of rehabilitation over incarceration.

The average Dutch person takes rules very seriously, so adhering to local regulations is typically a must. Things remain in harmony because most residents actually follow the rules, seeing that the regulations in place benefit everyone as a whole.

Some people may also have the misconception that drugs and alcohol are easily and always legally obtainable in the Netherlands. However, there are several laws imposed. When it comes to drinking, you must be 18 years old. Additionally, no open containers are allowed on the streets, unless there’s a festival, and it isn’t legal to buy or sell alcohol where marijuana is sold. And while you may have heard stories about the coffeeshops in Amsterdam, there are also cannabis regulations as well, and no "hard" drugs may be sold there. While some may see the laws as a bit hazy, it is technically illegal to sell or use marijuana, but some coffee shops have been granted permits.

You’ll also find that tolerance is at the center of the country’s impressive sense of balance. The Dutch welcome people of all races and cultural backgrounds, which is yet another reason that international young people and even tourists feel right at home in this friendly country. There also doesn’t seem to be a focus placed on social hierarchy, and it’s common to see people of all financial and ethnic backgrounds socializing in the same bar. The Netherlands definitely has a "live and let live" mentality, which is considered quite favorable to international students when considering acceptance and the overall balance of the community as a whole.

8. You'll learn to love Dutch weather

You may already be aware that Dutch weather can be completely unpredictable. You can be running to the university in the midst of a thunderstorm before morning classes, and then having a nice lunch on a sunny terrace about your internship by a very humid mid-afternoon. Therefore, it is a good idea to always keep an umbrella or a raincoat handy, as that conditions can literally almost change in the blink of an eye. Many locals rely on weather apps to give them an insight as to what to expect from the day, but sometimes they can be just as unreliable as the weather.

The nice thing about the weather in the Netherlands is that the Dutch people usually experience all four seasons. This means ice skating on frozen lakes, enjoying the tulips in the spring, boating along the canals during the long days of summer and enjoying the changing colors of the leaves during the fall.

The best weather is generally between May and September when there’s a greater chance of seeing the sun. Temperatures are usually somewhat warm, while humid, and everything seems to be in full bloom. It’s a wonderful time to visit some of the country’s beautiful natural spaces, such as hiking through Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park, relaxing on the beach at Zandvoort or enjoying Utrecht’s Oudegracht Canal.

9. It’s easy to travel all around Europe from the Netherlands

As that the Netherlands isn’t considered a very large country, it’s easy to travel from one city to the next, allowing you the opportunity to experience the music festivals in Groningen, the brewery tours in Enschede or the film festivals in Rotterdam.

If you’re flying in or out of the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, commonly referred to as simply Schiphol, is a well-connected way to arrive or depart, as well as venture out to see other European countries. It’s also simple to navigate, when compared to other large airports, with its single large terminal with three main departure areas. The airport is a hub for Jet Airways, as well as several other carriers offering low rates for short flights throughout the continent.

The wonderful part about the location of the Netherlands is its proximity to so many other fascinating European cities. The Netherlands is situated right in between Germany and Belgium, plus its a short drive from both Luxembourg and France. A trip from Amsterdam to Berlin, for instance, can be booked for as little as €8 - €39, if booked at the right time! There are very few things better than a great road trip, but many train routes can take you to experience a completely different culture, within a matter of hours and at a moderate price. It’s also a perfect way to see Europe when you didn’t bring your car with you to the Netherlands.

A big part of studying or working abroad is the sense of adventure, so living in a location that is so close to a number of capital cities and exciting activities is just another reason to appreciate the Dutch lifestyle. And as that rail passes are available with youth and student discounts, it’s the perfect time to see as much of Europe as you possibly can!

10. It’s simple to find a job in the Netherlands as a foreigner

Many international students also opt to work a part-time job or to find an internship. This can often be difficult in some countries, but the good news is that the Netherlands is not one of them. Many expats find it somewhat easy to locate business opportunities during their time in the Netherlands, which can help to provide valuable experience, as well as to supplement a student’s budget.

Fortunately, the Netherlands offers many incentives for international businesses to move to or initially set up their companies in this opportunistic country. One of these such stimuli is the 30 percent ruling. If you qualify, this means that only 70 percent of your earnings would be taxed, and the remaining 30 percent would essentially be tax-free. This is extremely advantageous for international businesses in the Netherlands, meaning that the more companies that are based in the country, the more positions will become available to international students.

Additionally, if you do find a position while studying in the Netherlands, you will not need a work permit, as long as your home country is a part of the European Union or the European Economic Area, or if you reside in Switzerland. If you are from a country not within these regions, you will need a residence permit and a work permit.

If you’re interested in an internship, many universities will have a board where you can find these postings, or you may even be able to speak with someone in your department about available opportunities.

If you are looking for a job in the Netherlands, agencies like Undutchables Recruitment Agency can help you to further your career. They help both starters and executive candidates, fluent in languages other than Dutch. Their website offers a lot of information on how to find a job in the Netherlands.

11. Universities in the Netherlands teach in English

The Netherlands is home to a plethora of world-class international universities that offer a large number of classes completely taught in the English language, which is why it is such a popular locale for incoming exchange students. In fact, the World University Rankings currently show that approximately 60 percent of courses at Dutch universities are offered in English. This number increases to 70 percent when only adding the courses in Master’s degree programs.

Currently, the Netherlands is the number-one non-English speaking country offering the most courses taught in English, totaling over 1,000 different degrees for English speakers. Whether in large cities or smaller historic areas, the options for a top-notch education for students who primarily speak English are many, including just a few:

  • Utrecht - Utrecht University

  • Rotterdam - Erasmus University

  • Eindhoven - Fontys University of Applied Sciences

  • Delft - Delft University of Technology

  • Leiden - Leiden University

  • Maastricht - Zuyd Hogeschool

  • Groningen - Hanze University of Applied Sciences

  • Enschede - Saxion University of Applied Sciences]

  • Tilburg - Tilburg University

Specifically, Maastricht University, located in what is often called the "most international Dutch city," is extremely popular with expats, offering an appealing international vibe. Additionally, over 50 percent of the university’s students and 40 percent of its faculty members are from over 100 different countries. They also offer an international-based curriculum, like many other Dutch universities.

As you learn more and about living in the Netherlands, you’ll surely discover even more reasons why it could be the perfect place for your international exchange or to begin a new career or start an internship. The Dutch lifestyle is so appealing that, mixed with its safety, its proximity to other European cities, its healthy way of life and its welcoming attitude toward foreigners, you’ll quickly find that you’re going to love your new home-away-from-home.

Since the Netherlands is such a popular destination for exchange students and young professionals, be sure to begin your search at least three months before your relocation. When you’re ready to get started, hop on Housing Anywhere and begin to search for the ideal room or apartment today.

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