“When I moved to the Netherlands, I learned how to be myself.””
Our fresh HomeAbroad podcast is for anyone who aspires to move abroad or already lives across the border. I’m Angelina, the host of the show, a Ukrainian who’s been living in the Netherlands since I was 17. In the first episode of the HomeAbroad podcast, I talked to my colleague Jale, a 23-year-old marketer from Azerbaijan working in the Netherlands. We share our experiences of living in the Netherlands as expats, studying and working here as internationals, what we loved about it and the challenges we've faced.
Read our key takeaways below or listen to the whole podcast to learn all the things to know before moving to the Netherlands.
Jale: One of my sisters and my cousins live here and I wanted to be with them. But also the high quality of Dutch education. I did a master's in marketing management at Tilburg University for a year which I finished last August.
Angelina: The Netherlands offered the best quality of life and the most affordable education opportunities in my field. So I came here as a student to do a bachelor's in international business and management at Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Deventer.
Jale: People around me usually knew English. And in those rare occasions where they didn't, I had a couple of Dutch friends who helped me get through.
Angelina: The same was for me in Deventer. I didn't have problems finding friends but definitely, there were a lot of situations, like in a store, where people would just speak Dutch to me. And, in the beginning, it was a bit hard. Also, when I was in bigger groups, people would often forget to switch to English and I’d feel a bit excluded.
I did take Dutch classes at my university, so that helped a lot with some easy phrases and navigating what I hear. But I only use it when I do groceries sometimes as I feel a bit insecure to have a full conversation in Dutch. And luckily in Amsterdam, English is widely accepted.
The Netherlands ranks 1st for its English proficiency globally.”
Jale: Until 16, I lived in Azerbaijan and then moved to Istanbul for 6 years. Compared to Turkey and Azerbaijan, people are really individualistic in the Netherlands. I think honesty is key here, which I learned to appreciate a lot. In our culture, we try to be nice in spite of being honest.
Also, I'm still not used to the biking culture. Even though I know how to bike, I'm still not quite comfortable with biking, especially in bigger cities like Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Jale: It’s so expensive, I think. Overall, food prices and transportation. It can be very hard to maintain friendships if your friends live in another city. And accommodation prices are insanely expensive…
Angelina: Yeah, it's also one of the things that I find the most frustrating. I'm still not sure if I really get what I pay for in Amsterdam, where I spend most of my salary on housing. And, you know, you get a very small house for the price that you pay.
Jale: Yes, I had to apply for a student visa. My previous university in Turkey has very good connections with universities in the Netherlands, so they made the process very easy and helped me out with everything. They give you all the necessary information, and most of the documents they prepare for you.
In contrast, my friends who study in Italy had to gather every document and apply for everything themselves.
I arrived with a tourist visa which allowed me to enter the Netherlands and get my MVV, which was a necessary sticker for starting my application. My residence permit etc. was already ready at the university which they handed to me as well. So it wasn't that difficult but it’s quite more complex compared to the process for European citizens.
Angelina: When I was moving to the Netherlands, I actually did everything through this kind of study abroad agency in Ukraine, which does everything for you. They’d just tell me which documents I had to send them; my diploma and things like that. So it was pretty easy as well.
Jale: After university, I applied for an orientation year visa for a year which allowed me to find a job freely in the Netherlands market. So I started at my current company as an intern. It was super easy to apply – all you have to do is graduate from university and show your diploma.
I think I was one of those lucky ones because normally you have to be a student or an EU citizen to be eligible for an internship in the Netherlands. I think that was mainly because I had a lot of internships back in Turkey and I was part of student associations, etc. So that kind of helped me through.
I sent 3 applications and I was already in an interview process with one of them. Then I heard from my current employer.
Angelina: My experience wasn’t as great. To work in the Netherlands, you need to be hired by a recognized sponsor or a company has to apply to be a recognized sponsor to hire you on a highly skilled migrant visa. And, I have to say, that really - really limits your job choice. It's mostly larger multinational companies which sponsor visas.
So, during my orientation year, I went to work for Draaimolen Festival in Tilburg that wasn’t a recognized sponsor. And when the year was coming to an end, they arranged a traineeship visa as a temporary solution. But then Corona hit, they had financial struggles and I had to look for a new job. I spent almost a whole year sending out resumes and even had to get an immigration lawyer to help me not get deported.
Our tip: stay on top of the visa application process and if you encounter issues, seek advice from an immigration lawyer.”
Angelina: For me, the biggest challenge is not having the full freedom to choose my workplace and career path as a non-EU citizen. Say, I wanted to be a freelancer. It’s incredibly difficult to get a self-employment visa here unless you have an innovative and well-founded business plan and a few clients in the pipeline.
Jale: For me, that was never having a chance to go back to Azerbaijan to see my family because of the Corona outbreak.
But at the same time, I would agree that visa issues put extra stress and workload on you. Sometimes, I feel like it makes you even lose the idea of being a student because you want to make sure that by the time you graduate, you're able to live how you want to live.
Jale: It’s hard to find a good permanent place to live. Every time I moved somewhere in the Netherlands, I had to pay 1 month extra to make sure by the time my contract expired with another place, I would have a place to live. I think it’s a waste of money.
And anyone who listens,
make sure that you find good accommodation on time and it is from a reliable landlord.”
My friend got scammed by a landlord. She booked from France and when she came to get her keys, somebody was living in there and he told her he never rented this place. She couldn't find the person responsible nor could she get her money back.
Angelina: Yes. If you're looking for a house in the Netherlands, really make sure that you can view your house before getting it or use a reliable platform like HousingAnywhere. We lock your payment until you actually view the place. Within 48 hours, you can let us know if the house doesn't match the description and you can get your money back or we can help you fix the problem.
Our tip: Make sure to view your potential accommodation or use a reliable platform that guarantees your security.”
I’d also advice to not underestimate finding the right people to live with, even if you’re really desperate for a place to live.
Jale: For me, it is personal growth. Because when I was in high school or university, I liked to be around my friends 24 hours, 7 days a week. But when I moved to the Netherlands, I learned how to be by myself and spend time alone. I discovered many things I didn't know about myself and things I didn’t know I enjoyed doing.
I also learned how to manage my budget. Because this country is very expensive, you'll have to be very careful how you spend your money, and how you prioritize.
Angelina: I couldn't agree more. Moving to the Netherlands gave me so much in terms of understanding who I am, and what my interests are. The Netherlands has a very dynamic cultural scene and it’s a very international country – you really have the chance to come across people from every walk of life and get to know different cultures and mindsets.
And I have to say that Dutch people are generally very educated, especially in larger cities. It’s thanks to the people that I met here through my university, work, and events, I am who I am today and I think I developed a lot over these years. Also, they are quite straightforward, so you never have to guess what people actually think!
Angelina: In the beginning, I went to a lot of parties and festivals on my own and met a lot of people that way. But, that really applies to every kind of interest. If you are into pottery, for example, just check out a master class or a workshop. I'm sure you're gonna meet some like-minded people who are interested in the same thing.
Jale: I think I agree with most of the things you said. There are a lot of events and organizations where you can make friends. And, like you said, Dutch people are very educated. No matter where you go, you can engage in both fun and interesting conversations.
Jale: I wish I knew I had to speak Dutch. Because of course with English, you can run errands, you can do your daily tasks. You can even have friends in English, etc. But like any other language, like any other country, everyone is more comfortable in their own mother tongue. It shows your respect, shows that you want to be part of it.
Break the language barrier with these Dutch language tips!”
Angelina: I wish I was better prepared for navigating the visa processes and requirements. All my friends were Dutch, so this topic never concerned me, when it should’ve!
Another thing that they don’t tell you is that you can request various subsidies such as for rent and insurance, even if you’re a non-EU citizen. So it’s a good idea to be aware of the requirements for those things, especially if you’re on a tight budget!
Jale: Make sure that you're on top of everything, that you don't miss deadlines, and make sure you start everything early. Whether it's a visa or finding accommodation. Because they're very helpful people, but they're also very on time and they don't like to bend the rules.
And then another piece of advice will be: don't shy away from making new friends while spending some time with yourself.
Do you want to hear the full story? For more things to know before moving to the Netherlands, head to your favorite podcast platform and listen to this episode!
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share your story as a guest on our podcast or if you have any questions.