A Newbie’s Guide to The Netherlands

Seeing as I’ve been living in Holland for a year and half now, I’m practically an expert, right?? 😉

On that basis, I’d like to share some things you need to know if you are planning on moving to the Netherlands, or have just arrived.

Welkom in Nederland! 


1. First things first, go get your BSN (Bullshit Number)

Kidding, it’s short for Burgerservicenummer – a citizen service number. You pretty much can’t do anything without it (rent a house, open a bank account, sign up with a doctor, buy a beer) so go do that first. To get your BS number you need to make an appointment with your local Gemeentehuis (town hall) and turn up with as much ID and paperwork as you can. The Dutch love paperwork.

2. Accommodation

We found our house through Funda.nl (other house search websites are available… the other big one is Pararius.nl though not quite as catchy, right?)

3. Health Insurance

This is mandatory in the Netherlands and basic packages start at around €100 per month! There are a gazillion health insurance companies out there so I would a) get a Dutch person to help you b) try comparison websites Independer.nl or Zorgwijzer.nl c) refer to the Government website.


4. Learn Dutch

Obvious, you might think… but so many people live here without speaking the language. I’ve heard all the excuses… “they’re so good at English you don’t need to speak Dutch” or “I try but they just keep speaking English back to me” blah blah.

Time for some tough love: if you’re going to live here, you need to make an effort to speak the basics – at least.

In the beginning, I got my hands on everything Dutch I could. Dutch textbooks, grammar books, children’s books. I used Michel Thomas CDs and online courses: Duolingo and Babbel are both good.

I put Dutch subtitles permanently on, no matter what I was watching. (I still do this now.) I also listened to Dutch radio (my faves are 3FM, Sky Radio and Radio 538), Dutch TV (in the beginning I loved Pim & Pom) and Dutch films… start with kids films and work your way up.

I also did a course at my local college as soon as I arrived.

Most people will love the effort you are making and will applaud you. Yes, some will speak back to you in English – but just do what I do… BE STUBBORN! Keep talking Dutch back to them and they will soon get the picture!

5. Shopping

If your closest supermarket is Albert Heijn (most likely) then make sure you get a store card so that special offers / discounts are applied to your bill. (Btw – it’s often known as AH or Appie because really, who can be bothered to say Albert Heijn every time?) Take your own bags, otherwise you will need to pay for bags. If you’re buying large drinks bottles be aware that statiegeld will be applied. It’s a deposit so that you bring the bottle back for recycling. Statiegeld is around 25 cents per bottle and you get your money back when you return the empty bottles back to the store. Statiegeld also applies to crates of bottled beer and the machines to recycle your bottles look a little something like this:


© Romy2702 / Creative Commons / CC BY 2.0

6. Cycling

You will need to buy a bike. Dat is zeker. Without a doubt, it is the absolute best way to get around in this lovely flat country…  especially after enjoying a few beers in your local kroeg! *Inserts generic I do not condone drinking and riding disclaimer*

The best place to find a bike is on Marktplaats (the Dutch version of Ebay). Read more about riding a bicycle in Holland in The Dutch Guide to Cycling

7. Bank account

I bank with Rabobank.  The other big ones are ABN, ING and SNS. When I first went to open an account, they asked me why I didn’t just go to the same bank as my husband! Not sure why I let them take my money after that… but I did.

Similar to point 1 – take I.D. and lots of paperwork.

8. Getting support & meeting people

Most of the large cities have some sort of expat community group. For example, in Hilversum there’s a Facebook group. Others have websites or blogs. The Hilversum expat group is a great forum for questions and recommendations. I’ve found out lots of cool stuff there, hidden gems and so – like discovering there’s a small beach 20 mins from my house! (Vuntus strand, in case you’re wondering.)

You can also try Meetup.com. I’ve been to the one in Hillywood and met several lovely ladies, expats and Dutch!

For further reading on this subject: When you moved to The Netherlands what is the one thing you wish somebody had told you about?

What else would you add to this list?

Hayley x


  1. Excellent! I’m so glad you put the tough love in there. It’s SO important to learn the language. How can you truly enjoy yourself if you can’t understand the joke they told at the party where they spoke 5 minutes of English with you and then slipped off into Dutch with the others?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Burgerservicenummer” sounds like a way to order a hamburger! (That made me laugh so hard!)

    Several states have bottle deposits, but not all of them. I used to have a friend from Ohio, which doesn’t have one, so when she came to visit, she threw all her bottles and cans away! (GASP!) Needless to say, we fished them out of the bin so I could get the 10c for each! (It’s illegal to return bottles from another state, but I forgot that…and there were only a couple she’d brought from Ohio, anyway. 😛 ) Either way, good to see that it’s a thing in the Netherlands, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post! I’m trying to learn Dutch at the moment as well! How long did it take you to learn? Did you start as soon as your arrived in the Netherlands or before you moved?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. good post, however, I’ve been living here for over 10 years and still jave no bike – car is best for me as I live in a village. Bikes are great for the cities though.


  5. An excellent little guide. Newbies may also find useful, some guidance on the various public transport systems and their travel cards/ticketing. That would probably be an article on it’s own – or even a blog! Best just to get a bike, like you say. it’s good to get one from a local bike shop – they almost all do used bikes. That way you build a relationship with the shop, which is very handy in the event of breakdowns (which don’t happen a lot with the reliable Dutch bies, but ar a pain when they do because these bikes are a law unto themselves).
    Right near the end though, you use the word ‘Expat’ several times. It may be that the writer is indeed an expat (visiting for a period, usually to work, while retaining your base in your ‘home’ country). However, since she has been there some time, it is likely that she is an immigrant (sold-up and ‘moved’ to a new country, with no firm return plans). The word Expat has been hijacked by the racists, and used to draw a line between white people (expats) and everyone else (immigrants) implying that white people have more right to move around than other races. Please don’t use the word Expat if you are an immigrant.


  6. The Netherlands sounds like the perfect place to live with kids…. Question, how expensive is housing? Also, what is the job market like? Lots of job opportunities, or difficult to find one that pays well? If someone were to move from the U.S., do they get to enjoy the free or close to it higher education? Thanks for posting!


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