Expat Guide To Living In The Netherlands

Illustration of The Netherlands

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

The Netherlands has a lot to offer career-minded expats and their families. So, in this guide, we will explore why so many choose to live, work and even retire in The Netherlands.

The Netherlands is listed as one of the best places for expat families to live by the World Economic Forum.

Reasons include the great economy, outstanding healthcare, and high-performing education system – not to mention the quality of life and enviable work-life balance.

However, we all know that taking a holiday and living somewhere is far different, and it’s always wise to get a flavour of how life really works living in a new host country.

Here, we’ll visit the nation of tulips, canals and windmills, and explore what makes it so appealing to the 44,000 Brits who call The Netherlands home.

Best Places For Expats To Live In The Netherlands

First, let’s clarify a few familiar names associated with the country:

  • Holland is often used as an alternative name for The Netherlands. This area is instead one of 12 provinces within the country.
  • Dutch is the official language, spoken by 23 million people around the world.
  • The Kingdom of The Netherlands is the correct state name, usually abbreviated to Nederland in Dutch, and The Netherlands in English.
  • Benelux is an economic area including Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Now that’s cleared up, below are some of the most popular locations for UK nationals to settle and what draws expats to these areas.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam must be the most famous city in The Netherlands and the capital and is a draw for culture-seekers and party-goers alike. The laid-back atmosphere, distinctive architecture, and beautiful canals winding their way along cycle paths make for a uniquely appealing city. With around 822,000 city residents, Amsterdam Centrum is the busy central district, and Amsterdam Oost offers university living and eclectic cultures. The west of the city is more residential and popular with families.

Rotterdam

Rotterdam is far less touristy but home to expats from around the globe. The city houses 624,000 people, and it is a curious mixture of traditional Dutch buildings and radically modern construction. There is a great foodie scene, a large urban regeneration, and the city is a favourite with professionals and young expats.

The Hague

The Hague comes in third, and while it’s known for being the government seat, the city is historic, home to the Dutch royal family and a hub for human rights professionals. There are also multiple international schools. Popular neighbourhoods include Leidschenveen-Ypenburg, a new residential area on the outskirts, and Wateringse Veld.

Maastricht

Maastricht is also worth a visit in Limburg in the south. Near the borders of Germany and Berlin, the city is international and a draw for technology businesses. Moreover, Maastricht contrasts with the largest number of heritage sites in The Netherlands, making Maastricht a dynamic city with a vibrant atmosphere and a centre of education and employment.

While these are some of the most popular expat destinations in The Netherlands – particularly with families seeking schooling and professionals relocating for work – there are plenty of other options to consider.

Friesland

Friesland offers the archetypical Dutch rural landscape. Delft sits in between The Hague and Rotterdam, with a quieter pace and more relaxed living. Leeuwarden is an elegant old city offering a low cost of living alongside green spaces and traditional waterways.

Netherlands Residency And Visas

Until 31st December 2020, when Britain’s EU departure comes into force, UK expats can travel to The Netherlands to live, work or study as with any other EU/EEA member state.

Past 1st January 2021, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service has published a guide for foreign nationals considering moving to the country.

New expats relocating to The Netherlands from the UK will need to apply for a residence permit. After five years of temporary residence, you can apply for permanent residency.

Temporary visa categories for non-EU citizens from January 2021 onwards are as follows:

  • Work Visas. Applicants must be moving to take up a role or as a self-employed professional or business entrepreneur.
  • Study Visas. Students can apply for temporary visas to study at a Dutch university, secondary education facility, or for vocational studies.
  • Family Visas. If you have a partner resident in The Netherlands, you can apply for a permit to relocate and live with them.

Work visas are the typical category for most expats, and within that visa type, multiple options are depending on your circumstances:

  • Skilled migrants moving to take up a professional position need to apply via their employer, who must be a recognised sponsor. The role must meet salary requirements of at least €4,612 a month for applicants over 30 years old (£4,105), and at least €3,381 (£3,009) a month for those under 30.
  • Single Permits apply to expats who are moving to work in paid employment, but do not fall under another specific category. Single Permits are available to applicants with a position in a business registered on the Commercial Register of the Chamber of Commerce and provided you earn a minimum salary
  • Self-employed permits are considered on a case-by-case basis, with a point ranking system used to assess the value you are bringing to the Dutch economy, your business plan, and your experience in your industry or service sector.

For Dutch citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our Tier 1 Investor Visa guide.

Cost Of Living In The Netherlands

There is little doubt that quality of life is excellent in The Netherlands, but along with that standard comes a higher cost of living.

However, while housing tends to be expensive, quality accommodation is the norm, whether renting or buying. Equally, eating out can be slightly more expensive than in the UK – but you will find plenty of international cuisines and no less than eight new Michelin Star restaurants launched just this year.

Renting is expensive, and increasing demand continues to drive property shortages. In general, you’d be hard-pressed to rent an apartment for anything less than €1,000 (£890) a month, including your utility bills.

Average monthly rents are higher in Amsterdam, as compared below to averages in Liverpool as a comparably sized city:

PropertyAverage Amsterdam Rent €Average Amsterdam Rent £
One-bed central apartment€1,605£1,425
One-bed apartment further out€1,287£1,142
Three-bed central property€2,706£2,403
Three-bed property further out€2,022£1,795

If you choose to live outside of central city areas, costs do drop considerably. In addition, public transport networks are reliable and low-cost, so selecting a short commute can make a property purchase much more affordable.

In terms of other costs:

  • Groceries are taxed at VAT rates of 21% on most non-exempt goods. Most residential areas have markets, grocers and local butchers who are lower cost than the supermarkets.
  • Utility costs are expected to rise at €5 a household in 2020. This increase is lower than the rate of inflation and means a real-time drop in energy bills.
  • Public transport subscription passes can be as much as 40% cheaper than buying individual tickets. For example, a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam costs €16.40 for a single ticket (£14.60), but an annual subscription costs just €52 (£46) in total.
  • Many Netherlands residents buy an OV Chipcard at the cost of €7.50 (£6.70), which allows you to top up your pass similarly to an Oyster card.

Overall, consumer goods are around 11% higher than in the UK, rents are 23% more expensive, and groceries are 9.2% more costly.

Interested in other countries in the same region, read our article about the top 10 European expat destinations.

Is The Netherlands an expensive place to Live for British expats?

Yes, it is considered relatively costly. On average, the cost of living is just under 11% higher, and rents reach an average of 23% more expensive than in the UK.

However, costs depend on where you live, which could be significantly different between the bright lights of metropolitan Amsterdam, and the quieter lifestyle to be found in the rural Netherlands.

Expenses such as fuel, public transport and groceries are higher in The Netherlands.

Conversely, outgoings including pre-school childcare, utilities and private education can be significantly cheaper.

As an indication, below are some everyday costs in The Netherlands, with the averages compared to UK prices.

ExpenseAverage Netherlands Cost €Average Netherlands Cost £Average UK Cost £
Meal for two€60£53£50
Bottle of water€1.96£1.74£0.97
Litre of fuel€1.64£1.45£1.26
Monthly public transport pass€85£75£65
Monthly utilities€165£146£154
Monthly nursery costs€1,445£1,284£918
Annual private school tuition€7,066£6,274£13,286
Property price a square metre in central city areas€4,120£3,658£4,173
Average net monthly salary€2,465£2,189£1,909

The Netherlands Property Market

Property shortages in the rental market are also reflected in the housing sector, with prices for homebuyers increasing by 7.35% in the first quarter of 2020. As a result, the national average property price is now €448,000 (approx. £398,731) as of January 2020.

Prices have risen steadily year on year for around six years, with roughly a 5% shortfall between demand and supply.

There are a few ways to manage your Dutch property investment and improve your chances of successfully bidding on a property:

Overbidding is the norm – given demand, most buyers will offer slightly over the asking price, rather than negotiating down as you would expect in the UK. In 2019, around 40% of Dutch properties sold at above the listing value.

Mortgages are available in The Netherlands up to 100% of the property value, but the higher a deposit you can offer, the lower the interest rates you will pay.

Using a local estate agent is wise since they will provide negotiating power, advise on the best areas to move to, and share prompt information when a new property comes onto the market.

Although prices are high, the rise in values continues, so any property purchased in The Netherlands will likely continue to appreciate over time.

The accessibility of public transport also creates more viable living options, where house prices are more affordable.

For example, you can buy a property in Leiden, only 30 minutes from Amsterdam and Rotterdam by train, for around 35% less than prices in the capital city, and 10% to 20% cheaper than Rotterdam.

Suppose you are considering purchasing property as an investment or living in Europe. Make sure to check out our guide to buying a property in Portugal. A country further afield but still in Europe? Check out the guide to buying property in Greece.

Working In The Netherlands

The Netherlands job market is diverse and varied. With numerous multinationals and international employers, many expats choose The Netherlands to take up work, with skills shortage roles in professional sectors in high demand.

Some of the key employers in the country include:

  • Royal Dutch Shell Group – energy.
  • Unilever – consumer goods.
  • ING Group – banking.
  • Heineken – brewing.
  • Philips – technology.

As around 24% of Dutch residents are foreign nationals, it is easier to find work as a British expat in The Netherlands than in many countries. However, a grasp of the local language is a distinct advantage.

Unemployment figures are some of the lowest in Europe, around 3.2% at the end of last year, around half of the EU average.

The 30% tax ruling (that we’ll explain later) also makes The Netherlands highly attractive, with professional expats finding the tax regimes advantageous, particularly in a nation with a relatively high cost of living.

Below are some popular expat job roles and the median gross salary you might expect to earn:

Role:Median Salary €Median Salary £
Office Manager€44,300£39,392
Lab Analyst€36,400£32,367
Electrician€30,800£27,388
Senior Accountant€60,600£53,887
Logistics Manager€77,000£68,470
Marketing Director€117,700£104,661
Buyer€62,700£55,754
Graphic Designer€40,700£36,191
Primary School Teacher€44,400£39,481
Programmer€58,900£52,375
University Lecturer€68,500£60,911
IT Manager€100,400£89,277

Netherlands Taxes for Expats

Once you’re living and working in The Netherlands, you’ll need to pay Dutch taxes on your income. law is because employers deduct tax at source, similar to the UK’s PAYE system.

There are two different taxes to be aware of – Dutch wage tax and Dutch income tax. Wage taxes are those deducted from your employer’s salary, which reduces the amount of income tax payable.

Income tax tends to be of a minimal value since wage tax is an advance levy. However, you can claim a rebate if your wage tax deducted is higher than your total income tax calculation.

Wage taxes include social security contributions, and the tax bands and chargeable taxes are as below.

Netherlands Tax Rates 2020

Income €Income £Tax Rate
€0 – €17,878£0 – £15,89733.5%
€17,879 – €54,776£15,898 – £48,70842%
Above €54,776Above £48,70852%

Income tax works on a regime called the ‘30% tax ruling’. If the rule applies, 30% of your income is not taxable, either for wage taxes or income tax.

Savings and investments in The Netherlands are usually subject to 1.2% taxation, but within the 30% ruling, you are also exempt.

To qualify for this tax exemption, you are assessed on the following criteria:

  • Whether you are in employment having been recruited by a Dutch employer from overseas.
  • Your salary threshold – your wages must meet a threshold, which is indexed each year.
  • Whether your skills and experience fulfil a Netherlands skills shortage.
  • Where the 30% rule does not apply, there are multiple tax credits available, including €2,711 for lower incomes, up to €3,819 labour tax income and additional tax credits depending on the number of dependent children.

The 2020 income tax rates for expats below state pension age are:

Income €Income £Tax Rate
€0 – €20,711£0 – £18,4179.7%
€20,712 – €34,712£18,418 – £30,8669.7%
€34,713 – €68,507£30,867 – £60,91837.35%
Above €68,507Above £60,91849.5%

Healthcare In The Netherlands

While there is state healthcare in The Netherlands, residents must hold at least some basic private insurance cover. Most plans cost from €100 to €120, although more comprehensive policies are available if you prefer broader private treatment options.

Universal healthcare has ranked The Netherlands as one of the best countries in the world for public sector care, with 99% of the population covered by insurance.

Most employers contribute towards medical cover, and children under 18 years old are not required to hold insurance.

Basic plans cover necessities such as:

  • GP appointments.
  • Hospital treatments.
  • Emergency care.

Additional services or optional treatments may require a personal contribution, and therefore many expats choose a higher insurance level that includes services not provided for in basic insurance.

As an indication, here are some of the average costs for healthcare treatments:

Healthcare costNetherlands Average €Netherlands Average £
Basic insurance cover€100 – €120£89 – £107
Overnight hospital stay€146£130
A&E visit€256£228
GP appointment€47£42
Specialist GP appointment€92£82

Mandatory healthcare insurance is state-funded and provided by private insurers. Therefore, all primary care services are offered at fixed prices throughout The Netherlands. Furthermore, insurers are prohibited from refusing cover or charging additional premiums due to pre-existing health conditions.

To access state healthcare services as an expat in The Netherlands, you will need to register with:

  • The local municipality to receive your BSN number (citizen service number).
  • Your selected health insurance provider, with either the compulsory basic cover or with optional extended cover.
  • Local GP or doctor’s surgery.

If you need emergency care, you can call 112 or travel directly to the nearest emergency department. You will be treated regardless of whether you have registered with that hospital.

Make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while travelling or living in The Netherlands.

Living In The Netherlands FAQ

The Netherlands is much more than a land of windmills and tulips. Amsterdam is a vibrant city of culture, while Rotterdam is a leading world port.

British expats move to The Netherlands for quality of life and often find work in the IT and electronics industries at the forefront of technology.

If you are thinking of making the move, here are some answers to the most asked questions about living in The Netherlands.

How do I get a citizen service number as an expat in The Netherlands?

Citizen service numbers are called BSNs – which stands for burgerservicenummer. You’ll need to apply for a BSN within five days of your arrival by making an appointment with the local municipality office.
 
You can book most appointments online, and you will need to bring your paperwork with you; they will advise what documents are required. Your BSN is vital since you’ll need this to open a bank account, buy health insurance, or access medical care.
 
A BSN is required of every person living in The Netherlands.

What is the weather like for expats living in The Netherlands?

The weather is a big topic of conversation for Dutch residents, much as in the UK. However, there is a similar amount of rainfall all year round, so it’s best to be prepared.

A moderate marine climate means that summers are warm and winters cool, with many clouds due to the proximity to the North Sea and Atlantic Oceans.

In the colder months from December to February, temperatures dip to around 0 °C at night. In the summer, warmer temperatures climb to a high of 25 °C in the day, with the hottest weather in the southeast area around Eindhoven.

Why is orange such a popular colour in The Netherlands?

You might see a lot of orange when travelling to The Netherlands, and this is a tradition born from the Dutch royal family colours.

The current royal dynasty started with Willem van Oranje – translating to William of Orange in English. Therefore, orange is a patriotic colour and one synonymous with Dutch pride.

Is it easy to find a job as an expat in The Netherlands?

Firstly, it all depends on your visa type; if you have a work visa or are moving to The Netherlands as a skilled professional through a migrant visa, then you’ll likely find no shortage of employment opportunities.

Otherwise, it helps to speak at least some Dutch. However, multinationals in the larger cities often look for staff that speak fluent English and French and German.

Around 30% of vacancies are in professional occupations in the following sectors:
• Teaching and education.
• Science and engineering.
• Healthcare.
• Business and finance.

There are often openings in service and sales roles, accounting for 17% of the Dutch workforce.

Further city and country guides such as living in Berlin guide, expats in Spain and expats living in Dubai.

Another popular European destination is Portugal. Learn about paying tax in Portugal and buying property.

Below is a list of some related articles and insights that you may find of interest.

Questions or Comments?

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