A guide for Americans moving to the Netherlands.
1. Get a burgerservicenummer (BSN)!
The first thing you need to do right after you’ve moved to the Netherlands is get a BSN number. Without it, you can’t get a bank account. And without a bank account, you’re pretty much fucked. You can’t pay for many things without a Dutch “pinpas” (debit card). Many places, including grocery stores, only accept payment via cash or pin. And you cannot use cash at the self-checkout counter. Good luck practicing your Dutch with the 16 year old cashier!
2. Expect the winters to be darker than you’re used to.
Even after several months, I still walk to the train around 8 am being extremely confused at how dark it is. No one’s up and about except for those who work at shops and restaurants, and it just seems wrong that I should be forced to go to work at this ungodly hour. In the US, it gets dark early, but by 7:30 in the morning, you can expect some kind of light. Waking up will be a struggle, but then again, you get to watch the sun rise at 9 am. You win some you lose some, eh?
3. Dutch people don’t enjoy small talk.
This one is an odd one for Americans, I know. How can people NOT enjoy small talk? How do you approach ANYONE without the usual, “hey, how are you?” Well, don’t do it here, I’m warning you. If you greet the cashier at the supermarket with anything so much as a “hello, how are you doing?” they will stare at you thinking you’re some creep and wonder how awkward it needs to get before they can call the cops on you. However, there is one exception: it is acceptable to complain about the weather.
4. You will most likely spend less on groceries.
And that’s because groceries are cheap as hell. The Albert Heijn is actually one of the more expensive stores. I recommend the Jumbo for a nice in-between prices supermarket with lots of vegan meat options. And often, you will find things in the “bonus”– that’s how you decide what to pick =D
5. The Netherlands is aesthetically pleasing.
Everything is so fucking beautiful. You probably knew that. That’s why you’re moving aren’t you? Although the biking culture dominates in the Netherlands, don’t let that stop you from strolling along the canals in cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht. You won’t regret it! Even if it means getting hit by a bike here and there (and it will 100% be your fault).
6. The Dutch like to drink.
Dutch people drink a lot. Of anything. I’m always surprised by how much tea they drink. And supposedly it’s “ongezellig” to stop. If you thought that stopping after your second beverage was an option, you were wrong! One fun fact to know about ordering beverages in a cafe: you MUST specify the kind of coffee you want because there is no default coffee. However, there is a default beer at every cafe, so if you don’t know what to get, simply ask for a “beertje” and you will get the cafe’s default beer brand.
7. Dutch Starbucks.
The “Coffee Company” is like their local Starbucks, and the name is pronounced with the same “o” as in “comb” for both “Coffee” and “Company”. They also have a Starbucks. It’s roughly 20% more expensive than in the US. And they most likely will run out of Pumpkin Spice in the fall. Not going to lie, I shed a tear when I saw the “temporarily sold out” sign last fall.
8. Bicycles can ride both ways on one-way streets.
This is reason number 1,234 to start biking as soon as you get to the Netherlands. You will avoid the very likely scenario that you will get hit by a bike if you’re not on one. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
9. Expect your relationship to the weather to change.
For instance, Dutch people go to the beach in the winter to take long walks. They enjoy the feeling of being totally winded (which I found totally weird at first, but now I like it). Also expect that you will learn not to waste a single sunny day. I used to not think about sunny days much back in the States, but in the Netherlands, sunshine is a rare treat. If the sun shines, you will find yourself dropping everything to spend every waking moment outside.
10. Meeting expats is easy, meeting Dutch people is not.
It will be difficult to befriend Dutch people. However, you can try by joining in local sports groups or meetup events. Learning Dutch will be a plus. On the other hand, you will find expats everywhere and hanging out with them is a breeze.
11. The Dutch have not optimized home delivery.
Home deliveries for furniture is an extremely painful experience. They will often give you a time frame of a whole day, and sometimes they still won’t show. You may be able to specify a time for some products on bol.com.
12. Traveling by train is expensive.
But getting a subscription on your OV-chipkaart will save you a ton of money if you take the train. A very common one is paying a small fee to save 40% on non-peak and weekend travel.
13. It’s not normal to work at a cafe with your laptop.
You cannot simply expect to use your laptop at a cafe. Be sure to research work-friendly cafes beforehand, and if you go somewhere new, ask the barista for the designated tables for laptop use. That’s right, you can’t just use your laptop anywhere you like! Ongezellig! I recommend going to the Coffee Company whenever in doubt.
14. Dutch is still required for most jobs.
If moving without a job, there are many jobs that require fluency in the Dutch language even though everyone speaks English. Be prepared for that. Tech jobs are an exception.
15. So. Many. Raisins.
There are raisins in everything. Watch out! It is almost impossible to buy muesli without any in them, and sometimes they aren’t even advertised because, of course, why wouldn’t it come with raisins?! As someone who hates raisins, this is a constant struggle for me. It’s really pitiful to have to watch me pick them out one by one from my apple pie.