Moving to the Netherlands without a Job? Here’s what to expect.

You’ve decided to move to the Netherlands— Congratulations! Even though I can’t promise that you’ll love every minute of it, I can say from experience that you’ll have plenty of fantastic moments at least. When I first told people that I wanted moving to the Dutchlands, as I (and only me, as far as I’m aware) like to call it, they asked me what the job search was going to be like for me. That’s right, I decided to move without knowing if I would successfully be able to find employment. And at the time, I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m a capable person, I’ll probably find something.” And I did, but it was much more difficult than I anticipated. Here’s how I did it, and here’s what I learned from my research and experience.

In my case, I had three fairly large hurdles to overcome, the first one being that I was a career-switcher. I wanted to do something different, and I wasn’t sure what. To those of you who are just starting out or are switching into a different field like I did, I have good news for you— there are actually a fair number of entry level jobs out there. Since there are shortage of skilled workers in the Netherlands in certain fields, you will especially have luck transitioning into one of those areas. Here is a non-exhaustive list of high demand jobs in the Netherlands. I would also recommend doing some research into the field where you could best supply your skills.

So that’s great, there are some options out there if you’re looking for a job in the Netherlands and don’t have one yet. But in my process of scrolling through jobs ads, I realized my second big problem: I don’t speak Dutch. If I’m being completely honest with you, I didn’t realize I needed to speak Dutch fluently in order to find work. I can almost feel the Europeans around the world rolling their eyes at me as I type this, but I swear, it’s not because I think knowing English is enough to get by in the world… I just thought English was enough to get by in the Netherlands! I mean, every Dutch person I’ve met speaks basically perfect English. My mother-in-law even corrects my English, and I’m the so-called American native speaker! Well, so imagine my surprise, as I’m scavenging one would-be-perfect-job after another, to discover that they all require native proficiency in Dutch. It turns out that the Dutch are indeed very proud of their culture, and as much as they can speak English— they just don’t want to. Since I’ve discovered this, I’ve asked a few Dutch people who are incredibly fluent in English about this. Their response has simply been that English is still very much a second language for them. It doesn’t feel as good as speaking Dutch, and they would much rather be speaking Dutch. And if you think about it, then the Dutch language requirement makes sense because in an office, you want to be part of the office culture. And in the Netherlands, often times the office culture requires speaking a little, and at times, even being a little Dutch!

So, did I magically became a native-like speaker of Dutch overnight? Alas, these things take time, and it’s of course not ideal to start a new job in a new language. What I ended up doing was look for international companies. There are a ton of multi-national companies where speaking Dutch is not a requirement, but they are definitely an exception. Even at these companies you may find that Dutch is required for certain roles, especially if they are client facing. My suggestion is to play it case-by-case. Aaand, if you speak some Dutch, you might be able to use that as leverage to learn Dutch and become fluent while working. I talked to one recruiter who said that they only hired Dutch speakers, but then I emailed her right back saying that I did speak intermediate-level Dutch, and turns out for that particular role, the promise to learn Dutch and indicating that you would be able to learn Dutch, was sufficient.

If you’re thinking that you wouldn’t like to work at a big company, that you’re more of a small business-type person— I feel you! But don’t worry, you have options too. There are many small companies that have clients in English-speaking countries, where you can find employment without being fluent in Dutch. Many Dutch companies also have roles where they need an English speaker to take on writing and editing tasks. This is something to keep in mind as you move forward with your job search. As a final point on the local language, for tech-roles, you are almost never required to speak Dutch. There is also a shortage of Dutch employees to fill these roles, so if you’re one of those lucky b’s looking for jobs in the tech sector, you shouldn’t have a problem!

Finally, as an American citizen, I knew early on in the process that not being a member of the EU was going to be a problem. I didn’t have permission to work in the Netherlands, and besides the few months on a tourist visa, I didn’t have permission to stay here either. So I guess that gave me a timeline. If I wanted to find a job, it had to be done quickly. The shit cake in this scenario is that employers will almost always want to hire someone who doesn’t need to be sponsored. Monetary costs aside, it’s just less paperwork and less of a hassle. I knooowww, your career is at stake here and people won’t sponsor you because it’s too much paperwork?! Tough shit, eh? Well, on the flip side, if a company wants to hire you, they will. And the Dutch government has made things fairly easy. As I mentioned, there is a shortage of employees in certain sectors, and if you’re in that sector, employers will be willing to sponsor. This is also a case where if you’re looking for roles within large organizations, things will be slightly easier because they will already have a system in place to bring on expats. And if you’re highly educated or have in-demand technical skills, you may also qualify for the 30% ruling as a highly skilled migrant. Check it out! It’s a pretty sweet deal.

One final thing to keep in mind about visas if you’re moving because your partner is an EU citizen. There are benefits to getting your work to sponsor you instead (see 30% ruling!). However, if you would like to live in the Netherlands for some time or pursue a degree before finding work, then getting a partner visa might be a good alternative. And no, you do not have to be married! I know many people who opted for a partner visa, and once the “you can’t work here for X amount time” period has passed on the partner visa, they were all able to find jobs shortly after. For me, I figured out that I qualify as a highly skilled migrant, and as a result, it was easier for my employer to sponsor me.

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