Sep 4, 2018

What to expect when you're new to The Netherlands?


Edited: Sep 6, 2018


Well nothing can really prepare you for how you’re going to experience your new country. Depending on your personal tendencies and where you’re from some aspects like climate, language, food, making and building connections can be challenging. Fortunately, the Dutch with their modern outlook, mercantile acumen and Calvinistic attitude limit uncertainty, confusion and drama. The Dutch are honest, direct and transparent - they believe in modest living, individual responsibility and are rule-driven. By reducing uncertainty and stress, you know where you stand and you know what you must do ‘let op de regels’ loosely translated as ‘know and abide by the rules’. Read on for what you can expect!



Moderate marine climate give moderate summers and winters, with some remarkable exceptions in the last few years with tropical summer days. June to August are the summer months, where it is quite common to see young couples and families on their mopeds and bikes joining the stream of traffic heading out to the beaches like Zandvoort a popular destination West of Amsterdam. The country has a long coastline, sandy beaches, inviting western sea breezes with no mountains to stop any depressions. Rain can happen in all seasons – and it does. Like all other northern European countries, vitamin D deficiency is a risk, so ensure that you get the necessary sun or seek advice from your medical advisor before it becomes an issue. Otherwise there are stunningly beautiful nature scenes all year round.



Dutch language is from the same family as English and German and apparently easier to learn for English speakers than learning German which has many more grammatical cases. Many Dutch words are similar to English ones due to the Dutch colonists influence in the 17th century in America. The Dutch appreciate it when you make an effort to learn their language but are very happy to speak English if you struggle. Learning Dutch does take time, though Dutch music, books written especially for learning Dutch and films with Dutch subtitles can be a fun and an easy way to learn. If you have young children it will help you a lot, as reading stories out loud, singing nursery rhymes and songs in Dutch are usually done in more relaxed circumstances and your children will find it entertaining correcting you.



The Dutch traditional kitchen is quite basic, made up of vegetables, meat and dairy – simple and straight forward, but nevertheless hearty and filling. Today, the Dutch enjoy various other kitchens with quite some influence from Indonesian, Chinese and The Mediterranean. Various deep-fried foods like Frikandel (heavily seasoned minced meat sausage), kibbeling (bite size pieces of white cod), kroketten and bitterballen (meat based, seasoned finger food) are part of the modern Dutch cuisine fast, easy and satisfying at first. Start of the day breakfast is usually bread with a variety of flavoured sprinkles, cheeses and sliced meats, washed down with a selection of fruit teas, milk or coffee. Cereals and muselis are also popular. Lunch can reflect breakfast with sliced meats and cheeses washed down with a selection of the same beverages as breakfast. Salad, soup and warm meals can also be taken. Dutch working culture often offers a 30 minute lunch break in the cantina offering bread rolls, milk and beverages. Dinners are two or three courses of soup, potatoes, vegetables, meat. Then a dessert of coffee with cookies or pastries. There are many more Dutch treats to sample like poffertjes (cute baby pancakes sprinkled with icing sugar, treacle and generous helpings of butter), though some delicacies like raw herring swallowed down with raw onions take a special kind of palette and a longer time to develop a taste for.


Building connections:

So when you have got over most of your culture shock, feel a little bit more settled in and it dawns on you that making and building connections would be a good idea, here a few aspects to look at:


1. If you come from a spontaneous culture or have it in your nature, be aware of the wide-spread ‘do normaal’ attitude ‘normal is crazy enough’ as the Dutch saying goes. Continue and enjoy being yourself in constant evolution, just be aware of this aspect.

2. Introduce yourself to your close neighbours, they will like and appreciate this well mannered gesture, but make sure it’s not during meal times.

3. Marrying into a Dutch family doesn’t mean that you will obtain close family relationships that you need. In my experience respect their individualism, their circles of eating cheese and crackers while discussing a range of topics from politics and world issues to how relaxed and open their free society is. If you should need any help for moving house or a new infant, they are there always ready to help you. Though on the whole contact is reserved for birthdays, funerals and such. I was fortunate enough to be embraced warmly my mother in-law.

4. The Dutch make friends slowly and carefully, many of their friends are ones they have known for years, even from their early school days. So don’t feel too down crested if you haven’t made any after some years – it takes time.

5. Your connections don’t always have to be Dutch, there are many different other cultures in the same boat, even from your own that will do just nicely for which you will have more in common. If they happen to be Dutch, wonderful, if not, wonderful!

6. The English Speaking Haarlem Group, for example is one of the many social groups around the country that offer social activities and meet ups with strong support for young families. Keep yourself informed by joining and attending the various meet ups. Even create your own group if there are no existing groups of your interest.

7. There are various non-profit organizations that are always looking for English speaking volunteers as well as other language speakers. The Regenboog Groep for example, based in Amsterdam is an organization that helps people who are in danger of loosing touch with society and sliding into social isolation. Volunteers meet with their ‘buddy’ to listen and just be there with them. Also Volunteers meet up regularly to discuss their cases and get support from their advisor and fellow volunteers. Also a good way to learn aspects of Dutch culture that are not usually witnessed otherwise. Offering your expertise and life experience towards a very worthwhile cause is meaningful, worthwhile and very uplifting for your soul. Comprehensive training and expenses are covered by the organization.


There are many more aspects to expect when new and for which we can discuss another time. The Dutch culture is a modern, safe one that values free speech and expression – everyone has an opinion and people are very willing to share them with you. Have courage and immerse yourself into the areas that you find really difficult and practice dropping all the mental dialogue that arises about how things should be, as it doesn’t lead anywhere. Let your own views develop by mingling as much as you can with the locals and other foreigners - taking the time to build your new life without expecting too much. Enjoy the freedom and safety of this unique culture!


Avau Neueli is the author of this article and has lived in The Netherlands for over 20 years with her Dutch partner and young family.

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  • esphaarlemgroup
    Jun 11

    Hi there, I'm Amy! I moved to Haarlem from the U.S just about a year ago with my husband, Joe, and my son, also named Joe (it's easier that way- I just have to scream out "JOE!" and they both come running). Little Joe just turned five, so we're always on the lookout for fun things to do as a family. Between the Museumkaart and of the amazing natural beauty in this area, there never seems to be a shortage of really interesting things to do. Despite this, we were a little bit sad to say goodbye to some of our favourite American pastimes when we moved. Coming from Chicago, and having long family history as Cubs fans, we were particularly sad to say goodbye to baseball. Well, being the researcher that I am, I googled “baseball in the Netherlands” before we moved. I was surprised when something called “Honkbal” popped up as a result. I thought it might be some kind of goose competition? With a little more clicking around, I found that honkbal literally translates to baseball- and hooray!- it’s somewhat popular. Not like, Ajax Football popular, but still, it exists! We were even more pleased to find that Haarlem itself has a pretty active honkbal scene. It even hosts an international Honkbal Week , every other year at a stadium just blocks from our home. Pim Mulier Stadium isn’t quite Wrigley Field, but it’s comforting to still see stadium lights from our living room windows during baseball season. It took some time to get around to it, but the Joe’s finally went to their first honkbal game last weekend. They were accompanied by our very kind neighbour, who also happens to be an enthusiastic honkbal fan and coach. If you’re wondering, I stayed home enjoying some wine while cleaning out the shed (cause that qualifies as “fun” in your 30s). Believe it or not, there are actually a few different honkbal leagues and teams to choose from, even right here in Haarlem. I really have no clue as to the differences, and I won’t pretend I do. In this case, the Joe’s saw the Kinheim team play. They actually managed to stay the entire game, and even though Haarlem lost (Cubs fans aren’t known to bring good luck), fun was had by all. If you’re interested in going to a game yourself, particularly if you’re an American looking to fill the baseball void, check it out! Important things to know: · What/Where : Kinheim Honkbal, Pim Mulier Stadium Jaap Edenlaan 6, 2024 BW Haarlem · How much will it cost? Free entrance! Really, it’s €0 to see a game. · Is there food? Will my kid(s) eat it? Yes! There is an inexpensive cafe with snacks, ice cream, and beer. Also, unlike MLB parks, you can BYO everything. So really, it can be a €0 day out with the family. · What can kids do? Maybe your kid will watch the game? Joe watched a few innings. Then he ate ice cream, watched the NS train pass by, explored the entire stadium, played FREE foosball in the cafe, and even got to go out on the field and in the dugout after the game. · What can parents do? Watch the game! Drink beer! Enjoy spending €0! So there you have it! The first of my “Things to do with your kid” recommendations. If you do decide to go, let me know what you think! Actually, let me know before you go and I’ll go with you. It’s probably better than staying at home to clean out my shed. >>> Amy Lawrence is an expat mom and teacher originally from the U.S. She enjoys reading, gardening, and exploring everything the Netherlands has to offer. She also enjoys blogging about these things! Check her out at This Place is Nice.
  • esphaarlemgroup
    Jun 5

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There's also a kids corner where your little ones can play with each other, and you can have a drink with other mamas and papas after a lesson. For children under four, you can opt for a private course or lessons with other kids and their parents. There are now weekly group sessions both in English and Dutch. The instructor sings a series of songs while parents do activities with their kids to help them gain confidence and feel at ease in the water. My little one has learned to jump into the pool from the edge and dive. He has also had a lot of fun. Each group lesson lasts for 30 minutes with an extra 15 minutes to play both before and after. We paid 5.50 euro for a single visit and 40 euros for a card of 8 lessons. They are going to increase the charges to 7.50 and 55 in the coming month, though. The sports centre is about 7 minutes walk from the train station. There is also plenty of room for parking your bike just outside the building. Good points: ● Warm, chlorine-free water and clean changing rooms ● Great facilities with a kids corner and a creche ● Interactive lessons in English or Dutch In conclusion, swimming with your newborn can be a lot of work but it is also enjoyable. Being in The Netherlands, it is also essential that your child is not scared of water and becomes a confident swimmer as soon as possible. Luckily, there are plenty of good pools and classes where your newborns and toddlers can begin their journey with water. >>> Quynh Nguyen is a full-time mother and part-time copywriter. She enjoys the Dutch way of cycling everywhere, prioritising work-life balance and having a "borrel". You can check out her works at
  • esphaarlemgroup
    Oct 24

    The Inburgering (integration) diploma is needed for some nationals to have the right to live and work in the Netherlands, to obtain a permanent residence permit and to apply for a Dutch passport. There are exceptions and exemptions, in order to check whether you are inburgeringsplichtig, consult Mijn Inburgering . The Inburgering exam consists of several parts: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Knowledge of Dutch Society (KNM), Orientation to the Dutch Labour Market (ONA) for those who came to the Netherlands after 1 January 2013 and Participatieverklaring for those who came to the Netherlands after October 2017. Those who work at least 48 hours per month for at least 6 months are exempt from ONA (since April 2019 – read more on the official site. ). When should I take the exams? I would recommend you do it as soon as possible, as now it is on A2 level and from January 2020 it will be B1, which is considerably higher. Also, you never know how busy you may get when the time approaches, so it’s better to have it in the bag and avoid unnecessary stress and hassle in the future. What if I don’t pass the Inburgering exam on time? If you’re inburgeringsplichtig – obliged to pass the Inburgering exam – and fail to do it before the allocated time, you’re going to get a fee (boete) which can get as high as over a thousand Euro. The amount depends on your situation. That’s another reason not to put it off for too long. I’m not sure my Dutch is good enough to pass the exams. We were also not sure but we passed with marks 8, 9 and 10 out of 10 – and to find out how read another of Julia’s articles in the knowledge section of this site: how to learn Dutch for almost free! What does the test location look like? The exam centre, located in Old West of Amsterdam (the exact location you receive by post after applying for an exam), is easy to find, it’s next to metro and train stations and there’s plenty of parking spaces around. Next to the examination centre, there’s an interesting cafe, with plenty of books, some light food and drinks. It’s important you arrive in advance – you’ll need some time to register, leave all your things in a locker, go to the toilet, after all. If you’re late for your allocated time, you are not allowed to take the exam and the money is not returned. Preparing for the exam There are plenty of resources available on the internet which will help you to prepare and determine if your level is enough. The most important is the official site . The tasks here look exactly the same as at the real exam (the questions differ, of course). It also gives you the score at the end. This site was very helpful in our preparation. Listening and Speaking: in addition to the above-mentioned site, you can also practise with the methods listed here . Reading : with the love of the Dutch to the paper post, you’re sure to have enough of reading practice. A dictionary will help to get through it. Writing: it’s good to check some examples of the written assignments before the tests: Brief, email, kaartje KNM : check if there is a KNM course offered locally, read a KNM book, use the following resources that we found helpful: KNM topics overview , Dutch education system (very complicated, this detailed scheme helps to understand it a little bit better). You’ll need to know the country’s geography too. A nice way to learn it is to use these puzzles . It is also a great way to combine your own learning with playing with your child(ren). The results The listening, reading and KNM results don’t take long, probably within a week. Writing and speaking are human-checked, so prepare to wait for about 6 weeks. The maximum time of waiting for the results is 8 weeks. Julia Smile is an expat mother who is passionate about travelling with her family. Her other passions include reading and dancing salsa. Having lived in 3 countries and visited 3 continents, Julia shares her family's exciting experiences in her blog , Facebook Page and Instagram frogsinthebox_travel_family
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