5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to the Netherlands

Thinking about moving to the Netherlands?

I moved in the middle of the pandemic, along with my husband and our dog. We made sure our apartment lease allowed us to cancel the contract after only six months, as we wanted to give ourselves the chance to run away with minimum damage in case we hated it here.

Two years later – the thought of moving back has not occurred to us at any point!

Still, there are some things I wish weren’t as much of a surprise to me before we moved.

1. The wind is… freezing!

Coming from Serbia, I’m used to a moderate climate. Winters get cold, there’s snow and all that jazz. However, the Dutch wind is just in a different category.

The first winter was truly a torture until I decided buying an expensive winter jacket is not an expense, but a necessary investment. You really need good clothes to survive the volatile Dutch weather. Fortunately, there’s not many things this nation likes more than KORTING (discount), so if you look look long enough – you’re bound to find a good deal.

One of my first purchases were also high quality (and fashionable) rain coats, but truth be told, I only ended up using those a handful of times.

That being said, it’s not all that bad because…

2. Life doesn’t stop when the weather is bad

I was really afraid of surviving my first winter. You hear all the worst things about it! It’s constantly raining, it’s grey, you won’t see the sun!

While that can be true, I’ve also found it an enormous help that people seem to go about their business, no matter the weather. It may be pouring rain, but people on their way to the gym are absolutely unbothered. If you were planning to bike somewhere, but it started raining – you’ll just dress for the weather, and keep going.

I can’t quite explain it, but I believe that this is the main contributor to me not hating the Dutch winters at all. My friends have even heard me say: “Oh, it hasn’t rained for almost two weeks now. I miss the rain”, and couldn’t believe I was serious.

3. Everyone wants to talk to me in Dutch

Every single expat I’ve spoken to before moving has complained about not being able to practice their Dutch, because the native speakers hear their accent, or one mistake, and just switch to English automatically.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I live in a smaller town, or perhaps I just have some kind of energy that attracts this – but I’ve had the completely opposite experience. To illustrate this, I visited my huisarts (chosen GP doctor) within the first two months from moving. The first thing she asked me was: “Do you speak Dutch?” When I said I’m learning, her answer was: “Well, let’s practice then, because that’s the best way to learn!”

And there I was, explaining a complex set of symptoms while still speaking the language barely on level B1.

The Dutch society definitely harbours a certain level of annoyance with all the darn expats who move here and refuse to ever learn even a word of Dutch. However, that in return means that if you make even the smallest amount of effort – that will be seen and rewarded.

4. The people are truly nice

Okay, I have to preface this one by saying this is my experience, and not the wider consensus. While the Dutch directness might take some getting used to, people actually go out of their way to be nice and supportive. I was lucky enough to always have neighbours who would invite us over for coffee, bring their leftover food before traveling, and have a pleasant chat whenever we meet.

A “trauma” I carry from Serbia is trying to sort out anything that has to do with bureaucracy. In 99,9% of cases – you’ll get yelled at by someone from the other side of the desk. I noticed I always go to a Dutch public institution with a sense of dread and a high heart rate. But that’s normally not necessary. Even if you’re missing paperwork, or there’s something you don’t understand, they’ll actually be helpful and do their best to make it easy for you. I’m honestly still not used to that, even two years later.

5. The food is amazing

This was probably one of my biggest fears before moving. I was so prepared to eat crappy sliced bread, plasticky vegetables, and stinky cheese for the foreseeable future. However, the Netherlands really has access to awesome fresh foods, you just need to be ready to look for it (and maybe pay a little more)

Saturday morning is my favorite time of the week, because then we can go to the open market in the town center. There’s a butcher with fresh meat that’s only marginally more expensive than the supermarket meat, a fish stall, a bakery, a stall selling cheese and eggs from their own farm…

As an avid cook/baker, I’ve always wanted to test out so many recipes with ingredients that aren’t so easy to get back in Serbia. But the choice of spices, vegetables, and everything in between has simply blown my mind. If you’re coming from a country that’s already got all of this available – you probably won’t be as impressed as I am.

Also, most restaurants serve international cuisine, so it’s really easy (albeit currently not very cheap) to eat out and explore.

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