As a Brazilian developer who moved to the Netherlands, there were factors I should have considered when relocating that I didn’t. If you’re thinking about relocating to the Netherlands, I hope this advice based on my experiences will help you when considering a move to the Netherlands.
In 2018 I accepted an opportunity to work as a developer in the Netherlands. I was drawn by the possibility of a better quality of life, salary and benefits, new technical challenges and growth potential in an international environment. In my excitement, I only focused on them.
The chess legend G. Kasparov once said, “with our desire to be fast and move forward, we usually make hasty and worse decisions because we don’t consider all our options to make a better decision”.
The important factors I neglected to think about a bit more deeply at that time were:
- Cost of living and quality of life
- Effects on my partner
After living and working in the Netherlands for five years, I now know how important these factors are—especially when relocating with a partner or family. It’s a big decision, so it’s best to be prepared. By anticipating the struggles you might face in a new country, you can make them a little easier to handle.
The first big question when relocating is where?
Choose a location that suits your lifestyle
One of the nicest things about working abroad is experiencing something different. When I moved to the Netherlands, I didn’t know much about Utrecht because I was offered a job here. Luckily, I really like Utrecht, but there was a chance I could end up in a place I didn’t like.
A big reason why I enjoy living in Utrecht is that it’s like Amsterdam, but quieter. It’s also international and very Dutch. It’s a very central city with great connections to the other big cities in the Netherlands and other parts of the country, making it easy to explore and travel. While it’s not the main reason I enjoy Utrecht, it also has a good cultural life: museums, concerts and shows. This will differ according to personal preferences, but your new city should allow you to explore your interests and hobbies.
Moving from the Northeast of Brazil to the Netherlands involved a big change in weather. In my hometown, it was warm and almost always summer. The Netherlands has more characteristic seasons and a lot more rain. When we arrived in the summer, it was pretty nice, but the rainy autumn and the winter seasons with darker days and colder weather were quite hard to get used to at first. I am now very settled, and I like to have all seasons in the year, but it might not be for everyone.
It is dark and cold during a significant part of the year, which is common in Northern European countries and can significantly impact your quality of life, so it’s important to be aware of it and consider the trade-offs.
Find out more about your new city:
- Research the city, its weather and what sort of leisure activities are available, such as restaurants, museums or theatres.
- Speak to people who already live, or have lived, there and listen to everything they have to say. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Ask your company if they could put you in touch with other employees who have relocated from your country to get an idea of what to expect in terms of relocating and adjustments you may have to make.
Consider the cost of living and quality of life
A new country means a different currency, prices and overall economy, but it also means different public services and levels of safety.
Usually, countries with excellent public services and high levels of safety are expensive to live in and have higher taxes, but we get a good quality of life in return.
In my experience, living costs in Utrecht are higher than where I came from in Brazil. For instance, in the Netherlands, taxes can go up to 49% for IT professionals in mid-level to senior positions. However, that cost pays off due to the better public services, such as transportation, affordable education for children, clean and well-maintained streets, alleys and sidewalks, and a safer place to live.
For me, living in a city that’s safe and has reliable public transport is very important. While I might not be able to save as much money in the Netherlands compared to in Brazil, it pays off with a better quality of life.
Quality of life can be different for different people. To find out what it means for you, it’s important to:
- Ask yourself what you value in a city and how it can improve or reduce your quality of life.
- Find out living costs, like rent, groceries and taxes, by asking friends and using online tools. To find the costs of living, I spoke to people in the Netherlands to get an estimation for utilities, internet, transportation and food expenses. Then, I calculated how much I would have left after taxes in a spreadsheet. You can use this income tax calculator to estimate your take-home salary. Remember, if you’re relocating over 150km to the Netherlands, the 30% tax ruling applies.
- Everyone in the Netherlands is required to have health insurance, which is an additional expense to consider. You can find health insurance packages and their costs on Independer and Zorgwijzer.
- It can be difficult to find accommodation in a country that’s new to you or know how much to budget for rent. Check your company’s relocation policy—they might cover your first 30 days. You can get an idea of rental costs on Funda and Pararius and potentially even find a place. There are sites dedicated to helping expats find housing in the Netherlands: IAmExpat, Expatica and ExpatRentals.
- Remember that some of your expenses might be different. For example, you might not need to pay for fuel or school fees. Again, you can check this with your company and adjust your salary expectations accordingly.
The implications of citizenship and long-term opportunities
Relocating to a new country provides the opportunity to become a citizen of that nation. For the Netherlands, this opportunity comes after five years of working and living in the country. But to become a citizen, you need to know the culture and the language and pass the civic integration test. These require time, planning and good execution, so if Dutch citizenship is something you want, you must prepare beforehand.
Changing nationalities is a big decision, and it’s important to consider all the pros and cons because there is no formula. There are some benefits to getting Dutch citizenship, such as working in any country in the EU without a work visa. But, there may be other implications, so it’s important to proceed carefully. For example, as a Brazilian, I would have to give up my citizenship to gain Dutch nationality. This may make visiting home and my family more difficult.
When I arrived, I didn’t know if I wanted to become a Dutch citizen. I think it’s hard for anyone to know without living in the country for a while. I’m still not sure, but I have already started preparing in case. In my first year living in the Netherlands, I joined a language school and attended weekly Dutch classes. So if I want to acquire citizenship, I can with my knowledge of Dutch.
When considering your citizenship options, the following actions can help a lot:
- Check the requirements and conditions for citizenship beforehand, such as losing your current nationality and having to learn the national language
- Talk to other people that went through the process and learn from their experience
- Make a list of pros and cons and understand what the implications are of losing your current nationality and acquiring the new one
- Talk to an immigration lawyer
Culture has a big influence on how people interact socially and on diet.
In some cultures, the people may be a bit too reserved and seem less friendly. The opposite can also be found in other cultures. For instance, as a Brazilian, European countries like Spain and Portugal seem to have similar cultures, so social interaction may be easier.
In my experience in the Netherlands, the Dutch people are very friendly and respectful. They are also more direct than Brazilian people, saying what they believe straight away. At first, I thought this was strange, and I felt a bit offended at times, but after some months, I got used to it and realised it’s just their way of communicating. It also has its upsides: I really like it now because it’s very transparent.
Consider the diet
Food is another aspect tied to culture. Diet is a big part of our lives, and moving to another country brings sudden changes. That may have not only taste implications but also health ones.
In Brazil, we eat a lot of rice and beans, which is not the case in the Netherlands, where bread and Asian food are the norms. After a while, I adapted my diet, and there were some healthy upsides, like eating more salad, grains and vegetables.
When interviewing for a Dutch company, I knew it would mean a different culture, but I only did shallow research. After moving, I found myself with lots of changes, and the diet was probably the hardest one for me. If I had done things differently then, I think it would have been helpful to:
- Research the day-to-day food and ingredients available in supermarkets to adapt your diet with ease
- Talk to your future colleagues about their experiences with Dutch culture, so it’s not such a shock
Speaking the local language
When moving abroad, a good knowledge of English is often enough for work purposes. However, in most European countries, English isn’t the language people speak outside of work. In my experience, English is viewed more as a serious, professional language, which makes integration into Dutch culture challenging if you only speak English.
Don’t get me wrong—the Dutch are very friendly people who will not hesitate to use English if they notice that I don’t speak Dutch well. While this is polite and nice of them, it makes it harder for me to learn the language and get more familiar with Dutch culture, which has been a struggle for me in the past years.
It can be hard to connect with people socially when you don’t speak the same language. For example, I joined an all-Dutch team, and I didn’t speak the Dutch language at the time. Even though business was conducted in English, I felt like I was missing out on the social aspect and couldn’t get past the colleague barrier. It was a challenge trying to make friends.
I believe that if I had a better focus on learning the language when I arrived in the country, I would be much better at speaking it today, and I would have made much more out of my experience as an expat living and working abroad. As a plus, it would have opened more doors in terms of professional opportunities too!
When relocating to the Netherlands:
- Ask your company if they will cover Dutch language courses for you
- In your future workplace, use the opportunity to practise with your Dutch-speaking colleagues
- Start practising the language before you move
How relocating affects your partner
When we consider moving abroad for work, we’re more ready for this change than our partners or children because they don’t have a new job or a company to help with relocation bureaucracy and language courses. It’s common for companies to cover this for new hires. Since we have a workplace, meeting new people and focusing on our careers is easier, but it may not be the same for our family members who accompany us.
For instance, when I moved abroad, I had a few challenges in the Netherlands, such as language, cuisine, culture, weather and distance from family and friends. My partner faced all those challenges and more! I still had my career to focus on and my work colleagues to meet and socialise with, but this wasn’t the case for her.
Look for work opportunities for your partner before moving
My partner had to start over as she didn’t have a job waiting for her, and, unlike me, her area of expertise required her to speak Dutch to get a job, making things even harder. Combined with a reduced social life, things were difficult for her. However, she overcame those by being proactive and finding another job. She also changed careers to work in the IT field, which only requires English.
Before moving abroad, we expected this, but we overlooked how hard it could be. It was a struggle. We were surprised and should have looked for jobs or even considered a career change before moving.
Other ways to try to make the transition easier for your partner are:
- Probe the company for more support for your partner, like language courses or potential job opportunities
- Use social media to find groups for expats in the Netherlands because this creates an easy social network for your partner
- Research job opportunities for your partner, and figure out whether they’d be able to find a job or switch careers
Relocating to another country means leaving many of our friends and family behind. As expats, we need to make new friendships in our new country.
As an expat coming to the Netherlands, the social events my company held at the time were awesome! This was great because when I moved, I didn’t know many people, and meeting people at work and outside was very helpful.
Online platforms like Meetup were great for finding events with like-minded people, like football games or music shows. I met people through football and board games and had more social interactions.
Company events and meeting people with common interests weren’t just important for socialising; my new friends helped me with important decisions like finding a good neighbourhood to live in and getting to know the country.
When considering what social life you’ll have when you move:
- Ask your company what social events they have for employees
- Check Meetup and go to any event you find interesting
- Use your hobbies or interests as an easy way to meet new people
Relocating is a big life decision, and you should prepare yourself as best as you can. Blogs such as I am Expat, Expat Arrivals, and I Amsterdam are useful to give you an idea of other expats’ experiences, what to expect and even how to prepare.
If you’re preparing to move to the Netherlands, you can download this handy list of relocation resources to help make the transition easier. Good luck and safe travels!
Andre Luis Araujo Santos is a Software Developer specialising in frontend web development. He is passionate about working with people, solving challenges and helping teams to achieve their goals. He’s interested in Functional Programming, Data Science and Software Design Patterns. Andre was also an environmental engineer for 3 years.