Four Things to Know Before You Move to the Netherlands

culture shock in the netherlandsFinding your feet as an expat in the Netherlands can be frustrating, but there are things you can do to make your entry into the Dutch way of life much more enjoyable.

Here are four things you should know before moving:

Be prepared to experience some culture shock, which is a term used to describe the anxiety and emotions you’ll inevitably feel when you enter an entirely different cultural or social environment. The good news is that you won’t be alone. All expats experience culture shock, and once you start to get acclimated to your surroundings, you’ll generally find people who are willing to help you cope.

Even such things as when to shake hands or how to greet people will vary from country to country, but as you spend time in the Netherlands, you’ll learn how to make purchases, how to accept or refuse invitations, and whether or not to take statements made by others seriously. How you handle your day-to-day experiences is the key to an enjoyable life.

One of the best ways to lessen culture shock is to learn as much as you can about Dutch culture before you make the move. You’ll find a wealth of information at your local library, or you can go online and request help from various government agencies that help folks just like you to become part of the Dutch labour force. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be to deal with culture shock.

Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself when you get frustrated, confused, or even angry at times. Culture shock happens to everyone, although no two people handle it exactly the same, so just smile and keep moving forward.

Learn to speak Dutch as best you can before moving to the Netherlands. Although most Dutch people can speak at least a little English, they’ll respect you for trying to communicate in their native language. Don’t worry about sounding foolish. People will generally be happy to help if they know you sincerely want to learn.

If someone addresses you in English, politely ask them to speak Dutch. Dutch people have a tendency to want to show off their English skills (which are usually poorer than they’d like to think), but having them speak English does nothing to improve your Dutch. It’s not an easy tongue, but if you’re going to live in the Netherlands, you’ll want to be as familiar with the Dutch language as possible.

culture shock in the netherlandsSeek out local Dutch natives. Although you’ll want to stay in touch with friends and family in your native country, it's important to integrate and break out of your comfort zone. They can be an invaluable resource for explaining traditions and customs you don’t understand. They can also serve as translators when your Dutch is insufficient for a particular situation. Dutch friends can be an invaluable resource for making your transition into society smoother.

Remember to be flexible and diplomatic, even when you run into those incredibly difficult and infuriating situations. Since such situations are unavoidable, it will be an immense help not only to maintain a positive attitude, but also to learn to laugh when you find yourself baffled by a particular circumstance. Some situations that may seem dramatic at first can be diffused by simply laughing at the absurdity of it all.

All in all, living in the Netherlands is no better and no worse than living in most other countries. The key is to remember that you’re going to experience a certain degree of culture shock, but if you do your homework and stay open and flexible, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a happy and productive member of Dutch society.

► Read the Expat Arrivals Netherlands Guide

About the author: Larisa Camfferman is a trainer and consultant for expats in the Netherlands, helping them become more successful in the Dutch work space. Take advantage of her services at

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