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living in the netherlands

The Netherlands is known as the Gateway to Europe as a result of its waterway network, which links Belgium, France and Germany. The Netherlands is extremely flat with almost a third of the entire country being built on reclaimed land from the sea. This has led to the immense sprawl of dykes throughout the country, for which it is now famous. Holland is culturally rich and is where many of the world's most famous artists originate from, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and Mondrian. The Netherlands is a fairly popular location for expats, the majority of which are able to adjust quite easily to the Dutch way of life.

Rotterdam is one of Holland's most modern cities, which began as a fishing village in the 13th century. It was developing into an industrial and trading power when German bombers destroyed the city center and harbor in 1940. However, Rotterdam was rebuilt and now it's unique architecture attracts visitors from all over the world. It is a booming city that is undergoing continual development, with a growing expat population, multicultural vibe and and is one of the most dynamic cities in the Netherlands.

Where to Live

The small country of Holland shares borders with Germany and Belgium and is densely populated with 17 million inhabitants; the majority of its inhabitants living in the west of the country, in the so-called Randstad (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam area).

Most of our AISR families live in Rotterdam (Mostly either the CBD or in the Northern suburbs such as Hillegersberg, Schiebroek, Kralingen, Rotterdam Noord, Prinsenland, Ommoord, 's-Gravenland etc.) and in close by villages such as Bergschenhoek and Berkel en Rodenrijs. With other families commuting from surrounding cities such as Schiedam, Vlaardingen, Maassluis, Dordrecht, Delft, Voorburg, The Hague, Wassenaar and even Amsterdam.

Finding a Home

For both renting (te huur) or purchasing a house (te koop), you can retain a real estate agent (makelaar). That person can assist you in finding a home and with the appropriate paperwork for a fee. You can also use popular housing websites such as Funda or Nestpick for a good overview of all available properties, though there are many others. You can also find more helpful information on finding a house on the Rotterdam Expat Centre's website.


Cities with many international residents often have an expat centre/desk. This is a place supported by the local government where you can get a variety of information and access to services you might need during your stay in the country. The Rotterdam Expat Centre is a one-stop-shop for expats and international businesses. The team will gladly help you with all your questions, requests and ideas. Please contact them for more information about their services. You can find a full list of all expat centers in the Netherlands, as well as the cities they serve, on the ACCESS website.


Those who move to the Netherlands must register with their local gemeente (municipality). Once you have arrived in the country, we can help you to set up an appointment at your local town hall in order to register. During this process, you will obtain a BSN (the Dutch equivalent of a social security number). You will need this number for everything, from obtaining medical insurance to a bank account.


In the Netherlands, the national language is Dutch. However, most Dutch people speak English very well. At AISR, your children can opt to join the daily Dutch classes (or one of the other serval lanaguages we teach as paart of our Modern Languages program). As a parent, you may like to join one of the Dutch classes we offer at AISR throughout the school year (please contact us for more information). Or if you would prefer to attend day/night classes in the Rotterdam city centre, we can recommend CBE Languages.

Public Transportation

The Netherlands has a very efficient system of public transportation. In Rotterdam, you will find national trains, light-rail, a metro system and various bus routes. The national rail service is called NS and you can plan your journey via their website. They also have a mobile app. The light-rail, metro and bus services are all operated by private companies. You can plan your journey on their websites as well or use the more popular 9292 site. This site combines all forms of public transport in the Netherlands.

To travel on NS, you must have pre-purchased a valid ticket/OV Chipcard before your journey and conductors may check your tickets. It is still possible on some bus and rail lines to purchase tickets on the spot, however it is much more common to use an OV chipkaart. These cards are accepted on all forms of public transportation. You must have a minimum balance on your card to use it. Cards can be linked to your bank accountant for automatic recharging. They can also be used to rent bikes at the NS stations, known as OV fiets. There are various discount and subscription opportunities with NS as well as other public transportation providers.


You may have already noticed that the most popular form of transportation in the Netherlands is the bicycle. Actually, as most people in Holland have at least one bike each, there are more bikes in this country than people! Bike paths are everywhere throughout the country, making cycling very safe. Cyclists generally have the right-of-way but that is not universal. Helmets are rarely worn here. Lights are mandatory, both in the front and in the rear, when cycling at night. You should familiarize yourself with the cycling rules or risk one of fifty possible cycling-related fines.

Health Insurance

Health insurance in the Netherlands is compulsory. You must buy your insurance from a private health insurance company. In order to purchase health insurance, you will need a BSN which you can get at your local Gemeente or via your expat desk. The Dutch government regulates what insurance companies can charge for a basic insurance package and what must be covered, but you should compare what each company offers in each package and what they charge before you purchase one.

Medical System

In the Dutch medical system, the general practitioner (huisarts) will be your main point of contact. You should register with a local doctors’ office soon after you arrive. Your health insurance company and your local Gemeente should be able to provide you with a list of local general practitioners. Once you are registered, you can contact your doctor for all medical issues.

Should you have a medical issue outside of business hours that cannot wait until the next day, you can contact your local huisartsenpost (out of hours GP usually located within a hospital) for an appointment. In the event of an emergency, you can dial 112 to contact emergency medical services, the police or the fire department.

For over the counter medications and basic first aid, you can visit a drug store (drogisterij) or an chemist (apotheek).


The Netherlands has a number of large supermarket chains including Jumbo, Albert Heijn, and Hoogvliet. There you will be able to buy most basic necessities. Most of these supermarkets also offer online ordering/delivery services. Most neighborhoods also have one or more bakeries (bakkerij) where you can get fresh bread and pastries, a butcher (slagerij) where you can meat and prepared salads, a fish store (vishandel), a fruit and vegetable store (groentenwinkel) and a cheese shop (kaaswinkel). Other common stores include a chocolate shop (chocolaterie) and a liquor store (slijterij). Many cities also have at least one weekly market where you can buy fresh produce, cheese, meat, fish and (very affordable!) flowers. Your local Gemeente website will tell you the dates of these markets.

Of course, if you have any other questions about moving to and living in the Netherlands, please do not hesitate to contact us at AISR.

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