Frequently Asked Questions about being Expats in the Netherlands
We get a lot of questions about being expats. I guess it’s a curious topic. 🙂 Here you’ll find some responses to the most frequently asked questions. While there are of course some overlapping and similar emotions/experiences in being an expat, keep in mind this is reflective of OUR journey as each expat situation is highly unique.
**Also worth stating (as some people assume I am married to a Dutchman) Hubby, myself, and our 4 children are all American Citizens. We only hold US passports. Hubby and I were both born and raised in the Chicago ‘burbs.**
Where exactly do you live?
We live in The Netherlands; a small western European country that borders Germany, France, and the North Sea. The language of The Netherlands is Dutch.
Sometimes people (incorrectly) refer to The Netherlands as “Holland”. “The Netherlands” is the country and “Holland” is comprised of two provinces within The Netherlands; therefore the word “Holland” only represents a portion of The Netherlands as there are 12 provinces in total. And just to confuse you more WE actually DO live in the province of Zuid (South) Holland so it’s accurate to say that WE live in Holland.
Short video that explains it more in depth if you’re the curious type.
Why did you move there?
My husband got a job transfer here in February 2014. He is a financial controller.
Where did you move from?
We lived in the ‘burbs of Phoenix, AZ before relocating to the Netherlands.
How long will you be there?
The short answer is we don’t know. The more detailed answer is as follows. We are here on a five year work visa (from February 2014). Hubby has a work visa and the rest of the family is under his visa. I currently do not hold a work visa (I would like one, but it’s tricky). We may or may not stay the entire length of our visa depending on hubby’s work situation. *IF* we wanted to extend our visa (and hubby continued to have work here) that *IS* an option but it’s a process to apply for an extension. It also involves passing a Dutch language test to show we are competent in the language, which we (hubby and I) are currently not even close to. It would take some serious studying on our part to prepare for it.
Do you own a home?
We currently rent a furnished home here. We sold our home and did a big purge before moving overseas so currently we own very little.
Do you speak Dutch?
I don’t. I can fake it pretty good. I can understand a fair amount; both written and spoken. But I can barely form a sentence that’s worthy of expressing. It’s silly really and I have no excuse other than I haven’t put in enough effort. I want to learn the language. Actually I feel like I NEED to learn the language. It’s incredibly isolating not speaking the language of the country you reside in and raise a family in (more on that here). Plus it’s embarrassing (and somewhat disrespectful of me) not to be able to hold basic conversations in Dutch.
But your children speak Dutch?
Yes. They are fluent. They attend a Dutch public school so 100% of their education take places in Dutch. All of their friends are Dutch. All their recreational and extra-curricular activities take place in Dutch. And at home they speak Dutch to one another a majority of the time. Therefore about 85% of their day is in Dutch. The only people they speak English with on a regular basis are my husband and I. And then of course with extended family members during video chats or visits.
Doesn’t your husband need to speak Dutch for his job?
All of his colleagues are Dutch and while most inter-office communications take place in Dutch, when he is present at a meeting they conduct it in English. But the language and communication mishaps/misunderstandings impact his role daily. There is also a time factor devoted to translating documents, emails, etc. I don’t underestimate the added workload the language piece carries for him.
Why did you choose to live in a small village over Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Hague etc?
While we know that living in a big city would certainly afford us more interactions with other expats and provide some of the amenities we are more accustom to, we really wanted to experience Dutch culture to the fullest. It would seem silly to come all the way here and try to recreate a “mini America” for ourselves. We also really wanted our children to attend a Dutch Public School and learn the language. An International School wasn’t even on our radar. We felt that if they learned Dutch they would have full access to any activity or peer/friendship here. That was a very, very important factor for us! This is their childhood and we don’t want them to feel excluded from social experiences. Another advantage to a small village is that you quickly build an identity and sense of belonging. I might easily feel lost in a sea of people/strangers in a large city. Here in our small village I see the same handful of faces every day. That sense of familiarity helps me feel grounded and connected in a foreign place. Additionally my hubby wanted to be able to cycle to work (cycling is a HUGE part of Dutch culture) so we wanted to be within a 20k radius of his office. He enjoys his work commute which impacts overall job satisfaction.
Video my older two boys made of them mountain biking in our village
Do you have hired help such as an au pair, nanny, housekeeper etc?
I’ve realized people often assume we have an au pair, nanny, or housekeeper? I am not entirely sure why? Perhaps it’s common for expats in some countries/cultures? We do not have a nanny, au pair, housekeeper, or the like. We do however have a kick ass babysitter that comes one evening a week for three hours so hubby and I can go on a date. Yes, we do the cliché date night thing. There is a lot of stress on a marriage living in a foreign country and a weekly date night to connect without kidlets bouncing around us has been our resolution.
Why do you travel so much?
We feel the pressure to squeeze in as many experiences as we can while we have the opportunity (especially not knowing how much longer we will live here). We currently have access to many incredible European destinations that once we are back in the States will likely be completely cost and time prohibited to us. There are many low cost carriers that fly to big cities across Europe and we take full advantage. Well developed public transportation systems and plentiful hostels make European travel highly accessible and affordable.
Do you get homesick?
I’ll be honest that I did a lot when we first moved here. But at about the 18 month to 2 year mark I experienced it less and less. Currently I don’t experience it very often, but am randomly hit with it out of the blue from time to time. Usually just expressing it to someone who “gets it” and replies with love and kindness is enough to cure it. Or having something familiar like a cup of Starbucks or listening to favorite music helps too.
What do you miss about the States?
There a lot of little things, but one thing I miss greatly is how businesses operate in the States. I am referring to things such as long hours of operation, good customer service, readily available quality and varied products, fast response rates, etc. It’s really hard to pinpoint or even explains the subtle cultural differences in the business mentality here but it’s something that I’ve had a hard time getting used to. Add communication barriers into the mix and it’s really confusing and frustrating at times. I also don’t want to perpetuate the notion of the “bossy and demanding American” so I am often hyper aware of my own interactions and behavior.
Do you like living there?
YES! I love it actually.
What do you like about living there?
Gosh there is sooo much to love about living here! Overall it’s a really great place to raise a family. I think the education system here is fantastic. I absolutely love the school my children attend. Without delving too deep into the politics of it all, I observe a very positive social welfare system. Citizens are well cared for here. I also feel that overall the economy here is strong. I admire a very respectable work ethic to family life balance in Dutch culture. Family time is highly valued as is vacation/leisure time. The mindset and subsequent support from employers is amazing to me. You see it in action in so many different ways. The highly developed (and maintained) infrastructure for cycling as a primary mode of transportation is simply phenomenal. It’s actually probably one of my favorite parts of living here.
About a year ago I was interviewed on two different occasions about being an expat. The first one is more serious while the second one is more silly (and heads up there is a cuss word or two in it…sorry!). But both still hold truth in them. Enjoy!