Teaching in the Netherlands

Location: Western Europe
Capital City: Amsterdam
Population: 16.8 million
Government: Constitutional monarchy

Currency: Euro (€ EUR)
Main Language: Dutch
Main Religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a small country in North West Europe, bordered by Germany, Belgium and the North Sea. It is often referred to as ‘Holland’ because two of its twelve provinces, North and South Holland, were independent states until 1813. With more than 20% of its land area under water, the title ‘the Netherlands’- which is Germanic for ‘lowlands’ – aptly reflects the country’s geography. It is one of the world’s most densely populated countries (16.8 million inhabitants) and the largest and most important cities are the capital Amsterdam, The Hague, which is the seat of government, and Rotterdam, home to Europe’s largest port. The Netherlands began life as a republic, when it became one of the world’s most powerful maritime trading nations, but is now a constitutional monarchy. It is considered to be one of the driving forces behind the formation of the European Union and the UN, with The Hague being home to the International Court of Justice. The country also enjoys a reputation for artistic brilliance on a par with Italy, producing legends such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

Dutch culture is uniformly considered to be one of tolerance and individuality. The prevalent liberal attitude towards gay rights and same-sex marriage, gender equality and the legalisation of soft drugs and prostitution is an essential part of the Dutch national identity. Dutch people take pride in promoting individualism and this laissez-faire attitude permeates society. There is a general expectation that everyone has a right to their opinion and equality and democracy is enshrined in most laws. Indeed, the Netherlands was one of the first countries in the world to have an elected parliament. Dutch people are known for their progressive values compared to many other European nations and the Netherlands has an egalitarian society where status and respect are obtained through education and work rather than through money, power and privilege.

Despite its diminutive size, the Netherlands is a diverse country with a huge range of things to do. Its countless canals and waterways mean that river cruising and canal boating are a popular pastime. One of the best times to visit the Netherlands is in the spring, when the famed tulip fields (or ‘bulbfields’) are in full bloom.

The national sport of the Netherlands is football. The distinctly orange-clad national team have an unwanted reputation as ‘the bridesmaid’ of the international game on account of their record of having been to more World Cup finals than any other nation, without ever winning the competition.

Cycling is a national obsession and the Dutch own more bicycles per capita than any other nation in Europe. Nearly all roads and cities are adapted for cycling and the Netherland’s pancake-flat geography make biking long distances easy. Even before they can walk, Dutch children are immersed in a world of cycling, with babies and toddlers travelling in special seats affixed to the front of bicycles. The Netherlands also has its share of white sandy beaches and the popular resorts of Cadzand, Oostkapelle, Dishoek, and Domburg in the province of Zeeland attract thousands of walkers, cyclists and sun-worshippers every year.

The Netherlands is famous for cheese-making, the red-rind bound Edam (Edammer) being the most well-known. Indeed, the Dutch themselves comment that their love of cheese and dairy in general has contributed to their status as the world’s tallest people – on average, Dutch women stand almost 1.71 metres (5.6ft) tall, and its men 1.84 metres (6ft).

Traditional dishes include erwtensoep, a thick pea soup cooked with ham or sausage and hutspot, a potato-based stew to which klapstuk (lean beef) is sometimes added. Seafood is also hugely popular, particularly oysters, mussels, herring and freshwater eel. For breakfast and lunch, the Dutch generally eat broodjes, small buttered rolls usually filled with ham and cheese or beef. Although the Netherlands has numerous restaurants serving international cuisine, for authentic Dutch dishes, look for the ‘Neerlands Dis’ sign, which identifies restaurants specialising in the native cuisine.

The Dutch are a nation of beer drinkers with home grown brands such as Heineken, Grolsch and Amstel being among the most popular. Also a favourite is Dutch gin, jenever, a colourless spirit distilled from grain or malt, usually enjoyed neat.

Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, with the Frisian language group recognised as the second language in the northern province of Friesland. Over 90% of Dutch people speak English to a high level of competence, and many people also speak a good level of German and French. Most Dutch people are expected to learn and speak non-native languages fluently from an early age.

Considering its size, the Netherlands has a wide range of dialects and accents, some varying from town to town in the same area. Some dialects can be difficult to understand but in most cities, standard Dutch is widely used. The Low Saxon dialects (Gronings, Drents, Limburg and Brabants) are spoken in the east of the country and The Zeeuws group of dialects are spoken in the Zeeland area. Many Dutch dialects are related to Flemish (or Belgian Dutch), which is a West Germanic variation on the Dutch language spoken in neighbouring Belgium.

The Netherlands has a rainy climate with cool summers and mild, humid winters. The average high in summer is around 22°C and temperatures drop to an average low of 1°C in winter. The country sees around 185 days of rainfall each year so it’s important always to carry an umbrella and raincoat – as the Dutch do! 

The Netherlands has low crime rates in comparison to other European countries but care should be taken in large cities such as Amsterdam where tourists frequently fall prey to pickpockets, bag snatchers, and other petty thieves. Bicycle theft is a common problem and the Dutch authorities estimate around 750,000 bikes are stolen each year. It’s wise to keep your bicycle locked and parked in a designated bike stand. Bikes that have been removed by city officials or found without an owner are taken to the local Bicycle Depository (Fietsdepot).

The Netherlands has an exceptionally high standard of state-funded education and full-time schooling is compulsory for children aged 5 to 16/17. Primary education (basisschool) is attended from age 4 or 5 to age 12 and covers eight grades (or groeps) of schooling. Following primary education, students are placed within three branches of secondary education (middelbare scholen), according to vocation and aptitude. The type of secondary education assigned to pupils is determined by the final grade 8 examination results and the advice of the grade 8 teacher. Students stay in secondary school until they have gained a diploma at age 18, when they can then choose to enter higher education. The education system is governed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap).

Academic terms in the Netherlands exist only at higher education level (from September to June). State schools are free to set their yearly timetables and major school holidays have staggered start times according to region, making it easier for Dutch families to travel outside of busy times.

The school day begins at 8.30am and ends at around 3pm, Monday to Friday, although again, schools have a degree of autonomy in how they organise their timetables. Most primary schools are closed on Wednesday afternoons.

The Netherlands has one of the oldest and highly-regarded systems of higher education in the world, with some institutions dating back to the 16th century. Five Dutch universities feature in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings, with highest places being taken by The University of Amsterdam (55th) and the Delft University of Technology (64th). Dutch higher education is state-funded and divided into two types of education; research-oriented degrees offered by research universities (universiteiten, WO) and ‘higher professional’ degrees offered by universities of applied sciences (hogescholen, HBO), which prepare students for specific arts or science-based careers. There are 14 research universities and 41 universities of applied sciences. The type of university students choose depends on the diploma they gained at secondary school. For more information consult the Dutch Government website here.

The standard annual tuition fee for all Dutch and EU students is around €1,951 (£1370), but can be higher for more specialised courses. In some circumstances, students from the EU can also apply for Dutch state grants.

Students from outside the EU will pay between €6,000 and €15,000 per year. There are a variety of scholarships options available to these students such as the Holland Scholarship, which is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

All university courses (WO and HBO) are divided into a bachelor-masters system. A HBO Bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete and a WO degree around three years. A Master’s degree can take up to two years, depending on the course of study. Dutch universities are popular among international students, as more than 1,500 courses are taught entirely in English, ranging from short training seminars to Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes. The Netherlands has the largest offering of English-taught degree programmes in continental Europe, outside of the UK. Students can apply to university in the Netherlands through the Studielink portal, which tells you if your qualifications are suitable.

The Netherlands is recognised worldwide for the high standard of its research-led institutions, which place great emphasis on furthering research traditions. The country’s universities have produced a wealth of Nobel Prize winners and world-leading scientists. The national research council, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), receives over €400million per year from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The organisation funds top researchers and aims to further Dutch innovation and progress in science. 

Primary school education (basisscholen) is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Pupils follow a core curriculum of Dutch, science, maths and English, with many learning other foreign languages from an early age. Primary school has eight grades, groep 1 (group 1) through to groep 8 (group 8) and is free to all children, regardless of nationality, although parents are expected to make an annual contribution to extra-curricular activities. On reaching groep 8 (aged 12) students are required to sit the ‘Cito final test of primary education’ (Citotoets), the results of which will determine their route into secondary education.

Secondary education is divided into three branches as follows:

  • VMBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs): pre-vocational secondary education, for students wishing to enter a vocational career.
  • HAVO (Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs): Senior general secondary education, for students who wish to prepare for a Bachelor’s degree at university.
  • VWO (Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs): pre-university education for those wishing to take a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at university.

The curriculum at all types of secondary school is basically the same for the first three years, before students branch off into more specialised subjects. English is a compulsory subject throughout all types of secondary education.

Children can attend pre-school (peuterspeelzaal) in the Netherlands from between age two-and-a-half to age four or five, when they begin primary school. Pre-school education is provided Monday to Friday for 3 or 5 hours (according to parents’ wishes) and the cost is split between parents, their employers and the government. Parental contributions to pre-school education are means-tested according to income. Children attending Dutch pre-school follow a programme of play-centred education, sports and music.

The cost of living in the Netherlands has risen steadily in recent years, especially since the adoption of the Euro in 2002. However, in comparison with many other European countries – such as the UK – it still offers a relatively cheap lifestyle. Property prices and rents can be high in the larger cities, mainly due to the country’s large population and relative lack of affordable housing. The Netherlands also has some of the highest income taxes in the world, with top earners paying up to 52% above the tax threshold. However, the average monthly salary of €2178 (£1,533.37) after tax is correspondingly high and expats moving to the Netherlands will enjoy an excellent standard of living.

Property prices in the Netherlands have fluctuated since the global economic downturn in 2008 and with such a dense population, competition for attractive homes is fierce, particularly in Amsterdam and The Hague. There are no restrictions on foreign nationals purchasing property in the Netherlands, however getting a mortgage may be difficult for first-time buyers on middle to low incomes.

Although the Dutch are a nation of homeowners, the majority of expats moving to the Netherlands choose to rent a property. Rental prices have rocketed in recent years, due to the market being flooded by residents who now cannot afford to buy. A small one bedroom apartment in the centre of Amsterdam can set you back around €1,215,93 (£850)/month. Again, with a lack of affordable rental properties available, many are taken before they are even advertised. The best way to find a rental property is through an estate agent used to dealing with expats such as Perfect Housing or Funda.

Most landlords ask for a security deposit (borg) of one to two month’s rent. Tenancy agreements can be indefinite or for a fixed time period. The tenant usually has to give one month’s notice before leaving the property.

There are a variety of property taxes homeowners must pay, such as the real estate tax (onroerendezaakbelasting) which is based on the value of the property, the refuse collection tax (afvalstoffenheffing – AFV) and two water taxes covering maintenance and a pollution levy. For renters, these taxes are divided between the landlord and tenant or paid wholly by the tenant.  

The cost of utilities in the Netherlands depends on your usage, but prices are high in comparison to other European countries. The energy market was privatised in 2002 and there are a number of companies to choose from, most offering combined gas and electricity packages. The exception to this is water, where each property has a single designated supplier. Access to the internet is widely available in the Netherlands and most communications companies offer a range of broadband, phone and TV packages.

The basic cost of utilities (gas, water, electricity, refuse) for an 85m² apartment is around €162.74 (£114) per month. Broadband, phone and TV packages start at around €27 (£19) per month.

There is no TV licence fee in the Netherlands, although public channels are limited. Since 2000, The Netherlands Public Broadcasting has been funded by government subsidy and advertising. Most households now opt for cable or satellite TV.

The healthcare system in the Netherlands underwent major reform in 2006 and is now funded entirely through private insurance. This is in stark contrast with most other European countries, where funding for healthcare is based on a national health system or single payment. However, the standard of Dutch healthcare is exceptionally high and insurance companies are tightly regulated by the government. Health insurance is mandatory for all residents and is divided into two levels:

  • Zorgverzekeringswet (Zvw), often called ‘basic insurance’ and covers standard medical care.
  • Wet Langdurige Zorg (WLZ) covers long-term nursing and care.

Private insurance companies in the Netherlands must offer a core universal package for primary care, which includes the cost of all prescription medicines. The cost of a basic insurance package is around €100 (£70) per month with another social healthcare contribution taken from income. Whether to take out Dutch health insurance depends on the length of your stay. Those from the EU can access emergency treatment through a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and expats from outside the EU must have a private international health insurance policy. Expats (EU and Non-EU) are required to take out a mandatory Dutch healthcare policy on becoming resident in the country. For more information consult the Dutch government website here.

The Netherlands has a wide variety of large department stores and supermarket chains, as well as specialist independent retailers, which are often more expensive. As well as Dutch supermarket chains such as Albert Heijn and Vomar, you will also find the German discount stores Aldi and Lidl. Major UK food and clothing retailer, Marks and Spencer, also have branches in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Most Dutch people like to shop for their groceries each day at independent cheese, bread or butchers shops and browsing some of the Netherlands’ many delicatessens is a good way to spend a Saturday! The cost of groceries is low in comparison to some Western European countries such as the UK and France. Shoppers should be aware that stores are generally open until 6pm, with very limited hours on Sundays.

The Dutch VAT or sales tax rate for most goods and services is currently set at 21%. For some goods and services, a reduced rate of 6% applies.

  • Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – €868.75 (£609.32)
  • Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – €642.77 (£450.82)
  • Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – €3013.64 (£2113.70)
  • Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – €2122.62 (£1488.75)
  • Loaf of bread – €1.26 (£0.88)
  • Milk (1 litre) – €0.89 (£0.62)
  • Bottled water (1.5 litre) – €0.89 (£0.62)
  • Draught beer (0.5 litre) – €0.90 (£0.63)
  • Packet of cigarettes – €6.00 (£4.21)
  • Petrol (1 litre) – €1.60 (£1.12)
  • Cinema ticket – €10.00 (£7.01)

Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed December 2015)

There are a number of price comparison sites which help consumers save, such as Verelijk. Food shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl, and renting an apartment outside of city centres can also significantly cut costs.  


The Netherlands has one of the most extensive road networks in the world, with well-maintained motorways (autosnelweg) and dual carriageways. All roads are toll-free and over a quarter have dedicated cycle tracks. Drivers will encounter a large number of cyclists on most roads, particularly in cities where bicycles significantly outnumber cars. With its large population and small size, you can expect heavy traffic congestion on Dutch roads, both in cities on and the motorway. 

Cars drive on the right in the Netherlands. Speed limits on motorways are 130km/h (80mph), 100km/h (60 mph) on dual carriageways and 50km/h (30mph) in built-up areas. It is compulsory to carry a driving licence, car registration papers and insurance documents while driving. Drivers from an EU member state can use their European Driving Licence, those from outside the EU who intend to stay in the country must exchange their licence for a Dutch one at the Department of Public Service.

Taxis are widely available in the Netherlands, and are useful when the public transport system shuts down at night. Taxis can be hailed in the street, although beware that they are not permitted to stop where they like so it is better to find a designated taxi rank. Fares are calculated on a meter and the driver will give you a receipt at the end of your journey. 

The Netherlands has a well-organised bus network which offers a cheap way of getting around towns and cities. Most services run every 10-30 minutes. All public transport in the Netherlands, including buses, metro, trams and some trains is paid for using the OV-chipkaart swipecard system. There are two types of chipcard; ‘anonymous’, which anyone can buy from one of the OV-chipkaart machines situated in bus and train stations, or ‘personal’, which you can apply for online. You swipe your card in a machine on boarding and getting off public transport.

The Netherlands has an excellent rail network so coaches are often overlooked as a viable travel option. However, it is possible to travel cross-country by coach, which is a cheaper alternative to trains. You can also travel to and around the Netherlands from other European countries by coach, tickets can be booked through Eurolines.

The rail network in the Netherlands is well-developed and efficient, offering an affordable and convenient way to travel around this small country. Intercity and local trains (stoptreinen) run regularly, allowing passengers to easily reach any part of the country within a matter of hours. A high-speed rail service is available from Amsterdam, Schiphol, via The Hague and Rotterdam to Belgium and Paris, on the Thalys or TVG trains. All train tickets must be purchased prior to travelling, and most stations now accept the OV chipkaart (see above). You can check timetables and book online at Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Netherlands Railways)   

Trams are popular in the Netherlands and are seen as an eco-friendly mode of transport. Tram systems are in operation in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht and they run from 6am until around midnight. Amsterdam also has a mixed metro and light rail network, with three routes connecting Amsterdam Centraal station to the outer suburbs. Rotterdam also operates a metro system, consisting of two lines.

Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport is the Netherland’s main international airport. It is one of the busiest airports in the world in terms of passenger traffic, with connections worldwide. Eindhoven International Airport and Groningen Airport also provide European and domestic connections. The largest airline is KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) which flies to 130 destinations around the world.

The Netherlands is a small country so there are only a couple of domestic airlines that provide internal connections, including KLM’s Cityhopper which connects Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Maastricht. However, most visitors choose to get around the country by train, coach or car.

Cycling is the transport of choice in the Netherlands, a country with more bicycles than residents. They say there is no happier cyclist than the Dutch cyclist, and this is probably true – the Netherlands has a vast network of wide cycle lanes, row upon row of bicycle parking facilities and flat roads, making it a cyclist’s paradise. Bike rental shops, such a Yellow Bike in Amsterdam, can be found in every village, town and city.

Another great way to see the country is to take advantage of the Netherland’s hundreds of canals and waterways by renting a boat, canoe or ‘water bike’ (pedalo). Regular ferries also connect Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hook of Holland with the UK.

Cover People will offer a Hints and Tips supplement for anyone moving abroad making sure you are equipped to deal with the different cultures. For more information about teaching in the Netherlands contact the Overseas Team for more information.