My journey moving to the Netherlands
So I recently relocated to the Netherlands. It’s been quite a journey, so I’m writing this blog as to document my first impressions as a South African in the Netherlands.
So, the flight was long… very long, I travelled for just over 18 hours and I was spent when I arrived. On the second flight from Dubai I was fortunate enough to sit next to a lovely Dutch couple returning from vacation in Mauritius. They were very friendly and also gave me my first experience of the Dutch people. We chatted about the sights I just had to go see, and also the sights they still wanted to go see, yes, they live here and still they haven’t seen all the sights despite the country being roughly the size of Kwazulu-Natal. When we landed at Schiphol Nicolaas gave me his phone number and told me, we should go have a beer sometime. What a nice guy.
Arrived at Schiphol
The airport was your typical airport experience, everybody hurrying to the baggage claim and then still end up waiting half an hour for your luggage. I swear, they always put mine on the conveyor last. After quite some time I finally got my luggage and I went through customs with no hiccups. While waiting in the general airport arrivals area I discovered a free and open airport wifi service (thanks Schiphol) so I connected and I was able to phone the people meant to come pick me up.
Travelling from the airport to where I was going to be staying was my first ‘Dutch’ experience of sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, quite an experience indeed, you’ll find yourself hitting that phantom brake quite a few times. I was fortunate enough to have friends I could stay with in Utrecht so it was very nice to see some familiar faces. I showered, ate, and slept like a log that night.
Day 1: Dutch prices
So finally day 1 (yesterday didn’t count, I was a zombie), with some much needed sleep the experience was becoming real. I went for a walk in the chilly autumn weather and I could really feel a sense of peace, people cycling to where they needed to be, children playing in parks unsupervised as it is just normal here. Walking through some shops you quickly learn the different way of life here, you learn that they love their bread and their beer. Everyone warns you not to do the conversion on the cost, but that is much easier said than done seeing as your first month’s money is most likely what you would have brought with you from South Africa and you bought it at a premium, so go ahead do the conversion, it will help you be conservative. Note that your perspective on the costs of things will change once you start earning a salary in Euros.
Day 2: receiving a BSN
On day 2 I went to the Gemeente where I had to be registered to get a BSN number. You need a BSN number for most of everything you do here. The BSN is the number used to identify you and confirm your address. When moving to a different town or suburb (Wijk) you will need to register at your new Gemeente so they can update your address info which is linked to your BSN (remember to make an appointment). After spending about 10 minutes at the Gemeente to fill in the forms etc., yes it was that quick, I went to the office to go fetch my car that the company provided for me.
So this was it I had to drive on the righthand side of the road, and lucky me, the Europeans do not really like automatic transmissions. So here I go, sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and all this changing gears with the ‘wrong’ hand. Also, it is quite an adjustment with the highways having digital signs depicting dynamic speed restrictions, which you MUST obey as they have speed cameras everywhere. Refuelling is also quite a different experience to that in South Africa as you refill the car yourself and go pay inside. After a few days you get used to it all though.
Day 3: Verblijfstitel (Residence Permit) from the IND
Day 3 I had to go to the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation Service/Dienst) in Utrecht Central to pick up my Verblijfstitel (Residence Permit) card. So I hopped on a train (sprinter) in Houten (silent ‘n’ as with most Dutch words) and took it to Utrecht Central. Utrecht Central Train Station is massive, quite a sight. So getting off the train I headed to the IND using my trusty Google Maps. I walked through some quaint city streets taking in all the beautiful old buildings. Upon checking in with reception at the IND I got a ticket and was told to wait in the waiting area for my number to be called. Two minutes later I got called to a service desk, and again, less than 10 minutes was spent at the IND, extremely efficient.
Walking back to the train station took me through a mall, and alas, some familiarity, a McDonald's. So I stopped for a bite, had a walk through the mall checking out all the interesting shops, and got on the train back to Houten.
From then onwards I had a lovely braai with friends one Saturday, the South African way, cold and rainy but that wasn’t going to stop us. I also went to Amsterdam for a night on the town, bar hopping with friends.
First week: finding a place to live
One of the most challenging things for me was finding somewhere to live, knowing which area, finding a place that is not ‘kaal’ (shell, no flooring or fixtures) and an agency that didn’t want to charge me 3 months deposit. My best advice would be to make sure you find a place that is not to far from a train station and try and stay in the RandStadt triangle, anywhere between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, as it is very likely you will be working in or close to one of these major cities. Also avoid taking a place that is describe as kaal or shell, you might be tempted as they tend to be cheaper than the other places, but it can become quite costly to outfit the place and having to remove it all when you move out.
The people here can sometimes speak English but it gets much more rare as you move inland, Amsterdam is probably the only place you will get by on English only, so know that you will have to learn Dutch.
At the point of writing this article I have been here for all but 3 weeks and enjoying the experience all the way, learning new things almost everyday.