Born and raised abroad, foreign to the Dutch language, moving to study in the Netherlands with no existing support system – my background ticks all the boxes of the international/expat journey. Except for the Dutch nationality I inherited from my mother. The trajectory of a legally Dutch but in every other way a foreign student is, although not uncommon, a not very documented tale. Here’s my experience as an international with a passport.
Let’s set the scene
Although three out of four of my grandparents were born and raised in the Netherlands, both of my parents were born in Geneva, Switzerland, and lived the entirety of their lives in Switzerland. That makes me a dual citizen (Swiss and Dutch), but raised as a monolingual French-speaker. So when I decided to move to Utrecht for university in 2012, at 19 years old, I sure had an advantage with all the procedures involved in moving to the Netherlands, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t completely lost as well.
Beware of scammers
If you don’t already know this, you’re going to find out pretty quickly; the housing market in Utrecht is tough. It is tough for homegrown Dutchies too, but non-Dutch speakers have it bad (i.e. all the “sorry no internationals” listings online), and those house hunting while still out of the country have it worse. So here I was, under the impression I found the perfect room on kamernet, central location, rather affordable… and I got robbed of 1500 euros. It was a scam, this guy went as far as to create an email address pretending to be my future roommate, made me transfer three months rent to a foreign account, as he was renting the apartment because he “got a job abroad”. It was a scam, and my naïve, sort of desperate (and unable to check the place in person) young self fell for it. Eventually, I had to stay at my grandparents’ place until I finally found a room of my own.
Be patient and get some help with legal paperwork
Every legal/procedural step for a non-Dutch-speaking Dutchie is its own little hell in which your peculiar background makes you fall in between all the catered-for boxes. If the information is available in English (it is getting better as years go, but it’s still a struggle), it is never relevant to your situation, because they do not expect Dutch people to need anything but Dutch documentation. So off you go trying to grasp super complicated procedures with your way insufficient Dunglish. In the case of getting a BSN (by the way, here is how to sign up for an appointment) you also get caught in the catch 22 of not being able to get a Dutch phone contract. Getting a Dutch phone contract requires a Dutch bank account, which requires a BSN, which you need to register an address for, but housing is a rare commodity. So start by making an appointment at the BSN office, make sure you have all the documents ready, and get that BSN, cause life is a bummer without that burgerservicenummer.
Apply for student financing
Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs, known as DUO, is the organisation that takes care of all things related to student financing, student loans and transportation discounts. For the most part, DUO money is the part that genuinely made having a Dutch passport a blessing. As a Dutch student, you are eligible for a grant that is calculated based on a number of things such as your parents’ income. Now, they do not take into account the fact that your parents may be living in a country with a different currency, or a different buying power, so the system is not per se super fair, but anything helps.
Who gives you money, costs you some
As a Dutch student, you also benefit from free transportation either during weekdays, or during the weekend (your choice), and 40% off the remaining of the time. However, and I truly could not stress this enough, you are only granted this transportation deal for a certain amount of years (it was 5 for me), and you are required to actively cancel your transportation financing (studentenreisproduct) before the time runs out, or DUO will fine you 97€ per half month (I didn’t and received a 194€ fine). As per January 2019, penalties have been changes to 75€ per half month on the first month and 150€ per half a month after that, as this step-by-step details (in Dutch). Another thing I wish I knew? After your studentenreisproduct expires, NS offers a year of free discounted travels, which you can claim within three months with the codes provided on this page.
Mix it up, get out of your comfort zone
As much as one can whine about the overcomplicated – and rarely translated – legalities and other procedures related to making the move to the Netherlands, it’s a truly neat place to live. Yes, Dutch people tend to be a little cliquey, and the international networks in place (such as ESN or Facebook group the likes of Expats Utrecht) are a great way to build a gezellig social support system. But there are a lot of awesome Dutchies out there more than willing to show you around and help you feel at home, so I strongly suggest you resist the urge of sticking to the familiar expat bubble and try getting a little orange in your life. Give some Meetups a go, join some Nibblr dinners, join a sports team at Olympos or elsewhere. Bonus? They might help you with all that Dutch paperwork ;).