The Hague, The Netherlands Report of what it's like to live there - 05/24/22

Personal Experiences from The Hague, The Netherlands

The Hague, The Netherlands 05/24/22

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Third tour, with lots of prior expat experiences too. First EUR tour with the gov.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

DC. Getting back to DC is very easy, but when I tried to visit other friends around the States I was very surprised at the high cost and limited availability of direct flights from such a large European airport as Amsterdam.

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3. What years did you live here?

2021-2022.

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4. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

USG.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

I feel like this post used to be a gem for housing. There are plenty of people who have been here for around five years who talk about the decline in housing and increasing dissatisfaction. Recently there's been a shortage of available housing and most new arrivals have spent a significant time in hotels before being ready to move.

I've heard that many of the landlords don't want to rent to us, so the best properties are easily scooped up by other embassies and employees of the high paying expat companies. There seems to be a trend that the best houses and apartments have been in the housing pool for a long time and the newer ones aren't as nice.

Nonetheless, singles and childless couples (or those with young kids) tend to live in the city, near the beach, or in the nearby suburbs. But I know quite a few people who were disappointed to find out they ended up out in the suburbs near the school and away from the activity in town. Supposedly, they're having trouble getting apartments in town so the chances of being put out in the suburbs are higher going forward. The existing city apartments are mostly 2/3 bedrooms.

Families mostly are near Wassenaar, the suburb near the American school. There are a few clusters with generally nice houses that people rave about because you arrive to a ready and welcoming community. Houses range from large and spacious with huge yards, to townhouses with limited green space and minimal storage. There are a few unfortunate houses in the pool that seem to be far from both the school and the city, making it hard for kids to make friends while also not coming with the benefits of a livelier neighborhood. As with many places, much of housing here is luck.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Excellent. If you're a healthy eater, you might find that the selection here is larger and cheaper than in the U.S. Grocery stores are smaller, but I feel like it mostly comes at the cost of a smaller selection of snacks and processed foods.

Groceries tend to be cheaper than in the U.S., except for meat which can be quite a bit more. There are plenty of grocery delivery services here that are very affordable and can make the best conveniences of the States.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

There seem to be a lot of people at post that ship out toilet paper, pet food, and a few random oddities through DPO but I find the local options perfectly fine.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

I wouldn't say The Hague has a great restaurant scene, but there are still plenty of decent options. Italian, Indonesian, modern European, and frite shops make up a big percent of the restaurants around town.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None, this place doesn't have much in the way of annoying bugs or dangerous wildlife.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

There are cleaning services around 15 euros/hour. Most other household help is rare, but there are 1-2 officers that have brought a nanny with them. I think recently somebody had an au pair.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There's a small gym in the Embassy and a few gyms in town and near the beach. Cost is comparable to the U.S.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

The Netherlands is a nearly cashless society and a local bank account is absolutely necessary. Currently there are issues that a lot of vendors only take Dutch cards, but their payment system is supposed to become interoperable with MasterCard sometime in 2023.

You will need to get a Dutch bank account ASAP though as there are lots of things that can't be set up without it.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. As always, it's considered nice if you make an effort but I haven't really heard of anyone making progress with Dutch unless they came in with advanced language training. It's literally the top country in the world for English proficiency where it's not a native language.

Occasionally you'll come across a website or menu that's only in Dutch, but virtually everyone you encounter in day to day life speaks great English.

Post does not have a language program at the moment, but I believe they're considering arranging one. I know of one person that found a local tutor, but it's not cheap.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The Netherlands probably tries better than most places to accommodate disabilities, but multilevel homes and steep stairs are ubiquitous here.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Safe, frequent, reliable, but much more expensive than normal. The Netherlands has the most expensive public transit system in the EU. The 45 minute train to Amsterdam is around $14/each way, a local tram across town is $3, and an uber across town around $20-30.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Smaller is better, especially if you plan to live in the city. Street parking and garage spots (for those lucky few) are much smaller than in the U.S. People in the suburbs seem to manage with mid-size SUVs and minivans, but it could be annoying when visiting a town.

As of Summer 2022, options for buying locally seem to be a bit better than buying abroad and shipping in. But this depends heavily on what time of year you arrive.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet here is great, but slightly expensive. Gigabit is available in a lot of places but can be around 80 euros a month, other plans 40-60 if you don't add TV. Installation can take 2-4 weeks so make sure you get a bank account early so you're ready to go quickly.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

It's around 15-25 euros/month for a plan. I've heard of quite a few people keeping their phone plans from other EU posts that are cheaper and just using roaming forever.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Lots of pets here, no major hurdles.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There are a good amount of EFM jobs at the Embassy and lots of people telecommute as well. Surprisingly, I haven't heard of many people with local jobs but I'm not sure if there are barriers or if that's just a matter of preference.

Salaries are good, but still less than the U.S.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Comparable to the States. Some sections are more casual and others are mostly in suits.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

This is probably one of the safest posts in the world. Biking is a way of life here and most expats take it up as well. For whatever reason, the Dutch don't believe in bicycle helmets so an accidental spill on a bike is probably your greatest risk.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is supposedly good, but you'll hear lots of complaints from the expat community. Dutch doctors definitely take a different approach to medicine that is more hands off. Wait times for appointments can also be pretty bad: I recently had to wait two months to get tests ordered by my doctor.

People largely handle everything in country, from dentist visits to surgery.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality seems great, but actual pollution numbers are higher than big cities in the U.S.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

No major issues.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

The rain and short days in the winter can get pretty rough. The Netherlands had one of the longest lockdowns in Europe during COVID and lots of people are kinda worried that another harsh lockdown could happen again.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cool and wet year round. It never really gets hot here, nor does it spend any significant amount of time below freezing. The rain and wind can really wear you down though, especially with the short days of winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The American school has an excellent reputation and is pretty much universally praised. I've heard of many people who sought out this post for the school.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

There's a big expat community in The Hague and in lots of nearby cities (Leiden, Delft, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam). Morale is high, but I can say that the Netherlands attracts more professional-minded and career-driven expats than other countries. You may find the social scene here a bit more quiet compared to other spots.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Families tend to make friends through neighborhood groups and the school. Singles and couples without kids seem to gravitate to expat and other social groups in the city.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes for all, but you'll definitely hear some mixed opinions. I think the country has a lot to offer all these groups, but if you're used to a thriving metropolis and endless activity you'll be disappointed. Similarly, if you're used to very tight communities that come with some posts, you may not find that here either.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

This is a common complaint. You'll find that almost everyone in expat circles says they have hardly any Dutch friends. The Dutch have a reputation of being more closed-off and less open to integrating people into their friend groups, so you'll likely find that most of your friends are other internationals.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, definitely one of the top five in the world. The Netherlands was the first country with marriage equality.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I don't think any country has eradicated these problems, but again the Netherlands is probably one of the best places in the world for social justice and equality.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

There are tons of options for local travel. I think I've done around 15 other towns/cities and enjoyed all of them. Travel to the airport is easy and the flight options for Europe are endless. It will be hard to adjust to a new country that doesn't have the amazing travel options offered here.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Check out all the Dutch towns, most are only an hour away and nearly all are less than two hours away. Leiden and Delft are great.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

I've loved getting into cycling and being in a place where the infrastructure for it is so great. It's literally the best in the world and it's so nice to be able to get everywhere so easily.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The Hague isn't Amsterdam; it's even quieter than you would guess for a city of 500k.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Sunscreen.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bike.

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