Hello, and welcome to BAISmag’s The Student Diaries, a comprehensive-ish guide to moving to The Netherlands as an international student! Our second article focuses on
Administration, Bureaucracy, and Civil Service, and how the bureaucracy in the Netherlands works.
Administration, Bureaucracy, and Civil Service
Part of moving to a new country is adult-ing: you’ll have to do everything yourself now since your parents or guardians won’t be around to help out. You’ll have to call the doctor on your own now, learn to manage finances, figure out which insurance is needed, know what’s what regarding the housing contract etc. It’s especially difficult to tell which student needs to deal with what exactly, since a European student does not have to handle much bureaucracy compared to a non-EU international student (like US or Japan). Bureaucracy in the Netherlands is especially a pain in the ass to deal with, quoting Niamh: “bureaucracy structure sucks”.
But no worries, BAISmag got you (hopefully) – so here’s a few things to expect when dealing with bureaucracy in the Netherlands!
- Language barrier
Language barrier plays a role in the difficulty of bureaucracy, as Niamh said: “speaking the language makes things way easier”. Further, even though she speaks Dutch, she noted that bureaucracy uses “such formal language that she can’t understand everything and has to triple check and ask family members.” European students don’t need a student visa to study in the Netherlands, but international students do. When a Japanese student had to deal with the application of the study visa, Leiden University helped; however, there was a lot of back and forth and miscommunication between Leiden University and the government, so “I had to wait long to get my visa”. This student noted that the language barrier could be a reason for confusion. A way to avoid this situation could be to email the university way before on how the application works, and ask Dutch friends or acquaintances to help translate. Additionally, some official government pages might be available in your mother tongue and they are almost always available in English. You can find out either by checking the languages listed on that page (they might be hidden in unexpected places), or just wing it old school and google the information in your own mother tongue. Emailing or calling the respective help desk might also yield positive results. They are, after all, paid to help you.
In the Netherlands, you can be fined if you live there without health insurance. So, before coming here, check if your health insurance back home covers for you studying in the Netherlands. You never know what accident (minor or major) may happen, especially during a drunken (student) night out or during an adventure biking through the city. Further, registering into a health clinic as early as you can is recommended, since a lot of health clinics in the city center get filled up quite fast. Most doctors or general practitioners (GP), as they’re called here in the Netherlands, are able to speak English, but if you’re more comfortable going to a health clinic specifically aimed at internationals or expats, then you can check International Health Clinic the Hague (IHCH).
Francesca mentioned that the “lack of acceptance of mastercard or Visa” is an obstacle as well. This is because most stores in the Netherlands don’t accept credit cards as payment, only debit cards, for example Maestro. It’s a common issue that non-Dutch students encounter. Opening a bank account with a Dutch bank is also another bureaucratic struggle, so a solution could be to look into Bunq, which is an online bank that’s specifically for expats. As a last resort, carrying some cash is always good advice. Although the pandemic has furthered the change to “card only” even more, many places still accept cash. And if you get fed up with all the small coins, just walk into a restaurant or onto the market and ask to exchange it for bills. You’ll be their hero.
- Public transport
The public transport system in the Netherlands is known to be one of the best in Europe, but quoting Tyler: “it very quickly becomes expensive for international students”, because non-Dutch students don’t have free or discounted public transportation like Dutch students do. It’s possible to subscribe to a public transport membership, but it’s not that much better to be honest, for international students at least. Next best solution is to fully integrate into Dutch culture and just get a bicycle to bike around. It’s a great form of exercise!
Of course, for longer trips the train might just be preferable still. If those trips are not entirely last-minute, check out the NS website. They oftentime offer day trip prices, which allow you to travel to designated stations at a lower cost. Sometimes, museum visits and/or coffee and a snack are also included! Lastly, make sure to befriend some Dutchies (how to do so will be explained in another article!). With their student travel, they can have up to three other people accompany them at a 40% discount during off-peak hours. Just don’t forget to put the “Samenreiskorting” (transl. Combined travel discount) on your OV-chipcard at an NS ticket machine.
By now you’ll have hopefully gotten a better grasp on the bureaucracy of the Netherlands and will be a bit more prepared to deal with it when moving here. Armed and ready to beat the bureaucratic obstacles, read in the next article on how to tackle the rainy Dutch weather!
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