It is exciting news to receive a letter informing you that you have been selected as a PhD candidate at a Dutch university. However, you might find yourself worrying about the practicality and the logistics of making the move from your comfortable place back in your own country to a foreign land. Here are some tips and my experiences regarding how I made the move.
One of the most worrying aspects of the move to the Netherlands is to find a place to live. As you probably have heard by scouring all the websites regarding the housing market in the Netherlands, it is a tough gig to find a place that is convenient. In my case, I was lucky to find a short stay option from the SSH agency in Utrecht. This option was a collaboration between student housing agency SSH and Utrecht University for international newcomers. This gave me a breathing space of 1 year to find a better long-term place for staying. I suggest new PhD students to look closely at their university websites for similar options. Another good place to look for are the intranet portals where colleagues post ads regarding housing, furniture, sublets, etc.
Based on my experience, I must also point out that you should be aware of scammers and fraudulent housing ads who target newcomers. I was a victim of such a scam which was very unfortunate. I made a deal on Facebook with a potential landlord which turned out to be a scam where I ended up sending money towards a rental deposit and first month’s rent. As it turns out, there are a lot of such fake ads on social media. Always be aware of ads which look “too good to be true” and make sure you meet your potential landlord before you commit to the payments.
Since the Netherlands is part of the Schengen Agreement area, the visa process is relatively straightforward. If you have your documents in order, I don’t expect a lot of issues with the processing. However, given the current world of chaos due to the pandemic, you should prepare well in advance and book an appointment as soon as you can for the travel visa. Just as an addendum, I suggest you inform yourself beforehand on the IND website (Government agency of immigration) about the type of visa that you need, the requirements of this visa type and the procedure including estimated time before preparing other things like air travel tickets, etc.
Banking and finances
One important thing to think about when you want to move to the Netherlands is finances. Here, being a European nation, Euro is the national currency. Banking is done mostly online with offices only serving for either processing or for very intensive meetings. Not a lot of people carry cash for daily transactions but rather prefer card or online payments. Also, because the Euro is a relatively stable currency, you might be shocked to find that you do not earn any interest on savings or deposits in the banks. Rather, most banks will charge you fees just to maintain your account. I would suggest researching your options beforehand for all possible avenues to save money. It might be a good idea to explore retirement options and private pensions if you prefer.
One of the most pertinent aspects of moving anywhere is the climate and the weather of the country. The Dutch weather is very windy and “oceanic” since it is a very low altitude country. Also, being in the temperate zone of Europe, you can expect sporadic spells of rain all year round. Having said that, the winters are not too harsh, and the summers are quite warm. Therefore, I suggest you prepare your wardrobe suitable for volatile weather. Based on my experience, I would suggest dressing yourself in layers which you can either put on or peel off on an hourly basis based on the changes in the weather conditions.
Travelling in the Netherlands
One thing that we all do when we wish to move to a new place is find a way to explore our new surroundings. I am sure, you will also be itching to do the same. In the Netherlands, the best way to explore your neighbourhood is by bicycle. The first thing I did when I came here was buy a cheap but dependable bicycle. This was literally my first purchase in the Netherlands. You can either purchase one or rent one depending on your preferences. A good bicycle isn’t necessarily a new one since new bikes can be attractive to thieves. I would always prefer a second-hand bicycle which looks and feels solid.
Apart from that, the Netherlands is a small country, and you can explore all corners of it relatively quickly. To do so with ease, I will suggest using public transport. Although quite expensive compared to neighbouring countries, the Dutch public transport is well connected, punctual and easy to use. You will need a transport card called OV-chipkaart to easily move around. This card allows you to check in and out of all sorts of bus, trams, trains, etc. hassle-free. One of the first things to do when you move to the Netherlands is buying an anonymous card or a personal card with your picture on it depending on your preference. Having a personal card also makes it easier to use seasonal products from transport companies.
Cultural differences to be aware of
While planning to move to the Netherlands, it might be nice to read up on some of the cultural and social norms of the Dutch society. In my experience, Dutch people are very polite and tolerant to newcomers. Most will also be very direct in the way they communicate which might be bewildering in the beginning. You should also know Dutch people prefer informal ways of communicating. So, for example, you will be addressing the head professor in your department by his/her first name (or even their pet name sometimes!). There is not a lot of hierarchic addressing such as “sir” or “madam” in common Dutch parlance.
In my opinion, Dutch society is also very organised and at times very rigorous with respect to planning. If you wish to plan or attend any social gathering, be sure to plan way ahead of time and be on time. No event seems to be “casual” where time management is concerned. In general, though, I found my acquaintances to be very fun to be around and overall, very accommodating.
I think this covers most of the things to think about. I have not mentioned the bureaucratic practicalities of your move such as registering at a municipality, health insurance, residence permit and your PhD contract, because you will receive a lot of information about these from your university as well as websites. Paired with the things I have mentioned above, these practicalities make up the most important things to consider before and during your move to the Netherlands. Having said that, I wish you the best of luck and success for your exciting PhD journey in the Netherlands.