6 Dutch things that will surprise Filipino expats

Or why the Netherlands is a great country for Pinoys overseas

Text and images by Joe Ilaog

Moving to live in a different country is exciting but can be stressful. Aside from missing family and friends, integrating to a new society usually involves things quite different from what you are used to back home. Indeed, the Dutch life offers surprises to Filipino Expats looking into making the Netherlands their new home.

Bikes everywhere​

I’m just going to state the obvious here and call the Netherlands “the bike country.” According to the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, there are about 23 million bikes compared to only 18 million people living in the Netherlands—and it shows. Whether you are in a busy city street or in a quiet countryside, you are very likely to see Dutchies riding their favorite mode of transportation. They take it to school, to work, to buy groceries, and even to pubs to meet friends for a drink. Unlike most modern cities built around cars, cities in the Netherlands built streets designed to direct cars out of local neighborhoods to arterial roads at slow speeds making it safer for bicycles to rule the streets.

Netherlands, the bike country

Dutch supermarkets in every corner

Unlike North American supermarkets that encourage “hoarding” behavior, Dutch supermarkets want you to do frequent visits to get only the things you need. Supermarkets in the Netherlands are compact and scattered around Dutch cities. You are likely to find 3 to 4 supermarkets within a kilometer radius of your house. This means picking up fresh dinner ingredients on your way home from work is the norm rather than waiting in traffic in your car full of groceries enough to feed your family for a month on a random workday. Some things to remember: (a) bring reusable shopping bags; (b) Most supermarkets only allow cash or debit payment from a Dutch bank; (c) return plastic bottles to collect small deposit; (d) there are no baggers so bag your own items; and, (e) there are no parking lots on most supermarkets so bring your bike or just walk.

Frequent shopping for fresh produce

Better banking for a cost

One of the bigger surprises I had integrating into Dutch life is the fact that it would cost you between €2 to €20 per month to have a bank account in the Netherlands. Yes, you pay for the services provided by the bank, which is a stark difference compared to how banking is in the Philippines. But in return, you get a very convenient way of managing your finances. Not only do you get a debit card that is accepted at most shops in the Netherlands, utility companies are paid directly from the bank account you’ve provided during your application for the service.

Very efficient public transport

Business Insider ranks the Netherlands third among places with the best infrastructure in the world, next to Hong Kong and Singapore. It’s easy to travel around the whole country, whether by a private car, train, boat, bike or even on foot. You have one card you use for buses, trams, metros, and high-speed trains that you can conveniently top up online.

Commuting day scene in the Netherlands

English speakers everywhere

Did you know that the Dutch are the most proficient non-native English speakers in the world (according to EF English Proficiency Index) and the Philippines is just ranked 18th? That means you could easily ask for directions or request for an extra serving of fries without the need for installing translator apps on your phone. Most Dutchies will gladly talk to you in English once they’ve realized you can’t speak Dutch. Dutch is still the official language in the country, but you should take comfort in the fact that you would still be able to get by your daily life using English until you learn to speak Dutch.

World Class healthcare system

One of the perks of living in a developed country is an awesome healthcare system accorded to residents. The Netherlands has the infrastructure, skilled professionals, and government readiness to take care of its population’s medical needs. Health insurance is mandatory for all residents. Government even penalizes expats who are not able to get insurance coverage within five months after registering with the city hall. It is therefore highly advisable to get your insurance as soon as possible. In return for paying your monthly premium, you get coverage for doctor’s appointments, hospital stays, surgery and emergency treatment, and even medications.

Contributing writer Joe Ilaog is a Filipino expat in the Netherlands. You can follow him on Instagram @the_daily_joe_ and on Twitter @joe_ilaog. Join his advocacy in supporting the Global Filipino community and share his stories.