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What to Expect When You First Arrive in the Netherlands

Are you a minimalist? No? Well, I bet you that’s sounding pretty good right about now. Depending on the extent of truth behind the “great organization skills” that you probably have advertised on your CV, you may or may not have already finished packing everything you own into two suitcases to bring with you to the Netherlands.

Either way, the departure date is drawing ever nearer and your brain may have already gone into overdrive mode, conjuring up horror-story scenarios of you falling on your first day of classes. Or walking into the wrong lecture room. Or not really understanding a thing that anyone says. Take a deep breath and stay calm, cool and collected, because I promise you, you’ll be fine. After all, you chose the Netherlands to study in for a reason. 

We’ll walk you through everything you can expect to be doing within the first weeks of arriving. So put aside the nerves for a second and focus on the fun and exciting aspects of your new adventure! 

Seeing your new home

What an exciting feeling: Touching down in or crossing the border into the Netherlands for the first time, knowing that in just a short while you’ll be arriving at your accommodation. Whether shared flat, studio or on-campus student housing, seeing your new home will definitely be a moment to remember. Especially if this is your first time living on your own. Chances are your first night will be a jumble of emotions, with you deciding what to unpack and where to put it, while realization kicks in that you’ve really dropped your old life to move to a new country. The best thing you can do is to order takeout, take it easy, bond with your new flatmates or student housing neighbors and save the stress for the following days.

Registering at the municipality

If you’ll be living in the Netherlands for longer than four months, registering at the town hall in the municipality you will be living in is a must. Once you do that, you’ll receive your so-called BSN, or citizen service number (‘Burgerservicenummer’), which you’ll find yourself needing in all kinds of situations, from getting health insurance and opening a bank account to receiving a salary. Make sure to bring the following documents with you to your visit: 

  • a valid passport or ID card
  • your rental contract
  • your residence permit (if non-EU/EEA)
  • marriage certificates (if applicable) 

You can register via the town hall website of the municipality you’ll be living in. Alternatively, many universities offer registration days, or one-stop-shops, where you can complete tasks like registering yourself and getting student insurance all in one day. 

Opening a Dutch bank account

You may wonder why you should have to get a Dutch bank account, especially if you have a card from another EU country. Well, what many people don’t realize before coming to the Netherlands is that credit cards are rarely used anywhere. In fact, oftentimes paying with one isn’t even possible. Instead, everyone has a debit card (‘pinpas’), and online payments are usually completed using IDEAL, a direct online transfer payment system. Believe me, you’ll thank yourself for getting one. And the good thing is that most of the time the process isn’t even too tedious, as long as you select the right bank. 

Personally, we feel that ABN AMRO, ING and BUNQ are the three best banks for international students, with reasons ranging from easy and free-of-charge registration to English service and special student packages. For a more in-depth overview, check out our website to see the pros of each of these. While you’ll also need to have your passport/ID, tenancy agreement and residence permit (if non-EU/EEA) on hand, you’ll additionally be providing your BSN, whether right away or later. 

As is the case with registering at the municipality, opening a bank account is often also possible at many universities' designated registration days or one-stop shops. This way, you can appoint one sole day for getting all the boring but necessary tasks out of the way. 

Getting a bike

This one’s a bit more fun! You’ve probably heard about the Netherlands’ bike culture on multiple occasions. And there’s really no way to live the true “Dutch experience” without cycling through wind and rain to make it to your 9am lecture on time. So don’t bother waiting too long and get yourself a bike within your first week of arriving in the Netherlands, because it’ll definitely come in handy from the get-go.

Of course, buying a new bike is always an option, but you should be aware of its risk of being stolen. That’s why many students opt for second-hand or subscription bikes. Thanks to Student Mobility’s Mobility Package, you can either opt to buy a pre-owned, refurbished bike or lease one for a fixed monthly fee.

Partying it up at your introduction week

Once you’ve successfully worked your way down the to-do list of practicalities, all that’ll be waiting for you is to officially kickstart your student life. The best way to do that is by signing up for your university’s introduction week. Not only will this help you make your first friends, but its activities will give you a feel for your new city and environment.

Every university’s intro week looks a little differently, but, in general, they all offer a program involving both fun parties and useful information on student life. Whether at a pub quiz or a silent disco, there is really no better way to get to know the people you’ll be studying with for the next few years. In case you’re looking to join any student or study associations, each introduction week hosts a fair where these groups can introduce themselves. The great thing is that there are many, so there’s bound to be something out there for you! 

Check your university’s website for specific information on when and how your introduction week will be taking place. Here’s an overview of some of the main ones: 

  • University of Amsterdam: Intreeweek - 29th of August to 3rd of September 
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam: Eurekaweek - 16th of August to 19th of August 
  • Leiden University: OWL Week - 30th of August to 3rd of September 
  • Utrecht University: UIT Week - 16th of August to 18th of August 
  • University of Groningen: KEI Week - 16th of August to 20th of August

Due to the coronavirus situation, it’s still not completely clear what these orientation weeks will look like, so keep an eye on your university’s website for updates regarding this. Chances are, however, that you’ll still be able to meet some new friends before your first week of classes. 

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