Student in the Netherlands: Survival kit

Ok, let’s recap. You’ve decided to study abroad and you’ve made the big move. You’re settling into your new home and now you’re getting to know your surroundings. But where to start?

There are a few things that are crucial to do within the first 2 weeks of arriving, before you can really get to the fun stuff.

Hopefully you’ve already sorted through a lot of it with the help of your university’s international office, but just to make sure, here’s a good list to start off with. Let’s start with the basics:

 Register with the Gemeente & Apply for DigiD
In the Netherlands, you are required by law to let your local municipality office (gemeente) know you are living there if you intend to stay for longer than four months.

The process is generally quite straightforward and requires a few documents from you. These are:
- a copy of your passport (or ID card for European citizens)
- a legalised copy of your birth certificate (and marriage certificate in case you are married)
- proof of residence in the Netherlands, usually accepted in the form of your rental contract

You simply take these documents to your local municipality office, which you should be able to find doing a quick online search. It is important to be registered as this will provide you with your Burgerservicenummer (BSN), the Dutch version of a social security number. You should receive your BSN either on the spot or via mail to your address in the following week or two.

It is very likely that your university will organise a meeting with the Gemeente during the introduction days. Attending it is probably the easiest and most convenient way to complete this step.

Also try to get your DigiD, an online signature used by many of the government institutions such as the Dutch tax office, during the first few days as this also may take some time to arrive.

 Set up your Dutch bank account
Setting up a bank account in the Netherlands can be a hassle if you don’t do it as soon as you can. The three large banks, ING, ABN-AMRO, and Rabobank, generally follow a similar procedure to open a student account and may even have agreements with your university (so check with your international office if you’re unsure which to choose).

You must bring the following documents when you go to the bank to make sure you have no difficulties:
- a copy of your passport (or ID card for European citizens)
- proof of your address (again, can be provided using your rental contract)
- in some cases, your BSN
- in some cases, a letter from your university confirming enrollment

You don’t have to pick the bank that your university has agreements with, and keep in mind that internet banking at ING and Rabobank is currently only in Dutch, so do a little research into the banks before you settle on one.

 Sort out all of your bills and administration
You’ll have a much easier time with your move if you make sure to take care of all your administration and bills ahead of time. It is important that you have all of your residence visa (if applicable) applications and payments made or in the process of being completed.

It’s also important to make sure your insurance, rent, and phone bills are paid for as you may be between bank accounts while your Dutch account is being opened, which can take up to two weeks.

You are legally required to have health insurance in the Netherlands. If you have proof that you are covered by an insurance company from your home country, that is also okay, but if you’d like to work during your studies you should get Dutch insurance or you could face having to pay a large fine otherwise.

It is also crucial that you figure out how to register for your classes before the school year starts, as well as how to pay for tuition. But the how-to on this should be covered by your university.

 Find the closest grocery store / pharmacy
Once you’ve gotten all the administrative stuff out of the way, it’s time to stop living off of the noodle soup and kebabs and find your way to your local grocery store and pharmacy. Go out and explore your neighbourhood!

Also find out the location of a hospital or nearby doctor’s or dentist’s office in case of emergencies. It’s way better to know ahead of time than to be in pain trying to see through blurred eyes how to get there via Google maps.

Now that I’ve imparted the knowledge that I wish I would’ve had upon my arrival (use it wisely), let’s get ready to go out and have some FUN!

Sonia M


Sonia M

I'm a Romanian/Canadian currently living in Rotterdam. I spent my first two years in the Netherlands living the life of an international student in Amsterdam. I am now self-employed, working...

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