I wanted to live abroad since my first holiday with my parents outside Romania, when I was 7 years old. But many things happened that made me put this off until my life got really comfortable in Bucharest.
Because like everything else that is very comfortable, it was very boring.
In search for an adventure, I quit my good job, left my cute red car and my cozy apartment, booked a one way ticket to Amsterdam, squeezed a life into one bag and joined the expat community in The Netherlands.
I chose the lowlands for many reasons. Being tired of traffic jams, I wanted to bike freely, even though I didn’t really know how to bike. Progressive values, an open-minded society and other cultural aspects I just read about excited me about this little country. Little did I know how wrong I was, but how good I will feel at the end of this journey.
1. Culture shock! Dutch people are very nice
One of the things I hear most often about Dutch people is that they are really cold and you can’t get close to them. However, actually doing my research and reading about the Dutch culture before moving helped me. I actually find them really friendly and nice, and I felt welcomed in The Netherlands from day one.
People randomly stopped to help me find my way or to tell me that I dropped something. They helped me set-up my new furniture when I moved into a new apartment, and showed me how to pay my taxes (because websites are in Dutch). Everyone from colleagues at work to the shop owner of a kaaswinkel are nice and friendly. Most importantly, they speak almost perfect English.
The shock sets in with their directness, but to generalize about this is very wrong. I’ve met people who are very direct, almost to the point that we would think of as rude, but also people who are incredibly diplomatic and empathetic.
Also, Romanian expats have a positive or neutral view here and I can’t even count the number of times colleagues of mine told me they visited Romania and they loved it. I never once felt discriminated against or treated differently.
I haven’t search for a Romanian expat community in the Netherlands since I was lucky enough to find the amazing ladies from IWNG who I clicked with immediately. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at events, usually at least 3 out of 10 women were Romanians.
2. The weather is not that bad
Sure, the wind can sometimes throw you off the bike and seeing the sun will be one of the purest joys, but at least the weather is rather flat throughout the year. I have only one word to describe the Dutch weather (even though they have more words for describing weather than the number of words eskimos have in total) – moody.
If you are like me, then yes, you will miss the snowflakes. No, you will not miss the torrid summers and sleeping with AC. What’s annoying about the weather in the lowlands and why I call it moody is that it is rather unpredictable, like mornings can start chilly and evenings are very warm and sunny.
3. Finding jobs as a Romanian expat is not easy
Even though everyone speaks English and you can find many international companies (Unilever, Nike, Philips, Shell, etc.), many jobs require some level of Dutch. You might get screened out just because you don’t speak it.
Considering my experience, but also many of my friends’ experiences, I wouldn’t advise you to come here and search for jobs. Instead, look for one from Romania. That way, you might also benefit from what is known as the 30% ruling, a tax advantage for any highly skilled migrant, including Romanians, who comes to work as an expat in the Netherlands.
4. Traveling from Rotterdam to Amsterdam takes less time than commuting from Tineretului to Bucureștii Noi
Yes, that is correct. There is a fast train that takes you from the Central Station in Rotterdam to Amsterdam in 24 minutes. I often spend my Saturday evenings in Rotterdam and return home in The Hague, as trains run all night.
Many Dutch people commute to work in a different city and trains are very accessible, fast, and reliable. There are enough metros, trams, and buses that cover all parts of the cities. Still, biking is the most preferred to get around and it is very easy and safe here. Also, some companies can pay you if you travel by bike, making up for the travel allowance.
5. Food is bad
As a foodie that grew up with home cooked meals made with delicious sun soaked fruits and veggies, I have a real hard time adjusting to Dutch food. Although Albert Heijn grocery stores have plenty of options from fresh berries to (very weird looking) plums, nothing tastes very good.
I miss a good salata de vinete made with juicy eggplants, or the 10 different varieties of cottage cheese. However, if food is not something you really care about, you can easily adapt here. To make up for this generally bland taste in everything there is the cheese – and I’ve become addicted.
If you love Romanian style parties centered around food and 5 different courses, this is not the place for you. The Dutch are always efficient so they eat een boterham for lunch, the most basic sandwich you can imagine.
What was surprising to me was their impression that eating two hot meals in a day makes them fat, while in Romania eating a sandwich for lunch would be viewed as something potentially fattening.
6. You will never be able to drink Romanian beer again, but you will really miss the wine
As a Romanian, good wine is also something I used to enjoy. Forget about that. I tried everything and nothing is ever good enough for me. They even stopped using corks for some bottles which makes the whole experience feel wrong.
Wherever you go out it is typically difficult to find good wine. They value beer. So much so that they have thousands of varieties and they get into debates about the best beers. And don’t you ever dare to say Heineken is a good beer. For them, it can’t get worse than that. Except maybe for Brand.
7. They are not religious and you might miss Romanian traditions
And since we are on the subject of beer, efficient Dutchies don’t leave any place unused to its maximum capacity, so they transformed a church into a brewery. If you are a Romanian orthodox, you might find this offensive and have a huge culture shock here, where many churches by Sunday become music clubs on Friday.
If you are someone like me, an atheist who always felt trapped into an overly religious Romanian society, you will love it here.
What was completely unexpected for me is how much I was going to miss some of our non-commercial and authentic folklore celebrations such as Dragobete, our Valentine’s day before V’day was cool, and the lovely Mărţişor, the celebration of spring arrival and nature revival.
8. You don’t need to speak Dutch, but you should consider it
Although you can live in Dutch society without learning Dutch, I found it very frustrating to always “google translate.” Therefore, you might have to learn this language as well, if you really want to feel a part of the gezellig Dutch culture.
A Romanian Expat in the Netherlands
In the end, there are many other differences that I could talk about, such as house rent, credit cards, beauty salons, clothing stores and so on. You can find a lot of information online, but keep in mind that each experience is different.
What I can say is that being an expat in the Netherlands is both easy and difficult. They make it very easy for you and very efficient, only as long as you have a job or you study here. Being a EU citizen has these advantages.
It will be difficult because, well, it is different than Romania and you need time to get adjusted. But for me, although I miss Romania deeply and I try to visit often, after my first flight back from Bucharest to Amsterdam, all I felt was “Yes, I am finally back home.”
Maybe you will feel the same or maybe you will want to go back, but I hope that my experience helped you a bit in setting yourself the right expectations if you are considering becoming a Romanian expat in the Netherlands!
If you want to get to know us better, maybe you can come to the next event!