It’s easy to get around the Netherlands, which is great because there is lots to see and do. Residents and visitors alike enjoy an extensive bike lane network, public transportation is reliable, and the roads and highways are generally in great condition. But to be properly prepared before you leave your new home, one of the first things you need to know if you are walking, cycling or taking public transportation is how to check the weather. Weather websites and apps like Buienradar, Weerplaza and Buienalarm can help you decide whether you need that rain jacket / umbrella, which brings us to owning appropriate clothing. Rainproof jackets and pants are a must, especially if you plan on cycling. Gore-tex clothing (and possibly shoes) are worth the investment before arriving in the Netherlands, since you will be using them quite a lot. Inexpensive rain pants and jackets are available at HEMA and at other stores all over the country.
You would think that this one would be obvious, but there are actually a few things you need to know for safe walking in the Netherlands. When walking, make sure to do it on a sidewalk and not in a bike lane. Bike lanes generally separated from sidewalks, although they may also be elevated like sidewalks. Bike lanes are often paved in red or laid with red tiles. Sidewalks are closer to buildings, and bike lanes are closer to the road (sometimes between buildings and parking spaces, sometimes directly on the street). If you are walking in a bike lane, you can be sure someone will ring their bell and yell at you to get out of the way. Now that you know the how, here’s the why: A pair of comfortable walking shoes and a map are a great way to explore a new city. If you feel like taking a train somewhere and then walking or exploring, NS (Dutch Railways) has walking routes from station to station. There are maps for each route, but the website and detailed directions are in Dutch only.
When looking around the city streets, it’s clear that bikes are a popular transportation method in the Netherlands. In 2016, there were about four times as many bikes as cars in Amsterdam. Although it may sometimes seem that there are no biking rules, since cyclists have been known to run red lights and make other unwise moves, there are safety rules for cyclists. When cycling, be sure to use hand signals so everyone (car drivers, other cyclists and pedestrians) knows your directional intentions. You can be fined for several things while cycling, including holding and using your mobile phone. If you need to use the map on your phone, invest in a phone holder for your bike frame to be safe and save yourself a €95 fine!
Bikes do get stolen frequently, so it is important to have a good lock (or two). It’s best to have a bike that doesn’t look too nice so as not to attract the attention of thieves. There are plenty of places to buy secondhand bikes, including many local bike shops. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to selling bikes and you can also find them on Marktplaats (a Dutch cross between Craigslist and eBay) as well. New bikes often seem expensive compared to US prices, but they actually hold their value and you can easily sell a bike if you move again. BikeFair is a website dedicated to selling used bikes that are verified as non-stolen. And have you noticed a lot of bikes with blue front tires? Those are from Swapfiets, where you pay a monthly fee for a bike of your choice (there are three models to choose from in the Netherlands). If your bike breaks down or is stolen, they will replace it. Sometimes bikes aren’t stolen but instead have been removed by city workers. In Amsterdam, improperly parked bicycles can be impounded. If that happens, you will have to go to the Bicycle Depot (fietsdepot) to collect it after paying a fee. The address and more info can be found here.
The public transportation network in the Netherlands is good and generally reliable. There are trams, buses, ferries, metros and trains to get you where you need to go. GVB runs the trams and metros in Amsterdam. Connexxion operates most buses in Noord-Holland (especially between Amsterdam and the surrounding areas of Aalsmeer, Amstelveen, Schiphol, and Haarlem and between Amsterdam and ‘t Gooi). The NS runs most trains in the Netherlands, although there are local train companies in some parts of the country.
Except for children under the age of four (who travel free), a valid ticket or electronic fare is always required to use public transportation. You can purchase single-use tickets, but it is easier and cheaper to travel with a public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) if you are staying longer than a few days. There are two kinds of cards. Personal cards have your photo on them and can be linked to your bank account for automatically topping up your card balance. Anonymous cards must be manually loaded with a prepaid amount (so you will have to check the balance before you use the card). They are good to have on hand for visitors or if you use public transportation very infrequently. Age-related discounts, student discounts, service subscriptions or season tickets are only available with a personal public transport chip card, not anonymous ones. See which kind of card you need.
When using all forms of public transportation, you will need to check in and out with your public transport chip card or ticket. On trams and buses, swipe your card in front of the card reader when entering and exiting. To ride metros and trains, you need to swipe your card on the reader to pass through the gates (poortjes) to enter and exit the platforms (most, but not all stations have gates). To use your public transport chip card for train travel, you must have a €20 minimum balance for an anonymous card and a €10 minimum balance for a personal card. A personal card is more useful in this case because it is linked to your bank account and can top up automatically if your balance is low. You can read on the OV-chipkaart website how to set up automatic top-ups on your personal card.
If you have a personal public transport chip card, you can purchase seasonal or subscription tickets (an abonnement) if you are a frequent user. Kids between the ages of 4 and 11 can travel for free on trains with someone aged 12 or over if they have a subscription called Kids Vrij. If you take GVB trams, buses or metros in Amsterdam to go to work or school, see the GVB's web page about subscriptions. If you take NS trains to work or school, read here about flexible season tickets or here for traditional season tickets, including those along a fixed route (not available as part of a flexible season ticket). Up to four people can travel together by train at a 40% discount during off-peak times if only one of you has a subscription. For more information on how to get this combined travel discount (samenreiskorting), read here. If you want to take your dog or your bike (during off-peak times only, except during July and August) on a train with you, you will also need to purchase specific tickets.
For traveling outside of Amsterdam, there are several websites or their corresponding apps that may come in handy, such as 9292 (door-to-door information about transportation throughout the entire country), NS Reisplanner (the official app for Dutch Railways), and the official Schiphol Airport app. Google Maps also provides public transportation directions between destinations, where available.
People do also drive cars in the Netherlands, but with trams, buses, cyclists and pedestrians to consider, it can be a daunting prospect. There are lots of options for getting cars — leasing, buying, renting and even car sharing. You can also import your car when you move but, according to one AWCA member, it may not be worth the time, cost and hassle. If you do want to bring your car with you, read Angloinfo.com’s article on how to register a vehicle in the Netherlands. Once you yourself have registered in the Netherlands, you are able to drive on your American (or other foreign) driving license for only a limited amount of time. If you have a license issued in another EU/EFTA country (and a few other countries), or have the 30% tax ruling, you may exchange your foreign license for a Dutch one within 185 days of registration. You can do this at your local municipality (gemeente) office. Read which documents are required to exchange your license. If you do not meet the conditions for exchanging your license, you must take the Dutch theory exam and pass the practical driving test. Information can be found on the CBR website (in Dutch) on how to go about getting your Dutch license. Even if you don’t need to take the driving test, it’s a good idea to review the rules of the Dutch road to familiarize yourself with the differences — and potentially prevent an accident due to confusion about right of way! There are several online websites in English to learn the driving theory, including Theorie Examen (much of the content is free and in English). If you have a car, you will also need to check with your local municipality to see whether a parking permit is necessary. You will definitely need one in Amsterdam, and you can find information online regarding permits and waiting list times.
If you are moving to the Netherlands and are not sure you will need a car, there are other options besides renting, leasing and buying. Car-sharing companies can provide an easy and hassle-free option if you think you may only need a car occasionally. Share Now (formerly car2go, only in Amsterdam), Connectcar (in Amsterdam and Haarlem, among other cities), Greenwheels (available in 100 cities around the Netherlands), and Sixt Share (a new option, and available in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag) are just a few. SnappCar is also a car-sharing service, but car owners rent out their private vehicles to other individuals. If you do want to buy a car, you can read Driving a Car in the Netherlands from XPAT.NL and Expatica’s article on Buying a Car in the Netherlands to find out what you need to get started.
No matter how you choose to travel in the Netherlands, all of these options put together will enable you to get out and about and explore your new home country in no time at all!
Looking for more? Members of the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam have access to a wealth of additional information, including web resources and a members-only Facebook group with a long archive to search and plenty of willing help.
For more information about the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam, check out our website or drop us a note. We are an active, diverse club that welcomes new members with open arms, whether you’ve been in the Netherlands for 20 minutes or 20 years.