Much depends on where you’re coming from, whether this is your first overseas move and what stage of life you’re at. Single, with a partner, married no kids, married with young kids, married with teens, married with an empty nest, divorced. Whether you’re moving with your job, your spouse’s job, or passing through. Are you approaching the move with excitement, trepidation or exhaustion? Serious things to consider when you’re asked to hand out advice.
I’ve put together some pointers, guidelines if you like, of things I found useful/ wish I’d known/ understood before we moved here.
1. Check out as much as you can before you get here, contact anyone you know who knows/ has known/ might know someone who is living or has lived here. Yes, I know it’s obvious but in the panic of moving, time is scarce. If you have kids their new school will be a phenomenal place to start. Check out the Friends of Wassenaar Facebook page – an incredible resource for information where you can ask specific questions and have the voices of experience, trial and error, answer them.
Let google be your new best friend. There are clubs and societies who are welcoming and helpful – make contact now and you’ll have friends waiting for you when you get here. Read blogs about life here.
Check out The American School of The Hague (ASH) which runs transitions programmes/ adult education courses throughout the school year – not limited to parents at the school but open to anyone. If you no longer have children living with you, or have left them behind in college, ASH has a Next Stage group (informally known as the empty nesters), open to people in the community who have a need – locals and expats alike.
2. Many companies are reducing or have stopped air freight for employees relocating to a new country. If they haven’t, use it wisely. I can only suggest what has worked for us. Everything we put in was to give an immediate sense of the familiar in a strange new place. Children’s bedding and second favorite toy. Family photos to put around a new home or these days a loaded digital frame. Favorite cooking pot and a few can’t-live-without utensils. Favorite food items – candy, cookies, favourite soap / shower gel. A few fridge magnets. A favorite game. It’s amazing how inventive you can get and how these insignificant things mean the most in the first transitional days.
I split our family photos into air, sea and carry-on so in the event of a disaster all would not be lost (it has happened to people we know).
3. Keep all scanned family documents on a cloud, memory stick etc. (passports, birth/marriage/divorce certificates, Social Security cards, insurance documents, names and contact details of banks/lawyers/removal company, even your Christmas card list) anything you think might be needed. Put one stick in air freight, one in sea freight and one as a carry-on. We found this invaluable years after moving; when a family member suddenly needs a copy of passport / birth certificate we can zap one by email.
4. If you know where you will be living set up landline phone/internet/cable TV before you arrive if possible. Over the summer it can sometimes take 12 WEEKS to get connected. Find places with free wi-fi in the interim.
5. Buy a pay-as-you-go cell phone the second you get off the plane. It can often take a while to set up a contract phone especially if you have no initial address (the Dutch love their paperwork). It’s a good idea to have one so you have an emergency contact for school, removal people, new friends. It’ll make you feel more independent and the phone shops will set the language programs to English for you. If you decide to get a contract phone the pay-as-you-go will be essential for your guests to use when they start to visit.
6. If you use prescribed medications get a 6-12 month supply from your current GP, especially for children. Antibiotics are only prescribed here if you are on the point of death, so if you know you will need them discuss this with your current doctor and bring some over. Bring your favorite painkillers – Tylenol, Ibuprofen, migraine medications, whatever. Of course you can buy similar products here but all dosage instructions will be in Dutch – a stress you don’t need at 3am with a sick child. Ladies – certain over the counter items bought in other countries are by prescription only here. If you tend to get yeast infections bring some Monostat or equivalent with you, the same with birth control pills. It will make life less stressful until you can get established and settled.
7. The Netherlands is expensive relative to most countries, particularly the US. Bring children’s clothes if you can, shoes and most importantly underwear. Seriously. That applies to adults too. Unless you are tall and willowy getting clothes here to fit may be an issue. The shoulders may fit, but the body will be too long, as will sleeves and legs. It may take time to find your way around the clothes stores so save yourself the stress. Bring rain gear with you, including waterproof trousers – you will need them and it will be cheaper where you are. Umbrellas? Bring several.
8. Driving here after the US can be intimidating. Take time to learn the rules. You will not be allowed to chat on a cell phone and drive – it is not physically possible as all energy will be focused on watching for bikes. Assume everyone but you has priority, including bikes and pedestrians, and you won’t go far wrong. Unless marked, traffic coming from your right has priority – scary the first time a car pulls out at speed in front of you. Every summer there seem to be countless accidents as new people are caught out.
9. A pre-lit Christmas tree, transformer and your Christmas decorations. Come the dark days of December you’ll get so much pleasure knowing you have a tree ready to put up. I bought one in July, so it can be done. Much cheaper than here and stress free (so long as you buy a transformer). After a few years you might decide to ‘go native’ but for the first Christmas this is so worth it.
10. Bring a ready smile and a positive attitude, even if you’re ready to murder your spouse, the children or anyone in a five-mile radius. This can make or break your stay here. I know you know this but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. There will be bad days but eventually you’ll realise the good outnumber the bad and before you know it the Netherlands has become ‘home’.
Welcome to the Netherlands – hope you enjoy your stay!