4 January 2017

Kate Vowles - Expat in The Netherlands

Kate Vowles - Expat in The Netherlands

We’ve had the chance to talk to Kate Vowles, 29, a British-American expat who has moved to The Netherlands alone. Ms. Vowles who has been living there for three years, now works as a teacher.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: This is always a difficult question, as I was born in Cyprus to a British father and Dutch mother; I had a British passport when we moved to the USA, and I have lived in the USA the longest.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: I had travelled previously to study abroad, and as our family had always travelled a lot (since most of our family lived abroad), it was the natural next step.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: The Netherlands; it is where my mother is from.


Q: How long have you been living in the Netherlands?

A: Three years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my partner, but my partner is also an expat. We’ve both lived abroad before, so the “expat lifestyle” isn’t too strange.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Not often, as I’ve lived away from most of them for a long time, and I was used to being away from family (grandparents, etc.) since I was a child. I also have my mother’s family nearby and we see each other at family gatherings and on weekends now and again. Most of my family is spread across the globe, so it is nice to have Skype/Facetime and to be able to send messages to each other.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: They are great! However, I thought the cyclists were mad at first! My first month in Groningen I was terrified of joining the throng of cyclists. One gets used to it quickly, though. Cycling is a way of life and it is ingrained in the culture here.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in the Netherlands? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: It was fairly easy to meet people once I started attending groups and language classes; it was usually a mix of locals and expats. It’s sometimes hard to find and keep a social circle as people are often moving away. 


Q: How does the cost of living in the Netherlands compare to your home?

A: It costs a bit more, but the standard of living is higher so it is to be expected.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: €2.40

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: €14.00

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: €26.00

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: I don’t drink wine or smoke, so I couldn’t say.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in the Netherlands?

A: You will need to have a BSN (burgerservicenummer), which is a personal service number before you can open an account. Banks are usually quite helpful and often their sites are in English.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: I’m a European citizen, so visas or work permits never applied to me. Government paperwork can take time (e.g. to receive a BSN can take up to four weeks), which is good to keep in mind. Again, I found people quite helpful whenever I did have questions.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in the Netherlands is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare in the Netherlands is unbelievably good. I have only ever had positive experiences That being said, I think expats (especially from America) will have to realise that the system is different. The waiting time can be long, and trying to change an appointment (with a specialist, for example) is very difficult.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the USA or Netherlands? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Having health insurance when you live in the Netherlands is required by law; a basic health insurance (which covers doctor visits and prescriptions) costs about €95 a month; you can add on specific things as well (i.e. dentist, etc.). Be aware of the “eigenrisico” which can vary depending on which insurance company you are with. Most are around €360; this means that any health costs after this are completely covered. It’s a wonderful system!


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to the Netherlands? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I moved with a suitcase and backpack, so I cannot comment on this process. I have stored some things with family members, but since I’ve moved so often I now have bits and pieces in four different countries!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The language barrier has sometimes been a challenge; even though I knew some Dutch beforehand due to having Dutch family, learning the official Dutch (that which is written on paperwork from the government or a rental agreement, etc.) was difficult. Also, some aspects of culture can be a bit of shock at first as the Dutch are very open and direct. I was also used to that due to my family, but it was still rather surprising.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in the Netherlands?

A: There are many positive aspects: the Netherlands has a good standard of living, good food, friendly people, good work ethic and a healthy lifestyle overall. It is easy to get around and also to visit nearby countries. The negative side might be that everything costs something (even the library, which shocked me at first!). 


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: I live in the northern part of the Netherlands, so there isn’t as much to do as in the south near the larger cities. I particularly like the Waddenzee area and Friesland, as that is where my family is from. The city of Groningen has a lot to offer, and going to the top of the Martini tower is a fun activity. The province of Groningen also has a plenty of nature areas, and it is wonderful to cycle out of the city on a warm day and enjoy the landscape.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I’ve moved a lot in my life so I highly doubt this will be the last time.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Try out all the different things the Netherlands has to offer; also, learn the language as much as you can as this will help. By involving yourself in your community, you will feel much more at home.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the Netherlands?

A:  https://stuffdutchpeoplelike.com/