Skip to main content
Practical Advice: Working in the Netherlands

Knowledge is power

Once you finish your studies (and sometimes alongside your studies) you should be ready to go out into the world as an empowered working person. If you aren't from the Netherlands, going out into the working world can be somewhat confusing, and it can sometimes be difficult to find the correct information. According to the 2022 Annual International Student Survey conducted by the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (Dutch National Student Association), international students often feel as though they are not given enough clear information about Dutch laws and norms before they arrive. This deficit of information can leave many students feeling anxious and disempowered, which is not how students and future workers should feel. Therefore, it is imperative to read up and share information with your peers so that you can have a better grasp of the way of life in your new chosen country. This article will give you a basic overview of what you need to know about working in the Netherlands.

Legal requirements

If you are a citizen of the EU, you can begin working immediately without a residency permit. However, citizens of most countries outside this region are required to apply for either a zoekjaar (search year) visa or a work permit. If you are employed by a company, it needs to be a company that is a recognised IND sponsor who can secure your residence permit as a highly skilled migrant, which you will become after graduating from Wittenborg. You can find a list of recognised sponsors – which includes Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences – on this webpage.

If you work for a company, you may be offered one of three standard forms of contract: fixed-term, permanent and zero hour. A fixed-term contract lasts for a set period of time – usually six months to one year – and is most common. A zero-hour contract is less common but standard for student jobs or 'on-call' jobs where you may have irregular working hours. But you must be careful to make sure you will be earning enough to maintain your visa.

However, if you would like to start your own business or begin offering your own services, you will have to register as a zelfstandig persoon (self-employed person – ZZP). To do this, you have to demonstrate that you have enough work to support your stay in the Netherlands. You can find more information about becoming a ZZP-er here. Please note that you can't get a work permit for just any kind of job. There are strict income requirements for each kind of permit, which you can find here. It should be highlighted that highly skilled migrants are required to earn more than what is considered average for native Dutch people.

Scams and discrimination

In the Netherlands, like in other countries, there are various scams regarding employment. For example, a company may book you for more hours than you are legally allowed to work. Rather than compensating you for how long you worked or allowing you to take time off to make up for your overtime, it is not uncommon for shady companies to refuse to pay what you are owed. Additionally, your employer may try to pay you under the table to avoid paying taxes. It's best to avoid companies like this, because you may find out at the end that you aren't getting paid at all. If you have a dispute with your employer, or are unjustly fired, you can contact the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) for advice, or ask them to investigate the nature of your termination. Depending on your current residence permit or citizenship, you may also apply to the UWV for unemployment benefits following your termination. Note that benefits are not available to everyone depending on immigration situation. You can also ask for advice from certain labour unions and advocacy groups in the Netherlands without having to join them.

If you notice discrimination on the part of your employers or fellow colleagues, you may contact the Dutch Anti-Discrimination Bureau. According to Article 1 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:

‘All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.'

Employers and colleagues are not allowed to discriminate based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or other essential characteristics. Your workplace should be an environment where you feel comfortable and protected. If your employer fails to establish a workplace that is free from discrimination, contact your local Anti-Discrimination Bureau.

Dutch working culture

The type of working culture you will experience in the Netherlands can vary depending on region and sector. For example, in the Randstad, a region located in the central west of the Netherlands and home to Amsterdam, work culture is stereotyped as being similar to metropolitan areas in other countries: hierarchical, fast-paced and intense, with a lot of office politics and colleagues who are very blunt. In areas like Gelderland, a province located in the central east and home to Apeldoorn, stereotypical working culture is somewhat slower, people are considered friendlier and offices tend not to have such rigid hierarchy. Gelderland is less densely populated and has fewer big cities than the west of the country, meaning life moves a little more leisurely than in the Randstad, making it a good place for people who like a relaxing lifestyle. In turn, the Randstad is a fast-moving environment that is good for people who prefer a challenging pace, and is often compared to the stereotypical American working culture.

That being said, across the Netherlands there are a few standard themes with regard to work. Bosses are generally approachable, and you can usually approach them directly for different matters. It's not unusual to speak with the head of the company on a near-daily basis. Furthermore, your professional relationship with your colleagues is usually pretty open, so don't be too shocked to hear your co-worker pour their heart out to you or take a strong political stance once you get to know each other well. In many cultures, the lines between work and life are blurred, but not in most of the Netherlands. You often cannot catch an employee or employer outside working hours, especially over the weekend, if they grew up in the Netherlands. If you send an email on Friday after 17:00, you should expect the other person will only read it the following Monday. They can and will leave you on ‘read’ if you send them a message outside normal hours, or if they are on vacation. And why shouldn't they? Overwork is bad for one's well-being, so you should feel free to do the same as them, provided you remain professional about it.

Of course, not everyone is like this; you may notice certain colleagues will reply to your messages regardless of the time of day. However, it is generally understood that responding outside working hours is optional. You are not required to respond to messages outside working hours, unless you have an agreement regarding overtime, or it has been established that you need to be available at all times as part of your terms of employment.

WUP 23/11/2022
by Olivia Nelson
©WUAS Press