Driving in the Netherlands (as well as the rest of Europe) is complicated and easy at the same time. It is complicated because the Netherlands is highly regulated when it comes to (1) speed limit in various areas such as highways, residential areas, or N-roads, (2) zero emission zones in many cities, (3) right of way, and (4) no take zones. But once you get used to these rules, driving in the Netherlands becomes easy because there is order and the behavior of most drivers are predictable. It will also become easy to drive to the rest of European Union since the rules are highly similar. In this blog, I will highlight all you need to know when driving in the Netherlands.
Requirements for driving in the Netherlands
1. Get a Dutch driving license
1.a Pass the car theory exam
In order for you to get a start driving in the Netherlands, you need to have an official driving license issued by Centraal Bureau Rijvaardigheid) or CBR Netherlands. Getting a Dutch driving license could be challenging, especially for many internationals. First, you need to pass the car theory exam before you can apply for the practical exam. Studying the car theory exam, such as by buying the theory book and doing lots of practice questions, is important. Sometimes, your driving instructor gives the theory book as part of the driving school package, otherwise you can get it online. Some discount websites such as Social Deal and Groupon offers theory book (and sometimes practical driving lessons at a discount). You can apply the car theory exam in the website of CBR (under MijnCBR) and do it either in English or Dutch depending on your preference. In the real car theory exam, you need to answer in 8 seconds per question the set of questions related to hazard recognition (25 questions), traffic rules (30 questions), and understanding of traffic (10 questions). The exam lasts for around 45 minutes. This costs less than 50 euros per exam. If you pass the car theory exam for the first try, either you are well-prepared or just lucky. Often, you need to do the car theory exam at least twice (in my case three times!) in order to pass. Therefore, preparation and lots of practice is important to save costs. Once you pass the car theory test, it is valid for 18 months. This gives you time to prepare for your practical driving exam.
1.b Pass the driving practical exam
Once you complete filling in the health statement, the practical driving exam will be applied by your driving instructor, often when he/she sees that you are ready to take the exam. An examiner from CBR will join you during the practical driving exam to see whether you anticipate when driving, follow the rules on the road, and have good control over the car. The practical driving exam lasts for less than an hour and you will know immediately the result whether you pass or not. The costs of practical driving exam is 112,50 euros per exam. Though the real costs of passing the practical exam is higher since candidates take on average 40 lessons (40 hours), which costs 60 euros per hour to prepare for the practical driving exam. Overall, the average costs of getting a driving license that includes both theory and practical exams in the Netherlands is 3,207 euros (based on 2022 prices) according to Lesdirect.nl.
1.c Apply your driving license to your registered municipality
Once you pass both the theory and practical driving exams, congratulations! You are one step ahead of driving in the Netherlands. You may apply for your Dutch driving license to the municipality which you registered. After a week of application, you can get your driving license card. The next step is to find a car to drive.
What if I have a foreign driving license?
If you are an international coming from other EU countries with a foreign driving license, you can use this driving license to drive in the Netherlands for several years, like the Dutch driving license (e.g. 15 years for car or 5 years for trucks). If you are already living in the Netherlands then obtained your driving license outside the country at the same time, you will need to exchange your driving license through your municipality. If you have a driving license that is obtained outside the EU countries, your driving license will be valid for 185 days (6 months), afterwards you need to obtain a Dutch driving license. See in this link the information about getting Exchanging to Dutch driving license.
2. Finding a car to drive in the Netherlands
2.1 Owning a car
After a long process of getting a Dutch driving license, the next step is to find a car to drive in the Netherlands. This process can take long or short depending on your car priorities. If you have money and want to drive a brand new car, then there are many car dealers available throughout the country. Though I will not advise this if it is your first time to drive, accident happens for beginners and it can cost a lot of money! If you want second hand cars, there are also many dealers of second hand cars in the Netherlands such as Autoscout24, or you can use contacts from your networks. It is possible to hire an inspector that checks the quality of the car that you are buying and to make sure that you get the value for your money. It is also good to consider that since the Netherlands is trying to move to zero emission by years 2030, power diesel cars may not be available in the country in the coming years. The Dutch (as well the EU) governments are trying to push through for electric and solar power cars in the future.
2.2 How much does it cost to own a car in the Netherlands?
Owning a car in the Netherlands can be very expensive. Therefore, make sure that you have a very good reason for owning a car in the country. Aside from the costs of buying a car and costs for paying the gasoline or diesel (if you are not driving electric car), you need to pay monthly insurance for your car that costs around 60 euros/month and road help assistance which costs on average 100 euros per year. You also need to pay the Belastingdienst (Tax office) for road tax, which costs approximately 60 euros every month. On top of that, you need to make sure that your car is APK approved to ensure that it is still safe on the road and for yearly maintenance. An APK approval costs only 30 euros, but if your car needs maintenance it can costs you about 700-800 euros per year! So overall, your costs for owning a car in the Netherlands can accumulate to 3,300 euros per year, which is a lot of money.
2.3 Leasing a car
If owning a car is not an option, there are also cars that are available for lease. Here you need to pay a monthly fee for leasing a car which already includes the car itself, road tax, liability insurance, accident insurance, maintenance etc. In order for you to lease, you need to satisfy certain conditions, such as (1) being older than 21 years old, (2) living and registered in the Netherlands, (3) having Dutch bank account, (4) pass the income burden test by showing proof of employment, income, and overview of fixed monthly costs.
Personal experience driving in the Netherlands
Despite the hassle of getting the driving license and having a car, I have been enjoying driving around the Netherlands for already 4 years! It has been a rewarding experience and it makes my life very convenient. I have three kids to bring to school and day care, and my workplace is quite a distance from home. On top of that, we have been enjoying doing road trips in many European countries during our family vacation. So is it worth it driving in the Netherlands? In my case it is and I am happy that I went through all these experiences. Interested to know about these experiences and adventures driving in the Netherlands and EU? Check out my blog on: