Monday, 24 August 2015

8 Things Every Expat Needs to Know About Driving in the Netherlands

There are some tricks to help you get safely from A to B on the roadways of the Netherlands*. It may seem like the rules of the road are self explanatory and easy to follow but often they are not quite as they seem. Here are eight tips to help you drive whilst you are driving around this little Dutch nation.

1. You Need to Change Your Driving Licence

There comes a time when your home nation driving licence just isn't valid anymore to drive in the Netherlands. For some nationalities, this means taking a Dutch driving test.  If this applies to you, don't worry. Judging by the driving habits of the rest of the nation, it really can't be that hard.

For others, it is simply a case of swapping once licence for another as is the case with the Brits. 

Interestingly, swapping a British licence to a Dutch one gave me the right to drive many more (heavy) vehicles than the average Dutchman. Don't ask me why but when I first converted my British license to a Dutch one I could pretty much drive a juggernaut here whilst my Dutch husband was limited to cars and the like - he would have to take a separate test to join me on any truck driving adventure ideas I may have harboured. When I had to renew my Dutch license last year I had to take a test to continue my non-existent juggernaut driving so I politely turned down the kind offer and am now only able to drive regular road vehicles like the majority of the Dutch nation. It was fun whilst it lasted, particularly when I was contemplating my next career move back in 2008.......

2. They're Traffic Lights but not as We Know Them

The colours are the same: red, yellow (or amber if you want to be pedantic) and green but they mean different things.

  • A traffic light that is turning to red means put the gas pedal to the floor and GO GO GO because you can easily make it before it turns really red. If you stop at a traffic light as it turns from amber to red, expect to get beeped at by the car(s) behind.
  • If a traffic light is amber it means speed up, you can easily make it before it turns red.
  • A green traffic light means go, if you have bothered to stop in the first place.

3. Speed Limits Don't Apply to Everyone

If you choose to drive at 120km, or 130 km where it's allowed, on the motorway in the fast lane, don't be suprised to see that you pick up an assortment of "trailers" on your journey. Whilst bumperkleven (tailgating) is illegal in the Netherlands it's no deterrent for Dutch drivers and the fight for space in this little land is no more apparant than on the third lane of the nation's highways. In fact, the Dutch are trying to get bumperkleven classified as an Olympic sport to improve their gold medal tally.

When roadworks are being carried out on the motorway, and a temporary speed limit is in place do not make a mental note to take your car in to the garage to have your speedometer checked. It's fine. Really. It's just that the lower speed limit only applies to you and not to other drivers on the road.

4. You Can Make Someone's Day at a Zebra Crossing

When you stop at a zebra crossing to allow a Dutch pedestrian to cross, expect a look of surprise or shock on the faces of those waiting at the side of the road; they never believed you would actually stop so you have just made their day. Your expat status will of course be easy to spot in such circumstances.

5. There are More than Just Cars on the Road

At a junction, the absence of cars or pedestrians nearby does not mean it is safe to pull out or turn; watch out for buses, trams and cycles as they come out of nowhere and usually have priority.

If you have to make an emergency maneuver to avoid something hitting you expect the middle finger should 
you hit your horn as a warning or in frustration or anger.  It does not matter that they have almost hit your car, or that you have had to use all your driving know-how to avoid a collision - you have no right to beep at the offender.

6. Right has Priority

If there are no clear markings on the road, then any road turning onto the road you are on from the right has priority. This means that cars may pull out in front of you from the right and they DO actually have right of way, though it might seem like anti-social driving to you. Do not shout, blaspheme or stick your middle finger up. It's not nice.

7. There's a Knack to Roundabout Etiquette

Do not wait for Dutch drivers to signal on the roundabouts. You must guess when they will turn off - it is a sort of national game. You must also pull out on to the roundabout even when it looks like you don't have enough time to do so safely. Someone will eventually stop for you. Or in the back of you.

8. Cars do not Float

Even if you have not been in the Netherlands very long you have probably noticed there is a fair bit of water around in the form of canals, rivers and lakes. Oh, and the sea. Be careful when you are parking in the narrow spaces near the water - spaces that are typical in Amsterdam and Leiden for example. There are rarely barriers and it is a harrowing drop down to the water if you don't brake in time. Trust me when I tell you it's not just shopping trolleys and bikes that are fished out of Dutch waterways.

*Despite anything you may read here, or may have heard from others driving in the Netherlands is safer than it looks. The CBS relays that the Netherlands is in the top five when it comes to the least amount of road fatalities per 1 million people within the European Union.


  1. Hello! I'm Melissa, new expat from America, and I'm about to venture out in my car today. That whole right has priority is insane. My husband keeps telling me I have to look for the sign that will let me know if that rule applies BUT how can I look for a small circular sign when I'm too busy trying not to kill the cyclists EVERYWHERE?! Fun times :)

    1. Oh you made me giggle! You are absolutely right - you need at least six eyes in your head to watch for bokes, trams, cars and pedestrians! I wish you luck you're a braver woman than me..... :-)