Emigration tips (my advice from Johannesburg to Amsterdam)

I get asked weekly about emigration – how we did it, how we found an apartment, how we got in, how we found jobs etc etc. Some of them come on social media and others by email, and mostly from people I don’t know at all.

It’s quite weird as I started getting asked even before we left South Africa, and I still consider myself fairly fresh off the boat, but we have settled in fairly quickly and while I’m no expert or service provider, I thought I’d write about some of what I’ve been sharing with people over the last eight/nine months or so.

Please take these tips with a pinch of salt – everyone’s “journey” is different, and there is no one way to get into The Netherlands, and settle down. All I can do is share our experience, and what seemed to have worked in our case.

Here are my tips:

Start early

Even if you feel you might emigrate down the line, start early and get all your paperwork such as unabridged birth certificates, marriage certificate etc etc. Overdo it, and assume you’ll need all of it apostilled.

Start getting rid of things 

The spaces here are much smaller, so you’ll likely need or want less things. We gave away and sold so much and didn’t bring any furniture in our cube as we would have had to wait a few months for it. During the “Marie Kondo’ing” process, I asked myself how I had accumulated eight aprons, seven spatulas and 28 hand towels when they were never going to be used. It was a really refreshing process, though I regret giving away some of my cookbooks, and tossing out all those cringe-worthy yet nostalgic notebooks, albums and letters from my youth.

Consult an expert

We dealt with an emigration lawyer, and it was a brilliant “investment”. They still help us with the odd query we have, and it took a huge weight off to know that we were getting legal and accurate information and advice.

Navigate the Facebook groups with caution

A Facebook group of expats or those wanting to emigrate doesn’t always dispense the most accurate or the most useful advice, which is why I tend to trust the lawyer and tax expert first and foremost. Don’t get me wrong – these groups can be super useful and supportive. I’ve gained lots of useful info like what the best cleaning products are, and where to find a challah, and I’ve met some fantastic people. But I was given the wrong info about the 30% tax ruling, and was told that I was simply in the honeymoon phase when I raved about Amsterdam and our settling in, and that things would get really tough.

Google things!

I know this is a mindblowing concept, but official Dutch sites are really good at giving decent information. I’ve often had to answer people’s questions by Googling myself.

Don’t expect your city or the Dutch to adapt to you

Yes, you are in a new home, and there are rules, and South Africans aren’t special snowflakes. I’ve watched as people have complained about the Dutch being too straightforward, or looking for ways to beat the system so that that don’t have to retake their driver’s licence again. I believe that being resistant to what the country and the people offer makes settling in harder. My take, and I realise this is probably an unpopular sentiment – the Dutch don’t owe us a thing. We are settling into their ‘hood, so let’s play nice and fair when we can. And let us all follow the recycling guidelines please.

Marry well

Marry someone who is organised, researches a lot, understands things and takes no chances (haha – just kidding, but my husband truly has been and continues to be an oar in our process).

Get involved where you can

My way of integrating and learning more about the school and system here was to put my hand up where I could to help. From being a class mom x2 to volunteering to do lice checks and classroom cleanups, I feel I’ve gained from the tiny way I’ve been giving.

Think ahead

On our first night in our apartment, we slept in our beds, had made supper, were Instagramming via home internet and had a full’ish fridge and grocery cupboard. We were really organised because we planned ahead – arranged furniture delivery, furniture assembly, bank account, online grocery order, SIM cards and WiFi. We coordinated all of it ourselves. The point is if you want to settle quickly and are impatient like me, you can likely do it.

Have a sense of humour

This one comes from Liesel, and it was a good reminder to try and laugh the smaller things off when you can when they go a little awry. I have tried to laugh off getting caught in the rain with no umbrella (lesson learnt), falling off my bike with no major injury, ordering loads of kitchen paper towel (keukenpapier) instead of loo paper because keuken sounds more “toilety”, and saying “it’s a pleasure” in Dutch instead of “thank you”.

Here are some pics from central Amsterdam on the weekend. It’s still cool but there is sun, and earlier sunrises, and lots of flowers in bloom. This week salons open and I’m extremely excited – I’m long overdue for a spring-cleaning of the self!

PS: If you’re thinking of or planning to immigrate to The Netherlands, I can help you. I am offering sessions in which I give you practical and essential advice, based on your circumstances and any questions you have. To chat or to find out more, you can email me here.

 

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  • Barbara Zindel

    March 3, 2021 at 8:57 am
    Reply

    Great advice! I have been here for so long now that I am as direct as the Dutch. My advice is " when in NL […] Read MoreGreat advice! I have been here for so long now that I am as direct as the Dutch. My advice is " when in NL do as NL does" Read Less

  • Liesel

    March 2, 2021 at 9:15 am
    Reply

    Yes! Yes! Yes! To all the above, especially the Facebook groups. I would add having a good sense of humor for when the inevitable mishap […] Read MoreYes! Yes! Yes! To all the above, especially the Facebook groups. I would add having a good sense of humor for when the inevitable mishap strikes! ☺️ Read Less

    • Tanya
      to Liesel

      March 2, 2021 at 9:20 am
      Reply

      Yes! I'm actually going to add that in...

  • Jane

    March 2, 2021 at 8:35 am
    Reply

    Good post, barring the comment about retaking your drivers test. You didnt have to do it, dont criticize those who have to go through an […] Read MoreGood post, barring the comment about retaking your drivers test. You didnt have to do it, dont criticize those who have to go through an enormous amount of stress and financial strain to redo do it. They are desperate for another way out. It is not a fair system. Why is it believed that someone on the 30 ruling can drive while people here without that can not? Why do spouses and children of people on the 30% ruling qualify? Just because of family ties? That somehow makes them good drivers? Know and recognize your privilege. Read Less

    • Tanya
      to Jane

      March 2, 2021 at 9:04 am
      Reply

      Hi Jane, thanks for reading and taking the time out to reply. I am honestly not criticising those who have to redo it - I […] Read MoreHi Jane, thanks for reading and taking the time out to reply. I am honestly not criticising those who have to redo it - I cannot imagine the stress of having to do it all over (including the theory) and the time and cost. My comment was about those who try and find a way to "cheat the system". I've seen several requests of "How do I get around it?" and "What can I do to avoid going through the process?" I can't speak for the "fairness" of the rules - I wasn't making a comment on that (we were coming here without the 30% ruling and had braced ourselves for the process and the cost). Coming here is a choice for most (I imagine?) and it's not like SA where we can get away with not following systems and rules, which is what my point was relating to. Read Less

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