I had a good experience with the Dutch healthcare system, am I the only one?

I swear it’s not the drugs talking! 💊

Some of the horror stories you hear about the Dutch healthcare system could hospitalise you. However, my one-week whirlwind from being unregistered to sitting in emergency care completely changed my outlook. 

In a very short space of time, my experience made me question (almost) everything I’d heard about the Dutch huisarts, hospitals and the hugely reluctant attitude towards antibiotics in the Netherlands. 

Dutch doctors, I owe you an apology

My first nine months as an international student living in Utrecht were going happily and healthily, boosted by biking and fresh air.

READ MORE | Going to a doctor in the Netherlands? Here’s the ultimate guide

The stories I’d heard about healthcare here were troubling but hard to believe, so mostly, the warnings went in one ear and out the other.

Then, during a bleak week in February, something made its way into my ears for real. Unfortunately, it was a nasty infection. 🙃

I was “all ears” when it came to the doctor’s advice. Image: Depositphotos

You don’t need the details, but while I lost hearing, sleep and appetite, I gained great respect for the Dutch healthcare system.

So, here’s my entirely personal, gratitude-driven, myth-busting experience of Dutch healthcare — minus the gross stuff.  

Warnings I heard vs my experience with Dutch healthcare

OK, some things are closer to the truth than you’d hope. But since the diagnosis for the system seemed terminally bad, I was actually pleasantly surprised by my own experience. 

“You’ll never get prescribed antibiotics”

It’s well known that asking for antibiotics in the Netherlands is like asking the Dutch clouds to hold off on the rain for a few days. The chances are slim. 

READ MORE | What the Dutch are getting right: antibiotics in the Netherlands

However, it’s true that you get them if you really need them, i.e. you have a fever that lasts a few days, a bacterial infection, and symptoms that won’t go away on their own.

In my experience, I received an antibiotic prescription during my second appointment at the huisarts when my ear infection had worsened. 

❌ Accuracy check: Not true!

“Prepare for paracetamol and a pat on the back!”

Don’t ask, and you shall receive. Ask, and you shall receive extra. 💊

READ MORE | I share an apartment with almost 30 internationals: here’s what it’s like

Paracetamol is popular in Dutch medical units, and they’re quick to pass it over. One pharmacist handed me some after I simply nodded in response to the question, “Are you still in pain?”

@dutchreview Or go mad — take three! #dutchreview #netherlands #expatlife #nederland #fypシ #CapCut ♬ original sound – DutchReview

The little box of 20 blister-packed pills was whipped out without hesitation — for a small fee.

 ✅ Accuracy check: Pretty much (minus the patting).

“You’re just a number in the system as an expat”

As an international, you might expect to be treated differently when interacting with healthcare workers outside of your home country.

I was told Dutchies resent dealing with the foreign afflictions of terrible cycling and overeating. 

But, ear infection aside, if being English was my main affliction, then the staff must have been immune — or just looking on the “Brit” side. 😉

Everyone I encountered was extremely friendly and professional. They asked questions about my student experience, showing interest in what I thought about life here.

In my experience with Dutch doctors, I didn’t feel like a number or a time slot.

❌ Accuracy check: Not at all. 🤷‍♀️

“You’re not registered? Good luck”

OK, confession time. I didn’t register with a huisarts when I first moved to Utrecht last year. 😬

There is absolutely no excuse for this rookie error — so, without further ado, here’s my excuse. 

I arrived after a long visa battle, so I think I developed a temporary allergy to paperwork. A good dose of common sense would’ve cured this allergic reaction.

BY NO MEANS do I condone such foolishness, but I do have to say that my local practitioner was very receptive (and kind!) to my situation.

READ MORE | How to register for a doctor in the Netherlands

I called them to ask for a registration form and sheepishly explained that I would need medical attention sooner than the two weeks it normally takes to process. 😳

They explained that would not be possible, apologised, and said they’d be in touch soon. The rumours were true — or so I thought. 

To my surprise, I received a call the following morning to let me know my details had been processed, and I could now arrange an appointment.

Accuracy check: Should be true, I just got lucky. 👀

“They don’t care about your mental health”

There’s a slight pattern emerging in dispelling these myths about Dutch healthcare — it’s like they stand true until you speak to someone.

This was especially the case when it came to taking care of my mental wellbeing in the Netherlands. But I’m aware that’s not the case for everyone. 👇

Despite not being the primary concern, your mind always takes a knock when you’re ill.

On one particularly rough, sleep-deprived, anxious night, I called the out-of-hours emergency care team at 4 AM. 

READ MORE | Why expats struggle with mental health in the Netherlands — and what you can do about it

Intended to assess the need for an ambulance, they soon realised my condition hadn’t exactly worsened — I just wasn’t coping well with the fact it hadn’t improved either.

But they didn’t hang up. The voice at the end of the line kept me company until I felt calmer.

That’s what I found so personable about my healthcare experience: everyone treated me with the care that I was someone who was suffering rather than someone taking up their time.

❌ Accuracy check: Completely the opposite.

“It’s too expensive for a Brit to be sick here”

Ahh, post-Brexit life without an EHIC. 

It’s like an ex keeping a favourite T-shirt. You miss it, and you’ll never get it back. You try to adapt to life without it, but some outfits just never fit the same.

READ MORE | 9 things you should know about Dutch health insurance as an expat

I have Dutch insurance, it just wasn’t recognised for upfront coverage anywhere

TIP: If you’re an international, non-EU student, check the full coverage details of your insurance and the information you need to have on hand when providing insurance information to medical staff.

The pharmacist was shocked that I had to pay myself and later submit a claim. Then they actually apologised for the cost of the prescription, which is higher overnight.

It’s been two months and I’m still waiting for €380 in reimbursements. 

 ✅ Accuracy check: Yup… 😅

“You’re bottom of the list, you’ll be waiting a while”

I called the GP, arranged an appointment, had said appointment, and got prescribed in the space of one morning.

This might be down to what had become a pretty desperate situation and the earful (😉) of sniffly panic that I was giving to any professional who would listen. 

READ MORE | All you need to know about going to the hospital in the Netherlands

It’s a completely different experience from the insane queues back home in the UK, where you have to wait weeks to be seen by the overworked, underpaid NHS services.

❌ Accuracy check: False (crazily so).

In my experience, if you test the Dutch healthcare system, the results seem to be all clear — at least, that’s how I feel!

But with all our laughs about how direct and stingy the Dutch can be, it’s important to recognise the care and support in my experience and give some credit to the hardworking folks in healthcare.

Is your experience with the Dutch healthcare system more positive or negative? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Feature Image:Freepik
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie joins DutchReview as an editorial intern after gaining a Bachelor’s in English from her native England. She continues to pursue all things literature in her MA Literature Today at Utrecht University. She is loving life here, and the ever-looming rainclouds often make it feel like a home from home. Lottie arrived to complete her studies and hone her writing skills — she’ll stay for the Dutch tranquility, tulips and tompouce.

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  1. Admittedly, my health care experience in the Netherlands was long, long ago in 1970. I’m American and my husband, son and I were living in Leiden for a couple of years. I learned I was pregnant the day we left the U.S. for Holland and was fearful about having a baby in a foreign country. My son was born in Canada which is also a foreign country but not so much! I had had a very long (36 hours) labor and lots of drugs with him so was terrified to learn drugs were not an option in The Netherlands. My daughter was born after a relatively short labor with no drugs and we both lived to tell the tale! The care we received was excellent even after a battle with the nurses re my choice to bottle feed instead of nursing my baby. The aftercare was great and I love my Echte Nederlandse Meisje to the moon and back.


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