A new life in the Netherlands is not just for the young

This isn’t your average “I’m young, made of rubber and magic, and will try anything once” kind of article. It’s more of the “let me take the greatest gamble of my life and start over” kind.

When the years till retirement are less than the age of a school-starting child, it’s not exactly time to yell, “Yeehaw, let’s move to the Netherlands and improve our quality of life!” And yet, that’s exactly what my hubby and I are doing at the age of 54 (he’s 54 plus 10)!

For me, nothing beats the culture, feel and smell of Europe (yes, it actually has a characteristic smell), so planning to live there is indeed a weak-knee inducing prospect!

Why the Netherlands? Because it ticks all the boxes: work/life balance, affordable real estate, law-abiding culture, good healthcare…but you already know all of this because you live there!

Starting the journey to the promised land

As South African citizens, we like to think of ourselves as eager, well-travelled adults, because it takes real drive and money to travel from Africa to the rest of the world. We are a few of many millions who are sadly trying to find a way to leave a troubled and politically messy country.

So, armed with our trusty EU passports (Greek and Irish), a reasonable understanding of Nederlands (the Afrikaans word for Dutch) and a youth-like naivety, my husband and I have started our long journey to the promised land.

We are trading glorious weather, a newly-built home and a lifetime of friends for the magic that is the Netherlands. Yet, despite our interminable enthusiasm and positivity, emigration remains a tumultuous journey.

In my mind I’m thinking, “one, two, three…sorted!” In South Africa, they’re thinking, “one: we have limits for foreign exchange. Two: we will audit your overseas allowance before it can exit the country. And, three, it will take a month (or three) for us to release it!”

Longing to be more Dutch? Take questionnaires and dream of bicycles!

So what do you do when you’re waiting for a hair-pulling amount of time to pass? You research, research, and research yet again! You educate yourself on all things Dutch, like… what is oliebollen, kibbeling, and why don’t the Dutch close their curtains?

You learn that some employers give their employees a new bicycle (yes, a NEW bicycle) every three years, and even holiday pay to help with happiness! You learn that in the Netherlands electric cars are preferable to petrol guzzlers (in South Africa electricity is precarious, so petrol cars are king), and that the sensible season to switch on your (17 degree) house heating is October!

How do you know if you’re obsessed?

▢ You dream of rain and bicycles,

▢ you prioritize your Facebook newsfeed to show “South Africans in the Netherlands” first https://www.facebook.com/groups/South.Africans.in.the.Netherlands/,

▢ you continuously tweak your already-perfect resignation letter, in nervous anticipation of presenting it to your boss,

▢ you start to learn Dutch online, hoping to improve your employment skills,

▢ you complete online questionnaires like “How Dutch are you?” until you unequivocally know that the Dutch say proost, the most common Dutch surname is De Vries, and that the king’s wife is Argentinean by birth,

▢ you Google every Dutch town name to see how far it is from a shop, train station and hospital, and research pros and cons of living in the Randstad vs South Limburg,

▢ Google whispers, “try typing something that doesn’t include the word DUTCH or NETHERLANDS today.”

So, with a bit of OCD, I’m keeping myself up to date and motivated as my Dutch arrival time draws closer. I am discovering some amazing truths about the Netherlands that even its citizens may have forgotten.

Pros versus cons…it’s still a winner!

It’s a scary prospect to leave behind everything that is familiar and ordered. The majority of people who are emigrating from South Africa are under the age of 45. They have at least 20 years ahead of them to put down roots in a new country: to work, raise children, and save for retirement.

We, however, are not in the first flush of youth and have more years behind us than ahead. So we make our careful sums, weigh the balances, and measure the risks. But when we get to the spaces labelled “peace of mind” and “quality of life”, what price do we write down? Can we even put a price on those? Never! And that’s exactly why my husband and I are making this move…because those qualities are priceless!

I fervently exhort every person who imagines that they’re finished with adventure, by telling them that they HAVEN’T reached any such ridiculous “expiry date”! The Netherlands offers me (and them) an unequalled opportunity to have a do-over, and promises some amazing golden years. After all, we are only as young as our Facebook photo makes us look…

This wannabe Dutchie just has to wait patiently till May!

Have you made the move to the Netherlands? Did it fulfil your expectations? Let us know your story in the comments below!

Feature Image: nappy/Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.

Irene Mayorkinos
Irene Mayorkinos
A thoroughbred Greek born and cultivated in South Africa, Irene is finalizing her emigration to the Netherlands. After 35 years in Finance (yuk, shame) she passionately embraces her walk to freedom. Marathon runner, obsessive traveller and professional low-carb eater, Irene makes people want to tell her their deepest secrets. She believes that the Dutch weather, high carb food and their ‘un-Greek’ way of expression is no deterrent...

11 COMMENTS

  1. As a South African who has been in NL for 2 years, I can say you are coming to a good place. The general freedom and freedom from fear is hard to describe, truly life changing and impossible to put a price on. When I came for interviews, everyone complained about the weather, I thought to myself, I weather is the biggest problem, I want that problem.

    • Yes Niel… for people who don’t come from our unique South Africa, it’s simply incomprehensible as to what “we’re on about” regarding safety. As a runner, one of my greatest challenges has become the inability to run alone, or relax when I’m on a bike, as I’m constantly having to keep alert to danger…. we are constantly on edge in SA.
      As you say, weather is a much easier problem to have than crime and lawlessness!!!

  2. Very interesting article. We are in our 70s and moved here permanently from Malibu, California. We love living in the Netherlands. You guys are still youngsters compared to us. We travel a lot and I write articles on different towns in the Netherlands on this website, Dutch Review. This site has some terrific articles by other contributors on what to see and do in different places. Check out some of my contributions on Dutch Review: https://dutchreview.com/author/jim-goyjer/ I wish you all the best living in this wonderful country. Just remember, Dutch is one of the hardest languages to learn and speak. Luckily, most everyone speaks English.

    • Wow, Jim! Thank you for your kind words… it helps every time someone reiterates ‘the loveliness’ of the Netherlands!
      It’s a very different story when one uproots life and moves country during one’s retirement years, isn’t it? And it isn’t even by our own choice, but because of the spectacular corruption, decay and lawlessness that has gripped our beautiful country since the end of Nelson Mandela’s era. The situation in our country has made it impossible to stay. Although our exchange rate is 17 ZAR = 1 Euro, Netherlands beckons as a safe haven, and although I see many articles regarding the weather (really???) and expensive housing, I battle to find ANY negative articles regarding the SERIOUS issues (like crime, employment, economy, medical insurance and pension).
      As Afrikaans speakers, we find it very easy to understand written Dutch, so that is indeed already an advantage for us 🙂
      I will certainly enjoy your wonderful articles… thanks a million!

    • Good news moving at that age to a new country. I have not lived in the Netherlands for 64 years…..have kept my nationality. The government here are so corrupt now and banks and businesses are following the corruption h/way. Biggest concern is not being able to bring the grand children. Leaving them to the wolves is my biggest concern

  3. MY wife and I would love to relocate from the UK to the Netherlands but with Brexit looming it looks ever more unlikely plus as we reach our mid 50’s we worry what our employment prospects would be? Perhaps one day we may take the plunge and see what life is really like as a citizen rather than a tourist.

  4. I feel like a comparative “young-un”, moving from the US at almost-40 and now hitting my 60th birthday here in the Netherlands! I can’t imagine living anywhere else – the way of life is so much saner and managable. But I do miss Taco Bell. 😀 Still have to figure out how US Social Security works living over here – perhaps you can consider it as a continuing topic?

  5. I never leave a comment but today I had to. This is the best article I’ve ever read on Dutch Review! It has a beginning, a middle and an end! And it’s interesting! Congrats and I hope your move is smooth and that you’re soon here with us complaining about the rain! 🙂

  6. I am in my 30’s and when I arrived in NL I was in 20’s 🙂
    Anyways When I came here for work it was very exciting for me to land in new country and it was like I made it, I am now going to enjoy international status though the fact was I left my country because of my personal situations ( running away ).
    When I was reading your article I was feeling like the entire thing written in the article is truth, there is no doubt but as a young person ( considering still, I am like old fashioned ) I can add few things –
    – Food : I miss the luxury of my country food here. I learned a lot from cooking point of view. in cold days it is even difficult to cook for me.
    – Family and Friends : Alright, I am missing my big family here and emotional drama 😀 ( I am laughing ). But living in my own country for 26 years and then shift to new country does not mean that I can switch easily my 26 years life here. Grown in different old fashioned culture roots are still with me.
    Alright It is easy to make friends while you are studying but once it comes to workplace it is not easy to mingle with everyone ( Lots of dirty politics and Jealousy goes around to someone new and I already lost my trust in my people ). Being Young means you are surrounded with people who has their own family and kids. I don’t drink alcohol or I am not party types but I tried everything to make friends even I started eating non vegetarian food but unfortunately ( Helaas 😀 ) I still have feeling that I don’t have any friend here.
    – Learning and Growth : Netherlands has amazing thing like you are free to learn what you want to do. Also you need to learn to do your own stuff by yourself, it takes time, effort and money here to arrange the things in Netherlands ( even for a drill hole in the wall )
    – Dealing with the set mindset for communities : What I mean is that if you make a mistake it goes for entire community and then people start make assumption for a particular community. I felt it sometimes for example Eastern European, Indian or British.
    – Diversity and Experience : living far away from your own country as an expat gives me opportunity to see that How people think differently in Europe or other cultures. People looking for true freedom and the happiness ( not dependent on others or society standards ) is amazing.
    It was a choice that I made when I came to NL and it is still a choice but yes I did not live life like other people do in my country which I wanted to do. there is still time for that and I am looking forward to it.

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