Migrating Happy: Good Times with the Dutch Government

As any expat knows, the mandatory bureaucracy of legal migration means making repeated visits to a government office to register and prove your legalness. It is a necessary, but often dreaded step in the process of getting settled. Yet, I would commend the Dutch government for offering a most pleasant and streamlined migration experience, even though I have had to visit offices in 3 cities in Zuid-Nederland, including my own, over the course of my first months here.

Of course, my disclaimer is that my experience is American, so interactions with most U.S. government offices have been based on providing the bare minimum to get the job done. What makes the Dutch experience so distinctly memorable? It’s actually rather simple, and here, I’ll count the ways.

If you’re lucky, you even get to visit a beautiful building like Maastricht’s Stadhuis.

Koffie, rood, of blauw water?

As a coffee-lover, I was astonished and quite happy to find that working in The Netherlands also comes with the hospitality of having a coffee or its zero-calorie alternative at meetings. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this also applied to my appointment to register in the Netherlands. What a hospitable greeting it was: a nicely decorated office complete with coffee, water, and even fresh fruit.

Or, if this was not readily provided, as was the case when I later visited my local expat center, then a Coffeelovers was only a few steps away. I’m impressed. Such luxuries — which is what they are to me, yet probably a Dutch government standard — are entirely incompatible with visiting any government office stateside. Then again, this is perhaps an unsurprising byproduct of the importance of coffee in Dutch culture in American culture.


Have an appointment? Prepare to be seen on time in The Netherlands. At the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), for example, even after making an appointment, wait time consumed an additional 45 minutes of my life. And that’s not while I sip a coffee or water provided by said office. It’s sitting in a monochromatic, cubicle-laden office with hard plastic chairs and a crowd suffering the same fate.

When I registered in The Netherlands, I barely sipped my freshly brewed espresso before shaking hands with an official and proceeding with my appointment. Even after visiting other Zuid-Nederland gemeente offices without an appointment and taking a number, I have waited little more than 15 minutes to see an attendant. So a bit thank you is owed to the Dutch government offices for being punctual and saving 30 minutes of my life that I could spend doing something else more enjoyable, like having more coffee or, better yet, a beer on a terras.

Happy Staff

When you go to an office and are specifically instructed “No Smiling,” which I have experienced as a both a visiting client and as a former employee of a U.S. government office, this strikes me as a fundamental mismatch with our humanity here. And most certainly not Dutch.

Indeed, for every Dutch office I have visited to date, staff smile at me and seem genuinely happy to ask, “Hoe kan ik u helpen?” Happily for me, I think this is completely in keeping with what I have come to learn and love about being an expat in a country known for happy mums, happy teens, and happy kids. It seems that the report on happy Dutch dads is missing, but I wouldn’t be surprise to see the report forthcoming.

It’s lovely to be greeted by smiling faces

Needless to say, coffee, timely visits, and smiles are ingredients for an altogether pleasant experience visiting a Dutch government office. If this is the government standard, then I look forward to many more happy Dutch experiences to come.

Tiffany Leung
An American born and raised, Tiffany is fulfilling a lifelong dream as an expat in one of the happiest countries in the world. Learning Dutch hard and fast, she greatly admires Dutch culture and sensibility, but is also wondering whether she could ever one day also master the Mestreechs dialect.



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