10 Apr 2022

So Long, the Netherlands

Hello, dear readers!

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post on here. Blame it on my master’s degree, and moving prepations. Yes: I am moving from the Netherlands back to Romania and completing my thesis remotely. This is largely a practical decision to save money on rent. But it got me thinking about the deeper issues with this country, and made me seriously rethink any long-term plans to stay here.

So, without further ado, let me talk about the downsides of living here, because not everything in the Netherlands is rainbows and sunshine. (We’ll get to the rainbow part.)

Forget about owning a house

It is a mathemetical impossibility for anyone on an average income, or even above-average income, to afford a nice place in the Randstad. To buy an average apartment in Amsterdam for €335,000, assuming a 30K euro downpayment, a 1.85% interest rate, and a 20 year repayment period, would cost an average of €1500 a month, with total interest amounting to €60K. Yes, I did the math!

A single person earning €3300/month and paying 35% income tax would not be able to afford this. A couple might, if they also have sufficient unemployment insurance and emergency funds. But that’s not exactly what I envisaged as my dream for the future: living in a tiny 57 square metre apartment, for 20 years, both partners working full time, just to afford the mortgage. It also makes the prospects for a family even slimmer.

OK, so how about living outside the Randstad, in a place like Enschede? Well, unfortunately, house prices have increased dramatically even here, especially in the last couple of years. My colleague at work is paying 300K for a house in the area.

Self-building might be the only affordable option left, but that’s assuming you find a buildable plot at a decent price, and you have planning permission from the gemeente. There are far too many legal and bureaucratic hurdles to building in this country.

Think twice about living outside the Randstad

Even if you can build (somewhat) affordably in a place like Enschede, Nijmegen or Tilburg, you might not like the people there. Unlike Randstad Dutchies, these people are among the most closed-off in Europe; it’s very difficult to get involved in friend groups and make life-long friends. This isn’t just me—studies have shown this.

So the Netherlands is super gay friendly, right?

Amsterdam certainly is a gay Mecca, but Enschede is more like a gay desert in terms of the quality and quantity of partners. Furthermore, if you want to start a family as a gay couple, it’s better to look elsewhere.

Paid surrogacy is illegal in the borders of the Netherlands; domestic adoption is almost impossible because the demand for healthy children is greater than the supply; while international adoption was recently banned. Even when it is eventually allowed again, international adoption is astronomically expensive in this country, with prices starting from €20,000. (No, that is not a typo.)

To be perfectly frank, the amount of bureaucracy around adoption makes me angry, and constitutes de facto discrimination against gay couples and infertile heterosexual couples. So much for a country that prides itself on being liberal.

In the UK, domestic adoption is much easier, and international adoption starts from 2000 pounds (notice that there is one less zero in that sum). In Scotland, the government will even offer a discount on the adoption fee to low income households.

The only realistic option in the Netherlands is to join forces with a lesbian couple and father children through artificial insemination. This can be done with a quid-pro-quo arrangement, where the lesbian couple adopts the first child, and the gay couple adopts the second. This is sometimes called “altruistic surrogacy”. Of course, it assumes you are good friends with a reasonably young, fertile lesbian couple. Another option might be for my husband’s sister (if he has one) to act as a surrogate (if she agrees).

Private healthcare sucks

When people think of European countries, especially Americans, they imagine universal healthcare. This is the case in the UK, where the NHS will treat any resident free of charge, and the costs are funded entirely through general taxation. The UK is one of the few countries in the world that has this system.

What we actually have in most of Europe is a system where healthcare entitlement is on the basis of contributions (taxes) by people who are employed. This means that it is possible to lose your health insurance if you do not pay into the system for more than a few months (although the legislation usually has a provision for life-or-death scenarios). Reasonable exceptions are made for students under 26, old people and disabled people.

In the Netherlands, it is worse, because public healthcare does not exist, unlike say in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Romania or even Ireland. In the Netherlands, everything is private, and you are required to pay for private health insurance. The only other developed country in Europe that has this system, as far as I know, is Switzerland.

This means that healthcare in the Netherlands is one of the most expensive in Europe, with high premiums and high “eigen risico” (out of pocket expenses even if you are insured) – the Netherlands has one of the highest healthcare costs, as a percentage of GDP, of any high income EU country.

Not only that, but Dutch GPs are among the most incompetent I’ve ever met, and switching GPs is a hassle. Dental healthcare is likewise problematic, with long waiting lists and fairly expensive procedures. I go to Romania for my dental needs; in the Netherlands, I can only go to the emergency dentist.

In conclusion

I have been doing some thinking about my future, and have come to the conclusion that the Netherlands has no future for me. I have given up on serious efforts to learn Dutch, because what’s the point? I can live with private healthcare, but no house and no kid are dealbreakers.

Instead, I have crunched the numbers, and remote work is a no-brainer for a data analyst like me. I plan to live a short amount of time in Romania, in order to save money; sell an apartment; and renovate my ancestral farmhouse (this is a backup option for my me and my family). From then on, I will migrate to greener pastures. Rural Spain is top of the list for gay friendly and affordable; rural Scotland is the second option, with higher prices but more options to adopt.

To put it more pithily: when the system is broken, you need to hack around it. That means adieu, the Netherlands.

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