First appeared in THEXPAT Journal Winter 2013 Publication
When Is a House a Home?
For expatriates and global citizens the world over, finding a house or apartment in a new city / country is about much more than identifying the premises on which you will live (regardless of whether you are buying or renting). Finding a place to live subconsciously becomes a vital step in ensuring you can settle in an unfamiliar environment.
There are practical things on the checklist of requirements: number of bedrooms; proximity to work, school, or both; accommodating potential visitors from overseas; parking; garden / no garden; etc. The list can be endless. A highly recommended starting point for all newcomers to a city is to make a short list of the most important factors before starting the hunt for a home, and to make a note of those which may fall under the category ‘nice to have’ – as opposed to ‘must have’.
Second to that: you are recommended take some time to talk to people about different cities and their neighbourhoods, so that you can learn from their experiences, and find out about the hidden things to consider. Do keep in mind that often a person’s opinion has a lot to do with where they come from and what their own expectations are versus simple likes & dislikes are.
There are particularities of Dutch living we could go on about – the steep staircases, small toilets, dilemmas of bike storage – but if there is one common thread which we could share with you it is related to space: storage, living and between locations (distance).
Compact – In More Ways Than One
Distances may be relatively small (within a city) – but a 10-minute bike ride in spring or summer is very different to one in the autumn or winter. For the seasoned Dutch it is simply 10 minutes, for someone not used to extreme weather (for cycling) being 10 minutes away by bike can have multiple meanings. Distances between cities may also seem short – but traffic on highways, if you are planning to commute by car, is a national issue (and topic) for everyone. It is worth keeping that in mind. Even by train, distances may also appear very close. Yet, the national railway system has been struggling for a few years now in dealing with extreme weather (leaves, high winds, snow and ice) and keeping the trains on time. Also worth keeping in mind is whether you have tight schedules related to other family obligations (aftercare / school pick-ups, etc.), which have strict time considerations.
Shortly after starting your search for a home, the issue of space will quickly become apparent. For people used to living rooms and family rooms or basements, the adjustment to close living in your new home – with many, if not all activities taking place in the shared space – may take some adjusting to. Rooms are very functional and there is little ‘extra’ space. Washing machines are found where there is plumbing – requiring some adjusting to not only when laundry is done, but also to how it is dried. [On this matter: by law, when both appliances are located in the same space, electricians are required to install a switch system which prevents using the appliances at the same time. What this ultimately means is that the laundry can take a long time, in comparison to other countries.]
Living space is one thing, storage space another. Creative use of space – downsizing belongings; renting additional storage pace for seasonal items (i.e. winter skis, coats, sleighs and the like) – is not an uncommon tactic for confronting the challenges. Being aware of this can save you many headaches and frustrations if your search criteria include ‘lots of storage space’.
Naturally your budget, and therefore the size of the home you can rent or buy, will determine if any of the above are issues. Nonetheless, as general statements, they are illustrative of expectations to keep in mind. And, remember, at the end of the day, it is up to all of us to ‘make our home’ where we move to… so be creative in how you can do so, even if you have to give up on a desire or two …
For more information about Housing refer to the ACCESS Guide and the ICP Housing for internationals in the greater The Hague area (2012).
ACCESS supports and recommends that new arrivals take a moment to talk to other internationals that have been in the Netherlands longer. It is an effective way of managing expectations and gathering information. Recognising that it is not always possible to meet and talk to those with previous experience shortly upon arrival – when crucial decisions such as housing need to be made – ACCESS and DutchNews.nl took the initiative to gather these experiences and put them into an easily accessed book. Ready Steady Go Dutch includes the experiences, opinions, and suggestions of more than 120 internationals who have already taken the first steps towards making a new home in the Netherlands. In the words of the Mayor of The Hague, “There is nothing like the testimonials and experiences of people who have been before you“. To order your copy or copies for your staff, visit www.readysteadygodutch.com.