The Netherlands has become one of the most popular countries on earth for expats. The country attracts a record number of international students and young professionals yearly. Due to the business incentives available in the Netherlands, many young people are choosing to move to the country. They do so to begin their careers or take internships in their desired fields of study.
According to the World Bank, Netherlands’ economy ranked as the 17th biggest in the world last 2021. As of FY 2019/20, its GDP per capita was estimated at $57,101, making it one of the world’s highest-earning nations. GDP grew by over 4% each year between 1996 and 2000. This rate is well above the European average of 2.5%.
Sounds pretty good, but how does the Netherlands compare to the US – the world’s favorite destination for relocation? Also read our comparison of living in the US vs Sweden.
Life in the US vs the Netherlands
As countries, the Netherlands and the United States share a friendly relationship, and both enjoy high levels of well-being. However, the Netherlands outranks the US in terms of the happiness index. World Happiness Report is a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
The report offers information about national happiness based on respondents’ ratings of their own lives. Furthermore, it identifies the various quality of life factors that correlate with national happiness.
Statista states that the Netherlands was the 5th happiest country globally in 2021. It has a happiness score of 7.42, which is only 0.4 lower than the score of the first happiest country – Finland.
Meanwhile, the United States is in 16th place, with a happiness score of 6.98. Its score is lower than the Netherlands’ by 0.44.
In this article, we will explore why people residing in the Netherlands are happier than those in the United States. We will share with you the notable differences that each country offers.
Dutch vs American culture
Firstly, it makes sense to discuss the cultural differences in both countries. By far the most significant distinction of the Dutch people is their directness.
They won’t engage in many formalities and tell you everything straight. Small talk is also not common in Dutch culture. This all can be seemed by Americans as rude.
Secondly, coffeeshops are an essential part of Dutch culture. Many nations will find this element very strange or even inappropriate. In the end, smoking weed is prohibited in most parts of the world, except in the Netherlands and a few other places.
The third significant element of Dutch culture which is distinctive to America is cycling. Bicycles play a substantial role in the life of Dutchies and can’t be interchanged. The Netherlands has the largest number of bikes per capita in the world.
Bike traffic on Dutch roads is impressive and seems chaotic, but it has its own structure where locals feel like fish in the water.
In contrast, this type of transportation is barely used in the US. People won’t trade their cars for anything.
Cost of living
According to Living Cost, the average cost of living in the Netherlands ($1,695) is 18% lower than that in the United States ($2,061). In the list of the most expensive countries in the world, the Netherlands ranked 20th, while the United States ranked 8th.
Here is a table from Living Cost that shows specific items and how much they cost in the Netherlands vs in the United States:
|Dinner in a restaurant, for 2||$63.80||$58.70|
|Fast food meal, e.g., McDonald’s||$9.06||$8.35|
|Beer in a pub||$4.98||$5.24|
|Pepsi / Coke||$2.59||$2.04|
|Rent & utilities|
|1 bedroom apartment in downtown||$995||$1,355|
|1 bedroom apartment in suburbs||$794||$1,065|
|3-bedroom apartment in downtown||$1,757||$2,442|
|Cheap 3-bedroom apartment||$1,396||$1,831|
|Utility bill one person, electricity, heating, water, etc.||$127||$107|
|Utility bill for a family, electricity, heating, water, etc.||$195||$165|
|Internet plan, 50 Mbps+ 1 month unlimited||$43.50||$65.30|
|Mortgage interest rate for 20 years||2%||3.39%|
|Apartment price in city center||$5,199||$5,548|
|House price in suburbs||$3,786||$2,683|
|Local transport ticket||$3.52||$2.21|
|Monthly ticket local transport||$87.30||$64.30|
|Gas / petrol, 1l||$2.12||$0.97|
|Milk, 1l or 1 qt||$1.07||$0.93|
|Bread, 0.5 kg or 1.1 lb||$1.78||$2.73|
|Rice, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$1.86||$3.81|
|Cheese, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$11.30||$11.20|
|Chicken breast, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$8.47||$9.80|
|Round steak, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$26.30||$13.70|
|Apples, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$2.71||$4.46|
|Banana, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$1.42||$1.73|
|Oranges, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$1.50||$3.97|
|Tomato, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$2.61||$4.08|
|Potato, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$1.20||$2.49|
|Onion, 1 kg or 2.2 lb||$0.96||$2.43|
|Water, 1 L or 1 qt||$0.52||$1.24|
|Coca-Cola / Pepsi, 2 L or 67.6 fl oz||$2.69||$2.08|
|Wine (mid-priced), 750 mL bottle||$6.59||$12.90|
|Beer, 0.5 L or 16 fl oz||$1.27||$2.95|
|Cold medicine, 1 week||$5.60||$8.36|
|Toilet paper, 4 rolls||$1.73||$3.68|
|Toothpaste, 1 tube||$2.21||$1.87|
|Gym membership, 1 month||$35.80||$42.20|
|Cinema ticket, 1 person||$12.30||$12.30|
|Daycare or preschool, 1 month||$1,609||$1,057|
|International primary school, 1 year||$9,125||$15,080|
In the Netherlands, there are many companies that hire internationals. Every day, expats get employed, and some are lucky enough to get a job on their first try. It’s essential to realize that finding a job in the Netherlands is challenging but not impossible.
The same goes for the United States. The country is also open to foreigners, and applying for a job and working visa is difficult.
The notable difference in jobs in these two countries is the biggest industries in the country. According to World Atlas, Netherlands’ top five industries are as follows:
- Agriculture and Food
On the other hand, according to IBIS World, the five biggest industries in the United States are the following:
- Retirement and Pension Plans
- Drug, Cosmetic, and Toiletry Wholesaling
- Health and Medical Insurance
Graduates and expats choose to work in these countries’ biggest industries.
According to Statista, employees in the Netherlands earn an average of €36,500 or $38,398 annually. The province of Utrecht had the highest salaries, at over €38,700 or $40,712.
Comparatively, Flevoland’s average employee earns just under €32,000 or $33,664, which is over €6,000 less.
However, expats often earn more than average, where the median salary for a foreigner in Amsterdam is €48,000 or €34,882 net. This will give you a very comfortable lifestyle in the Dutch capital. Read more about salaries in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, Indeed states that the average annual salary in the United States is €48,638 or $51,168. The wages here also vary depending on the state.
The state that offers the highest pay is Massachusetts. Salary in this state averages at €62,433 or $65,680 per year. Meanwhile, the lowest is Mississippi, which offers only €38,108 or $40,090 per year.
Based on this information, the average salary in the United States is higher by over €12,000. That is only fair given that the cost of living here is more expensive than in the latter. Read more about salaries in the US.
Here are the top ten highest-paying jobs in the Netherlands:
|Job Title||Mean annual salary|
|Researcher (Clinical Chemistry)||€210,000 or $240,310|
|Pilot||€155,280 or $177,720|
|Commercial Director||€127,920 or $146,420|
|Neurosurgeon||€99,960 or $114,430|
|Dermatologist||€99,960 or $114,430|
|Company Lawyer||€99,240 or $113,620|
|Accountant||€94,560 or $108,250|
|Mayor||€81,960 or $93,810|
|Lawyer||€78,600 or $89,950|
|Addiction Psychiatrist||€76,560 or $87,620|
Meanwhile, here are the ten highest-paid jobs in the United States:
|Job Title||Mean annual salary|
|Anesthesiologist||€314,800 or $331,190|
|Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons||€296,000 or $311,460|
|Obstetricians-Gynecologists||€281,500 or $296,210|
|Surgeons||€279,900 or $294,520|
|Orthodontists||€254,000 or $267,280|
|Physicians (Other)||€242,500 or $255,110|
|Psychiatrists||€237,400 or $249,760|
|Internal Medicine Physicians||€230,200 or $242,190|
|Family Medicine Physicians||€224,200 or $235,930|
|Chief Executives||€202,500 or $213,020|
Earning money or working in the Netherlands requires you to pay taxes on your income. You must declare your income tax through your annual tax return (aangifte inkomstenbelasting), which you can do online or with the help of a Dutch tax advisor.
When you are employed by a company, wage tax (part of payroll tax) will be withheld from your pay by your employer.
On the other hand, self-employed individuals in the Netherlands are responsible for calculating and paying their income tax through the annual tax return.
Here is an overview of the income tax rate in the Netherlands for 2023 from PWC:
|Taxable income (EUR)||Tax on the excess (%)|
|Over (column 1)||Not over|
* In the first bracket of box 1, the national insurance tax is levied at a rate of 27.65%.
- Box 2 income is taxed at a flat rate of 26.9%.
- Box 3 income is taxed at a flat rate of 31%.
On the other hand, the federal government of the United States, along with most states, imposes income taxes. Generally, income taxes are calculated by applying a tax rate, which increases as income increases, to taxable income, which is total income less allowable deductions.
Here’s the tax rate for single filers in the United States from Nerd Wallet:
|Tax rate||Taxable income bracket||Tax owed|
|10%||$0 to $9,950||10% of taxable income|
|12%||$9,951 to $40,525||$995 plus 12% of the amount over $9,950|
|22%||$40,526 to $86,375||$4,664 plus 22% of the amount over $40,525|
|24%||$86,376 to $164,925||$14,751 plus 24% of the amount over $86,375|
|32%||$164,926 to $209,425||$33,603 plus 32% of the amount over $164,925|
|35%||$209,426 to $523,600||$47,843 plus 35% of the amount over $209,425|
|37%||$523,601 or more||$157,804.25 plus 37% of the amount over $523,600|
In terms of work-life balance, the Netherlands outranks the United States. Based on the OECD Better Life Index, the Netherlands ranked 3rd out of 41 countries, while the US ranked 29th.
In the Netherlands, employees spend an average of 15.9 hours daily eating, sleeping, and leisure activities. Only 0.5% of Dutch employees work more than 50 hours per week, compared to 13% of employees in OECD countries.
Dutch companies understand the importance of having a good work-life balance. The standard work week for a full-time employee is 38 hours, while most full-time employees work 36 – 40 hours per week, and employees rarely work long overtime hours.
The legal minimum for vacation days is four times the number of days you work per week. For example, if an employee works three full days per week, that’s four x three = 12 vacation days per year. However, full-time employees usually get 25 to 30 days of vacation annually.
The Netherlands enjoys a maritime climate that is mild in the summer and cold in the winter. Throughout most of the year, there is wind and rain, with July and August being the wettest months. Meanwhile, March is the driest month.
During the winter and summer, tourists may be concerned about the wind in the Netherlands because of its flat terrain. The wind is typically much stronger along the coast than further inland.
On the contrary, the United States is a large country, and the weather varies considerably with the seasons and the location. But just like the Netherlands, it also enjoys four different seasons: summer, spring, fall, and winter.
As far as the types of food eaten in the Netherlands and America are concerned, there is no noticeable difference. They serve everything from burgers and fries to pizza and subs to barbeque. But, the two countries have stark differences in food quality.
Somehow, the Dutch manage to make hamburgers and fries seem healthy. The same meal would make you feel bloated and gross for days in America. The difference lies in the way that everything is prepared over there. Deep-frying is much less common among the Dutch than it is among Americans.
In America, everyone is all about accomplishments and working harder than anyone else, mistaking activity for achievement.
In the Netherlands, an equal balance between quality of life and work is sought. When you succeed in America, you’ll earn more money but also work more and have fewer intangibles.
In the Netherlands, you’ll live smaller and possess less wealth. A whole work week won’t exceed forty hours, and you’re unlikely to work a second job. But, people here are much more content and happier.
In addition, Dutch people are healthier than Americans. In this country, obesity is lower, food contains fewer chemicals and antibiotics, and people are more active. Whether it’s raining or shining, most Dutch people cycle everywhere.
The Netherlands has more bicycles than people. Bicycle paths and parking are abundant everywhere. Cyclists often have the right of way over cars.
Dutch people are straightforward, honest, and accommodating. This directness comes in handy when working on a project, asking for an opinion, or asking for advice. In the Netherlands, people will not hesitate to give you the truth, even if it’s something you’d prefer to sugar-coat.
Meanwhile, people in the United States are also amiable and accommodating. They are also happy to help you when you ask them. This warmness roots from being a melting pot. Many people from all over the world come here every day.
Housing in the Netherlands locates alongside canals, near colorful tulip fields, and near bike paths. There is striking architecture in the charming properties. Here are four major differences in housing in the United States and the Netherlands:
1. Unique architecture
One thing you’ll notice when looking for a place to call home in the Netherlands is that no two homes are alike. Here, you won’t find rows of identical apartments. The facades and layouts of the apartments are unique.
2. Vertical layouts
Netherlands cities offer a wide range of premium properties. Townhouses and row houses are more common here than standalone homes. Typically, dwellings have multiple floors with narrow, winding staircases between them.
Many expats are surprised to find there isn’t always an oven, the fridge may be a fraction of the size they are used to, and there is almost no garbage disposal. Also, their bathrooms are just plain toilets with no sinks.
4. Bedroom size
It’s common for Dutch apartments to have three bedrooms, but expats shouldn’t automatically assume that means they should buy three large beds. The bedrooms may be oddly shaped or extremely small.
As a matter of fact, Dutch residents often use the smallest bedroom as a closet, as built-in cabinets are unusual in most apartments. Many children share a bedroom with bunk beds and trundles.
Moreover, you will likely need to combine two smaller box springs if you need a larger bed since a full-sized box spring will not fit around the tight corners.
A Dutch health system is funded by the state, or by taxes that you pay to be precise. Generally, they have high-quality and convenient medical care for everyone and at a much lower cost than the US system.
Health expenditures in 2009 in the Netherlands were only $4,914, compared with $7,960 in the US.
The healthcare system in the Netherlands is universal. The government manages it, and private insurers supplement it.
Moreover, the government provides healthcare allowances for the lowest-earning citizens to access mandatory insurance. Aside from that, parents’ insurance automatically covers children under 18.
Everyone working or living in the Netherlands must have basic health insurance from a Dutch or international provider with a cover in the Netherlands (with or without additional coverage).
In both countries, you can opt for private health insurance, like one from Cigna Global.
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