A few months into our arrival and I was already overwhelmed by the constant troubles with the bureaucracy (which was beginning to affect our quality of life). We were in over our heads and there was just no escaping it. There were so many things that we learned as we went along, many of which left us puzzled and in need of clarity. Eventually, all of the expat blogs I frequented and loved to read in anticipation of my own journey quickly turned from a source of inspiration, to sort of a reminder of how completely different our experience was turning out to be. This fact certainly made us feel even lonelier.
The quality of life issue took another nosedive after learning that Dutch teachers are not paid very well, even at an international school. Despite the combination of teaching and coaching work that my husband took on, we were barely surviving on just his income. Most people we spoke to, native Dutch and Expat alike, agreed that there needed to be a secondary income in order for us to live comfortably. That was a harsh reality given the fact that my lack of Dutch hindered my chances at finding work. And even if I did find employment, I would have to factor in the cost of childcare for Cerys who is still at home with me. In New York, I was able to stay at home with the kids, while working on my business and other creative endeavors. Sadly, I have not been afforded that same luxury here in The Netherlands.
Another surprise was the process of me acquiring a resident permit. We came prepared with every document necessary for the application process and with the knowledge that it could take up to 3 months to be approved. It took approximately 8 months from the day of my appointment with Dutch Immigration (IND) before receiving my approval letter and instructions to pick up the document. During the wait, I received a strange letter from the Municipality asking that I sign up for language courses accompanied by a date and time to come in. When I did not attend, there was a threat of a fine (yes, a FINE) if I did not follow the instructions of the second letter they were sending me. I couldn't help but to feel wrongfully pressured to fulfill requirements that did not even apply to me! Luckily, I had all of the information (from the IND themselves) that backed up my decision to ignore the second letter.
As someone who came here independant of a company, I fully intended to learn the language and integrate into Dutch society as best as I could. That is why it was a no brainer for us to enroll Kai into a Dutch school. As an aside, it has been very rewarding to hear him speak the language and build so many friendships in the process. My decision to not sign up for language classes at the demand of the Municipality, is simply based on the fact that I wanted to do it on my own time and terms. What is most interesting, is some expat friends of ours who arrived just a month before us did not get such a letter. I certainly did not want to be bullied into doing something I knew I was exempt from. Just saying.
If i'm going to be talking about Bureaucracy, I cannot forget about the runaround with our healthcare provider. Unfortunately a day after arriving I needed to visit a dentist while uninsured, to have stitches removed from a recent procedure. Thankfully, the out of pocket cost for that visit was very low. After registration with the municipality was complete, we were finally able to sign up for health insurance- and that's where things got really interesting. My husband and the kids, being the EU members of the bunch, seemed to have a much faster processing time and recieved their insurance cards in a matter of a few weeks. For me, there was alot of back and forth, until I finally received approval and my insurance card many months after we intially signed up. So here's the thing- from the day you sign the application for health insurance you are considered insured from that date onwards.
So regardless of how long it took for the insurance to decide that they would in fact insure me, one thing was for certain. A backdated bill that went back 4 months to the date the application form was filled out would be making it's way to me soon. And it better be paid quickly or an 'administration fee' would be tacked on as well. Can you tell we are not fans of the health insurance we have? Our policy here costs us double what we were paying in NYC and it does not feel like we're getting our money's worth...especially when Dental is a separate cost!
There is no question that The Netherlands has a high quality of life considering the bike culture, education, environment etc. However, for a family like ours - high taxes and living costs matched with an unexpected low salary, seems to outweigh all of the perks that once attracted us to this country. I'm sure if our income level was a bit higher, our experience would be much more positive than what we've experienced.