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Understand laws & regulations in TopDutch

One of the less thought about obstacles that internationals have to overcome when getting used to life in the TopDutch region is our laws and regulations. Is the right side the correct side of the road? What do I have to know before my first Dutch bike ride? Can I vote here? Frequenting yourself with some of our important or differentiating rules can help you feel TopDutch more quickly.

Good to know for everyday life

Compulsory identification
It is mandatory to carry official identification with you at all times. Certain officials (police, public transport ticket inspectors, special enforcement officers) can ask you for it, however only if there is a proper reason such as traffic management, maintenance of public order, or in the investigation of criminal offences. For EU/EEA citizens, valid ID includes your passport or identity card (Dutch or non-Dutch) or a Dutch driver’s licence. For non-EU/EEA, you must provide your passport with your visa sticker, or a residence permit, travel document issued by the Dutch government, or a leave-to-remain document. Failure to provide a valid ID can lead to a €60.00 fine. 

Driving a car
Driving a car in the Netherlands is very similar to that in most other European countries. For example, we drive on the right, overtake on the left; seatbelts are compulsory to have and use; you must have a valid drivers’ licence, registration papers and insurance papers with you in the vehicle at all times and you cannot call and drive unless you’re using hands-free. Unlike on a bike, drivers of mopeds and motorcycles must use a helmet.

If you’re planning on driving in the Netherlands for more than 6 months, it’s a good idea to get a Dutch driver’s licence. If you come from an EU/EEA country, or you benefit from the 30% tax ruling, or you possess a licence from a country with a special licence agreement (Israel, Taiwan, Japan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Canada, Andorra, Aruba, Jersey, Isle of Man, Monaco or Netherlands Antilles - depending on your licence type), you can request to transfer your licence to a Dutch one without passing an examination. There are certain rules that you must oblige to, however the easiest way of applying for it is by making an appointment at the multiplicity you are registered at. You can find further information on the website of the RDW (road transport authority). 

The infrastructure in the TopDutch region is designed to make cycling safe for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. However, there are a few important rules to know before you set off on your Dutch cycling journey. For example, it is illegal to cycle without working lights at nighttime; if you’re cycling in a group you should cycle with maximum two people side-by-side; cyclists are only allowed to transport children under 8 if they are in a safe seat. From the 1st of July 2019, it is now illegal to use your phone whilst cycling. However, it is legal to cycle without a helmet, although of course it is advisable to wear one.

Renting and buying houses

Rental contracts and laws
If you’re going to rent a house or apartment, you must sign a rental contract between you and the landlord which sets out the rules, costs and obligations for both parties. It may be that you have a definite contract (often 6 months or a year), which means you are legally required to pay rent until the end of this agreement unless both you and your landlord agree to. Indefinite contracts have no end-date, although the landlord can terminate the contract as long as there are legal grounds to do so. Your contract must be in Dutch. Sometimes landlords will provide an English translation, but it must be an official translation of the original Dutch version.

Both tenants and landlords have certain duties. For example, it is the tenants’ duty to pay rent on time, follow the house rules, and inform the landlord of cancellation of contract in fair time. It is a landlord’s duty to ensure the availability of the house within the rental period, cover the costs of maintenance, and give fair notice and valid reasons for the termination of a contract.

Mortgage rules
Although any foreigner, even those not living in the Netherlands, can buy and own a house, there are rules that your bank must follow if you want to get a mortgage in the Netherlands. Generally, if you are an EU citizen or a non-EU citizen the rules are the same, although they are more strictly followed for non-EU citizens. They include:

  • You must have been living in the Netherlands for 5 years
  • You are employed and financially independent
  • You will probably have to pay a deposit. If you are from the EU and you have the deposit available, the 5 year rule may be dropped
  • If you are non-EU you may have to also show proof that your residence permit can be extended.

Legal process of buying a house
You must handle all the legal aspects of the purchase through a notary. The legal steps are likely to include:

  • A pre-purchase contract: a pre-sale contract (koopovereenkomst) or a provisional contract (voorlopig contract) must be signed by the buyer and seller once a verbal agreement has been made. This will include the obligations of the buyer and seller, and a penalty in case one of the parties don’t meet their obligations. There will be a three-day “deliberation” period that is valid as soon as the buyer receives their copy of the contract. This will allow for them to change their mind without having to explain why or pay the penalty.
  • Transferring of deeds: The notary will check with the public registry in regards to mortgages or certain attachments to the deeds. Once everything is confirmed to be correct, they will draw a deed of transfer which must be signed by the buyer, the seller and the notary.
  • Land registry:  Once the house has been vacated in the agreed condition and the financial transaction has taken place, the deeds are officially registered in the land registry (kadaster). This is when the house is officially yours, and you will receive the keys.

Workers' rights and obligations

Employment contracts
There are a number of types of employment contracts in the Netherlands.

  • Indefinite contracts: refer to contracts that do not state a specific end-date or duration. These can only be terminated by: death, instant dismissal, agreement from both parties, the giving of notice which has been agreed by the Dutch Labour Office, or dissolution by the courts.
  • Definite contracts: Over the space of 24 months, employers can provide up to three successive definite contracts. After the 24 months, the contract will automatically be converted into an indefinite contract, unless the termination has been agreed on. The employee must be informed of the termination at least 1 month in advance, otherwise the employer will face a fine.
  • Trial periods: many employers opt for a trial period clause included in the contract. For contracts less than 6 months, these are not allowed, for contracts between 6 and 24 months the period is for a maximum of one month and for those over 24 months (including indefinite contracts), the period is a maximum of two months.

Sick pay
In the case of employee sickness, the employer is required to pay at least 70% of their wages for the first two years. However, there is a maximum sick pay set at 70% of the social security maximum (around €4,000 p/m).

Severance pay
Employers are legally obliged to pay severance pay in the case of dismissal if all of the following points are applicable:

  • the employment lasted two years or longer
  • the employment (indefinite term or temporary) is terminated by the employer
  • the termination is not as a result of seriously culpable acts by the employee
  • the employee is not younger than 18 nor over the pension age
  • the employer is not in bankruptcy.

Severance pay is paid as a proportion of your wage before dismissal and the time you’ve been employed by them. 

Working abroad

Dutch residents working abroad
If you are a Dutch resident but you work abroad the majority of the time, you are bound by the employment law of the country you normally work in, irrespective of whether your contract states otherwise. If you only work outside of the Netherlands occasionally, e.g. taking regular work trips, then the Netherlands’ employment law still applies.

Dutch residents working in two or more countries
If it is not possible to define which country and employee is working, for example you are based 50% of the time in the Netherlands and 50% of the time in another country, then you are bound by the employment law of the country your company is based. 

Expat clause
The expat clause refers to employees who are working mainly in the Netherlands, but are more closely connected to another country. This usually is in the form of a temporary assignment whilst you still have a contract from your country. In this case, which country you pay tax in is based on an agreement between the two countries, which the Netherlands has with most countries. You can find out more details, and the details of the agreement between the Netherlands and your home country on the website of the tax office, here

Right to vote

Depending on your nationality, you may be entitled to vote in certain elections. Legally, you must be over 18 to vote in any election. 

Municipal elections
• EU citizens can vote in municipal elections regardless of how long they have lived in the Netherlands
• Non-EU citizens can vote in municipal elections if they have lived in the Netherlands for 5 consecutive years

EU elections
All EU citizens can vote in EU elections. They can choose if they want to vote in their country of origin or in the Netherlands.

Waterschappen elections 
Any foreign national legally residing in the Netherlands may vote in the water board elections. 

Eerste Kamer and Tweede Kamer elections
Only Dutch citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in the national elections of the Eerste Kamer (Senate) and Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives).

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