Heinrich’s Journey from South Africa to the Netherlands

On a warm and sunny afternoon in The Hague, we sat down with Heinrich, a South African who relocated with his partner to the Netherlands just seven months prior. As Heinrich shared his story of immigrating to the Netherlands his face conveyed a mixture of nostalgia, excitement, and contentment.

Where it started

Just over one year ago, Heinrich had hardly considered the idea of immigration and didn’t know very much about the Netherlands. Back in October 2022, he was living in South Africa, working as an engineer, and facing the everyday challenges common to South Africans, such as concerns about safety, economic instability, and limited personal- and professional growth opportunities. A friend’s announcement that he had accepted a job offer in the Netherlands got Heinrich curious about the possibility of doing the same.

Considering the Netherlands

The advantages of moving to the Netherlands instead of other popular options like Australia or Canada, were unknown to Heinrich in the beginning. As he started doing some research, he began to discover the notable advantages immigrating to the Netherlands held for him and his partner. He discovered it offered the obvious advantages of safety, professional opportunities, better work-life balance, and general quality of life. But he also realized some things about the Netherlands that he didn’t know before, like the fact that the Netherlands shared a time zone with South Africa. This seemingly simple fact meant Heinrich would be able to maintain things like Sunday afternoon phone calls with his family. The availability of direct flights and being in the same time zone also meant traveling back and forth between the two countries would be more convenient. His Afrikaans-speaking background would also give him easier access to the Dutch language and culture, and being able to identify with even a small part of the culture would ease the transition greatly.

From curiosity to an employment contract and beyond

Heinrich’s journey really started when he decided, “Just out of curiosity“, to submit his CV to FairPlay Engineering. Thereafter,  what had seemed like a distant possibility very quickly became a tangible reality. Guided by FairPlay’s recruiters, Heinrich navigated the process of finding the right position and presenting himself effectively to potential employers. Thanks to the strong relationships between FairPlay Engineering and its clients, his CV reached the right hands quickly. Unexpectedly and excitingly, within just two weeks after his interview, Heinrich received a life-changing job offer.

Once he accepted the position, the date was set and in six short weeks, he would start his new job in the Netherlands. He was introduced to his relocation consultant from The Relocation Company and a flurry of paperwork for the immigration process began. This included VISA applications, and countless bureaucratic hurdles such as making arrangements with Home Affairs to get their unabridged birth certificates and have them apostilled at DIRCO. The process of selling their belongings and home, whilst handling the intricacies of rental contracts in The Netherlands was a complex chapter in Heinrich’s journey. While talking about this challenging time Heinrich smiled from ear to ear as he relived his experience visiting the Embassy of The Netherlands in South Africa. He recalls the sense of calm and order that filled him with excitement as he felt like a new world was opening up to him.

The time flew by and before they knew it Heinrich and his partner were walking into the City Hall in Delft for their registration appointment. All their meticulous preparation paid off as they arrived, with their precious apostilled documents tucked under their arms, and a wave of relief washed over them.

Everything new all at once

The initial days in the Netherlands weren’t without the challenges that come with immigration. Adjusting to a new currency, grappling with the cost of living (especially during the first month), and trying to get comfortable with the language and culture were just a few of the initial obstacles.

Yet, as the first few months went by, the challenges started to give way to new experiences. Spring brought a newfound joy as they explored the Netherlands and delighted in the flowers that seemed to be blooming on every corner around their new home in Delft. Adjusting to the Dutch way of life, from work culture to healthcare, felt like a journey of growth and adjustment which is still ongoing. The language similarities between Dutch and Afrikaans quickly provided Heinrich with room to make friends at work as a sense of familiarity from both sides sparked a curiosity to reach out and start a conversation. In an otherwise unfamiliar environment, a more relaxed pace of life started to take root.

Lessons and blooms

Looking back, Heinrich notes that the first three months were intense, but they were also transformative. The stresses that once weighed heavily on his shoulders began to dissipate and were slowly replaced by a sense of liberation. The ease of traveling within the country and the trust-based societal norms were a refreshing change that he has quickly grown accustomed to.

Heinrich, glued to his 9292 app and ready to take the train to the office on his first day.

Now settled into his life in the Netherlands, Heinrich enjoys outdoor activities like “braaing” (barbecuing) at the Delftse Hout, immersing himself in the beauty of nature, and enjoying the freedom that the Netherlands offers. The journey he admits, wasn’t without discomforts, like figuring out public transportation or self-checkout at the local supermarket. But these minor hurdles ultimately added to the tapestry of his experience.

Advice Heinrich would give himself if he had to do it over again:
  • The benefits like safety, freedom, and less stressful day-to-day life are even greater than you expect.
  • The initial costs and challenges might seem daunting, but they level out over time.
  • Embracing the local culture, language, and way of life will help bridge the gap between the familiar and the foreign.
  • The Netherlands is a great place to live, this fact wreaks havoc on the rental market, prepare yourself for a challenge.
  • Get the 9292 app on your phone to help you plan routes with public transport, just know it will be the most intimidating to navigate on your first day and never as bad after.
  • The self-checkout at grocery stores like Albert Heijn, Jumbo, and Plus will take weeks to get used to but once you get the hang of it, there is no going back.
  • Go outside, rain or shine. Even in the pouring rain, you won’t be the only person enjoying an outdoor market.
  • You will miss your family and friends, in some ways less and in other ways more than you expect, there is no getting around this but you will find ways to live with it.
  • On a tough day, just remember that you are only a few minutes by train away from a beautiful, new European city waiting to be explored.
  • The houses and apartments in the Netherlands are much smaller than you are used to and this is a big adjustment, but you will get used to this and end up spending more time out and about because there are so many things to do.
  • The South African expat community here is a great comfort. There are so many people who know exactly what you are going through and there is a big chance you will meet someone who is from your hometown, so don’t be shy to reach out, connect and join the Facebook groups.
  • Don’t overthink it – het komt wel goed!

As we finished our conversation on that sunny terrace, it was clear that Heinrich’s journey had only just begun, and the path ahead was lined with endless opportunities.