We checked in with Burger, Gina and 1-year old Matthew, 6 months after they moved from South Africa to the Netherlands. We met them at their bright and inviting apartment in the Vruchtenbuurt neighborhood of the Hague.
How did you prepare for your move to the Netherlands?
Average house sizes and cost of living
From our research we realized that we would have to be able to get along with between 90m2 100m2 of space. We found that this is typical for European homes, for families of our size, and anything above that becomes practically unaffordable on the average single salary.
Cost of living and expenses
We converted Burger’s salary in South Africa and looked at the price of rent and groceries to get an idea of what the expenses would be. The cost of living was slightly higher than we expected, about 20%.
Costs we weren’t prepared for
Costs that we were not expecting were property and waste taxes. These costs are all paid in advance annually or quarterly, for us it was about €300.00 for water and a few other city taxes. We had to pay this shortly after we moved in so we had to transfer it from a South African account which was costly.
What was your experience finding a home like?
The rental market
In hindsight we realized that we could have approached viewing the property options we had differently. We thought of the options as a selection which we could choose from, but this is not really how the market works. The properties move so quickly, because of the extremely hectic market, that a property could be gone within 8 hours of us viewing it. We think it would have been better to approach it with the mindset of looking foe an option that was acceptable and going for it right away. We had hoped to be able to compare multiple properties after viewing them but in reality previous option won’t be waiting for you until you have finished viewing another one. So our advice would be, prepare yourself for it that if you find an option you like you have to go ahead with it without waiting to see other options or risk losing out.
“Approach it as if you are looking for one acceptable option, not three options to compare and choose from.”
The best thing about our house is it gets so much light. The downside is that we got an unfurnished property, so it took some time to make the space feel like home. We brought over a container with some of our things from South Africa, once our familiar things arrived and we could place them in our space it felt a lot more like home. Our apartment doesn’t have a lot of storage so we have a storage unit for the rest of the things we brought over while we decide how to make everything fit.
“The living room gets lots of sunlight in the morning which was great during our first Winter.”
It is common in European houses to not have much storage and closet space so we bought bed bases with storage space so we have some extra storage under the beds which we are happy about.
It is too much of a cost to go into temporary accommodation and the first year goes by so fast. It is livable to choose something with reasonable criteria and it will be more than livable for a year. It is a huge cost saving to avoid going into temporary accommodation. The problem with temporary accommodation is that if you are looking for the same comforts and size of house you would find in South Africa it will take you a very long time, not to mention the rental price, so your temporary accommodation bill is going to become astronomical while you search. For us, it would have been about €1000.00 per week, so we avoided that.
We moved into an unfurnished apartment, which was a challenge, but our main priority at the time was securing an apartment so that we could plan and avoid temporary accommodation. We were able to get settled quite quickly between a trip to Ikea and a few things we were gifted from South Africans in the Netherlands.
Over time we found a few more things we needed on a Pay it forward group on Facebook, and Facebook Marketplace. The Brenger courier service was really handy for having things transported to our house. It is good to keep in mind, if your don’t live on the ground floor, large furniture items will likely need to be hoisted into your home by a hoist service.
What we brought with us
We arrived with 9 suitcases, a lot of this was things we needed for Matthew who was only six months old at the time. We shipped some of our other household things, they arrived about four months after we did. We now have our things in a storage unit, we have taken out the things that work in our apartment and make us feel at home and the rest we will take out of the storage unit when we move into a bigger apartment at some point. We would say ship your things from South Africa and then keep them in storage for the first while if you must so that you are flexible when looking for your first apartment, because storage is still cheaper than temporary accommodation.
We were lucky with the neighborhood, it is a really nice neighborhood. It turns out it is one of the best in the Hague for families. Everything you would need is in the area, and it is really well-connected.
We were quite happy and are planning to stay in this area.
People and surrounding
There are children everywhere! They all play outside together, it is great.
Compared to South Africa, if you lived in a complex it is quite similar in terms of the amount of people. There are a lot of schools and kindergartens in our area so there are a lot of families living around us.
The shops are usually localized to a particular neighborhood. If you use Google you will not find all the small stores near you, that you need for things like key cutting. Visit your local shopping street and you should be able to find most of the shops that you need for basic items and services.
Gardens and Outdoor spaces
We don’t have a garden now so we didn’t bring our dog, we left him with family. That was the most upsetting part of not having a garden, but we were prepared for it that it would be different in the Netherlands because most properties here don’t have gardens. Now we have got pot plants and put them everywhere.
We still spend a lot of time outside, the culture is much more community based so people are outside and share all the outdoor spaces, of which there are many. Near our house there are lovely forest and green spaces where we love to go for walks. There are also great parks and play areas for kids, we find the kids here seem to be outside all the time.
“Even when it was snowing all the kids in the street were outside playing together.”
People don’t always sit in their yards here like they would in South Africa, sometimes we see the older couple down the road sitting outside in the sun on the sidewalk having their tea in the afternoon, it is lovely. In South Africa we are very much in our boxed off walls and we aren’t used to this.