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Despite its small size, the Netherlands is surprisingly prominent in world affairs.  The Hague seats the International Court of Justice for the United Nations, and the Royal Dutch Shell company is one of the biggest suppliers of oil in the world.  The English language is littered with Dutch words, and, in the Olympics, the Dutch are unmatched in their prowess at speed skating.

Thinking of moving here? Here’s a quick dive into the geography, demographics, economy, and government that you might need to know before you pack your bags.

Geography

The Netherlands, together with the northern half of Belgium, form what are historically known as “the Low Countries”.  About 26% of the total land area is below sea level, and mostly flat.  The southern and eastern parts of the country are in the foothills of the Ardennes mountains, and therefore they are somewhat hillier than the rest of the country.  

Three large rivers, Rhine, the Maas, and the Waal, run through the Netherlands, running (mostly) from east to west as they empty into the North Sea.  The other notable body of water is the IJsselmeer, which is an artificial lake and the largest lake in Europe. The rivers form a convenient boundary for the cultural and economic differences between the north and south of the country.

The four cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, and Utrecht form the Randstad, which is defined as a conurbation.  Although they are still separate cities, the Randstad is informally understood to be its own entity.  

Demographics

There are approximately 17 million people living in the Netherlands.  About 80% are Dutch, 2.4% Indonesian, 2.4% German, 2.2% Turkish, with the remaining 12% from other countries.  Most of the non-Dutch residents are concentrated in the Randstad cities, although expat communities can be found in almost every major Dutch city.  

Language-wise, most Dutch know at least one additional language.  English is understood by most of the population, while German is a close second, and French, third. But even in a country as small as the Netherlands, though, there are regional languages, the two most prominent being Fresian and Limburgisch.

Economy

The Netherlands is primarily a service-based economy, providing healthcare, banking, transportation, healthcare, and other services. Rotterdam is the largest shipping port in the world, handling most of the European ocean cargo.

The Netherlands is the home to several internationally recognised brands such as Royal Dutch Shell (oil company), Phillips (home electronics), and TomTom (navigation).  The Dutch also have a surprisingly vibrant and strong agricultural sector, while the Groningen natural gas field is one of the largest in the world.  

Government

While the official name of the Netherlands is “The Kingdom of the Netherlands” and the country does have a king and a queen (Willem-Alexander and Maxima, respectively) the seat of power is in the Dutch Parliament.  The representatives are voted in directly, with each party granted a number of seats proportional to the number of votes it has attained.

From a practical standpoint, the IND (Immigratie en Naturalisatie Dienst) handles visas, residence permits, and work status. However, for matters such as drivers’ licenses, address changes, marriage licenses, voting registration, and so on, the primary point of contact will most likely be the local gemeente office. 

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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