So you want to move to Maastricht?

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A few things to help prepare you for your move.

Maastricht has many of the conveniences of the Netherlands (good roads, fast transport, great french fries) combined with a smaller city vibe than the larger northern Dutch cities, loads of good restaurants, and excellent shopping. I really think it is the best place to land! Here’s a few things to know if you plan to move here. I’d say this post is more directly applicable to Americans moving from the US to NL, but it may apply as well to European expats, so read on!

Also, while I try to cover a lot, there’s so much more that goes into life here. For the sake of your and my sanity, I stopped at 10 main topics, but I hope to write about others in more detail soon (like cycling, schools, restaurants to try, etc.). Finally, anything linked here is because I find it useful. I do not get any kickbacks or commissions.

  1. Getting Around.
    • You’ll need a bike. We Americans associate the Dutch with cycling so you probably already assumed this. But you also need to be ready to drop some $$. Just like in the Covid/post-Covid USA, bikes are still hot commodities in Maastricht. The ones in stores are expensive, but if you plan to make it your main source of transport, then I think well worth the price tag. There are sometimes also used bikes for sale as well as Swapfiets programs (bike share) that can help you out. As for the type of bike, I’d recommend a city cruiser style that has a couple of gears, and if you’re willing to pay for extras, get the built in front and rear lights that are pedal powered. So handy! Don’t forget a bike lock (some of them can come as part of your bike which is also super helpful). If you like bikes and want to have more than one, I’d recommend a road bike for longer jaunts on the many routes you can take into neighboring cities, and rural areas. Mountain biking is also popular, though very technical here. And, if you are looking for something with more utility, a bakfiets would be my recommendation.  It can haul kids, groceries, recycling, everything! I’d get an electric version of those for the times you’re really hauling some heavy things or going uphill (there aren’t many hills here but you’ll feel every incline when pedaling one of these!)

      We found our bikes at Aon de Stasie  which has a couple of storefronts, including one connected to the Maastricht train station. For higher end bikes, like nicer road bikes, and for maintenance of said nicer bikes, I highly recommend Cycling Evers.
    • Trains are really reliable and relatively quick. They are super prompt, as in, you can’t show up 5 minutes late for your train! You can get a train card (ov-chipkaart) that helps with discounts to public transportation, including buses. This card also helps with one of our other frequented services, Green Wheels, which is a car share program.
    • Cars. We are lucky in that we can often borrow Melissa’s car when we need one, but sometimes they are using it and we need to do things like get the cats to the vet (I’ve learned that this is a terrible experience on a bike!) or the boys to baseball practice at a sports hall in Belgium (no train stop and too far on the bikes). I should note that when we need a car for the weekend to get to another country/city, we will always rent from Enterprise. There is one about 400 m (that’s about .25 miles) from our front door and, with some notice, they’ve had superb customer service. You should know, though, that even when we’ve asked for their “biggest” car so that we could transport 6 of us, we ended up with a pretty small SUV (and ended up taking two cars).
      Owning a car in the Netherlands, from what I understand, can be pretty expensive, and intentionally so. I think if you’re moving here long term it would prove useful for regular road trips (or those trips to IKEA!), but if your stay is short term, I think you can get away without one.  Whether you are biking or driving or both, I think it is very handy to read  up on the rules of the road. https://www.anwb.nl/verkeer/veiligheid might help but you’ll need to use Chrome’s translate mode to make it readable in English.
    • Buses. I have to say, I’ve heard the buses are good, reliable, and easy to figure out. I know people that use them regularly. We just haven’t needed one in our stint here. We mostly cycle, walk, or borrow a car (to get further out of town).
    • Flights. Maastricht has an airport but it has limited flights and mostly to popular tourist destinations for the season. Most of the times we are flying in and out of Brussels, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, or Eindhoven.
  2. The Weather.
    • Invest in Rain Gear. A good raincoat (with a hood that can also fit over a warm hat), rain pants, and rain boots (especially for kids) are a good idea (see my outfit in the above photos). The rain pants you don’t really have to splurge extra on – just go to Zeeman or Bever and there are some cheaper ones that will do the job for the average commuter (keeping your pants dry while you cycle in the rain). Bever will also have nicer/expensive ones that would be handy if you plan to be outside in the rain quite a bit (think long rainy hikes or bike treks). An umbrella is also a must. The wind can be really rough though, so expect your cheap ones to break. Blokker will have your next cheap umbrella replacements. 
    • In winter it gets dark really early (like 4:30pm until after 8:00 am) and in summer it’s light from before 6:00 am until after 11pm. Depending on where you’re moving from, this can have a real effect on you if you’re not used to it. Coming from SC, this was a big adjustment for me. In winter, the darkness does make you appreciate any sunny day that comes and everyone is popping Vitamin D.😎 It also means blackout curtains/shades are a must for being able to sleep in during the summer months. 
    • Have I mentioned the wind? It is quite common to have fairly windy days. And then there are days where it is blowing 30mph and gusting up to 50mph. Weather apps will give a wind rating. Anything 3 and higher makes you question how far you want to go on your bike.
  3. Take some Dutch lessons. I got a mixed review from some fellow expats on this. It is true that you can get away with only speaking English. But I recommend using something like Duolingo to help get started with vocabulary learning, and I highly recommend hiring a Dutch teacher for “real” conversation/useful phrases for daily life. Of course English will be understood in most places, but not everything is bilingual (signs, grocery store products, etc). Just to give an example, IKEA in nearby Heerlen has information in 3 or 4 different languages…none of which were English. For super quick needs, the google translate app is quite handy (but has made some errors in my experience!). For private lessons, Martina with Keep in Dutch is your gal. For a group lesson, I’ve also heard great things about this group in Maastricht. This could be a handy way to make some new friends as well.  The other overlooked benefit of this is that you get a better understanding of Dutch culture and local sayings that you won’t get from Google Translate or Duolingo. **Note: Even if you have great Dutch skills, the Dutch person will often respond in English. I think this has more to do with them trying to be friendly (or wanting to practice their English) than it has to do with them criticizing your Dutch. When you are confident, then I highly recommend just responding back in Dutch.
  4. The Grocery Store & Shopping:
    • In general, most employees of a store are going to leave you alone. You need to ask for help/trying on/getting another size/looking for an item.
    • Be prepared to bag your own groceries, usually in your bags you bring from home. I’m quite used to this now and I don’t mind it, but if you aren’t prepared, you can cause a bit of a backup in the cashier line. You can buy heavy plastic (reusable) bags from the store if you forget yours.
    • Also interesting to note in grocery stores – the aisles are generally smaller than in the US. The brand options are fewer (I think this makes it less overwhelming, though). Most products, especially meat/veggies are store brand and you can choose between organic/non organic. There’s not 10 different brands of chicken to choose from, for example.
    • Speaking of shopping, Market Day is Friday. There are some city center market stalls that stay open all week, but the big day with most vendors is Friday. Fabrics, flowers, vegetables, food trucks, all kinds of things! Even if you aren’t going to buy anything, I think it is fun and vibrant to walk through when the weather is nice. Also, on Thursday, near Plein 1992 there’s an organic market.  It is small but offers meat, cheeses, vegetables and fruits.
    • On Sundays, many places are closed and grocery stores open at noon. Many restaurants are also closed on Sundays and/or Mondays.
  5. Payments. You’ll need a Dutch bank account. Due to Covid restrictions you have to make an appointment for this, you can’t just walk into a bank and ask to set up an account. This appointment can only happen once you’ve begun the immigration process and received your BSN (similar to SSN). Depending on how you’re immigrating (whether for work, family, etc), this process can be quick or slow, but once the account is open and funded, your life becomes SO easy. Many places like grocery stores and several online shops do not take regular US credit cards (or even debit cards), but they do take the Dutch bank cards. Almost everything can be paid for with your phone (set up with Apple payments, for example).
    • Mobile payments to your friends and the process for online checkout integrates with your bank app so you are rarely ever entering much of your personal information. It feels super secure and is very easy. The only downside is that you forget the rest of the world isn’t so mobile friendly. Sometimes the Dutch cards won’t work in Belgium or Germany (at small merchants), so you’ll need to carry cash in those situations.
    • You’ll see signs for Maestro payments – which is not something we’re very familiar with in the USA. Maestro is the debit card issued from Master Card. Your Dutch bank account will likely be a Maestro card and will be the only thing accepted in some places, like grocery stores.
    • In larger stores/restaurants, your American credit cards, including AmEx, and debit cards will likely work – it just isn’t very consistent, which is why we pay for most things now with our Dutch debit card.
  6. Mobile phones. You’ll be best off with a Dutch (or at least European) phone number. The service plans are incredibly affordable in comparison to the US service providers. The challenge with this is that places like T-mobile, will require a Dutch bank account before you can get an account with them. I believe there are some prepaid mobile phone options (including at T-Mobile), but I’m not very familiar with them. As we needed a Dutch number for our residency application, etc, Melissa (our fairy godmother for the first few months) put us on her phone plan in the first couple of days after we arrived. If you’re immigrating with a job, then perhaps your company can arrange a phone plan for you in advance.
    • Sites and Apps:
      • Download WhatsApp. I’ve been surprised at how useful this app is. Not only for messaging new friends here, but many businesses/services have a WhatsApp chat account, which makes it easy to get questions answered.
      • Bol.com is your new friend. I find it quicker and more reliable than Amazon. I will still check Amazon NL and Amazon DE from time to time though, and like that you can switch Amazon sites easily within your initial profile.
      • Thuizbezord is the best food delivery app. Not all restaurants are on it (and some have their own delivery service), but we’ve had a good experience receiving what we ordered and it still being hot.
      • Buienradar. Josh uses this app religiously to check wind and rain forecasts.
      • NS.NL. This is the train app. You can set up your account and book tickets, plan your route, etc.
      • Post.NL. The national post website/app. Here you can actually purchase “stamps” and rather than printing a stamp, you’re given a code that you just write on your envelope. Super handy. Also, if you plan to send something via Dutch mail to the US, you have to fill out all the info on this website and print your label. You can not walk into a post office and ask them to help you do that. Been there, done that. (I’ve been recommended DHL for shipping to the US instead).
      • Google Translate. There’s an app that can translate phrases, but also you can use the camera feature for the app to translate words in a picture/on a sign/etc. I’ve used this so many times. You can also get an extension on Chrome that will automatically translate websites for you.
  7. Home Life.
    • Accommodations are going to be smaller, especially the closer you get to the city center. This applies to everything from hotel rooms to apartments to houses. I would not ship any furniture here and I would even consider how you plan to store the clothes you bring/ship. For example, the house we rented had one wardrobe for the master bedroom. We bought a few pieces from IKEA to store clothes but still had quite a bit of extra things that have no real storage spot. Of course, there are some exceptions to this. Homes in areas like Sint Pieter are a bit larger (also harder to come by) as are homes a little bit further out of town. Dutch stairs are a running joke, especially among Americans who are not so used to such narrow, winding staircases. I think a lot of homes move furniture in through larger upstairs windows.
    • Air conditioning is not common, but you can purchase fans and between those and windows I think the hottest weather is tolerable.
    • Don’t bring small appliances (like hair, bathroom, small kitchen electric appliances). Even if you have an adapter/convertor that swears it works for US made products while overseas….I’ve seen many end up in smoke… literally. It is worth it just to buy it all here.
    • Trash separation is really important to the Dutch. You’ll sort your organic “eco” trash, from paper/plastic/glass/aluminum recycling. Maastricht is trying to be a leader in reducing their “footprint” so have moved much of the city to a schedule of picking up non-recyclable trash to every two weeks. Also, you must buy your trash bags at the customer service counter at the grocery store. They aren’t cheap and they must be the specific red/white trash bags. More info here.

      You have to take your recyclable items to the collection points yourself – it is generally not picked up for you. Eco trash is picked up every week. This definitely forces you to think about the packaging of what you’re buying. Getting it right used to stress me out, but I’ve got the hang of it now.
  8. Be prepared for fireworks around the holidays. I don’t mean the normal neighborhood pyro guy going a little crazy. I mean people blowing up mail boxes,  sewage drains, postal worker mail bags, all in the name of “celebration”. It sounds like a war zone. The past two years they’ve been banned to try to keep groups from gathering due to the pandemic but still many persevered, so I can only imagine what they’ll be like with no restrictions. Here’s a video Clare sent me – to give you an idea. 
  9. Dining Out.
    • Drinks, waters, beers, etc are generally smaller than Americans are accustomed to. You almost always need to order a bottle of water for the table (they do not automatically bring this). Ice is not super common except for certain drinks and that usually means a few ice cubes.
    • Maastricht has a pretty diverse dining scene. So many countries and cultures are represented and it can be really fun to try new places. In general, the Dutch diet is a little more bland, so if you like things super spicy, you need to ask for that (and I recommend bringing in your favorite hot sauces for your home cooked meals). Even if a menu says a dish is spicy, my spice-loving friends say this is still less spicy than they prefer. Personally, I have a low tolerance for spice so have not had this experience.
    • Tipping is not super common for the Dutch. Especially in American amounts. When you go to pay for your coffee or meal, you can tell them to round up to a higher number (“can you make it 15€?”) and they’ll know it is a tip but this is generally a less than 10% amount added. We have tipped more when it involves lifting/carrying things for us but even then people think you’re crazy. 
  10. Getting in the “System”. I saved this one for last because hopefully if you’re moving to Maastricht, you have someone helping navigate the immigration process. It deserves its own post or even blog entirely, so I’m just giving a quick overview of some things here:
    • If you are moving with a job/company, I’m fairly confident, they’ll take care of many of these steps for you. If not, I highly recommend contacting the Expat Centre and/or an expat attorney. The Dutch government is referred to as the “Gemeente”. You’ll need to register with them and there will be all kinds of paperwork/appointments required to get in the system. As my friend Clare said, many of these appointments seem like they could be done online, but they want to see your face.
    • If you’re planning to reside in the Netherlands, you’ll end up needing to apply for a BSN (similar to an American SSN). This number is critical to all things Dutch life. The Expat Centre can help line up the steps for you for this. Also check out: https://expatcentremaastrichtregion.nl/faq
    • Pretty soon after you register with the Gemeente, apply for residency, and get your BSN, you’ll want to get your general family doctor. There seem to be some guidelines on which doctor serves which neighborhoods – I just asked my friend who also lives nearby so did not have to research this. With our doctor we are able to make appointments online, usually within a few days of wanting one. We’ve never waited longer than ten minutes to be seen. And the appointments are short and sweet. Then, if you need a prescription, they send it to your neighborhood pharmacy, and it’s ready in minutes. You are required to have insurance, it is not free (but there are subsidies for those who need help affording it) and so far I’ve paid no copays for appointments. The most I’ve had to pay for a medicine was €25, and that is not common.
      • Speaking of medicines, I would stock up in the US on those you take regularly, whether they are OTC or prescribed. For one, most OTC meds in the US are not available OTC in the Netherlands. And it can take quite some time to get set up with your Dutch doc to get a prescription  (bringing your US doc’s prescriptions does not work here). Also, the Dutch government is not very into preventative medicine. I attribute this to them having a fairly healthy population so the cost isn’t worth it. But for those of us used to trying to prevent illness, it can be frustrating. So, if flu shots, colon screenings, pap smears, etc are part of your regular care, I’d get that before you move (if it makes sense timing wise) and be prepared to advocate for yourself with your GP. 

I feel like this post could go on forever with more information, but I’m going to try to organize those thoughts into a different post. I hope this helps if you’re looking to move to Maastricht! It really is a lovely city with a good quality of life. Once you get through the initial phase of moving in, most of this will start to feel like second nature. Please feel free to reach out with questions on things I didn’t cover, or with your suggestions for newcomers!

One comment

  1. Thank you for this super informative post! I CANNOT WAIT to get over there! I am so excited to shop the outdoor markets. I live in MN so we only get 4 months of outdoor farmers markets.

    I just met some Dutch neighbors and they also recommended the rain gear, which I never would have considered. Lots to shop for when we get there!

    Like

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