With some of the top universities in the world, a vibrant culture, and stunning scenery, the Netherlands is a fantastic place to pursue higher education. Between the canals of Amsterdam, the tulip fields of Keukenhof, and a perfect work-life balance, you’ll get an experience unlike any other.

In this comprehensive guide to studying in the Netherlands, you’ll get tips for choosing and applying to Dutch universities, navigating the student visa process, budgeting for living and study expenses, and making the most of student life in this small but captivating country.

Let’s dive in as we explore the Netherlands for educational purposes.

How to Plan for Your Studies in the Netherlands

Before you embark on that trip to pursue your studies in the Netherlands, you need to understand the different factors that might affect your study and stay in this country, from tuition costs, and visa application, to finding work opportunities. We have explained them in detail below:

Education System in the Netherlands

The Dutch education system is renowned for its high quality, practical approach to learning, and strong international focus. The Netherlands hosts some of the top universities in the world, with degrees that are recognized globally. Students enrolled in various Netherlands colleges and universities are assessed under the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), where they have to complete at least 60 credits per academic year.

Generally, there are two types of higher education in the Netherlands:

  • Research Universities or wetenschappelijk onderwijs (WO), which focus on scientific research and offer Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. programs. Examples are Leiden University and Utrecht University.
  • Universities of Applied Sciences or hoger beroepsonderwijs (HBO), which provide more practical, professionally-oriented education and offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Examples are The Hague University of Applied Sciences and Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

There are about 13 universities and 43 HBO institutions in the Netherlands, comprising state-funded and private institutions. These have attracted over 830,000 students including domestic and international students. The number of international students in the Netherlands has been increasing, with 115,000 students recorded in the 2022-2023 academic year, making up around 13.8% of the total number of students.

  • Total number of international students – 115,000
  • Total number of universities – 56

Choosing University in the Netherlands

The Netherlands’ education rankings are among the top in the world. Now it’s time to choose between the many top-ranked universities for your studies. Here are some tips on how to choose a Dutch school for your studies:

  • Research the universities that offer your program of interest. The Netherlands has some of the world’s leading institutions known for certain programs. For example, the University of Amsterdam is known for having top-quality programs in social sciences, arts, and humanities.
  • Additionally, you can compare other factors like rankings, facilities, tuition fees, faculty, financial aid opportunities, and student life.
  • Decide between research universities and universities of applied sciences. Research Universities focus on theory and research, while Universities of Applied Sciences emphasize practical and professional training. Either can be a good option, depending on your goals.

The Netherlands has some of the best institutions of higher education ranking among the best in the world. The best university is Wageningen University & Research, which ranks first in the Netherlands and 59th in the world according to the QS world ranking of universities. Other top universities include the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, and Delft University of Technology.

Choosing a Study Program in the Netherlands

Netherlands universities are known for top-ranking and popular subjects like business and economics, social sciences, healthcare, and engineering.

Before you choose your program of study, ensure you consider critical factors like your interests, career opportunities, the course load, and duration, and if there are necessary facilities and resources to support your studies. Additionally, the language of instruction is key in determining if you need to pursue a language course before enrolling in your program.

If you have an academic advisor, you can discuss your options and narrow down to the program that aligns with your interests and goals.

Academic programs in the Netherlands fall into bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degrees:

  • Bachelor’s degree: takes 3 to 4 years to complete and involves more theory and few practical course units. One academic year equals 60 units with a minimum of 180 units required for graduation.
  • Master’s degree: takes 1 to 2 years to complete and is more research-based. There is a thesis at the end of studies that determines whether you graduate or not depending on your performance.
  • Ph.D. degree: takes 4 to 8 years to complete and often involves completing coursework and a dissertation.

How to Finance Your Education in the Netherlands

The cost of living and tuition fees are important factors to consider when studying in the Netherlands. As an international student, you’ll want to make sure the total costs are affordable and that funding options are available. Let’s look at how much you are likely to incur for your study and living expenses and ways to finance your undergraduate and graduate studies in the Netherlands.

Tuition fees in the Netherlands

Tuition fees in the Netherlands are lower than in other countries. Bachelor’s and master’s programs average around €2,000 per year for EU students, while non-EU students pay between €6,000 to €18,000 annually. For example, the bachelor’s tuition fee at Utrecht University is €11,000, and around €17,500 for a master’s degree per academic year for international students.

On the other hand, tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree at Delft University of Technology is approximately €15,200 per academic year. A Ph.D. at the institution costs €11,000. Note that, programs like medicine and engineering may cost more due to their practical structure.

The tuition fee for Ph.D. programs varies with the program, though many universities and organizations offer full scholarships to pursue doctoral studies.

Cost of Living in the Netherlands

The cost of living in the Netherlands for students is reasonable compared to other European countries on the same level. You’ll need between €800 to €1,500 per month to cover basic expenses like accommodation, food, transport, and recreation. This depends on where you are living as some cities are more expensive than others.

You can explore this list of the best cities for international students to see which one would interest you. For example, cities like Amsterdam are a bit expensive and might set you back around €975 to €1,500 per month on living expenses.

Accommodation

Housing for international students in the Netherlands makes up a large portion of costs, from €500 to €1,200 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. The price varies with your location. Cities like Leiden and Rotterdam are cheaper when compared to Amsterdam and The Hague.

Food

Food is relatively affordable, with the price of groceries being around €200 to €300 per month. A decent meal in a restaurant costs around €9 to €30 while a fancy meal could cost as high as €100 in expensive cities.

Transport

Regarding transport, there are several options including bicycles, trains, buses, ferries, and the metro. A student transit pass offers unlimited bus, tram, and metro travel for €92 per month. You could get a nice second-hand bike which costs around 100€ to 200€.

Books and Miscellaneous Expenses

Study expenses like books should set you back around €50 – €100 per month. Additionally, health insurance for international students in the Netherlands costs approximately €35 – €100 monthly. You will also need to factor in additional costs of around €200-€500 per month on things like phone, internet, extra-curricular activities, entertainment, etc.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

There are many scholarships, grants, and student loan programs for international students in the Netherlands. The Dutch government offers scholarships through the Netherlands Fellowship Program (NFP) and the Orange Knowledge Program individual scholarships covering tuition and living costs among other expenses.

International students can also get specific government scholarships like the NL Scholarship, which is offered by various institutions across the country, to cater for tuition expenses. There are also fully-funded opportunities for international students offered by universities and organizations, like the Maastricht University (UM) Holland-High Potential Scholarship.

Universities also provide scholarships for international students, like the Utrecht Excellence Scholarships which offers between €5,000 and €17,000 to cater for tuition. You can check out additional scholarships in the Netherlands for international students to explore your options.

How to Apply to the Netherlands Universities

It takes great courage to choose to pursue your studies abroad. To make the process successful, ensure you understand important elements like the admission process and requirements and when is the right time to make your application. Let’s look at that in detail below.

Admission Requirements

Before you embark on your application to a Dutch university, ensure you meet the admission requirements set by the institution. This usually means having the right academic qualifications like a secondary school diploma if applying for bachelor programs, solid grades, and English language proficiency. There are several English-taught universities in the Netherlands, hence proof of English Language is required.

Some programs may have additional requirements like an entrance exam, essay, or relevant work experience.

Required Documents

To study at a university in the Netherlands, you will need to present the following documents:

  1. A secondary school diploma equivalent to the Dutch VWO diploma for university admission or HAVO diploma for applied sciences. Your high school grades and subjects must meet the entry requirements for your chosen course.
  2. Proof of English proficiency for English-taught programs. Common English language proficiency exams accepted are IELTS, TOEFL, Duolingo, or Cambridge English. The required scores depend on the program and school.
  3. A valid residence permit. Non-EU/EEA students need a letter of acceptance from the university to apply for an entry visa and residence permit.
  4. Health insurance. All international students must have insurance that covers medical expenses, hospitalization, and repatriation.
  5. Sufficient funds to cover living expenses. You must show proof of income or funds when applying for your residence permit.
  6. Recommendation Letters
  7. A copy of the passport or ID

There may be other documents required depending on your university or program like a resume, portfolio, or additional essays.

Application Deadlines

Ensure that you start and submit your application on time. Deadlines are usually between January and April for programs starting in September. Most courses accept submissions by 15th January and 1st May depending on the program start date.

It can take time to get acceptance letters, apply for student visas, find housing, and make other arrangements, so start the process at least 6-12 months before you hope to enroll. Note that the Netherlands uses Central European Time.

General Admission Steps

The process of admission to universities in the Netherlands is pretty straightforward. Here are the general steps if you are looking to start your application.

  1. Choose the university and degree program. Research the best university and program that aligns with your interests and career prospects.
  2. Check to ensure that you meet the entry and admission requirements
  3. Confirm if you need to pay statutory fees
  4. Apply online through the StudieLink system where you will create an account and fill in the required information. Remember to attach the required documentation to support your application.
  5. Pay the application fees. This is done through the OSIRIS online portal specific to your university.
  6. You can then submit the completed application with all the requirements and wait for confirmation.

How to Obtain a Student Visa in the Netherlands

To get a Netherlands student visa (MVV), you must apply through the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) website and schedule an appointment at your nearest Dutch embassy or consulate. The visa requirements for studying in the Netherlands include

  • Acceptance letter from your university
  • Proof of funds for tuition and living expenses (like bank statements)
  • Proof of travel details like a return ticket or funds for travel
  • Passport photo
  • Valid passport
  • Health insurance

The MVV allows you to enter the Netherlands. Once there, you need to get a residence permit (VVR) within 3 months to legalize your status. The VVR confirms your enrollment and allows you to live in student housing, open a bank account, and more.

To apply for study permits for international students, this is the general procedure;

  1. Gain admission into an accredited Dutch University or College
  2. Gather the required documentation as highlighted above
  3. Submit your application online through the StudieLink system and upload all the supporting documentation
  4. Pay the student visa fee, which is usually around € 207
  5. Wait for confirmation or rejection of your student visa. Note that if you get the visa, it will only be valid for 90 days, hence you have to apply for a resident permit once you get to the Netherlands to maintain your status.

How to Prepare for Your Arrival in the Netherlands

Before you arrive in the Netherlands, you need to plan for certain uncertainties to avoid culture shock and make your transition smoother. Prepare for cultural differences in the Netherlands like directness in communication, cycling as a primary mode of transport, and the popularity of bread, cheese, and stroopwafels.

There are other several essential things you need to take care of like:

Packing essentials

It is very important to gather everything you will need to make your stay in the Netherlands less hectic. Things like prescription medication should not be forgotten. Additionally, ensure that you pack appropriate clothing as the Netherlands experiences varying weather seasons.

Secure Accommodation

Ensure that you plan your accommodation before arrival in the Netherlands. Your university could help you out, or you could use online search platforms like hostel world and the Dutch student union to look for accommodation that matches your budget and needs.

Search for scholarships

Pursuing education abroad can be a very expensive affair for international students. Before commencing your studies, you can look for scholarship opportunities specific to international students like the ones mentioned above and apply for them after confirming your admission.

Tips on how to adjust to life in the Netherlands

Explore your city and the Dutch culture

Whether you are studying in Amsterdam, The Hague, or Rotterdam, take time to explore and learn about the different attraction sites or where to get affordable food. Additionally, take time to learn about the Dutch culture when it comes to aspects like greetings, festivals, and food. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone as this will make your stay smoother.

Get a bike

The Netherlands has a good road infrastructure that highly favors cycling. You can get a second-hand bike for around €100 to help you move around. Not only will you save on transport costs, but you will also be working on your fitness.

Get a local phone number

It is important to acquire a local phone number for communication and accessing mobile internet. There are several service providers like Vodafone, Youfone, and Lebara where you can obtain a local sim card.

Keep in touch with your family

Being in a foreign country can cause a lot of homesickness. It’s normal and okay to miss your family members and friends from your home country. Ensure that you keep in touch to find out how they are doing and what they are up to as long as it does not create a huge dent in your budget.

Make friends with the locals

You can look for a local friend at the university to help you adjust to life in the Netherlands. They can help you understand the Dutch language better and navigate around the city or country.

How to Study and Live in the Netherlands

While studying abroad can be an exciting adventure, it comes with challenges making it tough for international students. Student life in the Netherlands is no exception. Let us look at some of the common challenges you are likely to encounter as an international student and how you can work your way around them.

Challenge 1: Language Barrier

The official language of communication in the Netherlands is Dutch. International students without any background in the language may find it challenging to move around and hold conversations with the locals. While you may be taking programs taught in English, having Dutch knowledge will ensure you fully immerse yourself in the Dutch culture and make friends with the locals.

To start, you can pursue a Dutch language class before arriving in the Netherlands to learn the basics of the language. Additionally, you can join specific language clubs meant for non-Dutch speakers to practice your language skills.

Challenge 2: Financial Challenges

The costs associated with studying and living in a foreign country like the Netherlands can be very weighing on international students. When you have to think about accommodation, food, and other living expenses in a foreign country, it becomes paramount to find ways to manage your finances.

To mitigate this, you can research financial aid opportunities and other work-study options to help offset some of the expenses. Additionally, you can look for affordable eateries or markets for your groceries and tone down on luxurious expenses.

Challenge 3: Cultural Differences

Culture shock is normal when moving to a different location and that’s true for the Netherlands. Things like food, religion, and politics could be different from your home country, and might take time to adjust to the Netherlands’ culture and diversity. For example, Dutch is known for having a vibrant artistic culture with world-renowned paintings and crafts. Additionally, the country is majorly a secular country with those practicing religion leaning towards protestant and roman catholic.

This might require some adjusting, especially for students from different religious backgrounds. Be open-minded and think of it as a new exciting adventure but ensure that you don’t compromise your values. Be sure to ask any questions if you don’t understand any aspects of Dutch culture.

Tips on how to adjust to life in the Netherlands

  1. Explore your city and the Dutch culture
  2. Keep in touch with your family
  3. Get a bike
  4. Get a local phone number
  5. Make friends with the locals

Can You Work in the Netherlands After Graduation

Yes, international students in the Netherlands can work after graduation as long as they have the right Netherlands work permits for students.

While students from the EU/EFA region don’t need work permits to work in the Netherlands, students from Croatia and countries outside the EU/EFA must obtain the orientation year (zoekjaar) permit to engage in employment activities for up to 12 months.

Note that there is a fee of €192 associated with applying for the orientation year permit, and once the one year elapses, you cannot extend the permit. However, you can apply for the search year permit which allows you to stay for up to three years.

There are several employment opportunities for international students in the Netherlands to pursue in-demand roles like IT professionals, healthcare assistants, and engineers. The opportunities for work after your studies depend on your program level and field of study.

Do some research on the Dutch job market, attend job fairs and networking events, and see if your university offers career support services.

Conclusion

For students looking to study in the Netherlands, this ultimate guide is a great way to start your preparations. From understanding the education system and application process to visa application and work opportunities, you have the headstart to build a thriving education and career in the Netherlands. While the application process may seem daunting, if you start early and check off the requirements step-by-step, you’ll have the opportunity to experience vibrant student life, learn from world-class professors, and emerge with a prestigious degree recognized around the globe.

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

Share this article via