Germany and the Netherlands are some of the immigrant-friendliest countries in Europe. They are also at the top of the wish list among many expats. If you are considering moving to one of these places, you need to understand important aspects and differences in immigration to Germany and the Netherlands.
This article explains the pros and cons of moving to Germany and the Netherlands and how they differ from each other in various categories. You might also be interested to read other articles about studying and living in Germany vs the Netherlands.
Attitude towards foreigners
The Netherlands has 1.9 migrants in 1,000 population with different ethnic groups living together, such as Dutch 76.9%, EU 6.4%, Turkish 2.4%, Moroccan 2.3%, Indonesian 2.1%, German 2.1%, Surinamese 2%, Polish 1%, other 4.8%.
With a population of 16 million, more than 3 million have a non-Dutch background. 1 out of 3 people in cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a foreign passport.
Dutch are more accepting, open-minded, and tolerant of people from other cultures. You most probably won’t experience any racist attitudes there.
However, the Dutch are known to be straightforward people. Yet, foreigners find Germans to be a little colder than their neighbors.
Thus, the Netherlands has a very international culture which is very different from German. For instance, in the Netherlands, you can find food from any country, while German cuisine still dominates in Germany.
The Dutch work environment is also more international, with many companies operating in English and employing plenty of foreign workers.
Another positive factor for people from abroad is English proficiency among Dutch people. Someone in the village might not be that advanced, but in major cities like Amsterdam or Rotterdam, you can expect a good level of English.
This is especially helpful if you want to make friends with Dutch. And, of course, it also makes your daily life much easier. Whether you go to a supermarket or call the government, they will be able to help.
Germany has 1.5 migrants on 1,000 people with smaller diversity in ethnic groups, including German 87,2%, Turkish 1,8%, Polish 1%, Syrian 1%, and others 9%. There is also a large group of Russian-speaking population.
Currently, 9 million out of 80 million people are foreigners. That said, one of the ten employees in Germany is an immigrant.
That said, Germany is less internationally diverse than the Netherlands. However, it has a larger number of foreigners due to its size and population.
A large part of foreign nationals are immigrants who came a few dozen years ago with their families, mainly from Turkey and Balkan countries. They are typically well-integrated into society.
Due to the refugee crisis in 2014, Germans are used to foreigners and their exotic looks. However, they weren’t very successful in integrating into society.
Often foreigners have their own communities and exclude Germans from the social circle. You can find Turkish, Syrian, and Russian communities in almost all major German cities.
Speaking fluent German is required for integration and earning respect from locals. In contrast to the Netherlands, Germany functions in German, and the use of English is less prevalent. Hence, foreigners could experience some difficulties in communication with locals and in day-to-day tasks.
Overall, Germans are friendly and welcoming people, but English won’t bring you far in social and in professional life unless you work in an international company or as an expat.
Becoming a citizen
It’s possible to receive Dutch citizenship after 5 years of uninterrupted living in the country. Overall, the Netherlands is more open and loyal toward immigrants and naturalization.
It applies if you have been married to or lived with a Dutch national for three continuous years (including abroad).
Another option to get a Dutch passport is to have a valid residence permit for 10 years and reside in the Netherlands for at least the last two years without interruptions.
To receive a passport, you must speak Dutch (at least on the beginner level). Overall, the Netherlands gives foreigners many opportunities to become a citizen. The only obstacle you might face is the high cost – the fee is 840 EUR.
Although Germany is a country of immigrants, getting citizenship is more complicated than in the Netherlands and takes more time & work. You will need to live in the country for at least 8 years, in addition to other requirements.
Consequently, foreigners can receive German citizenship either by living here on a residence permit for at least 8 years or 7 years and attending an integration course.
Germany will also require you to have at least a B2 level of German. Yet, naturalization costs less than in the Netherlands, around 300 EUR.
Also read: Living in the Netherlands vs Switzerland.
University and student life
The country has impressive 2,500 English programs, including undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. So, if you don’t speak German, you might consider studying at a Dutch university.
In addition, an English degree isn’t more expensive than a degree in Dutch, compared to Germany, where students usually pay significant tuition fees only because of the teaching language.
Also, most Dutch professors and teachers speak perfect English, and many are from English-speaking countries like the UK, USA, or Canada. German universities have significantly fewer native English speakers among their academic staff.
To apply to a Dutch university, you must have an English certificate. The IELTS, with a score of 6.0, or TOEFL, with a score no lower than 550 in paper-based or 213 computer-based tests or 80%, are among the accepted ones.
In the Netherlands, you can also expect to see a large community of international students – more than 112,000 students from around the world.
Similar to Germany, the majority of all universities are Universities of Applied Sciences. They offer a more practically oriented education that is adapted to the demands of professional life.
Read more about the differences between the university and the university of applied sciences.
Unfortunately, higher education isn’t free in the Netherlands, even for Dutch people. Expect to pay for your bachelor’s degree between 700 EUR – 2,100 EUR per year if you come from the EU country and 6,000 EUR and 15,000 EUR/per year if from outside of the EU.
Besides that, you might pay higher fees for accommodation and food and have to cycle everywhere (even when not convenient) because the monthly transport ticket isn’t subsidized for international students (as it’s in Germany).
Because both Germany and the Netherlands are part of the European Union, EU students don’t need a visa to study. Non-EU students must apply for a student visa and a residence permit after arrival.
For all Non-EU students planning to stay in the Netherlands for more than 90 days, the visa process includes two parts: to apply for a Provisional Residence Permit (MVV) and Residence Permit.
An MVV is an entry visa you must receive in your home country before arrival. The application will take some time to process, and it’s recommended that students apply at least 3 months before the travel date.
Luckily, the Dutch universities took this responsibility for a visa and do almost all the paperwork for you. However, you will need to pay a visa fee for this, which is 319 EUR.
After arrival, you will need to apply for a residence permit to stay longer than six months. And even this process university will do on your behalf!
That’s probably why so many international students choose the Netherlands as a study-abroad destination. The biggest hurdle of studying abroad e.g., the visa process, is taken over by universities.
Germany has over 370,000 international students, 3 times more than the Netherlands. The German education system and German degrees have an excellent reputation worldwide, and therefore, a significant number of foreigners study at German universities.
Germany is officially the cheapest country to study in Europe. Theoretically, tuition fees don’t exist for local and for international students, but practically everyone will need to pay between 100 EUR – 350 EUR per semester for administrative costs. Which is still cheaper than anywhere else.
The reason for this is that most universities and colleges in Germany are public and funded by the state.
In addition to public institutions, there are now more than 121 private universities and colleges that provide officially recognized degrees.
If you’re aiming to study an undergraduate course in a public university in Germany, you will hardly find a course taught in English because the absolute majority of them are in German.
To complete a bachelor’s degree in English, you need to opt for a private university or university of applied sciences. To apply for an English program in Germany, you must pass TOEFL or IELTS test with a score of 80 points (550 paper-based or 213 computer-based) for TOEFL and 6.0 for IELTS.
A significant advantage of Germany over the Netherlands is that you will get a work permit as soon as you have your student visa. That way, international students can take on employment for up to 20 hours per week and earn 450 EUR per month before paying taxes.
In the Netherlands, employers must apply for a work permit on the student’s behalf, which makes the situation more complicated. Therefore, many companies don’t hire students for that reason.
All non-EU/EEA citizens will need a student visa to study in Germany. The visa application process isn’t as easy as in the Netherlands, and you must do it yourself. To enjoy free German education, you will need to put some solid work in.
You should apply for a visa from your home country as soon as you receive an acceptance letter from the university. Yet, it’s essential to start to collect all the required documents around 3-6 months prior.
Like the Netherlands, you must apply for a residence permit after arrival. Usually, it’s an easy procedure and doesn’t require many additional documents.
In addition, studying in Germany will cost you significantly less than in the Netherlands. It’s a great option for international students with a tight budget. Nonetheless, if you want to study in English, pick the Netherlands; if studying in German doesn’t hinder you, choose Germany.
Germany offers 585 master’s programs taught in English. So if your goal is a master’s degree, you can do it in most German cities without additional costs.
You can read more about studies in the Netherlands vs Germany in this article.
The economy is by far the most crucial factor if you move to Germany or the Netherlands with the intention of working there. Both countries play a significant role in Europe’s economy.
Due to its proximity to the sea, the Netherlands, the sixth-largest European economy, plays an important role as a European transportation hub, with a consistently high trade surplus, stable industrial relations, and a low unemployment rate.
Its industries focus on food processing, chemicals, petroleum refining, and electrical machinery. Also, the IT sector is growing with worldwide digitalization.
The Netherlands is home to some world’s largest companies, like Royal Dutch Shell, ING, Philips, Heineken, Airbus, and Yandex.
Dutch GDP (924.4 billion) is times lower than in Germany, but the overall economic situation isn’t worse than in Germany. If we look at GDP per capita is actually significantly higher than Germany’s: 68,572 USD to 42,500 USD.
Germany has the lowest unemployment rate (3.1%) in Europe. The fourth-largest economy in the world and Europe’s largest, the German economy is a leading exporter of machinery, vehicles, chemicals, and household equipment.
Germany benefits from a highly skilled labor force and high-quality standards. Besides, everyone is familiar with German brands like DHL, BOSCH, Siemens, BMW Group, Allianz, and Volkswagen.
Despite the GDP of Germany of 3,846 trillion, there are 16.7% of people live below the poverty line, while in the Netherlands, it’s only 8,8%.
Many foreigners move to the Netherlands to find a job because the country needs international workers (at least 50,000 each year).
Job opportunities are especially beneficial for software engineers, some other types of engineers, and medical workers. In Rotterdam, logistic staff will have good chances, while in Amsterdam, marketers will find the best companies to work for.
Some of the world’s largest companies are Dutch (Shell, KPMG, Philips, Heineken), and many other global groups have their European headquarters in the Netherlands. These corporations can be a good option for native English speakers to work for.
Overall, the Netherlands is constantly looking for people to fill the gaps in customer service. With the country’s international mindset and welcoming toward foreign employees, finding a workplace operating in English isn’t that challenging.
The conditions are also good for graduates of Dutch universities. They have 12 months to look for a job after finishing their studies.
After finding a suitable job, they can apply for a working visa, which does require a minimum salary of 2,364 EUR gross per month, excluding holiday allowance.
People coming from non-EU countries must be highly qualified so they can compete with Dutch and European applicants.
It could be challenging to find an English-speaking job in Germany. You might need to move to larger cities like Berlin, Munich or Hamburg.
English speakers have good chances in the IT sector, international customer service, and engineering. It’s highly beneficial to be fluent in the German language when seeking work in Germany, but not always essential.
After two years of employment in Germany, you can apply for permanent residency status.
Germany also gives them a chance to students to work after finishing their degree. Often, they will need to speak German, but in major cities and international companies, getting an English-speaking job is also possible.
International students from non-EU/EEA countries with a residence permit can extend their stay in Germany and seek a job for up to 18 months after graduating. The potential employment must be related to the field they have studied for.
The average income in the Netherlands is just about 36,500 EUR which is 2,816 EUR gross per month. Some best-paid industries are legal, medicine, dentistry, software development, and aviation, among others.
German workers earn more, yet, Dutch employers are required to pay 8% (of the total gross salary) as a holiday allowance. That makes German and Dutch wages almost equal.
In 2021, the average income in Germany was 51,009 EUR gross, with monthly payments of 4,250 EUR.
Gross salaries are definitely higher in Germany than in the Netherlands. Some German industries are paying particularly well, including pharma, banking, medicine and dentistry, legal, industrial engineering, industrial engineering, and computer science.
The Dutch income taxes are very similar to what you will pay in Germany. They are also lower than in Nordic countries.
The income tax brackets in the Netherlands for 2023:
|Tax bracket||Applicable tax rate|
|0 EUR – 73,031 EUR||36.93 %|
|73,031 EUR and more||49.50 %|
Referring to the average salary in the Netherlands: most people pay around 38,1% in tax.
Dutch 30% tax ruling
The 30% ruling is a Dutch tax exemption for employees who were hired abroad to work in the Netherlands. If various conditions are met, the employer can pay you 30% of your salary as a tax-free allowance, and the rest 70% will be taxed.
The tax-free allowance is considered compensation for the expenses that the employee incurs by working outside their home country. You can calculate how much difference this can make from here.
Who can claim it?
To be eligible for the 30% ruling, there are many conditions, but the most important one has to be met:
- the employee was transferred from abroad or was recruited abroad
In Germany, the first 10,908 EUR earned in a year is tax-free. Any amount after that will need to be taxed. Income tax is progressive. Below you can see German income tax brackets for 2023.
|Less than 10,908 EUR||0%|
|10.909 EUR – 62,809 EUR||14% to 42%|
|62,810 EUR – 277,825 EUR||42%|
|More than 277,826 EUR||45%|
The second bracket means that your marginal rate will depend on your salary; the more amount, the higher the rate (max. 42%). The tax rate is very hard to define without mentioning your relationships and living status.
To improve the economic situation and infrastructure for certain regions in need, the German government charges a 5.5% solidarity surcharge tax. The surcharge is imposed as a percentage of all individual income taxes.
Finally, if you are a member of a registered church in Germany, you will also have to pay a church tax of 8 or 9% of your gross income, depending on which federal state you live in.
The tax rate for single, childless workers (including social contribution) is 49.4%, and only Belgium is higher at 54%. Germany’s tax rate is much lower for married couples with children – 34% on average.
Consequently, the income taxes are higher in Germany than in the Netherlands, but again it’s all very individual. In Germany, the tax rate is very individual.
Which country is better for living Germany or Netherlands?
Family reunification can be crucial for someone who has family and is willing to move abroad. The good news is that people who plan to live in the Netherlands can bring their partners too.
In the Netherlands, the definition of the term “partner” is very broad. They don’t need to be married or be indifferent gender to come with.
Foreigners can live with their girlfriends or boyfriend by registering them within the municipality. The only requirement is that they need to be registered at the same address.
Family reunification may apply to spouses, unmarried partners, couples of the same sex, and children under the age of 18 who wish to join their parents in the Netherlands.
Fortunately, family reunification is also possible in Germany. The Immigration authorities in Germany support the families and, therefore, have established a special visa for this purpose. Non-EU nationals can apply for a family reunification visa to join their significant ones in Germany.
However, the difference with the Netherlands is that you can’t invite your girlfriend or boyfriend to live with you in Germany. To be eligible for family reunification or partner visa, they must be your registered partner.
Additionally, the person who invites their relatives must speak German, and the coming partner must have at least some basic knowledge of German. If one parent has a residency in Germany, you can also relocate your children.
Inviting other relatives, like sisters and brothers and sometimes even parents, is restricted, and you need a particular reason for this.
Cost of living
Overall, living in the Netherlands is slightly more expensive compared to Germany. Yet, some German regions have significantly lower living costs. You won’t see this regional difference in the Netherlands; the prices remain to be the same throughout the country.
The expected cost of living is approximately 1,000 EUR – 1,200 EUR a month for a typical student/single life. As a working individual living in a separate apartment, you need to budget at least 1,800 EUR per month.
The rent is your most significant expense. Second is food which is more expensive in the Netherlands. That said, the minimum monthly cost of living for two adults with one child living in the average Dutch city will be as follows:
- Rent: 1,000 – 1,500 EUR
- Utilities, e.g., gas, water, electricity: 150 EUR
- Internet connection: 30–50 EUR
- Mandatory health insurance: (2×90 EUR, children under 18 free of charge) 180 EUR
- Other insurance: 30 EUR
- Public transport: 100 EUR
- Groceries/shopping: 100 EUR/week = 400 EUR/month
That brings an average cost of living to about 1,980 EUR and up to 2,500 EUR per month. If you have a car, add another 200 – 300 EUR per month on top of that.
That said, the recommended cost of living in the Netherlands is 2,584 EUR for a single and 4,750 EUR for a family of four.
Read more on the cost of living in the Netherlands in this article.
The average Dutch prices accordingly to the Numbeo:
- A meal in a restaurant – 15 EUR
- Cappuccino – 2,88 EUR
- Water – 1,97 EUR
- Local cheese (1kg) – 11 EUR
- Apples (1kg) – 2,28 EUR
- Monthly pass for public transportation – 90 EUR
- Utilities – 171 EUR
- Rent apartment (1 bedroom) – 1,084 EUR
- Average monthly net salary – 2,416 EUR
Furthermore, it’s easier to find reasonably priced and quality accommodation in Germany. Also, food is more affordable, although eating and drinking out costs relatively the same.
The average cost of living for a student/single person range between 800 – 1,000 EUR/month, including accommodation. A recommended monthly budget for a family of four is about 3,000 EUR.
Depending on your location, prices vary; for example, the east of Germany is very affordable for living due to its cheap rent.
The average prices accordingly to the Numbeo:
- Meal in restaurant – 10 EUR
- Cappuccino – 2,75 EUR
- Water – 2 EUR
- Local cheese (1kg) – 8,24 EUR
- Apples (1kg) – 2,33 EUR
- Monthly pass for public transportation – 75 EUR
- Utilities – 221 EUR
- Apartment (1 bedroom) – 750 EUR
- Average monthly net salary 2,329 EUR
As you can see, food, rent, and transportation are significantly cheaper in Germany. Maybe that’s why so many people in the Netherlands use bicycles instead of public transport.
Housing in the Netherlands belongs to one of the disadvantages. It can be challenging to find a suitable house, and the rent can be too high for your budget.
The reason for this is that the Netherlands is one of the densest populated countries in Europe, and its size is pretty small. Consequently, home prices are higher than in Germany, and the number of housing options is also limited. Cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hague, and Haarlem are the most expensive to live in.
Particularly, in Amsterdam, close to the city center, rents are generally around 1,500 – 2,000 EUR, excluding costs for services like gas, electricity, water, etc.
To get an apartment closer to 1,000 EUR or less, you need to live in the outer areas of Amsterdam. Cities like Rotterdam and Utrecht offer cheaper rentals.
In addition, finding a place to live in the Netherlands can be very difficult. It’s essential to start the search well in advance; even then, there are no guarantees that you’ll find a place immediately.
Due to the size of the country and the number of large and middle cities, housing in Germany isn’t that problematic.
There are some regional differences as well; the south is more populated. Hence rents are higher, and homes are less available. Meanwhile, density in the east and northwest regions is lower, and housing is plentiful and more affordable.
In fact, you can rent the same apartment twice as cheaper in Leipzig as in Munich.
In the end, all people find a place to live, and if not, there are always plenty of rooms in a shared apartment for an affordable price. Many students opt for this type of housing since they can’t afford to rent an entire flat.
English is widely spoken in the Netherlands as opposed to Germany. The Netherlands is very advanced when it comes to foreign languages. The country has some of the highest English-speaking proficiency among all EU states.
No surprise, Dutch learn English and actively practice it from a young age. Movies aren’t translated into the Dutch language, which encourages locals to learn and master the English language.
Yet, if you decide to learn Dutch, be aware that it’s a complex language. In some ways, it’s even more complicated than German.
However, in the Netherlands itself, almost everything is written in Dutch. There is no alternative English description on the packages, or there are few English announcements during trams or trains. This can be challenging, but Germany is the same way.
So if you want to have a comfortable life without confusion and disappointment – you should learn the local language.
Despite the fact above, the Netherlands is the perfect place if your native language is English (or you speak English).
Most people can at least speak conversational English, you can always ask people, and they will be able to help you.
Germans speak English as well, better than many other European countries, but not as well as in the Netherlands. So if you never plan to learn German in your life, it probably won’t be the best country for you.
To fully integrate into society, have long-lasting success, build friendships and relationships, and even extend your EU Blue Card, you want to speak German.
Although Germany can be a good place for a couple of years, you won’t need to learn a new language. Yet, speaking the local language will help you a lot in the long term.
Making friends and having relationships with locals
The Netherlands and Germany are pretty similar in that way.
It can be hard to make friends with Dutch people because of the strong individualism in society and the lack of spontaneity in social meetings.
For some foreigners with different cultural backgrounds, it can be isolating, particularly if you’re older and don’t have young colleagues to go out with.
Most of the time, the Dutch already have friends from school/university/childhood and aren’t very interested in befriending foreigners (fair enough).
However, Dutchies are lovely, friendly, polite people, even if they keep to themselves. You can expect to be treated with respect, tolerance, and kindness. Remember, everyone is equal is the Dutch slogan.
The Dutch are decent, kind, civilized people, and foreigners must have respect for them as they do. If they see it, they also can open up more. Finally, there is a weed; for this reason, meet your Dutchie smoke and relax!
Besides, they are great people to live among compared to other nationalities.
Initially, it can be challenging for many foreigners to make friendships with Germans, at least the real ones. German people seem to be pretty reserved, and it takes time for them to open up to new people.
Like Dutch, the Germans have strong friendships from school or university and prefer to keep shallow relationships with others without a deep connection.
You will notice that it’s hard to break the ice in conversation with German; they usually don’t share personal information and stay relatively superficial.
Many people from places like Asia and Latin America will find it very difficult to create a genuine connection with german folks and really get to know them.
However, if you go partying with them, they will be absolutely different people compared to when sober and or at work. Germans love to party; it’s time when they can forget about the order, rules, and schedule.
They live under work hard, play hard rule. Therefore, bars are the best place to make friends; there you will meet more relaxed and open Germans.
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