Rewind to when I first arrived in the Netherlands

I came to the Netherlands in April of 2019. This, of course, was before the pandemic, and riding public transportation was a very different experience. It was an easy-going part of daily life here in Europe and it was even fun – at least for those of us who don’t commute to work via OV (openbaar vervoer). So, before I left the United States, when I was deciding what I did and didn’t need for my future life in the Netherlands, knowing the awesome OV network here in Europe, I decided I didn’t need a car. And since I didn’t need a car and I would have a residence permit and passport as official identification, I wouldn’t need a driver’s license either.

When I first arrived, an American friend asked me if I was going to switch over my American driver’s license for a Dutch one (rijbewijs). I remember proudly answering him that no, I was not going to get a driver’s license; public transport was going to be my primary mode of transportation. I even went on to pat my own back by saying I was also considering the environment. He told me that I should do it anyway, because it was easy and if I ever needed it then I’d have it. I remember what I said to him …

“I can’t imagine a scenario where driving a car would be a better option than using public transportation.”

Fast forward to February 2020. Ten months after I arrived in the Netherlands the coronavirus pandemic hit the world and suddenly there was a scenario that made driving a car a better option than using the OV. Now, a driver’s license was needed. Truth be told, I never really looked into what was needed for an American expat to obtain a Dutch driver’s license, but since I’ve started researching it in the last few months, I realize why my friend was urging me get one right away.

He was right. I could have just simply swapped out my US license for a Dutch one. There was a form or two to fill out and a small fee (I think) and voilà, a Dutch driver’s license … if you do it within the first six months of arriving in the Netherlands. I didn’t even need to count it out; I knew that I had passed the six-month threshold for this simple path to a Dutch driver’s license. Thinking back to the conversation with my friend just ten months prior, I wanted to scold myself for not listening to him. Now I’m on the hard path to obtaining a Dutch rijbewijs. Fun!

I’ll jump to the moral of the story: don’t do what I did. If you’re new to the Netherlands (or anywhere, for that matter) and have a valid driver’s license from your home country, check out what it takes to get a local driver’s license. Make this one of the first things you do, even if you think you won’t need or want one because – take it from me – you just never know. My experience is as an American and I’m sure that each country has its own agreement with the Dutch government, so please check out the particulars for your home country.

So, getting a Dutch driver’s license the hard way. I’m having to get my license just like an 18-year old Dutch person gets theirs. In a nutshell, there are two tests: the theory test (multiple choice test on traffic rules) and the practical test (driving with a tester). Most people take driving lessons, which can cost upwards of €2,000, but even without lessons the test and license cost around €250 (forgive me if my numbers are off a bit, but regardless it’s pricey compared to the US).

Currently I’m studying for the theory exam, for which the English study book is 255 pages. The theory exam is rumored (on the internet) to have a fail rate of 40%, so it’s not just a simple quiz! I’m hoping I don’t need to take driving lessons since I learned to drive in Germany, but I still need to take the test.

This is going to be fun! [insert sarcasm]

Written by Marla Thomson