Doing business in the Netherlands is an attractive prospect thanks to its strategic position in Europe and its buzzing, internationally oriented economy. Plenty of expats are making the move to the Netherlands for its modern work environment where equality is valued and hard work is appreciated.
The Dutch are used to dealing with foreign associates and it shouldn't take expats long to adapt to Dutch business culture.
The Netherlands was ranked 42nd out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. As demonstrated in the survey, the country makes it easy to trade across its borders, ranking first in this category. It also came in first place for trading across borders, 7th for resolving insolvency and 22nd for paying taxes. But it ranked at 119th for getting credit, which can present a bit of a challenge for those expats who want to start their own businesses.
Dutch is the official language, but English, French and German are also widely spoken and understood.
Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Business attire is usually smart casual. Suits are often worn but ties aren't always expected.
A firm handshake with direct eye contact is the usual form of greeting between both male and female associates.
Gifts aren't usually exchanged during business dealings.
Dutch society is very liberal, and men and women have equal rights.
Business culture in the Netherlands
Although business structures are hierarchical, the business culture in the Netherlands is collaborative and the input of all workers is valued when it comes to decision-making. But this means that decisions can take time.
The Dutch are hard working and disciplined, and tend to be quite formal and reserved in the business environment. Self-control is important in business dealings and showing emotions is rare.
Punctuality is vital and it’s usual to skip pleasantries and get straight to business during meetings.
The Dutch are very private people and prefer to separate work and personal life. It's unusual to socialise with colleagues outside of the office.
The Dutch communication style is direct and expats will likely always know where they stand with their local associates. Answers will be clear and straightforward which often comes across as being blunt, and it may take a while for expats who are accustomed to more indirect communication to get used to this.
Honesty is expected and appreciated, and it’s best to be open and direct when dealing with Dutch colleagues.
Personal space is valued and it’s unusual to stand too close to or touch colleagues when conversing.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in the Netherlands
Do be punctual for meetings and expect them to adhere to a strict agenda
Don’t expect much small talk at the beginning of a meeting as the Dutch prefer to get straight to business
Do maintain direct eye contact when speaking to associates
Don’t show emotion or use over-expressive language or gestures when dealing with Dutch associates
Do expect decision making to be a drawn-out process where every detail is examined and everyone's opinion is considered
►Learn more about Dutch business in Working in the Netherlands
"If you are skilled in one thing that is the only job that you do. There is no variation or change. So if you are a jack of all trades it's unheard of here. Pick a skill, learn it and be an expert." Read more on expat Monique's experiences of business culture in the Netherlands.
"The biggest difference we have noticed is boundaries between work and home are more clearly defined here. People are more protective of their personal time (e.g. not working on weekends, not working irregular hours during the week). We have more flexibility to work from home." Keep reading our interview with Harini and Eric for their perspective on the work culture in the Netherlands.
Are you an expat living in The Netherlands?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The Netherlands. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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