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Home Healthcare Healthcare Basics The healthcare system in the Netherlands
Last update on April 07, 2022
Written by Gary Buswell

This guide to the healthcare system in the Netherlands explains all you need to know about Dutch health insurance and what services are available to expats.

The Netherlands has a very accessible healthcare system that provides high-quality care and wide availability of English-speaking doctors. Healthcare is accessed via public or private health insurance in the Netherlands.

This helpful guide includes the following information:

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Cigna Global provides comprehensive health insurance to over 86 million customers in over 200 countries. They have a wide access to trusted hospitals, clinics and doctors and provide expats with help on tailoring a plan to suit your individual healthcare needs.

COVID-19 in the Netherlands


The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone. Many expats find themselves separated from family and loved ones in their home countries. As a foreigner, it is also sometimes difficult to find critical information regarding coronavirus infection rates, local measures and restrictions, and now, thankfully, vaccinations.

Overview of the healthcare system in the Netherlands

The Dutch healthcare system

One of the many great things about living in the Netherlands is the excellent standard of Dutch healthcare, which is rated among the best in Europe. The healthcare system is managed by the government and supplemented by private insurance companies, with residents required to take out health insurance coverage in the Netherlands to access services.

Healthcare in the Netherlands

Primary healthcare in the Netherlands is delivered through primary care centers and GP services, with a network of hospitals delivering secondary and emergency services. The Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport is the government department responsible for public healthcare in the country.

The Netherlands’ healthcare system is ranked number two on the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index, having formerly been named the top-ranked nation. It is the only country to have ranked consistently in the top three since 2005. It was replaced at the top in 2018 by Switzerland, due to the outsourcing of providers in areas such as mental healthcare and pediatric psychiatry.

Who can access healthcare in the Netherlands

All residents and visitors in the Netherlands can access the healthcare service, as long as they have health insurance. There is a mandatory requirement for basic public health insurance (zorgverzekeringswet – Zvw) for all Dutch residents. Those not required to take out Zvw are:

  • Children aged under 18, who are covered by the insurance policy of their parent/guardian
  • Temporary visitors from the EU/EEA/Switzerland, who can receive healthcare coverage through their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • Temporary visitors from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland, who will need to purchase private health insurance
  • Those with conscientious objections to health insurance, who can apply for an exemption from the Social Insurance Bank (SVB)

You can apply for a healthcare allowance from the Dutch tax office if your income is below a certain threshold. In 2019, these threshold levels were set at €29,562 for individuals and €37,885 for couples.

Healthcare costs in the Netherlands

Healthcare expenditure in the Netherlands is high. In 2016, the Dutch spent 10.3% of GDP on healthcare; the 8th highest out of EU/EFTA countries. They are also one of only 10 EU/EFTA nations to spend more than €4,000 per capita on health.

Public healthcare is funded through health insurance premiums, which are paid monthly to insurance companies (starting at around €100 a month, however it varies from insurer to insurer). On top of this, your employer will pay a percentage of your salary towards health insurance; however, this depends on the company and your contract. Self-employed workers are responsible for making their own contributory payments, but do so at a slightly lower rate.

Insurance policies also have an ‘excess’ which is the amount that you have to pay each year for treatment before you can claim on your insurance policy. This is currently set at €385 a year. You don’t pay the excess on services supplied by GPs, obstetric, and post-natal care; these are completely free.

Your Dutch health insurance policy entitles you to free medical treatment in the Netherlands, including standard prescriptions. Public health insurance does not cover some treatment, such as dental treatment and physiotherapy. However, you will need a private insurance policy.

Health insurance in the Netherlands

There are two main forms of statutory health insurance in the Netherlands:

  • Zorgverzekeringswet (Zvw) – basic insurance, covers common medical care;
  • Wet langdurige zorg (Wlz) – covers long-term nursing and care.

While Dutch residents and employees are automatically insured by the government for long-term nursing and care (as covered by the Wlz), everyone has to take out their own basic healthcare insurance, except in a few situations.

European Union Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Temporary residents from the EU/EEA/Switzerland are covered if they hold the European Union Health Insurance Card. However, visitors from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland need to take out private health insurance.

The basic Dutch insurance package covers all costs for the most common medical care. This includes GP and specialist services, medication, and most maternity care. For a complete list of healthcare services included, visit the government’s website.

All insurance companies offer the same basic package. You need extra insurance if you want coverage for extensive dental treatments, physiotherapy, or anything else the government considers to be your own responsibility; it is in these additional areas that companies compete.

If you are looking for global health insurance, there are also many international insurance companies operating in the Netherlands, including:

You can also find more information in our guide to Dutch health insurance, including how to find and choose the right Dutch insurance provider and a health insurance comparison tool.

How to register for healthcare in the Netherlands as an expat

To register for the healthcare system in the Netherlands, you first need to obtain your Citizen Service Number (burgerservicenummer or BSN). You can apply for this at your local municipal office.

Once you have done this, you can register for health insurance and choose which insurance company you want to provide you with coverage. To do this, you must provide:

Once you have signed up for health insurance, you can then register with a Dutch doctor. You should receive a health insurance chip card, which you will need to present when you use any of the healthcare services in the Netherlands.

Private healthcare in the Netherlands

Most healthcare services in the Netherlands are available through the state insurance system. However, some services are not covered. These include treatments such as:

  • dental care for adults
  • physiotherapy
  • some specialist treatment

Expats who want to access the full range of services within the healthcare system in the Netherlands can take out supplementary private health insurance. This also gives access to private facilities such as private rooms during hospital stays.

Doctors and specialists in the Netherlands

The huisarts (GPs) are the first point of contact when you have a health problem (unless it’s an emergency, of course). They can deal with routine health issues, perform standard gynecological and pediatric examinations, as well as refer you onto other services; these include hospitals, specialists, home midwifery, and physiotherapy.

First, you will need to register with a huisarts in the Netherlands, preferably one nearby. You can make an appointment to meet the doctor before registering, to assess their suitability for your needs.

Dutch healthcare is generally non-interventionist in nature, so don’t expect to leave the consultation with a prescription. Dutch doctors tend not to hand out antibiotics or anti-depressants lightly. It is important to be clear and communicate what you want.

GP services are covered by public insurance, however there are various payment structures, so check with your insurer to see whether you have to pay upfront and claim a reimbursement.

The healthcare system in the Netherlands offers 24-hour coverage; if you call out of hours, you hear a recorded message on the doctor’s answering machine telling you how to contact on-call medical services.

You can’t go directly to a specialist for treatment, however; you must have a referral from a huisarts. Most specialists work within a hospital setting – as contractors instead of employees, rather than a specialist clinic. As a result, waiting lists can be quite long.

Additionally, see our guide to finding doctors in the Netherlands for more information.

Women’s healthcare in the Netherlands

If you are pregnant in the Netherlands, you should contact your GP in the first instance. They will usually then refer you to a midwife who will deal with most prenatal care. Most maternity costs will be covered through public insurance; this includes access to a maternity nurse who provides antenatal care.

Doctors can perform standard gynecological exams. You can also ask for a referral to a specialist gynecologist. If you have private health insurance, you can choose your own gynecologist.

Pregnant woman visiting her midwife

Cervical cancer checks are available every five years for women over 30. There is also a national breast cancer screening program for women aged 50 to 75. Tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are covered through health insurance and can be accessed through your GP or a sexual health clinic.

Contraception in the Netherlands is easily available and widely used. You can purchase condoms from places such as pharmacies and supermarkets. According to statistics, around 40% of Dutch women aged 15 to 30 use the birth control pill. This is available through GP prescription. You do not need a prescription for emergency contraception.

Abortion in the Netherlands is legal up until 21 weeks into the pregnancy, or 24 weeks in some medical cases. Health insurance covers abortion costs. Your GP can refer you to a hospital or abortion clinic; however, you don’t need a referral to access these services. You must answer some routine questions as part of the process, though.

You can find even more information in our guides to women’s healthcare in the Netherlands and having a baby in the Netherlands.

Children’s healthcare in the Netherlands

There is a good standard of healthcare services and facilities for children in the Netherlands. Children are insured through the policy of their parents/guardians, including dental care in the Netherlands up until the age of 18.

You can register your child with the family doctor in the Netherlands. Doctors can offer pediatric care or can refer to specialist pediatricians or children’s hospitals (kinderziekenhuis) if necessary.

Children's healthcare

Your local municipality can also help you access the best available healthcare services for your child. This includes mental healthcare services or specialist care for children with serious illnesses or disabilities.

There is a National Immunization Program in the Netherlands. It is not mandatory to vaccinate your children by law; however, 12 free vaccinations are available against diseases such as:

  • polio;
  • tetanus;
  • measles, mumps, and rubella

Read even more in our guide to vaccinations in the Netherlands.

Hospitals in the Netherlands

There are lots of excellent hospitals in the Netherlands with high standards of care, all over the country. There are different types of hospital (ziekenhuis). Unsurprisingly, those attached to universities, which carry out medical research, have the most advanced medical equipment and treatments, and can offer the most specialized care. Teaching hospitals, training medics, and nurses also offer some specialized treatments. General hospitals deal with more routine conditions.

Unless it is an emergency, you will need a referral letter from our GP. If you are admitted as an in-patient, you may find yourself in a shared room or ward of up to six beds (mixed gender). You will probably have a TV and phone line, but there will be a charge. It is a good idea to bring your own clothes and toiletries. If you prefer to have access to private rooms, however, you may consider taking out private insurance.

For more information, see our guide to hospitals in the Netherlands.

Visiting the dentist

You will need to register with a tandarts (dentist). Traditionally, Dutch dentists worked in single-dentist practices (and around 60% still do), however the growing trend is for dentists to work together in group practices.


Once registered with a dentist, you will usually be invited for check-ups every six months. Your dentist may delegate certain routine tasks to dental hygienists, dental assistants, and prevention assistants. If necessary, they may also refer you to specialized orthodontists and oral surgeons, who are usually based in hospitals. To find a dentist out of hours, call the surgery and a voice mail will direct you to an emergency service.

You may have to take out additional insurance to cover the cost of dental treatment (check what your policy offers); under 18’s have coverage under the basic Dutch health insurance package.

Read even more about dental care in the Netherlands and children’s dental care in the Netherlands.

Health centers and clinics in the Netherlands

Many GPs have their own practices in the Netherlands, although some work in multi-disciplinary primary care centers or health centers alongside therapists, nurses, midwives, and other health professionals. Alongside hospitals, there are a number of outpatient clinics that provide secondary care.

You can also find community health centers, mental health centers, and sexual health clinics which provide services in different parts of the country. Contact your local municipality to see what is available in your region.

Pharmacies in the Netherlands

A drogist sells non-prescription medications, toiletries, cosmetics, and baby essentials. An apotheek sells prescription-only drugs as well as over-the-counter meds, vitamins, baby items, homeopathic products, and medical equipment for home use. They can also offer advice on medications and minor ailments.

There is always an apotheek open 24 hours somewhere in the area. To find the closest out-of-hours pharmacy, you can also:

  • check the list displayed in the pharmacy window;
  • call 020 694 8709;
  • look under medische diensten (medical assistance) in one of the free local newspapers;
  • visit this online list of pharmacies (in Dutch) – click on zoek een apotheek and enter your postcode to find the nearest one.

If you have a consultation with a huisarts (GP), you can sometimes collect your medicine right away from the apotheek as they are often connected electronically. You won’t have to pay for your prescription at the time if the pharmacy has a contract with your insurer. However, if they don’t, you must pay and claim it back. Your insurance company may also specify which types or brands your policy covers, and which it doesn’t. If it doesn’t cover your medicine, it might be worth looking for a cheaper generic brand.

Mental healthcare in the Netherlands

According to statistics, around 4 in 10 Dutch people will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Mental healthcare in the Netherlands is covered by health insurance if the treatment is referred by your huisarts. This could include treatments such as:

  • psychiatric treatment in a hospital or mental health institution;
  • psychological care such as counseling or psychotherapy;
  • residency in a mental healthcare institution;
  • alternative or complementary therapy

There are many English-speaking therapists in the Netherlands. However, not all provide services that are covered by public health insurance. Mental health services are provided through GGZ Nederland, which is the trade association for the sector.

If you have any mental health concerns, you should contact your huisarts in the first instance. If you feel uncertain about your mental health, but don’t feel comfortable about approaching your doctor or mental health services, you can find easily accessible online support including treatment and tests.

Other forms of Dutch healthcare

Homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, as well as other complementary therapies are common in the Netherlands. The different types of therapy are grouped together in associations and you will find a list of regulated practitioners on the Infolijn Alternatieve Geneeswijzen website.


Basic health insurance (Zvw) will cover treatments prescribed by your huisarts. Otherwise, you can get coverage through many private insurers. See our guide to physical therapy in the Netherlands.

In an emergency

Go to the spoedeisende hulp or eerste hulp bij ongelukken (EHBO) department of your local Dutch hospital for medical emergencies or first aid.

Call the free Europe-wide 112 for urgent medical help if you think that a person’s life may be at risk. If you have a speech or hearing problem, call 0800 8112 and you can type a message to the emergency call center. You should write where you are, where you need help, as well as what service you need.

Call 020 694 8709 for pharmacies that are open outside normal working hours. You can also call 020 592 3434 for urgent medical advice from a central doctor’s service.

Make sure you note down this list of emergency numbers in the Netherlands.

Useful Dutch medical phrases

If you’re still in the process of learning Dutch, it might be worthwhile to memorize some of these key phrases and terms.

  • I have an emergency: Ik heb een noodgeval
  • I am ill: Ik ben ziek
  • Call a doctor: Haal een dokter
  • I have a headache/stomachache: Ik heb hoofdpijn/buikpijn
  • I have an itch: Ik heb jeuk
  • Call an ambulance: Bel een ambulance
  • I feel dizzy: Ik ben duizelig
  • I need a doctor: Ik heb een dokter nodig
  • Help!: Help!
  • I feel unwell: Ik voel me niet lekker
  • I am allergic to…: Ik ben allergisch voor

More information