Which Dutch laws could land you in jail? Or, as Dutch tolerance goes, what crazy things can you get away with under Dutch law?
The Dutch may have a reputation for rules, agendas and acting ‘normal’, but Dutch laws have been some of the most ground-breaking, tolerant and flexible in the world. While other countries are starting to follow the examples of Dutch law, for example on soft drugs and gay marriage, they were quite an unbelievable advancement at the time, the most notable being when the Netherlands became the first country in the world to recognise gay marriage more than 15 years ago, in 2001.
Tolerant and intolerant Dutch laws
Below are some more interesting, funny, weird and unbelievable Dutch laws you should know when visiting or living in the Netherlands.
> It is against Dutch law to urinate in a canal – but acceptable if you are pregnant.
> It is illegal to smoke tobacco in all public places but not cannabis, which became a confusing matter when police fined a man for smoking a mixture of both in a coffeehouse, with the penalty laid down for the tobacco part.
> It is illegal for more than three single people to share a house, an attempt to stop house sharing, which is also illegal.
> Dutch law bans the sale of fireworks except for the three days leading up to New Year’s Eve (December 29–31), after which fireworks can legally be fired between 6pm on 31 December to 2am on 1 January – when inevitably a buying and blowing up frenzy starts.
> It is legal to ride a bicycle in the Netherlands without a helmet. However, it is illegal if your bike isn’t fitted with a bell and light.
> If you accidentally hit a cyclist while driving, Dutch law will place the responsibility on you. If you’re walking, make sure you stay out of the bicycle lanes – cyclists also have right of way under Dutch law.
> When you drive in the Netherlands, it is illegal to use a mobile phone.
> Dutch law recognises gay marriage, as well as offers similar rights to co-habitation partnerships (de facto relationships where couples live together but choose to remain unmarried). Although this doesn’t mean Dutch law allows foreigners to freely get married in the Netherlands; under Dutch law, you can only marry in the Netherlands if one of you is Dutch or an official resident.
The rules of sex, drugs, and rock and roll
> Prostitution is legal, which also means Dutch law requires all workers to pay taxes in the Netherlands, too.
> Amsterdam’s iconic narrow houses were the result of 15th century building laws. Built on unstable, marshy ground, Dutch laws required building materials to be lightweight and windows large, and taxes were charged depending on the facade width, influencing an architectural era of lean and skinny buildings.
> To stop Amsterdam’s canal-side houses from sinking, since historical times houses must be constructed with wooden piles driven into the ground (today usually cement). Even some trees in Vondelpark are supported by wooden foundation piles to stop them from sinking.
> Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands for ages up to one year and older than 12 years. Children’s groups are also pushing to extend the law to cover ages one to 12 years.
> All recreational drugs in the Netherlands are illegal under Dutch law – even cannabis. However, cannabis and some types of recreational mushrooms are placed in a separate class which, while still technically illegal, are tolerated in small quantities. The most powerful type of magic mushrooms, for example, are illegal yet authorities say they wouldn’t fine anybody found with recreational portions. Hashish is also a grey area, generally left to local municipalities to decide if they turn a blind eye.
> It is legal to smoke, buy and carry cannabis up to 5 grams, but otherwise illegal to sell, grow or distribute. An official policy of tolerance led the Dutch government in 1976 to decriminalise possession of small amounts for personal smoking.
> It is a crime in the Netherlands, however, to buy cannabis off the street – it can only be legally bought in a coffee shop.
> Under Dutch law it is legal to smoke in public places, with the small condition that it can’t bother anyone. Although Dutch laws implemented in 2013 now ban smoking at children’s playgrounds and secondary schools, and coffee shops must be located 250m from schools and churches. There is no law against smoking at home, unless you are too young.
> It is illegal enter a coffee shop or smoke if you are less than 18 years old.
> Not all Dutch residents, nor neighbouring countries, are happy about the Netherlands’ tolerant approach to soft drugs, pushing a conservative government to announce plans to stem drug tourism. The original plan was to implement a national ban on selling to foreigners, by requiring a membership card only available to local residents. However, after local tension and debate, the Dutch law was revised to allow local councils the choice whether to implement the new rules or not; Amsterdam scrapped it, as did most towns, but Maastricht, on the border of Germany and Belgium, kept the ban in place.
> Tenants are strictly protected when renting in the Netherlands, where it is illegal for a landlord to kick out a tenant just because they cannot come to an agreement; in such cases, only the court can cancel a lease.
> A landlord can stipulate any condition they want in a lease contract, however, Dutch rental contracts are not binding until six months. Up until this time, the tenant can freely contest any aspect of their contract that may be against the law, including changing the rental amount.
> At noon on the first Monday of every month, the Dutch government requires all ’emergency alarms’ to be tested for almost a full minute and a half. Although it begs the question whether residents would even react to a real emergency, seeing the emergency alarm has become such a common occurrence in Dutch life.
> In the Netherlands it is a criminal offence to publicly insult – via image, speech or publication – any group based on race, religion, beliefs, relationship preference or physical, mental or intellectual disability, potentially punishable by up to one to two years in jail (or a fine). This was Dutch law was recently exercised to convict far-right opposition leader Geert Wilders of discriminating and insulting Moroccans during political campaigning.
> Besides the military, nobody in the Netherlands can shoot or own an automatic weapon. The only exceptions for gun ownership include the police (for self-defence), hunters and target shooters, although many restrictions exist.
> Dutch gun laws are relatively strict, where shooters must join a gun club and subject themselves to a one-year trial period and background check. A previous criminal offence can be grounds for rejecting your membership and, once you have a permit, it can be easily revoked, for example, if you are caught drink-driving. After one year, members can apply for a gun permit, and if approved can purchase one gun; after two years, they can purchase up to a maximum five guns. Police perform regular checks that registered guns are in your possession and stored safely away from ammunition. You can only buy guns approved for Koninklijke Nederlandse Schutters Associatie (Royal Dutch Riflemen’s Association) shooting matches.
> To own a gun for hunting purposes, Dutch law mandates that hunters must first take an extensive (and expensive) course for one year to obtain a hunting diploma, after which they are only granted a permit if they can prove they have access to a hunting ground. They must also take shooting lessons to train how to cause the least amount of suffering to their prey.