Discover all you need to know about driving in the Netherlands, from the road rules to registering your vehicle.
Driving in a new country can be a fraught experience, with lots of regulations to get your head around.
In this article, Expatica explains who can drive in the Netherlands and the rules around driving and parking in your new country.
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Who can drive in the Netherlands – do you need a Dutch driving licence?
Tourists driving in the Netherlands
If you’re just visiting the Netherlands, you should be able to use your home driving licence without exchanging it – though how long you can do this for depends on which country you’ve travelled from.
Driving licences registered in an EU member state (or Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland) are valid in the Netherlands. Licences from elsewhere can only be used for six months (185 days), after which you’ll need to apply for a Dutch licence.
If you’re travelling from the USA, the US Embassy in the Netherlands recommends you obtain an International Driver’s Permit from the AAA. This costs $20 and you can download an application form on the AAA website.
Expats driving in the Netherlands
Whether you’ll need a Dutch driving licence depends on whether you’re planning to become a resident, and which country you hold your existing licence in.
Expats moving to the Netherlands from EU or EFTA countries don’t need to exchange their licence in the short term, as they’ll be valid for up to 15 years (if issued since January 19th 2013) or 10 years (if issued before this date).
Exchanging a driving licence as a resident in the Netherlands
To exchange (omwisselen) your existing national driving licence (rijbewijs) for a Dutch one, you must fit into one of several categories. If you don’t, you can use your existing licence for six months (185 days) after becoming a resident, during which time you need to take the CBR theory and driving tests. You can take both the theory and practical exam in English.
Find out more in our full guide on getting a driver’s licence or exchanging your driving licence in the Netherlands.
Check out our listings for expat-friendly driving schools in the Netherlands.
Registering and owning a car in the Netherlands
All cars in the Netherlands must be registered with the Department of Road Transport (RDW) (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer). So if you bring your vehicle from abroad, it must first be reviewed at an RDW inspection station.. As part of this process, you’ll get Dutch registration plates, registration documents and pay motor tax (more on this later).
To register ownership of a Dutch-registered car, you can go to any post office or RDW–TV (Tenaamstellen Voertuigen) certified company with identification documents and a certificate of ownership, vehicle registration documents, statutory liability insurance (WA) and a safety certificate (APK).
For second hand vehicles, you’ll need a transfer certificate (overschrijvingsbewijs). When you buy the car, the seller should have ensured their previous ownership certificate has been officially invalidated. When registering your car, you will receive a bill for road tax (motorrijtuigenbelasting) from the tax office.
The vehicle’s registration card (kentekencard, or bewijs) and the certificate of ownership (tenaamstellingsbewijs) must be in the car at all times when on the road. The APK test (at an RDW-approved garage) measures the road-worthiness of your vehicle.
As a Dutch resident, you may not drive in a vehicle with foreign registration plates – you will be considered as evading the import duty on the vehicle and road tax, and risk heavy fines.
Car insurance in the Netherlands
If you have your own car, you’ll need to have at least third-party insurance to protect you from legal liability in the event of an accident. You can add additional ‘all risk’ cover (casco dekking) on top of this. You can find insurance (autoverzekering) providers in the yellow pages or through price comparison websites.
Private motor vehicle tax in the Netherlands
One hefty disincentive for bringing a car into in the Netherlands is the private motor vehicle and motorcycle tax (BPM). This tax is levied as a percentage of the value of the car, which can add to your costs significantly.
How much you’ll pay depends on a variety of factors. The Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (Belastingdienst) provides a brochure where you can find the specific rates for your type of vehicle.
Exemption certificates are dealt by customs (www.douane.nl).
As well as BPM, you’ll need to pay road tax when driving a vehicle in the Netherlands. The cost of this depends on the type of car you’re driving and it’s emissions. To find out you can use the calculator on the Dutch Tax and Customs website.
Road rules in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, you drive on the right – as is the case in much of continential Europe. Before driving in the Netherlands, there are a few things you should know:
- You should use dipped headlights after dark and in misty conditions.
- Bicycles and mopeds have priority over cars, so be extra careful around cycle lanes.
- Pay attention to signs when approaching roundabouts as it isn’t always consistent who has right of way.
- In built-up areas you can only use your horn in dangerous situations, so flash your lights instead if necessary.
- Speed cameras and traps are widely used in the Netherlands, and maximum speeds vary on some motorways, so be vigilant. Police use unmarked cars and you could face on the spot fines.
Speed limits in the Netherlands
While some roads will be marked with specific speed limits, the general maximum speeds in the Netherlands are as follows:
City – 50 km/h
Other roads – 80 km/h
Motorways – max speed varies between 100-130 km/h
Dutch road safety laws
Children under 1.35m in height must wear a child seat and be placed in the rear of the car.
Everyone in the car must wear a seatbelt.
Motorcyclists must always wear crash helmets.
If you commit an offence such as speeding while in the Netherlands, the authorities will be able to track you down – even if you live elsewhere.
Official figures show that nearly one million road fines were sent to foreign car owners in the Netherlands in 2016.
This was a 30% increase on 2015, and can largely be attributed to automatic information exchanges between the Netherlands and other countries in Europe.
Drinking and driving in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, there are strict rules that govern drink driving. Drivers who have had their licences for five years or longer must have a blood alcohol level of below 50mg (per 100ml of blood).
If you’ve had your licence for less than five years, or are under 24 and drive a moped or scooter, the limit is lower – at 20mg.
Illegal drugs: driving under the influence in the Netherlands
It is illegal to be under the influence of drugs while driving in the Netherlands.
In 2013, the government introduced screening devices to detect drivers who had taken drugs, and in 2017 statutory limits on the use of drugs when driving came into force. A full list of drugs that these limits apply to is available on the Dutch government’s website.
If you’re caught driving under the influence of drugs, you could face a fine or a prison sentence. It’s also possible to have your licence suspended for up to five years.
Using a phone while driving in the Netherlands
Drivers in the Netherlands are not allowed to hold a phone while driving, whether making calls or reading messages. Hands-free set ups are allowed.
You can only use a phone if you are parked or stationary, and those who break the rules face significant fines.
Parking in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, you’re not allowed to park:
- On broken yellow lines
- Within 5 metres of intersections
- Anywhere where you obscure road signs or exits/entrances
- Outside of built up areas
Waiting is also prohibited on yellow lines, level crossings and within 12 metres of a bus stop.
On roads signposted ‘no parking’, you should seen a rectangular sign indicated the times when parking is restricted. If you need a permit to park, a ‘parkerschijf’ sign should indicate this.
If there’s a parking meter, you’ll usually be able to pay to park for up to 2-3 hours. Charges vary from area to area, and in some you’ll have to get a pass from a local store.
- The Department of Road Transport: www.rdw.nl, 0900 0739, or +31 (0)59 839 3330 (abroad)
- Information on driving licences: www.rijbewijs.nl
- Theory and driving tests: www.cbr.nl
- ‘Road Traffic Signs and Regulations’ brochure: do a search on www.government.nl to download
- Common traffic offences: www.verkeershandhaving.nl – the BVOM (Bureau for Traffic Enforcement of the Public Prosecution Service has details on its website about common offences.