The northern Netherlands provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe offer a Dutch experience with a unique flavour and at a gentler pace. The region is growing thanks to recent investment, and there are many opportunities for expats interested in relocating to the Netherlands.
The International Welcome Center North (IWCN), a one-stop shop offering services, advice and events for expats in the northern Netherlands, explains why there has never been a better time to move to one of the top Dutch regions.
Job opportunities in a growing region
The Dutch provinces in the north have seen immense growth and development over the last decade, and the region is one of the fastest growing parts of the country. Investment in the area has increased largely due to the Northern Netherlands Provinces alliance (Samenswerkingsverband Nord Nederland – SNN) which has attracted nearly EUR 1.5 billion of EU development funding since 2000. This in on top of more than EUR 1.2 billion of foreign investment (NOM Foreign Direct Investment) in new projects which has created thousands of new jobs.
These more rural provinces of the Netherlands have traditionally had a strong agricultural sector, but there are a number of other key growing industries including healthcare, energy, technology and life sciences. There are approximately 600 international companies operating in the northern Netherlands, including many Dutch and German multinationals as well as US giants such as IBM and Google.
Expats looking for skilled work will find many opportunities, particularly in metropolitan areas. The city of Groningen – the capital of Groningen province – is the largest city in northern Netherlands with a research university and vast student population. Leeuwarden, with its ancient architectural delights, is the economic hub of Friesland. Assen, the capital of Drenthe, is the fastest-growing city in the region, with strong healthcare and service sectors.
Photo credit: © Traci White Citizens from EU/EFTA nations can move freely to the northern Netherlands to look for work. Those from outside the EU/EFTA will need to apply for the relevant work permit, like they would anywhere else in the country.
Study at one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands
If you’re looking to study in the Netherlands, the northern Dutch provinces boast one of the most reputable universities in the country. Founded in 1614, the University of Groningen is the second oldest university in the Netherlands and is currently the 80th ranked university in the world according to Times Higher Education. The university hosts over 30,000 students from 120 nationalities and is a distinguished research institution specialising in energy, healthy ageing and sustainable society.
There are also a number of universities of applied sciences that offer English-speaking higher education to expats, including the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen and the Stenden University of Applied Sciences with locations in Leeuwarden and Drenthe. If you’re after something part-time or less formal, all three Dutch provinces in the north offer distance learning through Open University and a wide range of courses through the Volksuniversiteit (folk university). A basic level of Dutch is usually needed for these, which can be learned at one of the many language schools in the area.
Expats who want to enrol their children in English-speaking international schools have options at both primary and secondary school level, including the International School Eerde and the International School Groningen.
A more relaxed lifestyle
The northern provinces of the Netherlands are known for being quieter, more sparsely populated and generally having a gentler pace of life than larger cities such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam, while still maintaining a high quality of life. This makes them ideal for expats wanting to escape the everyday hustle and bustle of the city while remaining within easy reach of it.
But that’s not to say there is not plenty to do in the north. Each province offers its own distinct Dutch experience. Friesland has the historic, culturally rich city of Leeuwarden, as well as five West Frisian Islands which can be reached by ferry or – during low tide of the Wadden Sea – by mudflat hiking. In exceptionally cold winter, the lakes of the province host the popular ‘Eleven Cities’ speed skating competition – though the last time this was able to be held was in 1997.
The city of Groningen, with its large student population, is known as the ‘metropolis of the north’, with a young, vibrant cultural and party scene. It was even found to have the most contented citizens in a EU study of 75 cities in 2007. Assen is home to the world-famous TT Circuit racing track, known as the ‘Cathedral of Motorcycling’ to sports fans.
The northern Netherlands provinces offer high living standards, including low crime and pollution levels, at a lower price than other Dutch regions. The cost of living in Groningen is around 25 percent cheaper than in Amsterdam.
Sample the distinct culture of the top Dutch region of the north
The three northern Dutch provinces all pride themselves on having a distinct regional identity, different from what might be deemed typical of the country as a whole. It’s an area where old meets new, where many traditions are maintained but newcomers are welcomed, and where your word is sacred – one of the region’s most popular sayings is “een man een man, een woord een woord,” meaning that promises, once made, are kept. Nowhere is this more evident than in Friesland, with its own distinct language and sense of pride in its idiosyncratic outlook. In 2018, its capital Leeuwarden will attract more visitors than ever before as one of the year’s European Capitals of Culture.
Expats new to the area will have no shortage of opportunities to immerse themselves in the local culture and environment, from the numerous local festivals and celebrations in each town, to sampling local delights such as poffert or beerenburg, to soaking up the village-like atmosphere of northern Netherlands city life.