Are you wondering what it’s like to drive a car in the Netherlands? Do you remember that bumper sticker: ‘If you don’t like my driving, get off the sidewalk’? Sometimes it seems as if Dutch drivers live by this motto. If you slow down to check a street name, or linger in the left-hand lane of the high-way, you are bound to incur the wrath of a nearby motorist. Nonetheless, the Netherlands is statistically one of the world’s the safest countries to drive in. So, do not be put off! This page will take you through the regulations you must adhere to, with regards to owning and driving a car in the Netherlands.

Driving in NL: Step by Step

Read on to learn more about each of the steps listed below. You must follow all of them, in order to legally drive in NL: 

  1. Have a valid driver’s license
  2. Take out car and liability insurance
  3. Have the registration certificate of the car transferred to your name
  4. Pay road tax and vehicle tax
  5. Know and respect the rules of the road
  6. Arrange a periodic check-up for your car

Before we get into detail on driving in the Netherlands, you have an important decision to make. Have a look at our article, which explores the question: Should you eep your car?

1. OBTAINING A VALID DRIVER'S LICENSE

Residency in NL

Residents of the Netherlands are legally required to have a Dutch driver’s license, in order to operate a motor vehicle. Officially, you are a resident if you spend at least 185 days per calendar year in Holland.

Using a Foreign License in NL

Depending on which country originally issued your driver’s license:

  • You may be able to use it in the Netherlands, or exchange it for a Dutch one
  • Both RDW and Rijbewijs can help you figure our whether this applies to you
  • These organizations can also provide you with information on driver’s licenses in NL

2. TAKING OUT CAR LIABILITY INSURANCE

It is important to take out liability insurance, incase you are involved in an accident in NL. Read all about this on our page: Insurance for Getting around in NL.

3. REGISTRATION CARD

What is a Registration Card?

  • Any car you buy in the Netherlands, be it new or 15 years old, will come with a ‘kentekencard
  • This is a credit-card sized registration card, which the RDW began to issue in 2015
  • Each card contains a chip that holds information, such as your name, address and your car’s model
  • This is your proof of ownership of the vehicle

Your Unique Code

In order to sell, export, suspend or dispose of your car, you also need a special code:

  • You will receive the first part of this code when the ownership of a car is transferred to you
  • The second part will come with your registration card

Registration Under your own Name

Usually all the above will have been sorted out for you. This applies, whether the car is new or second hand. All you need to do, is have your car’s registration card put in your name.

4. VEHICLE TAX AND ROAD TAX

Vehicle Tax in NL

Paying Vehicle Tax is a key ‘to do’, when it comes to driving in NL. Here’s what you need to know:

  • ‘BPM‘ is a vehicle tax that you are required to pay on your car or motorcycle, the very first time it is registered in the Netherlands
  • If you buy a car in Holland, the official car importer will include the tax in the price of the vehicle

You will need to take arrange BPM yourself, if you:

  • A) Bring your car/motorcycle to the Netherlands from abroad
  • B) Convert a non-passenger car into a passenger car
  • C) Drive a car/motorcycle with foreign license plates in the Netherlands

BPM Calculation

The amount of BPM you owe, depends on your car’s CO₂ emissions:

  • To register your car for BPM, you must first have it approved by the RDW (Vehicle Technology and Information Center). They are responsible for determining how much CO₂ your car emits
  • The RDW will issue you a form stating your car’s CO₂ emission, which is based on the ‘European Type Approval‘ of your car
  • If you do not receive a form, a fixed emission rate will be determined, based on the type of fuel you use
  • If you want, you can have an individual test carried out on your car, to determine its emission rate more accurately

Visit an RDW Branch in NL

To get all this sorted out, you need to visit an RDW center. Call: 0900 0739 to find your nearest one. When you visit, remember to bring following items with you:

  • Your vehicle
  • Proof of identity (passport, ID card or Dutch driver’s license)
  • Foreign vehicle registration certificate
  • The Individual Approval Certificate (APK-rapport),
  • The Certificate of Conformity

Road Tax in NL

If you own a car, a delivery van or a motorcycle in the Netherlands, you must also pay road tax:

  • Cars are officially defined as: ‘Vehicles with three or more wheels, designed for transporting a maximum of eight persons, excluding the driver’
  • Other regulations apply to vehicles with cargo space, and a higher maximum permitted weight load
  • You have to pay road tax from the time your name is transferred to the vehicle registration card (the kentekenkaart)

Obligations and Exemptions

  • Paying road tax is compulsory, regardless of whether you are temporarily unable or unwilling to use your vehicle. This means that you must pay purely for possessing a vehicle, even if it remains parked on private premises. However, under certain circumstances, you can apply for suspension
  • You can arrange to have your road tax bills paid automatically by means of a machtiging (a direct debit)
  • If you are a resident of the Netherlands, but your car is registered abroad, you still have to pay road tax and vehicle tax (BPM). That is, unless you use the car for less than two weeks. For those two weeks you will still have to request an exemption from the RDW 

It might be helpful for you to read over some more information on bringing your vehicle with you when you move to the Netherlands.

5. THE RULES OF THE ROAD

The ‘VVN‘, the ‘Veilig Verkeer Nederland‘ or the ‘Organization for safe traffic in the Netherlands’ set and endeavor to enforce the rules of the road. It is important to comply with their laws. 

Dutch Driving Dos and Don’ts

The VVN stipulate that you:  

  • Must familiarize yourself with, and obey, Dutch road signs
  • May not make or receive calls on your mobile phone without an aid, such as a headset or car kit, whilst driving
  • May not write, send or read text messages, e-mails or WAP messages whilst driving. However, you may briefly make use of your phone while waiting at a traffic light, or standing still in a traffic jam
  • Remain within the permitted blood alcohol level. It is 0.2 promille, for the first five years after you have obtained your driver’s license. After this, it is 0.5.
  • Use your regular headlights after dark, and if you cannot see clearly during the day
  • Use your fog lights in fog, snow or rain   

Parking in NL

Parking regulations vary from city to city in the Netherlands, so you should ask a local what the protocol is when you first arrive. Here are a few general rules:

  • A local map will have carparks marked with a blue symbol and a ‘P’
  • Carparks with controlled entry have a range of different payment systems
  • It sometimes appears as if you can park in a street or a carpark for free, when in fact there is a ticket dispenser just out of eye shot. The dispenser will display a blue sign with a white ‘P’ on it
  • Look for signs that say ‘betaald parkeren‘ (paid parking), and ‘parkeerautomaat’, so that you do not get fined
  • Download the ANWB’s ‘Yellow brick’ app. It allows you to use your phone to pay for the exact amount of time you were parked

Tip

Dutch Parking Permits

Beware, particularly in the inner cities, of signs saying ‘Parkeren voor vergunninghouders’:

  • These signs usually indicate that the entire area, if not the neighborhood, is reserved for permit holders only
  • They are easy to miss, because there are often very spread out
  • If you live in the area, you can get one of these permits at the ‘gemeentehuis’ or the local Dienst Parkeerzaken (parking department)
  • Prices vary from city to city

Remember, parking violations are punished rather severely in the Netherlands!

6. CHECK UPS FOR YOUR CARS

Ready for the Road

Before a vehicle is allowed onto the road in NL, it must be checked over by the RDW:

  • They ensure that it meets the environmental, safety and economic demands of the Netherlands
  • To asses this, they conduct ‘vehicle type approvals’, carry out certain independent tests, and supervise the Dutch ‘Algemene Periodieke Keuring or ‘APK’

The APK Test in NL

The APK is a car’s ‘Annual General Technical Test’. Here are the essential facts about it:

  • For cars that run on gasoline, and were manufactured more than four years ago, an APK is carried out once every two years
  • When a car that runs on gasoline reaches 8 years of age, the test must to be carried out annually
  • Cars that run on any other type of fuel, and were manufactured more than three years ago, require an annual APK

Test Centers and Prices

  • The APK is carried out at specialized centers, called ‘keuringsstations, or by a local garage that has been recognized by the RDW
  • There is no fixed price for the APK test, and prices vary greatly, so it may be worth shopping around a little
  • When your car has been APK-tested, the garage will notify the RDW of the outcome
  • If you fail to get the APK carried out on time, you will be fined
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