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Expats, Dutch driver's licence & traffic

To prevent any misunderstanding; there is no proof whatsoever that expat employees - often skilled knowledge migrants temporary living here - would drive unsafe. Most expats can legally  drive a car with their existing driver's licence.  But nevertheless there is a general prejudgement that expats sometimes originate from countries where rules with regard to obtaining ones driver's licence are taken 'somewhat less seriously'. 

Drive the Dutch way
Recently moved to the Netherlands and need to become familiar with Dutch traffic conditions? More and more expats have taken 'refresher courses' to help them adjust to Dutch traffic and its rules and to improve their driving skills. Expats experience traffic situations that differ a lot from their home country. Taking some practical car lessons or theory classes to get familiar with the Dutch way of driving may be time well spent. To drive safely, you have to display self-confidence, self-assertiveness and decisiveness. The Dutch road network consists of about 135.000 public roads and has Europe´s highest motorway density. In addition, The Netherlands offers an excellent bicycle infrastructure. But how do foreign visitors experience this?

Here are a few practical examples of how expats experience our traffic; 


 "I always thought of myself as an experienced driver. Things changed after I had moved to the Netherlands to work with an international law firm. Suddenly, I had to take into account the many cyclists riding really close to my car - and to park my car along a dimly lit canal. It proved to be quite nerve-wracking."

 "Upon entering the motorway, you have to accelerate rather quickly to keep pace with the other traffic. On the other hand, when leaving the motorway it is not uncommon to encounter a roundabout - so you’re forced to slow down considerably."

 "You are mangled between fast taxis on your left, and cyclists on your right, moving in unpredictable ways. You also have to consider trams that have the right of way at most intersections."


Getting a driving license for knowledge migrants

Depending on the duration of your temporary stay, most licences will be accepted in The Netherlands. For those settling in from countries outside the European Union and living here, a transition to  the Dutch driver's licence system is compulsory. They will succesfully need to pass the theory and practical exams with the Dutch CBR institute in order to obtain there Dutch licence. Obtaining a driving license in the Netherlands may be difficult and expensive. You have to attend theory classes, take driving lessons and still there is no guarantee that you will pass the difficult Dutch license test. In fact, 50% of Dutch young adults fail the first attempt.

Holders of certain foreign driver’s licenses may continue to use their license for a maximum of 185 days after gaining residence in The Netherlands. When that period expires, however, they must pass the regular theory and driving tests at the CBR (Central Office for Driver's Licences) to obtain a Dutch driver’s license.


An alternative route to the driver's licence is by exchanging the licence from your country of origin. Most knowledge migrants are able to make use of this right of exchange, about 7.000 exchanges are made annually. By the way, between 20.000 and 25.000 knowledge migrants live in the Eindhoven region.

Exchanging your old driving license

Make sure you have your 30% tax ruling document in place. Visit the town hall with this document and residence permit. There you need to purchase a health form called 'Eigen Verklaring' (with basic health questions). Fill in and post it by  mail to CBR. In case you answer "yes" to any of the health questions, attach a doctor's certificate with it. Within three weeks you will receive a confirmation from CBR stating that you are qualified to drive in Netherlands and do not have any health issues. This is good news! On receiving this letter, return to the town hall. Take along all your documents (valid proof of identity, 30% ruling document, CBR letter, original old driving license, two passport photos and money for the fees). In case you want the old driving license back again, this needs to be explicitly mentioned in writing to the Gemeente. This letter should be addressed to the RDW. If all goes well, you will get a letter from the RDW stating that the driving license application has been approved and that the license can be collected from the Gemeente. It will also state from where you can get the old driving license back. Usually you can collect it back from the Embassy of your country.


Driving with a foreign driving licence
If you are moving to the Netherlands and you have a foreign driving licence, you can continue to use this driving licence for a certain period. The length of this period depends on the country where you obtained your driving licence. After this period ends, you will need to have a Dutch driving licence.

Driving licence issued in EU/EFTA
Do you have a car driving licence that was issued in one of the countries of the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and do you live in the Netherlands? If so, you can continue to drive on this licence in the Netherlands for 15 years (from the date of issue of the foreign driving licence). 
Has this period elapsed, or is the period that you can still drive here shorter than 2 years at the moment at which you take up residence in the Netherlands? If so, you can drive in the Netherlands with the foreign driving licence for another 2 years as of the date you register.

Driving licence issued in EU/EFTA after registering in the Netherlands
If you have a driving licence that was issued in one of the countries of the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) while you are living in the Netherlands, you are not permitted to drive in the Netherlands with the foreign driving licence. You need to exchange this driving licence. 

Driving licence issued outside the EU/EFTA
If you have a valid driving licence that was issued in a country that is not an EU/EFTA member state, you can still use it for 185 days after you took up residence in the Netherlands. After this period, you may only drive in the Netherlands with a Dutch driving licence. In some cases you can exchange the foreign driving licence for a Dutch driving licence. In all other cases you must do new theory and practical exams with the CBR (Central Office for Motor Vehicle Driver Testing).

Can I exchange a foreign driving licence

In certain cases you can exchange the driving licence that you received outside the Netherlands for a Dutch driving licence. This is only possible if you are registered as a resident of the Netherlands and have a valid residence permit.

Residence permit
Everyone who lives in the Netherlands or settles in the Netherlands, has a residence permit. A residence permit says if you have the Dutch nationality or what your residence status is. You can show this with a valid identification- or residence document. 

When is exchanging possible?
A driving licence issued in one of the countries of the EU or EFTA can be exchanged for a Dutch driving licence. Driving licences issued in other countries can only be exchanged if they are valid for the stated categories

Conditions exchanging driving licence issued outside the EU
One condition for exchanging a driving licence issued outside the EU is that the driving licence must be valid at the time of application. In addition, a driving licence must have been issued in a particular year in which the applicant was resident in the country of issue for at least 185 days.

30% tax rule

If you are in the Netherlands for your work (highly skilled migrant), you may be subject to the 30% tax rule of the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (Belastingdienst). If you are subject to this 30% tax rule, you can exchange your foreign driving licence (regardless of the country) for a Dutch driving licence. This will only be possible if the foreign driving licence is still valid. If you want to apply for a Dutch driving licence under these circumstances, you will need an approval from the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (statement), which you can apply for with your employer’s assistance.

How can I exchange a foreign driving licence
If you have a foreign driving licence and wish to exchange it for a Dutch driving licence, you can apply for an exchange at the municipality where you are registered. They will forward your application to the RDW. If you send the application directly to RDW, the application will not be processed. You need the following at your application:

  • Valid identity papers
  • Your foreign driving licence
  • A photo

In some cases you need a ‘Verklaring van geschiktheid’ (Certificate of Fitness).