Netherlands travel guide
As flat as a local pannenkoek, the Netherlands is a land of colourful tulip fields and canals, sophisticated cities and some of the most striking coastline in Northern Europe. It punches well above its weight culturally, laying claim to the likes of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Mondrian, amongst others.
At the head of the state sits the country's constitutional monarchy, whose palaces dominate many of the larger cities, including The Hague and the capital city, Amsterdam. The latter, renowned for its step-gabled houses, ubiquitous bikes, seedy red light district and hazy coffeeshops, is bisected by a UNESCO-listed network of waterways, many of which are spanned by beautiful, latticed bridges.
To the south lies Rotterdam, an industrial port city that has benefitted from a complete makeover in recent years, acquiring a slew of excellent museums and an unlikely affinity for hip-hop in the process.
The butt of many a northern joke, the southern city of Maastricht lies in the much-maligned Limburg region. Despite the teasing, this is a city of delicate beauty, dotted with churches, bisected by a mighty river and home to what is almost certainly the best bookshop in the world, Selexyz Dominicanen.
Back towards the coast, the Netherlands becomes more stereotypically Dutch, with vast colourful fields of tulips dotted with windmills and dairy farms producing the wheels of cheese for which the country is so famous. The low-lying Dutch countryside is scattered with a network of charming towns and villages such as Edam, Haarlem and Leiden, which have changed little over the centuries.
Best of all though, are the sandy, North Sea beaches of Zeeland, which stretch for an almost unbroken 650km (403-miles). With more sunshine than any other part of the Netherlands, Zeeland is the Dutch riposte to the Caribbean – and with better cycling trails and museums, if not the hot weather, to boot.
41,543 sq km (16,039 sq miles).
17,020,000 (2016 World Bank).
488 per sq km.
King Willem-Alexander since 2013.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte since 2010.
Last updated: 20 March 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
On 18 March 2019 there was a shooting incident in the 24 oktoberplien (24 October Square) area of Utrecht. One suspect was subsequently detained. The threat level in Utrecht has been reduced by the Dutch authorities following this arrest. If you’re in Utrecht, you should continue to follow the advice of the local authorities, including via the City of Utrecht website (in Dutch) and the Utrecht Police Twitter account.
Travelling via Calais? Check our travel advice for France.
As of 26 March 2018, Amsterdam public transport service (GVB) no longer accepts cash for buying tickets on trams, buses or metro trains in Amsterdam. You can buy tickets by credit card (not American Express) on buses and trams or at payment points at main bus and tram stops, Amsterdam Central Station and Schiphol airport. Additional information can be found at GVB.
The Amsterdam health authorities have launched a campaign to warn tourists about the danger of buying a substance which is sold as cocaine, but is actually white heroin. This has caused a number of deaths. For more information visit the website of the Public Health Service of Amsterdam (GGD). , and don’t carry or use drugs.
Everybody over the age of 14 is required to show a valid identity document on request.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the Netherlands. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
Be alert to the existence of street crime in cities.
If you need to contact the emergency services call 112.
British nationals make more than 2 million visits to the Netherlands every year, half of whom are visiting Amsterdam. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re living in or moving to the Netherlands, visit our Living in the Netherlands guide in addition to this travel advice.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Take care particularly in central Amsterdam and especially in and around Central Station. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching are common. Thieves often operate in gangs on the trains to and from Schiphol airport and Central Station as well as on the trams. One thief will attempt to distract you (often by asking for directions or by banging on your window) while another picks your pocket or steals your bag. Be alert and don’t lose sight of your luggage or your belongings. Sleeping passengers make particularly easy targets.
Opportunist thieves are widespread and can enter restaurants with the excuse of selling you something or looking for someone. Bags have been stolen from between people’s feet whilst they were distracted. Keep your valuables safely with you at all times and don’t leave bags or jackets hanging on the back of a chair.
If you are the victim of a theft contact the nearest police station and get a police report. Amsterdam Police have warned of criminals using false police identities and tricking tourists into handing over cash and credit cards on the pretext of investigations into counterfeit money and false credit cards. Be very cautious about any such approaches.
Genuine plain clothes police will rarely carry out this type of inspection. Always ask for identity, check it thoroughly and don’t let yourself be intimidated. Dutch police don’t have shiny badges, which the fake police sometimes present as ID. Call 0900-8844 to get in touch with the nearest police station if you are not entirely happy.
Avoid confrontation with anyone offering you drugs of any sort and stay away from quiet or dark alleys - particularly late at night. Even if you are tempted to buy, you risk arrest for doing so.
Young women and those not in groups should be aware of the possibility of drinks being spiked. Don’t leave your drink unattended. If you believe you have been the victim of a spiked drink, seek medical help immediately and, if possible, inform the police. If you are in a group, make sure you leave together.
You must have a valid full UK driving licence, insurance, vehicle documents and identification to drive in the Netherlands. If you are driving a vehicle that does not belong to you then written permission from the registered owner may also be required. You are not allowed to drive on a provisional licence.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to be able to drive in the Netherlands and other EU/EEA countries as a visitor after 29 March 2019.
There are 3 types of IDP. Check that you have the correct permits covering all countries where you will be driving - you may need more than one IDP. For full information, check this guidance page. You should also check guidance on driving in the EU after Brexit for information on other additional documents you may need to carry.
If you’re living in the Netherlands, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
In 2016 there were 629 road deaths in the Netherlands (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 3.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
Traffic offences can carry heavy, on-the-spot fines. If you are fined, always ask for a receipt. Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal. Drivers are encouraged to use ‘hands free’ equipment.
The Dutch drive on the right and give priority to the right, unless otherwise indicated. Be particularly careful when using roundabouts: on some you have the right of way when on them but on others right of way must be given to vehicles entering.
Watch out for trams; they have priority over other traffic and are well known to exercise that right. If a tram or a bus stops in the middle of the road to allow passengers on and off, you must stop.
Speed cameras, speed traps and unmarked vehicles are widely used. Be vigilant on motorways where the maximum speed can vary. Overhead illuminated lane indicators - when in use - are mandatory.
You must use dipped lights after dark and in misty conditions. If safety belts are fitted, they must be used. You must carry a warning triangle and, in the event of a breakdown, place it 30m behind your vehicle. Children under 1.35m in height must be carried in a proper child seat in the rear of the car.
Pedestrians should be extremely careful when crossing roads, especially on zebra crossings. Look out for cycles and mopeds, which enjoy right of way over motor vehicles and often ignore road traffic rules and red lights. Crossing the road without a green signal to do so can be interpreted by local law as Jaywalking, even if it is safe to do. Dutch police have been known to hand out fines in such instances.
Deaths occur each year due to drowning in the canals of Amsterdam. The majority of these happen as a result of celebrations that include heavy drinking and/or smoking cannabis. Take particular care when travelling beside canals.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the Netherlands. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. You should be vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities. On 31 August 2018, two foreign tourists were seriously injured in a knife attack at Amsterdam Central Station.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
If the UK leaves with a deal, travel to the EU will remain the same as now until at least 31 December 2020. You will not need to apply for a visa to travel or work in the EU during this time.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the rules for travelling or working in Europe will change after 29 March 2019.
The European Commission has proposed that in a no deal situation, if you are a British Citizen, you would not need a visa for short stays in the Schengen area or elsewhere in the EU. You would be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visits to the Schengen area within the previous 180 days before your date of travel will count against the 90-day limit.
If you’re intending to stay in the Schengen area for longer than 90 days, or your stay would take you over the 90 days in the 180-day limit, you may need to get a visa before you travel.
Travel to EU countries currently outside the Schengen area (Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus) would not count towards the 90-day total.
On arrival in the Schengen Area, you may be asked to confirm that you have sufficient funds available for the duration of your stay. As non-EEA nationals, different border control checks will apply, and you may also be asked to show a return or onward ticket. UK nationals would not have an ongoing right to use the separate lanes provided for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals.
The 90-day visa-free period does not entitle you to work in the Schengen area. Most countries will require a visa and work permit.
You should check with the Netherlands Embassy in London what type of visa, if any, you will need.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you do not need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, the rules for travel to most countries in Europe will change from 29 March 2019. If your adult passport was issued over 9 years ago, you may be affected. You should use this tool to check your passport is still valid for your trip before booking travel.
Adult and child passports should have at least 6 months’ validity remaining on your date of travel. If you renewed your passport early, extra months would have been added to your new passport. Any extra months on an adult passport will not count towards the validity requirement, so some passport holders will need to have more than 6 months remaining in order to travel.
You can check your passport here.
Before you travel, make sure your passport is in good condition. The Netherlands authorities often impound damaged passports and some travellers have had to get an emergency travel document to leave the country.
Travelling with children
Dutch border authorities have strengthened their precautions against child abduction. Parents (particularly fathers) travelling in sole charge of their children are regularly stopped for further checks at Schiphol airport and occasionally prevented from boarding flights.
You should carry a signed authorisation form for travelling abroad with a minor and associated documents (outlined in the above link). See also Get permission to take a child abroad.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from The Netherlands
Moving to the Netherlands
If you intend to live in the Netherlands, you should get important documents (birth certificate and marriage certificates) officially certified (apostilled) at the FCO Legalisation Office.
Local laws and customs
Don’t carry or use drugs. The Netherlands has a reputation for being tolerant on the use of so-called ‘soft drugs’. In reality drugs are prohibited and this tolerance exists only for designated premises in the major cities. Possession of prohibited substances or buying them outside these designated areas can carry a prison sentence. Buying or smoking soft drugs in public places is an offence. There are specifically designated cafés where the use of cannabis is tolerated. Although popular, the sale of both dry and fresh psychoactive mushrooms is forbidden by law. Be extremely careful as combinations of alcohol, cannabis and wild mushrooms are a fatal cocktail and have resulted in several deaths.
Everybody from the age of 14 must be able to show a valid identity document to police officers and other law enforcement authorities on their request. The documents you can use to prove your identity depend on your nationality:
- If you are a British national living in or visiting the Netherlands you can use your passport.
- If you are a dual national you can identify yourself with a valid Dutch driving licence, passport or Dutch/European identity card.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019, access to healthcare for British nationals travelling or living in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland is likely to change. More information about healthcare for UK nationals living in and visiting the Netherlands is available on the NHS website.
You should still get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. UK-issued EHICs will remain valid until 29 March 2019 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
The EHIC entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Dutch nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
The UK government has or is seeking agreements with countries on healthcare arrangements for UK nationals after 29 March 2019. The NHS website and this travel advice will be updated with further information on travelling to the Netherlands as the circumstances change.
Whether you’re travelling before or after 29 March, it is important to take out comprehensive travel insurance that includes cover for emergency medical treatment and associated costs. The existing EHIC arrangements are not an alternative to travel insurance, as some health-related costs, including for medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment, are not covered. Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.
If you’re living in the Netherlands, you can also find more information on healthcare for residents in our Living In the Netherlands guide.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry.We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.