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 Limbourg 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.
41,528 sq km (16,034 sq miles).
16,979,729 (UN estimate 2016).
408.1 per sq km.
King Willem-Alexander since 2013.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte since 2010.
Last updated: 16 February 2018
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.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
Travelling via Calais? Check our travel advice for France.
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.
Be alert to the existence of street crime in cities.
If you need to contact the emergency services call 112.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in the Netherlands. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
British nationals make in excess of 2 million visits to the Netherlands every year half of whom are visiting Amsterdam. Most visits are trouble-free.
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 license.
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 visited by foreigners.
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.
Holders of British passports, endorsed ‘British Citizen’, don’t need a visa to enter the Netherlands. If you hold another type of British nationality, you should check entry requirements with the Netherlands Embassy in London.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
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 in Amsterdam. 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.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting the Netherlands you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it 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 EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
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.