While driving in a foreign country can be overwhelming and Amsterdam certainly poses its unique challenges with the tremendous number bicycles in the city, there is no reason to fear the roads upon your arrival in Amsterdam. You will have an official six month period of transition, in which a valid and legal driving license from your home country will be considered legitimate. During this time, also allow yourself a period of adjustment when you first drive a car, ride a bike, or simply when you are trying to navigate your way on foot, for in the beginning it may be difficult to fully grasp “the rules of the roads,” as they appear. After this transitional period, however, you will have to arrange to have a Dutch driving license in the way that is appropriate, given your previous country of residence and your prior and current driving status.
In order to drive in the Netherlands, you will eventually have to obtain a driving license from the municipality. However, for the Dutch, the time frame of this eventuality is largely dependent on where your former driving license was issued. Moreover, for some expats, this is as easy as exchanging your driving license for the acceptable Dutch version, while for others, it is not so straightforward.
Of course, it is important to remember that your license will have to be current at the time of your application and exchange.
Exchanging your License
If you have a valid driving licence from certain countries you are allowed to drive on the strength of that licence for a certain period of time. The length of this time depends on which country issued the licence. The RDW, http://www.rdw.nl, has further information on the length of these ‘probation periods’. Your embassy can also provide you with more information.
Generally, those individuals who have relocated to the Netherlands and hold a driving license from one of the following countries will be able to exchange their current license for a Dutch driving license, without taking any test:
Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
If you have a valid driving licence from any of the countries listed above you may use it for ten years after the date the original was issued.
When relocating to the Netherlands from one of the countries that is listed above, you will need to bring your current driving license to any urban district council office (which in Dutch is called a stadsdeelkantoor), where you can make the exchange. In order to find your local urban council office visit the site and insert your postcode. If you are not an EU or EEA national or a resident of Switzerland, you will also need to bring a valid residence permit with you, referred to as your verblifsdocument, which will be the proof that you have taken up residence in the Netherlands.
It should also be noted that every step of the process costs money.
If you do not come from one of the countries listed above, you should also check to see if you qualify for a restricted exchange, and consider whether this will be suitable for your driving needs. With a restricted exchange, you may obtain limited kinds of driving licenses directly from your municipality. These exchanges are possible for residents from the following countries:
Andorra, Canada (Quebec), Israel, Japan, Netherlands Antilles, Singapore, and South Korea
With the restricted exchange, only certain kinds of licenses may be obtained, which in most cases are limited to passenger cars but in certain instances will also include motorcycles. Although there is no test required for individuals who wish to make this kind of exchange, in order to complete this transaction, you will need to obtain a Certificate of Fitness that confirms that you are physically and mentally fit for the road. This document can be acquired from the Expat Centre or from your municipality.
In the Netherlands, there is also something known as the 30% Regulation, which applies to certain skilled workers and their families. These employees will have this regulation written into their working contract, and you can find out if you are privy to the benefits of the 30% Regulation from your employer. If you fall within this specific category of workers, you and your family may exchange any international driving license for Dutch driving licenses, as long as they are legal and current at the time of their exchange.
Obtaining a License (If an Exchange Is Not Possible)
If you do not come from, or hold a license from, one of the countries listed above or receive the benefits of the 30% Regulation, you will need to pass two tests in order to obtain a Dutch driving license. The first test that you need to take is a theoretical one, and once you have passed this test, you will be allowed to take the practical exam, which is to say, you can take it to the straats.
To arrange your theoretical and practical driving tests, you will have to contact the Central Office for Motor Vehicle Driver Testing (Centraal Bureau Rijvaardigheden, CBR – see website below). For individuals who do not speak or understand Dutch, the theory tests are also offered in English by the CBR with the option of taking the test in a group setting or with an individual interpreter. If you prefer to take the test individually, you will be responsible for arranging to have an interpreter present on the date of your exam.
Preparing for the Exam
Before you will be allowed to operate your motor vehicle, it will be necessary for you to fully understand the operating procedures and the rules that govern your new turf; only then will you be granted access to freely cruise the roads. While the tests that are given in the Netherlands are not particularly difficult, the theory test will require that you are familiar with the Dutch driving laws and most signs that you may or may not encounter on any given day. The practical examination will probably be more difficult, especially for those individuals who are not accustomed to (European) city driving, and this is important to remember when you are preparing for your exams. Some people feel it is a good idea to take driving lessons, and there are international schools and instructors who offer workbooks/online training that will help you prepare for the theory exam, as well as courses and individual lessons that can get you ready to take, and hopefully pass, your practical exam.
The International Driving School (English)
Here, you will be able to download or order books that can help you prepare for both the theoretical and practical driving tests. You can also enroll in online courses, set up private theory or driving lessons and find a vast amount of additional (English) information about the processes and procedures involved in getting your driving license.
Other Useful Links and Contact information:
Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer (RDW) – Dutch Department of Road Transport (Dutch)
Dutch Government’s Driving License Website (English)
On this website, you can download a PDF document that explains the driving rules and regulations that govern the roads in the Netherlands. You will also find a complete document that explains the road signs that you will see when cruising the streets of the city. This information will not only be essential to your safety on the roads, but it will most certainly prove useful in both the theoretical and practical examinations you will have to pass for your driving license. Tel: 070 413 0300
Centraal Bureau Rijvaardigheden (CBR) – Central Office for Motor Vehicle Driver Testing (Some English)