Children in the Netherlands are obliged to attend school full-time from the age of 5 until the age of 16 and at least part-time from the age of 16 until the age of 18. There is a publicly funded public school system. There are also public schools, which meet certain criteria to qualify for state funding, and international schools. Children start at primary school (for children aged 4 to 12) and then go on to secondary school.
Children older than twelve years of age enter the secondary school system. The Dutch secondary education system is divided into three streams. Children in the Netherlands are assessed and enter these streams at a fairly early age. There is a variety of special education programmes for students with behavioural or learning difficulties. There are also adult and vocational education programmes.
A four-year pre-vocational secondary education programme that is designed to prepare children for upper secondary vocational education (mbo).
A five-year general secondary education programme that is designed to prepare children for higher professional education (hbo).
A six-year pre-university secondary education programme that is designed to prepare children for academic studies at university level (wo).
International schools, located in the largest cities, especially The Hague, offer a curriculum taught in English, French or German. On completion of studies, an international baccalaureate certificate is awarded to students. Foreign postgraduates can also attend specialist programmes at certain institutes in the Netherlands; in the majority of cases, these are offered in English.
There are two kinds of higher education. One is a four-year higher professional education programme called HBO and leads to a four-year bachelor’s degree. The other is a three-year academic or university education programme called WO and also leads to a bachelor’s degree. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree may, subject to meeting the requirements, go on to study for a master’s degree, which is normally an extra year of study.
Some Dutch universities allow foreign students to enter a Dutch university degree programme at an intermediate level. Only certain universities allow this, and the decision is made on a case-by-case basis. Foreign students wishing to enter a Dutch university must have an adequate level of English. Any Dutch embassy, consulate or education support office can provide valuable information on the English language examinations accepted by Dutch universities.
Employers may grant tax-free allowances for school fees. It is advisable to obtain a residence permit prior to registration.
The Netherlands has a public-private health care insurance system in which everyone has national health insurance cover, but this is provided through a private health care insurer (zorgverzekeraar) of their own choosing.
A number of insurance companies offer a variety of packages at different rates. An insurance company is required to offer a basic package, but the insurance company offers more extended packages with optional extras for those who wish to pay for these extras. Every resident is free to choose their insurance company and the level of cover. A resident can switch insurance companies once a year.
Unless otherwise provided by international social security law, all residents aged 18 or older are required to pay a nominal premium to their insurance company. Without insurance, individuals face several penalties imposed by the Netherlands Health Care Institute (Zorginstituut Nederland). The application of law in this area depends on the individual’s social security situation, which may, in general, be linked to either residence or country of origin.
All residents of the Netherlands are insured under national insurance schemes covering old age (AOW), death (Anw), certain extraordinary medical expenses (AWBZ), health benefits (Zw) and child benefits (AKW). The premiums are not tax-deductible. In addition, employees are insured against disability (WIA) and unemployment (WW). These contributions are tax-deductible (EET).
An individual’s country of residence is determined on a case-by-case basis. This is the same kind of determination as that made for tax purposes. For further details, see “Resident or non-resident taxpayer”. A citizen of an EU country, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland may opt to remain insured under the social security system of his or her country of origin without having to pay social security premiums in the Netherlands. The employee is required to obtain an A1/(E) 101-statement from the social security authorities in his or her country of origin. The employer can obtain this for the employee. The E-101 statement is valid for a period of twelve months and can, in certain circumstances, be extended to five years in total.
The Netherlands has concluded social security treaties with a number of other countries. These treaties provide the rules governing social security arrangements. The rules are similar to those for EU and EEA countries.
Last updated May 2022