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The Dutch Healthcare System – What Expats Should Know

dutch healthcare system

The Dutch healthcare system is supposedly one of the best healthcare systems in Europe.  We explore what expats need to understand about the dutch healthcare system, mandatory health insurance, and the reciprocal health agreement with Australia.

Australians travelling to the Netherlands are lucky to find that they will be able to take advantage of the top rated healthcare system in Europe. A 2015 report gave Holland the highest score of the 35 countries counted in the Euro Health Consumer Index, showing the country to exceed other European nations in almost every area. Most doctors speak English, so even as a non-European, you won’t have to worry about communication issues.

The Dutch healthcare system is relatively simple, providing near universal healthcare through a system of mandatory insurance which costs on average €1,200 per year. Additionally, the Dutch pay around €700 per year for treatments not covered by the basic insurance.

There are a few options for Australians, depending on your medical needs how long you plan to stay in the country.

Emergency Services

Memorising the emergency numbers before you land is always a wise idea, no matter what your destination. Call the number 112 in the case of an emergency, medical or otherwise. An operator will connect you to the correct service, as the ambulance, police and fire department all use the same number. Operators are available in several languages, so you will be able to communicate in English.

Be aware that hospitals don’t usually accept walk-in patients without a referral from a GP, so call an ambulance in an emergency ONLY.  Unless it’s really urgent, you are unlikely to be given treatment if you go to the hospital without contacting your GP first.

If you don’t need an ambulance, but are in urgent need of medical attention or advice and can’t visit your GP, you can call the call the Central Doctors’ Service on +31 (0) 20 592 34 34.

Mandatory Insurance

If you are planning to stay for more than a year, you will be subject to the mandatory Dutch health insurance required from almost all residents. The Netherlands operates on a principle of “controlled competition,” by which an industry of highly regulated but privately-owned health insurers provide people with a select few types of insurance.

Everyone is required to get the Zorgverzekeringswet (Zvw) “basic” insurance which covers most short-term medical care, such as GP appointments, short hospital stays, some specialist treatments and so on.

There are four major insurance providers.   It’s illegal for companies to reject applicants on any grounds and premiums are identical, regardless of an applicant’s age or medical history. Contracts are only for a year, so you can change insurers at least once per year if you choose.

Getting Registered

If you’re a resident, you need to apply for you mandatory coverage within four months of arrival, even you’re already covered by another policy. You will also have to register with your local GP, which should be done as soon as possible since you won’t be able to visit a hospital without a GP referral, unless you have an emergency. Not all doctors will be accepting new patients, or they may have a waiting list already, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re registered before a trip to the doctor becomes medically necessary.

Types of Extra Insurance Available

In addition to the basic insurance, there are a few optional additions that you can get if you’re likely to need them:

  • Dutch citizens are automatically entitled to Algemene Wet Bijzondere Ziektekosten (AWBZ) which covers long-term nursing and care, but as an expat you will need to take out a policy if you think you’ll need long-term healthcare services.
  • Wet maatschappelijke ondersteuning (WMO) covers  support services including household help, cleaning and cooking for people who need day to day assistance for medical reasons.
  • Jeugdwet is for short and long-term medical care for people under 18 years old, although minors can also be included in a parent’s insurance policy.
  • Dental care may or may not be covered by your basic insurance, so check with your provider to make sure. Your mandatory insurance may only cover basic dental procedures, with extensive treatment falling under an AWBZ policy. You will need to register with your local dentist in order to receive treatment.

Australians Access to Dutch Healthcare System

Australia holds a reciprocal health agreement with the Netherlands.  This entitles Australians to certain treatments under the dutch healthcare system during the first 12 months of your stay.   In order to use this coverage, you will need to obtain a certificate of eligibility wether before or after you arrive in the Netherlands. For full detail on coverage and the application procedure ready this government website.

Some Peculiarities About the Dutch Healthcare System – Australian Expat Experiences

There are a few peculiarities Australians in the Netherlands will need to get used to when it comes to the Dutch healthcare system.

  • GP’s are not in the habit of prescribing antibiotics for less than serious infections.  A common joke in the expat community is that the dutch GP’s seem to use panadol as their solution for most ailments.  One Aussie expat needed to see a GP three times over the course of three weeks before he would be pescribed anitibiotics for a throat infection.
  • Women are generally sent home with their new born babies within 4 or 6 hours after giving birth, or they give birth at home.  They are then provided with a nurse who stays with them at their house during the day for the first ten days after giving birth.  If you don’t like this idea, consider taking out international health insurance with a company like Cigna Global where you might be able to then cross the border into Belgium or Germany and give birth in a private hospital with a typical 3-5 night stay after delivery.
  • You will generally not be able to choose your own surgeon if you need an operation (even with dutch health insurance) unless you have international health insurance and are happy to cross the border.
  • There is a reluctance of GP’s to refer you for an MRI or other expensive “un-necessary” scans that you would otherwise have received in Australia or in neighbouring countries.  One Australian expat we are aware of was hospitalised in Germany for a lower back condition.  The hospital in Germany wanted to undertake MRI scans to understand the cause of the problem but the Australian decided to return back to the Netherlands and seek further treatment there.  Only after extreme pressure on the GP did the GP agree to a referral for an MRI scan.

Whilst there are some things Australians would find strange about the dutch healthcare system, it does generally provide a very good standard of healthcare, and other than your health insurance premiums, for most medical appointments, treatments, and prescriptions there are no further out of pocket expenses.

Interested to find out how much international health insurance will cost you?  Whether you are moving to The Netherlands or elsewhere, Cigna Global can provide you with an online quote in minutes.

About the author


Craig is an Australian Expat and the founder of The Australian Expat Investor. Craig is passionate about investing, and while Craig cannot give personal financial or tax advice, Craig enjoys sharing investing, tax, and other tips for Australian expats to help them to build their wealth while living abroad and get the most out of their time living overseas. Get his free ebook on 9 Financial Surprises That Could Cost Australian Expats Thousands of Dollars

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