Are you thinking of buying a car in the Netherlands? This process might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it’s certainly possible for expats to purchase their own vehicle and head out onto the Dutch roads. Once you know where to go and what to organize, buying a car will be unproblematic.

We’ve put together a practical guide to help you through it step by step.

Cars in the Netherlands: The Basics

Before getting to all the practicalities of ownership, let’s take a look at the options you have. It’s important to do some research before buying a car in the Netherlands, as there are a few things you need to arrange before it’s even legal for you to drive

First,consider whether you want to buy a new or second-hand car – we’ll get to that in a minute. Buying and thus owning a car might be more expensive than what you’re used to in your home country. Compared to the US, for example, buying a car in the Netherlands breaks the bank. Cars themselves are more expensive, and then there’s the aspect of taxes and insurance. Those are additional expenses you’ll have to take into account when buying a car. We recommend making an overview of all the costs involved before making your decision.

Secondly, make sure that your driving license is valid. If you hold a driving license issued within the EU/EEA or Switzerland you can simply continue to drive with this license, up to 15 years from the date of issue of the license. For non-EU citizens things are a bit more tricky. In some cases, you might be able to simply exchange your local license at the municipality. However, depending on your situation, you might have to retake the driving exam in the Netherlands. Check out our relocation checklist to learn more.

Choosing Between a New Car and a Second-Hand Car

Ideally, we’d all like to buy a new car – this is without a doubt. The ease of showing up in a showroom and picking out your brand-new ride is certainly appealing. You can rest assured that your car functions perfectly and won’t be faced with any nasty surprises.

Yet it’s important to take into account that the price difference between new and used cars is significant in the Netherlands. Even the purchase of a car less than one year old will easily save you thousands of euros. For cars that have been on the road for much longer, you’ll be paying only a fraction of the original value.

There are a few things that you should be aware of when buying a second-hand car. The history of the car determines its value and for this, you’ll need to inspect the condition of the vehicle carefully. Look at the conditions of the motor, the tires and take the car for a test drive. If you’re not an expert on cars (and most of us aren’t), this judgment call can be tricky to make. More on this later. Depending on the price of the car, it might be worth consulting an expert.

It’s important to know that there are both private sellers (individuals selling their car) and commercial sellers (dealerships). When buying a car from a dealership, you benefit from a legal warranty of 6 months. This applies for both new and used cars. When buying from a private seller, there is no such warranty.

Therefore, the safest option to buy a car is to go to a dealership. There are plenty of those located all over the country.

Buying a car in the Netherlands
Make sure to arrange a test drive when buying a car in the Netherlands

Where to Buy a Car

You can simply call the number of a car with a “te koop” paper on the window on your street or visit your local dealership. However, buying a car is a big decision and therefore it’s worth comparing the options.

The best way to do so is online. Both private as well as commercial sellers usually list their cars on online marketplaces. Visit the well-known online bazaar Marktplaats to purchase directly from individuals. If you’re looking for an online dealer, we recommend checking out the following websites:

  • Wijkopenautos
  • Bynco
  • Autoscout24

Things to Check when Buying a Car

If you choose to buy your second-hand car, we highly recommend looking up the car history via the license plate check of the RDW. The Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer is the government institution that regulates the registration of motorized vehicles.

You also definitely need to check out the so-called onderhoudshistorie, meaning the maintenance history of the car. The owner should be able to tell you what maintenance has been done when and show you the onderhoudsboekje, or the maintenance booklet, in which all preventive maintenance is recorded.

Lastly, don’t forget to check the last APK conducted on the car, the periodic inspection on the roadworthiness of the car. Petrol cars need to be inspected after four years, then twice every two years and after that every year. Diesel cars get their first inspection after three years, then once every year.

It might be good to point out that at most car dealerships, and certainly when dealing with a private seller, you need to be prepared to haggle. This might seem like an uncomfortable idea, but if you don’t, you will quite likely walk away with a bad deal. And when considering a second-hand purchase, always remember the golden rule: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Buying a Car in the Netherlands (Checklist)

Once you have made up your mind on the car you want to buy there are a couple of practicalities to arrange. Start looking into these points before you actually own the car, to avoid unexpected waiting times. Without having sorted out these aspects you cannot start driving your newly purchased car, which would certainly be a bit of a downer!

1. Inspection

As we mentioned earlier, you should always carefully inspect a second-hand car. In case the APK has expired, you need to bring the car to a workshop to get it inspected, or risk a fine.

Parking on the street is generally safe in the Netherlands, no matter whether you are in the countryside or in the city. You do not need to worry about the safety of your car.

2. Register at the RDW

Then it’s time to register the car. Without registering the car at the RDW, the Netherlands National Vehicle and Driving License Registration Authority, you are not legally permitted to drive it. You can transfer the registration number at a vehicle registration office, or at an RDW testing center or vehicle registration service desk (in Zoetermeer, Den Bosch or Veendam). To do so you need a couple of formal documents: either the original registration number allocation document (Part IB) and the transfer document, or the vehicle registration card and the registration number. The RDW will then send you the new vehicle registration card, with which you can officially start driving your new car.

3. Take out Insurance

Once the car has been successfully registered onto your name, you need to get it insured. In contrast to what you might be used to in your home country, insurance in the Netherlands rests on the car, not on the driver. This means that anyone can drive your car stress-free. Dutchies use the website Independer.nl to compare car insurances – it works just as well for expats.

4. Pay Road Tax

When you buy a car in the Netherlands, you also have to pay road tax (or motor vehicle tax). The government uses this tax to properly maintain the Dutch roads. How much road tax you pay over a passenger car depends on the CO2 emission in gr/km. The RDW register the CO2 emissions of each type of passenger car with a European type approval, and includes these CO2 emissions in the inspection data of your car. The Dutch tax authorities have made a concise overview here. If you don’t know the CO2 emissions of your car, you can also use this handy tool on Independer.nl to calculate the amount of road tax you need to pay.

5. Arrange Parking

Lastly, you need to look into where and how you’re going to park your car. If you live in the countryside or the suburbs, you’ll most likely not face any parking problems. This is a different story in the city, however. Parking there is generally expensive or perhaps not even allowed for non-residents. You can apply for a parking permit at the municipality, which allows you to park your car in your neighborhood for free. In larger cities such as Amsterdam there are sometimes waiting lists for such a parking permit. In this case, it might be worth it to get a (temporary) subscription in a parking garage close to your home.

Parking on the street is generally safe in the Netherlands, no matter whether you are in the countryside or in the city. You do not need to worry about the safety of your car.

Alternatives to Buying a Car

Of course, you do not have to buy a car in the Netherlands in order to drive. In fact, if you only drive occassionally, it’s worth having a look at the alternatives. There are plenty of other options that allow you to make use of a car without having to purchase one.

Leasing

Leasing a car is a great option for when you need a car regularly for, say, driving to work but the duration of your stay in the Netherlands is short-term or still undetermined. Leasing works like a subscription: you pay a fixed monthly price for which you get full-time access to a car of your choice. The leasing company retains ownership of the car, but the vehicle will be registered on your name. The monthly fee depends firstly on the type of car you lease and secondly on the amount of kilometers you put in. Keep in mind that you can only lease a car when you have a Dutch social security number, which makes arranging a lease car directly upon arrival rather tricky.

Rent a Car

If you plan on using a car only sporadically, you might want to consider simply renting a car. This offers greater flexibility: you don’t have to deal with any of the drawbacks of ownership and will most likely save money. There are plenty of car rental companies all over the country.

Car Sharing

Another option that is up and coming in the Netherlands is car sharing. Car sharing combines the characteristics of leasing and rental. You first get a membership to a car sharing company, which owns a fleet of cars, parked all over the country. By paying a fixed monthly amount, you have access to all cars at all times. Whenever you use a car, an additional fee is charged depending on how long and how far you’ve been driving. You don’t own a car and, unlike leasing, don’t have private access to a car registered on your name. Yet car sharing offers the flexibility of renting. The largest car sharing company in the Netherlands right now is Greenwheels.

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