A Vibrant New Life in Rotterdam for an Asian-American Expat

I love the city and I really enjoy living in this country. This sums up what Asian-American expat William feels about living in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam with his partner since moving there in August 2010. A dance educator by profession, it isn't surprising to learn that William takes great pleasure in the city's diverse arts culture. Read on to learn more about how he is relishing expat life in the Netherlands.
William Lu

-Where were you born?

I was originally born in Taipei, Taiwan.  I left Taiwan when I was 3. Since then I have lived in Indonesia and the US, where I established my home and career for the past 15 years. 

-In which country and city are you living now?

I just relocated to the Netherlands with my partner a month ago. We are currently living in Rotterdam. 

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I live with my partner whom I married about 2 months ago. We're newlyweds.  

-How long have you been living in the Netherlands?

We are on our 5th week living in Rotterdam.  

-What is your age?

I am 32 years old. 

-When did you come up with the idea of living in the Netherlands?

I met my partner back when I was still living in Long Beach, California. He was a Norwegian expat working as an assistant pastor for a Norwegian Church in Los Angeles. He was on a religious working visa, which was valid for 5 year and it was not renewable. Since the US does not recognize gay marriage, we decided to be domestically partnered and  we would move to wherever his work is relocating him. Since I worked in arts education, his work decided to relocate us to a city where there is a lot of arts and culture, specifically dance, to accommodate us. 

-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

Not at all. There was a bit of confusion at first but it was relatively easy compared to the US immigration. Apparently, there is an EU law that allow an EU /non-Dutch citizen to bring a non-EU spouse. I had to get a facilitating visa, which allowed me to enter the Netherlands at the same time as my partner. The Dutch officials were really helpful during the process. I registered with the IND (Dutch immigration) and the Rotterdam City Hall. Now I'm waiting for my Residence card (which needs to be renewed yearly for the first 5 years) and Sofi number (equivalent to US social security number) which will allow me to work. 

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I am currently on a travel medical insurance until I get my Sofi number, then I will have the option to buy medical insurance. As far as my understanding, it is not difficult at all and it seems to be a lot cheaper than medical insurance in the US. 

-How do you make your living the Netherlands? Do you have any type of income generated?

I'm currently still waiting for my Sofi number which would allow me to work. I was told it would take about 3 to 4 weeks for a non-EU citizen. I used to work for a professional dance company in Los Angeles. Rotterdam has a much bigger dance community compared to Los Angeles. The arts organizations here received government subsidies which help them flourish. There are several dance organizations here in the Netherlands that keep the professional dancers in this country networked and informed with all the possible jobs in this country and other European countries. I have been offered a few possible teaching jobs here in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. As soon as I receive my Sofi number, I should be able to work again. 

-Do you speak Dutch and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

I currently don't speak Dutch. I am enrolling myself into a Dutch language course at a local university. I think it is important to know Dutch since I'm planning to live here indefinitely. Although everyone in Rotterdam seems to speak English fluently, almost everything at the grocery stores and restaurant menus is in Dutch. It would be helpful to know Dutch to live comfortably here.  

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

I do miss my home and family in Long Beach. I miss the convenience of Trader Joe's grocery store. I used to live right next to the beach, so I miss the option of being able to walk on the beach whenever I want. I miss being able to surf and kayak all year round. All my closest friends and family are back in California. Since I don't have very many friends in the Netherlands yet, I do get homesick a bit. Other than that, I don't miss the LA traffic, rude DMV officials, and Southern California polluted air. 

-Do you have other plans for the future?

As of now, I'm quite set in Rotterdam. I love the city and I really enjoy living in this country. It seems that there is always some sort of celebration or festival filled with arts and culture every weekend. The development of arts, culture, and architecture seems to be a lot more advanced compared to the US. I do plan to explore the rest of the European continent as soon I'm settled here.  

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

We are currently living in a loft centrally located in Rotterdam. My partner's work provides our housing, so we did not have to worry about looking for housing when we moved here. I believe the rent for our current loft is 1,000 Euros. 

-What is the cost of living the Netherlands?

I think it's relatively similar to living in Los Angeles. Food and drinks are a little expensive in my opinion. Sodas and Chinese food, which are really cheap in California, cost a lot more here. You can live cheaply here as long as you know where to shop. Shopping in the Netherlands is not as convenient as in California. Unlike mega stores in the US, there is a lot more small shops that are specialized in one or two things. 

-What do you think about the Dutch?

I find the Dutch people are really friendly. Dutch government officials are definitely more helpful and friendlier than the US government officials. Locals in Rotterdam are very patient and tolerant with foreigners maybe because Rotterdam is a port city with a high non-Dutch population. All the dance institutions and companies here operate in English because there are a lot of expats in the dance field. 

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in the Netherlands?

 I think I pretty much covered the positive things of living here: beautiful architecture, unpolluted sky, friendly people,  great public transportation services, tons of theaters, dance, arts and culture. The negative part is quite obvious for most Americans: no refills at restaurants, no iced drinks, hard to find real smoothies like Jamba Juice, no Trader Joe's, and most of the TV and movie programs are a bit behind. 

 -Do you have any tips for our readers about living in the Netherlands?

I only have a few. First, there are tons of pubs and cafes in the Netherlands. You can easily make some new local friends there. Second, all the stores in the Netherlands close really early, around 5 or 6pm. Make sure get your shopping done early. Friday is the only day of the week where the shops stay open a bit later. Third, keep some change in your pocket when you're out and about. Most places in the Netherlands charge you for using their restrooms. 

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the Netherlands?

My partner and I have a blog site mainly dedicated for our friends back in California. We try to cover a bit of our adventure here in the Netherlands. http://www.williamandhowie.com

Rotterdam Info has a lot of information about Rotterdam. It even has a great app for iPhones that includes great information on Rotterdam. http://www.rotterdam.info

Rotterdamse Schouwburg is a local performing arts center in Rotterdam. It has a great program that include theater, dance, and music. http://www.rotterdamseschouwburg.nl

They are probably the most successful contemporary dance company in the world. It's worth checking out. Even the Dutch Queen Beatrix is a big fan and supporter of this company. http://www.ndt.nl