Netherlands flag Netherlands: Business Environment

Business Practices in the Netherlands

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Services for business, Global Affairs Canada
Commisceo Global, Dutch business culture as per Commisceo Global
E-Diplomat, Dutch business culture as per E-Diplomat
Opening Hours and Days
Open from Monday to Saturday and from 9.00 a.m. to 4:00 or 5.00 p.m.
 
 
 

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Good Friday (optional; depends on sector/province) March - April
Easter Monday March - April
Queen's Day 30 April
Liberation Day (every 5 years - 2000, 2005, 2010 etc.) 5 May
Whit Monday May - June
Ascension Day May - June
Christmas 25 December
Boxing day 26 December
 
 

Periods When Companies Usually Close

Christmas Holiday From Christmas
Crocus/ Carnival Holiday 1 week in late February / early March
Summer Holiday 2/3 weeks in July / August
Note Companies tend to be understaffed during a holiday period.
 

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
The Dutch business culture has been shaped by the Protestant work ethic, and as such, it shares some characteristics with Nordic countries. Egalitarian values dominate society and the work culture and imposing the superiority of status or position is not well regarded. Honesty and reliability are also crucial. As a trading nation, the Dutch are used to negotiating with foreign associates and remain quite open to engage in new businesses.

The hierarchy in the workplace and decision-making process falls somewhere between Nordic and Mediterranean countries. While decisions are taken by management, it is important that everyone is included and consulted along the process. Opinions from other levels of staff are encouraged and used for idea generation. Thus, decisions are usually made after a lengthy consultation and once a group consensus has been reached.

Building personal relationships is not an important aspect of the Dutch business culture. In fact, professional and private lives are completely separated and business relationships are considered entirely transactional. That being said, the Dutch are interested in getting to know their foreign counterparts, not to make friends, but to test their honesty, reliability and credentials.
First Contact
As a trading nation, the Dutch are open to engaging in business with foreigners and tend to overlook cultural differences. Business relationships are strictly professional and the Dutch will not necessarily seek to get to know their foreign counterparts personally. That being said, the first contact is important to show credentials, such as your education level and past experience, which are crucial for Dutch business contacts. As the Dutch are among the most proficient in English in the word, an interpreter is usually not necessary. High summer season (July-August) is to be avoided for a first business meeting as most Dutch take their annual leave.
Time Management
Punctuality is extremely important and is regarded as a virtue in the Dutch business culture. It is important to show up on time or even a few minutes early for meetings and inform your Dutch counterparts with an explanation and an apology if you are running late. Meeting agendas are well-structured and usually respected quite strictly. It is common to have a chairperson in meetings to keep the agenda moving along and someone else to be delegated to act as a time-keeper.
Greetings and Titles
A firm and swift handshake is appropriate when meeting a Dutch business partner for the first time (of both genders). Despite the similarities between the Dutch and Scandinavian business cultures, titles are more important in the Netherlands than in most Nordic countries. It is best to address people by using Mr., Mrs. or Miss, followed by the surname (Meneer for men and Mevrouw for women). If there is a notable difference in age or in rank, people will continue to use the formal you (U in Dutch) and Meneer/Mevrouw. Otherwise, the communication tends to get informal over time with colleagues addressing each other by their first names.
Gift Policy
Gift giving is not common in  business relationships in the Netherlands. Gifts may be exchanged upon finalising an agreement; however, they should be modest and neutral (i.e. nothing with the company logo and no business card attached). If invited to a Dutch home, it is advisable to bring a gift. Flowers (except for chrysanthemums or carnations), chocolate and wine are appropriate gifts for the host. Gifts are usually opened when received.
Dress Code
Business attire varies between workplaces and professions. Formal attire is expected in banking, higher circles of business and when working for the government, and also at meetings and at special occasions. On the other side of the spectrum, t-shirts and jeans are accepted in the IT and entertainment sectors. In other sectors that fall in between, it is better to wear a jacket. While some Dutch tend to dress more conservatively, colourful combinations are also common in some sectors, such as marketing and service industries. Women, the younger generation in particular, tend to dress in trousers, particularly pant suits. When in doubt about the dress code for a particular business event, it is best to be well dressed rather than under-dressed.
Business Cards
There is no standard protocol surrounding the exchange of business cards. Cards are usually exchanged after the first meeting. As the Dutch are generally fluent in English, it is not necessary to have the one side of the card translated. Nevertheless, it is better to include academic titles (if any) and any degree obtained beyond undergraduate studies.
Meetings Management
As the Dutch do not seek to build close ties with their business associates, the first meeting is not reserved for parties to get to know each other. On the other hand, this meeting is an opportunity for the foreign counterpart to show their credentials (academic titles, past experience), which are highly regarded by the Dutch. There is usually not much small talk in the beginning of meetings before delving directly into business.

It is important to support your proposal with concrete facts and evidence. The Dutch will grow cautious of firms that submit proposals without substantial reason and evidence to support them. It is not advisable to advance negotiations without solid rationale. While the Dutch tend to get down to business very quickly during meetings, negotiations tend to take longer as they will want to go through all necessary points. If the discussion has not been all-inclusive, structured and detailed, a decision will not be made. It is recommended to remain patient and understand their concerns. While the Dutch are usually known to be tough negotiators, they appreciate honesty and reliability.

The Dutch are among the most direct communicators in the world. They usually tend to say exactly what they mean and will not back from openly disagreeing instead of speaking ambiguously for the sake of diplomacy. It is important not to take criticism personally. Negating opinions will not affect business relationships. On the other hand, the Dutch tend to be rather reserved when displaying emotions and excessive emotion, exaggerations or promises that sound unrealistic are not taken well. Furthermore, while the Dutch are good listeners, their experience and confidence in their ability may prevent them from being easily persuaded.

Business lunch and dinners are not too common, but also not unheard of in the Dutch business culture. Taking business associates out for a dinner is seen as a private event and therefore is somewhat rare. There may be some small talk that initiates the lunch/dinner, but business is most likely to be the main topic of discussion.
Sources for Further Information
Business Etiquette in the Netherlands Cultural Atlas - Dutch Business Culture Expatica - Guide to understanding Dutch business culture Culture Crossing - Dutch Business Culture

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Latest Update: November 2022

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