As an ‘outsider’, how can you find your way around the Dutch healthcare system? Among other things, you’re welcome to contact the university’s International Office for pointers. It’s the premier information desk that all international students can turn to with their questions. In addition, the International Office helps students make a ‘soft landing’ when they arrive in the country – before they’ve even arrived. Three staff members share their key tips for navigating the Dutch healthcare system.
Tip 1: Read and complete the International Office’s step-by-step plan
“I’ve made a practical matters fact sheet,” says Rose Korver, who is a member of the International Office’s communication team. The Office sends this to students before they even depart for the Netherlands (it can be found here). “It includes a timeline for things that students need to arrange in connection with their stay – and a lot of them can be arranged beforehand.” For example, the fact sheet includes tips on how to arrange healthcare insurance in the Netherlands, or how to find a GP.
Tip 2: Go to the One Stop Shop
“Register for the One Stop Shop,” says Willemijn Dortant, responsible for the International Office’s ‘soft landing’ day. “We organise this day at the start of every exchange semester, giving you the opportunity to get everything that still needs to be arranged done, on campus, in one go. For example, the event is always attended by representatives of the Municipality – meaning you can register with the municipal population register (GBA) here at Woudestein. But you’ll also find the student insurance company Aon, for instance. Those who haven’t taken out insurance yet can do it there.”
Tip 3: Take out insurance (including extra modules) and do it on time!
“As a European student, at the very least take out supplementary health insurance with the private student insurance company Aon, which offers special packages to this end. That means you’ll be insured for other things besides the emergency care covered by your European Health Insurance Card, including mental healthcare, for example. And: preferably make these insurance arrangements while you’re still in your home country, because then you’ll be insured while travelling over here too, and you won’t have to panic should you get sick,” says Jikke Verheij, head of the International Office. “Non-European students are advised to take out the Aon complete + insurance package.”
Tip 4: EEA students can also take out a basic health insurance policy with the CZ Verdragspolis
Students from the European Economic Area (EEA) and other signatory countries who live in the Netherlands but are insured in their home country can take out the CZ Verdragspolis (‘CZ Treaty Policy’). This policy allows students (who aren’t employed in the Netherlands) from treaty countries and the EEA to remain insured via their policy back home. Their usual policy will be converted to basic insurance for the Dutch healthcare system. Please note: students insured via this policy will not be entitled to zorgtoeslag (an allowance for healthcare expenses).
It works as follows: complete a form on the website of the CZ health insurance company and request an S1 or 106 treaty form from your health insurer in your home country. Submit this treaty form to CZ, after which your regular health insurance policy will automatically be made equivalent to a basic Dutch health insurance policy, with a standard deductible of 385 euros. This policy covers the same forms of care as other basic health insurance policies offered by local healthcare insurers to Dutch citizens. CZ offers students the option of taking out complementary insurance where desired: reimbursing specific expenses for dental care or other matters that aren’t covered by the basic policy, for instance. For more information, visit: cz.nl/verdragspolis.
Tip 5: Will you be working? Take out Dutch health insurance
Verheij: “Any time you enter employment in the Netherlands – even when it’s merely a side job – you need to cancel your private policy [or insurance via the Verdragspolis, Eds.] and register for Dutch basic health insurance. Once you have taken out a basic health policy, you may be entitled to zorgtoeslag, an allowance paid by the Dutch government to help pay a share of your care-related expenses.” You can visit a number of websites that compare the various policies offered by different health insurers. Both Zorgwijzer and Independer also offer an English-language website. “These two sites aren’t entirely independent, but they are fairly comprehensive in terms of the information they list,” says Verheij.
Tip 6: Start looking for a GP on time
Verheij: “Preferably start looking for a general practitioner before you get ill. There’s a shortage of GPs in Rotterdam, meaning it may be difficult to find one straight away who has room for another client. And when you’re already ill, it can be stressful to be turned down a number of times. The best situation would be to find a GP in your own neighbourhood, but this is slightly complicated right now. So it may help to cast a slightly wider net, or see if you can schedule an appointment as a ‘walk-in’ with one of the physicians on Erasmus MC’s list of recommended GPs. In urgent cases, you will at any rate be able to turn to one of these GPS.”
Tip 7: Trust your GP
Dortant: “Another important thing for internationals to know: in the Dutch healthcare system, GPs serve as a kind of gatekeeper. You usually won’t be able to go to the hospital without getting a referral first. A lot of foreign students aren’t aware of this – they think they can, or need to, go directly to the hospital. But that’s not how it works here: first you need to visit a GP, who directs you to further care where required.”
And international students can be confident that GPs have the expertise required for this role, according to Dortant. “In some countries, if you drop by with a complaint, the doctor will at the very least prescribe a course of antibiotics for whatever’s ailing you. Dutch GPs are more hesitant to do so. Sometimes, their advice will be to go home, make a nice cup of ginger tea or something and see it out. At which point international students sometimes worry whether they’ve been given the right care.”
Tip 8: Check Hello Doc or the government’s health insurance hotline
Dortant: “A good website for finding information about the Dutch healthcare system or getting a simple online consultation is hellodoc.nl. If you are unable to register with a GP in the Netherlands, you could consider contacting them for advice. In some cases, they are even able to arrange a referral for you.”
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport’s Zorgverzekeringslijn (‘Health Insurance Hotline’) also has a useful websiteabout health insurance, which includes information in English. You can contact the hotline with questions about how to arrange health insurance, or which matters are covered by your policy. The site also has a chat application and an information number, as well as a glossary, which can come in quite handy when you’re trying to understand the occasionally arcane terminology used in this sector.
Tip 9: Always respond to letters from CAK on time
Dortant: “The Centraal AdministratieKantoor (Central Administration Office) sends out letters on behalf of the government to check whether people are correctly insured or not. They generally send these letters to people who are uninsured, telling them to arrange this or get fined. Sometimes, this letter is sent by mistake to people who are insured.”
“So if you happen to receive such a letter, this is what you need to do: contact the social security agency Sociale Verzekeringsbank (SVB) straight away, and always respond to the letter from the CAK. The people at the SVB will check for you whether you’re correctly insured and notify the CAK of their findings. If you turn out to be properly insured, the CAK will cancel your fine. And they’ll also waive your fine if it turns out you haven’t taken out the correct insurance but you get it arranged properly within a specific timeframe.”