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Dutch Emigration

The Dutch are fiercely proud of their tiny nation which has had such a large influence on the rest of the world. Yet despite this, they have a long tradition of emigration and frequently leave their beloved homeland to put down roots elsewhere.

It is a phenomenon that started back in the seventeenth century, during an affluent era known as the Golden Age – a time when Dutch international trade flourished and the economy prospered as a result. The first Dutch emigrants set off to establish trading posts in the former Dutch colonies of the United States, South Africa, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname in Latin America, in a pattern that was set to continue to the present day.

The New World

The nineteenth century saw a second wave of Dutch emigration, this time precipitated by a desperately poor economic situation in the Netherlands. Religion was also a major factor in persuading the Dutch to quit their native land. The Calvinists in particular, who were concentrated in the provinces of Gelderland, Overijssel and Zeeland, no longer felt part of mainstream society and decided to leave for the United States where they settled in the states of Michigan and Iowa. The Dutch love affair with America didn’t end there and the northern regions of the Netherlands such as Friesland and Groningen were also abandoned in favour of the ‘New World’. This time Wisconsin, Washington and New York were the destinations of choice.

A Post War Exodus

The most sustained period of emigration, however, came directly after the destruction of the Second World War. At the time the Netherlands was suffering from a desperate shortage of housing (caused by the Nazi bombing raids) and a decidedly stagnant economy. The period of austerity that followed prompted many young people to emigrate to more prosperous and in their eyes considerably more glamorous countries. The Dutch no longer limited their horizons to the United States and were attracted to the promise of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – big countries where big dreams seemed possible.

Dutch Emigration Today

Today the Dutch still regularly wave goodbye to their ancestral home of Dutch windmills, clogs and cheese. According to the World Bank around five percent of the Dutch population were living abroad by 2005. Nowadays though, they don’t all head across the Atlantic and seem much more content to settle closer to home. Belgium, France, Germany and the UK are as popular as the United States, while those seeking a better climate and perhaps a little more in terms of adventure, typically choose Spain, Portugal or in some cases, even exotic Thailand.

Dutch Emigration Catalysts

Recently, the CBS attempted to discover precisely why the Dutch emigrate in such large numbers. Their in-depth research revealed that is not only economic, religious or political factors that trigger Dutch emigration. Whilst many are indeed attracted to lower taxation and cheaper housing, one in three Dutch emigrants actually expect their overall income, pension and social security benefits to decline upon relocation, yet this still isn’t enough to stop their plans. The increasing population density population and a perceived lack of space is also thought to be responsible. As the country becomes more saturated, the Dutch are far more likely to be tempted by the wide, open spaces and privacy offered abroad.


Most Dutch emigrants assimilate quickly into their new countries and would never dream of returning to their cold, wet and overcrowded land of birth! But that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from an occasional bout of heimwee (homesickness). The Dutch don’t just miss their friends and family, but also their home comforts. Dutch food products such as ‘hagelslag’ (chocolate sprinkles, eaten on toast at breakfast), ‘stroopwafels’ (delicious Dutch biscuits) and ‘erwtensoep’ (a filling Dutch soup, traditionally enjoyed on a winters day) are all firm favourites. And they no doubt long for a taste from Holland most during the period of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a Dutch children’s celebration similar to Christmas and the most important event in the Dutch social calendar. This is when both children and adults get to enjoy an entire range of special Dutch treats such as ‘chocoladeletters’ (Dutch chocolate letters) and ‘pepernoten’ (Dutch ginger biscuits). Happily these days, emigrants can easily order typical Dutch products via a number of Dutch online supermarkets. So, no matter where they may be in the world, they can still get their hands on their preferred Dutch groceries and enjoy a small reminder of home.

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