How this South African Chartered Accountant took up a job opportunity in Netherlands and started all over

  • I am Lebogang Makomene a qualified Chartered Accountant from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants).
  • I was born in Giyani, Ngove Village (Limpopo province). It was very rural, most families didn’t have electricity, running water, lived in huts with pit toilets.
  • moved to Cape Town to study at the University of Cape Town. I also completed my CA articles from PwC, Capetown.
  • Before moving to Amsterdam, I lived in Cape Town for about 8 years, a city that I still love and adore. In 2016, I moved to Amsterdam when I got an opportunity with EY, Amsterdam in the Audit Team. 

Back story: From South Africa to the Netherlands

Life in Cape Town was amazing but I was yearning for a new challenge and a change. Also, I wanted to experience living in a different country and to gain international working experience.

Growing up I always talked about how I wanted to travel and see the world. It’s actually quite odd how when growing up I didn't know anyone who had actually travelled, I don't know where wanderlust came from.

Initially, I didn’t care about which country I would end up in; the USA was well up there on my list, as well as offshore countries because I had experienced background in financial services.

After I met my boyfriend I had to be more mindful and we had to find a country that would be suitable for both of us.

On one occasion during my job search process, I was telling my boyfriend how most of my Afrikaans speaking colleagues are moving to the Netherlands. He then said to me that if it was a possibility he wouldn’t mind moving to the Netherlands.

Afrikaans, by the way, is a language partly spoken in South Africa which evolved from Dutch.

Before then, I wasn’t particularly interested in the Netherlands because I thought “oh I don’t speak Afrikaans, I probably won’t be able to find a job there”, nonetheless the thought of him wanting to possibly live there lingered in my mind. I only found out later that he didn't mean it but that is a story for another day.

Coincidentally a recruiter called me a few weeks later to tell me about auditing jobs in the Netherlands.

At the time I was in the process of securing another job offer in Malta and the Channel Islands, but I said okay for the interview.

The interview went really well and I was made an offer within a week. I had to turn the Malta offer down and pull out of all the other processes.

The Netherlands seemed more attractive in terms of infrastructure, pay, quality of life and accessibility to the rest of Europe.

And that's how I landed in the Netherlands and it is one of the best decisions I have made.

Finding a Job Opportunity in the Netherlands

I was contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn just before completing my articles in South Africa in October 2015. He asked me if I was interested in going for an interview two weeks from that day.

My LinkedIn profile was very up to date, I believe this contributed to the recruiter being able to find my profile.

Additionally, I had attended career seminars for newly qualified CAs where I gave out my contacts to recruiters.

When the recruiter contacted me, I agreed to go for the interview, but was skeptical because the interview was in another city, I lived in Cape Town and the interview was in Johannesburg which is two hours away by flight.

Because I was still doing my CA traineeship, I didn’t have surplus funds for the flights, accommodation etc.

The recruiter assured me that all my costs would be reimbursed. I booked the flight two days before the interview because I had other interviews in the pipeline.

On the date of the flight, I arrived at the airport early to check in and they told me that they had no record of my booking. As I was waiting for a taxi to take me back home, I decided to call my booking agency and ask what had happened and it turned out to be a system error and they booked me on the next available flight.

Luckily I made it to the interview.

Interview Process with EY Netherlands in South Africa

  • I made it to my interview; the interview was conducted by an EY Netherlands partner and HR personnel.
  • It was very conversational, the interviewers were more interested in finding out about my motivations to move to the Netherlands and assess whether or not I would like it there and not leave before the end of the contract.
  • They did not ask me any technical work-related questions, I would say the questions were more competency and strengths-based questions.
  • The recruiter had prepared me well in advance, so I made sure to be well versed on the Netherlands before the interview.

Luckily I secured the job. I was offered a two-year work contract with an 'okay salary'. If I knew what I know now, I would have probably negotiated a better salary.

They gave me a relocation allowance which basically covered my flight tickets, one-month accommodation, transport and food and other relocation relating expenses.

Adjusting to my New Life in the Netherlands

Moving abroad can be challenging and overwhelming but at the same time exciting.

didn’t particularly like my first job as an external auditor and that created a lot of anxiety for me.

I wanted to move abroad so badly and that was the only option available at the time, so I told myself that I would only stay a year or two, give my best to the job opportunity I have and later try to find jobs in the industry while in the Netherlands.

worked with great people, made long life friends there and forever grateful for the opportunity and was sad after the year that I had to leave, but I knew that audit was not for me and I had to explore other industries. We travelled and explored together.

Having my boyfriend with me helped me cope with the change, I never had moments where I felt lonely, maybe lost at times but not lonely. If you are alone it’s important to have a strong support structure at work or back home.

You go through different phases, but eventually, you fall into a routine and your life becomes normal again. I do feel settled now but sometimes still miss home.

I personally struggled the most with adapting to the cold weather, I was on a very strict eating plan back home, and it took time to establish a new routine.

Also the cost of living is high on this side of the world, everything is DIY, clean your own house, fill in your own petrol, pack your own plastic bags in grocery stores, these may be minuscule things but it is a culture shock if you not used it – we are definitely too spoilt in South Africa.

Also using public transport, getting rained on, on the way to work, freezing in the cold for 8 months of the year, it’s too much, I can never get used to the rainy cold weather.

Questions I get asked most often.

"What is Life Living in the Netherlands?"

I love the biking culture. I never have to worry about traffic, fuel or servicing a car.

car is not a must-have, you can get by with walking, public transport, and a bike. Parking is expensive and you have to pay car taxes.

I also love how people mind their own business. It is safe and there is no seeming inequality or classicism in the Netherlands.

Everyone bikes, the minimum wage is high and the government looks after its people.

It is easy to travel from the Netherlands to other countries; Schiphol has direct flights to most European countries. It is not the cheapest country to fly from, but it works out well.

"Cost of Living in the Netherlands."

No amount of research can prepare you for the actual costs of living in a new country, you always going to have unexpected costs, miscellanies.

In the beginning, I struggled quite a bit, I was translating everything before spending and that can drive you insane especially considering that when I moved the Rand (South African currency) was considerably weaker than the EUR and also because Amsterdam is not cheap.

My salary was okay, sufficient; I managed on that salary for the first two years after moving here. Even though I say “little”, I could still afford to travel to other countries, visit home, and live comfortably, it’s all relative.

When I moved jobs I had a significant pay jump and then I realized just how little I was earning before!

Eating out is expensive, but groceries are okay. Some supermarkets are cheaper than others, but overall the quality of the products is good in supermarkets.

There is no shortage of affordable stores for those that love shopping.

"Health Insurance."

  • Health insurance in the Netherlands is compulsory in the Netherlands and you have to get it within four months of arrival.
  • They start charging you from the date that you arrive, so even if you apply after three months, you have to pay for the three months that you were in the country. It will set you back by +EUR 100 per month, depending on the option you select.
  • You need to find a house doctor and register with them if you are sick, that is basically the only doctor you are allowed to go to. Bring medications from home; they don’t like to dish out antibiotics here.

"Tax Benefits for certain expats."

  • Another benefit of the Netherlands is the 30% tax ruling.
  • If you are on a high skilled migrant visa, you are entitled to a 30% tax discount i.e. only 70% of your income will be taxed.
  • This has to be agreed in your contract and once agreed the employer will apply for the ruling on your behalf.

Services

  • Daycare is expensive and any kind of service, so be prepared.
  • You usually have to pay an hourly rate for most services like cleaning, gardening etc. and it’s not that cheap.

Holiday Allowance

  • Another perk, depending on how you see it is that most companies pay a holiday allowance in May of each year.
  • The allowance is basically 8% of your gross salary that your company withholds from your monthly salary and pays it out in May.
  • Even though its technically part of your gross salary, it still feels like a bonus.

Work Culture

  • The work culture varies from company to company, I personally prefer international companies where English is the main language of business.
  • The Dutch are very direct in their communication but overall friendly, open and welcoming.
  • The work-life balance is generally good, Dutch people are very active, if you are into sports and being active, there is no shortage of indoor sporting activities.

Food

  • The food is not the best, but if you cook at home you can make the food how you like it. There are markets where you can buy fresh fruits, veggies, and fish.
  • Dinner Eating out would be EUR 30-EUR 50 if not much alcohol is consumed, but that can escalate very quickly on a long night out.
  • Brunch/lunch around EUR 15 - EUR 25
  • When I do buy lunch at work I spend between EUR 3 - 10. Some work canteens are subsidized or lunch is offered at a small daily fee deducted from your salary. Most companies provide free fruit daily.

Finding an Apartment in the Netherlands

  • Finding an apartment is hard, but manageable.
  • If you are single, you might have to get a housemate, not because you won’t be able to afford it but because it’s ridiculous to pay that much for an apartment.
  • Rent is expensive, I would say around EUR 1400-1600 per month exclusive for one bedroom in and around the city Centre.

Other Expenses

  • Internet: unlimited WIFI EUR 30 -EUR 60 per month
  • Water, gas, and electricity EUR 60 upwards. It’s generally affordable. Some rentals are all-inclusive so you don’t have to worry about utilities.
  • Phone data: EUR 10 - EUR 30 per month. I have a work phone which I don’t have to pay anything for  (Main phone).
  • On my personal sim, I pay EUR 20 for 5 gig data, unlimited SMS and 3 minutes talking time a day, which I never use. Phone data prices are reasonable.
  • There is free Wifi in most establishments that you can connect to if you want to save on data costs.

Public Transport

  • Public transport EUR 100 per month, if you bike it can be less.
  • Trips are charged per distance travelled, trains are more expensive.
  •  Trams and buses can be used to navigate within the city.
  • The metro is for when you have to travel a little bit outside of the Centre. 

Weather

  • Be prepared for miserable weather.
  • Life is overall comfortable, in the summers the days are longer and the city comes alive and you will forget all about the cold harsh winters.

Salary in the Netherlands

If you are unsure about market salaries, you can check what others are earning on LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Payscale. Robert walters publishes a salary report annually.

It really depends on the company, industry and negotiation skills and work experience.

In my first job I was just happy to have a job abroad and had no idea I could negotiate.

I didn’t think I had any leverage but once I had confidence and after discussing salary with fellow expats and colleagues I discovered that I was earning less than some of my peers, so I told myself that I would no longer settle.

Now I am always upfront about my salary expectations and if offered less I negotiate or walk away.

However, this is a rough average salary for a Chartered Accountant/CPA in the Netherlands:

  • Newly qualified EUR 50-55K per annum
  • 5-7 years of experience EUR 55-70K per annum
  • 7+ years of experience EUR62K per annum onwards

Most companies reimburse you for the daily work commute, I cycle to work and to most places, I only use public transport when I have issues with my bike or if the place I need to get too is more than a 25 minutes bike ride or out of the city.

How To Find a Job in the Netherlands as an Expat

I wouldn’t say finding a job is easy in the Netherlands, but there are definitely more opportunities for finance professionals with Big 4 audit background.

I was recruited by GAAP PlacementSouth Africa when I made my initial move from South Africa to Amsterdam.

So if you are not from South Africa, connect directly to Big 4 Accounting firms or find recruiting companies in your country who have hire for the Netherlands.

It does help to go through a referral or Recruiter because when you apply directly yourself, your CV might end up with the rest of the others in a pile.

Try to attend as many career events where you can network with recruiters and other people in your field.

Places where you can apply for job opportunities

  • Big four audit firms.
  • Shared service centers
  • International companies such as booking.com, PVH etc.
  • External audit, big 4
  • IT
  • Broad finance and procurement and supply chain

Other recruiters to consider when already in the Netherlands:

As mentioned, I got an opportunity to move to the Netherlands from South Africa through GAAP Placements. However after almost a year at EY, Netherlands I moved two jobs.

While in the Netherlands I changed jobs with Lime recruitment and EMEA recruitment. Few more which you can consider:

Use LinkedIn

I personally use LinkedIn.  All the jobs that I have had so far were from recruiters contacting me directly on LinkedIn.

I keep my profile up to date and specify on my profile that I am looking for new opportunities.

When I try to apply directly to companies I hardly get feedback, I would say recruiters are definitely the way to go.  Recruiters are not always the most reliable, it’s always a gamble and you just have to keep trying.

Interview Tips

  • Most companies in the Netherlands require you to take an online aptitude test.
  • For some, a motivation letter is required with the application. For other jobs, you might have a case study and presentation.
  • I found the interviews to be okay, mainly a conversation about your motivations and how you handle certain professional dilemmas.
  • On average I would say two interviews, one with HR and the other with a hiring manager and possibly their boss or another colleague.

Key Takeaways from my journey moving abroad

  • Do your research, extensive research before moving to a new country.
  • Be honest with yourself, if you hate the cold, you will not suddenly develop a liking for it in a new country.
  • If you find auditing boring, being in a different country will not make it any more interesting.
  • Be open to new cultures and experiences. Go out, meet people and be patient.
  • I would also say sort out whatever debts or liabilities you have in your home country. You don’t want to be constantly sending money home and incurring charges and be subject to exchange rate fluctuation.

In Conclusion...

Amsterdam is definitely the centre of it all; it has a more vibrant and international than the other cities.

English is widely spoken in the Netherlands, so you will get by without knowing any Dutch, but knowing Dutch is useful because most communication from government and municipalities will be in Dutch.

Also in the shops, everything is written in Dutch.

Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Den Haag are also big cities in the Netherlands with a sizeable expat community.

Now It's Your Turn...

Are you considering moving to the Netherlands?

What steps are you taking towards your move?

Anyway, I could help?

Please leave your comments in the section below. I could also be reached on LinkedIn at Lebogang Makomene.

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