A nightmare of getting a Dutch driving license

In the Netherlands, you can only use your driving license if it is issued in one of the EU countries. If you are from USA, China or Russia, they treat your driving license as non-existent. Oh, wait, not exactly: the first half a year after your arrival, you are allowed to drive with your crappy Russian license, probably bought from a corrupt police officer, or with your US license, automatically given to all kids who reach the age of 16. But after half a year your foreign license is not valid anymore, and you have to go to a driving school and learn how to drive.

Two questions pop up. First, if I don’t know how to drive, why was I allowed to drive for the first half a year? If, otherwise, I know how to drive, why do I need to learn it?

The answer is simple. They want your money. All of it. My German friend used to joke: “See this car with the yellow number plate? They give it to people who failed their driving test four times.” Indeed, a lot of Dutch fail their driving test, the fact that nobody likes to talk about. Some of my friends admitted to it only when I complained about failing several Dutch driving tests after 10 years of driving in Moscow and one year of driving in USA.

The Dutch have the most demanding driving test in Europe. Their pass rate is one of the lowest, 40%. You can’t book a practice exam yourself, even if you are a middle-aged Russian professor who managed to survive crazy Moscow traffic, or an engineer from Alabama, who was driving from the age of 16. You still need to find a driving school and take a certain amount of driving lessons. It is the instructor who decides whether you are ‘ready’ for the test. Mine, for instance, did not consider me ready until I told him everything I knew about marketing communication strategy. He knew I was teaching marketing at the University of Twente, so we were just driving around discussing advertising plan for his driving school.

You can fail the test for driving too slow or too fast, for being ‘not confident enough‘ or ‘overconfident‘. You simply can’t win this game. An experienced driver from the US recalls that the first time he failed for ‘being too sure of himself‘, the second time for giving a way to a mom biking with two kids, and the third time the examiner asked: “Why did you fail the first two times?” before announcing that he failed again.

For me, the added difficulty was having Moscow, Russia as my birthplace written on my ID card. The popular Dutch TV program Idiots on the road is based on amateur recordings of stupid car accidents. Dashboard cameras are very popular in Russia, so the majority of recordings are coming from Russia. Watching the program creates an impression that all Russians are crazy idiots driving on red, crashing their cars against the lampposts or forgetting to put their cars on handbrake while buying cigarettes and then chasing them on foot. I am sure CBR examiners enjoy the show.

When I failed the test the third time, I asked what my mistakes were. “Well, I don’t remember any particular mistakes,” answered the examiner. “But I did not have a feeling of being at ease while you were driving”.

Can they really do that? Can they fail you based on their feeling?” I asked my instructor.

“As a matter of fact, they can,” he answered. “But don’t worry, I had students who passed after eight attempts”.

“I don’t have money for eight attempts. I’ll try one more time, and then I’ll file an official complaint against the CBR. I have enough of their discrimination, subjective judgements and a total lack of clear criteria”. 

I don’t know what happened, but the next time I passed. All in all, it took me two years and huge amount of money.

Hayley, an immigrant from Philippines:

I have lost count of how many times I cursed the CBR. I even blamed my husband for bringing me to this exceptionally regulated country. I felt pushed up to the wall, trapped with nowhere else to go, exhausted and very frustrated with getting the Dutch driver’s license mission that turned paranoia.

I passed on my third test. At the first one the examiner said I was going too slow on a country road, which wasn’t true. At the second test the examiner was lovely, but I rightly failed for cutting somebody up. At the third test I expected to fail. My instructors’ car had broken the night before so I had to take my test in a Ford when I’d been learning in a Peugeot. I was so incredibly nervous. I did good, the manoeuvres were fine, I came to the last roundabout and stalled it, but I did the correct thing and drove back into the test center. I could feel the tears building up in my eyes and the lump at the back of my throat. When the examiner said I passed I did literally burst into tears.

Idioten op de weg

I watch this program when I feel homesick. Cures nostalgia really well:


18 Replies to “A nightmare of getting a Dutch driving license”

  1. Ash says:

    In fact the reason for such a low number of incidents is the extremely slow flow of traffic in NL, the entirely open visibility on roads due to the landscape (straight open roads, no elevation etc.) and additionally a stickler culture of following the rules which southern/eastern Europeans just don’t have in the same way (not that that’s a great thing but it’s true). The rigorous procedure of failing ppl so much is based in the capitalist culture of the dutch rather than on their driver experience and competence, failing people for essentially no reason. Being failed for going slightly too slow or too fast etc. is prevalent in almost every country but failing someone on personal feeling is just weird. It’s just so hard to compare a country that’s so different to other European countries in almost every single way, especially geographically. Besides the theory exam is easier to pass in NL than in my home country for example, not only does it have less questions but also a lower overall percentage thats needed to pass.

  2. Daniel D says:

    I have an American and British drivers license, so am on the same boat. I have failed the theory exam 7 times, despite buying endless hours of online theory courses and even doing a full 8-hour in-person intensive day course. It’s put a huge strain on my family and I seriously considering leaving NL.

  3. Hopelyn says:

    I dont know why someone has to pay for the theory exam, health certificate , driving lessons , mock practical exam and final practical exam and then be failed for a minor error. Why is Cbr making sure that those who dare to try to get a drivers license end up spending lots of thousands of euros. Then the instructors at driving schools dont even care some times. I feel trapped with an instructor who keeps saying that i am not ready for the practical exam after having hundreds of lessons with him. Is it all about the money ?

  4. Irina Cioclina says:

    Totally agree with Anna! What a nightmare country after leaving 20 years in US. Can’t wait to leave this Dutch stupidity behind.

  5. An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you need to write more on this subject, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people do not discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!

  6. admin says:

    Hi Sander,

    Thanks for your comment. Indeed, the Dutch are also suffering from the total lack of accountability of the CBR and the driving schools that tend to milk their clients for money instead of teaching them how to drive. What I still don’t understand is why the Dutch society tolerates this. In “normal” schools, students are always complaining about “bad” teachers or some unfair rules, but the CBR seems to be immune to any complaints.

  7. Sander says:

    As a Dutch person I would to add that also in my driving exams I had the same experiences. It took me three times to pass and I failed on vague things like driving to tightly etc. So its not a matter of discrimination I think but its systemic when dealing with government agencies in the Netherlands. They have a huge amount of rules and regulations and then they are interpreted all slightly different by each civil servant. They do not care about your at all , they are unassailable and they have job security so complaining does not help. I do apologize for this to all trying to learn to drive with the best intentions.

  8. Cynthia says:

    this already proves all your points:


  9. Cynthia says:

    I am from a foreign asian country and they consider that poor that is why i need to take this exam.

    For me, CBR is a business not a governing body for driving license!!! I hate it to the max that i have to failed just because i have stayed behind a truck for few minutes..

    To be honest the examinator does not have any rights to fail you or say onvoldoende while you met like 35 mins ago. My teacher should have a say on it. CBR you should give a probation period and not fail s student and start all over. Dutch CBR wants to squeeze all your money just because of this silly mistake.We don’t pick money on the street!!!

  10. Farah says:

    I am a forienor and yesterday I have failed my 4th attempt 😭… The examiner told me I did a very dangerous mistake, but my instructor was with me and even he said it wasn’t… A car was accelerating for existing the highway, and I was merging the car was behind me but a little close to me… I really didn’t even understand why it was dangerous… He kept talking in dutch which I don’t understand but my instructor translate for me… I have no hope in passing again.

  11. natalie says:

    same here!! i needed to add to the thread because my partner and i are going through severe depression. i’ve never seen him this broken down. he never failed his driving tests in the past and this last month he’s taken 5 exams and failed each of them… we are running low on money and we have to cancel so many plans. i hate this country. i hate it with a passion.

  12. Kendal says:

    If you look into the reasoning for that, it’s not because of the driving tests – it’s because since 1970 they made improvements in the actual layouts of the streets and bike lanes. I would bet money that Dutch drivers are no better than drivers anywhere else (generally). It’s just the difference between bowling, and bumper bowling.

  13. Monica Paunescu says:

    I took the driving test in Romania 5 times, in 2018 and 2019, and although I was good, they wanted sex or money from me to pass. There is no other option and we’re in 2022.
    We have the highest number of car accidents and deaths in traffic in Europe, but that’s because the policemen pass first those who gave them money or sex, then those from the schools that paid the “protection” tax to the police.
    This is why most candidates go sedated at the exams.
    No examiner here cares about how you drive. Those who finally pass, are bombs on wheels because they go in traffic with “brain damage”. People who pass these exams in Romania are not normal in the head anymore and are a real danger in traffic.
    The examiners in Romania use the same destructive techniques like the ones described in the post above. We are penalized for giving way to women, children, gypsies, etc. The same thing I see is happening in the Netherlands.
    I really don’t understand how people in the Nederlands can accept this and call it normality. The human rights don’t matter or you don’t know what those are?! How can you treat another human being like that and call it “normal”?!

  14. Kemigisa Sarah says:

    I agree with you people here. I am from Uganda and just failed my 4th exam last week in 2 years of trying, even after taking an interim exam and passing the special manoeuvres. I am so frustrated, confused , devastated and tired . I don’t know any more how many lessons I’ve taken and how much money I’ve spent! I don’t know what to do to pass the Dutch driving exam because I feel I’ve done my best and even if I try again it seems that i already know the result of the next attempt – failed. I thought the most important part of driving is safety, but if I am failed for being too carefull on the road then i am left with no hope of ever passing the driving exam. Please CBR examinors can you have some sense of humanity towards foreigners? Thanks

  15. Samah Elshaikh-Dekker says:

    Very well said.
    It is almost 2 years and I am still trying to get the Dutch driving license!. They failed me 4 times so far!. Last one was last week!. I feel soo down and frustrated and started blaming my Dutch husband for asking me to move here. I am 41 years old and I have been driving since I was 18 years old. I come from Sudan but I lived almost my entire life in Oman where I got my 1st driving license at the age of 18. I also got a Sudanese driving license later. So I have been driving for 22 years. Now, I can’t go any where by my self and I always have to ask my husband to drive me. I feel I am trapped and can’t do anything on my own. The examiners at the CBR say that I am too safe!!. Because I put the gear in 1 at the junctions inside an erf before I take a turn! They want me to put it in the 2nd gear and turn without stoping if i have clear view so I keep the flow!. What flow? Are we on a highway?!. Here what I know after driving for 22 years. A judgment or a decision of a person in a driving seat differs from the judgment or the decision of a person sitting next to him!. What you might think or feel is safe to you might not be the same for me and vice versa.

    They said: these are the Dutch rules. Ok hold on a second here. So why are we allowed to drive for the 1st 6 months of our residency in the Netherlands and we are considered safe, we know how to drive and following the Dutch rules but all of a sudden after that period we are not safe any more?!. One more thing. Why is the 30% ruling for highly skilled migrants grant you exeption from the test and you can just exchange your original driving license regardles of which country you are coming from?. What about the rules and the safty..etc..
    They just want money. They want you to keep paying for all these tests. And ofcourse me coming from an African country like Sudan make them think that: oh she might not know how to drive!. Absolutely redicilous!.

  16. Jay Jay says:

    Very well said.
    What I do not understand is that only expats that benefit from “30% Ruling” can exchange their driving license. But to get that tax exemption your visa needs to be “kennis immigrant= highly skilled immigrant”.
    Ridiculously enough if your visa is highly skilled but you do not have 30% ruling, you cannot exchange your visa. What has been changed in these two situations? I hope someone can give me a proper description for it.

  17. admin says:

    Thanks for your comment, Eddie. Of course, I am not objective. I am only talking about my own experience, and any experience is by definition subjective. However, it does not mean that it is not true. I also prefer driving here to driving in Russia. But it did cost me a lot of time, money and psychological damage. It helps to be aware of the costs and not to treat all Romanian or Russian drivers based on statistics of accidents, in which other factors (the quality of roads, for instance) also play a role.

  18. Eddie says:

    Dear Anna,
    I think that you are not objectively. In Holland there are 31 casualities in car accidents per milion.That means that this country was in the top 3 of the safest countries. ((2017. Hoever, if I compare it with numbers of last year it is 50% higher).
    If I compare it with other countries in Europe like Romania. The casualities is About 96. In Russin it is 4800 casualities per milion.
    I ca imagine that people complain that the driving examination is hard. But when i see how discllined the most drivers are and the low casualities. Im lucky that I can drive pretty safe in Holland.

    Yours sincerely,
    E. Hoorn

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