A pro-business climate, its strategic location, a stable legislative system, a highly educated multilingual workforce and superior infrastructure are just some of the many advantages of doing business in the Netherlands. These elements show, in our view, that the Netherlands serves as the (digital) gateway to Europe.
Ranked number 6 in the world by the World Competitiveness Ranking 2022 of the Institute for Management Development (IMD), the Netherlands is a truly world-class destination for business activity and has a very competitive international climate. The Netherlands scores high on business efficiency and on infrastructure and performs particularly robustly on the business efficiency-related indicators labour market and finance.
The Netherlands’ strategic location at Europe’s front door provides the perfect springboard into the European market – with access to 95 per cent of Europe’s most lucrative consumer markets within 24 hours of Amsterdam or Rotterdam. Add to that its supportive legal and tax structure to set up operational business, highly educated, multilingual workforce and superior logistics and technology infrastructure and it is no wonder so many multinational businesses – from small and mid-sized to Fortune 500 leaders – have chosen the Netherlands as their gateway to Europe.
In addition to having an outstanding business climate, the Netherlands offers an affordable cost of living and an exceptional quality of life. Ranked as the 5th happiest place on earth by the World Happiness Report 2022 and ranked 1st in the area of children’s well-being according to a survey in 2020 by UNICEF, the Netherlands has a high standard of living. On the OECD Better Life Index 2020, the Netherlands occupies an 8th position. It outperforms the average in jobs, work-life balance, education, environmental quality, social networks, civic engagement, safety and life satisfaction.
According to the World Bank, the government of the Netherlands is one of the most effective in the world. To add, the Netherlands is one of the most politically stable nations in the world, thus making it easier for companies to make medium and long-term decisions.
The Netherlands also offers a wide tax treaty network, special measures for highly skilled expats and often certainty in advance of interpretation of tax law — just a few of the features that help multinational companies to thrive in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is home to a highly skilled, productive, flexible and multilingual workforce. The country ranks 1st out of 100 countries on the EF English Proficiency Index 2022. In addition to English, a higher percentage of the Dutch population than their counterparts elsewhere also speaks German and French.
The Netherlands is one of the best countries for talent competitiveness, in particular on the pillars Grow, Enable, and Retain. According to the annual Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2022 (GTCI) it owes the high ranking on Growth to excellent Access to Growth Opportunities, its world-class Formal Education and Lifelong Learning. The Enable dimension is boosted by a Business and Labour Landscape marked by favourable management practices and high technology adoption among firms. In a survey conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Eurostat the Netherlands also ranks among the top of EU countries with respect to the digital skills of its inhabitants, e.g. proficiency in using the internet, computers and software.
The Netherlands features a 4th position in the AECC ‘Best Education System in the World’ ranking and has a higher education system that is made up of world-class universities and educational institutions. The close collaboration between the Dutch government, knowledge institutions, the industry/private sector and other parties, strongly supports the country to stay talent-competitive in the future.
The Dutch workforce outranks many of its competitors when it comes to productivity, largely as a result of its high standard of education and training, pragmatic labour laws and commitment to IT investment. Thanks to the stability of the Dutch government and its pragmatic approach to business, very little time is lost to labour disputes or labour relations compared to Europe as a whole.
According to the European Union Labour Force Survey 2022, the Netherlands scores high on lifelong learning. Lifelong learning and development is also a topic to which the government of the Netherlands is strongly committed. In the lifelong learning policies that were presented in September to the House of Representatives in September 2022, it states it wants to strengthen the learning and development culture to contribute to a well-functioning, future-proof labour market in which employees continue to develop throughout their lives. To realise its ambitions, the government is facilitating the parties involved with lifelong initiatives through a historically large investment of around 1.2 billion euro between 2022 and 2027.
As an internationally oriented country the Netherlands strongly appeals to international talent and therefore is home to many foreign workers. It offers a ‘Highly Skilled Migrant Visa’, which allows companies to bring highly qualified expats to their Dutch operations.
As employees, customers, and investors increasingly demand that the organisations they do business with model values of equity and inclusion, organisations are investing at unprecedented rates in DE&I programmes. In doing so, they hope to not only drive higher engagement with these stakeholders, but also enhance financial performance and enable innovation. Inclusive organisations with a diverse composition of employees increase stakeholder engagement and operate more effectively. Teams with a diverse composition - where everyone can be themselves - perform better and are more innovative.
The Dutch government strives to protect and promote human rights, such as equality, non-discrimination, freedom of speech and freedom of sexual orientation, both at home and abroad. It is also committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within organisations. Partly thanks to the global call for social justice, planning new DE&I initiatives have become a high priority at a growing number of organisations and in the Netherlands. Yet, despite this heightened commitment, organisations still have progress to make in designing and executing DE&I programmes. According to MonsterBoard’s Future of Work 2021 report, 42 per cent of Dutch employers still have not developed a strategy on diversity and inclusiveness. Dutch small and medium-sized businesses in particular can make big strides here. The good news is that many organisations indicate that they are working on it.
With respect to innovation, the Netherlands is one of the frontrunners in the world. According to the Global Innovation Index 2022 (World Intellectual Property Organization 2022) it scores highly on various innovation inputs sub-pillars, e.g. on entrepreneurship policies and culture, government effectiveness, finance for startups and scaleups, university-industry collaboration and intellectual property payments. With respect to the innovation outputs, the Netherlands stands out on the pillars of knowledge creation, knowledge diffusion and online creativity.
Dutch industry includes a large number of innovative and knowledge-intensive companies that enjoy a worldwide high reputation and that carry out a great deal of R&D. In addition the Netherlands houses a number of highly successful and innovative clusters like agrifood, life sciences & health, hightech systems, chemicals, clean energy, IT and creative industries.
With a competitive corporate income tax rate in Europe – 19 per cent on the first 200,000 euro and 25.8 per cent for taxable profits exceeding 200,000 euro – as well as a number of attractive incentive programs, the Netherlands offers a supportive fiscal climate for international companies.
The Netherlands actively promotes engaging in R&D activities through a favourable corporate tax structure and specific R&D tax incentives to stimulate innovation.
We will elaborate on the Dutch incentives and taxes later on.
The Netherlands is among the European and global leaders in digitisation. According to the EU Digital Economy and Society Index 2022 it is one of the frontrunners on human capital - digital skills), connectivity , digital public services and integration of digital technology by businesses. Also Dutch consumers are digital frontrunners, leading the way in embracing new digital applications.
The Netherlands is also one of the leading players in quantum technology, has Europe’s largest security cluster and is one of the most advanced markets for data centre operation in Europe. Furthermore, it is a hotspot for companies active in the global gaming industry - both serious and entertainment gaming - and is a front-runner in E-health solutions. The Netherlands is also home to many artificial intelligence innovators. The Dutch government recognises the importance to stay a frontrunner on artificial intelligence, therefore in 2019 the Dutch government launched the Strategic Action Plan for AI.
In November 2022 the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy launched the Strategy Digital Economy with the ambition to realise a resilient, entrepreneurial, innovative and sustainable digital economy, in which everyone in the Netherlands can participate.
To realise this ambition the Dutch government commits itself to five priorities: accelerating digitisation of SMEs, creating the right conditions for well-functioning digital markets and services, maintaining and strengthening a secure, reliable and high-quality digital infrastructure, strengthening cybersecurity and boosting digital innovation and skills. Digital innovation will be stimulated by investing publicly-privately in conditions for cloud applications and in digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum, blockchain and 5/6G.
With 34 per cent, the circular material use rate in the Netherlands in 2021 was by far the highest in the EU, followed by Belgium and France, with respectively 21 per cent and 20 per cent. In recent years, the consideration for circular economy has increased substantially, also in the Netherlands. The Dutch government aims for a fully circular economy by 2050. To achieve this, it works with industry, knowledge institutions, civil-society organisations and other authorities. The government-wide Circular Economy programme sets out what needs to be done to achieve a circular Dutch economy by 2050. Aim of the plan is to reduce the consumption of primary raw materials by half in 2030. The the government has set 3 targets to make the Dutch economy circular as soon as possible:
As part of the programme the Holland Circular Hotspot has been founded, which is a private-public platform in which companies, knowledge institutes and (local) authorities collaborate to promote and support international collaboration and knowledge exchange on Dutch circular economy.
The Netherlands is among the world’s leaders in renewable energy. It is also one of the world’s leading countries with respect to the adoption of electric vehicles and is home to almost 30 per cent of the public charging stations in the EU.
The Netherlands has a top position in renewable energy R&D, particularly in wind turbine technology. In addition, it offers outstanding energy related R&D facilities and incentive programs that support and stimulate innovation. The Netherlands is home to various major international offshore wind energy initiatives and is planning to double its production of offshore wind energy by 2030.
In 2021 33 per cent of total electricity production in the Netherlands came from renewable sources, which is a growth of 22 per cent compared to the year before. The Netherlands has big ambitions for the generation of sustainable energy. In the National Climate Agreement of 2019, it has been agreed that in 2030 70 per cent of all electricity and at least 27 per cent of all energy used has to come from renewable sources. The European Climate Act that came into force on 29 July 2021, has further tightened greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for the European Union, which entails the Netherlands has to take additional measures to switch to renewable energy. In line with the European Climate Acte, in the Dutch coalition agreement that was presented in December 2021, it has been agreed that the climate targets in the Dutch Climate Act will be tightened to 55 per cent CO2 reduction by 2030. The Dutch government announced that it will create a 35 billion euros climate and transition fund for sustainability measures for industry, mobility and the built environment and clean energy infrastructure.
The Netherlands has ranked first on the DHL Global Connectedness Index every year since 2005. In the 2021 edition of the index the country is praised for its deep integration of global trade and links to many different countries.
Driven by world-class seaports and airports, an extensive network of roads, rail and waterways and a telecommunications network that ranks among the world’s best for quality, speed and reliability, the Dutch infrastructure is one of the best on the planet. With its logistics infrastructure and central location in the heart of the European Union, the Netherlands gives companies unparalleled access to the continent and beyond. By rail, road or water, companies can reach 170 million consumers within 24 hours of Amsterdam or Rotterdam.
Furthermore, the Dutch dense, high-quality telecommunications infrastructure offers fast connections no matter how or where you and your products or services are travelling. With one of the highest broadband penetrations per capita in the world, one of the world’s fastest average broadband speeds and a 99 per cent 4G coverage, the Netherlands is also the digital gateway to Europe. It directly links continental Europe to North America, with most transatlantic sea cables going directly to the Netherlands. The Netherlands is also home to the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), one of the largest hubs for internet traffic in the world.
PwC the Netherlands, supported by the strong EU Direct Tax Group network of EU colleagues aims to provide a coordinated support for non-EU clients to navigate through the complex EU tax and legal landscape. At the same time, it supports other EU colleagues on Dutch related topics in their relationship with non-EU clients and colleagues. Furthermore, PwC the Netherlands takes a proactive role in informing clients on important EU tax law/EU27 domestic developments through the monthly EU Gateway newsletter, becoming by this way the EU first point of contact for non-EU clients and colleagues.
Strategically located at the centre of Europe’s largest markets, the Netherlands has established itself as a magnet for international companies and a leading site for European or regional headquarters. With its strong international orientation, pro-business environment, highly educated workforce and its top logistics and technology infrastructure and innovation ecosystem the Netherlands offers companies a perfect climate to compete successfully in Europe. Being one of the European Union’s most dynamic trading and industrial hubs, the Netherlands is a perfect springboard for Europe for many international companies.
The Dutch transport and logistics infrastructure, including world-class seaports, centrally located airports and an extensive, modern network of roads and highways is a major asset to companies looking to establish international logistics/distribution operations in Europe. The Netherlands also houses numerous top-grade logistic service providers, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is Europe’s best-connected airport based on direct connectivity (Airports Council International, 2022) and one of the largest cargo airports in Europe. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe and the world’s largest seaport outside of East Asia.
These and other factors make the Netherlands a true gateway to Europe and home to an abundance of European and regional distribution centres across a multitude of industries like agri/food, fashion, high-tech and medical technology and for e-commerce and spare parts logistics activities.
Renowned internationally for its open culture and emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, the Netherlands is home to a thriving, collaborative startup ecosystem. The Netherlands ranks as the 4th best European country for startups and Amsterdam occupies second place in Europe in Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2022. Besides the Dutch capital being open, dynamic, and community minded, Startup Genome mentions the presence of two Europe’s best-performing accelerators and initiatives like Holland in the Valley, ScaleNL and the Global Entrepreneur as part of the success. According to Dealroom.co Amsterdam is also one of the three fastest growing tech hubs with more than 20 unicorns while Eindhoven has a 7th position in Dealroom.co’s top science hubs ranking.
Under conditions, the Dutch startup visa scheme makes it possible to apply for a temporary residence permit as 'start-up', which gives ambitious starters one year to get their innovative business started.
Fueled by world-class research institutes, supportive R&D tax credits and a number of strategic partnerships between science, industry and government, the Netherlands is a hub for R&D activities.
The Netherlands is one of the innovation leaders in Europe, with a 4th position on the 2022 European Innovation Scoreboard of the EU Commission. As the European R&D location of various major multinationals, the Netherlands has the 4th highest number of patent applications per million inhabitants in Europe (2020, European Patent Office). Also, the flourishing startup scene results in a large number of patents every year.
The Netherlands has many innovation hubs across the country among which ten campuses, including High Tech Campus Eindhoven, TU Delft Campus, Kennispark Twente, Wageningen Campus, Amsterdam Science Park and Campus Groningen. These clusters of companies and knowledge institutes offer an excellent opportunity to collaborate and accelerate research and innovation.
The Netherlands’ highly skilled engineering workforce and advanced collaborative networks of suppliers in a wide variety of value chains offer major advantages to companies looking to establish or reshore manufacturing operations in Europe.
Major multinationals in a wide range of industries have already established advanced manufacturing operations in the Netherlands - from life sciences to chemicals, maritime industry and IT.
In its strategic and green industrial policy presented in July 2022, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy stresses the importance of the industrial sector in the Netherlands. The government wants the Netherlands to become a leader in making industry more sustainable and realising the solutions needed to achieve this, such as technological innovation and a circular economy. For stimulating innovation and scaling up (green) technology within industry, the Dutch government has freed up billions of euros, in particular through funds for tailor-made agreements for CO2 reduction and innovation in SMEs (3 billion euro) and the National Growth Fund (20 billion euro in total).
From life sciences & health to creative industries, the Netherlands is home to thriving industry clusters driven by talent, innovation and collaboration. Some of the biggest and fastest growing companies in every sector have chosen the Netherlands as their gateway to Europe. We elaborate on some key industries below.
There are several ways to operate a business in the Netherlands. A distinction can be made between Dutch entities with legal personality (corporate entities) and Dutch entities without legal personality (non-corporate entities). It is also possible to perform business activities through a Dutch branch office of a foreign legal entity. Below we discuss the main legal entities used by foreign investors and companies expanding their businesses to the Netherlands.