Do you want to drive a car in the Netherlands? To do so, you need a legal driving licence.
If you are from an EU country it’s not such a hassle. You can just register your licence in the Netherlands or exchange it for a Dutch one at the municipal office. The same goes for Liechtenstein, Norway or Iceland. However, if you are from outside the EU or the three countries mentioned, the rules are different. You may use an international driving licence for six months, but after that you must pass the theory and practical exam held by a central agency for driving skills, the CBR (go to their website: www.rijbewijs.cbr.nl).
To pass these compulsory exams, you have to take lessons. Finding a driving school is not hard: most schools have their name and number on top of the car. MSc student Shady Attia from Egypt just phoned a few. He obtained his licence recently, but it took him quite some effort and money.
The first thing Attia encountered was the language barrier. Even though he told the driving school he needed lessons in English, Attia still got a teacher who did not speak English well. So it all went in Dutch and mistakes were made because of misunderstandings. ‘She shouted and yelled at me when I made mistakes. Each time I came back from the lessons disappointed. At night I even dreamed about the ‘inside mirror - outside mirror - dead angle’ sequence in Dutch.’
Although Attia has his driving licence now, he can’t afford a car because he is still recovering financially. ‘It’s expensive the whole way, from phone calls to the CBR to the lessons themselves. Sometimes I thought about quitting, especially as I was paying so much. In total it cost me around 900 euros.’
Besides the language and money aspects, there is the practical challenge of driving in the Netherlands. ‘I am not used to all the bicycles. What’s more, here there are strict rules and traffic lights. It is like playing a computer game. In Cairo there are no rules at all so we drive with much more caution. We communicate more with hands and eyes. Also we use the horn a lot. Here in the Netherlands I had to learn to trust that when I have right of way I will get it. In Egypt that rarely happens so you always have to be on the lookout.’
Despite the difficulties, Attia continued and went for his theory exam. The first time he failed. Not having his theory, he was not allowed to take his practical test which was coming up within two weeks. ‘I asked to shift the practical test, but that was not possible.’ As the next English theory exam was only in November, Attia decided to take the exam in Dutch. Somehow he succeeded. ‘Probably because I learned the theory from Dutch books, as there was only one book in English.’
Having passed his theory test, Attia was allowed to continue for the practical. Although he made a few minor mistakes, his driving in general was fine and he passed. Yet, because of the effort and money he wouldn’t encourage people who are here for only two years to get a driving licence. His advice: drive on your international licence while it is still valid or use public transport.