Practical Tips for Moving to Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moving to Amsterdam might be a great adventure, especially when you’re a student. You probably expect a lot of fun, making new friends and exploring the area. I was extremely excited to move to the Netherlands to start my second Master’s degree. My goal was to complete my Master’s degree within the official given time-frame (which is 1 year for a regular MA/MSc and 2 years for MPhil), with no delays. On top of that, my plan was to also find a job in Amsterdam.

The truth is, just like most other expats moving to the Netherlands, I had no clue what Dutch bureaucracy is really like, and how many things you have to deal with.

This is my honest how-to guide on everything to consider before you move to the Netherlands. I studied, lived and worked in Leiden first, worked in the Hague, then moved to Amsterdam to work. While I don’t have experience living in other places in the Netherlands than those mentioned above, this advice applies to all places in the Netherlands.


Practical Tips on How to Move to Amsterdam (updates for 2019)

Moving to the Netherlands

 


Housing in the Netherlands

Finding an Apartment in Amsterdam

Finding accommodation in the Netherlands can be challenging. 90% of everyone I met struggled with this a LOT. When you first search online, you’ll find a lot of options, but in reality – there aren’t that many available. Locals can wait a year or two to find a good and affordable apartment in Amsterdam, and many end up moving to nearby towns.

Quite often you need to come to an apartment viewing with about 30 other applications and quickly pay your deposit and deliver all the documents on the spot. Note that a LOT of apartments come unfurnished, which means they come without a floor and walls aren’t painted. Yes, seriously.

On top of that, when you first land in the Netherlands you’ll have to register at the Town Hall and get your BSN number, in order to do absolutely anything. Not all apartments or rooms will give you an option to register.

In Holland, similar to Italy, without registration you can’t do absolutely anything – you can’t study, you can’t work, can’t have a bank account and health insurance. Make sure that you ask if you can register at the house you want to rent to avoid unnecessary issues.

My University accommodation
My University accommodation

Rooms in a Shared House

Finding a room in a shared house isn’t easy without a semi-fluent Dutch. That’s why I’d say it’s easier to accept University accommodation to start with if you’re moving to Holland for school.

If you really want to find a room on your own, get an account on Kamernet and search through various Facebook groups for expats in the Netherlands. Be prepared to attend a few hospiteerabond, sort of casting for roommates. Current flatmates are going to ask you and other potential roommates a ton of (often ridiculous) questions and then call you back (or not) if they pick you.

The price of a room varies, but it’s approx. €380+ in Leiden and €600+ in Amsterdam for a very basic place. A nicer place like The Student Hotel, where I lived, is about 680+ euros a month.

2013-02-17 16.05.25
Student apartment in Leiden

Registration in the Netherlands

To work or study in the Netherlands you need to have a BSN – special identification number. It’s basically the same thing as Social Security in the US, but has more information. Some Dutch employers can’t access your BSN info to see where did you go to school or where you previously worked, on top of the basic things like whether you’ve ever been arrested, etc.

To get a BSN you need to register at the Town Hall (Gemeente) by booking an appointment in advance. Depending on the time of the year, you might have to wait up to 2 weeks to get an appointment.

To register you need a birth certificate (translated into English or Dutch), housing contract, a job contract, or university acceptance letter. Within 2 weeks you’re going to receive your BSN by post (many things work by post in the Netherlands).

moving to Amsterdam


How to Apply for DigiD Number

When you get your BSN you should immediately apply for a DigiD number. DigiD (short for Digital Identification) is a form of online ID that allows you to access many services and government websites in the Netherlands. It’s like a digital version of your passport.

You need your DigiD to do your administration online in the Netherlands. It will give you access to Studielink (if you study in Holland), allow you to do your taxes, and register for health insurance. When applying for DigiD you’ll experience your first problems if you don’t speak the language – the website is only in Dutch.


How to Open a Bank Account in the Netherlands

Opening a bank account is easy, as long as you’re either a student or have a job. The only trouble you can come across is that online banking is obviously all in Dutch, so my advice is to learn some basics.

Without a Dutch debit card you can’t pay for some things like for example train tickets or pay for groceries. Credit cards aren’t that well supported in Amsterdam and forget about cheques or swipe cards like AmEx.

If you come from a country where checks are used like the USA, bear in mind they just don’t exist in the Netherlands. I really like the set-up of Rabobank, as their app is amazing and I never had major issues with anything.2013-10-25 15.01.27


Health Insurance in the Netherlands

Health insurance in the Netherlands is compulsory unless you’re there temporarily (if you’re a full-time student it doesn’t count as temporary). If you’re from Germany, your insurance will work just fine, but otherwise, my EU card has never been enough.

If you’re not going to organize your health insurance within the first 4 months you’ll get a fine (around €385) and the Dutch service will automatically assign you to one and bill you for it. Dutch health system requires you to pay at least €110 per month for the basic insurance coverage.

Does it cover everything? My answer is: NO. It’s sort of like a co-pay in the US. I used to pay €122 per month and I was officially insured, but this fee covered only my basic GP visit because I didn’t add any ‘extras’ to my plan such as physiotherapy, dental care, maternity costs, specialist visits etc.

My insurance (as any other) asked for the amount of €380 so-called ‘your own risk money’ that you have to pay for yourself before the insurance covers anything else exceeding this amount (like a deductible in the US). Therefore for example, if I break my leg and I need an ER and X-Ray scan, I’d have to pay the first 380 Euros of the costs of this myself. This resets every year.

If you feel like you’re never sick you may lower the cost of your monthly fee to €100 a month and then your own risk will be €885.

Be careful, because for example, ER isn’t automatically covered and goes into your own risk money. The minimum charge for the ER is €360.how to move to amsterdam


Toeslagen

When you live in the Netherlands for over half a year you may apply for a toeslag, which is a governmental help in you don’t earn enough. You can ask for zorgtoeslag – health insurance support, huurtoeslag – additional money for your rent, and other ones concerning, for instance, your kid. Again, the whole process requires you to have a DigiD and ability to read Dutch.

Make sure not to make ANY mistakes in your predicted yearly income (including holiday pay and other bonuses)! Dutch social services are very precise and you might be asked to give some of the money back if you claim an income lower than you received.


Taxes in the Netherlandstax

Taxes are the biggest nightmare of expats living in Holland. Not only taxes are extremely high and every month they eat a huge part of your salary, but declaring them at the end of the year is even a bigger problem.

If you haven’t lived in the Netherlands for longer than a year or lived part of the year abroad, you’ll have to fill a Form M.

It’s basically a form containing over 80 pages of questions to fill in – all of them obviously all in Dutch, regarding the income and expenses for the past year.

If you’ve lived only in Holland for a year, you are required to download the digital program to fill in your tax declaration and send it over to the Belastingdienst office by post.

You can’t count on any help from the Belastingdienst office, because it’s just they are not allowed to by law since English is not officially a minority. The only way around is to start speaking Dutch to them and then they MIGHT say it’s fine to switch to English. Because you made an effort to speak some Dutch.

On the other hand, in casual situations, if you can’t speak Dutch well, people will just start talking to you in English. Dutch people are extremely proficient in English (even though they always claim they only speak ‘a little bit of English’).

Don’t be offended, the Dutch are very practical people, and they just want the conversation to be as easy as possible. I was proud of myself when people finally stopped answering me in English.


Finding a Job in Amsterdam

Finding a GOOD job is almost impossible for expats in the Netherlands unless you’re a very lucky IT specialist or Ph.D. candidate in the science field. Why? It’s hard to say, but my impression is that Dutch people are quite hard to get to know and they aren’t very keen on interactions with foreigners. That said once you somehow make some Dutch friends, they’re absolutely awesome!

I’m not saying that there aren’t any jobs, as there are some companies that hire foreigners. However, these are basic editing and customer service jobs, mostly in your native language that pay between €1600-2400 Euros before tax (€1100-1900 after tax).

Ironically, most of the advertised jobs at international corporations require native or extremely fluent Dutch, even if the main language of the company is English. To give you some context, when you check a job board for big companies, such as Google, Michael Kors, or Microsoft, they hire only Dutch speakers opposite to company policy in other countries where fluency in English is lower, such as Poland or Hungary.

Don’t bother finding an internship in the Netherlands. The country law says that internship salary has to be standardized and it cannot extend over €400 euros a month Brutto and you still have to pay about 52% tax on it (exceptions are tax-free intergovernmental organizations in The Hague). The minimum tax rate is 36.55%, for people who earn less than € 19,982.

moving to the Netherlands


Cost of Living in Amsterdam

Here’s my sample cost of living in Amsterdam as an expat. Note that if you go out more, drink more, can’t find affordable housing, then your costs will be higher. Always prepare for the worst scenario. Naturally, if you’re a family your costs will be significantly higher.

  • Rent – 680 (For a room in a shared apartment. Expect to pay about 1300+ or a one-bedroom apartment or studio.)
  • Utilities – included in my rent (If you rent an entire apartment it won’t be the case, it should be about 150 euros then, 250 more if you want to have a furnished apartment – they sort of charge you for a monthly usage of everything.)
  • Groceries – 300 (Including random coffees on the way to work and snacks. I was buying a lot of these typical 1 Euro giant bowls of veggies at Saturday markets.)
  • Lunches – 96 (Lunches for about 3 euros per day at many offices are automatically deducted from your salary and you can’t opt-out of it. It was explained to me that it has to do something with taxes, but it was weird since you need to pay for lunch even on days you work from home.)
  • Transport – 10-40 (It really depends. When I first started working in Amsterdam I still lived in Leiden which made my commute cost about 280 monthly after I skipped on trams and purchased another bike and work subsidized 150 euros. Once I fully moved to Amsterdam I occasionally took trams instead of my bike and also took weekend trips to other towns or to the airport.
  • Phone
  • Bike – 10 (I put 10 here since in my case I always had to buy something for the bike, pay for repairs, buy a new bike as many get stolen, etc. The cost of a second-hand bike is usually 60-80)
  • Health Insurance – 194 (After I paid off my minimum risk, that’s what it came down to. Some of my meds were also not covered in my own risk.)
  • Going Out – 100 (I really didn’t drink that much and went out for dinner maybe three times a month, as eating out isn’t cheap.).
  • Miscellaneous – 30

TOTAL = about 1100 EUR per month

farmers market in Amsterdam


You’re probably thinking I’m trying to scare you away. I’m not – at the end of the day moving to the Netherlands is your own choice. However, you have to have a lot of patience to live here and it’s better to know what’s your signing up for.

Do you have any questions about moving to Amsterdam? Let me know in the comments below!

49 thoughts on “Practical Tips for Moving to Amsterdam, Netherlands”

  1. Very informative and enlightening post Anna. It certainly sounds complicated and bureaucratic.

    I’ve made numerous business trips to the Netherlands but typically they’ve only been for a week or so. I’ve never enquired about living there. It does sound very complicated and prejudiced. I’m not sure how well the anti non-Dutch speaking goes down in EU law but clearly it is tolerated.

    • I guess I can’t blame the Dutch for making is hard for foreigners – in the end it’s better to give jobs to your own citizens 🙁

  2. As a Dutch person, I just wanted to add something to this article.
    I would never say that the taxes and health insurance policies are very efficient in the Netherlands, but I would like to say that, although the Netherlands is known as a very international country, it is important to remember that the first language here is Dutch, and not English.
    So even though it would be nice if it was easier for foreigners to arrange stuff like this, if you move to a country and you do not speak the native language, you can always expect some difficulties.

    • Thanks for the comment! I actually do speak Dutch (I was able to pass Staatsexamen II),although most of my international friends don’t. Even tho I speak Dutch a lot of companies rejected me and claimed I’d have to be a NATIVE Dutch speaker in order to get the job I applied for – and there weren’t jobs that required Dutch at all actually.

    • As a half Thai half Dutch person, I couldn’t help but notice how narrow minded your comment is. First of all, the reason we have languages is to communicate regardless of what language is used. Hence why Lingua Franca was introduced. I’m sorry but there are 100’s of thousands of native dutch people living abroad and quite a large number living in Thailand for decades. Not one can speak Thai fluently and on top of that foreigners are never hassled on which language they speak. If you can speak english and i can speak english then we shall speak english period. If you speak swahili and I speak french, I’m not going to be all snobby and wait till you can learn french. Come on, it is so petty this attitude towards different nationalities and their languages. Plus why would anyone bother learning dutch? It is about as useful as swahili. 16 million people in the world speak dutch. There are more people in my city that speak thai let alone the world, so why would i go through the trouble? If anything i would learn German, at least it’s a useful language – 100 million vs 16? Not just that but there is quite a lot of xenophobia in The Netherlands which is ridiculous as well. It would never survive without it’s relations with foreign countries. What do you think is going to happen in the next generation when all those highly ranked students from Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia, Brazil etc are in positions of power. Do you really think they would want to help or trade on equal terms with the dutch after being treated as lesser humans during there university studies? Another thing, this xenophobia comes from foreigners who haven’t integrated into dutch culture if you can call it that. Do you know what a lot of the dutch go and do in less economically developed countries? Because that makes me sick. I’ve had enough of this. this was for Maud not ANNA, thank you Anna for all your information

      • It is very true that the Dutch while claiming tolerance towards other cultures, languages, and countries are extremely xenophobic, and do not like immigrants, foreigners, or even other Europeans. Unless of course they are making money from us, then they love foreigners.

  3. Excellent post! Just a small comment on the tax part. If your income is below a certain amount you don’t have to pay any income tax at all! Which means you can get all the taxes you paid back. I believe this amount you can make is something like 6000 euro’s a year (gross). Even if you made more money then that you can get a lot of the taxes you paid back. For example I myself made something like 8000 euro’s in 2013 and I got 1000 euros of my taxes back.

  4. I wonder how big is toeslag? €108 per month for insurance sounds wildly too much for me, but maybe because I’m from Ukraine and we don’t really care here! 😀

    • Yeah, it’s a lot and it’s compulsory. Toeslag depends on your salary – it has to be low, but the maximum of what you can get is 72 euros a month.

  5. 108 euros a month is a God send. In Hawai’i your Health benefits for a fulltime working employee is from 700 to 1000 usd a month For Single Person coverage. Which is incorporated in your non taxable income base. Your Co – payment is usually 20 to 100 usd per doctors visit. I’d say the Dutch have it alot easier when it comes to health insurance

  6. Hi Anna–really enjoyed this! I’m helping a friend have a car shipped to the Netherlands (from the US) and she’s concerned about the taxes she’ll have to pay. After reading this, it sounds like she may have good reason to be worried. Do you have any experience with owning or registering a vehicle there? The only info I could find without contacting the customs office was here https://www.a1autotransport.com/ship-car-to-the-netherlands.php and there wasn’t a much about tax rates or where to find info about registering, other than there’s a lot to do. No worries if you can’t help, just thought I’d try to ask someone who’s more familiar.

    Best, Larry

    • To be completely honest I’ve no idea Larry since I’ve never owned a car in Holland, but it shouldn’t be harder to insure it than it is in the US.

  7. Very interesting information. I am going to study in Netherlands. I just have received my letter. I am veryyyy happy. I know that I have a lot of things to arrange. Thank you for helping people like me. 🙂 Best regards!

  8. Ania pieknie napisane. Mieszkalam tam przez 3 lata (Leiden i Haga) i to byl koszmar!Ja tez uwazam ,ze holendrzy sa niemili i niegoscinni w stosunku do obcokrajowcow, a o biurokracji nawet nie wspomne.Szkoda bo kraj sam w sobie piekny 🙂

  9. It’s so funny to read this, as when I decided to start blogging, my first article was about “Moving to Netherlands” and I encounter exactly the same problems like you. I feel much better knowing I was/am the only one! 🙂

  10. Hi All. Anna i saw ure blog and interesting isses was discussing there.My husband is Eu citizen, we want to move to Holland, actually he will move there first to try to find a job , a question he will stay?Can he rent a place without having a job??almost 2-3days im looking for this info

    • He has to rent a place before getting a job, since in order to start working he needs to have BSN number ready and that will arrive to his address by mail, so make sure that he asks the landlord is he can register at this place. He might need to prove that he has money saved from a different country, a lot of rental agencies ask for it.

  11. Hi Anna,I am a nurse by profession from Kenya,My girlfriend is in netherlands and we are planning to live together,I have already done a course in Dutch A1 and passed though not well fluent,do you think it will be difficult for me to have a job in healthcare?

    • Hi, I actually have a lot of friends who are doctors, nurses, and psychologists. First of all, since I’d assume you obtained your nursing qualifications in Kenya, you need to check what do you need to do to validate your diploma in the Netherlands. I know that for my law qualifications I would have had to do another Bachelor’s degree since my UK degree wasn’t valid. From my quick search online in your case you’d need to pass a nursing exam in Dutch. Dutch are VERY strict about fluency and since you’d be dealing with patients you’d need to speak fluent Dutch I’m afraid.

  12. Thanks for sharing your experiences with moving to the Netherlands! It’s always fun to read these articles from an expats perspective.

  13. I like your blog because you are share the valuable information on moving Netherlands. I found much this useful information. Thanks for sharing this so interesting post! I really want to be thankful for the way you have put it here.

  14. I always read your all post and I collect some different type of information. After reading Moving to the Netherland post I got Enough information to Netherland, that is helpful for me. Because I’m planning for travel in Netherland. Have you more Information about Netherland? Please help me that I can enjoy my tripe.

  15. Thanks for sharing your experiences with moving to the Netherlands! I’ve made numerous business trips to the Netherlands but typically they’ve only been for a week or so.

  16. Informative article. All the things you have discussed in your post are helpful for many people who wants to move in the Amsterdam, Netherlands. Thanks for sharing such blog post.

  17. Excellent post and very informative, I find the Netherlands so beautiful and one of my top places to visit 🙂

  18. Reading through the article, it feels like one has to carry a bag of money when moving. But people do move to The Netherlands and I don’t think most of them are super-stable financially. Would 2000 – 3000 EUR do for a start? How long does it take to rent a room with a registration possibility? Thanks!

    • Yeah, moving is always price as you need to pay deposits and spend a lot up front. Finding a right room is really a matter of luck. Some people can’t find one for a year, others get lucky and get one in a month. You never know.

      • How do the unlucky ones survive then? I believe it’s possible to get sort of a tax number, aka temporary BSN to start working. Is it extremely important to socialise and make “friends” there? To me it seems like The Netherlands is more like a Nordic country rather than a mainland European one. I’ve been to Copenhagen before and it all sounds so familiar. But I believe that Dutch people are much more friendlier towards foreigners than the yucky English ones. I’m actually moving from England, more than fed-up with it in three year’s time. The English mentality is a mistery for me.

        • Dutch people are friendly and very straight-forward, but it’s hard to integrate if you don’t speak Dutch.

          No Gemeente will register you and give you a BSN without a Dutch address. I couldn’t even register for my university or open a bank account with BSN. It’s the first thing you need to do. The temporary BSN using your foreign address is only for those staying for less than 4-months I’m afraid.

  19. Hi, I read your post. It’s very interesting and useful but I have one question. How can I have my BSN if first I need a job but I can’t find a job without BSN? Additionally, browsing on the job websites i noticed that the vacancies are mostly for skilled workers. Is there any websites for jobs as sales assistants? Thanks for you help.

    • You can get your first job before you get your BSN number. Once you find your first job and get it, then you’ll inform them that you need a BSN and get it after you receive your contract.

      There are many sales assistants jobs, but obviously, you need to be fluent in Dutch for that so these job vacancies are advertised in Dutch. English speaking jobs will be only for skilled workers or in certain companies that need editor of your native language.

    • You can get your first job before you get your BSN number. Once you find your first job and get it, then you’ll inform them that you need a BSN and get it after you receive your contract.

      There are many sales assistants jobs, but obviously, you need to be fluent in Dutch for that so these job vacancies are advertised in Dutch. English speaking jobs will be only for skilled workers or in certain companies that need editors of your native language.

  20. The Netherlands is a really nice place. I like to live in the Netherlands. You share the moving to Netherlands information is very helpful. Great information you share on this blog. Thanks!

  21. Hi Anna! I found your blog very useful. i’m actually looking for a curse in Dutch. Im from argentina and wanna move to the netherlands. im a bit scared about the first days there. I should arriva to the hostel and start looking for the apartmernt? then, ask for the registration, DigiD, healthcare, etc? Also, I dont have a degree… I wanna study there once I found a job
    Thank you very much!

  22. A lot of criticism on the Netherlands and the Dutch in your blog and in the comments. Interesting to read this from the expat’s side. Some of it may be just from your point of view, some aspects of bureaucracy (government organization) the dutch may dislike as much as you do. And yes, there is racism here, as in most (if not all) countries. Still, you all leave your own country, apparently desperate to live here to enjoy our wonderful full democratic country, since we are on most top 10 lists of best countries/cities to live in. Expats coming here for different reasons, some are here because of their sexuality, being unable to be who they are in their own country. And then you all seem to be surprised that you have to make a little effort to get used to the unfamiliair ways, or to learn the language. Dutch people themselves have to make an equal amount of effort to get jobs, housing, get toeslagen, get their taxes back etc. And yes, we speak, write and read fluently in Dutch. The difficulties white expats may meet in their temporary stay in the Netherlands, cannot be compared with the difficulties true immigrants meet in the proces of getting rooted here, which usually takes at least one generation. Country hiphopping and celebrating the international, global lifestyle is one thing, going through the mud, the difficulties and the deep process of re-rooting is another thing. The Dutch language is spoken in The Netherlands, Belgium (Flemish), Surinam, Dutch Caribbean, and Southafrican is a dutch-based creole language. Dutch and German are different languages, but with some effort on both sides we can understand eachother – if necessary. Most Dutch people here speak at least three languages: Dutch, English, and an extra language, mostly French or German, sometimes Spanish or Italian. This doesn’t mean we do it without effort. I guess the same goes for expats whose native language is not English. Sometimes you just want to speak your own language. When I’m really tired I just don’t want to make that extra effort most British or American expats don’t even try to make in the first place. I know “expats” speaking Dutch very well, or well enough, learning most of it because they made an effort to learn it, got out of their expat “bubble”, and befriended Dutch people. Their Dutch friends can usually help them in a way. My Dutch friends living abroad do speak the native language in their new countries fluently, very well or good enough. And they made friends in the local community.

    • Explaining how the system works is different from criticizing it. Can it be complicated for expats? Yep, that’s why I described the process. I speak Dutch actually and regularly hang out with Dutch people, but I agree with you that most expats do not. Hence also why I don’t fully consider myself an expat anywhere I live, because as you said – most don’t integrate.

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