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Practical Tips for Moving to Amsterdam, Netherlands

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!

Maria

Saturday 19th of October 2019

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.

Anna Karsten

Saturday 19th of October 2019

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.

Carolina

Monday 18th of February 2019

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!

Anna

Monday 18th of February 2019

If you don't have a valid visa or EU passport then you won't be able to rent an apartment, get a job or register I'm afraid.

Deven Carley

Wednesday 9th of January 2019

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!

Claudia Pergola

Monday 24th of December 2018

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.

Anna

Monday 24th of December 2018

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.

Anna

Monday 24th of December 2018

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.

Andrew

Thursday 23rd of August 2018

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!

Anna

Friday 24th of August 2018

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.

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