Guide last updated: Apr 2020
If you’ve stumbled on this post, it means you’re considering or already are moving to Amsterdam. Great choice! It’s a truly fantastic city in which to live and work. We wrote this guide based on all of the questions we had when we first moved to Amsterdam, which was in October of 2018. Note that it was written from the perspective of moving from Canada, but the tips should be transferable to other countries.
A common question we get is: why did you decide to move to Amsterdam? We’re both fortunate to have dual European citizenship, and we knew that we wanted to live abroad in a European city. Neither of us is Dutch or had even been to Amsterdam, but we picked it for several reasons: English is widely spoken (with little to no judgment from locals against English-speaking expats); Amsterdam is central and easy to travel to other European countries (especially via train, for weekend trips); there are many multinational companies (good for our career prospects, and also likely to speak English in the office); and finally, we spoke to a few friends/expats who loved Amsterdam and had only good things to say about living there.
When we were deciding on a place to live, we looked at cost of living, working language, geographical location for travel purposes, and job prospects. Amsterdam checked out all the boxes whereas Dublin was expensive to live and removed from the rest of the EU. Berlin had a cheaper cost of living but learning German would be a challenge. It’s also pretty far north with harsher winters. Another city we considered was Vienna where Laura did her exchange term
One thing every person should know before moving to Amsterdam: finding a place to live is challenging. It can take a few weeks (if you’re lucky) to a few months to find somewhere to live. You will be competing with many other people, for both shared rooms and apartments. However, it’s not impossible – we found our apartment after one viewing! Here are our tips:
- Price: The average range for a 1-bedroom with a good location (within the “ring” of Amsterdam) is €1,400-1,800+ per month. If you plan on staying here longer than 5 years, it may be better to buy a place – mortgage payments are a LOT cheaper than rent in most cases…
- Location: We live in Oud-West in a neighbourhood called De Baarsjes, and our rent is actually a bit cheaper than average. Other neighbourhoods that we would recommend to live in would be Jordaan, De Pijp, Nieuw West, Oost (East), Oud Zuid – anywhere within the “ring” aka the A10 highway is very bikeable
- Registration: Ensure that the place you rent allows registration (posts/rental listings should say “Registration possible”), for all of the people living at the flat (registration allowance is per each individual). When you get your BSN from City Hall, you will need an address that allows registration
- Furnished vs unfurnished: Many places come fully furnished (which is great to save money). However, unfurnished places can come really unfurnished – as in, without flooring, light fixtures, and major appliances. So, make sure to inquire about these essentials if you are looking at unfurnished listings
- Income requirements: The majority of landlords will require you to demonstrate that you earn a monthly salary that is 3-4x the amount of monthly rent. It is common (and allowed) for them to ask for a payslip/employment contract as proof of income
- How to pay rent: Rent is usually paid through e-transfers (through online banking), it is not common to use cheques (our landlords were very confused when we suggested these)
- Living outside Amsterdam: Some of our coworkers commute to Amsterdam from other cities/surrounding suburbs like Rotterdam, Den Haag (The Hague), Haarlem, and Utrecht – by train, those cities are 20-45 mins from Amsterdam Centraal. When we first moved to the Netherlands we lived near Haarlem, and found commuting a bit difficult because we weren’t close to the centre of Haarlem; personally, we much prefer living in Amsterdam. However, there are also large companies based in those cities and if you find work there, they are great (and cheaper) cities in which to live and not far for day trips to Amsterdam
- Scams: Unfortunately scams are common in the Amsterdam rental market. But, you’ll be fine if you use common sense: Don’t ever transfer € to a landlord before seeing a place, or until you’ve signed a contract. We recommend looking for places through Facebook groups, Funda, and Pararius. It’s also common for expats to find places through a rental agency, which eliminates stress and risk (but usually comes at the price of 1 month’s rent)
- Temporary housing: Because the rental market is competitive, you should give yourself time to find a place. Consider booking a short-term home/apartment rental for a few weeks/months to get situated & go to rental viewings (this is what we did). If you end up finding a rental place before your check-out date, some rentals have a long-term cancellation policy which allows you to cancel the remaining nights in your booking with 30 days’ notice
Finding a Job
Depending on your visa situation, you may need a job lined up before moving to Amsterdam. This was not the case for us, but we tried to apply to jobs from abroad for months with no luck. However, once we were in Amsterdam, the process was swift – Anthony found his job within 1-2 weeks of applying, and Laura landed at her top choice company (Booking.com). So, here are our tips:
- Recruiters/agencies: Consider going through a recruitment agency (That’s how Anthony got his job). Some agencies we would recommend (more so for marketing, comms & agency roles) are Aquent, NewPeople, SAM, Recommended Path
- Language requirements: There are many jobs that do not require Dutch. Sometimes jobs may list Dutch as a requirement/asset, but even that isn’t the case – worth inquiring if you really want the job
- Salaries: We’ve found salaries here to be a bit lower (in absolute value) than in Canada, but that’s where the exchange rate comes in handy for Canadians 🇨🇦
- Entry-level marketing salary (0-3 years) = €26-35k/year
- Mid-level marketing salary (3-5+ years) = €35-50k/year
- Senior-level marketing salary (5-8+ years) = €50-60k/year
- Finding job postings: LinkedIn (we paid for Premium which was super helpful), Indeed.nl, recruitment agency job boards
- 30% ruling: Unique to the Netherlands. This is a tax benefit for expats who move to the Netherlands to work in a highly skilled area (tech & marketing count). In order to qualify for the ruling, you must receive and accept your job offer while living abroad (aka prior to moving here). How it works: if you earn over a certain amount (~52k/year), 30% of your income is tax-free for the first 5 years of living in the Netherlands. This is meant to help expats with the costs of relocating them/their partners & families to a new country. As attractive as this benefit is, we spent several months applying for jobs from Vancouver with only a few nibbles. We had much better traction getting interviews once we were physically in the Netherlands. You can find more info here on the 30% ruling
- Here is a Dutch Taxes calculator that shows how much you get back with the 30% ruling
Tips for job applications:
- Add a photo to your resume – it’s a Dutch/European thing
- Stick to a one-page resume unless you have 8-10+ years of experience or are applying to director roles and above
- Always write a cover letter! Especially if the cover letter is optional, this is your opportunity to write something in order to stand out
- Include hobbies and interests on your resume – we found it was common to talk about our personal interests and family backgrounds during interviews, and sharing your interests can help the interviewer remember something unique about you, especially since work-life balance is highly valued in the Netherlands and Europe (in general)
- Similar to the above point, when you’re asked “tell me about yourself” in an interview, you can talk about personal things like where you’re from, your hobbies, and your partner
- Dress code – As with anywhere else in the world this depends on the industry and company culture, but we feel that Amsterdam is a bit less suit-y than Vancouver. For interviews, Anthony has worn jeans, a dress shirt and blazer, no tie. The dress attire in Anthony’s office is jeans + sweater or button up (tucked or untucked, doesn’t matter). Anthony has only worn a suit for his office parties. Laura’s office dress code is casual
Cost of Living
Amsterdam’s cost of living will feel different depending on where you’re coming from. We recommend using a cost of living calculator (Numbeo), which allows you to input any city and compare various costs to Amsterdam (or any other city that you’re considering).
- Groceries: We find groceries to be affordable and comparable (or cheaper) to Canada
- Most popular grocery stores: Albert Heijn, Aldi, Jumbo, Dirk, Vomar, Lidl
- We buy fruits & vegetables at farmers markets on the weekend (cheaper and less plastic packaging)
- We buy meat from the butcher (better quality) but go to Albert Hejin/Vomar for everything else as they’re usually cheaper
- Eating out: We find restaurants in Amsterdam to be pretty expensive, but there are some cheap street/fast food options such as doners, sandwiches, and FEBO
- Transit: Can be expensive, especially if you commute from outside of Amsterdam via trains. When we lived in Haarlem, we spent €150/month commuting to our offices in Amsterdam. If you live in the city and get a bike, you can have a much lower budget for occasional transit (i.e. €20-€40/month). With that said, the transit system in Amsterdam is great. The tram, bus, and train options are all reliable and the city is very accessible by transit
- Biking: One of the things we love the most about Amsterdam. Super easy, efficient, and safe as the cycling infrastructure is very extensive and well-designed. However, it’s very common for bikes to get stolen. Best to buy a second-hand bike (€100-250, depending on if you want gears/handbrakes) and invest in a good lock (€30-60). When buying secondhand, make sure to buy from a reputable store so that you don’t end up buying a stolen bike
- Phone plans: It’s simple and easy to start with a prepaid plan when you move here (€10-20/month). Once you get a BSN & bank account, you can get a monthly contract plan (€15-20/month for 5-7GB of data) Popular providers: Vodafone, T-Mobile, KPN. The best part is that your plan can be used all around Europe (including your data)
Getting Settled & Official Bureaucratic Things
As you would expect with moving to a new country, there is a list of official things you have to do once you arrive in order to make your immigration official. Overall we found the process to be quite smooth, as things in the Netherlands just work – you can book appointments online, waiting times aren’t too long, and best of all, employees speak English. There are also many resources available specifically to help expats with settling in the Netherlands.
- Visas: We can’t speak to this process as we are both fortunate to have European citizenship, but Canadians can easily apply for Working Holiday Permit visas
- Some larger multinational companies are open to sponsoring visas
- BSN: When you get to the Netherlands, you need to register for your BSN (similar to a Social Insurance Number)
- Documents needed: Canadian passport, Visa, and long-form birth certificate that has been authenticated by Global Affairs and the Dutch consulate in Ottawa
- How to get your authenticated birth certificate: Order your long-form birth certificate from Victoria (or your provinces’ capital) → mail it to Global Affairs (in Ottawa) to be authenticated → have it mailed to the Dutch consulate in Ottawa OR the Dutch consulate in Vancouver to be authenticated (and then bring it with you to the Netherlands)
- You need to make an appointment to get your BSN within the first 2 weeks of landing in the Netherlands. We called the local Gementee (City Hall) to schedule our appointment before we left Vancouver as they are often booked months ahead. Note that you have to book your appointment at the Gemeente of the city in which you’ll be living/registering.
- A lot of things are dependent on your BSN…
- You need a home address so that you can register for your BSN
- You need your BSN before you can officially work/be paid
- You need a BSN to get a bank account
- You need a bank account to pay rent, have a contract phone plan, and get a personalized OV Chipkaart (similar to Compass card, allows you to buy monthly transit passes)
- Banking: The Netherlands is fairly cashless (some food stands/restaurants don’t accept cash) so getting set up with a bank account is key. Expect to pay a small fee (there are no free accounts), and get ready to receive lots of “tikkies”/payment requests!
- Expat-friendly banks: ING, ABN-Amro, Bunq (online only, no physical branches). We can personally recommend ING for their online banking/app (which both have English versions) and Apple Pay.
- At ING, you have to make an appointment online to open a bank account. We had to wait to receive our cards/PINs/activation codes through the mail. Most banking needs require an appointment to be made ahead of time (not as many walk-in tellers as Canada)
- Credit cards are far less popular here than in North America. They all cost money and don’t have points systems, so we haven’t bothered to get one. Instead, we use the free Transferwise credit card (great for online purchases + foreign transactions!)
- We came over with approximately €4,000 in cash (if you’re in Vancouver, get the best exchange rate at Vancouver Bullion & Currency Exchange!)
- Some places (restaurants, cafes) don’t accept cash, but for groceries, it’s no issue
- To transfer money between Canada & Europe and vice versa, we use Transferwise (use our referral link 🙏) – it gives you by far the best rates/lowest prices compared to Canadian banks and other money-moving companies. Transferwise also sends you rate alerts when the exchange rate reaches your desired threshold (i.e. $1 CAD = €1.50) so that we make the most from our hard-earned Euros!
- Health Insurance: Unlike in Canada, all citizens have to pay a monthly fee to cover their own health insurance (no employer coverage)
- Expect to pay €100-150/month depending on the type of plan & add-ons you choose; some employers may have partnerships with insurance providers to provide discounted rates, so best to ask your HR once you’ve started a new job
- We pay €108/month which covers doctors’ visits and hospital visits. We opted not to add on dental because we calculated the extra monthly cost to be equal or greater than paying out of pocket for 2 visits per year (all dentist prices are set by the government, and are the same no matter which dentist office you go to)
- You have to arrange health insurance within 3 months of registering in the Netherlands, or you may be fined
- Other insurances: Liability (covers you for random accidents like spilling wine on a carpet at a friend’s house, getting into bike accidents, accidentally tripping someone on the sidewalk), Legal (to cover legal support, should you ever need it), House Contents (insures your personal belongings and furniture within your home)
- Things to bring with you from Canada:
- Copy of university degree – in case they’re required for job applications (though we haven’t needed them yet)
- Cold & Flu and/or cough medicine – they are very hard to find here
- Other prescription/uncommon medications and cosmetics as it can be challenging to find equivalent products here (and in Dutch)
Dutch People & Culture in Amsterdam
So, now that we’ve gotten all of the logistical stuff out of the way, onto the best part of moving to Amsterdam: the lifestyle!
- Dutch people are super friendly and everyone speaks excellent English, it is easy (almost too easy) to live in Amsterdam without knowing how to speak Dutch – but it is still very helpful to learn the basics once you get settled
- The city of Amsterdam is beautiful – the feeling of walking around seeing architecture that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time never goes away, and the canals are as charming and magical as you’d expect
- We get a bit less daylight here in the winter compared to Vancouver (but also the sun sets later in the summer) – it’s not dramatic but is noticeable
- The climate is very similar to Vancouver, in terms of moderate temperatures and grey/rainy days but we’ve found that it rains less than Vancouver
- Amsterdam has a large population of expats, so there are many people who are open and willing to make friends
- People here live pretty healthy lifestyles – there are a lot of vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and tons of people go to the gym or go running (and ride bikes of course)
- Vacation days – you get a minimum of 20 vacation days in the Netherlands, but many employers start at 25 vacation days; sick days are usually unlimited (but sometimes with reduced pay)
- Work-life balance – Office working hours are usually 9 am-5:30 pm. During Anthony’s busy season, the latest he has left the office was 6:15 pm. Laura sometimes leaves later if she has meetings but generally has flexible working arrangements
- Things we miss about Vancouver
- Hockey – though we’ve been able to watch a few 1 pm games here, which is great!
- Good cuisines (primarily Asian) – Dutch food is simple, deep-fried, and very cheese-heavy… we’ve realized how lucky we are with all of the Asian restaurants in Vancouver!
- Things we love about Amsterdam
- Biking everywhere
- Easy to travel to the rest of Europe via train, bus, and plane
- Short commutes – we each bike 15-20 mins to our offices
- It’s very safe – Laura has come home at night without any worries, and you don’t really have to worry about pickpockets when walking around the city centre
- Great career potential (as there so many multinationals with their EMEA head offices in Amsterdam)
Further Reading & Resources
Here are some sites that we found very helpful for researching our move to Amsterdam. We still use some of them on a daily basis to get updates about living in Amsterdam.
- Dutch Review – A city guide/news website like Daily Hive, but with fewer typos. Has tons of articles written with expats in mind. We also follow them on Facebook as they frequently post timely & relevant articles.
- I Amsterdam – Official Amsterdam website with tons of articles for prospective newcomers and expats. Also useful for tourists planning a trip to Amsterdam.
- I Am Expat – Similar to Dutch Review, but not quite as good. They do have a good email newsletter that we subscribe to.
- Facebook Groups – This is is our #1 tip for what to do before moving to the Netherlands: join Amsterdam-based Facebook Groups. There are many friendly expats who are willing to answer questions (we definitely posted a few before our move) and post discussions that are worth following.
- The Amsterdam Expats Meetup Group – The admin is mysteriously named “Laughingatpotatoes” but is always posting relevant and interesting updates (and often translates important Dutch news into English)
- Canadians in the Netherlands – We once got to organize a private music video shoot for Shawn Mendes thanks to this group. True story.
- Canadian International Club of Amsterdam – Really good for answering questions specific to Canadians moving to Amsterdam. There are equivalent groups for Americans (and probably other countries too).
You’ve reached the end of our guide! We hope you found our research helpful, and wish you luck in your decision. If you have more questions, drop us an email – we’d be happy to set up a video call and answer them, as we’ve done with several people already (proud to say our conversion rate is >50%!).