A detailed guide for those who are moving to Amsterdam, based on our personal experience.
After living in Spain for around seven years, I was feeling restless and out of love with my adopted home. It was time for a change.
We didn’t want to be nomadic (tried it and it wasn’t for us); we wanted a fun and multi-cultural city to grow roots and raise our little girl to be a global citizen. Eventually, Alberto was offered a new job in Amsterdam, so we said ‘yes’ and moved here exactly three months ago.
Most friends and family were surprised that we chose Amsterdam, of all places. It’s after all a city that’s often associated with bad weather, coffeeshops and red-light district. That doesn’t seem to be our style.
Here’s the thing, there’s a lot more to Amsterdam than hash brownies and prostitutes. In fact, we’ve found Amsterdam to be multi-faceted, multi-cultural and full of character.
There are also lots of nature and green spaces within the city boundaries, many outdoor markets, interesting cultural centres and fun events. It’s the tech hub of Europe, which is great for Alberto who works in programming.
At the same time, it’s an incredibly child-friendly city, with plenty of kids-oriented attractions and cafes for our 2.5-year-old daughter, Kaleya. As for me, I personally love being surrounded by people from all over the world — and people from 176 nationalities live in Amsterdam.
Table of Contents
- Why We Moved to Amsterdam
- The Perfect Size
- A Global Setting
- It’s Easy to Fit in
- Happy Place
- Good Quality of Life
- Great Work-Life Balance
- How to Move to Amsterdam
- 1. Get A Job
- 2. Find An Apartment
- 3. Get Your BSN Number
- 4. Get Your Residency Permit
- 5. Open A Bank Account
- 6. Get Health Insurance
- 7. Get Your OV Card or Bicycle
Amsterdam is just the right size for me: it’s not a massive, fast-paced city like London, Singapore or Madrid (places we used to live), and yet it has the convenience of a capital city.
There’s no shortage of world-class museums, cultural centres, international restaurants and leafy parks in this city. But it is still small enough that it feels more like a conglomeration of villages rather than a capital city. Amsterdam is exactly what we were looking for.
Plus, it has an excellent location and it’s easy to explore most of the Netherlands via day trips from Amsterdam. Rotterdam, the Hague, and Delft are just an hour away; and even the German and Belgian borders are just a 2-hour drive away.
After living in the small Spanish city of Granada for seven years, I’ve been craving for a multi-cultural environment with a bigger international community and food from around the world.
Since we moved to Amsterdam three months ago, I’ve made new friends from different corners of the world – from Suriname to South Africa – and we all share the same mindset as global citizens.
And you know what I love most, one of the world’s biggest and most well-connected airport is just a 15-minute bus ride from our apartment. I used to have to catch my flights from Malaga, which is 1.5 hours away by car, or Madrid (a 1-hour flight or 5-hour bus journey away), which is a pain when you travel once a month.
What a world of difference now!
It’s Easy to Fit in
The Dutch are known for being well-traveled and world wise, they aren’t very traditional and there’s little or close to no discrimination in Amsterdam.
The Netherlands also has one of the highest English proficiency rates in Europe; literally almost everyone speaks English in the Dutch capital. I’ve found it very easy to fit in and find a community here.
You don’t actually need to learn Dutch to live here — I have friends who’ve been here for 15 years and still don’t know Dutch.
The Dutch government also has a great system in place and getting paperwork like residence permit and social security has been a breeze. It’s incredibly fast and easy to obtain our documents here, as compared to Spain that’s notorious for its bureaucracy. (Scroll down for how to get your paperwork).
The Netherlands consistently ranks in the top 10 of the world’s happiest countries, according to the latest World Happiness Report by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.
They looked into many factors, including healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices and freedom from corruption. For me, it’s important to live in a place with good social welfare and healthcare system that don’t cost a fortune.
The cost of living in Amsterdam is high, but so are the salaries. The average gross salary in Amsterdam is double of that in Granada. While Amsterdam has one of the highest tax rates in Europe, the city has a special tax rule that exempts expats from paying taxes on 30% of their salary.
However, they must be employed and fall into the highly skilled migrant classification, which requires a monthly minimum gross salary of about 4,371 euro ($5,943), to qualify.
Among expats, Amsterdam is well known for the work-life balance. It is common for those with family to work only four-day weeks.
Many families operate this way: the mother stays home with the child on Mondays, the father stays home on Fridays, and the kid goes to day care for three days a week. I think that’s amazing — the kid gets to spend more time with both parents, individually, and there’s an equal division of parenting.
The Dutch also expect their employees to have a life outside work, even during the week. Most people leave work on time, and staying late in the office can be sometimes frowned upon. That’s a major reason we chose Amsterdam, because it’s important for Alberto to have time for other things in life beyond work.
Have I convinced you to move to Amsterdam as well? For those who are interested in moving to Amsterdam, here’s my step-by-step guide on how to make the move.
I’m not claiming to be an expert — I’m just sharing our own experience of navigating the Dutch system to help you make your move a smooth one.
If you already have a job or you’re a citizen of EU, EER or Switzerland, you won’t need a work or residence permit to live here. Skip to number 2.
As with relocating to anywhere in the world, it’s much easier moving to Amsterdam with a job than without one. However, it’s NOT necessary to have a job before getting a BSN (burgerservicenummer), which is your citizen service number and basically your key to living in Amsterdam legally.
There are many big name international corporations who have headquarters or offices here (ING Bank, Accenture, booking.com, Uber, to name a few).
If you’re a highly-skilled professional especially in the tech or finance industry with a few years of experience, you will stand a higher chance at finding a job here. Give yourself a few months to find a job here and don’t give up!
Check out the following sites for job listings in Amsterdam:
- I Am Expat – The biggest job listing website for English speakers
- Jobs in Amsterdam – Good job search engine for professionals
- Together Abroad — Multilingual job board
- Hoitalent — Job board for English jobs and internships
- Linkedin — Social network for job hunters
For those who are freelancers like myself or want to set up your own business in Amsterdam, your first stop is the KvK (Kamer von Koophandel) or Chamber of Commerce. However, you’ll need to have proof of your address in Amsterdam (Go to our next step).
Once you have an apartment, you can visit the KvK without an appointment and wait to see someone. Remember to bring your passport and also cash or card (50euros) to pay the fee.
You will need to have a business plan and estimated amount of earnings each year. It’s incredibly easy. Once you’ve registered your business, you’ll receive a letter from the Belastingdienst (tax authority) within five days to start doing your taxes.
This is a useful brochure from the KvK to learn more about setting up a business in Amsterdam.
In order to get a BSN (burgerservicenummer), you’ll first need to have a permanent address.
If you’re planning a short-term stay in Amsterdam (under five years), renting is your best bet. After all, contracts can be easily changed and you’re spared the effort of making major repairs or maintenance.
Finding an apartment in Amsterdam can be difficult and rental is definitely not cheap (expect to pay at least 1000euros a month for a one-room apartment). I recommend staying at an Airbnb or hostel in Amsterdam for your first month to give yourself some time to find an apartment.
When looking for an apartment or house, always look for a property that accepts registration. This means that you can register yourself as living at that address and legally pay taxes there. Here’s a good guide to help you decide on where to live in Amsterdam.
Using an Estate Agent:
Using an agency to find a rental property might be the easiest way, but note that you will need to pay a non-refundable fee, which is usually one month’s rent. Most estate rental agencies request a job contract or at least two or three months’ rent as deposit.
We were extremely lucky to have found the perfect apartment for us before moving to Amsterdam. We actually found it on an online housing website and did a video call with the previous tenant to see the place.
She had two months left on her contract but she wanted to move in with her partner, so we had a verbal agreement to buy over her furniture, finish her contract and take it over from her. That saved us a lot of money, including the deposit and estate agent’s fee, and we now have a fully furnished place close to Alberto’s work and the city centre.
Here are some of the best housing websites:
- HousingAnywhere – An international housing platform where you can book a new place before arriving.
- Kamer — This is where we found our apartment listing. You’ll have to pay a subscription fee to contact property owners/agents.
- Funda — One of the biggest housing sites in Netherlands.
- Pararius — Another leading website with property rentals around the country.
- Marktplaats — The Dutch version of Craigslist has property rentals as well as second-hand furniture listings.
- Amsterdam Apartments Facebook Group — For immediate rentals and easy arrangement of viewings
Buying An Apartment:
If you’re planning a long-term stay in the city region, there are monetary benefits that come with becoming a homeowner. Mortgage interest payments are subject to tax deductions if the house is your primary residence, and the notary costs that go into the signing of the contract are tax deductible.
Also, the advantage of having your employer either pay the rent or contribute to it is taxed as a benefit. Check here for more information on buying property in the Amsterdam Area .
Now you can finally register yourself at the Town Hall (Gemeente) and get a BSN number. As mentioned, your BSN number is essential for all your administration in the Netherlands.
This includes opening a bank account, receiving your salary, visiting a doctor, getting health insurance and applying for benefits.
First call the ‘Gemeente’ to make an appointment to register. Check for a list of all the Gemeentes in Amsterdam here.
However, when we called in November, we only received an appointment for end of December. Most of the Gemeente Amsterdam offices have long waiting lists, so you might have to wait awhile to get your appointment.
For Expats with Jobs:
A faster way to get your BSN number is through IN Amsterdam (formerly ‘Expatcenter Amsterdam’), a government-supported service whose sole purpose is to help highly-skilled migrants and EU citizens settle into Amsterdam.
They help you take care of all the immigration elements such as residence and work permits (including the startup visa), registration with the municipality, the 30% tax ruling and other official matters. Note that IN Amsterdam charges a service fee for its services.
We went through IN Amsterdam and got our appointment for three weeks’ time. My husband and daughter got their BSN numbers straight away (as they are from the EU) and I had to wait until I got my residency card to receive mine. It cost us just around 100 euros for the service.
Documents needed to register:
When going for your appointments either at the Gemeente or IN Amsterdam, you need the following documents:
- Your valid passport or ID card (not a driving licence).
- Your rental contract.
- A certified copy of your birth certificate.
- Your foreign marriage certificate, certificate of registered partnership or divorce (for spouses).
Note that town halls only accept official documents in Dutch, English, French or German, so you may need to get an official translation for other languages. Some documents, such as your birth certificate, may also require proof of authenticity such as an apostille, which you will need to get before leaving your home country.
If you’re from the EU, EER or Switzerland, no residence permit is needed.
For none-EU citizens, you’ll need to go to the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation Service) main office to get the residency permit. If you came with a job, then your employer will be able to apply for the residency permit on your behalf.
If you are married to an EU citizen like I am, just call for an appointment, fill up this form then show up that day with the completed form, and all the documents mentioned above. The IND charged 50 euros for the service.
Residence permits now include a readable chip containing passport photo and two fingerprints. At the IND office, the staff will use biometric devices to take your photos and fingerprints. I now have a big sticker in my passport (that resembles a visa) which permits me to live in Netherlands.
After getting my residency permit, IN Amsterdam sent me my BSN number the week after. You got to hand it to the efficiency of the Dutch system!
To start getting your salary and pay expenses, you’ll need to open a bank account in Amsterdam. You’ll also find that there many places in Amsterdam don’t accept cash at all and many supermarkets only take Dutch debit cards, so it’s pretty essential to get a local card.
You’ll need the following documents:
- Proof of ID (passport or identity card)
- Official proof of address, such as a rental contract
- BSN number
- If you are from outside the EU, your residence permit
Everyone who lives or works in the Netherlands is legally obliged to take out standard health insurance. This ensures that every person is protected against the financial risks of illness and hospital admission.
The standard insurance package (which costs around 100 euros/month) includes visits to GPs, some medications, dental care until the age of 18, nutritional/dietary care, medical aids, mental health services and more.
The package does not cover things like aspirin purchased over the counter, certain cosmetic surgery procedures and things for which no supplemental insurance has been chosen (e.g. a root canal treatment at the dentist).
Even if you are from the EU and have your own health insurance, you will need to register for health insurance here in the Netherlands. If you are not covered by Dutch health insurance, you risk being fined and billed retroactively for the months you were not insured.
Zorgwijzer.nl is the best site to compare insurance policies between companies.
Bikes are a symbol for the Netherlands, and Amsterdam is often called the bike capital of the world. You can literally go biking anywhere in the city and you’ll find that cyclists are given more priority than pedestrians here.
If you live and move around within the city, biking is faster than any alternative. I used to be afraid to cycle on busy roads, but I’ve gotten the hang of it now and love biking everywhere. Amsterdam is just SO well connected on bike.
It’s easy to buy a second hand bike for as cheap as 35 euros on Marktplaats or Facebook groups such as Buy and Sell Amsterdam. Buy a good lock, even if it costs a lot compared to the value of the bike, especially if you leave your bike on the street at night. Bike theft is incredibly common in Amsterdam.
For those who prefer to opt for public transport, remember to get the the public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart), which can be used for travel on trams, buses, metros and trains. You’ll find it MUCH cheaper to travel with an OV card than on single tickets.
There are two types of OV cards:
- Non-personalised cards: Available and rechargeable at GVB ticket vending machines, supermarkets, news stands.
- Personalised cards: Available online and can be automatically-recharged through your bank account. These passes require a passport-style photo.
If you’re traveling often by public transport, a personal OV-chipkaart will probably be the most convenient option for you. You can easily get a monthly pass or season ticket on the card, automatically reload credit, view your travel details online or block the card in case of theft or loss. It costs 7.50euros and is valid for five years.
I hope you’ve found this guide to moving to Amsterdam useful. If you’re planning to move to Amsterdam or have recently moved here, get in touch. I’ll love to meet fellow newbie Amsterdammers!