Living in Amsterdam

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A comprehensive guide about living well in Amsterdam

Thanks to our Relocation Guide to living in Amsterdam, with info on housing, education, and healthcare, you will quickly find your way around your new home. Like most expats, you will love Amsterdam for its multicultural charm, easy-going attitude, and picturesque flair.

Life in Amsterdam

At a Glance:

  • Finding a privately rented property will be the easiest way for expats to get accommodation in Amsterdam, although these are generally quite expensive.
  • Schooling reflects the diversity of the city, with many following particular curriculums due to religion or specific pedagogical concepts, and a growing number of bilingual schools.
  • The University of Amsterdam offers a fantastic opportunity to study in an international environment.
  • The Dutch basic insurance package does not cover dental treatments.

Amsterdam enjoys the reputation of being a cosmopolitan village. There is a large international community in Amsterdam, and the city is dedicated to welcoming all kinds of nationalities and catering to their needs. People strive to be gezellig, a near untranslatable Dutch term that is similar to convivial or friendly. This vibrant city is also home to some of Europe’s most stunning 17th and 18th century architecture, scattered parks, and 165 tree-lined canals.

Life in Amsterdam is dynamic and yet relaxed. The city takes pride in its liberal attitude and international character. Living in Amsterdam hence offers you a lot of personal freedom, as well as a variety of cultural events. A cherry blossom festival, the annual dragon boat race, as well as the former Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), now King’s Day (Koningsdag), are highlights you should not miss.

Public or Private Housing?

When planning your life in Amsterdam, you have two options when it comes to renting a flat: public housing (sociale huurwoningen) and the private (particulier) sector. Rental property in Amsterdam is subject to the House Value Rating System (woningwaarderingsstelsel). Every apartment or building receives points for standards, size, location, and facilities. This point system will help you determine if the rent you pay while living in Amsterdam is fair.

The Netherlands has the biggest public housing sector in Europe. This type of housing is mostly meant for lower-income groups. The maximum rent is determined by law. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find public housing on short notice. The waiting list is between 5 and 10 years. The social housing is only available to Dutch residents earning under 35,800 EUR and rent is capped at 711 EUR monthly.

Also, public housing permits are obligatory for those who want to rent in the public sector. Your landlord will have to organize the application for you. You must meet certain conditions to receive this permit, e.g. your income must not exceed a certain limit. Dienst Wonen has some great information on everything related to housing in the Netherlands.

Renting: The Best Option for Expats

A housing permit is only necessary if you plan on living in Amsterdam’s cheaper apartments, where the monthly rent cannot exceed a certain limit. Apartments with higher rents or owner-occupied housing do not require such a permit.

Private rentals (huurwoningen) are usually the first choice for expatriates. They are more expensive, but they can easily be rented for short-term stays by foreigners temporarily living in Amsterdam. In 2017, the average private rental price has stood at about 2,250 EUR per month. Unfortunately, if you are on a middle to lower income there is a vast shortage of housing in the range between 700 EUR and 1,300 EUR. Most landlords ask for a residence permit and for a deposit of 1–2 months’ rent. Tenancy agreements are usually signed for a fixed period of time.

You can find private housing by checking the classified sections of local newspapers such as DutchNews or online housing boards like jaap.nlRooftrack, a website offered by WoningNet, is another valuable source for expats on the housing search. Alternatively, you can hire a real estate agent (makelaar) or contact a specialized letting agency (verhuurbureaus) to help you find your perfect home in Amsterdam.

Going to School in Amsterdam

Primary school (basisschool) is compulsory for all children in Amsterdam starting at the age of 5. You should register your child with your school of choice early on. Some schools have long waiting lists, and if you are too late, you may find that all places have been filled. Amsterdam has 224 primary schools. About 30 of them cater to children with special educational needs.

You can find about 66 secondary schools (middelbare school) in Amsterdam. Many of them follow a special curriculum, based on different pedagogical ideas or religious faiths, thus reflecting the diversity of the people living in Amsterdam. Some schools cater to the needs of children with disabilities or behavioral problems.

There are also 6 international schools in the city specifically for expat children, and several others in the metropolitan area. Apart from the Amsterdam International Community School and the International School of Amsterdam, you can find a British, French, and Japanese school as well as one community college in the city. There has been a huge effort to boost bilingualism in schools, with many institutions teaching half of their curriculum in Dutch, and half of it in English.

Amsterdam: Health and Higher Education

Universiteit van Amsterdam

The UvA offers 250 BA and MA programs to foreigners and Dutch nationals alike. Many courses are taught in English, usually at graduate level. TheUniversiteit van Amsterdam has 7 faculties:

  • Humanities
  • Social and Behavioural Sciences
  • Economics and Business
  • Law
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • Dentistry

To apply to one of the five English BA programs, you require a high school diploma or an equivalent to the Dutch VWO. For BA programs taught in Dutch, you will need to pass a Dutch proficiency examination (Dutch as a second language (NT2), program II). Other examinations may be recognized if they prove your proficiency in Dutch.

MA programs are often taught in English. The minimum requirements are a BA degree in a related subject or field as well as a sufficient command of the English language. To learn more about administration requirements and individual programs, contact the UvA.

The university ranked 58th in the QS World University Rankings 2017 and is one of the top 15 universities in Europe. There are over 3,000 foreign students and researchers, allowing it to offer a special opportunity to study in a truly international environment.

Vrije Universiteit

The VU offers four English BA programs, for which prospective students can apply online. To do so, they require a copy of their school diploma, a letter of motivation, a copy of their passport or ID, a CV, two letters of recommendation and the results of their English language test. To enter the Dutch BA program, applicants must provide a VWO diploma or an equivalent thereof.

The university has implemented a selection system for very popular majors. If there are too many applicants for a certain program, students are chosen via a lottery system. The exact procedure and requirements for admission vary depending on the faculty and course.

Amsterdam University College

VU and UvA both collaborate with Amsterdam University College. Students who want to apply for any BA program at one of the two universities can use the AUC online form. Here you have to submit the digital version of your application documents. The minimum requirements are:

  • a secondary school diploma
  • very good English skills
  • good mathematical skills

If your application is considered promising, you will be invited to an interview, which can be conducted in person or via Skype.

Hospitals and Emergencies in Amsterdam

There are two university hospitals in Amsterdam, Het AMC and VU Medisch Centrum, and two teaching hospitals, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, and Sint Lucas Andreas Ziekenhuis. On top of that, there are several clinics to provide emergency care.

Should you ever be in need of emergency care, you can call 112. This number is only to be used in very serious medical or life-threatening situations. Otherwise, simply phone 088-00-30-600 to get in touch with a general practitioner on duty.

Finding the Best Doctors

General physicians (huisarts) have their practices in residential areas all over the city. Most patients choose a doctor who is close to their home, in case of emergency. In any case, your health insurance should cover all basic treatments. If you are not sure, check with your insurance provider beforehand.

To find a doctor in your neighborhood, visit Both websites are in Dutch, but easy to use. Enter your postal code in the text box and click zoek (search)You will then get a list of doctors in your area. Your expat friends may also be able to recommend a general practitioner to you.

If you are looking for a dentist, it is best to contact the Public Health Service of Amsterdam (GGD) for a list. Dental treatments are not covered under the Dutch basic insurance package. A supplementary insurance policy can, however, cover up to 75% of the costs.

InterNations GO!
by InterNations GO!
06 December 2018
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