This post is all about living in Amsterdam, the good and the bad so that you can have a good picture of life in the capital of The Netherlands.
Curious about what living in Amsterdam is really like?
Considering a move to the capital of The Netherlands and want to find out more about the cost of living in Amsterdam and get a full list of the pros and cons?
Then you have come to the right place!
Having celebrated my 10 years anniversary as an Amsterdam expat, I feel I am highly qualified to tell you all about living in this beautiful city. 🙂
Here’s a little bit about my journey and how I ended up here.
Living in Amsterdam – My Journey
I moved to Amsterdam in the spring of 2012, as I transferred from my job in Brussels to a new role in The Netherlands.
I arrived here, completely alone, with just a suitcase and great excitement about what was about to come. Not gonna lie, it hasn’t all been easy.
I feel like I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Amsterdam. But no matter the hardships of moving to a new country as a foreigner, Amsterdam has definitely been a GREAT place to live.
Here is everything you need to know about living in Amsterdam.
Cost of Living in Amsterdam
Let’s tackle the most important topic first – how expensive it is to live in Amsterdam and a detailed view of the living cost.
Amsterdam is a wonderful city to live in, but also the most expensive city in Holland. Living here isn’t cheap, but I do think it would be the best choice if you are considering moving to The Netherlands.
Here is what you can expect in terms of living costs in Amsterdam:
Breakdown of Living Expenses in Amsterdam
- rent: 900 EUR -1500 EUR for a single person (1 bedroom apartment) and 1800 EUR-2.500 EUR for a couple (2 bedroom apartment). Of course, the rent varies by area and surface, with higher rates in the city center. Rent will account for the biggest part of your living expenses in Amsterdam.
- groceries: I find that grocery shopping is slightly more expensive in Amsterdam than in other cities in Europe, so I would account for a budget of around 500 EUR a month for a couple.
- transport costs: public transport is very good in Amsterdam, so I highly recommend you use it. If you need to commute to work daily, this adds up to around 100 EUR a month, but it’s often paid by your employer. I generally spend around 25 EUR a month for weekend tram rides around the city. You can also get a bike, which will lower your transport costs in Amsterdam to ZERO (plus a great workout 😉 ).
- going out: this one depends A LOT on your own lifestyle. Dinner for 2 at a nice restaurant (but nothing too fancy) would be around 70-100 EUR, including drinks. A cocktail in some of the best bars in Amsterdam costs between 13-18 EUR. A glass of wine costs around 5-8 EUR.
- insurance: everyone needs to have health insurance in The Netherlands. I pay around 150 EUR/ month and it includes a dentist checkup and hygienist visit twice a year.
- shopping: the prices of clothes and shoes in Amsterdam are quite similar to other cities in Europe (but probably a bit more expensive than in the US, at least from my experience). Have a look HERE for the best places to shop in Amsterdam.
TOTAL AVERAGE COST OF LIVING IN AMSTERDAM (COMFORTABLY): 1.500 – 1.800 EUR/month.
This is what it costs to live comfortably in Amsterdam in my opinion. Of course, it highly depends on your own lifestyle. If you eat out every day or are accustomed to a truly luxurious lifestyle, then these costs will go up.
A good salary in Amsterdam is considered anything above 40.000 EUR per year, around 2.500-3.500 EUR Netto per month.
READ NEXT: 10 Amazing Free Things To Do In Amsterdam.
Next to the living costs, the weather in Amsterdam is a VERY important topic to address. 🙂 Especially if you are used to warm, long summers, like me.
Hate to break it to you, you won’t get much of a summer experience in The Netherlands. Except for maybe 2-3 weeks in August.
Lately, we’ve been having higher temperatures and more days of extreme heat. This is likely due to global warming, unfortunately, but I never complain about seeing the sun more.
During my first years of living in Amsterdam, I always had the feeling that I was skipping summer. It generally feels like a continuous spring or autumn here, with the average temperature in summer around 18C (64 F).
It also rains A LOT in Amsterdam. We always joke that as of October we won’t see the sun again till next April. Sad, but mostly true.
So no need to pack a lot of summer clothes if you are planning to move here, you won’t get to use them much. I know that sounds terrible. On the bright side, you will have a great collection of coats and sweaters. 🙂
Public Transport in Amsterdam
Public transport in Amsterdam (and generally in The Netherlands) is among the BEST in Europe. There are many ways to travel around the city, whether you prefer trams, buses, or the metro.
They run very fast, every 5 minutes during peak hours, and are generally on time! Sometimes even EARLIER, so I highly recommend arriving at the tram/bus stop a few minutes before Google maps says.
PRO TIP: there are only 2 entrances in the trams and busses in The Netherlands: at the side of the driver and in the middle of the bus/tram. The remaining doors are reserved for stepping out.
To travel around in the Netherlands you will need to get an ov-chikaart – a travel card. You can use it on all public transport, across the entire country, so it’s very handy.
It’s super easy to use: you upload an amount of money and the cost of the trip is deducted every time you check in and out of the public transport.
PRO TIP: DO NOT forget to check-in when you step in and check out when you leave. If you do, you will be charged 5 EUR. If you forget to chekc in, you will loudly hear the driver notifying you. 🙂
Best Areas to Live in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a wonderful city to live in! Even after 10 years, I am still in awe of the beauty of the 17th- century canals and the gorgeous architecture all around.
If you don’t mind the tourists, the city center can be a nice area to live in, especially on the Amsterdam Canals. My recommendation would be the Jordaan district.
I do not recommend living close to Dam Square. I did that for about 2 and a half years and while it was very convenient, the old windows of the centuries-old house did not help keep out the noise. Not to mention the coffee shop smell as I opened my windows every morning. And no, it wasn’t the actual coffee smell, if you know what I mean. 😉
If you are looking for a lively, vibrant yet comfortable area to live in – that would be De Pijp. I lived here for about 2 years and had a great time. This is generally the preferred area for students in Amsterdam.
For a more quiet, residential area, definitely check out the Rivierenbuurt. I love this part of town. Lots of expats and families live here. It’s slightly away from the city center yet very easily reachable in a 10-minute bike or tram ride.
If you are looking for a posh, upscale place to live, then the Museum Quarter and Amsterdam Zuid (South) is the place for you. The area around Vondelpark is lovely with many cafes and gorgeous buildings. For Londoners, this is the “Kensington of Amsterdam”. A lot of expats live here too.
While Amsterdam West, Nord, and Bos en Lommer areas are nice and up-and-coming, they are not my favorite. They didn’t quite feel safe enough for me. Also, stay away from Amsterdam Zuidoost.
The Dutch – People and The Language
We can’t talk about living in Amsterdam without mentioning the Dutch.
In my experience, Dutch people are friendly, down-to-earth, and welcoming. At work, there are no hierarchies, meaning that an intern can challenge the general manager (if he has a valid point) and no one would object. I love that!
The Dutch are also modest people and do not like to brag or show off. They even have a popular saying ” doe maar normal” which translates to “just act normal”. So anything or anyone that wants to show off or stand out isn’t generally appreciated. This is why you won’t see many luxury cars around Amsterdam, for example.
Another important thing you need to know about the Dutch is that they are incredibly direct.
This might be hard to get used to, especially for people from the UK who I think are on the opposite spectrum on this one. But you will soon learn to appreciate it and not take things personally. They never mean to be rude, trust me.
Do you need to speak Dutch or is English enough?
The Dutch language is pretty difficult. I find it to be a mix of English and German with a tough(er) pronunciation. If you do speak German, learning Dutch will be very easy.
But don’t be afraid, you won’t necessarily NEED to learn the language. Almost everybody in The Netherlands, young or old, speaks VERY GOOD English. So you can definitely get away without speaking the local language in Holland. I have friends who live here for 20 years and do not speak Dutch at all.
A common thing that happens, especially in Amsterdam, is that when you try to speak Dutch (with the waiter in a restaurant for example), they often reply in English. Not sure if that’s to help out or the fact that they do love to speak English. 🙂
This doesn’t mean that the Dutch will easily switch to English all the time, especially in corporate environments with 100% Dutch people. Not all have a comfortable level of English so do expect casual conversations during lunchtime (and sometimes even meetings) to take place in Dutch.
This hasn’t been easy for me, especially in the beginning, but being in a fully Dutch environment and having people speak it around me all the time has definitely improved my language skills.
Amsterdam goes out of its way to make the life of foreign residents easy, to the point that construction work signs or documents from the municipality (ex. asking you to do a survey) come with an English translation. How awesome is that?!
I think learning Dutch, even if you are only planning to stay a few years, is beneficial. People do love it when you try to make the effort, even if you won’t pronounce everything correctly.
If you’d like to learn the language I highly recommend the Regina Coeli institute. It is an incredibly intensive yet effective method, which will build your language skills from zero to A2 and even B1 within two weeks.
The way it works is that you spend one week at the school and learn Dutch the full day. You are hosted at the 4-star hotel in the region, you get to hang out with other fellow students (expats from all over the world) and practice your Dutch during breaks and meals.
After a break of 3 weeks, during which you practice the few words you learned in the real world, you come back for another week of classes.
It’s a truly proven and effective method. Also, you get to make a lot of new friends! Everyone is in exactly the same position as you – newly arrived in The Netherlands and figuring out their new life here.
Living in Amsterdam – The Culture
While Amsterdam is most famous for bachelor parties, the Red Light District, or its many coffee shops, there is SO MUCH MORE to the city than that!
In fact, Amsterdam is a top cultural center in Europe – with many wonderful things to do. You will love exploring the Rijks or the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum (contemporary art), or the Hermitage.
If you like ballet and opera, Amsterdam is also a great place to live. The Amsterdam Ballet is one of the best and their shows sell out every year.
Or you can go listen to a candlelight concert at the Amsterdam Philarmonic in the majestic Concertgebouw.
Amsterdam Streetstyle and Fashion
Dutch people tend to dress pretty casually and for comfort rather than fashion. Remember their saying “just keep it normal“? This applies 100% to fashion.
You will see a lot of jeans and sneakers (or UGGs in winter) on the streets of Amsterdam. This applies to both the workplace and brunch meetings with friends.
I have even seen girls coming from the gym straight into a restaurant in the evening with their athleisure gear still on, but I choose to believe that was an unfortunate exception rather than the rule.
(Not gonna lie, I do miss a bit the fashion show you get on the streets of Paris or Milan).
Also, unlike countries in Easter Europe (where I’m originally from – Romania), I was surprised to see how little to no makeup Dutch girls use here. And after living in Amsterdam for a while, I can definitely say, this is GREAT!
I love how Dutch girls embrace their natural beauty (most of them are gorgeous by the way).
I am even ashamed to admit it, but I used to put on makeup just to go to the store or the gym. Just in case I ran into someone I knew and God forbid they would see my bare face…This is absolutely crazy and I stopped doing it.
(I do apply makeup for going to work or going out, though. 🙂 )
Making Friends as a Foreigner in Amsterdam
Making friends while living in Amsterdam isn’t difficult, but requires conscious effort. Especially if you are alone and don’t know anyone in the city.
Here are some of the best ways to make friends:
- with your fellow students in a Dutch class
- by practicing your favorite sport (I made a lot of great friends playing tennis)
- Sign up for meet-ups and expat groups: Internations or Meetup are great places to start. I met my first flatmate via Internations.
- your flat-mates and their friends – I met lots of wonderful people this way
- at work – although this might be tricky if you work in a Dutch-only environment. In my experience, Dutch people tend to mostly hang out in their colleague-formed groups (from their fraternities or sororities). Yet some of them do like to have international friends so there are a few Dutch among my group of friends.
- via your kids: if you are a parent, a super easy way to make friends is with the parents at your kid’s school. Especially if they go to an international school.
With the exception of the last point (as I don’t have kids), those are all the ways I made friends through the years.
I highly encourage you to do the same. Having good friends will enormously enhance your experience of living in Amsterdam!
Living in Amsterdam: Pros and Cons
Wow, I feel like we’ve covered A LOT here! I hope you found it useful. Let’s summarize the pros and cons of living in Amsterdam:
- gorgeous city with vibrant nightlife – you’ll never be bored in Amsterdam, trust me!
- great cultural activities
- efficient public transport
- you can get away with only speaking English
- there are many expats in Amsterdam so you’ll make friends from all over the world. My current group of friends includes Australians, French, Italians, Irish, Dutch, British, and a few Romanians.
- flat hierarchy in the work environment
- THE WEATHER, by far! 🙂 It rains A LOT here, especially in winter. (So it will feel just like home for you Brits 😉 )
- high cost of living (especially compared to other cities in The Netherlands)
- Dutch directness – this can be a shock to some, but I personally appreciate it
- location: you are pretty high up North in Europe, so driving for a holiday to Italy or Switzerland takes longer than if you lived in Germany or France.
So there we have it – a complete guide to living in Amsterdam from my experience of over 10 years.
I truly hope you found it useful and if you have any questions, feel free to add them in the comments and I’ll be happy to help!