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Expat Interview: Moving to the Netherlands for Study & Work

The next instalment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part, or want to see a certain place featured let me know!

I’ve been to the Netherlands a couple of times, to Amsterdam of course, and to some of the smaller places in the south. I found the canals and towns beautiful, and it’s somewhere I’ve considered as a possible expat home for myself in the future! Francesca’s interview has some awesome indepth information on living in the Netherlands, so if you’re thinking about moving to the Netherlands or looking where to go next, it’s worth checking out!

Who are you?

Francesca, a globetrotter with a big passion for food, dancing and well…traveling!
I have been moving since the age of 3, and I can say that I learnt a lot thanks to these experiences – the good and the bad of moving around is how I got where I am.

Meeting new people, eating and being clumsy in new countries is what I do. Wanderlusted is how I should be diagnosed for addiction. Explore and connect is my motto, with a touch of ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Pura vida’. You never know until you try, so go out there and try to be whoever you desire to be, and do whatever you love to do. Life is a roller coaster and you should just open your eyes, scream and embrace the ride.

I decided a while ago to write a travel and lifestyle blog, as I was missing creative writing a lot and I am really happy I did so. It is a challenge, I am a beginner but I love this and this community. I hope my stories can inspire others to ‘be lost in the right direction’ and smile because life is really truly a gift, that should be cherished and used at its whole potential.

Expat Interview Netherlands

What made you decide to move to the Netherlands?

Studying is what brought me to the Netherlands. I had always wanted to study abroad because I love international environments and I also thought studying in English would give more opportunities. I have been travelling and moving since an early age so I have always been eager to explore new countries and cultures and speak different languages.

When it was time to apply for University I knew it had to be outside of Italy, therefore I applied in England, Spain and the Netherlands. I followed my gut feeling, which was telling me that England was not right at the moment and I tried to make one of the other countries work. Spain did not happen due to timing issues with the application, but the Netherlands did, so I packed and went house hunting in the Netherlands.

In the end, it was the best decision. This experience changed my path 360° degrees. I first arrived during the intro week organized for all first year students, found a house and I thought “I can try this out, see how it goes. If I don’t like it I’ ll figure it out. I can always change.”. Well, after that week and after the first weeks of school I knew I was meant to stay in the Netherlands for a while.

Tell me about the cost of living.

Housing the the Netherlands

Housing in the Netherlands is very expensive. The majority of the cities here are student ones and landlords can take advantage of that. In Groningen, they developed some housing support groups where students can go for consultations about their rent and see whether they are paying too much. Nevertheless the prices are high, for instance I paid €350 a month (incl.) for a 14m2 room, which is ok. Amsterdam and Utrecht are the most expensive though.

I did my Master in Utrecht and housing there was even more complicated than Groningen (I could not believe that). I even got scammed, luckily with no serious consequences. I eventually found a room in a good area, near the campus, for €350 – 9m2.

Utrecht is one of the richest cities in the Netherlands and also has a number of students exceeding those of available rooms, thus housing is definitely an issue. Amsterdam has the highest rent of all. I lived in Rotterdam as well and the average rent there did not go below €300-350. So, watch out for scams and be ready to pay a considerate amount of money for rent in the Netherlands.

Food in the Netherlands

Food costs in the Netherlands are average. Compared to Germany it is more expensive but, on average, compared to other countries, it is similar. Albert Heijn and Jumbo are the most expensive and common ones. If you have a Bonus card from AH though, you can get good deals. An average 3 days grocery for me (I do not buy dairy nor meat, but a lot of veggies and fruit and lactose free products) was between €15-25 euros. Aldi and Lidl are the cheaper supermarkets (Aldi is a German chain, called Hofer in Austria).

The best is always to first check and see who offers what for best quality-price ratio. I did grocery in the two cheaper supermarkets whenever I could and I did not feel much difference in quality, they even have Bio goods. I always tried to go to the market in Groningen, and I highly suggest markets because they really have good deals. The one in Utrecht was more expensive. Obviously, I am talking from a student budget perspective, if you work in the Netherlands you will not perceive life as expensive, given that salaries match the living costs and needs.

Going out to eat is quite expensive. Average for a meal is between €10-15 but sometimes the quality does not match the price. You have to search and ask around for the good places. Beer is quite cheap and bread is between €1-3 euros at the supermarket and between €2-5 at the bakery (my favorite was Vlaamsch Broodhuys)

Travel in the Netherlands

It is very expensive to travel. If you live in Utrecht you can go to Amsterdam for under 10 euros, but if you are in Groningen, all the places will be at least 20 euros ride. The only way to get discounts is to get an OV card and travel with someone or get a personal OV with a specific subscription deal, for which you need a Dutch bank account.

Moving to the Netherlands Expat Interview

How did you find the job seeking process?

I did small and part-time jobs. The main issue for me was that I did not have any title of my Dutch level. Having a NT2 (language test, comparable to B2 level of other tests) is definitely needed in order to find a good job.

There are a lot of international companies too though, such as Phillips, so it is possible to find work there with only English or a basic level of Dutch. For other companies or jobs, even waitressing, Dutch is required. That is why my main jobs were translations, or tutoring and hostessing but not through Dutch agencies.I managed to get a hostessing job once through an Italian agency for the MotoGP in Assen.

Do you need a visa to live in the Netherlands?

If you’re a European citizen you do not, but as non-EU citizen you do. You can check the government website for visas for the Netherlands here.  University fees also differ for the two groups.

What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?

Certainly, being at uni makes it easier to find people. In general I think the social scene is very nice and Dutch people are always up to meet for a drink or enjoy a coffee somewhere. They do not eat out often, but they do like to meet for dinners and cook together. I can talk for the population in their 20s and they are supportive, social beings. To join a sports team or find an event is quite easy in most Dutch cities.

Moving to the Netherlands Expat Interview

What’s the best thing about living in the Netherlands?

Cycling everywhere keeps you fit and makes you independent. Moreover, you are close and connected to several countries and the vibe is quite relaxed. When it is sunny it is really amazing. Everyone goes outside, to the park and does bbq. You also see people doing Capoera in the park and chilling.

Very typical for when the weather is good, is that Dutch people like to put their chairs and sofas outside, if they live on the ground floor. So everyone is literally outdoor and chilling at the canals. The sun brings a magical touch to the days basically 🙂

What’s the hardest thing about living in the Netherlands?

The weather and the food are not the strongest point there. I think that even though I lived abroad a lot, I sometimes missed the southern vibe. It is hard to explain, but there was something missing. Also, I really missed the nature. Mountains, sea or forest. The Netherlands is a small country on a flat land, so for nature I would suggest other places. The cities are cute though and they do have islands where you can go, but they are also ‘farm, flat land’ style. You have the beach though and it is fun to go with a group of friends or for camps at uni with student associations.

If we had just one day in the Netherlands what should we not miss?

Keukenhof, which opens in March until May, is a lovely tulip garden. Really impressive. If we are talking about a day trip it is possible to see Amsterdam, which should be visited even though it is full of tourists, and Utrecht centre. I highly racommend a biking experience wherever in the Netherlands, in the fields or in the city (there can be traffic). Another must would be to find a good beer to drink and enjoy Dutch style.

A fun time to go would be during Kings’ Day, happening at the end of April. People of all ages go Orange (national color) and crazy.

Moving to the Netherlands Expat Interview

If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in the Netherlands what would it be?

Learn some Dutch for working, but know that everyone speaks very good English, both old and young people. Furthermore, get used to sarcasm and do not take it personally if someone is very direct. I liked it actually, but some people find it rude. Of course, there are limits not to be crossed when being direct, but it really is just how they are and if you can be direct and open-minded as well. Use some sarcasm back and it will be fine.

Final remark, if you suffer from the weather, keep yourself busy! That really helps. I can say this is my number one rule in general, no matter where I am: explore your possibilities and actively take action. Do what makes you happy. Attitude and set of mind really helps making a hard time a beautiful experience. If it still doesn’t work, maybe it is time for a change, but it is up to you what you make out of the time you have in a place. You can choose to make it awesome.

You can find more about Francesca’s life in the Netherlands on Twitter and Instagram

Have you been to the Netherlands? Would you want to move there?

Sonja x


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