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The Essential Perspectives I’ve Learned After 2 Years Living in Amsterdam

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Living in Amsterdam has been a unique experience for me. Its stunning architecture, rich history, and diverse culture make it a place unlike any other city.

The city offers endless entertainment options and a liberal vibe that allows one to meet people from all walks of life. As someone who decided to make the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, their home, I can confidently say there’s never a dull moment in this energetic and beautiful city.

Man Fishing Bikes Out of the Amsterdam Canals
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

As impressive as it is, though, living in Amsterdam doesn’t come without its challenges. The cost of living is quite high compared to other European cities, and finding accommodation can be daunting.

Additionally, in Amsterdam, the vertical living style in iconic canal-side townhouses means that living spaces are generally smaller than the national average.

As an American, the national average would be already considered very dense. I don’t mind it, especially moving here with my wife and daughter. Living in closer spaces allows you to spend quality time as a family.

Amsterdam continues to offer a lifestyle of exceptional quality that has made every moment here truly worthwhile. The decision to make this city my home is one I’ll always cherish.

My experiences in Amsterdam have been rich with cultural engagement, from the world-famous museums and galleries to the incredible events throughout the year. The thought of relocating to a new country might be daunting, but my affection for Amsterdam only grows.

Kyle Kroeger Selfie of Having Dinner with Daughter
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The city is a harmonious blend of historical charm, contemporary progress, and cultural variety, providing an unparalleled living experience. By making Amsterdam my home, I’ve evolved personally and gained deeper insights into the world.

Introduction to the Culture of Amsterdam

Cluster of Bikes in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam grew from the 13th-century fishing village around an Amstel dam and has, in many ways, been called the living, breathing museum that celebrates life on or near water. The historic canals that once served for trade and transportation were labeled as “the Venice of the North” by the Netherlands.

The 17th-century canals of Grachtengordel are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the 100 km Amsterdam waterway system extends beyond the central district, taking up each of its seven distinct district areas. Despite the city’s density, Amsterdam retains the feel of a small town thanks to bicycle-friendly infrastructure and vertical lifestyles.

Amsterdammers vs Dutchies

Amsterdammers, like any other capital city, are known to have a different approach than Holland and, of course, the Netherlands. This is common for any capital or main city of a country (looking at you, New York City). The hustle, diversity, and eclectic energy here are different.

Other towns and cities around the Netherlands may look like mini-Amsterdam, but I’ve heard from some Dutchies who live in other cities that they don’t enjoy the craziness of Amsterdam. To each is own. I moved here to embrace the city life. For some, if you aren’t ready for some serious hustle and potential tourist madness, it may become a big adjustment.

Dutch Directness

In terms of culture, be prepared for directness within Dutch culture, which also comes at the root of their approach to individuality and equality. Sometimes, you can get service that you’d think, my gosh, that was not polite. It might be. But, the Dutch will say it how it is.

For example, I was dining at a Michelin-star restaurant in Amsterdam, and when I was selecting my wine to order, the sommelier replied, “That might be the worst wine you could possibly choose.”

I was like, whoah, that isn’t very pleasant. It definitely could have been positioned better with words, in my opinion. Beyond that, though, I’d rather have someone who’s an expert in their field give me the direct business rather than dance around it. The wine that was suggested instead was quite delicious, so there you go.

Cost of Living in Amsterdam

Living in Amsterdam offers a high quality of life, but it’s essential to consider the high cost of living before moving here. In this section, I’ll discuss the main expenses you should expect when living in Amsterdam.

Housing

Escalator Moving into Windows in Amsterdam
I always love watching move-in day (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

The Amsterdam housing market can vary greatly depending on location and accommodation type. Typically, you can expect to pay an average rent of between €950 – €1,575 for a studio or one-bedroom apartment in most apartments in different neighborhoods, with private apartments costing between $1,500-3,000 and luxury apartments costing between $2,000-5,000.

Your proximity to the city center will also affect the cost. Finding an apartment might take some time, so booking temporary accommodation in Amsterdam, like an Airbnb or VRBO, is a good idea until you settle in a suitable home.

Transportation

Willemsbrug (Brug 151) Open Draw Bridge in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers
  • Bicycle: Cycling is the most popular mode of transportation in Amsterdam, and a second-hand bike can cost around €100-200. Cycling is well-integrated into the Amsterdam lifestyle. The bike-centric city has a well-connected cycleway or bike lane that allows you to bike in peace without interference from other motorists. Unfortunately, their popularity means bike theft is not uncommon, so make sure to buy a lock, too.
  • Public transport: A monthly transport pass, which covers buses, trams, and metros, costs around €90.
  • Taxi: Taxi in Amsterdam can be expensive, with an average rate of €2.20 per kilometer. They’re not the best idea if you’re looking to save money. Uber is also available in the city with comparable pricing.
  • Car: Owning and maintaining a car can be pricey, considering parking permits, insurance, and petrol costs.

See Related: Best Bike Tours In Amsterdam

Food and Dining

Cheeses Inside a Cheese Shop in Amsterdam
There’s more than just Gouda cheese here, but if you love cheese, you’ll be in heaven (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Grocery expenses vary depending on the shopping area and individual preferences, but a rough estimate for a single person’s monthly grocery bill is around €150-300. Shopping at local markets and discount stores can save you significant money.

From time to time, we use Albert Heijn to have our groceries delivered in Amsterdam, which has been incredibly efficient and saves some time during those busy work weeks.

When it comes to dining out, Amsterdam offers a range of options. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant can cost around €15-20, while a three-course meal for two at a mid-range establishment might be around €60-80.

Utility

I use Ziggo for internet with the highest-paid plan, which costs 80 euros monthly and has been fast and reliable. There are cheaper options, but as a digital nomad, that works quite a bit from home. I needed reliability.

In addition, I have a prepaid electricity and heating contract for 12 months, where if I don’t use all of the monthly allotments, I get a refund at the end of the contract.

UtilityEstimated Monthly Cost
Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage€150-200
Internet€25-50
Mobile Phone€15-30

Remember that these utility costs can vary depending on usage and provider.

Employment and Economy

Brouwerij de Prael
Love this Brouwerij de Prael coaster on opening doors for others (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Living in Amsterdam, I have observed a thriving economy with diverse job opportunities.

Job Opportunities

In my experience, Amsterdam is an attractive place for expats due to its international job market. The city’s workforce is home to many multinational companies, start-ups, and creative industries. The increase in new businesses has led to the creation of innovative job types and opportunities for both locals and expats alike.

Some of the key industries in Amsterdam include finance, technology, and tourism. Additionally, there is a growing demand from international companies for skilled professionals in software development, marketing, and design. Plenty of great job opportunities are available at places like ZipRecruiter and FlexJobs.

Salaries

As for salaries, I’ve come across different figures depending on factors like experience and profession. Generally, the average annual income for a worker in the Netherlands is around 38,000 EUR before tax, allowing a modest lifestyle in the city’s best neighborhoods.

For those looking for more flexibility and the ability to spend on discretionary items, earning closer to 50,000 EUR annually is advisable. Income tax is quite high in the Netherlands, and the threshold is around 60,000 euros to be in the highest income tax bracket, which is approximately 50%.

One beneficial aspect of working in Amsterdam for many expats is the possibility of being eligible for the 30% ruling. This tax incentive reduces the taxable income for qualified, skilled workers from abroad, granting them more take-home pay. That certainly helps you enjoy the expat life.

Language and Culture in the Dutch Capital

Living in Amsterdam offers immersing oneself in a diverse and cultural landscape. From the local Dutch language to the international community and the several traditions and festivals, many experiences await discovering.

Dutch Language

Festival Sign in Dutch
Does Dutch Seem Easy?(Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Though initially challenging, learning some basic Dutch terms and phrases greatly improved my experience living in Amsterdam. Although the majority of the population in the city speaks English fluently, the locals always appreciate it when expats try speaking Dutch.

Some essential Dutch phrases I’ve found particularly helpful are:

  • Hallo (hello)
  • Dank je (thank you)
  • Excuseer (excuse me)

Amsterdam is truly an international city, with people from all over the world calling it home. The diverse population of big and small cities makes it easy to meet new people.

It contributes to the bustling cultural scene, resulting in various restaurants, entertainment, and events. I have also noted that the international community helps make a living in Amsterdam a particularly welcoming experience for newcomers.

Numerous international clubs, organizations, expat groups, and events provide ample opportunities for networking and support. There are plenty of places to learn Dutch, too.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Netherlands & Things to Do

Cultural Differences Between the United States and the Netherlands

Many people describe the Dutch directness as a cultural difference. The work culture is one of our most interesting differences. Dutch culture seems to be much healthier and emphasizes a work-life balance.

Parents should be free to spend a few hours every morning with their children to enjoy their time before work. This is critically important to children’s happiness and has been thoroughly studied by the National Institute of Health.

Opening a Dutch Bank Account

Geldmaat (Dutch ATM) in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Moving to Amsterdam and living the expat life means figuring out how to open a bank account when you aren’t an EU citizen. De Nederlandsche Bank is the national bank of the Netherlands, but there are also plenty of smaller national and international banks to choose from.

I’ve gotten by just fine with a Wise account where I can have both a USD and a EUR account, among others. You must provide proof of address, your citizen service number, and a valid ID. Reasons you might need one:

  • Some apartments require that you have a bank account before you can rent.
  • Many grocery stores and independent boutiques only accept debit cards.
  • If you want to work for Dutch companies.
  • You want to get a mortgage on a home in the Amsterdam area.

Traditions and Festivals

Family During Koning's Dag in Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Me with my daughter on King’s Day (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Another aspect of Amsterdam’s cultural landscape I find particularly appealing is its array of traditions and festivals. These events offer a delightful taste of local culture and showcase the city’s celebratory spirit and people.

Some of the most popular traditions and festivals in Amsterdam include:

  • King’s Day (Koningsdag) – a nationwide celebration in honor of the Dutch monarch, featuring street parties, live music, and markets.
  • Amsterdam Light Festival – a winter celebration showcasing fantastic light-based art installations throughout the city’s canals and streets.
  • Pride Amsterdam – a colorful and lively event celebrating LGBTQ+ culture and pride with a variety of exciting activities and parades.

See Related: Music Festivals to Attend This Summer

Education and Family Life

Kids Slide in the Middle of Amsterdam
In the Hofjes, you’ll find hidden kids’ parks… Apparently, my wife enjoys them (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Living in Amsterdam with a family, I found the city to be more than just a diverse place to call home. Its education system, higher learning institutions, social housing, and childcare options are essential aspects contributing to a family-friendly environment.

School System and International Schools

As a resident of Amsterdam, I appreciate the free, high-quality local schooling available for my children. The government-funded public schools provide education up to the age of 16, relieving the financial burden of school fees for most of their academic years.

International schools are also available, offering curricula that make it easy for both expat parents’ children to transition into the Dutch education system.

Some popular areas in Amsterdam for families include Zuid, Oud-Zuid, Rivierenbuurt, Westerpark, and Watergraafsmeer. These neighborhoods boast proximity to schools, relaxed vibes, and space for children to play. We lived in Oud-Zuid for a year and loved it.

Higher Education

Historic Oudemanhuispoort
Historic Oudemanhuispoort at University of Amsterdam (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

I am especially pleased with Amsterdam’s reputation for excellent higher education institutions. The city is home to two internationally renowned universities – the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). Both universities offer a wide range of study programs in English, attracting students from all over the country and the world.

Besides these institutions, various vocational and specialized schools help young adults to develop specific skills and pursue their chosen career paths.

Childcare Options

Toddler Playing with Cat in Amsterdam Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

For working parents like myself, reliable childcare options are vital. Amsterdam offers various daycare forms, including government-subsidized kindergartens and private childcare centers.

Parents can also take advantage of child allowance benefits to ease the financial burden of childcare. It is essential, however, to start the search for suitable daycare early, as waiting lists can be lengthy.

Our daycare lasts from as early a drop-off at 8 am to as late as 9:30 am and pick-up as early as 5 pm and as late as 6:30 pm. The daycares here emphasize community, learning, and growing together.

The days seem long for toddlers, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching my little one learn so much over such a short period.

Healthcare System

Exterior of academic hospital Amsterdam UMC, University medical centers
Milos / Adobe Stock

Living in Amsterdam, I have found that the healthcare system is one of the best. With top-notch hospitals and highly skilled medical professionals, the quality of care is excellent.

Access to Healthcare

In Amsterdam, the general practitioners (huisartsen) play a crucial role in the healthcare system. They are the first point of contact for any health concerns. To get healthcare in the Netherlands, it’s essential to go through the following steps:

  • Register with the local council for a citizen service number (BSN).
  • Choose and register for health insurance (either a basic package or additional coverage) from a provider of your choice. Consider a short-term insurance policy such as Cigna or Allianz Global Assistance to ensure you’re covered while your visa paperwork is being confirmed.
  • Register with a local doctor.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is mandatory for all residents in the Netherlands, including expats like me who are moving abroad. Dutch health insurance companies must offer all residents a complete set of basic benefits, with expat life making it easier to access the necessary care.

Various insurance providers offer different packages, so it’s important to research and choose a plan that caters to individual needs. Some providers offer basic packages with the option of purchasing additional coverage for specific services or treatments.

For things like prescriptions, the insurance will cover the cost initially and bill you for it. Then, you must use a third party that works with the insurance company to get your reimbursement back. It’s a bit of a roundabout method and takes longer.

Remember that if you’re employed in the private sector in the Netherlands, your employer might offer a healthcare plan, so it’s essential to check with them before choosing your insurance.

See Related: What’s the Average Cost of Travel Insurance?

My Favorite Leisure & Entertainment Activities

Amsterdam buzzes with life, offering an array of diverse experiences for discovery. It’s hard to get bored here. Here are some things I enjoy in my spare time to enjoy the city and its features.

Attractions

Cafe Seating in Vondelpark at Grote Melkhuis, Amsterdam
I love the cafes in Vondelpark (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

In my experience, Amsterdam has numerous attractions that cater to all interests. One of my favorite places is the Vondelpark, a spacious park perfect for walks, picnics, and outdoor activities like cycling.

I also occasionally enjoy spending time at Albert Cuyp Market, where I can find an array of fresh produce, street food, and unique souvenirs when friends or family are in town. Beyond that, I love getting fresh produce at Zuidermarkt. If I need some flea market items,

  • Canal cruises: A quintessential Amsterdam experience, allowing me to explore the city’s iconic waterways and take in stunning views
  • Heineken Experience: This interactive tour gives me an insight into the history of the famous beer brand, as well as a chance to taste their brews
  • Artis Zoo: A visit to this historical zoo is always fun for many families, as it houses a variety of animals, an aquarium, and even a planetarium
  • Red Light District: A distinctly adult-flavored attraction but still a popular destination in Amsterdam. Even if it’s just looking around and enjoying the music, it can be a fun place to spend an evening.

Museums and Galleries

Rijksmuseum Gardens
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

As a lover of art, history, and culture, I thoroughly enjoy visiting Amsterdam’s world-class museums and galleries. I’m also a Museum Pass member, which is a must-purchase if you plan on living in the Netherlands.

Among the most impressive is the Rijksmuseum, where I can admire Rembrandt’s famous ‘The Night Watch’ and other works by Dutch masters. The Van Gogh Museum is another personal favorite, housing the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh’s art. Other museum highlights include the following:

See Related: Our House Amsterdam Review

Nightlife

Amsterdam boasts a lively, varied nightlife that can cover so many spectrums. I particularly enjoy exploring the bars, pubs, hip bars, and clubs of Leidseplein, occasionally, which is a lively square that offers an array of options for a fun night out. I’m mainly enjoying the brown cafes throughout the city as that’s more my speed.

There’s also the iconic Paradiso, where I’ve had the pleasure of attending concerts by local and international artists in a unique and intimate setting.

In addition to many restaurants, Amsterdam offers a diverse selection of restaurants and cafes that serve cuisines from different corners of the world. You can also never go wrong with one of the many famous Dutch ‘brown cafes’ known for their cozy ambiance.

See Related: Best Nightclubs in Amsterdam

Climate and Weather

I’ve experienced a moderate sea climate in Amsterdam: mild winters, cool summers, and fair yearly rainfall. The city center’s proximity to the North Sea seashore, only 22 kilometers (14 miles) away, plays a significant role in the weather patterns.

During winter months, most people say from December to February, I’ve felt temperatures ranging from -7 degrees Celsius (19.4 F) to more moderate ones above freezing. While snowfall occurs, it is not frequent or heavy, and it’s rare for canals and rivers to freeze.

Summertime in Amsterdam brings pleasant weather, with temperatures usually hovering around 25 degrees Celsius (77 F). On sunny days, the city becomes alive as most locals take the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities, picnics, and relaxing in a park nearby.

Here’s a brief overview of Amsterdam’s weather averages throughout the year:

SeasonAverage TemperatureWeather Conditions
Winter (Dec-Feb)-7°C to 5°C (19.4°F to 41°F)Mild with occasional snowfall, partly cloudy
Spring (Mar-May)5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F)Increasing sunshine, cool and comfortable
Summer (Jun-Aug)15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F)Warm and sunny, occasional rainfall
Fall (Sep-Nov)5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F)Decreasing sunshine, cooler temperatures, and increasing rainfall

When living in Amsterdam, it’s essential to be prepared for varying weather conditions. I always carry an umbrella or raincoat for unexpected showers and dress in layers for fluctuating temperatures.

See Related: Best Time to Visit Amsterdam: When Should You Visit?

Is Life in Amsterdam Good?

Busy Street in Amsterdam With Cars and Bikes
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

I’ve found living in Amsterdam to be quite an experience. It’s a diverse city, full of life and history, and I’ve been fortunate to meet people from all different backgrounds. The city’s culture features limited judgment, which makes adapting and settling in easier.

Housing in Amsterdam can be challenging due to a fast-moving and pricey housing market. However, once settled in, the excellent quality of life outweighs the housing difficulties. The city is safe and offers endless entertainment options, including museums, theaters, and festivals throughout the year.

Spending time in Amsterdam’s picturesque canals and streets. While this is an expensive city, it has countless unique shops and cafes, making daily life a never-ending exploration. Amsterdam’s public transportation system is efficient and clean, and cycling is a prevalent mode of transport, making commuting a breeze.

Another advantage of living in Amsterdam is its strong expat community. Most Dutch people have a good command of English, making communication and administration less hassle, especially compared to other European cities.

This has been a considerable relief as an expat during my stay here. Moving to Amsterdam initially seemed overwhelming, but the country and living at a slower pace have been a blessing.

Nevertheless, living in the big city of Amsterdam can be expensive, with high living costs and income taxes. Considering the city center’s overall atmosphere, culture, and high quality of life, I’ve found it well worth it. The city center’s rich cultural experiences and unique charm always amaze me, making daily life in Amsterdam enjoyable.

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