What it’s like to live in Amsterdam as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Bruna shares her expat life in Amsterdam, from the cost of living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, overcoming difficulties and culture shock, to how to prepare for moving to this beautiful city.
1. About Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam is the famous city in the Netherlands and one of the most open-minded in the world, if not the most. The city has the highest number of national heritage buildings, thriving cultural attractions and gorgeous canals that enchant both tourists and locals.
Furthermore, Amsterdam is famous for good museums and interesting areas, such as the Red-Light District. Also, Amsterdam is also close to many stunning cities in the Netherlands, offering many day-trips possibilities.
Needless to say that it is an expat-friendly city, right? The local language is Dutch, but 99% of the people speak English very well.
2. How did you move to the Netherlands?
I moved from Brazil to the Netherlands in 2014 to be an au pair in Amsterdam. That was a great and cheap way to travel around Europe and I’ll forever be grateful that I took that decision! I would go somewhere new every single weekend (in the country or in Europe) and one of those trips was to Maastricht, a city in the south of the country.
On that occasion, I had a Tinder match with my (today) fiancé. Crazy, right? Yes, I know! But we’re not the only couple I know who met via Tinder. Anyway, one year after, we moved in together. Then I started to learn Dutch and eventually found a job in my study area.
3. Why did you choose to live in Amsterdam?
Well, before I decided to which country I’d go to, I’d look for posts on other travel bloggers’ websites and I found this post about the best things to do in Amsterdam. I was instantly in love with this place!
The houses have such a sweet Dutch Renaissance style and the canals were amazing in the photos, but when I saw them with my own eyes…I say that I didn’t choose Amsterdam, but I was chosen. Amsterdam is an open-minded city full of foreigners. It has a great atmosphere!
4. How to prepare for moving to Amsterdam?
The process was actually pretty simple. I had to gather all my documents and translate them to Dutch to apply for the visa. Then I bought some winter clothes because the ones I had were supposed to handle an 18 Celsius/ 64 Fahrenheit winter… In addition, I started studying Dutch on my own to make my life a little bit easier there.
5. Did you experience any difficulties when moving to Amsterdam?
Yes, mainly because of the weather. In Brazil, most of the days have a clear sky and are warm, but in the Netherlands…it was so cold and gray! It still is cold and gray but I’m more used to the cold now.
Only the gray and dull days bother me. It feels like I need the sun to keep my energy up, that’s my fuel. To deal with that we travel to southern Europe to find the sun and get a little break of the winter here.
6. What is the cost of living in Amsterdam?
a) Accommodation in Amsterdam
Like I said above, the Netherlands is pricey in general, so this isn’t different with accommodation in the most popular cities. The rent average is around 1.350 euro for a 70m2 apartment.
We spend around 200/250 euro/month on groceries. I don’t think this is a lot for two people, but we shop different items in different supermarkets, just because it’s cheaper.
The public transport system in the Netherlands is very good, but it’s pricey too. A return train ticket to Rotterdam would cost me 30 euro. Ouch! Luckily, many stores offer day-tickets for the train for 15-20 euro every month.
Buses and trams are charged per kilometer, so it can be advantageous, but it’s still expensive if you use it on daily basis. That is one of the reasons why plenty of people ride a bike instead of taking a bus because it’s much cheaper.
7. Did you experience any discrimination in Amsterdam?
A little bit. It’s luckily not a common thing, but it takes only one person to ruin your day, right? In the beginning, I had someone asking me if I was in a relationship with my fiancé to be “able” to live in Europe.
I mean, seriously? That sounds so repulsive that I chose to ignore that person from that day on. It’s so sad that many people judge you based on the country’s name on your passport. Many of those have never even been to Brazil…but that’s okay. My fiancé says “if they think like that, it’s not worth to explain it”, and I totally agree with him.
But today, I no longer experience any discriminations, maybe because I’ve been in the country for quite a while and speak their language pretty well.
8. How did you overcome culture shock in Amsterdam?
I only realized it after a month or so that we have very different cultures. For example, most Dutch people plan appointments (to drink a coffee, etc) a week in advance at least, Brazilians plan something for tonight or tomorrow night.
Also, if you knock on their door at dinner time, they will ask you to come back later, when they’re done eating. If you would do the same in Brazil, you’d probably be invited to have dinner with them.
These are just a few examples of a long list! Those things seemed weird to me when I moved here, but not anymore. I come from a much warmer culture where people like to be together and make new friends. But now I see it as simple differences in both countries’ history and culture. It’s a process that takes time to get used to.
That’s what I love about traveling. It opens your mind to see the differences as they are. Rather than creating discriminatory opinions.
9. What do you like about Amsterdam?
I adore the old architecture and charming canals the city has. Amsterdam is so enchanting all yearlong and, thankfully, has a lot to offer in all seasons. Also, the cafes are just fantastic! Hipster crowd and cool atmosphere make the cafes in the city very cozy.
For travel-lovers like me, it’s a perfect location because you can easily reach other cities in the country or take a train to Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and London.
10. Are there any bad things about Amsterdam?
Hmm, I don’t like…that it is expensive and full of tourists. The Netherlands is a pretty expensive country, but Amsterdam is the cherry’s cake. Rent costs way too much in my opinion.
And yeah, thousands of tourists come here every day, so when you want to reach somewhere on foot or bike, it can take a while because the streets are full. Besides that, Amsterdam is a stunning place. I don’t have anything to complain about.
11. What are your favorite things to do in Amsterdam?
I love wandering around the city center, visiting museums, having a beer in some cozy bars or taking pictures of the streets. The city center is very photogenic, especially the Seven Bridges – a place from where you can see 7 bridges one after the other along a canal. It’s so beautiful!
Also, the city park, Vondelpark, is usually my favorite place to enjoy summer days drinking a beer while laying on the grass.
12. How can you make new friends in Amsterdam?
I met many foreigners in my Dutch courses. People from all continents and ages! I didn’t have the same luck with locals though. Nevertheless, Dutch people are always very friendly, so it’s pretty easy to engage with them.
13. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
After the last question, this is an easy one. I hang out mostly with foreigners. The only locals I hang out with are my fiancé’s group of friends. I also interact with expat communities in Amsterdam, mostly with students and travelers.
14. Where is your favorite place in Amsterdam to meet friends?
We don’t have a standard place to hang out, but it’s usually a bar or a café (coffee shop in the Netherlands is the place where people use soft drugs). There are plenty of good options for bars/ cafes in the Jordaan neighborhood.
Oh, we also go often to a very cozy and hipster bar/ restaurant next to NDSM in North Amsterdam.
15. A memorable experience in Amsterdam
When I had just arrived in Amsterdam, a friend invited me to go ice skating in front of the Rijksmuseum and I said yes right away. However, I had no idea of what I could expect from the winter…
And since Dutch people ride a bike to go everywhere, we wanted to go there by bike as well. Just so we could feel a little more like locals, you know. But I was totally unprepared for the striking cold wind and the only bike I had was a kids-size one. So I was riding a tiny bike on an icy evening for around 10km.
When we arrived there, I couldn’t feel my face and hands for a long, long time! On the next day, I had back pain and my cheeks were burned! It wasn’t nice back then, but today I laugh when I think about it.
16. Did you change your perspective about Amsterdam after living here?
Yes, it’s almost impossible not to do it. When you move to a city, you have no idea how that place really is. I had a totally different perspective of the whole country actually, but it’s a slow process to learn how life goes in another culture and wonderful to fully experience it.
17. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Amsterdam?
First of all, learn the local language! Most parts of the locals speak English very well, but that’s not their native language. It’s not the government language, or television, etc. No, it’s all in Dutch. So, in order to make you feel a part of society and also to make more local friends, I highly recommend studying it. There are many excellent websites that I used to learn it. So, it’s possible to do it online and for free.
Secondly, forget a car, buy a bike! The city center is full of bikes, people, everything. I don’t find it car-friendly, what I think that it is amazing, actually. Plenty of people go to the bar, to the school, to work, and supermarket by bike. So, get used to doing it too.
18. Would you recommend others to live in Amsterdam?
Certainly! The city has everything to offer to its population. Really everything that you think! It has a gorgeous city center full of nice stores and cozy bars/ cafes. A central station easily reached by bike, bus or tram. Pleasant parks and good markets to stroll around. Amsterdam also has a jovial and open-minded atmosphere. I’m totally in love with it, you noticed it, right? Lol.
19. What have you learned from living abroad?
I’m much more independent. I have to do way more things on my own because my family isn’t here to help me like they used to do, so I’ve grown up a lot.
I have also learned that I love museums and other cultures! I’ve been to more museums in Amsterdam than I’ve been in my whole life until I moved there.
I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this interview! I hope it will inspire many people to come to visit the charming Amsterdam and, who knows, to move here as well.
20. More about Bruna
Bruna is the voice behind the travel blog Maps ‘N Bags. Her blog focus on providing travel tips to help other travelers to travel the world as well. She has been to many countries and city across the globe and has plenty travel hacks to share!
Apart from her blog, she is also passionate about beer, coffee, laughing, animals, photography…the list is long! If you want to know more about her, check out Maps ‘N Bags.
* This article was updated on June 10th, 2018.