An expat guide to living in Amsterdam, Netherlands

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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 a 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.

living in amsterdam
The famous narrow and crooked houses of Amsterdam

Furthermore, Amsterdam is famous for its good museums and interesting areas, such as the Red-Light District.

Also, Amsterdam is 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 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 on 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!

visiting Amsterdam canal
Amsterdam’s canals are the best attraction in the summer months.

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.

Also, 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 from 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 from accommodation in the most popular cities.

The rent average is around 1.350 euros for a 70m2 apartment.


b) Groceries

We spend around 200/250 euros/month on groceries.

I don’t think this is a lot for two people, but we shop for different supermarkets just because it’s cheaper.


c) Transportation

The public transport system in the Netherlands is excellent, but it’s pricey too.

A return train ticket to Rotterdam would cost me 30 euros. Ouch! Luckily, many stores offer day tickets for the train for 15-20 euros every month.

Buses and trams are charged per kilometer so that it can be advantageous, but it’s still expensive if you use them daily.

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 common, 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 explaining it,” and I totally agree with him.

But today, I no longer experience any discrimination, 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 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 biased opinions.


9. What do you like about Amsterdam?

I adore the old architecture and charming canals the city has.

Amsterdam is so enchanting all year long and, thankfully, has a lot to offer in all seasons.

Also, the cafes are just fantastic! The Hipster crowd and cool atmosphere make the cafes in the city very cozy.

biking in Amsterdam
View from one of the many bridges of Amsterdam.

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 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 seven bridges one after the other along a canal. It’s so beautiful!

living in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is full of flowers during spring.

Also, the city park, Vondelpark, is usually my favorite place to enjoy summer days, drinking a beer while lying 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 (a coffee shop in the Netherlands is where people use soft drugs).

There are plenty of good options for bars/ cafes in the Jordaan neighborhood.

We also often go to a 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 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 experience it fully.


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, 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.

Plenty of people go to the bar, to 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. Everything that you think!

It has a gorgeous city center full of nice stores and cozy bars/ cafes. A central station is easily reached by bike, bus, or tram. Pleasant parks and good markets to stroll around.

Amsterdam also has a cheerful 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 cities across the globe and has plenty of 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.

Don’t forget to follow her adventures on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.

  1. Well, I too have seen the photos and videos of Amsterdam and have been enthralled by them. Your post makes me also think about shifting places. Plus your advice on getting a Bike would work for me pretty well as I love driving one.

  2. This is definitely a unique viewpoint as travelling to a new country and living there are totally different things. I guess the cold, grey weather is something that’s really unique to the European continent, as I’ve heard so much about the dull, wet weather in many countries in the area (especially the UK).

  3. This was a great guide to Amsterdam, especially for living there. I have never visited even though I have been at the airport multiple times. It seems to be such a beautiful city full of life. I definitely want to visit someday. I’m sorry to hear that you experienced some discrimination there.

    1. Thank you, Paula! But unfortunately, we can find people like this everywhere, right?
      Anyway, please book your tickets because I’m sure you won’t regret the visit!

  4. Amsterdam has been on my bucket list for years! I can imagine it must have been a total culture shock coming from Brazil. But, kudos to you for starting to learn Dutch!

    1. Aw, thank you, Marcie! It definitely was. Honestly, I still need to get used to many aspects of the Dutch culture, but it’s way easier than a few years ago. :)

  5. This was great to read because my husband and I have actually talked about moving to the Netherlands. Amsterdam is such a fantastic city. I’m not surprised at how expensive it is but it’s so beautiful and there’s so much to see and do there.

    1. My answer to this is go! The city is really lovely and even though everything is expensive (it’s highly touristy) I don’t see myself living anywhere else.
      And indeed, there is a lot to see and do here!

  6. Thanks for sharing us the beauty of Amsterdam. Hope after my France trip soon, we could pay a visit on Amsterdam. What are your other favorite places?

    1. Hi Blair, I’d recommend a visit to the Begijnhof (a beguinage right in the city center), ride a bike a little further than the very city center, to have a drink along the canals, and to take a boat tour, of course.

  7. Amsterdam is indeed a beautiful place. As an Expat, I can understand that a place that looks beautiful for a short or even long trip, need not be the same when you move there. Moving to a country where you don’t know the local language needs a bit of guts! Btw, congrats on your engagement.

    1. Thanks a lot, Bhusha! It does take a bit of guts, but I think it made is “easy” cause I was younger (and we always think we’ll conquer the world, right?)

  8. I really enjoyed reading Bruna’s story, and it’s with a lovely happy ending too! I agree about Amsterdam that it’s expensive, can be very cold and overrun with tourists. However, it’s still a lovely city, and I love biking there too!

    1. Hi Lisa, so good to hear that (or read!). It’s expensive, but it’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Biking in the Netherlands is my fave thing to do!

  9. Amsterdam seems like an amazing city, offering much more than the famed canals, and other, less innocent, but well known attractions. It is good to hear the perspective of someone who has been in the city for a while, the insights are so much more deep.

  10. Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful place and I will definitely visit the place myself to explore it. Amazing pictures 😊

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