The complete guide to moving to Amsterdam

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

Canals, cafes, sprawling parks and rich history: moving to Amsterdam will certainly add some European charm to your life. This vibrant city has grown from a humble fishing village to a major trade and tourist hub. The city is famous for its laid-back lifestyle, and with English as a predominant language, it’s easy to see why so many people decide to move to Amsterdam. Our guide will take the stress out of planning and preparing.

Setting up home

Amsterdam is a multicultural city, with a lively heartbeat and calming green spaces. Many of the residents live in apartments or low-rise housing a little further from the centre in more leafy, suburban settings.

To rent or buy

While it’s not uncommon for expats who move to Amsterdam to buy a property, the vast majority tend to rent instead.

Rental properties in Amsterdam fall into two categories: public housing, or sociale huurwoningen and the private sector particulier. Regardless of which you opt for, all housing in Amsterdam falls under the House Value Rating System, or woningwaarderingsstelsel. This system awards points across a number of criteria including size, facilities, energy efficiency, property value and general standard of upkeep. The top mark is 145, and it can be a very useful tool in helping you work out whether your potential new home is not only desirable, but value for money.

Private rental is the most popular option for expats, and this does of course mean prices are a little higher. If you do find a rental for around the €700 mark, it is likely you will require a permit, as this is the cut off amount for housing subsidies, which is aimed at lower-income families.

To help you get started on your search, try the following websites:


Huurwoningen (Dutch only)


You’ll be asked for a deposit, which is usually one month’s rent, sometimes two if the property is particularly expensive. Contracts can be negotiated in terms of length, though it might be best to start with a shorter contract to ensure you’re happy in your home.

Your home might come with a service cost, or service kosten, and they are usually things not covered by the basic rent. These can vary from property to property, so do make sure you confirm with your landlord before signing the contract.

Amsterdam is easy to get around, and so whichever neighbourhood you opt for, you’ll not be far from public transport, good shopping or dining options. If you want to be right in the heart of the action, the central district is where you’ll find many of the major shops, bars, tourist attractions – and tourists. Another option is the District of Zuid, south of the city, where you’ll find the hip neighbourhood of De Pijp. It’s a cub for creatives, independent businesses and has a very eclectic feel. It’s also home to the Vondelpark, perfect for a sunny afternoon stroll.

The Ooust (East) and West districts are home to green spaces, great restaurants and have a neighbourhoods with a much more residential feel to it, so they make ideal places for families.



No decisions to make here, as you’ll be automatically connected to Waternet. If you have a water meter, you’ll be asked to give a reading annually, but will additionally be sent a separate bill which covers things such as purification and infrastructure maintenance. If you don’t have a meter, you pay based on the number of ‘units’ your home has (what constitutes a ‘unity’ varies from rooms to baths to gardens, and so on).

Just register your address with Waternet to get everything set up, and provide them with the current meter reading when you move in. Handily, its website has an English-language section:

Gas and Electricity

The energy market in the Netherlands is privatised. Bad news: you’ll have to search for the best deals. Good news: it means that there are indeed better deals to be had.

The easiest way to search suppliers and deals is to use a comparison site. is usefully in English: This site will even take care of the application process for you, complete with a 14 day cooling off period if you’re not happy.

For the environmentally aware, the Netherlands is very big on green energy (groene stroom), and you can choose suppliers and plans that produce power sustainably.

An average monthly bill for gas and electricity for two people sharing a modest sized flat is around EUR140 (approx. AUS$220).

Getting around


Your Australian driving licence will be valid for six months from the date you register with your municipality. You’ll need to obtain a Dutch licence before that grace period ends.

Unfortunately, Australian driving licences cannot currently simply be exchanged for a Dutch one. That means you’re going to have to undertake a new driving test. The only way out of this is if you meet the ‘30% ruling’ – that is, if you have successfully applied to be considered as a highly skilled migrant.

You can organise your driving test via the CBR (who administer tests in the Netherlands). There is an English-language portal here:

That being said, Amsterdam’s network of public transport is efficient and widely used, so unless you were going to be out of the city regularly, you could certainly get away without owning a car.

Public Transport

Metro Rail

The Amsterdam Metro has four lines, connecting central Amsterdam with outlying districts, and is a fast and convenient way to get around. You’ll need to use the OV-chipkaart, which is the national smartcard and only valid form of ticketing on the Metro. You won’t be able to get through the ticketing barriers without one.

Busses and taxis

Amsterdam has an extensive bus network, connecting all areas, as well as a its famous trams, which serve the city centre and outlying areas. There are also plenty of taxis, but these can be expensive, and cannot be hailed on the street. You’ll need to find a designated stand – look out for the ‘standplaats taxis’ sign – to hail one. Licensed taxis will always have a blue numberplate.


Statistically, there are more bicycles than people in the Netherlands. So it’s easy to see that cycling in Amsterdam is a way of life, with around 70% of all journeys made on two wheels. The city is designed for safe biking, with not only almost every street having a cycle lane, but the cycle lane itself being both separated and elevated. Increasingly, there are more and more ‘woonerfs’ – streets that deny access to cars entirely, and encourage shared use of other forms of transport

TIP: The Amsterdam public transport network is cashless. You can only pay for travel on buses and trams with a debit or credit card. The Metro requires an OV-chipkaart.

School system in Amsterdam

The education system in the Netherlands is regularly ranked as amongst the best in the world by organisations as august as the OECD and Universitas 21.

It is common for children aged below five to attend kindergartens, which are a great introduction to the educational routines that will come to form one of the most significant part of their young lives.

Compulsory education begins in Primary School, which is composed of eight grades. While it is not legally required to attend Group 1 at age 4, the majority of children do.

Secondary School begins at age 12, where students enrol in one of three different streams that best suit their talents and interests: VMBO – a vocational stream running to age 16; HAVO – a general secondary education specialising in applied sciences, running to age 17; and VWO – specialising in preparing students for university, running to age 18.

Another option, however, is to enrol your children in an international school. Amsterdam has two public international school, at which English is the primary teaching language. Curriculums follow the International Baccalaureate.

Amsterdam International Community School:

De Nieuwe Internationale School Esprit:

In addition, there are several private International Schools, some of which focus on the British curriculum rather than the IB.

The University of Amsterdam is the highest rated in the Netherlands, and fifteenth best in Europe, and has produced no less than six Nobel Laureates and five Prime Ministers.


You won’t need a visa for your move to Amsterdam, as Australia comes under the Schengen visa scheme, meaning you can enter the country without a job and stay for 90 days without needing any paperwork.

You will need to register with your local municipality, though. This can be a bit of a lengthy process, but for many Australians relocating to Amsterdam, this can be done ahead of time if you already have a job lined up. If you are classed as a highly-skilled migrant, your employer can start the ball rolling prior to your arrival and get your residency permit underway. You’ll simply need to collect it on arrival in Amsterdam and then you can register with your municipality. This registration is important, as this will give you your citizen service number, which you will need to access local services like healthcare.


Dogs and cats need to be microchipped, and you must provide a certificate from your vet proving vaccination against rabies, which must have been administered at least three weeks before travelling (and after the microchip was fitted). You cannot bring an animal younger than 15 weeks old.

Amsterdam is one of the few cities in the Netherlands not to have a dog tax. You’ll need to register your dog with your municipality within two weeks of arriving, yet there is no need to do this for cats.

Many of Amsterdam’s parks have leash-free areas, where your four-legged friend can roam to their canine heart’s delight.

Everyday Life

Recreational activities

Amsterdam is a communal city, and so lots of recreational activities involve spending time with friends or family. The café culture of the city and plenty of dining options mean that you can eat out all day, every day if you choose to.

The canals and green spaces of the city make for a great escape from city life, and weekends will often be spent in spaces like Oosterpark. There are plenty of museums and galleries as arts and culture is another big aspect of life in Amsterdam.


Many expats are often surprised by the relaxed and flexible attitude the Dutch have when it comes to work. Flexible hours, four-day weeks and home working are not uncommon. Due to the international community in Amsterdam, English is widely spoken, and some companies have it as their primary business language. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to learn any Dutch.

For those who meet the highly-skilled migrant criteria, and have already an offer of employment before arriving into Amsterdam, you could benefit from the appealing 30% tax rule, which basically means your employer can grant you a tax-free allowance of 30% of your salary.

There are over half a million expats working in Amsterdam, so there are certainly opportunities to be had. Networking groups are a good way to make professional connections – and to help you settle in to your new city.

Recruitment agencies are still firmly in place, with offices all over the city. Big names like Adecco, Kelly Services, or Hays