6 tips for international students in the Netherlands
Before I started working at IamExpat, I was a master’s student at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). I studied Classics at university in England for three years, finishing in summer 2018. By the beginning of September, I was on my way, in the back of my parent’s car, to Amsterdam to begin a master’s course in Classics – Ancient History.
Whenever I look back at those first few months in Amsterdam, I always laugh at how much I didn’t know and how unprepared I was for the challenges that lay ahead of me. However, with a little bit of common sense and determination and a whole lot of luck, I managed to navigate my way through my first year in Amsterdam with relatively few speed bumps.
Make sure you are well prepared
If you are from abroad and are considering studying in the Netherlands, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. However, I would also recommend that you are well prepared. Below I have compiled a list of six useful tips that I wish I knew myself before starting life as an international student in the Netherlands.
1. Find accommodation before you move
Luckily, just before I moved to the Netherlands, the UvA offered me housing and I had a place to live for six months. Before they offered me the accommodation, my plan was just to go to Amsterdam and see what I could find. That would have been a BIG mistake!
In our first introductory assembly for all international students, the chancellor asked who already had accommodation. I was one of the few people to put my hand up. I would say more than two-thirds of the people in that room didn’t have somewhere to stay yet. I did a little digging and found that many people were camping with all their stuff outside the city and commuting in for class!
If you are finding it hard to find accommodation, you should look at IamExpat housing page, or other rental sites like Pararius. Also, take a look at the tips on how to avoid getting scammed. Personally, I would look for accommodation in places like Zaandam, Utrecht or Haarlem, as accommodation in these cities can be a lot cheaper than Amsterdam!
2. Be prepared for University
When I joined the UvA, I could tell straight away that it was a different kettle of fish to the university I attended in England. From the very first lecture, we were told if we missed three classes we would be removed from the course. The lecturers expect you to do all the reading set in the class before and if you don’t, you will quickly be left behind.
I am not trying to put you off university in the Netherlands, but you must be prepared for what they are going to ask of you. Learning at the UvA was intense but thoroughly enjoyable. My advice: study hard and throughout the year make a note of what you enjoy studying, as this will make it easier to select a thesis topic early on.
3. Take out health insurance
Health insurance is something I did not think about at all before I moved to the Netherlands. This is mainly due to the fact healthcare is free in Britain (to an extent anyway), however, everyone who lives or works in the Netherlands must have private healthcare, even international students.
You can be hit with some pretty hefty fines for not having insurance!
When you move to the Netherlands, it is important you take out health insurance as soon as possible. You can be hit with some pretty hefty fines for not having insurance and it also gives you some peace of mind. You really do not want to have to use the healthcare system in the Netherlands and end up paying 400 euros for the ambulance! Also, health insurance gives you access to some important services (especially for students), like mental and sexual health clinics.
4. Get a job
Amsterdam is expensive, really expensive. The good news is finding a job in the Netherlands is relatively easy. Numerous coffee shops, cafes, pancake houses and restaurants are always looking for extra, casual staff. Also, minimum wages are usually pretty high, around 10 euros an hour for people aged 21 and over. Before my job at IamExpat, I myself worked in a restaurant as a chef.
5. Get a bike
Public transport in the Netherlands is the most expensive in Europe. Luckily, the country is super flat and getting around by bike is not only easy, but it’s also pretty much the main mode of transportation! You can get around Dutch cities quickly and easily thanks to dedicated cycle lanes running throughout the whole country.
Bikes can be expensive, second-hand bikes can cost upwards of 100 euros and new ones can be anywhere from 150 to 500 euros. Electric ones can cost thousands. Still, while bikes are expensive, cycling will save you loads on public transport costs and it'll get you fit and healthy in no time.
6. Get to know the city
As I’ve already said, Amsterdam, and indeed other Dutch cities, are expensive. However, with a bit of exploring and trying different things, there are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself without spending loads of money. I could go on for hours and hours about all the things you can get up to in the Netherlands, but where is the fun in that? Go out and explore!
Two tips that I will share with you are: try different supermarkets, somewhere like Albert Heijn offers branded products but is a lot more expensive than places like Jumbo or Vomar. Second, get to know where your student status will save you money. Students at the UvA, for example, can get 20 to 18 euros off tickets for the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam, so make sure you use your student status to your advantage!
One final piece of advice
I have an extra piece of advice for you guys, so consider yourselves lucky as I said you were only going to get six. To be honest, it’s not exactly advice but worth knowing all the same. Do not be phased about not knowing any Dutch, the whole country pretty much speaks and understands English perfectly.
That isn’t to say don’t try and learn the language, quite the opposite. The Dutch are very appreciative of people who make an effort to speak Dutch, even if it’s a simple Alsjeblieft! Just don’t let the language factor into your decision to study in the Netherlands.
Get ready for an adventure
Well there you have it, my tips for international students in the Netherlands. While things can be difficult at first, if you just keep your wits about you, you will find that there is a plethora of opportunities and experiences open to you. Just explore the country with an open mind and keep on top of your studies and you will love every minute in the Netherlands.