Shoebox or Suburbia? Finding a house to rent on an expat budget..

So, you are a new expat in town, and your jet plane has spent more time taxiing to the stand than you were in the air. You finally get your feet on the ground at Schiphol, one of the largest airports in one of the smallest countries in Europe. Your baggage has arrived, you have avoided an illegal taxi into Amsterdam, and armed with your new expat contract to work for an international company, you need a place to rest, a place to call home.

What is the choice? It is simple really. Shoebox or Suburbia. It does not take Einstein to work out that small country plus big population plus Randstad equals high rental prices. The Randstad is the greater metropolitan area which includes four of the biggest towns in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht; with an estimated 7 million habitants, it is one of the most popular places for expats to live).

Amsterdam is a great place to live. Nightlife, culture, canals and unspoilt views make this a very attractive living option for young, single expatriate professionals and couples, but the high rental prices make the inevitable compromise of living in a shoebox a reality. Unless you are fortunate, and have Dutch connections, then renting a canal house complete with windmill in the back garden for 500 euros a month is not going to happen.

On average, to live in the canal belt or one of the prestigious locations of old south, the Jordaan or the Pijp you can expect to be paying in excess of 1.200 euros for your ideal 1 bedroom shoebox. Decide that a luxury shoebox is more your style, add a canal, add a roof garden and add a guest room, then that price in a decent location can easily be in excess of 1.800 euros per month.

However, as an expat you want to meet friends, explore the city, be close to cultural hotspots, and most of all, who wants to pay 40 euros for a taxi to suburbia, waking up the neighbours' children at 3am when they have experienced Dutch delights in the form of Heineken?

In every other country I would always advise expats to check out their neighbours before signing on the dotted line, but here in Amsterdam it will be the stairs that will be your friend or foe. Amsterdam houses are armed complete with their own form of security, staircases, which can cripple even the fittest sportsman.

Be sure to bear in mind that after your daily shop at your local supermarket (yes, the Dutch have not caught on to shopping on a weekly basis) that you will need to be able to manage the stairs with your bags up to your 3rd floor flat, even after that company drink.

Amsterdam is armed with a great public transport system. Should you have not mastered the Dutch art of cycling, checking facebook and holding an umbrella at the same time, then suburbia is only a 20-minute metro ride away.

Leafy green Amstelveen, with its many small child-friendly parks is a great option for expat families and provides just a short commute for professionals to many destinations across the Randstad. Slightly further afield is the picturesque Ouderkerk aan de Amstel and Abcoude, which despite being within 30 minutes of the capital, give you the green fields and the postcard feel of Holland that you see in the tourist guides.

A family home complete with garden and 4 bedrooms can be found in the current market for around 1.800 - 2.300 euros per month. A must-do for any family who has left regular late nights and networking events behind them.

Choice made?
Be sure however, to make sure you can register at your preferred location. Registration at the local town hall is a must-do for anyone coming from abroad. This simple act will ensure you are legally registered in the town hall database and will help you claim benefits such as unemployment, child benefits or disability, should the need arise.

Many Dutch websites offer sublets or places which appear cheap at first glance, but once you find out that you cannot register you may regret the decision further down the line, as this indicates that it is being subletted illegally, depriving you as a renter of many housing rights. Using an agency can avoid this problem, as any good agency will not take illegal sublets onto their property guides.

Budget problems?
Sometimes size does matter, and if suburbia is not on your menu then many young expat professionals choose to "go Dutch," i.e. share a flat. This is definitely something to think about, especially if you are new to the city and also want to meet people. What better way to break the social circle ice than by moving in with a fellow professional?

In summary
We always advise our clients before embarking on any house hunt to think about budget, location and size. Decide your personal minimum on those three areas before you start looking and stick to it (reminder, we are talking houses here, not partners…). That way, whether you have chosen shoebox or suburbia, you will find that home really is where the expat is.

Expat2Holland can assist you with hunting for a house to rent or to buy, and provide other services such as Relocation, Immigration, Legal Advice and Financial Advice. Their Housing Manager has many years experience in the Amsterdam rental market and provides detailed housing overviews to expats from a variety of sources. For inquiries and more info, please comment below or contact them directly.


Charlotte Buskens


Charlotte Buskens

Owner of expatriate service bureau expat2holland, "Home is where the expat is" Charlotte has 13 years International Human Resources experience and is a relocation and immigration specialist in the Netherlands. expat2holland is...

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