Saunders 1865 | Moving to Amsterdam

Moving to Amsterdam

Are you moving to Amsterdam? The capital of the Netherlands or, more romantically, the Venice of the north, is famed above all for its canals, its tulips and its cheese. But if you have visions of quaint cobbled streets, arched bridges, bicycles and wooden clogs, think again. Amsterdam has much more to offer than its picture postcard image—it’s an important port, centre of the diamond trade, one of Europe’s main financial centres and is considered an alpha world city by the Globalization and World Cities study group. Seven of the world’s 500 largest companies are headquartered here and the Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked it second best city in the world in which to live.

It boasts the oldest stock exchange on the planet, some of the finest art galleries and museums in Europe, and the medieval Grachten—the concentric rings of canals in the centre of the city which were constructed in the 17th century. English is widely spoken and the Amsterdamers are friendly and welcoming, making it an extremely popular posting for expats.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Amsterdam report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Amsterdam on the Map

Amsterdam is located in the province of North Holland. It’s the largest city in the Netherlands and forms the northern section of the Randstad, one of Europe’s largest conurbations, with a population of seven million. Most noted for its canals and waterways, Amsterdam lies on the River Amstel which terminates in the city’s canal system. These in turn—more than 100 kilometres of them—release into a waterway known as the IJ, which connects to the North Sea. The city itself lies two metres below sea level and is protected from ingress by a series of polders and dykes.

Amsterdam has a mild climate, influenced in the main by westerly winds blowing in from the North Sea, with occasional patches of colder weather brought by the less frequent north-easterly winds from central Europe. Not surprisingly, rain and damp are a factor in the cooler months of the year.

As the capital city, Amsterdam is the main transport hub for the Netherlands.

  • Schiphol Airport is the largest in the Netherlands, the fourth largest in Europe and 14th in the world by passenger numbers.
  • It can accommodate 50 million passengers a year and is home to KLM and three other airlines.
  • It takes 20 minutes by train to reach the city centre from the airport.
  • There are 10 railway stations, the main one being Amsterdam Centraal, from which trains depart to a range of European countries.
  • The city has 16 tram routes and four metro lines, with a fifth due to open in 2017.
  • There are three free ferries for pedestrians and cyclists across the IJ to Amsterdam-Noord and a number of pay ferries to other destinations, as well as water taxis, water buses and canal cruises.
  • Although Amsterdam is a hub for the Netherlands’ freeways, driving is strongly discouraged within the city centre.
  • Parking is expensive and many streets are pedestrianized or one way.
  • Instead, Amsterdam in one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities, with cycle lanes, bike racks and cycle storage garages everywhere.
  • The 1.2 million bicycles in the city outnumber the humans, however bicycle theft is an enduring problem.
The Areas

Amsterdam is a crowded city, so to keep the housing market under control 55% of housing is owned by Housing Associations. Property laws are skewed in favour of tenants, which has resulted in something of a squatting problem. Naturally demand is high in the city centre, so expats can find it particularly challenging to find the accommodation they want.

Social housing is likely to be unavailable unless you can prove a connection to the area and are on a low income. Even then, you might be on a waiting list for years. To rent an apartment in the city centre is particularly expensive, so for most people the surrounding suburbs are a more practical option. Apartments may be furnished, partially furnished or unfurnished. A further option for the more adventurous is to rent a houseboat on one of the canals. Or, if your stay is likely to be less than six months, a serviced apartment could be the answer.

Of course, the first issue is deciding where you want to live.


Grachtengordel – the canal belt

If you don’t have to worry about budget constraints, the canal circles—or Grachtengordel—are the place to look. Right in the heart of the city with historic architecture overlooking the canals, this is how everyone imagines life in Amsterdam. However, most of the old houses have become commercial premises, and those that remain residential have been, in the main part, divided into apartments. The downside? Parking is problematic in the city centre and the waiting time for a permit can be years.


To the west of the main canal area, Jordaan is the old working class suburb of the city, which has now been regenerated. It also has plenty of canals, lots of restaurants and cafes, and a couple of excellent markets. But given that it’s still fairly central, prices remain high here.

Old South

This is one of the city’s smartest quarters, where expats can rent spacious and elegant period houses—at a price. The Vondelpark, running west from the outermost canal, is the inner city’s main green open space, and the area abounds in upscale shops and restaurants. Parking is becoming less congested as it’s further out, but it’s still superbly convenient for the centre of town.


To the north west of Grachtengordel, Westerpark has regenerated in recent years to become one of the city’s trendy hotspots. Access to the expansive park, historic industrial architecture and a hipster vibe make this the perfect spot for young urbanites, while the development of industrial sites into apartment complexes means more affordable rent.

The Pijp

This is the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam and it’s as dynamic and vibrant as its name suggests. It lies south of Grachtengordel and government-sponsored regeneration has resulted in an increase of good quality housing in the area. It has a great open-air market, but rents are rising fast as people realise how desirable the area now is.


This small corner, just north east of Westerpark, is full of 19th century Amsterdam School apartments that were originally constructed for the harbour workers. It’s convenient for both the city centre and for routes out of the city.

Eastern Docklands

New housing developments, convenient for the city centre, on manmade islands.


Beyond the A10 ring road to the east of the city, six manmade islands are being reclaimed to provide space for 18,000 new homes. The first are already available, and range from basic and affordable to the more luxurious.


On the eastern side of Grachtengordel, this garden suburb remains green and leafy—it’s home to the city’s botanic garden and many of the houses still have their own gardens. It’s grand and expensive.


Further out, south of the ring road, Amstelveen offers space in the form of Amsterdam Woods, and the opportunity to find bigger houses. It’s convenient for the airport and for the International School of Amsterdam. Many multinationals are located here, so it has a large expat community.

Who Lives in Amsterdam and Why?

The city itself has a population of approximately 825,000, with 1.5 million in the wider metropolitan area. Of the city population, only about half have Dutch ancestry, as Amsterdam has a long history of immigration dating back to the Huguenots of the 17th century. In the 20th century, a large number of Indonesians came to the Netherlands after the independence of the Dutch East Indies, while more recently the city has seen economic migrants from Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Italy and Surinam.

As the financial and business capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam has managed to attract a wide range of multinationals either to the city itself or to its satellite towns. Many have canal-side offices for the prestige factor, but those that need more space have moved to the Zuidas, along the southern corridor of the A10 ring road. Not only does this afford more space, but it’s also extremely convenient for the airport. However, there are also a number of smaller financial hubs dotted around the city centre, while the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the world’s oldest, is located near Dam Square.

As well as financial and legal services, the main employment opportunities are in transport, chemicals, food processing, retail and energy. The Dutch are inveterate networkers, so any form of personal recommendation will stand you in good stead when job hunting, and while English is widely spoken, having some understanding of Dutch is certainly an advantage. For expat families, Amsterdam is an excellent posting. The city is relaxed and a great place for walking or cycling, with a low crime rate. Expats with certain skills also benefit from some favourable tax concessions, though your employer must be able to prove that a Dutch or EU citizen couldn’t do the job just as well.

One thing to know when relocating to Amsterdam is expats are required to have private health insurance. This applies even if you are already insured for healthcare in your hometown.

An important cultural difference is, Dutch people are extremely direct – so much so, that it can come over as rudeness. Many expats find this difficult to take at first.

The Best Bits

Amsterdam is one of Europe’s great tourist cities, and with good reason. If you live here you’ll have plenty of time to explore all that it has to offer at your leisure.

  • On Museumplein—Museum Square— you’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum.
  • The Rijksmuseum owns the largest and most important collection of Dutch art in the world. It has more than one million items, with works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, Van der Helst and obviously many others.
  • The Van Gogh Museum is one of very few modern buildings in the centre of Amsterdam, and is home to some of the artist’s most iconic works, including Sunflowers and The Potato Eaters.
  • The Stedelijk Museum contains modern art—Mondriaan, Appel, Malevich…
  • Not to be missed is the Anne Frank House, where the teenager spent two years in hiding during the War.
  • Music lovers will want to catch a performance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Concertgebouw concert hall, which is considered to have some of the best acoustics in the world.
  • As well as high culture, Amsterdam has a reputation for its dynamic nightlife, with a plethora of cafes, bars and clubs across the city. The best nightclubs are to found around the Leidseplein and the Rembrandtplein.
  • Amsterdam’s oldest building is the Oude Kerk—the Old Church—which was consecrated in 1306.
  • The famous gabled houses that line the canals were mostly build during the Renaissance, the look having been developed by the architect Hendrick de Keyser.
  • The city’s best loved and largest park is the Vondelpark, just south of the canal rings, which contains an open-air theatre, a children’s playground and a number of restaurants and cafes.
  • Surprisingly, the city has four beaches.
Bringing the Kids

Amsterdam is a wonderful city for children—parks, canals, bicycles, a zoo, an aquarium, a planetarium. And, unfortunately, schools too!

  • The city boasts two universities, an art school, a college of applied science and an International Institute of Social History.
  • Amsterdam has five independent grammar schools and a wide variety of other secondary schools.
  • There are 200 primary schools, many of which are Montessori. There are also Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim primary schools.
  • There are two types of international schools in Amsterdam—independent and partially government funded community schools.
  • The community schools include Dutch language lessons and positively encourage integration.
  • The private international schools mainly teach in English with a focus on the International Baccalaureate programmes.
  • There are also international schools teaching in Chinese, French, Spanish, German and Japanese.
Relocating to Amsterdam

Amsterdam is on a surprisingly friendly and intimate scale for such a major city. The centre is historic, beautiful and everything you would expect of the Venice of the north. The only drawback is that central accommodation is hard to find and expensive, and driving in the city centre is far from practical. However, further out there’s space and greenery, and many multinationals have their offices closer to the airport, where an expat community has established itself. For families with children, there’s a good choice of international schools, while young urbanites will find that the city has plenty to offer by way of entertainment.

At Saunders 1865, our teams of experts combine local knowledge with first-hand experience to pinpoint the right area and the right property that will tick all your boxes. Do you have children that need to be enrolled in school? Are the transport links convenient for your needs? Does this location fit with your expectations of expat life and is the space configured in a way that suits your requirements? We can bring expertise to all these factors and help to arrange smooth, efficient and stress-free relocations – to Amsterdam and destinations across Europe. Our services include home finding assistance, school finding, lease negotiations, temporary accommodation, move management and immigration assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help you.


City Centre
Good Schools
Green space
Museums & Galleries
Average Monthly Rent - Amsterdam
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre €1,513
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre €1,087
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre €2,542
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre €1,800
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
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