From quiet suburbs to vibrant central suburbs, this guide will help you find a home in Amsterdam in your ideal neighbourhood in the Dutch capital.
A compact city criss-crossed with beautiful residential streets and famous canals, Amsterdam is regularly voted one of the most popular destinations for expats and visitors alike. Estimates suggest that as much as 45 percent of the city’s population have one or more foreign parents, making it a cosmopolitan melting pot.
While over 40 percent of Dutch people rent their homes, many live in social housing or rent controlled properties. Long waiting lists (typically three years at minimum) tend to make these unavailable to expats. Student accommodation is handled separately, although waiting lists may still apply.
Property prices in Amsterdam are moderate for a European capital, but rental prices can feel high as they are typically a significant portion of wages. House prices have fallen since the 2008 financial crisis, but as the supply of properties in the private rental sector in Amsterdam is still outstripped by demand, this decrease has not yielded significantly lower rents. Expect to pay upwards of EUR 750 per month for an apartment, with prices rising to around EUR 2,000 per month for larger properties or particularly desirable areas.
The Dutch rental market has some quirks, which are important to be aware of before signing to rent a Dutch property to avoid any pitfalls or worse, renting an illegal property in Amsterdam. You can read Expatica’s guide to renting a property in the Netherlands for more information.
Renting a flat in Amsterdam
The Netherlands has a somewhat unusual points system called the woningwaarderingsstelsel. This is a way of assessing and assigning a rental price to social housing and rent-controlled properties, and also provides a guide price for housing in the free market sector. In practice, as the point system only applies to low value properties (up to EUR 699.48 per month in 2014), applicants must be earning less than around EUR 34,000 per year to apply and the waiting list for social housing is typically 3–10 years. As a result, most expats find themselves renting in the free market sector (properties over EUR 699.48 per month).
Rents in Amsterdam
While the point system described above provides a baseline for comparisons, an ongoing housing shortage throughout the Netherlands means that successfully negotiating a lower rent is rare. Rents in Amsterdam are the highest in the country, so expect to pay upwards of EUR 750 per month for a small apartment. However, once agreed, rent should only increase in line with inflation once per year and there is strong legal protection for renters.
Your rent may include utilities or it may not. The contract should clearly indicate the basic rent (kale huur or netto huur) and any additional charges paid by the landlord on your behalf, such as heating bills, electricity charges or service costs. If these are included, you should receive an account of the real amounts paid at least once per year, and a refund of any excess paid by you.
Fees and the deposit
Expect to pay two months’ rent up front as the deposit. This cannot be used to pay for the rent at any point, and should be held against damage to the property by you. The estate agent’s fee should be paid by the landlord.
‘Unfurnished’ means that flats can come without any fittings or furnishings, for example, light fittings or a fridge. As such, you may be offered items (such as carpets or kitchen appliances) by the landlord or previous tenants for a fee; you do not have to accept and can negotiate the price.
It is illegal to charge a fee without providing a service in return. The most common example of this scam is called a sleutelgeld (key fee), a payment for handing over the key, which may be charged by the landlord, agent or exiting tenants.
Types of properties and contracts in Amsterdam
Short or long term?
Contracts are typically 12 months initially, then transition to a rolling contract with a one month notice period on each side. If you break the contract before the initial 12 month period is up, expect to pay the rent for the rest of the period. It’s typically difficult for a landlord to serve notice to a tenant, and you have the right to contest it. Short-term lets are typically expensive or unofficial/illegal, so longer term lets (12 months or more) are preferable.
Even student properties are rarely let furnished (gemeubileerd). More commonly, apartments will be gestoffeerd (with soft furnishings, ie. carpets and curtains) or unfurnished. Rental contracts are strictly regulated, so most short term and furnished lets are part of the holiday market. As such, they tend to be very expensive, and often have limited letting periods. Sub-letting, leasing a room or house sharing can be solutions if you’re determined not to buy furniture.
In Amsterdam, unfurnished (kaal) means completely empty: flooring, curtains, light fittings and kitchen appliances will typically be missing. If you view the property while the previous tenants are in residence, make sure you understand what (if anything) will be left behind. Often, tenants will be happy to pass on flooring, light fittings and other fixtures for a nominal fee rather than go through the hassle of ripping them out and taking them to the tip.
The flip side to completely unfurnished properties is that you are generally allowed free reign with regards to decorating the property. Painting walls, putting up shelves and laying a new floor are expected, although you will have to return the property to an acceptable ‘neutral’ state before you leave, or face a fine from the landlord.
Amsterdam is home to dozens of higher education institutions, but few of them provide accommodation for students. Dutch students typically either live at home and commute, or find a studio apartment or shared house in the private sector. Several agencies exist for facilitating this, but finding a good property at a good price can be tough. Local councils often offer rooms based on a lottery or points system, and there are a number of hostels and dormitories catering to international students – ask at your institution for details. More innovative solutions have arisen in recent years, including the anti-squat housing (below) and studios made from repurposed shipping containers.
Expatica’s guide to student accommodation in Amsterdam has a complete list of student housing organisations.
Student housing websites:
Apartment, house or other?
Close to the city centre, apartments are the norm, but Amsterdam is a small city (around 20km across) so you’ll find houses with gardens within the city limits. It’s possible to find a house with a garden while still being within cycling distance of the main train station, but this is fairly rare as the Dutch do not tend to prioritise a garden of one’s own in the way some other nations do.
Apartments fall into two categories: converted town houses (typically old buildings with period charm, high ceilings and no lift) and purpose-built blocks. The purpose-built blocks typically have large windows and balconies, even on low-price properties, so one that faces south to catch the afternoon sun is ideal. Apartment blocks typically have few additional facilities – gyms, swimming pools and doormen are vanishingly rare – but will often have communal bike parking and may have allocated car parking spaces.
Perhaps a uniquely Dutch solution to the dual problems of squatters taking over empty buildings and the capital’s chronic housing shortage. Anti-squat (antikraak) agencies provide limited term accommodation in empty buildings. The conditions vary from building to building, as do the facilities and number of housemates. Rents are low (sometimes as low as EUR 150 per month) but short notice periods (typically between 7–28 days) are standard, so only accept this type of accommodation if you’re happy to pack up your worldly goods and move on. The main anti-squat agency is Kraak Wacht (Dutch only).
Pretty (and not-so-pretty) house boats and barges line many of Amsterdam’s canals. While these have a romantic appeal, they’re not ideal for new arrivals. Boats are typically sold, rather than rented, and are usually sold without the mooring. Waiting lists for moorings can be years long. In addition, liveaboards typically have no mains services, which means no sewage, no running water, no telephone or internet and sometimes no electricity. That said, despite the obvious disadvantages, many people love the way of life, citing camaraderie, simplicity and proximity to nature as key joys, and there are definite benefits to being able to move your house when you move house. Read more in Expatica’s guide to Living on a Dutch barge.
How to find a home in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is at the centre of a dense urban area, and good transport links mean that you can live almost anywhere in the Netherlands and still have a reasonable commute – at least by British or American standards. While this opens up your options, it can also make it harder to settle on a location.
Many of the online property portals allow you to search by detailed requirements, such as number of rooms, floor space, car parking, and this can be an easier way to begin. In the city itself, Amsterdam districts are criss-crossed by traditional and evolving neighbourhoods. The city is safe overall, and there are no dangerous zones, so there’s no worry about finding yourself on the wrong side of the tracks. Winding up in a quiet, genteel neighbourhood like Oud Zuid (Stadsdeel Zuid) when you were aiming for the busy nightlife of Leidseplein (Stadsdeel Centrum) – or visa versa – is the main risk. We offer a guide to the neighbourhoods in Amsterdam below.
Using an estate agent
Most estate agents focus on one particular area, perhaps a network of villages or a city neighbourhood, even if they work for a national chain. As a result, you’ll often be steered towards properties that are available rather than suitable. However, if you have a particular area in mind, this focus can be a benefit. There are also a number of agents specialising in expat relocations in the city, if you need to find a home before you arrive. Unless you hire a search agent, expect that the landlord will pay the agent’s fees (typically equivalent to one month’s rent).
Online property portals:
- www.expatrentals.com (English and Dutch)
- www.funda.nl (Dutch only)
- www.pararius.com (English and Dutch)
- www.directwonen.nl (English and Dutch)
- www.dekey.nl (English and Dutch)
- www.kamerhuren.nl (English and Dutch)
- kamernet.nl (English and Dutch)
- www.roomster.com (12+ languages)
Short term, furnished and holiday lets:
- www.booking.com (40+ languages)
- www.housetrip.com (English)
- lovingapartments.com (English)
- www.airbnb.com (20+ languages)
Where to live in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is probably the world’s most cycle-friendly capital, and most places in the city are within an easy 30-minute cycle commute of the centre. Popular expat areas like Jordaan (Stadsdeel Centrum), and bustling student neighbourhoods like De Pijp (Stadsdeel Zuid) are even closer in. All seven of the city’s official districts have an international community, with each being home to at least 140 nationalities.
While many streets are picture-postcard beautiful, lined with canals or tall trees, other areas feature faceless modern tower blocks. Sadly for new arrivals, these are often more affordable than the charming old homes in the city centre. Find out more about where to live in Amsterdam.
Living in Amsterdam’s suburbs
The Netherlands’ efficient rail network makes it possible to commute to the capital from most major cities in the country. Even the far north is just a couple of hours away, and popular towns like Utrecht and The Hague are much closer.
A convenient bus and tram network, as well as regional trains and a few ferries, connect central Amsterdam to the towns and villages on its periphery. While this makes it easy to commute in from popular expat suburbs like Amstelveen (home of the Amsterdam International School), it also means that property prices in the suburbs don’t drop as sharply as you might hope.
Living further afield does let you get more for your money though, so if you’re looking for a single-family house, a garden or space for pets, it’s a good idea to find out more about where to live near Amsterdam.
Living in the Netherlands
With efficient train schedules, it’s not uncommon to live in one Dutch city and work in another. Areas such as The Hague, Utrecht, Delft, Haarlem or Rotterdam may offer some cheaper housing alternatives, or at least, open up more possibilities for housing options. Certain cities are also home to large student populations, for example Groningen and Leiden. Read more about where to live in the Netherlands.