Expat Rentals in Amsterdam and Utrecht

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about the renting process in Amsterdam and Utrecht with people who’re looking to move to these cities. My partner Sara and I have looked for several short term places in Amsterdam, and last year, I had to look for my first permanent rental as an expat. At the time, Sara and I were still deciding between Utrecht and Amsterdam so I took it upon myself to dive completely into finding a place in both cities. The mission was to find a studio or one bedroom apartment within 30 days. Would I be able to complete the challenge?

Lucky for me, I did! But the process as an expat was a bit complicated. I mean, I didn’t even know where to begin. See, before I was making my permanent move to the Netherlands, Sara and I had spent two summers in Amsterdam. In any of the cities I’ve lived in in the US, like New York, D.C., and Philadelphia, if someone wanted to find a summer sublet, they would probably go onto Craigslist. This is what I’m used to.

That is not how we were able to find our summer apartments. In the US, the apartment rentals can sometimes follow a cycle in the year based on college calendars. Who needs summer sublets in the US? College kids for their internships! But in the Netherlands, summer sublets are not a thing. Instead, we got our apartment by asking around if anyone going on holiday in the summer would like someone in their home. I was surprised to find that each time, without fail, we had multiple options. And because these friends-of-friends were just happy that someone they (sort of ) knew would be taking care of their place (or cat) while they were away, the rent for the summer wasn’t some jacked up amount.

There are many things that you can be unprepared for as an expat renting in the Netherlands.

When I was looking, I thought to myself, if only there was a post that talked about EVERYTHING when it comes to renting. Not just where to look, but what to expect, what the options were, how far in advance to begin searching, just EVERYTHING. Half of the information I found wasn’t even current. And some of you might have already realized, things have changed in the last few years. Things have changed A LOT.

So I am not going to let my recent experiences go to waste. I’m going to lay it all out for you, here. And because I’ve done the expat rental search both in Amsterdam and Utrecht, I’m going to talk about both, but separately. If you’re only interested in Utrecht, you can skip the part about Amsterdam below.

If you don’t know whether you want to live in Utrecht or Amsterdam, check out my post on how I’ve experienced living in both cities.

Looking for rentals as an expat in Amsterdam

Before I go into details, let me just say that those of you looking for housing in the Coronavirus crisis will have it easier in Amsterdam. A lot of the expats who were looking for temporary housing have moved back to their home countries. Right now, many things are absolute shit, but the plus side for you folks is that the overheated Amsterdam housing market, with its overpriced rentals, is now a little less hot! Which means less pricey rentals, yay!

You may be able to afford that canal-side apartment after all. But don’t get too excited. Like I’ve said, the whole rental process thing is so fucking complicated. And REALLY different from the US, where I’m from.

As a side note, anything I mention here will also talk about how COVID-19 is affecting the rental search in Amsterdam. Somethings still remain relatively unaffected, like when to begin your housing search.

When to start looking

In short, you want to start your research as soon as possible, so well done on reading this article! I’d shake your hand to congratulate you on getting ahead of the game if I wasn’t social distancing. But here’s the flip side to it…

You can’t expect to find a place more than one month in advance. If you want to find a place, you can only realistically start the process one month ahead of time. I’ve said this to my friends back in the US before, and they thought I fell of my omafiets and lost it. No, this is really how it works. Let me explain.

Dutch people like to plan things like coffee dates with friends MONTHS in advance. No, I’m not kidding. You’re probably even familiar with this. But if you want to plan to have a place to live, you know, because it’s a reasonable thing to not want to be homeless, you have to wait until the last fucking minute. Have fun with that.

The reason why you can only start looking for a rental about a month ahead of time is because tenants, those renting out the place, don’t necessarily need to sign up to live somewhere for a whole year. Let’s say you sign a one-year lease. After the end of that first year, you can continue to live in the apartment on a month-to-month basis. Isn’t that great? But that also means that residents tell their landlord that they’re moving out pretty much a month so or before.

Also, that’s just how it works. Take my word for it. So what that means is if you’re looking for a place starting April 1st, anything you see online the first week of February, for instance, is available starting March 1st. If you want a lease starting April 1st, you need to start looking at the end of February at the earliest.

When it comes to doing research, though, it’s just better to know what your options are ahead of time so that you can prepare accordingly. The Netherlands is a tiny country, which means that you can live in one city or neighborhood and work in another. No problem.

There is also a housing shortage and most of the rentals are only available for social housing. As an expat, your chances of getting social housing are basically ZERO. So don’t let a Dutch person try and convince you that that’s an option. You probably make too much to qualify and the waiting period is 10+ years long.

You will be competing with a bunch of people for a place, so knowledge is power!

Where and how to look

I had no idea where to look for a place when I first started my search for a rental. I asked Dutch people, who told me one thing, and then I asked expats, who told me another thing all together. Who should I believe? It also doesn’t help that in the US, I would just go on to Craigslist. Turns out, even though there is a Dutch version of Craigslist, Marktplaats, you should only go there if you want a bunch of rental scams. Great place to buy used furniture though!

Let me start by telling you what others will recommend to you, so you know what to expect. Dutch people will tell you that the best way to find an apartment is “via-via”. By that they mean that the best way to snag a good deal is by asking friends to ask their friends if they know of anyone moving out of their place.

The Dutchies are really smart, aren’t they? I can tell you from experience and from what I’ve seen Sara’s friends do that this is probably the best way to get the best deal on a place. Someone you know could know a landlord who’s renting out their place for less than market price, and if you have a good Dutch network, you can find out about this place and your friend can put in a good word for you. BOOM, fancy-ass apartment for cheap is yours!

But you’re an expat so this probably isn’t a great option for you.

As an expat, you might hear of other expats who somehow live in two bedroom apartments on a canal or in De Pijp (“de” place to be), and you might ask yourself what you’re doing wrong. Don’t worry, you’re probably not doing anything wrong.

There are three main reasons for why another expat might have this great apartment, besides just getting plain lucky. One, they might just make way more than you. This one’s a no-brainer. There are two kinds of expats, one’s who make a shit ton of money and others who don’t. It’s that simple. Amsterdam prices are high enough that even if you have a decent salary, chances are that you can’t afford what you’re really looking for.

And what you’re really looking for is to live here.

Canals in the Jordaan in Amsterdam ❤

The second reason is that they’re either sharing their apartment with a roommate or their partner. Renting is much more affordable if you’re doing that. Third, they probably starting renting their apartment a couple of years ago when the prices were much lower. And landlords can’t simply jack up the rent prices if you’re still living there. They can only increase it a bit, primarily to account for inflation. So that’s the secret.

I’ll get into how much you can expect to pay for a place, but first, how do you even go about looking for something? How do you know what you can afford on your budget?

Fellow expats, these two websites are the best fit for you: https://www.pararius.com/english, which is available in English, and https://www.funda.nl/, which is only available in Dutch. Both of these sites are FREE to use and are expat-friendly.

I’ve had the most luck on Pararius, but Funda’s also a great place to search for rentals. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it’s only in Dutch. You’ll figure out what the words mean pretty quickly, and you know, there’s always Google Translate. On both of these websites, you can view places either in list format or on a map.

There is another website for those of you who are looking for rooms, and it’s called https://kamernet.nl/en. This site is also available in English. Here, you’ll have the most luck finding a room in an apartment or house that you would be sharing with someone. The prices are usually lower here than what you would see on Pararius and Funda because it’s mostly used by Dutch people.

The small downside of Kamernet is that you have to pay a subscription fee to use properly, which kind of sucks when you just want to consider your options.

Another lesser known place where you can look for a rental is through Facebook groups. One group that I can recommend is “Amsterdam rent a room, apartment or studio.” You can also simply do a “search” on Facebook to see if someone has posted anything about wanting to sublet or rent out their place. I’ve had some luck with this, and it’s kind of the same as “networking” to find an apartment or house.

And of course, I even tried to contact some rental agents who don’t require you to pay them until you decide to live in one of the places they helped you find. Often the fee for using a rental agent is one month’s rent. I did not have a great experience with this and would not recommend it.

The benefit of using a rental agent is that you’re supposed to be able to see places before they go up on a website. I found out that this hardly ever happens in reality. In fact, when a rental agent did forward me a place that hadn’t been put up online yet, I was beyond excited and asked to see it immediately. I had an appointment set up and everything, but then two days later I was told that the apartment had already been rented out.

What can I expect to pay?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Well, I mentioned this in the beginning, but I’ll say it again, the prices are looking a bit better in Amsterdam, but things are still pretty expensive.

When I was looking for a place in September/October of 2019, I was beyond shocked at the prices in Amsterdam. I have a partner, but when I was looking, she was still living in the US, so I would be paying the rent in the Netherlands all by myself. Which puts me in the single’s category.

If my eyeballs could pop out of my head, they would have when I first saw the prices on Pararius and Funda. In general, when looking for a studio, there was nothing to be found in “the ring” area for less than 1200 euros a month. If I was being reasonable, this was very close to the upper limit of my budget. But I was even willing to go as high as 1500 a month to find a one bedroom.

In 2019, finding a one bedroom for 1500 or less was EXTREMELY rare. I found one place like that, and I still don’t know why it was priced so differently from the other places. Right now, there are more options for 1500 and under, but still, don’t expect it to be easy. Many people are going to try and compete with you at that price.

COVID-19 has affected the upper end of the market. If what you can afford is 2000 euros or less, you should not have a problem right now. From looking on Funday and Pararius in April 2020, I’ve seen that the options are limited for a one bedroom under 1600 euros a month, but once you get to the 1600 mark, you can get some pretty fancy digs! ON A CANAL. IN THE CENTER! And this is 1600 including utilities and service costs, even.

Beware of the extra service costs! Sometimes those can be as high as 100-200 euros monthly. Be sure to look into these service costs when taking into account how much you’d like to pay for rent.

The renting process

Okay, so you did your research, you’re about a month away from needing a place, you know your budget, and you go onto Pararius and you see an apartment that you want. You KNOW it’s the one! You can hardly believe your luck… 1350 euros a month for a one bedroom in De Pijp— yesss! You’ve hit the jackpot.

So you contact the rental agent and you eagerly wait to hear back. You refresh your email every ten mins, you’ll know when you can see your dream apartment any minute now! But it’s two days later, and you still haven’t heard back. You write another email to the rental agent, maybe they just missed your first message!

“Sorry. The viewings for this apartment are fully booked up, but we have another apartment for you in Amsterdam West for 2,250 a month. Are you interested?”

Surprised? I was too. I didn’t know that I could be rejected from an apartment viewing. Geez. And this happens all the time. When I was looking, I was able to get my success rate for viewings up to getting invited about a third of time.

If you want to make sure that you can at least view the apartment you want, you need to make sure that you’re one of the first people responding to the rental posting. A large number of these postings are done in the mornings, so if for whatever reason you can’t be checking the listings all the time, you definitely want to do it the first thing in the morning between 8am and 9am. ESPECIALLY ON MONDAYS!

Because of COVID-19, you will be invited to view the place at a given time. These time slots are during work hours, Monday through Friday between 9am and 6pm. If you think these agents are going to be working on the weekend, you thought wrong! You should be prepared to take some time off during the week to go to viewings.

The COVID-19 outbreak has made the viewing a little less intimidating as well. If it wasn’t for the social distancing restrictions, you could expect to show up to these viewing with about 20-30 other people at the same time as you. And everyone is kissing ass to get that apartment. The fact that you might be alone during a viewing is a great way to assess the place on your own without feeling the pressure to ACT FAST!

If you’re interested in the place, you probably want to let the realtor know you want in on the same day. Make sure to ask what documents are needed for applicants even during the viewing itself, if possible. That way, when you send an email to the realtor letting them know you’re interested, you can be as prepared as possible. It will help the realtor consider you as a serious applicant.

You will absolutely need documents showing that you have permission from the government to live and work in the Netherlands, and you’ll also need to show proof of payment. This means that you’ll need to have the last couple of pay-slips ready and your employment contract indicating your salary. If you’re about to start a new job, don’t worry, you will most likely be able to work something out with the realtor if you’ve been selected.

A word on pets. The rental conditions will specify “no pets” by default. If you have a small cat, don’t let this stop you from going ahead with the place. Most landlords are okay with cats, especially since there are quite some mice in the old Amsterdam apartments!

What I wish I did differently

Even though I was going through the rental process on a trial and error basis, looking back, I was able to eventually figure out most things pretty quickly. But there was one thing that I really did wrong for WEEKS.

I should have been a teeny bit more selective in responding to listings. My approach for sometime was, if it even remotely fits into my criteria, then I should respond to the posting. This was a bad idea.

I’d have realtors contacting me at random points during the day, by phone, by email, sometimes multiple times over an apartment that I wasn’t even really interested in. Those realtors would sometimes then call me about other similar listings as well, so it all got a little too overwhelming on top of an already overwhelming process.

Don’t be like me, be smarter! I’d suggest only responding to places where you could realistically see yourself living in. The place doesn’t have to meet all of your criteria, but if it doesn’t meet most of them, then it’s probably best to move on.

Alternatives to consider

More specifically, I want to let you guys know that because the Netherlands is small, even if you work in Amsterdam, you can consider living in another city if Amsterdam is too big or expensive for you. There are three places near Amsterdam that you can consider as alternative, Zaandam, Haarlem, and Utrecht.

Zaandam is small, but you can get to Amsterdam from there by train 6 mins. Yes, it’s very close. You might even see some places advertised as being in “Amsterdam”, but they’re actually in Zaandam. There is a HUGE price difference between the two.

Haarlem is a small city of about 235,000 people about 15 mins from Amsterdam by train— also very close! And cheaper. The city center looks a lot like Amsterdam so you can still get that feel in a smaller city.

Utrecht is a bit different than Amsterdam architecturally, but also kind of similar. It’s different because the city center has buildings that actually date back to the medieval period. Utrecht is big enough that it comes with problems of its own, but it’s still cheaper than Amsterdam and is only 20-25 mins away by train! It’s also a cool city in its own right, which I can attest to because I live there right now.

Looking for rentals as an expat in Utrecht

Moving to Utrecht? Congratulations! It is SUCH a pretty city.

Bicycles parked on the Oudegracht in Utrecht.

Apartment hunting in Utrecht was a great experience for me compared to looking for places to rent in Amsterdam just because I had more options! My budget was pretty high, about 1,300 a month for a one bedroom, and unlike Amsterdam, you can basically find an apartment anywhere in the city for that price.

I now live in the center of Utrecht, on a super cute street in a building that was built in 1450. One of my walls is just entirely made of floor to ceiling length windows. It’s 48 square meters and we have a little roof terrace too. I could not have found a place like this in Amsterdam.

If you’re looking for an apartment in Utrecht, the good news is that it’s more affordable than Amsterdam. The bad news is that it’s not THAT cheap and it’s still very competitive to find an apartment. But, with some luck, you might be able to live in the center, perhaps even by the water, if that’s what you want.

Buildings by the canals in Utrecht.

When I was looking for a place to rent in Utrecht, I was first pleasantly surprised to find that there were several one bedroom places under a thousand euros a month. It was not uncommon to see a small one bedroom for about 900 a month (excluding utilities). This was perfect for my budget!

If you have budget that’s 1300 or more per month for a one bedroom and 1500 or more a month for a two bedroom place, then you won’t have a problem finding something in Utrecht. You might even be able to choose the neighborhood that you want to live in if you’re looking at the upper end of your budget.

For those of you on a lower budget, there are still plenty of options, as I mentioned! For about 1,000-1,200, if you’re looking for a one bedroom, you will be able to find something that relatively close to the center. If you’re willing to go a little further out, which in Utrecht is still a 15 min or less bike ride to the center, you will be able to find something for much less.

Unfortunately, getting a viewing for one of the cheaper apartments was almost IMPOSSIBLE. Even though I was SEEING many listings for one bedrooms for less than 1,000 a month, it was almost impossible to get a viewing to see them! This is even more true today. Now because only a limited number of people can view the apartment at once because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it will be even more difficult to find an apartment that’s on the cheaper side.

Responding early to listings in Utrecht will only take you so far. After having done the rental search in Amsterdam as well, I found that searching for listings on the website of individual realtors in Utrecht was actually a good option. I didn’t think this would work, but there were actually a handful of listings I found on various real estate agencies websites that were not listed on any of the popular sites like Funda or Pararius.

Contacting the rental agencies directly might get you a viewing. By doing this, I was able to get viewings for two apartments that I otherwise would likely not have been able to see. And surprisingly, for both of these apartments, paying a “finder’s fee” to the realtor would not have been required had I ended up renting the apartment. It was really common to have the landlord pay the realtor to help them rent out the place, so the fees were already taken care of.

If this option intrigues you, I’d suggest looking at the realtors listed on the rental posting. It’s possible that if you liked one of their properties, you might like another one too. I generally had good experiences with the agencies that I contacted, but be aware that even though there may be no huge fees for when you decide to rent a place, you might end up having to pay a small price (20 euros or so) to attend viewings with some realtors.

Besides how insanely difficult getting a viewing for an apartment was in Utrecht, the other thing that surprised me was how much more involved the process was for the places I saw in Utrecht. For two places, I even had to write a motivation letter for why I wanted the place.

You read that right. You might even need to include a motivation letter as part of your application for the apartment. And guess what, I was rejected multiple times! What people don’t realize is that Utrecht is a college-town, and there is a HUGE shortage of places to live in Utrecht as well. The process is insanely competitive. Welcome to the rental hunger games. Be prepared for this.

Because I was looking for a place of my own, and not a room or sublet, I primarily looked on Pararius and Funda. These two sites are generally the best bets for expats. But if you are looking for a room or a sublet, you might have some luck looking on Kamernet (for rooms) and Facebook groups (for both rooms and sublets, and the occasional regular leases).

I did look on Kamernet for a bit to see what my options were, and there were quite a few great apartment shares available. The only downside to Kamernet is that you have to pay a subscription fee to be able to message the poster of the listing, which sucks a little bit. The plus side of Kamernet is that most of the people posting the listings are either people who’ve lived in the place or are currently living there (future roomies!).

Facebook groups are surprisingly good places to find cheap places to rent as well. One of the Facebook groups I was part of and liked was “Kamer en appartementen te huur in Utrecht.” It’s worth checking these groups out to see if anything sticks out to you.

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