Renting in Amsterdam: How to find your perfect home

TransferWise content team
28.06.17
9 minute read

Amsterdam is home to large numbers of international companies, not to mention world class educational institutions. Which means professionals and students alike flock there to live. It’s an attractive place, and yet the cost of living in Amsterdam has been estimated to be 41% lower than NYC and 21% less than London. It’s worth remembering, though, that although it’s cheaper than some global cities, life is still comparatively pricey in Amsterdam in comparison to somewhere like Berlin.

Finding a place to live in Amsterdam can be quite a challenge, especially for an expat. The relatively high population density and complex rules around social housing mean there’s a shortfall in rental properties at ‘average’ prices. Because the social housing market restricts rents for those eligible to just over €700 a month, the €700-€1000 rental market is sparse, with private renters often forced to pay much more. A one bedroom apartment in the city centre will set you back around €1300 on average a month, excluding utilities.

If you’re just making plans, it’s important to take into account all the costs associated with your move to the Netherlands. Compare the cost of living in Amsterdam with that of your home town using a comparison site such as Numbeo, and check out this quick guide to renting in Amsterdam to find the perfect place for you.

What are my housing options in Amsterdam?

Although there are several different options when it comes to housing in Amsterdam, not all of them are practical for the expat community. Some 70% of all rental properties in the Netherlands are social housing, which is only available to families earning below a fixed income (currently around €34,000). Even if you qualify financially, you’ll still need to demonstrate your ties to the area and join a long wait list. That often makes it a bit tough if you’re a newly arrived expat. You might find yourself waiting for a decade for social housing in a popular area of town.

In reality, the vast majority of expat renters will turn to the private market.

Furnished vs. unfurnished

Private market rents aren’t controlled, but will cost you more than social housing, which is capped at around €710 a month. Most private rentals come unfurnished, meaning that you’ll take on a property with no floor coverings, curtains or even light fixtures. In practise, you might be able to negotiate with the previous tenants to buy the existing lighting hardware, but you’ll need to talk this through with your prospective landlord. When you move out, your rental agreement might require you to return the property to an unfurnished state. That means you’ll have to pull up carpets, remove lights and repaint walls - or bear the cost of doing so.

It’s possible to find partly furnished properties (with curtains, carpets and some appliances) or even a fully furnished place, although these generally don’t stay on the market for long.

If you’re only in Amsterdam for a relatively short time, there are fully furnished short term rents available, although these tend to cost a lot more.

Flatshares and student housing

Private rentals tend to be fairly expensive, so for students or those looking to find a cheaper deal, a flatshare might be a better option. Flat shares are more ‘one off’ individual arrangements. That means looking through your contacts and friends is a good start in addition to joining Facebook groups like Rooms for Amsterdam. There are several different Facebook options, but whichever you choose, remember it's a small world. Landlords may post flat share offers in several different groups. Being quick to respond, honest and straightforward in your dealings will reap the best results.

An alternative is to look for room rentals or student flat shares through Kamernet, which has a helpful search page as well as listings in English. You’ll have to pay a fee to connect with the person who posted the apartment or room, but it might be a price worth paying for your dream home.

Alternative options

Aside from the more mainstream rental options, there are other choices such as taking on a place through an ‘anti-squatter’ company. As a means of deterring squatters, these landlords rent out spaces in vacant properties for low rent, but with virtually zero rights offered to tenants. Needless to say, this is a risky option. A similar option is to sublet from someone else in private or social housing. In this case, however, you may find it impossible to properly register your residence with the local authorities, which can cause significant problems for an expat (in getting a job or opening a bank account). Once again, you’re unlikely to have any legal options if you have issues with the landlord, and these schemes are known to attract unethical types. Buyer beware.

Where are the best locations to live?

Naturally, where you choose to rent in Amsterdam will be largely dictated by the location of your job or university. Not to mention your budget. As you might expect, the further away from the heart of town you go, the more affordable the rents. So you can get more for your money if you’re prepared to have a bit of a journey into the city.

City centre districts

The Grachtengordel (’canal belt’) is the historic centre of Amsterdam, where prices are high and apartments tend to be on the small side. Residents might consider this a price worth paying for the chance to commute by bicycle along a canal every day, though. Jordaan, similarly, is an upscale neighbourhood with prices to match. Located just northwest of the centre and shopping district, it’s a popular choice for expats with a healthy housing budget. The De Pijp (Latin Quarter), south of the centre, is a vibrant and bohemian area where housing prices are rising steadily due to it’s popularity with everyone from students and artists, to expat professionals.

Outside city centre

A little further out of the city centre the districts known as Amsterdam Oost (east) and on the other side, Amsterdam Oud (west), are cheaper but still with good transport links. These areas include edgier districts as well as those already gentrified. Expect prices to match. Zeeburg, which includes newly reclaimed land and areas still under development, is technically part of Amsterdam Oost. But if your budget is lower, then you might start there.

Student areas

If you’re looking for student accommodation, then your best bet might be to look for a company specialising in this form of housing, rather than on the open market. Specialised companies focus on locations near university campuses, but might give more or a budget-friendly choices. Ask your university for their advice on reputable agencies, or try an established organisation like Studenten Woning Web.

What are the best websites to find a rental?

The Amsterdam Association of Rental Agents is a good place to look for legitimate brokers and agents, or to cross check an agent you’re thinking of working with. A good umbrella site for rentals all over the city is Pararius, which hosts rentals from all the largest brokers and agents, including the following:

  • Amsterdam Housing - Claims to have the largest selection of available rental housing in Amsterdam
  • Principle Vastgoed - Currently there are 80+ properties in Amsterdam ranging in monthly rents from €780 to over €4000
  • Expats Amsterdam Rentals - Catering to the expat market with relatively high price point apartments available

Where are the best sites to find a flatshare or roommate?

  • Kamernet - For rooms and apartments searchable by location, budget and accommodation type.
  • Facebook - Groups tend to be closed, so you’ll need to ask to join. A quick search within Facebook will pull up several options with listings in English or Dutch. Try Rooms in Amsterdam as a starting point.
  • Craigslist - Rooms, apartments, houseboats and houses are all listed, but as with similar services anywhere, be wary and apply common sense and caution.

What should I be familiar with in the local market?

It can feel daunting if you’re just setting about finding the right place in another country and culture. Here are some of the things that can help you be more prepared.

What are the local terms I should know?

Even if you don’t speak any Dutch, it can help to have a few words to hand when you’re trying to find your perfect rental in Amsterdam. Many sites have English translations, and levels of spoken English are excellent in the Netherlands, but here are a few terms you'll see:

Dutch key terms when searching for a rental in Amsterdam

Kaal Unfurnished (likely to be without even carpets or light fittings)
Gestoffeerd Partially furnished (window treatments, carpets and some household appliances)
Gemeubileerd Furnished
Huisvestingsvergunning Housing permit (needed to access social housing)
Antikraak Anti-squatting (companies who subdivide vacant properties for low rent to deter squatters. Tenants making these arrangements have little to no rights in case of dispute)
Huurtoeslag Housing benefit
Verhuurburo Rental agency
Woningwaarderingsstelsel This points system sets a base rental rate for social or rent-controlled properties

How and when are rental contracts signed?

Although you can get by with a verbal contract in the Netherlands, it's always best to ask for a written contract. To protect your interests, you should sign a contract before handing over any money or moving in. Make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to before you sign, including details like clauses about terminating your agreement and notice periods.

What are best practice tips for dealing with landlords?

Good landlords are the majority, but in Amsterdam, as in any other city, you’ll also find your share of unethical individuals or agents. The rental market in Amsterdam is fiercely competitive, especially in the €700 to €1000 price range, so you might find yourself under pressure to sign quickly or lose an apartment.

Give yourself the best possible chance by taking a short-term place in a hostel or hotel at first to buy some time, and always having a friend along with you when viewing flats to make sure you’re not overwhelmed with information. That way you can discuss your impressions of a place and a landlord, and then trust your instinct when you have to move fast to grab your perfect Amsterdam apartment.

Don’t forget that many Amsterdam apartments are rented out by word of mouth. If you're in Amsterdam for work, then make sure your colleagues and local friends know you’re looking. You might find that they can hook you up with a place with a friendly landlord without incurring agent fees.

What's the amount of a normal deposit?

For a deposit, you can expect to be asked for a month or two of rent along with any realtor fees agreed. Real estate agent fees are likely to be about a month’s rent. If you employed the broker yourself, make sure you know what you’re signing up for when you decide to use one.

Some landlords and agents also ask for other payments such as a ‘key payment’. Don’t pay without asking a few questions, as it’s not unheard of for unethical landlords to ask for fees from their tenants for non-existent or unwanted services.

Can I pay my rent or deposit from abroad?

Because housing moves so quickly in Amsterdam, you might find that you need to make a deposit payment before you have opened a local bank account, or even arrived in the country. If you do, it’s worth remembering that your home bank might not offer the best value when it comes to making an international money transfer. Often banks will add hidden fees by using a poor exchange rate, even with their own account holders.

Instead, try a specialist service like TransferWise to make your payment directly to your new landlord or agent, with no hidden costs and a fair exchange rate.

Anything else I should know?

The rental market in the Netherlands is quite different to that in many other countries, because of the large social housing market. With only a fraction of the housing stock available for private tenants, this makes the market quite competitive. However, the good news is that the rights of a tenant renting in the Netherlands are well protected by law.

Be wary of common scams, such as properties offered for rental without proper contracts, or landlords or agents who ask for fees for a service you don't want nor need.

If you accidentally rent a property illegally, you’ll find that you cannot properly register your residence in Amsterdam, which can cause visa and tax issues. Neither will you have the full rights set out in law, which could leave you vulnerable if your landlord makes unreasonable demands or decides to abruptly evict you. If you ever have any doubts, contact the Netherlands’ Tenants Rights Association, who can offer advice and support.

Although the rental market in Amsterdam is more competitive than in some other countries, by casting your net wide, using your contacts well and being quick to make a decision on a place, you can have your dream Amsterdam rental in no time. Good luck!

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