‘No internationals’, a tale of exclusion in the Dutch housing market

Like mice and Dutch cafés, housing crises and the Netherlands seem to go hand in hand. One particular hurdle that internationals looking for accommodation face, however, is this: “No internationals.” 

More often than not, when internationals are looking for a roof over their heads, they’re met with these words — and left with very few housing options.

In the Netherlands, the lack of student housing, in particular, has been an ongoing issue for many (many, many) years.

However, unlike Dutch students that have the option of weathering the storm by living with their parents, international students are left with no life raft in the squall.

What does “No internationals” mean on a Dutch housing advert?

I’m sure you’ve come across the phrase in your search for any place to live that isn’t a cardboard box.

Spacious, animal-friendly apartment in the heart of Amsterdam — only for €5000 a month! Image: Depositphotos

For the ones that haven’t had the pleasure of encountering it yet, it’s a slogan usually found at the top of a Dutch housing advert that proudly states: No internationals, (often accompanied by two more words; not sorry).

A hip alternative to “no internationals” is the equally common “Dutch only.”

The Twitter thread above contains some brilliant examples of this leuk Dutch phenomenon.

According to a survey by the Erasmus Student Network, 57% of international students in the Netherlands have encountered advertisements saying “no internationals.”

And more than 25% of them have been rejected for accommodation on this basis.

READ MORE | 5 things to know about the Dutch student housing crisis

Given that foreign students generate far more income for the Dutch economy than they cost, you’d think they’d try caring for their “cash cows” a little better. 🤔

So if I learn Dutch I’ll be fine… right?

I mean, you’d definitely think so.

There is an abundance of complaints about internationals not speaking Dutch. In fact, finding one in the wild is like finding a bakfietsmoeder or ten outside your local Albert Heijn.

Translation: Dutch parents pay shockingly high taxes, including for education. Their children are pushed out of student housing, the numerus fixus for studies (the cap for popular studies at universities and colleges), and even discriminated against on the basis of their mother tongue because internationals don’t want to/need to learn Dutch. Not going to do anything about it, eh, @RHDijkgraaf (Minister of Education, Culture, and Science).

And look, we get that it’s annoying when people set up shop in your country and don’t even make an attempt to learn your language.

Which, of course, may tempt you to think “oh, so if I learn Dutch, I’ll be fine!”

It sounds like an easy fix, doesn’t it? Leer Nederlands (learn Dutch) and a room will magically materialise in some Dutch frat house. Leuk!

READ MORE | How long does it take to learn Dutch?

Except, it’ll take most internationals a matter of 6-10 weeks to reach A1/A2 level in Dutch, and that’ll only take you to basic conversations.

That’s nowhere near fluent enough to make witty grapjes (jokes) with your housemates the minute you land in the Netherlands.

Sorry folks, fluency isn’t just handed out when you step off the plane. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Image: Depositphotos

According to a report by ESN, more than half of respondents were denied housing on the basis of being international students — even those that were learning Dutch!

The reason? Tenants were waiting for Dutchies to apply!

Learning the language wasn’t enough, as only “natives” were accepted. 😑

And it’s not just the tenants…

Despite all the noise about Dutch tolerance, some landlords in the Netherlands quite freely discriminate on the basis of nationality. And a few that rent to internationals have even been reported to be significantly over-charging them.

READ MORE | Housing & rental scams in the Netherlands: ultimate red flag guide

In fact, over 25% of respondents in the 2021 ESN survey faced paying higher prices than their Dutch counterparts for the same rooms.

Paying more for the same cramped room really makes one feel welcome! Image: Depositphotos

As a fun fact to tenants and landlords alike: such discrimination is actually illegal in the Netherlands.

Yet that doesn’t stop some Dutch landlords from risking (legal) fire and flames to pat themselves on the back for their “no internationals” labels and money-grabbing schemes.

Geen allochtonen, hoor (no immigrants/foreigners) 😤

Landlords aren’t the only ones that are hesitant about interacting with internationals.

Some Dutchies aren’t exactly the most welcoming of people when it comes to sharing accommodation with internationals — despite all the waffle about the Netherlands’ inclusivity and tolerance.

And, of course, the general Dutch response to any and all hints of racism is: “dat is niet de bedoeling (that’s not the intention).”

So what is the “bedoeling” (intention)?

The general consensus from the Dutchies we’ve spoken to is that there are a number of valid reasons why they’d only want to live with their “own people”.

God forbid an orange-hating buitenlander (foreigner) moves in! 😱 Image: Depositphotos

Some would rather only speak their own language at home (rather surprising, given that a quarter of all people in the Netherlands don’t even speak Dutch at home).

Some want the comfort of a familiar culture to come home to.

READ MORE | Does the Netherlands have a blind spot for racism?

Others don’t want to be assaulted by the smell of foreign cooking.

And, of course, there’s the old chestnut: foreigners don’t understand Dutch normen en waarden (norms and values). You might — shock and horror! — actually invite people to stay for dinner if they haven’t left by 6 PM sharp.

Sprinkle in the 30% ruling for some extra bitterness

This raises more hackles than showing a full moon to a werewolf.

Unleash the horde…of 30% ruling haters! Image: Depositphotos

In essence, this ruling allows highly skilled internationals who move to the Netherlands for work to keep 30% of their income from being taxed for up to five years.

Smells like discriminatie (discrimination) against the Dutch, doesn’t it? 🤔 Except…it isn’t.

The 30% ruling actually isn’t a miraculous tax break that has internationals buying up properties, then cackling and rubbing their hands like a swarm of evil flies. 

Getting a mortgage isn’t as easy as scoffing down bitterballen — and that’s the same for those who are eligible for the ruling.

What does this mean for internationals?

“No internationals” and co. paints a picture of the discrimination internationals will have to face in the Netherlands.

And what can’t be attributed to discrimination can (generally) be attributed to ignorance.

“I can’t hear you” is a common chorus when some Dutchies don’t want to hear about the issues of people they make money off of. Image: Depositphotos

Prepare to hear generalisations like: “Your university has rooms saved for you, unlike Dutch students”, or “Your employer will provide you accommodation, unlike Dutch employees that have to find it themselves!”.

Or the lovely “All foreigners that come to the Netherlands are rich, so you can afford to pay thrice as much as Dutch people.” 💸

Even some politicians use their public platforms (such as Twitter) to display “tolerance” to those that aren’t Dutcher than pannenkoeken.

Translation: Our hospitals are full of non-Western immigrants. Left-wing journalism now writes itself. When I called it out last year, the world was too small.
“Over half of them have a non-Western background.”

See above: a brilliant example of the kind of Dutch tolerance often supported by those that insist there’s geen racisme (no racism) in the Netherlands! Expect to have such people writing housing advertisements.

What can we do about it?

The most beneficial path forward involves holding the right people responsible.

Ok, we’ve got sky-high prices that no one — besides Elon Musk — could afford, and a dire shortage of housing.

Who do we blame: the greedy landlords, the Dutch house hunters, or those blasted internationals? Hmmm…that’s a hard one. 🤔

Looking for some pesky internationals to blame, hoor! Image: Depositphotos

Jokes aside, we’re pleased to say that the government has (finally) taken matters into their own hands.

They have started cracking down on naughty landlords that let their empty, inordinately expensive properties sit around like a sack of potatoes (in the midst of a housing crisis, mind you!)

Landlords in Amsterdam that don’t report their properties unoccupied for over six months will be forced to reduce their rental prices.

READ MORE | 9 kooky things about renting in the Netherlands

They will also be slapped with hefty fines ranging from €2,500 to €5,000 if they try any funny business.

I mean…can someone say “let justice be served?” 🙌

Universities have also started warning international students against coming to the Netherlands if they haven’t managed to secure accommodation first.

Yes, it’s the weakest step in the right direction, especially after repeated calls for universities to be more involved with the dissemination of housing information — but better (many, many, many years) late than never, right?

Of course, things aren’t all bleak.

For every Dutchie that sees internationals as pests, there are equally as many that won’t treat you as a buitenbeentje (outcast).

There are a number of internationals that have Dutch friends and/or significant others (the writer of this piece is thrilled to have both). And, of course, there are also many Dutch landlords that treat internationals with basic respect.

Are you someone that’s been hit with a “no internationals” label, or a Dutchie that feels your views haven’t been properly represented? Tell us about it in the comments!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Liana Pereira
Liana Pereira
Primarily fuelled by cheese and lots (LOTS!) of coffee, Liana is a Burgher from sunny Sri Lanka that’s in the midst of wrapping up her linguistics degree. While writing will *always* have her heart, she also likes travelling, dogs, and heavy metal. As an observer of all things weirdly and wonderfully Dutch since 2018, she’s thrilled to have the ‘write’ opportunity to help others feel more at home here.

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