Moving to Utrecht? If Amsterdam is the blood of the Netherlands, The Hague is the brains, then Utrecht is undoubtedly the beating heart. This delectably Dutch city is the fourth-largest in the Netherlands and has the best of everything: culture, liveability, transport, education, and social opportunities. Well, the best of everything except housing, but we’ll get to that later.
Are you considering moving to Utrecht? Is it just one on your list of many Dutch or European cities to consider? Or have you already made the big move?
Either way, warm up your eyeballs and stretch out your scrolling finger my friends, because this article will tell you everything you need to know and consider about moving to Utrecht.
Why should I move to Utrecht?
If you’re considering moving to Utrecht, your first question is probably ‘will [my family and] I like it there?’. While we can’t give you a definitive answer on that matter (taste is taste after all), there are some things that make moving to Utrecht absolutely brilliant.
Firstly, its location is perfect. Smack bang in the middle of the Netherlands, it is a short 25-minute train ride to Amsterdam, and a 30-minute direct train ride to Schiphol Airport. It’s well connected to other cities via both highways and trains, but the Utrecht city centre is also well-equipped for everything you need.
Speaking of the city centre, it is stunning. Utrecht is set apart from other Dutch cities by the terraces that sit upon its canals. While most cities like Amsterdam offer a steep drop from the sidewalk into the water below, Utrecht has a sub-street level where many cafes and restaurants have outdoor seating. Sipping a beer on a canal in the Dutch sunshine? Dat is prima!
But who will you sip that beer with? Why not the vibrant expat community that resides in the city and suburbs around Utrecht? There are thousands of nearby expats who hold meetups, networking sessions, language cafes, and social outings. More on this below.
If you’re a student you’re in luck! Utrecht is the perfect blend of a student city and old-enough-to-know better crowd. While students are a lively group and plentiful, the city is big enough for both those studying and those who have settled down.
Moving to Utrecht: what do I need to do as soon as I move?
When moving to Utrecht you’ll have a list of things to do. Finding a house will be time-consuming – but we’ll cover this in more detail below. First, let’s attend to some housekeeping and administration items.
Moving to Utrecht: registering with the municipality
Number one on your ‘moving to Utrecht agenda’ should be registering with your local municipality. Why is this number one? Because before you can do most things in the Netherlands, like signing some rental contracts, getting health insurance, or getting a phone plan, you need a Burgerservicenummer (BSN).
Once you know your arrival date in the Netherlands, go ahead and book a BSN appointment at your local municipality – waiting times can sometimes be up to a few weeks long, particularly when the influx of students occurs in August and September.
Moving to Utrecht: obtaining health insurance
Alright, you’ve got a BSN – congratulations! Step number two is finding some great health insurance. It’s compulsory in the Netherlands to have health insurance if you’re not currently working.
It can be confusing traversing the world of Dutch health insurance, but never fear! We have a full guide for all your health insurance needs over this way. You can also see a list of the many different provider options.
If you want to keep your body and your wallet healthy, count on budgeting around 100 euros per person, per month on this. But if you’re a student, you can get most of this back from the government each month as zorgtoeslag, or health insurance benefit.
Moving to Utrecht: finding a GP
Number three on your immediate list of things to do when moving to Utrecht is to find yourself a general doctor. In Dutch, they’re called the huisarts and you need to register at one before you can make an appointment.
We’ve had great success in Huisarts Janskerkhof (try saying that with a stuffy nose!) who deal with a lot of expats and have a bunch of locations.
It’s worth noting that Dutch doctors take a very minimalistic approach to healing: don’t expect to be prescribed painkillers or antibiotics. In the Netherlands, paracetamol is king.
Moving to Utrecht: how to find a place to live
Alright, alright, we’ve told you already how amazing Utrecht is. Sadly, we’re not the only ones who know it. Both the Dutch and expats alike are converging on this city and province, and housing availability is virtually non-existent.
While the same can be said about most cities in the Netherlands, Utrecht is one of the hardest hit by the housing crisis, alongside Amsterdam. In fact, it’s expected that by 2030 Utrecht be short of around 26,895 houses – ouch.
But, how many people are in the metaphorical boat that is Utrecht? Well firstly, Utrecht refers to both a city and a province in the Netherlands. That can get confusing!
The city of Utrecht had 347,574 inhabitants as of January 2018. The popularity of the city means they’re expecting to reach 400,000 before 2024 – yeesh! Meanwhile, the province has around 1.32 million total inhabitants. Not bad!
So how can you get a house in Utrecht? Whether you’re planning on buying or renting, you have to start looking early. You always have to be extra cautious because the demand for housing has led to housing scams becoming more and more prevalent.
But let’s go into more detail on how you can snag a Dutch house of your own:
Moving to Utrecht: buying a house
When moving to Utrecht, if you’re looking at buying a house you can expect to pay a decent slab of money. The latest data, from 2017 shows the average house sale price in the city of Utrecht was 313,261 euros, and demand has only increased since then.
If you go to any of the outlying cities in the province of Utrecht the average price drops: in Nieuwegein €241,953, in Amersfoort €301,088, and in IJsselstein the average was €290,856.
It’s very common in the Netherlands to employ a realtor to assist you with your house search. Alternatively, you can look online at houses on websites like Funda.
Moving to Utrecht: renting a house
If you’re planning to rent a house in the Netherlands, again, act fast. Houses are snapped up quickly and with no shortage of keen renters available, home-owners can pick and choose who they like, for the prices they please.
To be successful is a mixture of determination, persistence and downright luck. Registering with a rental agency can help you in your quest. There are also websites with paid subscriptions that give you more access.
If you have a pet, well, this makes your search even harder. Pet-friendly rental accommodation does exist but is rare and even more competitive – no matter how cute Fido is.
Moving to the Netherlands: getting short-term student accommodation
If you’re a student coming to the Netherlands for just a semester or two, there is a student housing organisation with rooms available for exchange students – but they fill up very fast. As soon as you have confirmation from your university you need to register with SSH who own 13,000 rooms all over Utrecht – and snap one up as soon as the rooms are released.
If you’re a student and haven’t been able to secure housing by the start of the semester (this is a very common problem) speak with your university. They can’t always help, but they often have a strong interest in finding you somewhere to stay – they want you to be able to study, after all! Check out our full guide on finding a room as a student for more information.
Moving to Utrecht: where should I live?
While the province of Utrecht is the smallest in the Netherlands, there are a number of cities where you can find a place to rest your head – assuming you can find a house that is.
Moving to the Netherlands: suburbs in the city of Utrecht
The city of Utrecht has some undeniably gorgeous places to live. If you can drop some serious cash you could be right in the middle of all the action in the Utrecht city centre: a beautiful canal house right on the Oudegracht would be a dream.
If you’d like to remain in the city, but are happy going a short bike ride out we can recommend searching in the stunning Wittevrouwen, Oudwijk, Vogelenbuurt & Tuinwijk/dorp, all suburbs that retain their old-world charm.
Alternatively, you could head to multicultural centre Lombok where you’ll be spoilt for cheap and fresh vegetables on every corner. Across the sluizen from Lombok is the upper-class and swanky neighbourhood of Oog in Al. Great for families, but less great for the wallet.
Other places just outside of the city centre include the northern neighbourhoods of Utrecht Zuid, the up-and-coming Kanaleneiland and the suburban dream of Leidsche Rijn.
Leidsche Rijn is around a half-hour bike ride from the city centre, but was only built in the last ten years or so – and its population is in the middle of a boom. There are lots of houses being built out there, so if you’re willing to make the ride or take public transport it could be an option that provides more bang for your buck.
For the low-down and specifics on all the places mentioned here, head over to our full guide on where to live in Utrecht.
Moving to Utrecht: nearby cities
We’ve already mentioned some of the bigger cities in the province of Utrecht, like Amersfoort, IJsselstein and Nieuwegein. These places typically benefit from far-reduced rent and purchase prices, have their own city centres and charm, schools, and have great transport links with the city of Utrecht and elsewhere.
Remember, the Netherlands is tiny, so it’s not uncommon to live in one of these areas and enjoy a slightly longer bike ride or public transport ride in. Other cities that could be worth a look during your house search include De Bilt, Woerden, and Zeist.
Moving to Utrecht: where to find a job
Alright, you’ve secured a house, now you need the means to pay for it – along with electricity, water, and you know, food. So what jobs exist in Utrecht, and how can you get one?
Moving to Utrecht: major employers
Utrecht’s central position and strong university ties mean that many large businesses have set up headquarters in the area. There is a focus on the services sector, in particular, financial services and banking, life sciences and research, ICT, transport and engineering sectors.
Moving to Utrecht: student jobs
For students, there’s plenty of hospitality and retail work where Dutch isn’t required – although we wouldn’t count on obtaining one of these if you’re only around for a semester or two.
Additionally, the Dutch are beginning to be frustrated by English-speaking servers and retail assistants, so learning a little Dutch could go a long way.
Moving to Utrecht: schools and childcare
If you’re moving to Utrecht and you have some kids in tow (or in your future) you’re probably asking the golden question: what about education? But, with the Netherlands being the international society it is, you have many options when it comes to enlarging brains and enlightening minds.
Moving to Utrecht: Dutch schools
If you’re happy for your little tyke to learn in Dutch (believe us, they pick it up fast when they’re young!) you can enrol them in a Dutch public school. However, before they go straight into the Dutch education system they need to spend around 6-18 months at the public Taalschool for Dutch language immersion.
The benefits of taking this route are that they can be integrated into the public system and their language skills will dramatically improve. The downside is that these are not a long-term option – if you’re only moving to Utrecht for a short period, it’s not ideal. It’s important to note that Taalschool is only available to start until age 11. If your child is older, see the next sections.
Moving to Utrecht: English schools
There is also the option of placing your child into an international school. International School Utrecht offers education for both primary and secondary students in English. However, students also take Dutch language classes.
An international school could be an excellent option if you’re moving to Utrecht for a shorter period. However, if you’re making a relatively permanent move you may prefer your children to take a more immersive route.
It’s also worth noting that international schools are typically more expensive than public Dutch schools: while some do receive government subsidies it can still be a nasty shock for the pocket. It’s best to get in contact with them directly to find about fees.
For a cheaper version of an international school, consider an ISK school. Ithaka International School Utrecht is designed for students who don’t speak Dutch to attend for 1-2 years before being redirected into the Dutch education system.
Moving to Utrecht: hybrid schools
Some public schools in the Utrecht area also run a twee taalen (bilingual) program. They often accept native English speakers, but some do require a sufficient understanding of Dutch first. Subjects are taught in both Dutch and English. We’ve taken the liberty of listing some of these for you, get in contact with the individual schools for more information:
|School name||Location||Type of education|
|Onder de Bogen||Utrecht||Primary|
|Christelijk Lyceum Zeist||Zeist||Secondary|
|Van Lodensteincollege||Amersfoort||Secondary (first 3 years)|
|Anna van Rijn College||Nieuwegein||Secondary|
|Revius Lyceum||Wijk bij Duurstede||Secondary|
|Revius Lyceum||Doorn||Secondary (first 3 years)|
Source: Talent Utrecht
Moving to Utrecht: alternate school arrangements
If you’re not a fan of an international school, and not moving to Utrecht long enough to enrol your children in the Dutch public school system, some parents have found success doing distance schooling with their home country.
Understandably, this opens up a whole new can of worms so it’s best to discuss with your own school district what options are available to you.
Moving to Utrecht: childcare
Is your child littler than little? Or are you looking for something when school isn’t in session? Luckily there are lots of options for childcare around Utrecht. There are large childcare companies like Partou and Ludens which offer locations all over the city. Some daycares, like Ludens ‘t klavertje offer international bilingual day care groups where English is spoken.
If you would prefer to take the nanny or babysitter route, agencies like Charlie Cares can link you up with a qualified babysitter.
A third option would be to investigate au pairs – this is also a popular option for families in Utrecht with lots of online services available to help find your perfect au pair.
What is the cost of living in Utrecht?
Depending on where you’re from, Utrecht is not a particularly cheap country to live in. Information from Numbeo ranks the cost of living 48th our of 379 cities across the world. The website suggests that you should prepare to pay approximately the following per month without including rent:
Four-person family monthly costs: ~ €3000
Single-person: ~ €850
As a very rough guide you can expect to pay around:
€12 – meal at lunch
€4 – 500g of chicken breast
€23 – 2 x movie tickets
€73 – for dinner for two at a nice restaurant
€3 – 1 x cappuccino
€5 – beer at a local bar
Moving to Utrecht: how to save money
If you’re looking to save even more money on food, our absolute top tip is to go to Lombok near Utrecht Centraal for your fresh produce – this Turkish/Morrocan neighbourhood has a plethora of grocery stores and butchers where items are significantly cheaper.
Another excellent way to save money is by avoiding public transportation or car and committing to cycling – you also save on doctors bills through the associated health benefits!
If you can, share a house with other people to cut down the cost of your rent. Rent is one of the highest costs of living in Utrecht, so if your house has a spare room, searching for a roommate will not only take pressure off your wallet, but give you a potential new friend as well! You can also check out the rental housing benefits to see if you qualify.
Moving to Utrecht: transportation
Alright, you’ve gotten yourself TO Utrecht – now how do you get around it? Utrecht doesn’t have a metro/subway system, but it’s also not particularly needed: the city centre is small enough to walk almost everywhere, bus and tram routes are well connected and easily accessible, and of course, biking is as easy as pie.
Moving to Utrecht: public transport
The main transport hub is Utrecht Centraal which has stops for trains, buses, and trams. If you’re taking the train to work or home there are extensive bike parking facilities available at the station.
All public transport across the Netherlands uses the OV-chipcard system which can be purchased upon your arrival. Public transport is typically relatively expensive, although of pretty high quality. Check out all the secrets to getting discount train tickets, so you can spend your hard-earned euros on more important things.
Moving to Utrecht: biking
The easiest way to save money is by biking around Utrecht. If your house is within cycling distance to the city centre or your workplace you’ll not only guard your pennies, but have the added benefit of being super healthy – and super Dutch!
While biking in the Netherlands can seem intimidating at first, rest-assured it’s very safe thanks to the sheer number of bike lanes. In the Netherlands, everybody bikes everywhere, regardless of class or money. People typically don’t bother with expensive bikes either as there’s a good chance they’ll get stolen.
How do I buy a bike?
You don’t need a shiny, new bike in the Netherlands because, we repeat, it will probably get stolen. A second-hand bike will do you fine. You can purchase one in a second-hand bike shop where it will probably come with some kind of a guarantee (although your mileage will vary) but will be far pricier.
Buying a bike does take some finesse though to make sure you don’t end up with a rust-eaten squeak-machine. You should plan to spend around 70-150 euros on a decent quality bike. You can go cheaper or more expensive, but this price point is good balance between quality and not going broke if it gets stolen.
How do I make sure my bike isn’t stolen?
If you’re pretty attached to your two-wheeled friend make sure you take precautions to keep it in your possession. ALWAYS lock your bike, preferably with a wheel lock and a chain lock. Utrecht is also home to multiple fietsenstallingen (bike storage facilities), including the largest one in the world! In these facilities the first 24-hours is typically free in an undercover, secure parking garage. Use these whenever possible.
Moving to Utrecht: owning a car
Should you own a car when moving to the Netherlands? Absolutely not, if you can avoid it. Cars in the Netherlands are expensive, fuel is pricey, and parking garages (where existent) will cost you an arm and a leg. Of course, for some people, it can’t be avoided, in which case head over to our full guide on owning a car in the Netherlands.
Moving to Utrecht: where to eat, drink, work and play
Utrecht is home to some excellent museums, galleries and libraries for when you need a place to think. Check out the Rietveld Schröder House for some architectural brilliance, see cartoon-goodness at Studio Dick Bruna, home of the creator of Miffy, or indulge in some incredible Utrechtian history at Centraal Museum Utrecht.
Eat and drink
Utrecht is fast becoming the food capital of the Netherlands, with inspiring and adventurous cafes opening up around the city.
Some of our favourites are Kinmade, for inexpensive but super-fresh Vietnamese food, De Pizza Bakkers for the best thin-crust pizza in Utrecht, and for vegans or anyone who loves good coffee (we admit Utrecht is lacking in this area) head to Gys for healthy bites and a latte to die for.
If you’re a digital worker or have the luxury of having work from home days, you know the importance of having an office that isn’t your lounge room. Luckily, Utrecht has a bunch of great co-working spaces.
We’re particularly fond of Seats2Meet in the city centre which is completely free, or for a paid option head to AtoomClub Utrecht. Alternatively, you can take full advantage of the sharing economy at Social Impact Factory to max out your social-swap potential.
Work over and time to chill out? Utrecht has you covered there too. This city is brimming with bars ranging from trendy to cosy and comfortable. Beer, wine and spirits flow freely, and there’s no shortage of music, events, and shows.
TivoliVredenburg is the main attraction here, a mega-entertainment centre for music and culture, with five halls dedicated to different music types. It’s also home to nightclubs, bars and cafes. If your music taste runs more on the alternative side, check out Ekko nightclub for a constant revolution of up-and-coming and established bands.
Activities for children
It’s the weekend and the kids need to be entertained: no problem! We love Play-In Utrecht – it’s a huge playground with different activities for kids of all ages. There are three different zones, letting kids run wild, make friends, and burn off some excess energy. It’s also a great confidence builder for the young ones! There are instructors for each of the activities who will help your kids, keep them safe, and make sure they have a great time.
Moving to Utrecht: do I need to speak Dutch?
Ah, the age-old question! The answer is no, you don’t technically need to speak Dutch to be able to live in Utrecht – or almost anywhere else in the Netherlands. But, (and there’s always a but) you should make as much of an effort as possible to try to speak some.
People are more than happy to speak English – and there’s a good chance they’ll switch to English if they hear you speak Dutch, but Dutch people are getting frustrated that their own language is disappearing. As an expat in the Netherlands it’s expected that you’ll learn at least some basic Dutch to get you by.
Moving to Utrecht: How can I learn Dutch?
There are a variety of apps to give you a beginners notion of the language for free, or videos online. You can also register for classes at your local library, or look into a private school like Taalthuis or Babel. You could also choose some private lessons instead.
If you’re studying, see if your university offers Dutch classes, or, if you’re working your employer may even pay for your lessons.
Moving to Utrecht: How do I make new friends?
Moving to a new city is always tough and we’ll be honest – it can sometimes be hard to break into the Dutch people’s inner circles. However, the great news is Utrecht has a bustling expat community – so we would recommend starting there.
Head to expat meetups, or language cafes to start meeting some new people. If you have some interests like running or gardening look for Facebook groups where you can find people who do similar things.
There are also a plethora of international sports that have made their way to the lowlands including netball, Aussie rules football, and rugby that you can take up to meet some other friendly people.
You can also get in contact with some volunteering organisations to give back to the community while grabbing hold of some new friends, or you could check out Mothers/Fathers Groups or suburb groups.
Some of our favourite expat groups in Utrecht are Expat Utrecht, Sport activities for Expats in Utrecht, Utrecht Netball Club, Utrecht Expats Climate Initiative, Expat Business in Utrecht, Expats in Utrecht by UC, Expats Utrecht Art & Photography Group, Expats Utrecht Meetups, Utrecht International Students, Utrecht International Musicians, and Indians in Utrecht. Did we miss one of your faves? Drop it in the comments below!
Utrecht is a ridiculously great place to put down some serious roots. If you can get past the housing crisis and find a great home you’ll reap the bountiful rewards of an architecturally stunning hub with a welcoming expat community, great education, and amazing transport links.
Are you planning on moving to Utrecht soon? Or have you settled down in Utrecht recently? Have we missed any important tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Sabine Bends/Pixabay
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019, but was fully updated in February 2020 to bring you the most up to date information.