Things expats complain about: why job hunting in Amsterdam sucks

Every expat who has moved to Amsterdam has something to complain about. If it’s not the endless struggle of finding a room — sometimes involving those Hunger Games-style “fight to the death” group interviews — it’s the bureaucratic process of registration, or having to adjust to the variances in Dutch hospitality.

Or sometimes it’s quite simply the weather, a favourite complaint of both expats and locals alike. I’ve done my fair amount of complaining since I arrived in the Netherlands. Heck, the gemeente even made me cry when I first tried to register. Yet for me, nothing has been harder, or more discouraging, than trying to find a job in the field that I am both qualified and experienced in. I knew that job hunting in Amsterdam would be tough… but I had no idea it would be THIS tough.

I’ve been doing the whole job hunting in Amsterdam cliché for over two months now and only just secured my first interview — for a job completely unrelated to what I want to do. I have a solid work history of over five years with the same internationally renowned company and hold both a bachelor’s degree and diploma. I’m also a native English speaker which I’ve been told is often seen as an advantage, although I’m really not sure.

A good cover letter is key to landing a nice job in Amsterdam. Image: Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have now applied for over one hundred jobs. I mean, I’ve poured my heart and soul into writing way more than one witty and impressive cover letter.

I’m sure that many of you reading this article have had a similar experience — a support group for people who have accidentally found themselves to be job hunting experts in the Dutch market would be pretty popular on Meetup. To be honest, there have been times where I’ve wondered if such a thing exists.

Does anyone feel the same particular frustration as I do?

The frustration when you find a job description that looks absolutely perfect for you. Only to then read the application, in English. Mentally tick off all those requirement boxes (heck YES I’m a team player!). Get REALLY excited about the prospect of finally finding “the one”…

And then have their heart brutally broken by one of the following sentences:

“Must be fluent in both English and Dutch”

“Native Dutch speaker and fluent in English”

“Must speak and write fluently in Dutch”


Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the preservation of Dutch culture and traditions. Okay, maybe not the whole Zwarte Piet thing, but everything else. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be having an influx of expats that make barely any effort to speak Dutch. I hate that I force people to speak a different language in their own country. So, I sincerely understand how infuriating this must be at times.

If Dutch is a hard requirement for a job… then why is the description not posted in Dutch?

We’re in the Netherlands after all, aren’t we? I feel like recruiters are constantly teasing me. Daily, during my long hours of job hunting in Amsterdam, I come across a job description that sounds perfect, only to get disappointed time and time again.

Sure, I’ve applied for a few roles here and there that have called out Dutch as a requirement, and addressed this in the cover letter. But as always, nothing. It’s extremely frustrating, and honestly gets me down time and time again.

Not being able to speak Dutch can make job hunting in Amsterdam extra difficult. Image: Austin Distel/Unsplash

Many people back home have asked why I’m still trying to build a life here if it’s so difficult. And I’m sure that those of you in the same position as I probably feel the same way: because the light at the end of the tunnel is that you get to live in AMSTERDAM!

You get to live in a wonderfully progressive city where there’s always something interesting to do. You get to cycle past beautiful old houses and canals every day, despite the horribly unpredictable weather. Not to mention, you get to connect with people from all over the world. And you get to know the Dutch way of life, filled with hilariously honest, but genuinely good people.

A word of encouragement

You might be feeling a bit down and frustrated, know that you’re not alone and it will be worth it in the end. I’m not quite there yet myself… But I’m still loving every moment of being here while I figure it out.

What’s your experience with job hunting in Amsterdam? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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  1. I don’t live in Amsterdam but Rotterdam, so I guess the competition is not as bad here. I arrived here 3 months ago and within 2 weeks I had 7 interviews and 2 weeks later a number of offers. My secret? I applied for every job that seemed like a match even when it clearly stated Dutch was a requirement. I just ignored that bit and applied anyway. Every time I went to an interview it became obvious that English was totally sufficient. I still don’t know why they always ask for Dutch in job postings, but the reality seems to be that quite often it’s not the actual requirement

    • Hey Magda

      I am in a similar situation right now.Can you let me know if possible in which field were you searching for jobs?Can you direct me if I should go through recruitment agencies or apply directly?I am into marketing.I would be obliged if you could help me.Thanks in advance.

  2. You are in the Netherlands from the last couple of months and applied for few hundred jobs. How does it feel if you get this info-

    17 years of professional experience
    3 professional qualifications and 1 academic
    3500 applications, 1800 motivation letters
    14 months and still counting……………..

    Keep a plan B ready !

  3. Why don’t you learn Dutch? I worked in an English speaking company in The Netherlands but made a point to learn Dutch. Later I started and ran a company where I was the only non- Dutch person. Lived in Amsterdam for 13 years. Life was much more fun speaking Dutch rather than expecting everyone else to accommodate me. Stop whining and get on with it.

    • It was so easy for me to find a job here (I’m American). I speak no Dutch. I sent out maybe five motivation letters with my CV/resume and landed three interviews, two job offers, and one very good job. Then when I was thinking about getting another job, I sent out two and got two interviews. But Dutch wasn’t required for any of them. In fact they wanted a native English technical writer (as in, an experienced professional writer). So my native English + tech skills got me my job and continues to get interest from recruiters. So I thought it was just easy here but my Dutch girlfriend told me that she’s never heard of anyone having such an easy time getting interviews.

  4. I have been facing the job market too, but i am fresh out of school and not in the Ranstaad area ( the house hunt pushed me out and out and at the last second i found a place to live but it happened to be a bit far away from where all the action is)

    I thought my native English would help me heck I even have some Dutch from the classes I took before arriving but at the moment my fresh out of school on a limited time visa is whats holding me back. I have sent out hundreds of Applications and cold emails and general hello I AM HERE HIRE ME signals to the universe but still not even an interview.

    it feels a little bit crazy but I feel bit better knowing that a lot of my dutch fiends are in similar situations too. I have to keep trying and if it doesn’t work i’ll go home knowing that I tried but i have 9 months left on my visa so i’ll just see what happens until then.

    apparently its hard out here for everyone

    Good Luck!

    • Im in the same situation after a master in geo informatics and experience in my own country, I fill all the requirements but still not even a call! Nothing, nada! I even asked a recruiter and she said “no Dutch no job”, this without even asking her client 🙁 Im currently learning Dutch, but a new language doesn’t just happen

  5. I have a few concise suggestions to improve your chances and save you up precious time/expectations:

    1. Start learning Dutch asap. If you prove recruiters that you are on your way to speak it and you are serious about it, even though you don’t speak it fluently yet you will improve your chances to be considered for that position.
    2. In the meantime, whenever you find a ‘perfect’ job description with no Dutch language requirement mentioned, before doing anything pick up the phone and call them (no e-mail, call them!) to ask them if the Dutch language is compulsory. Then you will know if it’s worth or not to invest time on it.
    3. Perhaps this 3rd advice comes late: adjust your expectations. Amsterdam is not a small town awaiting the arrival of experts to modernize the city. There are thousands of qualified English-speaking experts already here and more are pouring in as I type all this. Competition is growing incredibly fast (even more with the Brexit looming up) so speaking natively English is less and less a unique skill. This takes me back to point 1: Start learning Dutch to differentiate yourself from the rest. I know, the language sucks but that’s what it is. Like you said, after all we are in the Netherlands, not in UK or USA.

  6. In my branch of Unix computing there are no Dutch language computer systems (don’t say Windows to me) and the only language in the office is English. I have lived here for ten years before that in Germany so speak fluent German as there the social business and indeed the software is all German with some English thrown in. Here no Dutch software and whenever I speak Dutch they all want to practise and reply to me in English, you get fed up bothering after a while. In Germany I was booked on a language course but was too busy as IT support guy to attend; do you wanna get up at 4 in the morning catch first flight to another city get back at seven in the evening and have half an hour to get to a two hour course only to have to get up at the same the following day don’t think so. So my manager said to my main customers don’t speak to him in English only German frustrating to me but actually worked. So all I can say is stick in there and tuff it out you will have your highs and lows but you will get there in the end.

  7. hi! I would really like to move to the Netherlands as I am in love with the country and its culture but this article makes me so worried! I have indeed sent a few application from here (Austria) but none called me back…I am working in a marketing agency (media management) for 3 years now with very famous brands, and I speak English (fluent), Italian (native) and German (advanced) but not Dutch 🙁 are chances increasing a lot if are already based there or it does not matter? Really worried after reading this article!

  8. I’ve come across situations like that and I just contacted the company/ recruiter asking:’I don’t speak Dutch yet, but given my experience/cv would you be willing to consider me?’
    You’d be surprised at how many of them say they would still like to meet!

  9. Well dear, welcome to the club. I might not be an expat, I was born and raised in the Netherlands, got my two university/ hbo diploma’s here and then left for the US. Had to fight the good fight there, but that was to be expected. In 2012 I moved back to the Netherlands after having secured a contract for 1 year with the promises of getting hired after that year. I spoke, by now, fluent Dutch and English as well as two other languages. After the year, they did not give me a permanent job, nor a new contract. Not because I was not a good worker, but the company had financial difficulties. There I was 57 year young and too old for the job market. I finally decided in 2017 to return to the US and now I am semi-retired and have two part-time jobs ( after I quit the third one last year). It’s a hard world, everywhere. Don’t give up, don’t get frustrated and also: do volunteer jobs and take jobs that are “ below” your level. I know, I know it’s hard, but once you have your foot in the door, you can start building a resume and climb up. And o yes, please learn Dutch a.s.a.p, because although the Dutch brag about being the number one country that speaks English well, the regular job-market is not looking for English( unless in a very specific field or foreign industry). Hope to hear soon that you landed your first job.

  10. This is sad let me guess you are a white female. Which is why you are against zvarte pete. Uh learn Dutch. We are living in a time with apps that translate things in seconds. Stop complaining??? I dont know what you want to here. You are so right. It is so difficult living here. Have a great day.

  11. I have lived here 35 years and have been pretty fluent in Dutch for 34 of those. I learned the language without paying for expensive courses through frequenting bars with only natives as customers, reading newspapers, asking people questions etc. I know a plethora of people who paid for expensive courses but gave up within a year for the simple fact that, outside of the 2 or 3 hour lesson each week, alltheir atempts to converse in Dutch fell foul of the Dutch penchant for being helpful and their desire to show off their own language skills. One Scottish friend who ,at the time, had lived here more than 20 years and spoke Dutch both fluently and with no trace of a foreign accent, had ordered US Dollars from his bank. Handed over his UK passport, as you had to in those days and conducted the entire transaction in flawless Dutch. The bank teller conducted the entire conversation in English. At the end of the conversation, as my friend turned to leave, she wished him “prettig vakantie”. The only Dutch she spoke in the entire conversation. In short, people stop speaking Dutch because Dutch people won’t let them do so. That is fine until you have lived here about 5 years and then “it’s a disgrace, 5 years and still doesn’t speak Dutch”. Dear Dutch people (and I love you dearly) instead of blaming expats, take a long, hard look in the mirror for the cause of people abandoning their learning of your language.


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