A rough guide to The Netherlands from an Expat living in Amsterdam

The rough guide to the Netherlands: living in Amsterdam

I moved to Amsterdam about a year ago. Here are some of the things of living in Amsterdam I noticed as an expat that stood out. Some are probably applicable to only Amsterdam, others more generally to the Netherlands.

Here we go, the rough guide to the Netherlands aka guide to living in Amsterdam:

  1. Yes its true the weather is unpredictable, it can rain be sunny and extremely windy all in the same day.
  2. Either you will love the weather while living in Amsterdam or be a wuss and crib all your life.
  3. A lot of bars will just serve mostly alcohol and only basic fried snacks — no food. And even those kitchens in such bars usually close by 8pm.
  4. Tipping is not expected in the average bar/restaurant. If you want there are sometimes small boxes labeled “ Fooi” (Tips) near the cash counter where you can tip or just leave some with your check.
  5. It is polite to leave a tip in a bigger restaurant. But I don’t think anyone takes it personally if you don’t.
  6. The weed and red light thing is not a big deal in day to day life, just exists alongside. Its not like they are high on weed all the time afraid the laws will be reversed without warning.
  7. Most shops close by 6pm. Except maybe some supermarkets. The Dutch value their personal time over business or making money. So even though they know working people cant make it that easily between 9am-5pm on weekdays, they wont go that extra mile to get your business.
  8. Except on Thursdays. Theres that one day in the week where major shopping areas are open till 9pm. Enjoy !
  9. Oh and btw, you don’t have the full weekend. Only Saturday. Most shops are closed fully or open for a shorter time on Sundays. Yes family time means weekends too buddy !
  10. This holds true for deliveries. So good luck getting bigger packets since you will probably not be at home when they work and they don’t work when you are at home.
  11. But it all works out though. They try to give it to your neighbours or you can choose a nearby drop off point like a supermarket and pick it up from there later in the evening.
  12. Anyone with more than 50% grey hair probably hates Germans and anything Germany related.(they are subtle of course)
  13. Everyone speaks English. Almost everyone so that is cool.
  14. But that doesn’t mean the business language is English at all. Oh no.
  15. All advertisements, supermarket labels, restaurant menus, signs opening times are in Dutch. Including letters from the government and sms’s from your mobile networks to services blah blah blah.
  16. The end result is, you will voluntarily or involuntarily pick up some Dutch by just living in Amsterdam. Because you will always be Google Translating stuff. Thank god for the live translate feature in Google Translate.
  17. It is a bit hard to get into Dutch social circles yes. So generally expats end up hanging out together.
  18. Yes, the Dutch are frugal, they go camping on vacations because its cheaper, they probably thought AirBnB was a Dutch company for a long time, and if they vacation outside Europe its usually to Sri Lanka or other Asian countries. (hint: its cheaper)
  19. While there is some “Keeping up with the Joneses” attitude in Dutch households its rarely noticeable compared to more Capitalistic economies.
  20. The average earner and the rich CEO can both be found riding a cycle to work and you wouldn’t know one from another.
  21. Doesn’t mean you don’t see cool cars on the roads though. Its just showing off isn’t too prevalent. Practicality is valued more.
  22. Speaking of practicality, Marriage is not popular. People just stay together without getting married. Even have kids. Its cool. No pre-nups and complications. Quite practical.
  23. Mostly people are atheists or not strictly religious. Going to church etc is not popular except in some areas.
  24. The Dutch have a 3 pecks on the cheek greeting (between opposite sexes of course), alternating between cheeks. Takes some getting used to.. initially one just awkwardly hovers around the face trying not to accidentally kiss the other person on the lips !
  25. Dutch women love their cigarettes.
  26. People are very direct. No beating around the bush.
  27. Oh Dutch food… there is no Dutch cuisine basically. Yea.. I thought I’d say more on this.
  28. Well yea there is the mashed potatoes and sausage, stamppot they call it. And a few snacks like crouquettes. Thats about it. Rest of the recipes are mostly remnants of colonisation.
  29. Actually Food is not a priority for the Dutch. Eating is less about enjoying the act of “eating” and immersing yourself in that experience but more about getting it out of the way.
  30. The maximum time people want to spend cooking at night is 30 mins. Whatever gets made in that time is called dinner.
  31. They drink milk with their lunch !! I mean a soda I get but milk.
  32. The Dutch are known to be one of the tallest in the world. However they weren’t this tall about 100 years ago. So thats quite a gain in just a century.
  33. They love their cheese. People wonder how they get so tall just eating cheese and bread all their life.
  34. Many famous DJs are dutch. Electronic Dance music in general and DJ as a profession are both very popular.
  35. So much so that tickets to dance festivals in the summer months are sold out in the previous winter.
  36. Yes really, no kidding !!
  37. Summer is also the time of holidays. Because the schools are off for a long period. August is the the most popular month for vacations.
  38. The Dutch love enjoying the sun whenever it shines.
  39. Thats why a lot of out door events and major days like the gay pride etc are in the summer.
  40. There is a word for the event of having drinks and light snacks around 5pm just after the work day ends. Its called a “Borrel”. Usually involves Beer and bitterballen ( a dutch fried snack)
  41. Customer service is rather confusing. Sometimes its very warm and friendly at others you will feel like you offended them and thats why you are getting the bad treatment.
  42. There are rarely any homeless people in the streets in the Netherlands. Something I really admire when living in the Netherlands.
  43. Health Insurance is mandatory for everyone. Insurance companies are not allowed to reject cover based on pre existing conditions.
  44. Dutch healthcare was ranked no 1 in one study in recent years.
  45. A microwave is called a “Magnetron” in Dutch. Had an urge to mention this for some reason.
  46. The work culture is not workaholic at all. They seem rather fragile when it comes to work related stress.
  47. No really, I’ve pulled weekends and night outs and carried on just fine. However, a little extra work and the Dutch will probably take a week off.
  48. Amsterdam rental market is insane !!! Sorting utilities in the Netherlands is a complete migraine.
  49. You can literally go from “I need a house with these 10 criteria” to “as long as it has a roof” in 15 days.
  50. I always find Dutch billboard ads rather strange. There’s something you cant really put your finger on thats weird about it.
  51. It’s always good to find a good dentist in Amsterdam who can help you in English!

If you enjoyed this post do recommend and share it 🙂 Miss anything when it comes to living in Amsterdam? Go ahead and comment 🙂


living in Amsterdam
This is not even the busy hour


  1. for someone who is about to travel to the netherlands, this list is pure gold, Thank you so much, and by the way, how did you get the visa to live there? is it too difficult to get?

  2. I expect your cat has a better understanding of the Dutch too. The list really is a l,oad of cobblers.

  3. Well, all those characteristics are recognisable, even though degree of materialization will differ, of course ;-).

    Two minor additions:
    8. This so called “Koopavond” (=> “Purchase Evening”) differs per municipality, for example Rotterdam has it on fridays. Thursdays or Fridays are the prevailing options though.
    17. Joyning a club (“vereniging”) can facillitate a faster break-in into those elusive native social circles. The great work-life balance of Dutch life brings with it a sturdy separation between work and social circles. When joyning a club for whatever, from sports to bird watching and beyond, you are much more likely to be recognized as an tual person, possibly even potential friend (or the Twilight Zone of “Kennis” (=> “acquaintance”) rather than likeable or dispickable coworker ;-).

  4. actually with the tipping its only really the italians and the french that dont tip ….. salaries in restaurants and bars are pretty low as its assumed that people will tip …. i speak as someone who works in a restaurant ….. most dutch do tip …. and secretly when we hear someone speaking italian or french its frustrating because it impacts on your ability to pay bills


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