Arriving and Settling in
What to Expect
Finding a place to live can be very competitive in The Netherlands, so do not be discouraged if you have responded to many ads and have not received a positive response. It can take a lot of patience and perseverance. Dutch universities are different from those in the US when it comes to housing. Some, but not all, Dutch universities have student housing, offices and other facilities. However, university administrators do not assume the same amount of responsibility for helping students find housing as they do in the US. To find housing really is the responsibility of the student.
To find housing will be the first issue to deal with after you have been informed that you receive a grant. If you are going to study at a university or other host institution that will provide housing, then it is recommended to make use of that service. The rent can be lower and most university housing is not far from the university. It is always a good idea to check with one of the current grantees to see what their experience is with the housing provided by the university. If you there is no university housing service available, you will have to find housing in another way.
Finding a Place
Rental properties are divided into two categories, private and public. As a short-term resident you may only be eligible for the former. Prices for private residences (apartments or houses) in urban areas start at about €850 per month. Utilities are usually not included. If your host institution provides housing, or if you share with others, your costs may be as low as €350 per month. Beware of people renting public residences at a low rate and then turning around and subletting them to students for private prices. If you rent such an apartment you’re likely to have few or no rights if there are problems or when you register with the authorities. In order to find a private apartment or house you can do it on your own by referring to newspapers or by word of mouth. You can also use a rental agency (makelaardij). Your university should be able to recommend a real estate agent (makelaar). Be very specific with your agent about what it is that you want as expectations can differ per country. Also be aware that Dutch houses are quite different from American homes. Common Dutch houses generally have steep stairways, small but efficient kitchens, no or few built-in closets, a washer but no dryer, and toilets seperate from the bathroom.
Experiences of former grantees
Todd Richardson: "There are various options in Leiden for housing... Makelaardij agencies usually offer very nice (by Dutch standards) places, but expensive rents (€800-2500). Try to find a makelaardij that has its own rental properties, that way a commission fee is not charged. Also, rents are negotiable. Always offer 100 euro below the asking price. Of course, I had to figure out all this on my own. No one from the university gave me ANY information about housing so I had to deal with it when I got here which was in August, just in time to be looking for housing with 10,000 other students."
If you rent a furnished house/apartment you can arrive with virtually nothing more than your clothing. Furniture generally includes a completely furnished kitchen, with sheets and towels provided as well. Still, you may choose to bring your own bedding. Utilities and internet are also often included. However, furnished houses tend to be much more expensive than unfurnished houses.
Typically, an unfurnished house or apartment is not much more than walls, a floor and maybe a light fixture or two, but little else. There will be heating (central or a stove), but there may not even be a stove to cook, a fridge or other appliances. Still, furnishing your house/appartment can be very cheap as there are many second hand stores located in university cities. Such stores sell anything from mattresses to coffee tables at a great price. Some of these second hand stores are even run by the city itself, to foster the use of second hand goods. They are called 'kringloopwinkels'.
If you prefer new goods, Ikea is a popular, cheap store to shop at as well. You will find locations at www.ikea.nl, look for the word 'vestigingen'. Last, www.marktplaats.nl is an excellent website on which you can find cheap, used items for sale. Example items include motorbikes and electronics. Semi-furnished houses often include basic kitchen appliances, carpets and curtains.
Sleutelgeld, or “key money,” may be requested of you, by the previous tenant, or even the owner, to help pay for them to “move out on time.” Using a makelaar should help to avoid this situation.
List of Popular Rental Agencies
- Amstel Housing
- Amsterdam Beautiful
- Amsterdam Housing
- Be Home Rentals
- HPS Apartment Rentals
- NK Housing
- Randstad Wonen
- Van De Steege Makelaars Groep
Den Haag (The Hague):
- Kamernet - You have to pay to contact the person listing the ad but it keeps out scams.
- Craigs List - Watch out for scams!
- Kamers in Nederland - only in Dutch
- Kamers.nl - only in Dutch
- You may also want to consider a relative newcomer to the Dutch market: the student hotel, with branches in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag and Groningen. You can rent per day, week, month or semester. You can find the information on this link: http://www.thestudenthotel.com
It is typical for rental agreements to require first month’s rent, two months rent for the deposit, and another month’s rent plus 19% tax for the makelaar’s services, if used. The deposit should be returned to you within a month of your departure. Identification such as a copy of your passport or drivers license will be required, as well as proof of income. It is likely that you will be charged “property tax” once a year. This may appear in the fine print of your rental agreement. The amount is calculated based on the value of the property. This is not actually real estate tax, but an “environmental” tax, meant to pay for upkeep/beautification of your area and city. It should cost you between €250 and €400. Such charges do not often apply when living in student houses.
Telephone, internet, and cable TV connection
For your phone service, you have the choice of establishing a land-line or getting a mobile phone. A lot of people go with just a cell phone (mobiel) as it can be much cheaper. You can buy a mobile and service at the following service provider shops: KPN Telecom, Primafoon, Vodafoon, and Orange. Phone House and BelCom sell most brands of mobiles and a wider variety of services. With a mobile, you can either purchase the phone together with a service package, or you can get a “pre-paid” phone which operates with a prepaid card. Text messaging is the major form of communication in The Netherlands. For this reason, it is suggested to look into plans which award free text messaging upon purchase of a new phone, etc.
If you’d like a land-line phone service, find out from your landlord the name and address of the commercial telephone service provider in your area. Bring your passport or some other form of I.D. and your rental agreement to the service provider’s storefront office. After service has been established, you will be billed every month by mail. If the apartment you rent does not have a landline yet, it may take several weeks to set this up.
Another excellent way to stay in touch with family and friends is via Skype, an internet phone which allows you to make and receive calls to and from various parts of the world at a very cheap price.
An internet land-line connection can also be established at the telephone service provider’s office. If you need a faster connection, go to the local cable provider (again with your I.D. and rental agreement) for the relevant service. They will send someone to your place to activate the cable. Expect to pay around €35 per month for a basic package. However, Internet and cable connection fees are often included when living in a student house or appartment. It would be wise to inquire beforehand about whether or not the property is equipped with a cable connection. Otherwise you will have to pay for it and wait longer for a service person to do the necessary work to get you online. If cable television service is not included in your rental contract, or if you’d like to upgrade it, go to the local cable provider (same as above paragraph). All cable services are normally charged on a monthly basis. While many grantees have no problem setting up these systems, some do, like Linda Rupert:
'Getting telecommunications connections was very a cumbersome, time-consuming, and lengthy process. Although the realtor told me the apartment had a phone, they did not mention how long it would take to get it connected: I could not get a phone connection until two and a half months after we moved in. Similarly, the apartment had a separate Internet connection, but no one told me that transferring it to my name would be impossible, and the owner could not open it in his name (since he already had one at his residence), so, although we chose the apartment partly because of the Internet connection, we were unable to use it. There were also some problems with paying the bills, and what was and was not covered in the lease. I suggest getting very specific information from the realtor or owner, and making sure everything is spelled out very clearly, and in details, in writing. Don’t assume that an existing telecommunications connection means that there will be service, unless it is actually hooked up and working, and it is spelled out very specifically in your lease. Also understand that most telecommunications plans require a minimum of a year’s commitment. On the plus side, there are several international calling plans that allow you to call the USA for as little as E0.01 per minute, and cell phones are inexpensive, with pay per minute cards you can buy.'
Water, electricity and natural gas
These utilities should be operational when you arrive. Their costs will depend on the age and size of the property, location, and consumption. For a well-insulated 2-bedroom apartment these three costs will total about €100 per month. Once again, if living in a student house, such expenses are included.
Garbage Collection, Recycling, and Returnables
If garbage collection is not covered by your rental agreement or “environmental” tax, you will be billed monthly. In some areas you will be provided with two big garbage containers, one brown and one green. The green one is for garden and organic kitchen refuse. The brown one is for everything else. Glass and paper can be recycled if you deliver them to the green and blue, respectively, recycling bins you’ll find in your neighborhood. There is no recycling for aluminum cans, but most municipalities are now collecting plastic items. Many beer and soda bottles can also be returned for a refund of the bottle deposit. Big grocery stores always have a machine which accepts the bottles and then prints out a slip of paper that gives you store credit.
When going on a grocery shopping trip bring a couple of strong bags or be prepared to pay for plastic bags at the register. Bring your bank card, and take a close look at your shopping list to make sure you don’t buy more than you can carry home. (If you’re biking it’s a good idea to have one or more bike baskets or paniers.) And bring your returnable bottles. You also want to bring a .50 Euro coin. You put this in a slot in one of the shopping carts outside the store to free it up. Then when you’re done with your shopping, you slide the cart back into the row and get your coin back. When you buy fruit or vegetables, there may be a system where you need to put them on the scale yourself and press the corresponding number. The scale will print out a sticker which you put on the bag. If you forget to do this, the clerk at the checkout register will send you back to get the sticker and will keep all the people behind you in line waiting. Other supermarkets may have a different system where it is weighed at the checkout. Some items, like cucumbers, are charged by the piece (per stuk) and these don’t need a sticker. Just look at the signs. At some grocery stores (e.g. Albert Heijn) you can get a savings card by going to the service desk and filling out an application. Then you present the card at the checkout register when you pay. When you go to the register to check out, you may be asked a few questions, such as:'Heeft U een kortingskaart?' Do you have a savings card? 'Spaart U zegels?' Do you collect store-stamps? And at some big department stores they may ask you:'Spaart U AirMiles?' Do you collect AirMiles? If you prefer fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cheese, eggs, stroopwafels, and lots of other merchandise, you’ll want to be a regular customer of your city, or neighborhood’s, outdoor market. This is a great cultural opportunity as well. The sellers prefer if you use smaller bills (less than €50) and normally don’t accept bank cards. Shopping at the streetmarket can also be much cheaper than shopping at the grocery store.
At some grocery stores (e.g. Albert Heijn) you can get a savings card by going to the service desk and filling out an application. Then you present the card at the checkout register when you pay. When you go to the register to check out, you may be asked a few questions, such as: 'Heeft u een kortingskaart?' (Do you have a savings card?),'Spaart u zegels?' (Do you collect store-stamps?), and 'Spaart u Airmiles?' (Do you collect Airmiles?).
Almost everyone has a cell phone in the Netherlands. It will be the cheapest and most convenient route to take when choosing between a cell phone and having a landline at your home. How often you plan on using your phone and the length of your stay in the Netherlands can influence the best phone option for you. With a mobile phone you can choose between a prepaid phone and a service plan. Shop around and look at your options before you make a decision. The main phone providers in the Netherlands are KPN, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, Phone House, and BelCom.
Using your US Cell Phone
If you have a phone that works internationally, you should be able to use your phone abroad by adding an international plan. Although this might be the most cost-convenient and comfortable option, it can be much more costly over time. Check the international rates with your cell phone company to see what is best for you.
If you would like a land-line phone service, find out from your landlord what the name and address is of the commercial telephone service provider in your area. Bring your passport or some other form of I.D. and your rental agreement tot he service provider's storefront office. After service has been established, you will be billed every month.
Another excellent way to stay in touch with friends and family is via Skype, an internet phone which allows you to make and receive calls to and from various parts of the world for free, or for local prices. It is a good idea to get familiarized with Skype before you leave home. Set up an account for yourself, family, and friends and make sure you have the proper tools (webcam and microphone) in order for it to work. See www.skype.com.