The truth behind the life of an expat in Amsterdam

The last time I wrote about being an expat in Amsterdam was around a year ago. I wrote a post on home being where the heart is, and despite loving my friends, family and my home country, my heart was now officially in Amsterdam. This was a mere six months into my life in the Netherlands, and although I know where the post was coming from (I was really excited to get back to Dam after a VERY hectic and pretty stressful time at home over Christmas), it wasn’t completely honest.

Shopping trip

This revelation comes in hindsight, of course. I was tricking myself, really, into putting out an image of everything being a-m-a-z-i-n-g since the moment I arrived, with just a few to-be-expected ups and downs on the way. The stone cold reality of moving to a whole new country is a little bit different, however. There are of course a lot of ups – the excitement of getting away from the bubble that you may have created for yourself at home, discovering a new culture, meeting new friends and, with Amsterdam at least, getting to know one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the whole world – but the cons… well the cons are something that are never really explored.

Being an expat is almost always presented as a crazy adventure, and something in which you reap the rewards of once you’ve settled down. It is an adventure, for sure, but the real rewards fail to get reaped for a long, long time in most cases. Getting settled down means getting a job, finding a place to live, meeting those illusive friends that you thought would be queuing up at your door and trying to wrap your head around all the goddamn bureaucracy before your funds are completely depleted. Not an easy task, and something that took – realistically – about a year of living here to overcome.

Moving here with my boyfriend definitely made a lot of things easier in many ways. Being able to share costs of food and accommodation and general life makes it cheaper, and having somebody there that knows you pretty well makes the not-so-great times more bearable. But on the other hand, meeting people becomes harder. I mean, come on, who approaches the couple hanging out in the bar? No matter how much fun they look, it’s seen as an intrusion, it’s weird, no one wants to do it. So friends and meeting people becomes an issue.

Amsterdam party

A year and half down the line then, what’s life like now? Without any trail of deceit, life is great, and most obstacles have been overcome. Hurrah! I’ve got a good job which I really enjoy, I’ve made friends and am no longer a lonely loser looking on as my boyf goes out with his vast amount of work friends (I work in a very small office…), I still don’t know any Dutch but – despite what the Dutchies think – can understand more than I ever thought I would. I live in an awesome apartment, I ride my big Dutch bike around every day and fall in love with the city again and again every time I look out the window and the sun is shining. Which, granted, isn’t as often as I’d like in Amsterdam, but I’m English so whatever. Used to it.

So my advice for your first year as an expat? Get excited for an adventure but – sadly and rather pessimistically – I advise you to lower your expectations. Life isn’t going to be a laugh a minute when you have no friends, no money and live in a tiny, overpriced mouldy box room in an altogether undesirable location. So save as much money as you can beforehand, and try to make friends in as many ways possible – unless of course you prefer your own company. Every single night…

And remember, when you’re an expat, you’re not on holiday. Your new home is just that. HOME. You have a job and you have a place and you have boring things to pay for. So the adventure that was promised is relatively short lived. It’s been a long, bumpy road to get to where I am now in terms of expatriation. Life is awesome a year and half into it, but any chance you’re given to make it that little bit easier – I implore you to take it!

Sunset My home in Amsterdam

amsterdam-feestje Amsterdam party

Amsterdam party        Office party in Amsterdam

Kings day on the canals in Amsterdam



  1. Charlene Spillane

    I would love to be living in Amsterdam! I lived in Utrecht for a while when I was studying in 2013, and spent almost two months in Amsterdam last year, but I couldn’t afford to stay there any longer 🙁 Can I ask how long did it take you to find a job as an expat? I would ideally love to move back to the Netherlands, but I don’t know how feasible it is… although I am trying my best to learn Dutch at the moment!

    1. gemmafottles

      Ahhh I’ve heard Utrecht is really nice to live as a student! Well at first I just had pretty unstable ‘not real’ kind of jobs, but I looked for about 3 weeks before I found a real one – when I eventually decided I wanted a real job, that is! Have a look on LinkedIn and search for Amsterdam. There’s always people looking for grads in the city! Good luck, and if you ever do move back to the Netherlands then give me a shout!

      1. Charlene Spillane

        Thanks so much. I find it’s just a little difficult to get a job without fluent Dutch… but that’s a minor detail that I’m working on 🙂 Until I move back, I can always just live through all the fantastic expat blogs i’ve found! 😉

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