This is a guide for people who are looking for a room in a shared house/apartment in Amsterdam. It was first written in 2016 with sporadic updates through to 2019. This advice mostly applies to the non-Dutch, i.e. internationals, who are looking for long-term housing.
There are four things to keep in mind of while searching for a place to stay:
- Have a budget and move-in date/month.
- Know (roughly) where you want to live, or don’t mind living. (In or outside the ring? Close to the canals? Noord?)
- Be charming!
- And: make lots of time.
This guide is not official, by the way, but written from years of searching, talking to others about how they found their place, and being on the other side – looking for a housemate.
Amsterdam is a pretty great city to live in – but it’s not for everyone. If you want a different vibe (and cheaper rates) – check out commuter towns with character like Zaandam, Zaandfort, Haarlem, and Weesp, amongst others.
Choose between the ring VS the belt
The ring refers to the Amsterdam ring road (A10) and encompasses what is known as Amsterdam.
The “belt” or the “canal belt” refers to the canals, which is more commonly known as Centrum.
The canal belt is quite small! You can walk from one of the most southernly pleins (Frederiksplein) to Centraal Station in about thirty minutes. By bike, it’s about eight.
There are a handful of neighbourhoods catering to different wants and needs. It’s definitely okay to be fussy over this but it’s also not the end of the world if you wanted to live in De Pijp and found a great a place in Oud West. The size of the city means that you will be spoiled when it comes to distance. (On the other hand, if I wanted to live in Finsbury Park, I probably wouldn’t pick a place in Croyden.)
- Do you mind tourists?
- Do you want to live in a residential neighbourhood?
- How close do you want to be to public transport options?
- How close do you want to be to the hustle and bustle of the city?
This list is not extensive at all, but here are some common names you might see pop up regularly in your search:
Centrum: Jordaan, Nieuwmarkt, De Wallen
Oost: De Plantage, IJ-burg, Zeeburg, Java Eiland
Zuid: Oud Zuid, De Pijp, Rivierenbuurt
West: Oud West, Bos en Lommer & De Baarsjes, Westerpark, Osdorp
Figure out your budget
This city is notorious for being both expensive and competitive. I need to repeat myself: there is so much competition.
You can assume that the closer to the canal belt you are, the more expensive a room will be; the further out, the less it will be (and probably a bit bigger too!). Popular neighbourhoods are Centrum, Oud West, De Pijp, and Oost.
Be prepared to pay at least €600 for a single room in a publicised house share notice. If you’re lucky enough to find a room via-via, you can find something around €500 or cheaper. A good benchmark is €650 for an average room closer to the canal belt, and around €550 for a room further out.
Studios can be found from around €850 if you’re really, really lucky — but they are usually from €1,300. One-bedroom apartments commonly start at €1,400. I have only ever heard of one instance of a one-bedroom apartment being on the market for €800. Your Dutch friends will have heard of better deals. Two-bedrooms usually ask for €1,600 – and the rooms might not even be of a similar size. (For example, sometimes it’s actually a one bedroom apartment that has been modified to be two.)
Understand the terms “inclusive” (gas, electricity, and sometimes water, are included in the rental price) and “exclusive” (gas, electricity, and water are separate, additional bills) when it comes to utilities. You should also ask whether you are responsible for paying your share of the water/trash taxes to the city (approximately €400 per year for two people).
If it’s important to you – also find out if Internet is included in the price or whether you have to pay extra for that. (Do you need to set it up yourself? How much is the installation going to cost?)
In addition, does the room come with furniture? Can you buy things from the previous tenant? If you’re renting a whole apartment, is it furnished? Will you need to purchase lights? Cutlery? Pots and pans?
Sometimes the situation can be a bit precarious. Is the landlord involved in the process? How many years will they continue to rent it out for? Are things a bit weird? I once lived in a 7-person houseshare in Den Haag. Shortly after I moved out, the house was repossessed by the bank because the landlord, living sharp in Aruba, was evading tax. Everyone was kicked out.
If you’re staying in the Netherlands for more than four months, you will need registration. (You will see a lot of literature on BSN which basically means your resident number.) If a place isn’t offering registration – be wary. You won’t have any rights and it’s most likely illegal for you to be there.
Utilise your network, the via-via
Tell everyone you know who lives in Amsterdam and everyone they know who lives in Amsterdam that you’re looking for a place. To be honest, this should be replaced with – everyone you know in the Netherlands. You never know.
Now, this is important: when you are asking, be clear about your budget and your preferred move-in date. Unless this person is directly concerned with your welfare, they will not ask for specifics. So give them it from the start.
I found this to be a good starting point:
Hey! I’m looking for a bedroom in Amsterdam with registration, close to the canal belt, for €600 inc. I need to move in by September. Any leads would be much appreciated!
If you’re part of any groups or organisations – ask them. Don’t be afraid to beg. It’s OK. We all get it.
Messaging for a room
If you’re communicating directly with an agency or landlord, you need to tell them you’re going to be the best tenant they’ve ever had – you’re going to both pay on and not waste their time.
- Be a little formal and very respectful
(I have a friend who found a great little place and he had written, essentially, a little motivation letter including all of his previous payslips and a bank statement. For me, this is kind of extreme, but if you’re really, really struggling, it might be a path.)
If you’re applying for a house share – i.e. potentially your future housemates – you need to be pretty good at reading the room. This also requires some personality. People rarely follow-up with messages that offer zero information on the person applying. Really, the only one good tip I can offer is – don’t lie. If you’re not into flat dinners, then don’t say you are; if you’re not into partying, don’t say you are.
- Don’t be too formal or write like a robot. The whole point of this endeavour is to convince people they want to live with you, not give you a job.
- Always express interest in the room/apartment/area – if there are photos and you found something interesting/likeable in them, write it.
- Say something about yourself – what are you doing in the city? Do you have any specific interests beyond “I like movies and cooking and having a drink”. Spoiler: This also says nothing about you.
- What can you add to the house/living environment? (I always got called back on: “I can make the best cinnamon apple crumble.”)
- Are you a party animal? Do you like staying at home? Do you like partying but only outside? Do you like hosting parties? Say this now!
- People love people who are clean, tidy, and respectful/considerate of other people’s spaces. Fact.
- Be proactive and offer dates for viewings/ask when you can meet them/tell them you are available when you’re available. If, in the original ad, they supplied a viewing time, then don’t ask them when you can view the apartment.
Basically, you want to give them all the information, in a concise manner, that will lead to action (i.e. “Would love for you to visit next Thursday at 3 PM!”).
And when you get there, if it’s all flowing, ask about themselves too and what they’re looking for in a housemate.
Too-good-to-be-true deals and scams
Unfortunately, with such a housing market, there are a lot of scammers out there.
Always view a room before you sign or send money. A common message is, “Hey, I’m away at the moment but this is the address of the apartment! You can look at it from the street!” Always research and look into the person who is letting the room/apartment. Is the profile suspiciously new, living in the United States, but letting five apartments in Europe? Trust your gut.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And never, ever give cash.
A former colleague of mine was once a victim of an organised scam. The group had rented out an apartment on AirBnB and had house viewings for fourteen people. They printed out fake housing contracts. They requested €1,400 in cash (rent and deposit). On the move-in date, fourteen people arrived at the address, locked out, without key or contact information from the “landlord”, with all their belongings and down €1,400.
Sure, they could have sent it through bank transfer and still lost money, but then at least there is a bank number. Cash? No trail.
Be fuckin’ vigilant.
- A deposit of three months is ludicrous.
- The key fee (sleutelgeld) is illegal. Do not pay.
- Register and de-register in time.
- If you have any issues or questions with regards to housing, please check out the HuurCommissie – the Rent Tribunal. With these folks, it’s also possible to get your rent decreased. It will inspect your living quarters and make a “correct” assessment. This only really works, however, if you’re renting from an agency. Landlords (obviously) do not like this and it is very possible they kick you out after your contract ends.
- The longer you are registered at a place, the more rights you have. Check this with the people above. Sometimes you will get a housing contract for eleven months only, with possibility of renewal. This is because the renter does not want you to “gain” any rights. Read up on your rental rights.
- Read your contract!
Here are a few websites and groups that I, or friends, have used with success:
Bonus: Don’t be like this
I’ve both searched for a room and searched for a housemate. When I did the latter, my inbox was inundated with hundreds and hundreds of messages. It was not fun going through them.
My initial ad was a bit about the house, location, and me; and then the offer (i.e. sadly non-negotiable), move-in date, and possible dates/times for house viewings. I asked interested people to send me a message with a little bit about them (what they do, what they’re interested in, what kind of housemate they are) and times they could visit.
I didn’t have much time to find a housemate so I wanted to streamline the process as much as possible.
Here are some examples of bad messages I received. Try to avoid writing like this. :)
hi, is the room still available?
At this point, I had over seventy messages to check plus a full-time job and other obligations. I really didn’t have the time to answer these kinds of queries.
Hi , im Y 23 old.. i must find a room in Amsterdam and sunday im free .. You are free for a tea..??
This is similar to the first example. There was no “gain” for me to pursue this when there were a bunch of other messages that have more information/motivation. I didn’t know anything about this person except that they’re twenty-three. Why would I want to invite this random person into my home for tea?
I am an IT engineer , 25 years old who works for a large organization who is very easy going , calm , sociable .
This was a bit better but it’s still just a message throwing words at me. This could be… anyone.
My favourite one though:
Hi X :) My name is Y, as you can imagine.. I am looking for long term solutions :)
And then a day later:
Morning! Was wondering if you had got my message :)
In other cases, I totally dig follow-ups! But this was just rude. There was no reason for me to respond to this message when other people had messaged with actual information. I was busy and didn’t have the time to entertain these kinds of conversations.
If someone doesn’t respond – remain polite and don’t pressure them. It’s not possible to reply to everyone. I tried to, at the beginning, but then it became tedious. In the end, I focussed on continuing the conversation with people who had followed my initial ad’s instructions – people who had told me a bit about themselves and given me confirmation on dates they were available to meet.