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Expat Guide to Living in Amsterdam (an American’s viewpoint)

Hi, I’m Sarah! I moved to the Netherlands from New York City in 2015. Here are my best tips for living in Amsterdam.

As an American living in the Netherlands since 2015, here are all my best tips for living in Amsterdam and going around the Netherlands.

From figuring out where to buy Turkey in November to figuring out which appliances you can leave in the US and buy here instead, this post has random good to know tips about living in Amsterdam.

Follow me on Instagram for more local Amsterdam tips.

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Buying a Bike in Amsterdam

Bike along the canals of Amsterdam taken after living in Amsterdam for five years

If you’re living in the Netherlands, biking is one of the easiest, most hassle-free and cheapest options to get around.

There are multiple places to buy a bike online or in person, but no matter what you do, make sure it’s not a stolen bike and that you have good locks.

Full details on where to buy a used bicycle in Amsterdam is here. There are tips making sure it’s safe and legal.


Getting a Mobile Phone in the Netherlands

To get a mobile phone plan in the Netherlands, you need:

  • a resident ID (or at least the temporary stamp in your passport)
  • and a Dutch bank account.

There are no ifs, ands or buts if you want a year to two year long contract.

On the bright side, getting a mobile plan in the Netherlands is WAY cheaper than in the US!

Read more about getting a mobile phone in the Netherlands here.


Neighborhoods to Live in

Most expats like to live in:

  • Jordaan,
  • Oud-West or
  • de Pijp.

We moved to Oud-West because it’s more affordable than Jordaan and a little less busy than de Pijp. See what Oud-West looks like here.


Buying a Home in Amsterdam

After a year of living here, we fell in love and knew we had to stay long-term. As a result, we decided to house hunt!

Being from NYC, we never imagined being able to afford a home, but it’s cheaper here than in New York (although quite expensive from the world’s perspective still; the $ per square meter is high).

We used Marieke Lammers as our agent and loved her. Connect with her here or read my whole experience on buying a home in Amsterdam here.


Bathroom Renovation in Amsterdam

Once you buy your home in Amsterdam, you might want to renovate it like we did. We specifically did a bathroom renovation in Amsterdam.

We needed someone affordable and reliable. We had heard too many contractor horror stories.

After looking on werkspot.nl, we decided to go with Nelis Afbouw who has 4.7 stars out of 5 with 22 reviews. You can hire him through werkspot.nl or call him directly at 06 11188220. He speaks English.

We’re in the middle of our bathroom renovation with him right now but so far, it has been a great experience. Him and his team are professional and they’ve gone above and beyond.

For example, we didn’t know our boiler was not working properly so he told us how to maintain it ourselves and fixed some parts for us at a price cheaper than the usual boiler company we work with who apparently couldn’t tell that a part of our boiler needed to be replaced.

If you are not sure about going with Nelis Afbouw like we did, then you can Google search “badkamer renovatie Amsterdam” to find many contractors to work with. It’s better to search in Dutch because you’ll get more results.

May 18, 2021 – I’ll come back and update this post with full photos of my Amsterdam bathroom renovation when it’s done! Can’t wait.


Appliances to Bring from the US vs Buy in the Netherlands

Moving from the United States to Amsterdam might be a bit expensive because of flights, visa fees, and moving costs. You’ll have to buy a whole new set of appliances and furniture to get your life started here; not to mention that Amazon* isn’t really a thing here so shopping isn’t a one-stop venture.

Based on living here for three years, I’m here to make your experience of shopping in Amsterdam easier than what I went through. Here’s what appliances to buy in Amsterdam and what you can bring from home.

*Amazon NL is basically nonexistent. If you really want something from Amazon instead of local e-commerce shops, you have to shop at Amazon DE or Amazon UK. Instead of paying extra for shipping, I list local e-commerce shops that you can buy appliances from.

Quick Summary of Plugs and Voltages Between the US and the Netherlands

Before we jump into what appliances you’ll have to buy in the Netherlands and which ones you can bring from home, let’s talk about the differences in plugs and voltages between the US and the Netherlands. Both countries use different plug types and have different voltage (the rate at which the charge of electricity flows… or something like that).

The USA uses Type A (ungrounded) and Type B (grounded) plugs. The prongs that go into the wall are flat.

The standard voltage in the US is 120 V and the frequency is 60 Hz.

The Netherlands uses Type C (ungrounded) and Type F (grounded) plugs. The prongs that go into the wall are round.

The standard voltage in the Netherlands is 230V and the frequency is 50 Hz.

An adapter will easily change your Type A or B plug into a Type C or F plug for Amsterdam, but to get your appliances to truly work, you need a converter that’ll change the voltage from 120V to 230V.

Nonetheless, not all appliances convert easily. Because of this, you either can’t use the appliance from home in Amsterdam, or you’ll need a heavy-duty converter/transformer to use your appliance from home.


What Appliances to Buy in Amsterdam

After living in Amsterdam for multiple years and having experimented with what works with converters and what doesn’t, here’s what appliances you should buy in the Netherlands and leave behind the US.

Using converters and adapters for these appliances are not worth it!

Vacuum

dyson cyclone v10 best vacuum for dust mites

Since we lived in New York City in a tiny 300 square foot apartment with hardwood floors, Mike and I had a junky, small vacuum. We brought it to Amsterdam and it worked with our 500-watt converter, but it was a real pain-in-the-butt.

Every time we vacuumed, not only did we have to replug the vacuum in and out of the outlets, we also had to bring around the heavy converter to each room. Eventually, a family member shorted the vacuum when they tried to vacuum our home and did not put the vacuum into the converter and only an adapter.

We finally let go of this appliance from home and got a cordless Dyson Cyclone V10 as our Amsterdam vacuum cleaner. It’s been nothing short of amazing.

It’s so easy and lightweight to use that I actually vacuum every single day now without having to worry about cords and a converter. It’s so easy to go from room to room without cords to plug and unplug. Also, as someone with severe dust mite allergies, I used to leave the vacuuming to Mike and would have to sit out on the porch or leave the house for an hour or two after, but because of the cleaning tech that the cordless Dyson has, I do the vacuuming myself.

Read my full review on the Dyson Cyclone V10 here.

Good to Know: The Dyson Cyclone V10 is their newest cordless vacuum, and as a result, is the most expensive. If you don’t have as big of a budget, you can get the V7 for basically half the price.

Get it at Dyson NL or Coolblue.

Food Processor

I have the most amazing Magimix food processor from the US that wasn’t cheap and even with a 1500 watt transformer, it went KAPUTZ when I turned it out. I am really hoping that the food processor works well when I return to US if that’s ever…

I ended up getting this food processor since I don’t cook as much as I did in the US. But if you’re looking for a better one, you may want to get this Bosch Foodprocessor (for 159 euros as of 10/19/18).

Dehumidifier, Dryer, and Air Purifier

Something you should know about Amsterdam is that because it rains a lot, it is quite humid for a long period of the year, which is generally ok unless you have bad dust mite allergies or health problems like me. You can read more about my dust mite allergies in the intro of my Dyson Cyclone V10 vacuum review.

Between the natural humidity of Amsterdam and the humidity that gets released into the air when you dry your clothes manually on a drying rack, which is very common in Amsterdam, your apartment can get quite humid. Dust mites thrive in humidity, which can make your allergies worse.

To minimize our dust mite problem, we had to get a new air purifier since ours from the US short-circuited when plugged into the heavy-duty converter, a dryer, and dehumidifier. Since getting these appliances in Amsterdam, my allergies have gotten better, and the house feels cleaner.

Heater, Steamer, and Hair Appliances (Anything That Heats Up)

Even with the best of heavy-duty converters, an appliance that heats up is doomed for failure. With our converter, we tried using a portable heater and a portable travel steamer even though they both had less wattage than the converter could handle.

However, having a portable travel steamer was of the utmost necessity for me since I travel so often while living in Amsterdam. I got a small travel steamer at Bol.com.

As for a heater, you shouldn’t really need one but if you have a room that’s extra cold because your home’s heater is too small or there’s terrible installation, I recommend this inexpensive convection heater. Unlike heaters that use fans, this one is quiet and acts like a heater that your home is already installed with.

I had bought both a convection heater and one with a fan to test them out, and the convection one for only 30 euros won because of the noise factor.

For my hair appliances, I was able to bring my dual-voltage hair straightener (read more about it below) but because heating appliances don’t do well with converters, nor did I want to use a converter every time I did my hair, I got a hair dryer and this awesome automatic, self-curling iron in Amsterdam.

Note that this automatic, self-curling iron has changed my life! It is sooo easy to curl my hair fast. You can see how I make a loose waves look with it on on my Instagram.


You Might Also Like: Buying a Used Bike in Amsterdam


What Appliances You Can Bring From Home

If you’re wondering what appliances from the US you can still use in Amsterdam, there are quite a handful! Knowing which ones you can bring will save you money while living here and also prevent your appliances from burning out with incorrect usage.

Appliances You Can Use with a Converter

living in Amsterdam I learned that

If you get this converter that I have, you can use anything that runs off less than 500 watts. Here are the items that I still use with a converter after three years of living here.

I want to stress that the US appliance you are plugging into this has to use less than 500 watts (unless you buy one with a higher wattage). Even though the converter says 500 watts, it may not be able to handle a 500 watt appliance if it takes more energy to start it up. You can usually find the wattage usage directly on your appliance in the world’s smallest font size.

Juicer, Hand Blender, or Any Small Kitchen Appliance

The last appliance I fell in love with before I recently got my Dyson Cyclone V10 was my Omego J8004 masticating juicer. Lucky for me, I was able to bring this to the Netherlands and use it with a 500W converter.

If you have a hand blender or other small kitchen appliance, then you’ll be able to use this with the converter. But the conversation of always having a converter on the kitchen counter vs. just buying a new hand blender on Bol.com is something you may want to think about if you plan on using it often.

Printer

Since I sparingly use my printer, it was great being able to use it with a converter and not have to get a new one here, or inconvenience myself without having one at all and going to a local print shop.

Note that we have two converters: one that we leave permanently in the office, and one we keep in the kitchen cabinets.

Sewing Machine

Now I didn’t bring a sewing machine over, but when I was researching which converter to buy, I saw in a forum somewhere that a woman was able to use her sewing machine with this converter. As always, check the wattage of your sewing machine to see if it’s truly adaptable with the converter.

Appliances You Can Use with an Adapter

There are some appliances you only need to use with an adapter, which means you can skip going to an electronics store in Amsterdam and just be ready with an adapter before moving to Amsterdam.

As a note, do not buy adapters that are bulky and square. They will not fit easily into Amsterdam outlets because a lot of outlets are round. Get grounded adapters that are round and ungrounded adapters that are rectangular. I have ungrounded, square adapters, and they constantly fall out of outlets.

Hair Straightener

Your hair straightener will only work if it’s a dual-voltage one. I recommend if you like to travel and plan to go back to the US to invest in a dual-voltage hair straightener.

If you want to know if your current hair straightener is a dual-voltage one or which one I’ve been using for the past five years, check out this post.

Laptop Charger
living in Amsterdam, I learned that you can use a laptop plug easily with a converter

Your laptop charger only needs an adapter to make the flat prong plug into a round prong plug. Get a handful of converters before you move so you don’t have to jump around to an electronic store in Amsterdam while unpacking and getting settled.

Saying this again ’cause it’s important: do not buy adapters that are bulky and square. They will not fit easily into Amsterdam outlets because a lot of outlets are round. Get grounded adapters that are round and ungrounded adapters that are rectangular. I have ungrounded, square adapters, and they constantly fall out of outlets.

Phone, Camera, etc. Chargers

Since many devices use a USB cord, you won’t even need an adapter to plug your devices. However, I do highly recommend getting a multiple-port USB plug so that you can plug multiple devices into one plug.

This has been a total game changer for me. I have my phone, Mike’s phone, camera, and portable charger plugged in at the same time. I also bring this with me on vacation, which is quite useful in the airport or hotel when there is only one outlet!


Where to Buy Appliances in the Netherlands

My top three spots for buying appliances in the Netherlands are Bol, Coolblue and Dyson.nl.

  • Bol is like the Dutch version of Amazon.
  • Coolblue is a bit pricier than most places but the customer service can’t be beat.
  • Dyson is simply a great brand.

To find used items, you can visit Marktplaats.nl, which is like a Craigslist of the Netherlands. However, both shop owner and regular people sell on here so be mindful you’ll see both new and old items alike.


How to Make Friends in Amsterdam

If you just moved, you might be wondering how to make friends in Amsterdam. Here’s a few ways:

Read this post for more details on 9 ways to make friends in Amsterdam.


You might like: Living in Switzerland


Where to Buy a Turkey in Amsterdam (plus general Thanksgiving prep)

Living in Amsterdam doesn’t mean that you should forgo Thanksgiving! You can celebrate it like you would at home as long as you know exactly where to get everything.

Here’s a bunch of questions you might have while prepping for Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. Hopefully I answer them all especially in regards to where to buy a turkey in Amsterdam!

Where can I get a turkey in Amsterdam?

Ask your local butcher if they have turkeys a week before Thanksgiving. If they don’t, then you can order one from them a few days in advance.

The butcher shop, Kema Vlees, I got my turkey from is on Kinkerstraat at the intersection of Ten Katestraat. In general, this is a really great butcher with inexpensive quality meats.

iAmsterdam and Expatica Community also share where to get turkeys from in Amsterdam.

Will the turkey fit into my oven?

Yes, I know your oven here is tiny, but the turkeys here are also smaller than the ones in the US so it WILL fit!

Because my oven is so small, I didn’t want to deal with going in and out of it to baste the turkey or risk my turkey getting overcooked. To prevent both issues, I brined my turkey for a couple of days with this recipe.

Since I brined the turkey though, I didn’t make any stuffing inside the turkey or use its juices for gravy because brined turkey equals bad tasting stuffing and gravy.

What will I do about the stuffing & gravy?

For the gravy, I made a very, fat heavy chicken stock from some leftover chicken bones and pieces I had from homemade soup the week before. Then, I used this recipe for it.

If you don’t want to make it homemade, you can get gravy packets at Albert Heijn or any grocery store. You can look for stamppot au jus, which is essentially gravy.

As for the stuffing, we made stuffing completely from scratch with my mother-in-law’s yummy recipe.

Where can I find pumpkin puree, cranberry sauce,
frozen pie crusts, & more?

Even when I lived in America, I made most of Thanksgiving from scratch because that boxed stuff does not taste good at all, and making food from scratch is quite easy!

For pumpkin puree, you can buy it at Tijn’s Toko in a can, but I bought a little pumpkin at the Ten Kate Market for less than 2 euros and made it like this:

  • Microwave for 2 minutes so it’s easier to cut in half.
  • Cut in half and remove seeds (to roast them later for a snack).
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  • Place the halves on a cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled aluminum foil.
  • Bake the pumpkin for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the flesh is tender when poked with a fork.
  • Cool until just warm.
  • Scrape the pumpkin flesh from the peel, and puree with a processor or blender.

If you’re looking for pumpkin spices, you can buy cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg at Albert Heijn.

For cranberry sauce, this is about the easiest thing you can make besides toast. I used this recipe and stored it in a canning jar.

I’d recommend using orange juice as the comments suggest! Again, I got the cranberries from Ten Kate Market but they also sell it at Albert Heijn or bodegas in your neighborhood.

For pie crusts, this year I bought a premade graham cracker crust from Tijn’s Toko. Last year, Mike made a simple crust from flour, butter, and milk, and again, it can be made ahead of time and even frozen.

For anything else that you might be missing and would usually buy already prepped in stores in the United States, just Google it, and more often than not, you’ll find that the from scratch version is just as easy to make as searching for it in stores.


Getting a Prescription in the Netherlands

To get a prescription in the Netherlands, you need to first see your house doctor. They either:

  • send the prescription to your pharmacy and you go pick it up when it’s ready
  • or you bring your prescription to the pharmacy and they fill it right then and there.

Unlike in the US (from my experience), I have never had to wait more than 10 minutes to get my prescription in the Netherlands.


Gyms in Amsterdam

The best gym to join in Amsterdam is probably one closest to your home or gym. That way you’re more likely to go.

Some gyms in Amsterdam include:


Black Friday in the Netherlands

After living in Amsterdam for a few years, I’ve learned that nothing is good as Black Friday in America. Nonetheless, the Dutch have been getting in on the American concept of Black Friday more and more.

Be warned; the sales are not as good as they are in the US but they’re still a good time to buy things.

Here is an updated list of Black Friday deals in the Netherlands.


Hope these tips for living in Amsterdam were helpful. You might like this general post on traveling in the Netherlands or in Amsterdam.

Follow me on Instagram for more local Amsterdam tips.

Thanks for stopping by! xo.

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