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Expats have a number of options when it comes to accommodation in the Netherlands. The country is known for being tolerant and cosmopolitan, and in large cities, dozens of cultures live side by side, so it’s common to find expats from all over the world living and working together in different areas.
Short-term leases are available, but demand for accommodation is high in larger cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Housing in these cities is expensive, but accommodation in their outlying suburbs is generally more affordable than city-centre living.
The state of housing in the Netherlands is generally good because of strict laws concerning the environment and construction regulations. Still, when buying or renting older houses, it's best to check for damages, which many people do with the help of a consultant who knows about construction and building. Expats should also note that housing may be more compact than what they may be accustomed to.
Types of accommodation in the Netherlands
The Netherlands offers a range of accommodation, including standalone, semi-detached and terraced houses, as well as apartments ranging from small studio units to larger units with multiple bedrooms. The Dutch housing market also distinguishes social from private housing.
Social and private housing
Expats earning below a certain threshold can apply for social housing which guarantees a maximum rent and annual rent increase. Several housing associations operate in different regions in the Netherlands and applicants must register with the appropriate one and get a relevant housing permit. Specific guidelines must be obtained from the designated municipality.
Housing queues are typically long, as demand outweighs supply. So, many expats opt for private housing. Such housing has liberalised tenancy contracts, where homeowners are free to set the rent as they wish, a potentially daunting prospect for expats on a budget.
Apartments are the most common form of accommodation in large cities and are usually conveniently located near transport links. Self-contained apartments are popular, as are flat shares, which are typical options among local and international students studying at a university in the Netherlands. This involves shared kitchen and living room facilities and spaces but private bedrooms, and often works out cheaper than renting as a single tenant.
Expats can also find serviced apartments, which offer all the luxuries of hotels while still providing privacy. Serviced apartments normally have fully-equipped kitchens with crockery and cutlery and pots and pans, weekly cleaning services and amenities, such as gyms, WiFi and restaurants. These top facilities do come at a price, though.
Expat families may prefer to live in a house, whether standalone, semi-detached or terraced, with a garden and greater privacy. Housing located further from city centres tends to be more affordable, and students and colleagues looking to save can find house shares.
Furnished vs unfurnished
While specific expat-oriented accommodation, such as serviced apartments, are usually fully furnished, houses in the Netherlands are often unfurnished. Expats will need to factor this into their budget as they may have to either buy or ship their own furniture.
Expats can buy new or second-hand movables or even rent home furniture, which is beneficial to those staying short term. Note that major decoration changes, such as painting walls, must be approved by the landlord.
Finding accommodation in the Netherlands
One of the best ways to search for accommodation is by word of mouth. Networking with local colleagues, friends, family or reaching out via social media can be fruitful as landlords may prefer a tenant recommended by a personal contact. Not all expats will have existing contacts in the Netherlands, in which case, online platforms, agencies and relocation firms provide helpful services.
Expats can find property to buy or rent using various online property portals, such as IamExpat Media, Engel & Völkers and Pararius.
Real-estate agents and rental agencies, such as Rotsvast, are also available and offer houses and apartments throughout the Netherlands. Sometimes real-estate agents have access to listings before they go onto the open market, which can be useful in beating the crowds. The downside is that agencies normally charge the equivalent of a month's rent for their services.
International students can request information on student housing corporations from their university, while expats looking for social housing must do so through their municipality and local housing association.
Renting accommodation in the Netherlands
When renting accommodation in the Netherlands, expats should confirm what exactly is included in the rental agreement.
To rent accommodation in the Netherlands, expats will need to provide their citizen service number known as a BSN (burgerservicenummer). Expats working in the Netherlands may need to provide their employment contract, while students need to provide a bank statement as a guarantee of credit.
The two types of rental agreements in the Netherlands are fixed-period rental contracts and indefinite rental contracts. Fixed-period tenancy agreements set a minimum fixed period for rent, usually six to 12 months. Some leases include clauses which allow early termination in specific contexts provided sufficient notice, normally of at least one month. Alternatively, indefinite rental contracts have no set termination date, allowing a more flexible, open-ended lease.
Although verbal contracts are legally viable, it is best that the rental contract is a written agreement, not a verbal one. This contract will stipulate all the necessary details, including notice periods and specific property rules, such as if pets are allowed and what the smoking policy is.
Deposits typically vary from one to three months' rent and are returned when the tenant moves out, provided the house is in the same state as it was when they moved in.
To avoid any issues of a withheld security deposit, tenants must ensure they receive an accurate inspection list and inventory when they first move into their new home. The inspection list describes the condition of the property and an inventory details any items of furniture included. Normally, close to a tenant's leaving date, the landlord or housing agent will undertake two inspections to check everything is in order.
Utilities aren't always covered by the landlord and are usually an additional expense for the tenant. Landlords will be responsible for general maintenance and insurance.
Where an expat lives determines the supplier, but as the Dutch energy market is privatised, homeowners can choose their own electricity suppliers. Among the largest suppliers are Essent, Greenchoice and Engie, and tenants can ask their landlord about this.
Expats moving into a new place must also check internet and phone line connectivity. Often, WiFi and fibre connections are already in place. This will help new arrivals keep in touch with their friends and family and in many cases work from home.
Buying property in the Netherlands
Given the already high cost of living and annual rental increases, buying a place in the Netherlands can seem quite attractive to expats who wish to relocate for the long term.
It's important to use a real-estate agent when buying a house in the Netherlands. They have the best information, and know the local areas and price rates. It’s also possible to buy a house directly from the owner. In this case, it isn't necessary to pay agent's fees, which can save thousands of euros.
Whether a bank will offer a mortgage depends on the bank and the expat's nationality, type of employment and income. It's best to check all options before seriously starting to look for a home to buy in the Netherlands. For instance, some banks only offer mortgages to European Union citizens or those who have been a Dutch resident for at least three years. Other banks might be more willing to grant a loan to foreigners.
Expats should research as much as possible by visiting the websites of Dutch banks and speaking to real-estate agents.
►Read our list of FAQs about the Netherlands for answers to burning questions
►See Areas and Suburbs in Amsterdam to learn more about where to live in the capital city
"My suggestion is to use a realtor, have a lot of funds because it isn't cheap and give more than three months' time for the search. I was in the same boat for a few months but you must hustle to get something." Read more of Monique's advice on the standard of housing in the Netherlands.
"We managed to find a great newly built house in this part of Haarlem, near all facilities and amenities, including the convenience of public transportation and motorways." Find out about expat Lisa's experience of finding housing in Haarlem in this interview.
Are you an expat living in The Netherlands?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The Netherlands. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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