Good lunch deal

As said in a previous article, Dutch people eat mainly sandwiches as their lunch and therefore, it's a perfectly normal to have a fair number of snack bars near working places or open a "to-go" counter in a restaurant.

That's what decided the Bâton brasserie, at Herengracht 82, 1015BS. It's as much a restaurant/brasserie as it is a snack bar for sandwiches to take away.

Bâton brasserie

Their sandwiches are relatively cheap (~5€), prepared in about 5 minutes, are absolutely delicious and enough for small to medium eaters. Big eaters like me could not eat two, if that's a good indicator.

The best sandwich, from far, is the one with chicken, avocado, white cabbage, bacon, tomatoes, cucumber and a delightful sauce (the best part of the sandwich). That's just... AWESOME. I strongly recommend you to try it!

The snack bar is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. The restaurant is open throughout the day and even on Saturday but it is not as cheap as the snack bar (8€ that same sandwich).

Small tip for students or young workers

While I had the chance to share a house with awesome roommates, I had some problems with my landlord (who was also living there) which made me leave the house (well, it was also a good excuse to get closer to work).

As I said in a previous article, I already had wandered through Facebook pages and Dutch websites before coming to the Netherlands but I heard from an agency which rent only to students or workers with relatively low wage (2800€/mo gross) at a rather interesting price.

This agency is DeKey and its website is destined to expats willing to stay in Amsterdam for several months. The deal is simple, you leave the appartement in the condition you entered it. Not noisy (well, it's still a student housing but when it's momderate, it's okay).

For 2 months and a half, I lived in an appartement rent by DeKey for a bit less than 500€/month in containers (yes, containers) in Stavangerweg (West side of Amsterdam, near the IJ river). It was a small (20-25m²) room with a bathroom, kitchen and few furnitures: bed, fridge, desk and shelf. The thermal isolation is surprisingly good as opposed to sonor isolation which is not satisfying, but hey! we can't get everything! For the rent and the location, it is a very good deal. Of course, there are other rooms to rent, not only in containers but I could not visit or live in an other room rent by DeKey.

This housing is supposed to be for short stays. 6 months for students, renewable once and only once. You can always ask as I did for an even shorter stay, but you'll be redirected to an other service. If you're already in Amsterdam, visit them at their office or you can contact them by mail (do not hesitate to spam them, they're not really responsive).

For students: fill the form and contact them at least 3 months in advance, appartements are very difficult to have. Some even have a queue for several years!

One of the other reason to chose these appartements is that you can have your BSN (see previous article) and because you'll live alone, you can ask for governmental financial help for paying your rent (up to 180€/month for students!). Be patient for that, it really takes a long time and a lot of papers to give. But hey, free money!

Tourists with cars, be careful!

I lived for 4 months and a half in one of Amsterdam suburbs: the Bijlmer. Former highly criminal (drugs, murders and other joyful stuff) part of the city, it is now way calmer. Anyway, that's just to say that I think I'm legitimate to talk about upsetting stuffs that can happen since, during All Saints' day holidays, someone broke my car window to break into it and check if it had any valuable in it. Of course, it hadn't.

So, being a tourist or an expat, especially during national holidays, if you have a car with a foreign license plate, follow the next advices:

  • avoid "angle parking" or "parallel parking" your car. If you have no other choice, chose a place where there is little chance cars will park near yours.
  • do not let anything in your car (well that seems like good sense). You should hide your GPS or phone support and wipe its mark on the windshield.
  • if you've low esteem for your car, feel it with garbage like McDonalds wrappings or pizza boxes, that might help.
  • put down the luggage cover (that induces nothing else in the trunk). That let the thieves know you've nothing in your trunk.
  • Amsterdam town hall freely offers stickers to put on your car to specify your car does not keep anything valuable. Personally, I think that indicates the opposite: who will have the idea to put that sticker? Those who have something valuable inside to avoid someone breaking into their car.
  • paying parking does not mean safe parking!

And voilà, that's if you still don't want to follow my advice to not take your car to go to Amsterdam. If even with these constraints you want to go with your car, be sure your insurance cover damages in foreign countries!

Driving a car in Amsterdam

I legitimately can talk about driving a car in the Netherlands since I went to Amsterdam by car and I still have it. First thing to know: Amsterdam (like any big Dutch city (Haarlem, Utrecht, ...)) hates cars and does anything in its power to limit them.

They see me rollin', they hatin'

Parking

There are very few free parking lots (technically, only very far from the center) and if they are (free), most of the time you can stay only for a limited time.

To pay is the only solution (do not even think about getting a place with a garage or a private parking). At the parking meter, you will be asked to enter your license plate. Don't be fooled, if you can't see it, it is NOT free, you should look better before assuming it is a free space. Count between 1.30€ and 5€ per hour (if you can find a place where to park) for an outdoor parking and between 3€ and 5€ for an indoor parking. Well, in their greatness, they fixed the maximum rate per day to 50€, how generous!

Some tips:

  • Leave your car outside of the city in a P+R which "offers" for 8€, a parking for the day and a round trip in public transport for each one of your (up to 4) carpoolers.
  • If you can't tell if a parking is free or not, it is not. If after a 5 or 10min lookup, you can't find any parking meter, it's because you are not allowed to park here (and that happens a lot in the very center).
  • There a reasonable number of free parking places near the Kraaiennest metro station. The neighbourhood is not really comforting but I got no problem for the moment (parking 24/7 for 2 months now).
  • Avoid like the plague the free parking near the camping and park of Gaasperplas, there are a lot of thieves attracted by this place.
  • Fines are expensive: from 50€ to 100€. Don't forget to pay them quickly, the fines increase a lot with time!

If ever, by any chance, you find a place to live in the center but you're too stubborn to live without your precious car, you can ask for a residential permit to the town hall but it can (and will) take several months. Here is a link to explain a bit all the process (in French).

Some tips:

Gasoline

When I tell you the Dutch government does all it can to limit cars, here is an example (end of 2014): Diesel costs 1€40/L and the SP95 1€70/L (0€30/L more than the French rates), you can even find the Diesel at 1€70/L and the SP95 at 1€90/L on the highway. Therefore, don't forget to fill your tank before passing the Dutch border!

Traffic

The traffic in the center is a real nightmare. Pedestrians, bikes, scooters, tramways, buses and taxis everywhere. Everything's is slow-paced, red lights every 10 meters (due to the canals). You can also find yourself driving on tramway's rails or on pedestrians roads. In other words, that's complete anarchy. But, you have to be careful and aware of everything around you. Leave a considerable space between your care and the sidewalks on each side of the road to let scooters and bikes go: they don't stop and drive fast. A small moment of inattention and you'll run over someone. At each pedestrian crossing or when you cross a cycling lane, even if the lights are green, slow down and check incoming cyclists from both side of the road. Twice.

We often say to follow a car licensed locally when you're lost. Don't do that in Amsterdam if the car is a taxi or any car with a blue license plate. Indeed, these blue license plates allow vehicles to drive on cycling roads, pedestrian-only roads or bus and tramway lanes, which you are not allowed to take.

Let's talk about speed bumps now. Well, slow down! They're not joking here. Some are so tiny you can't almost see them while others will make your bumper touch the ground at 10km/h. It's in the residential areas where they are the steepest.

Highway exits are worthy of German highway exits: short with a quick 45 to 90° turn. I'll not repeat myself enough: slow down!

Good luck with your car, you'll need it :D

Oh, I almost forgot! If someone's tailgating you or honking at the very first second the lights turn green, do not take it personally, it's not an insult, nor a sign of impatience. That's just how it's done in the Netherlands. Well, someone might also cut in front of you, you could too, nobody will swear at you for that. Be careful, that's all!

[Miam Time] Cloudy with a chance of sandwiches

The first thing I've been told when I said I was going to Amsterdam was that Dutch people actually dislike cooking and eat only by necessity. Dutch people won't eat for pleasure, they'll eat to survive.

To be honest, I don't really like clichés or legends and prefer to make up my own mind. And, surprisingly, the reality is not far from what I've been told (well, it's a generality, but most Dutch people are as told).

You just have to take a look at supermarkets' shelves (nothing better to guess natives' habits): wide shelf for fresh bread, an other for sliced meat and an other for sliced cheese. It's almost impossible to find a salad in an other form than a pack of washed leaves. Everything's done so Dutch people don't have to take more than 5min to cook.

The sandwich is the inevitable part of lunch. I tell you, in two months in Amsterdam, I've never eaten anything else for lunch but sandwiches!

We could stop here and tell ourselves: "Meh, a sandwich, that's not bad!". Well, it has vegetables, proteins and starches (with bread) in it. Yes... but no. That's what foreigners think a sandwich is. I've been stared at with my ham-cheese-tomato-bell pepper-cucumber sandwich. Because here, the sandwich for lunch is also the "Nutella with chocolate sprinkles on it" sandwich. Anything sweet and/or chocolate-y is welcome for lunch.

And that, I can't stand it.

Chocolate sprinkles, because why not?

Help, my house's leaning!

Sometimes, mostly in the city very center, either in Amsterdam or in Utrecht for example, you'll surprise yourself thinking: "Well, this house is leaning, isn't it? And that one too!"

Your head's spinning, you start to question everything you know, your inner ear tells you to lean to match house's facades.

Leaning house in Amsterdam

You're not crazy and fortunately, there is an explanation! No, Amsterdam's ground is not sagging as the famous Venice or the leaning tower of Pisa. Neither it is the product of an hysteric architect.

The explanation is rather simple and logical actually. Houses are mostly narrow and have several (up to 8!) floors because of the land price back in time. People would buy a small surface of land and build a house with a lot of floors because building floors wouldn't cost more in taxes. With such narrow houses and so many floors, there are many steep staircases in the house. Do you see yourself moving a sofa between floors using the stairs? I don't, and neither do Dutch people.

That's why houses leans on the street and why on top of each leaning house there is a pulley to move furnitures in the house from the street (like your old sofa).

[Miam Time] Keep calm and curry on

The curry sauce is to the Netherlands what ketchup is to France or what BBQ sauce is to the United Stated: THE sauce which is mixed with anything and everything. My sister is mixing her wheat or gnocchis with ketchup. Well, here, they dip their sandwiches, frikandels, kroketten (we'll see that later, don't worry ;)) or fries in curry sauce. Every food is eligible to drown in an ocean of curry sauce.

Hot dog with curry sauce and frikandel

A little birdie told me it comes from German-ish habits they took after some years. How not to think of the German Curry wurst and more globally, the German love for the curry sauce?

I tell you, here, the curry is everywhere. The majority of meat I could by in supermarket where curry-spiced, be it pork, beef or chicken. No meat escapes from the curry-y coating. The culinary combinations are surprising but it is still of good taste.

Holland or the Netherlands?

The Netherlands

You're used to say Holland or the Netherlands for that nordic country thinking that's two words for the same thing. Well, I'm afraid I've to tell you you're in the wrong.

Actually, Dutch people don't really care, they seem to have forsaken being mad at foreigners after all these years. But that doesn't forbid us to tell true from false.

Holland is NOT the country (well, there were a County of Holland for four centuries and a Kingdom of Holland for four years) but Netherlands are and actually, the Holland is a part of the Netherlands since it's the union of two of its twelve provinces (North and South Holland).

Provinces of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is situated in North Holland and as it is the biggest city in the country, it would be logical its capital to be Amsterdam. However, that's not the case. Haarlem, a nearby city on the West of Amsterdam, is actually the capital of the North Holland.

For your culture (and because that's way more than I wanted to share in this article), below is a really interesting video on differences between Holland and the Netherlands.

Find a job

It might happen, like me, that you decide to go to Amsterdam thanks to a job opportunity or, like my roommates, that you decide to come to Amsterdam to look for a job. One option is not better than the other. Everything depends on timing or envy.

Anyway, in both cases, the company won't be the one looking for you (that'd be amazing, wouldn't it?), you then have to do your research because believe me, Amsterdam is a city which has the chance to have a plethora of job or internship offers.

Why in hell would I want to work in Amsterdam?

Well, first thing first: Dutch people are almost all (English) bilingual. Therefore, you don't need to learn the Dutch language and that is a really great news (it's not that difficult to understand but there are some sounds I still can't pronounce).

As told by Amsterdam official website's propaganda, the work atmosphere is informal.

Forget the classic, boring, constraining 8am-6pm work hours, in the Netherlands, work hours are flexible. That's a game changer for me!

I don't think you need me to find a job in one of the myriad of multinationals (but we never know, so here or here and that's why I'll only talk about places where you can find a cool job in a start-up.

I'll obviously start with AngelList because that's thanks to them I found my internship in a start-up from Amsterdam. The principle is close to a dating website: you, job seeker, post your résumé online while the companies post a small presentation of themselves and their possible job offers. Each one wander through candidates or companies and once one appeals the job seeker or the company, a mail is sent to the person concerned to know if the appeal is reciprocal.If that's the case, mail addresses are automatically exchanged and people can continue conversing outside of the website. Here is the shortcut to Amsterdam job offers.

Dutch Startup Jobs seems to work on the same principle. Same as before, here is the link for Amsterdam.

You can also look on eu-startup for news on start-ups everywhere in Europe. It's an excellent way to find promising start-ups or the one which did a fund raising (thus, more likely to be looking for someone).

On this website, you'll also be able to find a fair number of start-ups in the Netherlands.

Also, don't forget some start-ups do not have a website or a postal address! Here (and surely like in some other cities and countries), the start-ups are often overseen by accelerators (such as Rockstart in Amsterdam for example). Look for those "hidden" start-ups! You can find a list of Dutch accelerators here.

I wish you good luck in your research!

Get a Dutch phone number

That sounds useless but actually, it's not for anyone willing to settle in the Netherlands.

Well, it could be seen as optional if you plan on paying cash most of the time (remember, not all shops accept VISA credit card !), if you don't want to have any Dutch bank account, which, by extension, prevents public transport subscription (among others) and might prevent your employer to pay you.

I'll only describe "basic", most affordable phone subscriptions. A sine qua non condition is the possibility to terminate the contract whenever I like (well, not everyone wants to stay at least a year). That leaves us with prepaid (or rechargeable) SIM cards since phone subscriptions need the subscriber to have a Dutch account... which in turn needs a Dutch phone number.

Here are two phone providers present in the Netherlands:

  • Lebara

It's a well-known phone provider available world-wide and which allows to call or send messages to foreign countries at low cost. They're also famous for their 10=20 (or 20=40 or even 50=110) offer which means for a 10€ reload, you get 20€ in credit (isn't it amazing?). Moreover, calls between Lebara users are free!

Their SIM card is available almost everywhere and is free (but always bundled with credit, so actually not free).

You can find all rates here: http://www.lebara.nl/prepaid/Tarieven. For your information, calls to France costs 15cts/min to fixed lines and 39cts/min to mobiles.

  • *bliep

*bliep is a new contender and I present it because it's the one I've chosen. This phone provider works as daily subscription. Thus, you pay a subscription which allows you to do different things between midnights. You've three different subscriptions and one option:

  • 0€ subscription: you can freely receive phone calls and messages. You can use your free minutes offered with a reload or pay 25cts/min.
  • 0.50€ subscription: you have unlimited (2GB) access to Internet but with limited speed, you can send unlimited messages to Dutch numbers and phone with free minutes offered with a reload or unlimited calls with *bliep users
  • 1€ subscription: same as 0.50€ subscription but with unlimited calls to all Dutch numbers
  • 0.50€ option to get unlimited (max 3.6Mb/s) Internet speed

When reloading your SIM card, let say with 10€, *bliep offers you 10min call credit (in addition to what your subscription offers).

The biggest drawbacks are the documentation and official papers only delivered in Dutch and the struggle to get one *bliep SIM card (ThePhoneHouse sells it). The SIM card costs 10€ and can be found in shops for 20€ with 10€ worth of credits.

You can change between subscriptions via their app or by sending a message to a (free) special phone number.

You can find the different rates (in Dutch) here: https://www.bliep.nl/#roaming

Don't forget most of French phone providers offer the ability to use your French phone subscription from anywhere in Europe 35 days in a year. Check if your phone provider offers it before subscribing anything.

I voluntarily did not include LycaMobile because of bad reviews (here, here and here).

Get your BSN

After having found your lovely apartment, you have to (you should at least) register as a tenant. Thanks to this registration, you are now able to insure your place, open a bank account.. and pay taxes (it would not be funny otherwise, don't you think?).

You could actually live (illegaly) without this BSN (Burger Service Number) but you would not be able to do most of the things I said earlier and there are also some chances your employer cannot pay you. Too bad, isn't it? Moreover, you being registered might get you some governement help to pay your rent.

I already told you, without BSN, no bank account but you should know that VISA card are not accepted in all shops (the two supermarkets I shop do not for example). You can always withdraw money from an ATM but your foreign bank can charge you because you withdraw from ATM of another bank in another country. In addition, public transports company (GVB, Connexxion, EBS) ask you to pay your abonnement on the Internet via iDEAL.. which is a service only offered by Dutch banks.

To obtain your BSN, you have to take an appointment at the Town Hall (Gemeente in Dutch). You have two options: either you phone them (+31 (0)20 624 1111) or you visit them (Amstel 1, 1011 PN).

Be quick! Like in every public service, you can wait a lot before getting your appointment (at least two weeks!). You'll need your (valid) ID card or passeport, a birth certificate, a rental contract with your landlord, your work contract (if you have one) and a copy of your landlord's ID card if you're his/her first tenant.

Spare an hour and a half of your precious time for this appointment.

You're now a citizen of Amsterdam, how do you feel?

Sources:

http://www.hollandexpatcenter.com/themes/formalities/bsn_and_social_security_number/?region=egh

http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/living/official-matters/registration

Housing in Amsterdam

After having found a job or while seeking one, it is always a good idea not to be homeless. There exists two different options, one being more temporary than the other:

  • youth hostels,
  • room/apartment rental.

Youth hostels

This solution is only of interest if you're staying for few days or to avoid being homeless, the price per night is pretty expensive. Count on 100-150€ per night in the center of Amsterdam during summer or holidays.

However, if you're a bike fanatic, you could go to "Hello, I'm local" which is an hour and half away from Amsterdam center. Situated in Haarlem, the night costs around 30-40€ in a 14-beds dormitory and the owners are lovely. If you're coming by car, you could have a chance to park it in one of those few free parkings nearby.

Anyway, even if you don't chose to stay in Haarlem, definitely take some time to visit the city, it's worth a look :)

14-beds dormitory at Hello, I'm local youth hostel in Haarlem

Appartement/room rental

As I said, you don't want to stay too long in a youth hostel. It's expensive and you need a bit of privacy, don't you think?

So, now you're looking for a room or an apartment to rent or to share. Again, you've two possibilities: illegaly renting an apartment/room (only for the government, I'm not suggesting you to squat an apartment !) or register yourself at the Town Hall.

However, you can only register if the landlord gives you a rental contract (which is quiet uncommon for cheap places).

Why is it so important? you ask. You have to know that most employers, all banks and some organisms can ask you your BSN (or ex-SOFI number) which is given to you after you've been registered at the Town Hall. Without this BSN, no bank account, which means no public transport abonnement, no mobile subscription, no appartement insurance, etc. I will explain all that in a next article.

How would you know the apartment you're interested in is registrable? Appartement hunting websites and landlords often mention "registration" (kijkavond in Dutch) in their ads. The apartments or rooms that are registrable are often more expensive, due to taxes (on wastewater, wastes, ...) being applied on the number of tenants. You cost them money so I guess it's fair to charge you more.

However, it is rare to find landlors which accept you register for a period of less than a year. The reason is simple: once registered, the landlord cannot unregister you until the one-year anniversary date of your registration. If you forget to unregister, the landlord will pay the taxes for a person which is not renting the room or apartment anymore.

Do not spit on "illegal" rentals, it can save you from homelessness at a way lower cost than youth hostels.

Where to find apartment to rent

Some (paid) websites do their business on it. I passed most of my time on Kamernet and Kamertje which ask you a 30 to 40€/month fee to contact landlords. I (shamefully) paid a two-weeks abonnement to Kamernet and sent around ten mails. 7 were replied to but all turned out to be scams :(

The second possibility is to ask agencies to find you an apartment or take an apartment managed by an agency. Most of them have many apartment to rent and allow you to register. However, be careful, like in France, some agencies sell lists of available apartments which are, of course, for 80% of them, already rented. It is an almost mandatory to deal with agencies if you want an apartment in the center.

The last option is to use social networks, Facebook being the most popular for rentals. There exists a big number of pages linking hunters and landlords and that is how I found my room. Those are the two pages I consulted: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Amsterdamapartmentrentals/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/amsterdam.apartments/. Don't be fooled, there are a lot of demands and few offers which offers a beautiful playground to scammers.

How much?

For a small room in a big shared apartment, count on 600-800€ per month outside of the center, more than 1000€ per month in the center. Are you looking for an apartment for yourself only? Be rich and lucky or you'll find nothing.

How not to be fooled by scammers

Multiple indicators:

  • quick and long answers (often received 30 minutes after my mail),
  • unclear and generic answers,
  • attractive prices (400€ for a 150m² shared apartment in the very center, come on!),
  • unability to visit the appartement,
  • landlord is not in the country at this moment (last minute moving due to his work, mostly in English-speaking countries like the US or in UK),
  • a VERY basic English (utterly weird for a country in which 95% of the population can speak fluently English),
  • asking you to send money by postal way before receiving the keys (by postal way too), but don't worry, you'll have a copy of a contract signed by a lawyer (yeah, right),
  • pictures (or ad) already used for other ads,
  • almost perfect pictures (shot by a professional), it's not AirBnB,
  • the mail address has already been used to scam.

How to prevent being scammed? Demand to visit the apartment, do not send money. Check the mail address on Google or on scammer hunters websites. Check pictures with Google:

Some common sense people!