A Survival Guide for Australians moving to Amsterdam

Paul Dwerryhouse

Initial draft

Getting There

I've always flown with QANTAS, when travelling to Europe. There are flights from Melbourne and Sydney, via Bangkok or Singapore, to Frankfurt, and then it's a short hop from there on to Amsterdam with Lufthansa. Try to get the Singapore flights, because the 90 minute stopover is more pleasant there.

Generally it's cost me around AUS$1800-2000 for a 12-month return ticket, from Melbourne.


Arriving at Schiphol airport, you'll notice one thing - this place is big. Really big. I'd estimate it took me a good fifteen minutes just to walk from the gate to the baggage collection point, although I'll be the first to admit that after a twenty-five hour flight, including an hour's stop in Bangkok and another two hours in Frankfurt, I really wasn't going to be up for a good sprint down the hallways of one of Europe's busiest airports.

In addition to the six terminals, the airport itself contains a huge shopping centre, quite a number of restaurants and cafes and a railway station.

There are express rail services to Amsterdam (15 minutes), The Hague (30 minutes) and Rotterdam (45 minutes), amongst many other destinations. The airport has rail ticket machines everywhere - you can even buy a ticket while waiting for your baggage to appear on the carosel - however new arrivals will encounter two problems: the machines only take coins and ATM cards, and the machines' instructions are all in Dutch.

So, unless you were lucky enough to find a currency exchange bureau in Australia that gave you coins, or you're willing to pay the exhorbitant international bank fee to use your Australian ATM card, you're better off going to the counter, which isn't far from the escalators down to the platforms. Don't worry, all the staff speak English.

A one-way, second class train trip to Amsterdam will cost €3.60. There are two main railway routes to Amsterdam from Schiphol - one travels north through the west of Amsterdam to Centraal Station, the other travels east, across the south of the city. Most new arrivals to Amsterdam will want to go to Amsterdam Centraal Station, however if your hotel is around the Amsterdam exhibition centre (commonly known as RAI), then take the eastern line trains that pass through Station Zuid and Station RAI.

If you're heading for Centraal, be alert when you leave the train - there's always a number of drugged-out creeps hanging around. In general, it's perfectly safe there, as long as you keep an eye on what's going on around you.

The railway system in the Netherlands is run by Nederlandse Spoorwegen, commonly known as NS.


One of the more annoying aspects of life in Amsterdam is the lack of accomodation. It's particularly hard to find a decent apartment, in a good location, for a reasonable price. In fact, it's impossible to find one for a reasonable price at all. Chances are you're going to end paying at least f3000 per month for a place to live in, so it may well be worth looking into sharing with someone, if you can cope with that sort of thing.

One aspect of house-hunting that will shock most Australians is that, on top of the disgusting rental prices, you also have to pay one month's commission to the agent that you deal with. To top this off, once you've paid them, signed the contracts and moved in, that is where their obligation to you stops, until your rental expires and you have to move out. All other problems are handled through the owner.

I know of two rental agencies: OEI, who I've rented two apartments through, and Rots-Vast.


Shopping for food is a nightmare for Australians, in Amsterdam. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the Dutch have a particularly annoying habit of shopping on a day-to-day basis for their food. As a result, you're likely to find that your refrigerator is about a third of the size of the fridge you're used to in Australia and won't hold much at all. Forget the weekly shopping trip, there's no way you'll fit it all in.

Secondly, the supermarket scene is in the stranglehold of one major supplier: Albert Heijn. Albert Heijn stores are small, understocked, badly run and never have enough staff on the registers. The opening hours are pathetic - the vast majority of supermarkets will shut at 6pm and won't open at all on Sundays. To make it worse, they are invariably overcrowded, and you'll find yourself queueing up right back down the aisles just to get to the register.

Once you're at the register, you have to purchase your own plastic bags (if you don't already have some) and you have to pack your own groceries.

The situation at other supermarkets isn't much better. "Dirk", about the only other chain that could possibly be considered a competitor to Albert Heijn, doesn't even sell meat.

Public Transport

Amsterdam's public transport system consists of a metro service, a number of tram lines and a large bus service, all run by the GVB. Amsterdam is divided up into zones, and the basic ticket is the "strippenkaart", a ticket split into 15 strips, which you fold and stamp in the validators on trams. Better value are the weekly and monthly tickets, which can be purchased from the GVB office opposite Centraal Station. You'll need to provide a photo of yourself, along with a passport, because they make you up a small ID card that needs to be carried with your ticket.

I don't believe you're allowed to use the weekly or monthly GVB tickets on the NS trains. I've asked a couple of train conductors, and they all said no. Seems pretty silly. You are, however, allowed to use the strippenkaart tickets on the NS trains within the Amsterdam area.

Unlike trams in Melbourne, you generally board trams in Amsterdam at the back, if they have a conductor. If they don't, you can get on any door. How do you tell? Well, the following lines have conductors: 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 20 and 25. Lines 1, 2, 5, 16, 17 and 24 do not.

There are three metro lines, and one hybrid metro/sneltram ("fast tram"), which starts as a metro at Centraal, but functions as a tram beyond Station Zuid. They can get quite crowded at peak times.


Unless you have an EU passport, you'll need to have a work permit in order to work in the Netherlands. This should be arranged at the Dutch Embassy in Canberra, prior to leaving Australia. There are special permits available for those who are under 26 to have a working holiday in the Netherlands.

Once you're in the Netherlands, you'll need to get your sozial fiscal (SoFi) number - the equivalent of the Australian Tax File Number. For this, you must visit the Belastingsdienst (Tax Office), which, in Amsterdam, is located near Sloterdijk Station. You'll need to take your passport (and work visa, if you need one) with you. I've often heard that you need to take your residency permit with you, too, but they didn't ask me for one. I didn't even have one, at the time.

The Netherlands is fairly relaxed place to work. Almost everyone you come across with speak English to some degree, and although they'll speak Dutch amongst themselves in the office, if a non-Dutch speaker is involved in the conversation or meeting, they will all switch to English to accomodate you.

One particular annoyance is that, in certain workplaces, smoking is allowed. I've been lucky to avoid that, but unfortunately, it happens.

Copyright © 2001-2006 Paul Dwerryhouse
Updated: 22-February-2006