Making the decision to go abroad is one of the most exhilarating, and terrifying, decisions in your University career. You are excited for the adventure that awaits, but apprehensive about throwing yourself into an entirely new country and culture. Whether you’ve already chosen the Netherlands, or are looking around to find the right fit for you, here is the ultimate guide to making sure you start your year abroad on the right foot!

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The official languages of the Netherlands are Dutch, Papiamento (spoken in the Dutch West Indies) and Frisian (a West Germanic language spoken mostly in north of the Netherlands). That said, Dutch is the only one you’re likely to encounter. Most people will also speak a high level of English, but it should not be taken for granted. Unlike many other places, some street signs, public transportation information and official documents or online/telephone services are not translated. You will often need to ask for an English Menu, or ask a new Dutch friend to help translate a letter you’ve received in the mail.

As mentioned, most people will speak a high level of English – but be sure to learn a few phrases to avoid being a nuisance. You can do this with the help of free online resources, or look for cheap courses available in your community centres.

Universities will usually offer relatively cheap Dutch language courses that are also an excellent alternative if you are serious about wanting to learn Dutch, these can be around 60€ for an introductory course.

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Accommodation is something you want to make sure you lock in prior to your arrival, or soon after. Depending on the city, cheap housing is becoming increasingly difficult to find. In Amsterdam, be prepared to search a little harder than you may expect. Rooms in shared flats start at around 500€ and go up in price the closer you move into the inner city. There are multiple Facebook groups and online forums for flat-searching, which are also extremely helpful.

Lucky, Universities offer student housing. Make sure to look around for some places prior to this, but once your University opens up housing applications, it’s a good idea to apply as soon as you can. It may not be the most glamorous accommodation, but you will also benefit from being around other students like you!

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There really is no way around it – you’re going to want a bike! As the story goes, there are more bikes than there are people in the Netherlands. Although there are buses, trains, trams and metros, biking really is the most convenient way to get around the cities (if you are not going an extremely long distance everyday of course). Second hand bikes are extremely easy to find and cost around 60€ for a decent ride. You will have no problem selling it afterwards as well.

Remember, people in the Netherlands bike as a serious means of transport (rain or shine!) so there are rules and guidelines to biking in the city. You don’t want to cross the road when it’s not your turn (there are streetlights designated for bikers) and you definitely don’t want to be cutting anyone off. It can be a little intimidating at first (especially getting used to people ringing their bells at you), but most people get used to it fairly quickly and soon enough come to prefer their bike over a tram or metro for it’s convenience.

A fair amount of buses run day and night, as well and metro and trams until around 12 or 1 am. Keep in mind that these can be rather expensive. A monthly pass for Rotterdam to Amsterdam, for example, will cost you 400€ a month, and a one way ticket from Amsterdam to Den Haag is around 12 €. Make sure you keep this in mind when looking for accommodation, working a 30 minute train ride from your home may seem like a good idea, but it may also mean a substantial dent to your budget.


Entering a new University can be intimidating, especially since you may be entering a second or third year level if you are on exchange. In the Netherlands, teaching style tends to be focused on team work and group learning. Classes may be smaller than what you are used to back home, and you will likely need to exchange contact information with classmates as you will be working with them on assignments.

Don’t wait for a mandatory assignment to get to know your peers – the best way to stay ahead is to make some friends in class who will be happy to help you or give you some helpful tips on the material, assignments and grading. You may also find classes a little harder to keep up with, especially if the language of instruction is different. A great way to stay ahead, is to look for study materials from past and current students, like lecture notes and past exams, which are easily to find for Dutch Universities.

In-class time may seem shorter in the Netherlands, however, be prepared to dedicate more out-of-class time to your studies. They tend to cover a lot of topics in a short time, so make sure you work a little extra on your own to keep up.

University is not all about studying of course. Make sure you check out activities taking place on campus, special student deals, and interesting lectures with guest speakers hosted by the University.

Living Expenses

Aside from housing costs, daily living costs for things like food, transport, books, clothes and miscellaneous activities tend to cost students around 400€ a month. Keep in mind biking around will virtually eliminate most transport costs. As a student, you will likely be eating out pretty often or grabbing drinks with friends. A drink in a bar hovers around 5-7€ and a meal can cost you around 10€. If you like to go to the cinema, tickets are between 10-14€ depending on location. You will also want to save budget for activities like all-night museum nights, music festivals or awesome pop-up markets, there is always something happening in the Netherlands.

That being said, being a student in the Netherlands has its benefits. You can use your student ID for discounts on certain travel tickets, libraries, activities in the city, museum passes, and a lot more!

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Studies abroad are the perfect excuse to do some travelling! Lucky enough, being in the Netherlands already means being close to many interesting, picturesque cities. Amsterdam is a tourist classic, but don’t forget about Leiden, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht, which are just as beautiful. There are also multiple beaches worth visiting in the North, and small islands that can be reached by ferry.

As for international travel, Belgium is only a 3 hours away, and is a great opportunity to visit Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. With just a 4 hour train ride to the west, you can enter Germany and see Cologne or Düsseldorf (and beautiful Christmas markets!). For those willing to go the distance, Hamburg or Paris are only about 5 hours away and make for a spectacular long weekend getaway.

Leisure and other important things to know

The Netherlands is filled with beautiful canals, luscious parks, unique shops, and delicious restaurants, bars and cafes. Make sure to explore as much as you can – walk around, leave the touristic areas and find cosy spots that suite your own personal taste. Of course, the Netherlands is no stranger to partying either. There is something for everyone, from cool bars to all-night techno clubs (FYI, people tend to head over to clubs after 12 am, and they’ll close around 5).  If you’re in Amsterdam, make sure to check out Amsterdam Dance Event, a wild week of techno parties and chart-topping performances.

Regular shops tend to close around 5 or 6 on weekdays and are open weekends. Grocery shops are open later, until 9 or 10, and all bigger chains are open Sundays.

Coffee Shops are often main attractions in Amsterdam and other big cities, but they are not always what people expect. Although cannabis is legalized, not everyone is roaming the streets smoking marijuana. People gather in coffee shops like you would a regular bar or cafe, sit and enjoy food, drinks and cannabis.

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Visas, Healthcare and Registration within the municipality

In the Netherlands, you will be working with the IND (Immigration and Naturalization Service) for your official documentation. Make sure your visa is up to date (If you are from outside of the European Union you will require a student visa) and that you make the necessary appointments for once you’ve arrived.

The Dutch Government requires all citizens to register their living address within the municipality where they are living. You will need to make an appointment for this registration by telephone or online and bring proof of your identity and address. Once you are registered, you will be designated Citizen Service Number (BSN), every person must have one. You’ll need this number to open a Dutch bank account if you like.

Thankfully, Universities make the process a little easier. They will usually hold a registration day before the start of the semester where agents will come to campus and take your information for registration, you then receive your BSN and info by the post within a few weeks.

Absolutely everyone living in the Netherlands requires Dutch Healthcare, with the exception of people from the EU already covered. Be sure to check requirements for healthcare and if you are exempt from purchasing it. If you are not exempt, you will need to purchase basic health insurance from a private company.

Studying abroad is what you make of it, for the most part, but it always helps to be prepared. Do your research and be ready to go before your departure, that way you’ll be ready to take on the challenge once you arrive. Hold on tight- it is sure to be an unforgettable experience!

Written by Julia Stamp from


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