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Living in the Netherlands - A Guide for Students

by Mark Bennett

Dutch universities have a proud tradition of welcoming international scholars and students, as well as sending thinkers abroad.

In fact, the Erasmus programme - the European Commission's international strategy for promoting and funding student mobility - is actually named after one the Netherlands' most famous thinkers and travelling scholars: Desiderius Erasmus.

On this page you can read all about life for international students in the Netherlands - including advice on accommodation, living costs and working whilst you study a Dutch Masters.

For information on the Dutch university system more generally, check out our guides to studying a Masters in the Netherlands and postgraduate fees and funding in Holland. You can also read our overview of Dutch language tests for international students or just start searching for a Masters in the Netherlands - we've got it all covered!

Key facts for Masters students in the Netherlands

  • The Netherlands is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, (along with the countries of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten). The Netherlands as a whole is often referred to as 'Holland', but this is actually the name of a pair of provinces on the country's western coast.
  • The constitutional capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam but the country's seat of government is actually The Hague.
  • Other important university cities in the Netherlands include Maastricht, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
  • The academic year in Holland and the Netherlands runs from September to June.
  • Dutch Masters degrees are usually between one and two years long.
  • Roughly 70,000 international students study in the Netherlands.
  • The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, with a democratic procedure for electing its government. Its overall constitution follows a fairly unique format, with constituent countries and provinces possessing various federal powers and in some cases holding their own parliaments.
  • The currency of the Netherlands is the Euro (€).
  • The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, but many people in the country speak a second or even a third language, with English, French and German being most common.
  • Historically, the main religion in the Netherlands has been Christianity and a proportion of the population today are either Roman Catholic (primarily in the South) or Protestant (primarily in the North). The country also has a substantial secular humanist population, however, with toleration for all forms of personal belief.

What’s it like to study abroad in the Netherlands?

Today the Netherlands welcome huge numbers of international students (around 70,000 each year), including those studying on postgraduate Masters degrees.

Many are attracted by the country's combination of long-established universities (some of which date back to the 16th century) and modern expertise in a range of fields: from high-tech industry to innovative art and design projects.

Of course, Masters students in the Netherlands are also drawn by a whole range of other cultural activities in the Netherlands, from visiting the largest Van Gogh collection in the world (alongside a range of other museums and galleries), to going boating on the famous canals, or just sitting back soaking up the café culture and superb nightlife.

The Netherlands also has excellent transport links (and is a member of the EU's borderless Schengen Area), so you can use spare time around your postgraduate studies to visit other parts of Europe.

Dutch culture and student life

The Netherlands has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most liberal countries in Europe, with a relaxed attitude to life and a strong respect for the rights of the individual.

The Dutch are perhaps most famous for their comparatively relaxed drug enforcement policy, but the country also protects rights to receive abortion or euthanasia and has a long history of pioneering social reform, including being the first nation in the world to formally legalise same-sex marriage.

All of this makes the Netherlands a friendly and welcoming place to spend time as an international postgraduate student. In fact, whilst studying a Masters degree in the Netherlands you'll be living amongst a multilingual, international community, open to individuals and ideas from all over the world.

Attractions and leisure activities

Popular sights in the Netherlands include attractive cities like Amsterdam, with its network of canals and relaxed café culture.

The Dutch countryside is also famously picturesque - and its beauty is a product of the country's historical spirit of innovation. Much of the land has been reclaimed from the sea (and actually lies below sea-level - 'Netherlands' means 'low country') with a system of dykes excluding and controlling water. As such it is relatively flat, with strong winds.

This has led the Dutch to become experts in harnessing wind power for milling and other mechanical purposes. The modern Dutch landscape is still decorated with windmills and wide fields, many planted with tulips, the Netherlands' most famous flower.

Students interested in exploring European culture and history - whether for research or pleasure - will also find much to occupy them in the Netherlands.

The Dutch have played an important role in the development of shipping and naval technology as well as in important scientific fields (including pioneering work in the storage and transfer of electricity).

Holland's contribution to the arts has also been profound, with the works of master painters as historically and stylistically diverse as Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh being celebrated and displayed at major museums and galleries in Amsterdam.

Food and drink

Internationally, the Netherlands is perhaps best known for its cheeses, with semi-hard varieties such as Gouda and Edam being enjoyed around the world.

Other elements of Dutch cuisine are very cosmopolitan, reflecting a long history of international exchange. This means that you will usually be able to find whatever food you prefer in the Netherlands, with many cafes and restaurants serving familiar international recipes.

Traditional Dutch foods are also enjoyed, however.

Many are based on hearty stews, soups and other slowly cooked dishes. Examples include snert (a thick pea soup) as well as different kinds of stamppot (mixtures of seasoned and mashed potatoes - literally 'mashed pot').

Traditional Dutch meat dishes include rookworst (a sausage made of ground and spiced meat) and slavink (a combination of ground pork and beef, usually wrapped in bacon).

Both traditional and international cuisine in the Netherlands is characterised by its freshness. Many ingredients are produced locally by the world-leading Dutch agricultural system. In fact, despite a relatively small landmass and high population density, the Netherlands actually exports more food than any other country in the world except the United States!

When it comes to drink, Dutch beer is renowned worldwide, with famous brands including Heineken, Grolsch and Amstel (the latter named for one of the main rivers in Amsterdam).

If alcohol isn't to your taste, don't worry; a relaxed café culture has led the Dutch to enjoy a good coffee and the Netherlands also produces internationally successful non-alcoholic beers.

Accommodation for Masters students in the Netherlands

Because of the country's high population density (the 27th highest in the world), housing is relatively expensive in the Netherlands and university accommodation is quite rare.

Instead you are much more likely to live in a privately rented room or flat in the vicinity of your institution.

Finding such accommodation is likely to prove more challenging than it might do elsewhere, but your university should be able to help you. Its international office will be experienced in assisting foreign students to find accommodation and may maintain a list of local landlords or letting agencies with suitable facilities.

The price of rented student accommodation in the Netherlands will vary. As a rule you can except to pay between €300 and €600 a month for accommodation in the Netherlands.

Once you've found your accommodation you'll need to make sure you understand clearly what's included in the costs, such as whether your utility bills are included in the monthly rent, and whether you're paying for a furnished or unfurnished room. And as you'll more than likely be sharing the kitchen and the bathroom with your fellow housemates, be sure to choose them carefully!

Living costs for Masters students in the Netherlands

Government regulation helps to keep tuition fees in the Netherlands low, but you'll still need to budget for essential grocery items - and maybe the odd 'non-essential' treat or celebration.

The following tables should help give you an idea of the cost of living for students in the Netherlands:

Item Price (€)
Milk (1 litre) 0.88
Loaf of bread (500g) 1.27
Potatoes (1kg) 1.21
Chicken breasts (1kg) 6.74
Rice (1kg) 1.61
Item Price (€)
Cinema ticket 10.00
Mid-price bottle of wine 5.00
Cup of coffee 2.55
Draught beer (0.5 litre) 4.00
Inexpensive restaurant meal 15.00
Item Price (€)
Monthly travel pass 78.00
Broadband internet (10mbps, uncapped) 23.67
Domestic utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water and Waste) 165.54

Note Information in the above tables is based on crowd-sourced data collected by Numbeo. Figures are approximate and provided for comparative purposes only. They do not take account of student discounts and may vary over time or between cities.

Working whilst studying a Masters in the Netherlands

A strong tourist industry and a large hospitality sector means that there are usually many opportunities for students to find part-time work whilst studying for a Dutch Masters degree. In fact, your international experience and ability to speak other languages may make you an ideal candidate for some jobs.

All students have the right to work whilst studying in the Netherlands, but exact conditions vary by nationality.

Working in the Netherlands as an EU or EEA student

EU and EEA students (with the exception of Croatian nationals) can work in the Netherlands without a permit, as a condition of EU laws on the free movement of workers.

Working in the Netherlands as a non-EU student

Students from other countries will need to apply for a work permit. This should be easy to acquire (provided your visa and residence rights are already sorted). However, the number of hours you can work in term time will be restricted to ten a week. Until 2020 this condition also applies to students from Croatia, as the country transitions into full EU membership.

Note that you may still be allowed to work full-time during the summer holiday period (June to August).

Exceptions also apply to any internships included as part of your Masters programme. These will not require a permit, provided there is a formal internship agreement between your institution and employer.

Applying for a student work permit in the Netherlands

Your employer will normally apply for a work permit on your behalf when they agree to take you on (most Dutch employers of foreign students will be familiar with this process).

Note that holding a Dutch work permit may affect your health insurance requirements, usually making it necessary for you to take out a public healthcare policy (zorgverzekering). You can read about health insurance for students in the Netherlands in the visa and immigration section of our guide to Dutch Masters study.

Other useful information for Masters students in the Netherlands

Hopefully this guide has covered all the key information you'll need to know as a Masters student living in the Netherlands.

Of course, your time as a Dutch Masters student will probably involve more than just finding a nice flat by the canals, getting a suitable part-time job, trying some stamppott and practising your Dutch in the local bar or cafe.

The following is a quick guide to other aspects of life in the Netherlands that you'll need to familiarise yourself with as a Dutch Masters student, including public transport and banking.


The Netherlands is a relatively small country, with an efficient public transport system including planes and trains, but relatively few automobiles; in fact, residents of cities like Amsterdam are more likely to get around by bike or by canal boat than they are to drive a car. Some Dutch cities also incorporate tram systems running between popular destinations. These will be your best options for travel within Dutch cities.

Travel to and from Holland is best made by rail or by air. Major European capitals are only a few hours away by train and you can travel further using Dutch airports, the largest of which is Amsterdam Schiphol, itself a major international transport hub.

As a student, you should also be eligible for various discount schemes, some of which can offer up to 40% off of fares on some services. You can learn more about public transport in the Netherlands at the website of the official Dutch tourist office.

Money and banking

The Dutch actually have a long history of innovation in financial services, having established the world's first centralised banking system in the early seventeenth-century.

Today the Netherlands continues to be a centre for world banking, with major global financial companies based in The Hague.

As an international student you will be able to open an account easily by presenting identification and proof of accommodation. You should also be able to use Dutch banking facilities for international money transfer services and avail yourself of plentiful ATM (or geldautomaat) machines.

Last updated - 23/10/2015

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