You did it; you decided that you are coming on an exchange semester or year to Holland. Firstly, great choice! Secondly, we want to help you make this your best semester yet! As an international exchange student, getting everything ready for your trip can be a bit overwhelming. Add not being able to speak a single word of Dutch, and you have a recipe for confusion. But luckily, College Life is here to make your trip, and the time after it, a lot smoother. We are here to bring you a sort of survival guide, if you will, to getting settled in the Netherlands. We answer your questions about housing, how to get here, and how to make your exchange as carefree as possible. Want to get started? Just pick the topic you are most interested in or follow along from start to finish!
Where to Find Housing
First things first: finding a place to stay. Undeniably, finding housing as an international exchange student is not always the easiest. There’s the whole issue of not being able to physically find a place. Oh, and not speaking Dutch. Contact your host university for some helpful tips and tricks of where to search for housing. But we are going to break it down for you into some simple steps, and list some of the best resources for finding housing for your stay.
As an international exchange student, finding student housing far outweighs trying to find something on the private market. Mostly because finding an apartment that is available for the exact duration of your semester abroad can be tricky.
What you need to know, above anything else, is that your university will not organize your housing for you. This is the case with most, if not all, Dutch universities (unless you are attending a University College, i.e. University College of Utrecht, where there are often housing facilities designated for students). This means that you have to find your housing yourself. But it’s not as scary as it sounds, trust us.
There are two types of student housing. The first is reserved student housing, the second is non-reserved. Many universities or colleges collaborate with student housing agencies to reserve a certain number of spaces for their students. For example, if there is a big housing complex on campus, a certain number of rooms may be reserved for exchange students, and another number for freshmen. This is also the case for housing that is not on campus, but perhaps nearby. Non-reserved spaces are ones that are not tied to a specific university; any student can live there!
Most student housing is the same. You either have your own room, called a self-contained space, or shared facilities. If you rent a self-contained space, you are living in a studio. That means your own kitchen, bedroom and bathroom (mostly in one space or room). If you share a space, you have your own bedroom, but you share the kitchen, bathroom and other common areas with your flatmates. Keep in mind that studios are usually a bit more expensive than shared housing.
Reserved student housing on campus
Sometimes, universities or colleges have housing buildings directly on campus. Great, right? The likelihood is that the university is partnered with a student housing agency and has reserved spaces for you there. Your host college should provide information regarding which such agency they are partnered with.
For example, one of those agencies is SSH. You would apply for a room or space on your campus through SSH. They are your landlord, and they handle all your housing issues. Not the university. SSH also has non-reserved rooms.
DUWO also works the same way. Here, you can find loads of self-contained and shared rooms. So, you can either live alone in a studio or have your own room with shared facilities. DUWO partners with a lot of universities, and also has non-reserved rooms.
Reserved student housing off-campus
You can also find reserved student housing off-campus. It works in the same way. You register through the specific student housing agency your university has partnered with, and hey presto, you have yourself somewhere to live! SSH and DUWO both offer non-reserved rooms, too.
Non-reserved student housing
Then, there is non-reserved student housing. This means is that it is not reserved for a specific university or course. In short, any student from anywhere could be living here. Sometimes, these are not furnished like reserved student housing. You can find a few non-reserved student housing options below:
You can find even more student housing services in our Complete Guide to Student Housing! Here, we list some housing options for the top 10 student cities in the Netherlands.
Sub-letting a room as an international exchange student
Another popular choice is finding a room to sub-let. This is something to consider as an international exchange student who is only here for a semester or two. Many students who go on exchange from a Dutch university want to keep their rooms, so they sub-let them. How it works is that you can reply to an advertisement from someone wishing to sub-let their room. You would then move in, and pay rent to your sub-letter. They then pay it to their landlord.
Simply go on Facebook and search for housing groups in your area or the city of the host university. You will find loads, we guarantee it. There, you can find lots of students advertising rooms to sub-let, and you can also make it known that you are on the hunt for a place to live!
If you decide you want to find something on the private market, there are a few websites to check out for other types of housing. Some websites may even have rooms to sub-let as well. We think that it's a bit easier to find student housing or a room to sub-let as an international exchange student. But, if you are willing to search around for the perfect apartment, then here are some popular student websites for the private market:
Again, check out our Complete Guide to Student Housing to find even more websites to help your private market search!
Traveling to the Netherlands
Now that you have your housing sorted, let’s dive into the travel logistics.
Most likely, you will have booked your flight to an airport in the Netherlands. As an international exchange student, this is probably where we would find you upon arrival! When you arrive at the airport, you can simply take a train to the central station of your destination. In most cases, you can take a direct train from the airport to almost any other city or town. You can use the NS.nl website to find out what trains you need to take. Additionally, you can use 9292 to plan your journey from door to door. You can also download the 9292 app from Google Play or the App Store!
In the airport, you can buy train tickets. The price generally depends on where you want to go or what train you want to take. From there, simply board your train! When you arrive at your destination, usually a central station, you can get trams, a metro, or a bus to your campus. You can use 9292 to input your address and the app will tell you exactly which public transportation you need to take. You can even use an Uber!
If you are taking a train to Holland, it works in the same way. You can buy tickets at NS.nl to get you to the central station of your destination.
ESN pick-up service
ESN stands for the Erasmus Student Network, and they dedicate themselves to making your exchange experience the best yet. In a nutshell, ESN helps exchange students and international students get on the right foot when they are abroad. But we'll get to that in just a bit. Firstly, let's talk about one of the services they offer, which is helping you get from the airport to your destination!
Some ESN networks (e.g. the ESN network of your host city or university) might offer a pick-up service. Essentially, ESN can come and pick you up from the airport! How nice of them, right? Mostly, ESN can pick you up at Schiphol airport, where they will help you get back to your campus. In many cases, you will travel back to your city together, and a bus will have certain drop-off points. This could be at specific student housing or on campus. This is worth a look if you aren’t 100% sure how to get yourself from the airport to your destination! Just check out the ESN website, find your university’s ESN group, and check whether they offer the pick-up service. Or, simply do it the old-fashioned way and Google it!
Registration and Other Essentials
Pfew, you've finally gotten to your room and you are ready to relax. But just one second. When you arrive in the Netherlands, there are a few things you have to take care of. Call them necessities for your stay, if you will. They include registering at city hall (de gemeente), opening a bank account, becoming insured, and getting a phone subscription.
Registration at a municipality as an international exchange student
If you are planning on staying in the Netherlands for more than 4 months, you’ll need to make an appointment with your city hall (municipality, or gemeente) and register. This is the case if you are an international exchange student for a whole academic year. When you register, your details are put into their system and you get your own citizen service number, or BSN. A BSN number is your own personal identification number, so to speak, and you need it to open a bank account and register at a doctor’s office. You can read lots more about registering at a city hall and about the BSN numbers in these posts! Plus, your university might have specific times for their students to register, so pay attention to any emails concerning that!
If you are staying for less than 4 months, you are considered a non-resident. This is a very likely situation if you are an international exchange student on exchange for a semester or two. You also have to register but as a non-resident. In this case, you need to find the specific municipality that has this special registration facility. On this webpage you can find out what cities have this special registration office, and more information on how to register as a non-resident.
Opening a bank account
Most likely, you will want to have a Dutch bank account. Of course, maybe your bank at home has some sort of international banking scheme, but if not, then this is a great option. There are a bunch of banks that you could consider registering at. For instance, ABN Amro has great international student plans! ING and Rabobank are also popular student choices. You can visit this post we wrote about opening a Dutch bank account for more information.
When opening a bank account, there are specific documents you'll need. You'll need, among others, a valid identity document, proof of address, and your BSN number. As an international exchange student, you might also need your residence permit or a Visa. Each bank will have a list of documents they want you to bring, so make sure to get your papers in order! Some banks will make the exception and allow you to open an account before you have your BSN number, such as bunq. As long as you have registered and send your BSN to the bank when you get it, you should be fine.
Insurance is very important to have. Many exchange students have some sort of international scheme when it comes to healthcare, for example. If not, it might be a good idea to get yourself some insurance. If you are an EU student, you should also consider getting the EHIC. The EHIC, short for European Health Insurance Card, is an insurance card that you can get combined with that from your home country! In short, you can get medical help under the same conditions, and same cost, as those in the Netherlands. You can read much more about all types of student insurances on our Insurance page!
And last, but certainly not least, we come to phone subscriptions. Being abroad can make the numbers on your phone bill rise at an alarming rate. One solution is to get a Dutch phone number! You can easily get subscriptions that you can pay monthly, instead of getting a package for a whole year. This is a great alternative for any international exchange student who wants to play by semester. For example, you could get a prepaid or a sim only subscription. Through College Life, you can easily compare current offers from favourite providers such as Youfone, Simpel, Ben or Vodafone. See our telecom guide for more information.
Getting Around the Netherlands
Now that you have safely gotten to your new home, and you have all your essentials sorted, let's get to getting around in the Netherlands.
One of the many myths about Holland is that biking is the only way to get around. And, to an extent, it’s sort of true. You will see lots of people using their bikes in favour of cars or even public transport. There are even specific paths dedicated to bikes! Getting a bike is not essential, but it might make your life a little bit easier. Also, it could save you money. There are lots of shops around the Netherlands selling new and used bikes. You might even just have to walk up and down a few streets close to you to find a great deal! You can also check out Facebook groups for buying and selling bikes in your area. A lot of cities also have public bikes to rent, and even your campus may have some sort of cycle-renting scheme.
Public transport in the Netherlands is also a great way to get around! Most cities have trams, which can take you around the inside of the city. You can buy single tickets, but also tram cards. You can get this at your city's central station, for example. These cards are called OV Chip Cards, and can be used almost anywhere in the Netherlands. You load money on it using the designated machines that you can find at major tram stops or metro stations. You can also use the 9292 app to plan your routes!
How to use the OV chip card
When you enter the tram, you swipe your card at the door. You'll see a little device right when you come in. When you leave, you swipe it again. It's really important to do this! You are only charged for the literal duration of your trip. If you forget to swipe, your card still thinks you are on the tram, and will continue to charge you up to the full payment, which is €4 . When you use the metro, there will be readers getting in and out of the stops.
ESN and Campus Events
Getting back to the topic of ESN, let's introduce them a bit more, shall we?
One of the largest student associations in the Netherlands, and in Europe, is the Erasmus Student Network (ESN). This is an association specifically for exchange students, among others, and they want to make your exchange experience as amazing as possible. Most likely, your host university will have an ESN community which you can join. The ESN is there to help you get involved in your new environment, and offer any help they can when it comes to the academic, social and practical process of your stay. Being part of ESN can be a great way to meet new friends and get some advice on your stay in the Netherlands!
The ESN group on your campus are also responsible for introduction activities when you first arrive. This could be in the form of a weekend full of social and cultural activities, and a chance to get to know your fellow exchange students! Depending on where you will be studying, each ESN group organises different activities. They can also include orientation events, which is a great way to learn more about the city or town you will be living in!
Culture and Entertainment in the Netherlands
Once you are completely settled, you'll want to experience what the Netherlands has to offer to the fullest! One of the amazing things about living and studying in the Netherlands is that you can travel almost anywhere. Because the Netherlands is smack in the middle(-ish) of Europe, you can literally take a train anywhere. You can take a train to Germany, France, Belgium, Spain...honestly, the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, the Amsterdam Airport flies internationally and within Europe. So, you can simply book a flight and leave for a weekend. Anyone mention a last-minute city getaway? As an international exchange student, you probably have the urge to travel, so don't let anything hold you back!
If you want to go on a day-trip within Holland, for instance to another city, it's totally doable. You can use your OV chip card to travel around. When traveling to different cities, there is a certain amount you need to have on your card in order to make the return journey as well. And don't forget about hiring a car and going on a road trip! The possibilities really are endless...
And if you want to know more about those possibilities, just check out our Travel section in the international student Magazine!
Culture & Entertainment
The Netherlands has numerous cities that are becoming dubbed as up-and-coming European 'cultural capitals'. In the Netherlands, you can find thousands of art galleries and museums, concerts and festivals, and other amazing cultural events. Amsterdam alone is home to over 400 museums! Insane, right? The Netherlands has a really interesting history, so make sure to read up on it and soak up all the culture. Being an international exchange student means you have an obligation to embrace your inner tourist. You could consider visiting some truly Dutch places, like Kinderdijk, a windmill complex. Or, try some Dutch food!
When it comes to nightlight, there's a-plenty. Like most cities, you can find student parties and happenings on campus. Also, you can choose to go out to eat, go to a pub or bar, or go clubbing. As in most places, be aware of drink prices inside bars and clubs. Have a look at our Culture & Entertainment section in the Magazine for more tips on Dutch cultural life.
In terms of language, you don't have to worry; almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English! You can also take Dutch language courses, which your university is sure to provide or recommend. For instance, the University of Groningen has a free course for students! Also, learning a few basics never hurt anyone...
College Life has a bunch of other resources that can come in handy for any international exchange student. For example, you can read all about getting started in the Netherlands, like registering at a gemeente or opening a bank account. We also have posts about debit cards or phone subscriptions. And if you want to know more about cultural life in the Netherlands or our best travel tips, then don't look any further than College Life!