Occupation: Nutritional Therapist
Length of time in Amsterdam: 4 years
Tell us a little bit about your background. What brought you to Amsterdam four years ago?
Well I’m originally from Canada, but my parents are Dutch, so I’d always thought about travelling and living in Europe. I ended up working in England for 11 years, but I’d always loved Amsterdam and I thought I would love to live there – to live in another European country, but also to learn a new language. I wanted a new challenge and it seemed the right time to move over after I’d been quite a while in London. So I finally made the move – and I don’t regret any of it!
Had you visited Amsterdam many times before you took the decision to move?
Yeah, probably 14 times or something! Mainly on weekend visits, and I had a friend I knew from London who was Dutch, so I would come over to visit her sometimes.
How does life in Amsterdam differ to other European cities you’ve lived in, such as London?
That’s a really easy one to answer, because Amsterdam has pretty much everything you can get in London but on a much smaller scale. Maybe there aren’t as many different options, but it has one of everything. It’s got a really good vibe, it’s so easy to get around by bicycle, and it’s more accessible.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you first moved over?
Well with my business, you really need to network – and I think I underestimated that a little bit. So it took a long time to build up that network. It was probably a good year and half before I was getting good word of mouth advertisement. I didn’t know anyone here at first, so I spent a lot of time going out for both business and social events through MeetUp and networking events. Luckily there’s a lot of that here, so that really helped.
How did you set about networking and establishing your business?
There are a lot of different networks out here – lots of women’s networks and American networks for business, so I just joined everything I possibly could. The networks are full of people who’ve been through the same thing as you, so they’re so willing to share lots of information, such as ‘if you go to the Belastingdienst (tax office) then you need to do this, or you need to ask for that, or don’t forget to register with this organisation’. So that’s really beneficial.
How important do you think it is for an international moving to Amsterdam to try to learn the language?
Well of course you can get by without Dutch, and I know people that have got by for more than 12 years, but personally I think it’s very important. For one thing it connects you with the locals a lot more. The people who speak Dutch are much better integrated into society and even if you’re only going to be here for five years or so, it just helps you communicate better with your neighbours, be more friendly - and Dutch people really appreciate it when you try to speak Dutch. Even if it’s terrible, they just appreciate the effort. And if you don’t learn the language you’re going to miss out on social things, understanding letters that come from the government… you’re isolating yourself in an expat bubble.
"Dutch people really appreciate it when you try to speak Dutch. Even if it’s terrible, they just appreciate the effort"
After four years in Amsterdam, who would you say your friends are? Locals or expats? And how did you go about meeting people when you arrived?
My friends are definitely a mix of Dutch and English speaking. And MeetUp was the biggest thing. I’d heard about it when I lived in London so I thought I’d try it. There are so many things you can do, and you can go to only Dutch meetups and only speak Dutch, so I joined a mixture of English speaking and Dutch speaking, and from there I started making friends. I was going there twice a week when I first came.
How would you describe Dutch people? Are there any stereotypes about them that you’ve found to be true or incorrect?
Dutch people are friendly, and quite open. In their personal lives they can be quite conservative, but they’re happy for other people to do what they want. You can see that in a lot of society - they’re very much live and let live. They’re also much more relaxed about things like raising children. I think that they are also very inclusive. So everybody should have an opinion about something, or be able to have a say about an issue, and then you should come to an agreement. They value honesty quite a lot and are very straightforward. You can trust what a Dutch person says - they don’t beat around the bush.
How would you describe Amsterdam in three words?
Vibrant, creative and accessible.
What’s your favourite neighbourhood in Amsterdam?
BoLo! Haha. That’s the trendy name for Bos en Lommer, where I live. I like that it’s quite ethnic still – although that’s quickly changing – so there are quite a few nice, trendy and still independent places to go. I’ve got an organic grocer really close, a really good butcher, there’s an excellent bakery down the road. I have a garden really close by, and the Westerpark nearby too. It’s really accessible, and it’s just 15 minutes away by bike from the city.
Where would we find you hanging out on a Friday or Saturday night?
I really like going for dinner at Lab111. It’s in an old hospital in some kind of laboratory room, and there’s a cinema there, a restaurant with excellent food, and it’s just around the corner from my partner’s house in Oud-West.
And how about a lazy morning stroll?
I like walking through all the little streets with lots of boutiques. In Amsterdam shops are more independent and businesses can survive as a single shop. You do see some more chains coming in but I think there are some rules that mean large companies have to stay outside the canal ring as a way to preserve the way that Amsterdam looks, which is so important. Luckily it wasn’t bombed during the war, so we have so much beautiful architecture here.
Would you recommend Amsterdam as a place to start your own business?
Absolutely. It’s really, really easy. The costs for setting up your business are really low and it’s really business friendly. I went into the KvK (Chamber of Commerce) and within half an hour I had my business number and everything was set up . I just had to go to the tax office and organise things with them which was also really easy despite the fact they will only speak to you in Dutch – they’re not allowed to speak with clients in English. All the letters you‘ll receive from the tax office will be in Dutch. But the KvK are really friendly and speak English well, and they have lots of extra courses you can take so there’s lots of support. Costs are relatively low in Amsterdam – although Dutch people don’t think so – they think it’s really expensive. Compared to the rest of the Netherlands it is, but compared to London it’s really affordable.
Do you have any advice for anyone hoping to start a business in Amsterdam?
Do your research and look at the competition. And depending on where you want to work, really pay attention to the traffic that comes past and think about whether they are your clients. Keep your costs down – there are so many free apps you can use and inexpensive printing companies, and if you keep your costs down in the beginning you’ll be able to weather that tough time.
"Come over with a wide open perspective, try not to bring your own cultural bias, and just be open to new things"
How has Amsterdam changed you?
It’s made me a lot more relaxed. Everything’s give and take here. Even in the traffic, everyone slows down to let someone go past - and I think they’re that way in general life too. They have this saying, ‘even geduld’ – it means ‘just a moment’, ‘have a little patience’. Or ‘ga rustig aan’, which means ‘don’t worry’, ‘no rush’. Like if you’re in the queue at a shop, everyone’s just patiently waiting. I quickly learned that if you don’t just fall in and follow that, then you’re going to be very frustrated.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about making the move to Amsterdam?
I would say try and get a job beforehand because of the 30% ruling, which is really beneficial to you tax-wise. And think about the type of housing you want. Everyone says that housing is really difficult to come by, although I was really lucky and found a place within the first week. I moved in and have been here ever since. But it can be very expensive sometimes, and if you get a furnished place you’re going to be paying a lot. But lots of people leave things on the street that are in perfect condition, so maybe you want to start slowly and then build up your own things. Come over with a wide open perspective, try not to bring your own cultural bias, and just be open to new things.