What’s It Really Like to Live in Amsterdam?

Expat Life Amsterdam. Photo credit: Alexander on Flickr

This is the second post in the new series called “What’s It Like to Live in .. ?” about expat life in countries around the world. (In case you missed it, the first installment was an in-depth look at expat life in London). Since I visited Amsterdam, I’ve wondered if that might be the place I should live (really! See my thoughts here.). Today Gessell, an American living in Amsterdam with her husband and little girl, shares what it’s like to live in Amsterdam: cultural differences, what it’s like raising kids in the Netherlands, and all those bikes! 

I live in the wonderful, world famous Dutch city of Amsterdam. Besides being a full time mother to an infant daughter, I am also a part time home health nurse and family travel blogger. To follow along with our adventures, check out my family travel blog Gessell + Lee or catch me on Twitter.

Expat Life in Amsterdam

Gessell and her husband in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark

On the decision to move to Amsterdam:

I moved to Amsterdam in January of 2014. What started with a trip to Scotland with my then boyfriend turned into an across the ocean move with my now husband. People love to ask me how and why I picked Amsterdam. The reality is that I didn’t; Amsterdam picked me. My husband landed a job here, and they made it so easy to move abroad we couldn’t say no. I actually had never been to the Netherlands, let alone Amsterdam, before quitting my job, selling my house, and moving here.

Expat Life in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Jirka Matousek on Flickr

On first impressions of life in Amsterdam:

When I first moved here I was a bit overwhelmed. There are so many bikes everywhere. Plus the language difference was hard to get used to. Thank goodness for translating apps. The first few visits to the grocery store would have been a nightmare otherwise. Overtime, what was at first foreign has now become my new normal. Now I can’t imagine life without whole families happily biking to school or work, or a life where I didn’t take my bike to the grocery store.

Expat Life in Netherlands

On cultural differences:

The biggest difference to me as an American abroad has been becoming comfortable with a different normal for personal space. In the U.S. we give people we don’t know, and also sometimes people we do, a wide berth. In Europe overall, not just in Amsterdam, the idea of how much distance there should be between two people is much closer than I was at first comfortable with. But, after a while you just have to adapt.

On making friends in another country:

Making new friends was a top priority for me when I moved to Amsterdam. I knew literally no one when I moved here. So what did I do? I got out of the house and into the real world and talked to people. To everyone.

I joined groups. I went to language classes. I did all of my normal hobbies and then chatted with the people there. I made sure to exchange phone numbers and then follow up with the person. Eventually, I made friends. It’s hard to put yourself out there and not always comfortable, but it’s the best way to meet people in a new city.

On living and working in Amsterdam:

My day typically revolves around my daughter’s nap schedule. But there are a few things that are pretty routine for us. I buy groceries almost daily. Gone are the days of my big American sized refrigerator. But that’s something that while at first was a challenge I now look forward to.

In addition to grocery shopping, I spend quite a bit of time outdoors. I typically meet up for coffee with a friend and enjoy the sun by sitting at an outdoor café or make sure to get to Vondelpark with the jogging stroller for a run.

expat life Amsterdam. Photo credit: Moyan Brenn, Flickr

I love how active and sporty the culture is here. Things like biking and walking that I used to have to go out of my way to do to work out are now just built into daily life. Not having a car certainly comes with its fair share of challenges, especially when I’m trying to shop for accessories for the apartment or wanting to buy things in bulk but can’t because I’m limited to how much I can physically carry. But again, it’s a trade I have gladly made.

Surprising things about Amsterdam:

  1. Amsterdam is so diverse that it actually has the most nationalities of any city in the world.
  2. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world.
  3. There are more bicycles than people who live here.
  4. Amsterdam is listed as one of the “safest cities” in the world.
  5. People here drink more coffee on average than almost anywhere else in the world.

On raising kids in Amsterdam:

Most surprising to me has been how pleasant it was to have a child here. I heard so many horror stories from people before I got pregnant about how rigid the Dutch healthcare system is when it comes to childbirth. I was terrified that no one would listen to me when the time came and that they would push their own agenda of how my birth should go. But I worried for naught. I found the whole process from finding a midwife to the birth and aftercare to be just as good, if not better, than what I would have gone through in the U.S.

What aspects of life in Amsterdam do you wish your native country would adopt? 

Here in the Netherlands, pregnant employees are entitled to at least sixteen weeks of leave. That holds true for whether you’ve been at the job many years or less than one. Plus, after the birth a professional maternity nurse comes to your house to help look after the mother and baby for a few days up to a few weeks. And that maternity nurse is covered by your health insurance with a very small hourly copay for the family. I really wish my family and friends in the States had access to such help!

Expat life Europe

Traveling in Rome

On what’s next:

What’s next for me? I have no idea. For now Amsterdam is home. I am very happy to live here and continue to travel with my family throughout the world.

Thank you so much, Gessell! And stay tuned for life in Nicaragua, France, and much more! 

Photo credits: Gessell except the first photo: Alexander on Flickr, Bikes in Amsterdam: Jirka Matousek on Flickr, and Vondelpark: Moyan Brenn on Flickr


  • Elsa says:

    Loved it! 🙂 I haven’t been to Amsterdam yet and this post makes me excited about it. Kudos to Gessell. Off to her blog now for more inspiration! Xo



  • Anne says:

    I’ve visited Amsterdam for one day (a layover) and it had a really nice vibe to it. Sounds like living there is fun too!

  • Andy says:

    Nice post. Now that you’ve experienced at least some of the healthcare services that Holland provides, aren’t you a bit taken aback by the attitudes towards these types of services in the U.S.? How civilized to have the level of care you enjoyed after becoming a mother. Makes you wonder…

    • Gessell says:


      I have a whole new perspective on healthcare now that I’ve experienced it living abroad. My daughter had to spend time in the ICU after she was born and my husband and I had a conversation on how fortunate we were to not have to worry about crippling debt from the hospitalization on top of all the stress a sick baby brings. I can only hope that this some day comes to America as well.


  • Oh I love Amsterdam so much! My husband and I have often said if we could move anywhere in the world, Amsterdam would be at the top of our list. Vondelpark might be one of my favorite places ever.

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