How To: Start your time abroad in Rotterdam, Netherlands

You could call me restless or diagnose me with a heavy case of wanderlust and aspirations, but while I was living in Albuquerque, realizing that my time as an undergrad was coming to an end, I soon decided that I wanted to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree. A long list of interesting programs was made up, a number of applications sent out and a number of acceptances returned to my inbox while I was still abroad.

About two months after I returned to Cologne, it was time to pack up my bags and move to yet another country. The Netherlands are not really that far from my home, just a three hour drive, but Rotterdam, the grad school I eventually chose (maybe I will write a post about my grad school application and decision post at some point in the future, when it is relevant to the point of year) was a city I had not spent a whole lot of time in. I think the last time I had been to Rotterdam was somewhere around 2003, so while it was a familiar point on the map it was far less familiar that for example Amsterdam.

Finding an apartment

Finding an apartment in an unfamiliar city can be a challenge. On one hand you need to find the right website that links you to actually existing properties and doesn’t have any hidden catches (seriously, stay away from nestpick), overcome the challenge that many people did not want international housemates, and lastly find a landlord that is okay with showing you the place via Skype. My universities website was not really all that helpful, as the number of dorm rooms in the Rotterdam is limited and most of them are quite pricy. Further, they link to Nestpick, and the Student Hotel. While the latter has great amenities and is in a great location between the university and downtown, but comes with a price tag comparable to American commercial dorms. Yikes.

After seemingly endless hours of googling I found the service Kamernet, while it does require a paid subscription to contact landlords, it also offers a kind of “early bird” option that lets you see posts 24 (or 48?) hours prior to the public posting, an English option, a great number of filters as well as email notifications for listings that match your filters and a comprehensive direct messaging option. In short, exactly what I was looking for. Within 2 days I had responded to a number of listings and received a few responses. Two landlords agreed to Skype with me and both subsequently offered me the place. So in short, once you find the right service for yourself – and I personally do recommend Kamernet – it is not that hard to find an appropriate place. I did realize that most listings included water, gas, electricity, sewage, etc, so that certainly is a plus and something that needs to be considered when setting the price filter.

Register with the city hall

Once the contract is signed and you are moved in, bureaucracy calls and you need to register with the city hall. Usually you are supposed to register with the hall within one week or at least set up the appointment within one week. On the website of the city hall, you do find some information on the process but need to set up the appointment for your registration on the phone. They do not do walk-ins or online scheduling. Unfortunately. The website is a little confusing; it does provide some information in English, however, as soon as you run into some problem or have additional questions, most content is in Dutch. For the registration you do need your appointment, a filled in registration form that you can download and print out online, a letter of consent from your landlord, your rental contract, your passport, and (VERY IMPORTANT!!!) your birth certificate, or a notarized copy thereof. Also there are only a few languages that it can be it, I believe Dutch, English, German, and French, so if it is written in any other language, you need to get a translation of it. Usually, you can request it for a small fee at the city hall of the city you were born in. When you have brought all your papers and made it through the short appointment (usually about 10 minutes) you are done and the city will send you a confirmation and you BSN number, which is comparable to a social security number and needed if you wish to work in the Netherlands, via mail within a short time frame.
A few month after, the city hall will contact you again, asking if you have brought a car with you from a different country. This apparently is mainly for tax reasons. If you have brought a car with you that was purchased outside of the Netherlands, that letter includes a form. I do not have a car, so I am not quite sure about the exact process, but my friend said that it includes paying an extra tax to the city, so if you bring a car, make sure to read up on this topic so you know what will await you.

Register with the University

Getting enrolled with the university is a fairly easy process. Of course it involves a number of online platforms, but at the end of the day, all you have to do it pay your tuition, or have someone pay the tuition for you, upload a picture for the student ID, and that’s already it. It does not require any appointments on campus, paper forms or queueing to get to a booth to get your picture taken. Few days after you upload your picture, the student ID will be sent to your house via mail, or you can pick it up on campus upon your request. This may be helpful for people that are staying in a hostel while looking for an apartment or that are traveling before relocating to the Netherlands and fear to miss the student ID. If someone else pays the tuition for you, you will get an email at some point during the year that asks you to accept the payment from that sponsor. Other than that, there is not a whole lot you need to do.

Other things to know

Public transportation:
The Dutch people love biking, no matter what weather, how many children or how many groceries, everyone uses the bike. Nevertheless, the public transportation system is really great. Rotterdam does have a metro, a tram, and a bus system. To use these you need to purchase an OV Chipcart which you can buy e.g. at the Central Station, and can recharge to whatever balance you need. It is comparable to an oyster card. The public transportation is very punctual, and it has free wifi. Trust me, it’s a blessing on early dark winter mornings. The app 9292 or the website 9292.nl is the best source for schedules and estimations for the cost of your trip, as the fare depends on the distance you are traveling.

Paying:
From my personal experience, you can pay with a debit card everywhere. Well almost everywhere, but more often than not. Credit cards on the other hand are not that commonly used. So if you only have a Visa or a Master card, you may consider getting a new card from your bank or setting up a Dutch bank account. Lastly, if you pay cash, note that most stores round to the 5 or 10 cents, so if your total is 4,98 and you hand them 5 € you will not receive and change.

Paying Rent:
While some countries like the US and France do still use checks as a common form of paying rent, it seems to be a custom that rent in the Netherlands is paid via bank transfer. So if you are unfamiliar to how you can make a bank transfer to an account in a different country, while you are abroad, make sure to talk to an assistant of your bank to figure that out.

Welcome to Rotterdam 🙂

xx

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