Finding a flat/appartment or house to rent in Amsterdam can be a serious challenge for expats and new residents. There is a significant housing shortage in the city - particularly in the central areas - and the market is skewed by rent controlled public housing and a few unscrupulous landlords and agents.
Here is some information to consider when trying to find somewhere to live in Amsterdam...
Social Housing (sociale huurwoningen)
You should first be aware that nearly 60% of all dwellings (houses/appartments) in Amsterdam are rented from semi-public housing corporations (woningcorporatie). These are only available to Dutch residents on lower incomes (earning under €35,800) and rents are capped at a maximum of €711 monthly (2016).
Social housing is offered through a waiting list system. A resident who has an "economic tie" to a Dutch city can register to join the housing list of that particular city. In Amsterdam this is done through the organisation WoningNet Amsterdam. Housing corporations in Amsterdam include Eigen Haard and Stadgenoot.
However, waiting list times for social housing can be many years and possibly even decades for prized central locations in Amsterdam. Many tenants will simply stay in a dwelling until old age.
Housing corporations also offer a limited amount of housing in their so-called "free sector" (vrije sector) - basically these are for those earning just above the income limit for normal social housing. Whilst registration with WoningNet is not required, income will still be capped (at around €45,000-€50,000 per year) and a strict credit history check must be passed.
So in reality, expats and new residents cannot rent from the social housing sector unless they have a Dutch partner who is renting one, or they find a short-term sublet. If you are moving in with someone who is a social housing tenant then officially you should get a letter of permission from the housing corporation. You need to show this if registering with the council.
Private Rental Market (huurwoningen)
The majority of housing in Amsterdam (and Netherlands) is made up of either social rentals or owner-occcupied homes. This means most expats/new residents are effectively forced to rent out a house (woonhuis) or appartment (appartament) from the smaller private sector, which accounts for just 5-10% of the market.
You will have to pay market prices which are significantly higher than the social housing rentals. Due to the popularity of Amsterdam, the small size of the city and this skewed housing distribution, private sector rents have been increasing significantly (10%+ per year) in the last few years.
As of 2016, the average private rental price in Amsterdam stands at around €2,200 per month. That may be doable for international corporate types working for a multinational and/or couples with 2 salaries. However for those on middle to lower incomes there is a huge shortage of properties in the €700 to €1,300 range.
Some would say Amsterdam is becoming increasingly unaffordable for those on middle incomes, catering only for the wealthy or lower income people.
2 bedroom appartments in an outer suburb will generally start from around €1,400 monthly; for a prime location in central Amsterdam expect prices in the €2,000-€4,000 range. Rental prices will obviously depend on the size of the property and the location.
Appartments will be either fully furnished (gemeubileerd), partly furnished (gestoffeerd) or unfurnished (kaal).
For something more quirky you could consider living on one of Amsterdam's canal houseboats (woonboot). Rental prices are approximately €1,800-€2,800 per month - though supply is very limited.
Searching for a Flat: Have a look at Funda (funda.nl) which has a comprehensive listing of rental properties (huurwoningen) in the Netherlands including the Amsterdam area.
Alternatively you could talk to an estate agent (makelaar) or housing agency. A good estate agent should be registered with the national association NVM - Nederlands Vereniging van Makelaars. You will normally have to pay a commission to the agent if you find a place through them - around 1 month's rent.
Pararius (pararius.com/english) is a useful site with a large listing of rental properties from trusted agents. Direct Wonen (directwonen.nl) is another large agent whilst Perfect Housing (perfecthousing.com) is a housing agency catering to the high-end expat market.
If you are moving over on a work contract you may get your housing (partly) covered by your employer in some cases. Those here for shorter stays up to 6 months could use a serviced appartment.
If you plan to stay in the long term (5 years plus) you should probably consider buying a property in Amsterdam
Renting a Room / House Share
If you want to cut costs then consider house sharing or renting a room (kamer) in someone else's house or appartment. This is a popular option for students living outside of official university accommodation and younger working people.
Most rooms will cost between €400 and €800 per month - depending on the location and size (ranging from 10m2 to 25m2). Check whether utility bills are included in the rent. Find listings at Kamernet (kamernet.nl) which has thousands of available rooms.
Other house search tactics include using your network of local contacts (if you have any) and letting them know you are looking for a place. Check adverts in newspapers and on Craigslist or marktplaats.nl - though be wary if the place sounds too cheap. AirBnB can also have longer term rentals available.
Also check noticeboards at supermarkets, libraries, ABC bookshop and universities etc. Consider placing an ad yourself both on noticeboards and online.
It is sometimes possible to sublet an appartment (including social housing appartments) from local residents who are leaving town for a period - from a few weeks to up to 12 months. This can work well for both parties - a fair rent can be negotiated which is often lower than the private market. A temporary "house sitting" contract can be drawn up where the renter agrees to look after the property / plants etc.
However, this is a grey area and you should take care - there are a few unscrupulous "landlords" who rent out poorly maintained corporation flats (illegally) at a high rent (cash only) to desperate expats. The renter cannot then register with the council which can cause bureaucracy problems. Also if you are in Amsterdam permanently then going from one short term let to another can be disruptive and stressful.
If you arrange to visit a flat please exercise some caution, especially if you are a lone female meeting a private landlord - we have heard some horror stories. Tell someone exactly where you are going or better still take a friend with you to the appointment.
Locations in the Amsterdam area & surroundings
There are various location choices for renting in the Amsterdam area. Rental prices in the inner canal belt are extremely expensive - many houses are only rented as commercial offices.
Amsterdam's inner suburbs such as Jordaan, the Museum Quarter, Oud Zuid, Oud West, De Pijp and Rivierenbuurt are all very sought-after locations. Amsterdam Oost has a more edgy feel being a working class and multicultural area, but is now up-and-coming thanks to renovation and development.
There have been major developments around the IJ waterfront (at the back of central station) including the Zeeburg and IJburg areas with lots of modern appartments built.
Cheaper rents can be had in the more outer suburbs such as Bos en Lommer, Osdorp (west) and Bijlmer (south-east).
Many choose to find accommodation outside of Amsterdam, especially if you require a house rather than an appartment. Popular with expats and families are the surrounding towns/cities of Amstelveen, Abcoude, Haarlem, Hilversum, Hoofddorp and Zaandam - all are an easy commute to Amsterdam.
Going further afield, you could consider Almere and Lelystad (in the adjacent Flevoland region - east of Amsterdam - where housing costs are significanltly lower); or the Leidsche-Rijn area of Utrecht, a growing new development.
Some students and young people register with an anti-squat organisations such as Camelot (nl.cameloteurope.com) or Adhoc (adhocbeheer.nl) which allows them to live temporarily in vacant buildings such as schools, warehouses, appartments and offices.
Rents can be very low and the buildings can provide a unique experience. However you may be asked to leave at short notice.
Questions to ask when renting in Amsterdam
Is the flat unfurnished, partly
or fully furnished?
How long is
the rental contract for?
Is the flat on a quiet side street or on a main road where there
could be noisy shops/bars and trams passing by?
Be aware that Amsterdam has it fair share of mice, so if living in an older building then try to keep your kitchen clean and store food well in cupboards!
Rental payments are usually made by monthly bank transfer to the landlord or managing agent - so you need to open a Dutch bank account.
When you move in take some photos of the rooms so that you have a record of the appartment's condition. This could be useful when getting back your deposit.
Persistence is the key and you will eventually find somewhere to live in or around Amsterdam.
See also cost of living in Amsterdam