Expat Essentials

Desperate in the Netherlands: Housing crisis leaves expat students homeless, hopeless

The Netherlands has a serious student housing crisis, which ultimately has an impact on business, the tech industry in particular. This year, there are more students than ever coming from outside the Netherlands to attend the nation’s advanced technical universities including Technical University of Eindhoven and Technical University of Delft. But there’s literally no place to put them.

We know this intimately as our daughter attends Maastricht University, and it’s not a new problem. But what was once a problem is now a housing crisis.

More and more international students are pouring into the Netherlands. Our daughter’s master’s class is the biggest in the program’s history at 40 students, and she is the only one coming from the university’s bachelor’s program. All the rest are international students.

Highly educated homeless

At Delta, the excellent student journal for TU Delft (one of the best engineering schools in the world), Marjolein van der Veldt wrote a long post with multiple primary source interviews. Marjolein’s conclusion? International students at Delft are desperate.

In “Internationals looking for a room: ‘I’m basically homeless,’ “ she interviews students who are unregistered with the local government, or gemeente, because they’re sleeping on friends’ floors. Even the pricey Student Hotel, part of the Amsterdam-based chain founded by Scottish entrepreneur Charlie McGregor, is booked into next year.

“There are about 260 students at the moment and all the rooms are fully booked until August 2022,” Assistant Operations Koen Wilmer told Marjolein.

Far to the south in Maastricht, international students have posted flyers with cash rewards for anyone who can help desperate students find an apartment, a room or a tent.

It’s that bad.

Student Facebook communities all over the Netherlands have posts by desperate students willing to take anything – and parents willing to pay anything – to get a roof over their heads.

The Dutch student housing crisis is a bigger issue than it might at first seem because the Netherlands’ strategy is to charge non-EU students tuition that covers at least part of the expense of Dutch students, who get to go to uni essentially for free. Then, once foreign students have their degrees and are fluent in Dutch, Dutch companies can more easily recruit the top talent.

Practical solutions

The question becomes, what can anyone really do about this? Governments can’t force developers to build apartments and housing. And developers and investors are going to be naturally cautious about getting caught up in a housing bubble that, sooner or later, goes bust.

A new apartment tower is rising on the TU/e campus

One solution is to tell foreign students not to come, or to at least warn them that finding an apartment is likely to be very, very difficult.

At Delft, officials inform students about the housing situation and urge them not to travel to The Netherlands if they haven’t already secured their housing, said Karen Collet, a university spokesperson. Maastricht University officials tell prospective students about the problems they may encounter when looking for accommodation, said Koen Augustijn, spokesperson, Marketing & Communications in response to an email query.

Augustijn sent a copy of the letter that goes to foreign students and includes blunt advice about housing:

The student housing market in Maastricht gets busier and busier every year. In August and September the stock of available rooms will be very, very limited and you will risk the chance of being homeless. So, please start your housing search as soon as possible! Make sure to arrange your housing BEFORE you come to Maastricht or you will almost certainly get in trouble in finding housing after arrival. This will severely affect your studies as well. You don’t want that to happen.

The letter includes warnings about fraud, illegal fees and the complexity of Dutch law. But it also includes links to couchsurfing and home sharing websites.

At Delft, officials inform students about the housing situation and urge them not to travel to The Netherlands if they haven’t secured their housing, said Karen Collet, spokesperson.

Officials at Technical University of Eindhoven make clear that arranging housing is the student’s responsibility and advise they start their search two months prior to arrival. Nice in theory but in practical terms, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Our real-world experience is that real estate agents and landlords won’t work with you virtually … that you have to be physically in the country to get the process started.

But what about long-term solutions? In the United States, universities build dorms to ensure students have a place to stay their first year, and many schools require that they live on campus. In the Netherlands, few schools provide on-campus housing, but that’s changing. In 2020, TU/e announced a tender to build two new buildings, adding 700 student residences on campus. Construction is scheduled to wrap up in 2023.

There are already about 750 residential units on the TU/e campus in two residential towers.

Officials at Maastricht say they won’t be investing in housing. “UM is legally unable to invest on a large scale in student housing. In order to be allowed to invest structurally, there must be a (legally) positive business case. Maintaining a (large) housing stock in the face of fluctuating demand offers insufficient certainty,” wrote spokesperson Koen Augustijn.


There is little indication that demand for housing in the Netherlands – any and all housing – will go slack anytime soon. There’s immense pressure on the Dutch housing market because of the growth of such global companies as ASML, NXP, Philips and others to the point it’s become a political issue.

Media reports quote Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma as saying the city needs to add 4,000 homes per year into 2040 to keep up with demand just from expanding corporations. Without funding from the federal government, the city is going to have a perpetual housing shortage … and government activities are basically suspended while Prime Minister Mark Rutte struggles to form a government six months after the most recent national elections.

Ultimately, this affects ordinary people … like our family.

Our daughter Lale just earned her bachelor’s degree at Maastricht was considering going to Erasmus in Rotterdam for her master’s. Those plans went out the window because Rotterdam simply has no housing and she didn’t want to lose her Maastricht apartment.

All this has us reassessing our advice to American expat students to consider Europe for university. Yes, tuition here is much cheaper than at a highly selective American college, but the housing crisis in Europe negates that advantage. Being homeless puts a severe damper on the college experience. The question becomes, are there countries in Europe with superior education offerings and housing?

Look for a new post coming soon.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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