(Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about expat hotspots in the Netherlands. The Netherlands as a whole has attracted huge numbers of expats. Eindhoven alone has an estimated 37,000 knowledge migrants such as engineers and physicists from the United States, India and China, working at such ultra-high-tech firms as ASML. But they generally aren’t concentrated in one municipality.)
When one thinks of expats in the Netherlands, the focus tends to be on the tens of thousands living near the four largest Dutch cities Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague.
In this very crowded little country, those four cities make up a megalopolis referred to as “Randstad.” So many cities and villages flow into each other that if you count the total population of 7.1 million people, it’s one of the largest “cities” in Europe. Or at least one of the largest metropolitan areas.
There are about 57,000 expats in The Netherlands according to the Dutch Bureau of Statistics. They mostly live in a few concentrated hubs like the “American village of Wassenaar” about which we posted in the latest installment of this guide series.
Expats – especially Americans – are drawn there by attractive, fairly affordable housing close to Den Haag and Amsterdam, as well as by social amenities such as a church, stores and expat organizations.
But another – centrally located Utrecht – attracts expats in its own way.
Bright lights, big city
More than 330,000 people – and about 170 nationalities among them – call the city of Utrecht their home. Utrecht is a BIG city, and the fourth largest in Holland behind Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague (Den Haag).
Nearly two percent of its inhabitants are expats, including many international students and staffers working at Utrecht University, which was founded in 1636. Unlike Amsterdam, which is mainly corporate, the university brings the majority of expats to Utrecht … and the reason the expat network in the city is very well established.
Utrecht U. is one of largest in the Netherlands and consistently ranks as one of the best, along with the University of Amsterdam.
In 2011 Utrecht was named Holland’s “most vibrant city,” and it ranks high as a place for families, with an exceptional quality of life. It has one of the most gorgeous city centers you will come across in The Netherlands. And it is only a twenty-minute train ride from the capital Amsterdam. What’s not to like about Utrecht?
Okay, it’s a busy, crowded European city. About 170,000 people transit through giant, brand new, state-of-the-arts central train station (in video), which comes with its own mall. But you can find quieter towns within commuting distance including Zeist.
With its large number of internationals, Utrecht is set up for expats. The municipality of Utrecht has its own Expat Center. They call it “a one-stop shop for international people living in Utrecht.” Let’s translate that to normal language.
At the center located at Stadsplateau 1, expats can get briefed up on government formalities and practical information upon arrival. The men and women of the Expat Center also help with expats negotiating such Dutch bureaucracies as a residence permit and registration at the municipality. It is essential as the first stop after your arrival as an expat.
All major Dutch cities have some sort of expat center. But this is one of the better ones. For our English expats, they even address Brexit and its potential ramifications, even though the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union appears unlikely to be complete until 2020.
Buying a house in Utrecht instead of settling in Amsterdam will save you serious money. On average, it will save you around 60,000 euros, reports the CBS, the Dutch Bureau of Statistics. Central Amsterdam is that expensive.
There are many real estate firms assisting expats on their housing quests. This can be, to be honest, rather difficult for people who like living in city centers. If you can’t afford living in the central city, which comes at a premium across Europe, expansion projects such as the Leidsche Rijn neighborhood in west Utrecht, or the suburb of IJsselstein offer great options.
Utrecht has an international school, of course.
Children can follow international courses at the International School Utrecht. But there is more to it than only education. At the ISUtrecht Parent Support Group new families get all the information they need whilst already meeting other parents at the school.
But if you really want to get to know the expats of Utrecht and learn about their experiences, subscribe to the Facebook group Expats In Utrecht.
As we said, Utrecht is a beautiful city … easily one of the most beautiful not just in Netherlands, but in Europe as a whole. It has everything Amsterdam has – a fabulous old city with canals, great restaurants, shops and museums – except the tourist hordes.
Utrecht will be home to the world’s largest bicycle parking station, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018. It will be a three-floor building located near Central Railway Station, capable of holding 12,500 bicycles.
Look for a Dispatches travel post soon. But our point is, if you’re lucky to find yourself headed to Utrecht, trust us … you must have some seriously good Karma.
About the author: Jessy de Cooker is a journalist based in Tilburg, Netherlands who covers music and politics.