From Brazil to Amsterdam

What I’ve learned after eight months living in the Netherlands

In this beginning of 2015 I commemorated the eighth month of my arrival in Amsterdam. I was found by a Booking.com recruiter on May of the previous year, and after three interviews, 33 hours in airplanes and the usual bureaucracy, immigrated to the Netherlands with a permanent contract.

I had never thought that I would be living in Amsterdam. If you know me, you’re well aware where my heart is.

Now, eight months later, I already go everywhere on my bike¹, fell miserably by getting both wheels on a tram track, smoked tolerated pot², saw a day with 16 hours of sunlight, had a barbecue on Vondelpark, took a lot of incredibly beautiful pictures, went on a road trip to Munich and Cologne, learned to play Tennis Table, met incredible people — some even became friends –, et cetera.

Panorama view from my first apartment in Jordaan

The good

Amsterdam is beautiful. It is a huge metropolitan city, with small and very tight historically preserved buildings, it feels cozy with nearby services — the same market every 2 blocks — but still full of big brand stores, tourists and life everywhere.

I was biking to work when it hit me: I really lik living here. It was a good weather, I was cycling peacefully, the landscape was gorgeous. There’s nowhere else in the world that combines all of this.

The tricky

The biggest challenge for people that come from warmer areas is the winter. It’s cold, it rains, and there are 80 Km/h winds, sometimes all together, because fuck you.

Customer service is also a pain point for most people. Here it’s normal to spend a lot of money on a 0900 customer call, only to get a condescending “sorry, I cannot help you at all”.

And don’t expect to learn Dutch so quickly. Besides being very difficult, 90% of the Dutch population speak English, and they often respond in English if they see you trying to speak poor Dutch.

The learnings

I am an expat, and expats are everywhere. The Dutch government is very open to accepting foreign people to live here. And this is partially explained by the shortage of IT workers in the country. There are a lot of expat specialized services, from the migration process to buying a house. And you get a ton of books and brochures to ease the transitions.

Everything can be very cheap or very expensive, for instance a good beer bottle costs around € 0,80 on the supermarket, but the rent of a small one bedroom apartment can be as high as € 1500. Overall that’s the only higher-than-normal expense, the rest is very reasonable.

Forget converting currencies because you’ll get insane. My Brazilian friends say “quem converte não se diverte”, something like “people that convert have no fun at all”, and that is true. It doesn’t make sense going back to your own country’s currency and comparing what you once spent there and here, you have to balance the absolute numbers, from your salary to your budget. And in the end you’ll see that things are surprisingly fair.

The city is not a mess of drunk and disorderly people. Although there are a lot of tourists, specially on the weekends, and drugs are tolerated², everything runs like clockwork. The city is constantly cleaned, public transportation is rarely crowded, and you rarely smell marijuana. The biggest mess happens on new years.

And people go crazy on new years. Seriously, it is the only period that fireworks are allowed, so people go nuts! I’ve seen them throwing firecrackers from apartment windows directly into walking people on the streets, lighting boxes of big explosives and watching very closely, kicking bottles with rockets that someone else left, making it fly into the crows at the Dam. It is terrifying and awesome at the same time.

Dutch people are born in their bicycles. Of course I’m kidding, but there’s no weather that can hold them back. They’ll be riding in heavy rain on a windy cold day, with an umbrella in a hand and a phone in the other. And they are above everything, if you’re a pedestrian, you’ll be screamed at for being in the way. And it helps a lot that the city is completely levelled. The biggest hills we have to cycle are some canal bridges, and the highest places in the country are actually shared with Belgium and Germany.

Parks. Parks everywhere. There are about 30 parks in Amsterdam, together with squares, a myriad of museums, night clubs and pubs, you’ll find something to do every time of the day.

It’s a great place for your children. Most of the Brazilians that moved here are married with young children, and it’s amazing how much their kids can learn, and how much the government is involved. From free health care and constant care monitoring, to the fact they’ll learn at least three languages (Dutch, English and their native), it is certainly a very good boilerplate for a world citizen.

And so much more

It’s impossible to resume everything in a post, it would be a book, and I bet many people already wrote one.

Ping me on Twitter or Facebook if you have suggestions for a complimentary post to this one.

And I can really vouch for Booking.com for recruiting and helping people move here. If you’re interested in working here, they have a lot of openings from frond end and back end developers, to data scientists, UX designers, and many other.

¹ Of course if the temperature is above 10˚C, and within a certain range.

² Nothing is really legal in the Netherlands, just tolerated.