Welcome to Expat Tales where you get to meet some of the many interesting expats living around the world, and hear their top tips for life as an expat. This edition you’ll meet Lesia Joukova, a Russian living in Amsterdam. I loved this interview – Lesia has so many great tips for moving abroad!
Name: Lesia Joukova
Originally from: St. Petersburg, Russia
Now living in: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
What brought you to Amsterdam?
I moved to Amsterdam to live with my boyfriend after I finished my university degree. Before the move I’d been visiting the Netherlands quite often, every 3 months, so I knew a little about the country before moving abroad.
Is this your first expat experience?
When I was 7 years old, my family moved to Israel from Russia. That was my first expat experience but I can confidently say that moving during adulthood presents a lot of unique challenges, so it’s not the same at all!
What do you do for a living?
I am working part-time as a sales support representative and for the rest of the time I am growing my travel website into a full-fledged business.
How easy is it to live in Amsterdam? Is it easy to get a visa to live in the Netherlands?
Living in Amsterdam is quite easy, especially if you’re in command of several European languages. Speaking Dutch is a great advantage, however French, Spanish and German speakers will also have an easier time finding a job compared to those who only speak English. If you are a specialised professional, you may get a lot of job opportunities. For example, the IT industry is very well developed in Amsterdam so many English speakers move to Amsterdam for work.
The city is very hospitable to English speakers because most Dutchies speak English really well. The main challenge would be getting a residence permit, which you can get if you are invited by a company to work in the Netherlands or if you are moving in with your partner or coming to study.
As far as I know, students get a 1-year extension after their studies are done to integrate into the job market, but that might be particularly tough if you do not speak Dutch and do not have experience yet. If you have an EU passport, finding work is relatively easy because you must have a residence permit to work in the Netherlands. Many companies will not hire people without a permit because obtaining it is too much of a hassle.
If your partner is based in the Netherlands, you can come stay with them and your residence permit will be dependent on your partner. Before that you will have to prove your relationship, fill in some forms and do a simple Dutch knowledge exam. You will eventually have to do an integration exam to get your residence permit extended (this is something I am busy with right now).
What’s the cost of living like in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is an expensive city. A meal out will cost you 15 euros at the very least. A movie ticket can be around 12 euros. Depending on where you live and work the travel expenses can vary; lots of people use bikes instead of public transport to get to work, unless they have to use the train. But those expenses are usually reimbursed by the employer.
Groceries are probably around 200-300 euros per month per person, depending on what you shop for and which stores you use.
Rent can easily be 1500 euros, and living in the city centre is very expensive. There is also a mandatory health insurance which costs a minimum of 100 euros per month. According to local rules, visiting your therapist is free but any additional checks up to 400 euros each year you have to pay on your own. After that the insurance kicks in and takes care of the rest.
What are your favorite spots in Amsterdam? Where do you always take visitors?
My favorite cafe that I take all my visiting friends to is Cafe Droog which is stealthily located in the city centre yet hidden away inside of a design store. They serve good food and the place has an interesting design.
I always like to pop into the American Book Center which is an English-only bookshop (and if you like book shopping, check out this list of English bookstores in Amsterdam). Right next to it you will find a little archway that will lead you to the hidden garden Begijnhof, a quirky corner filled with history that not many people know about.
Is there anything you don’t like about living in the Netherlands?
I don’t like the food culture in the Netherlands. It’s normal here to eat nothing but a simple sandwich for lunch and that is something I just can’t make my peace with. The variety of salads and recipes is also disappointing but there are many locals who love Surinam, Thai and other cuisines. Those are easy to find here. Aside from food, beauty salons are expensive and some basic services like a manicure can easily cost from 30 euros and more. You will have a hard time finding a quality specialist that you will like, so be prepared.
Any advice for anyone considering living in the Netherlands?
Do your research and make sure you have a support system in place. Moving to a foreign country will be very lonely until you build your own network. So go meet people as much as possible in meet-ups, language clubs, classes, basically anything. But also make sure that you are happy with the culture and like the vibe. Being a tourist and a local are two opposite experiences so you’ve got to be prepared that you won’t know how you’ll like it until you actually try it.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as an expat?
Make appointments in advance because somehow the dentist, the doctor, your friend, they will all be busy weeks in advance. Take advantage of the Museumkaart because it allows you free passage into almost every museum and that means that you can explore lots of different cities in the country. And don’t be lazy and not study the language: you will be rewarded for it by many new opportunities.
What’s the best thing about being an expat?
I think the best part of being an expat is finding a country that is not your own but living in it makes you feel like you fit in.
What do you miss most about home?
I miss the food, the spontaneity of Russian people and the way they live large. I miss my friends and my city, but when I walk through the streets of Amsterdam I feel at home and I wish I could have all of them walk through those streets with me and see why I love it so much.
Where can people find you?
You can follow my adventures in The Netherlands and beyond on my blog Dutch Wannabe. I also have bursts of activity during which I am posting to my Instagram so if you love beautiful travel snapshots, check that out!