Moving to Utrecht? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Utrecht is the fourth largest city in The Netherlands and is well known for its picturesque canals, terrace lined cafes and medieval styled buildings. In fact, it’s more affectionately known as the heart of The Netherlands with its aesthetic appeal, lively city centre and buzzing nightlife. Are you considering moving to Utrecht? That’s great news! Here is everything you’ll need to know when considering a move to Utrecht.

Why should you move to Utrecht?

When moving to The Netherlands, and more specifically, the quaint town of Utrecht – your first question is probably going to be… ‘Will I actually like it there…?!’ There are many factors to take into consideration but first and foremost, you should sit down and make a list of things that you’re really looking for… be it essentials and luxuries as well.

The great thing about Utrecht is its location. Utrecht is located smack in the middle of The Netherlands which means its close to bigger cities like Amsterdam and, more importantly… the airport. In fact, Utrecht is a 25 minute train ride into Amsterdam and a 30 direct minute train ride to Schiphol Airport. That makes its location perfect.

Aesthetically, the city is beautiful… as any Dutch city generally is. Lined with cobblestoned streets and old medieval style buildings, you’ll almost lose yourself in its beauty even if just on a short walk to the grocery store. What makes it different though from other Dutch cities is its terraces that sit alongside the canals. Most Dutch cities hold a steep drop between the sidewalk and canal lines but Utrecht on the other hand has a sub-street level where many cafes, bars and restaurants sit. This makes it perfect to grab a coffee alongside the water.

More than that, being a university town means that city itself is filled with expats. What a great way to meet different people! You’ll never be short on social outings!

aerial view of city buildings

How do you register with the municipality?

The first thing to do when arriving in Utrecht (or any Dutch city for that matter) is to register with the local municipality. This is important and should be one of the first things you and your family do as you won’t be able to apply for health insurance, sign any rental agreements, buy property or even get a phone plan without your BSN (Burgerservicenummer) Number. The BDN Number is a Personal Public Service Number that allows you to legally live in The Netherlands.

In fact, this can be done before you arrive in The Netherlands. As soon as you know your arrival date, start by booking an appointment at the local municipality. Be mindful that waiting times can sometimes be a few weeks long so try booking early.

Getting some health insurance

Once you’ve got your BSN Number, you’ll need to find health insurance. This is, of course provided that the student scholarship or job offer doesn’t already cover this. Health Insurance is compulsory in The Netherlands and costs on average around 100 euros per person, per month. Do some research and find the healthcare package that suits you. The great thing is that there are different healthcare providers, each with different plans depending on your budget and plan needs.

photo of bicycles near bridge at daytime

Should you live in Utrecht?

Utrecht is pretty small and with a population number of over 350 000, many people look at the cities outside of Utrecht as additional options. Great suburbs in the city centre include Oudegracht, Wittevrouwen and Oudwijk. All of these still have a great old city charm to it making it seem like you’re living in a fairy tale! Just outside of the city centre, try looking at Utrecht Zuid and Leidsche Rijn. Nearby cities include Amersfoort, Ijsselstein and Nieuwegein. These cities are close to Utrecht but offer much cheaper rentals. Many people ride into the city on bikes or trains so getting into and out of the city on a daily basis is pretty easy.

How much money should you save before moving?

The cost of living in Utrecht is pretty expensive so having a safety cushion or starter lump sum saved away will always help. Do a simple calculation / list of all the initial expenses you plan on spending, both before (while completing paper work and transporting your personal belongings) and after your arrival. Do some research on the estimated living costs as well because it will tell you how much you’re expecting to spend in that first month for simple living as well as relocation.

concrete buildings near a river

Finding a place to stay

When moving to any new city, you’ll need a place to stay (unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend or sibling let you crash at their apartment!) That being said, Utrecht is one of the most sought after cities in The Netherlands to live in, so finding available housing is pretty difficult. So start searching early. Decide if you’re looking to buy or rent and if you’ll need an entire house or just an apartment or student housing. Each has its own perks.

Buying a house in Utrecht is pretty expensive and you’re looking at paying in excess of at least 400 000 euros. The price does however drop in the more quieter neighbouring cities so consider those options as well. Most people look at working together with a real estate agent but there are some great online housing websites as well. Don’t rule out social media and reach out to any contacts or the univerity / company bringing you over. They usually will recommend a few companies you can contact.

For students, the university usually has a student housing organisation that can help. Students will have to register with the SSH. They own thousands of rooms all around Utrecht so this is the best way to find something suitable.

Finding a job

Finding a job in Utrecht can be a lot easier than other Dutch cities because many businesses have set up their headquarters in the area. Jobs in the services sector can be easily found – this includes financial services, life sciences and research industry as well as the transport and engineering sectors. That being said, its always better to try and secure a job before arriving in a new city. It’s one less hurdle to worry about.

If you’re a student at any of the nearby universities then you may be looking for a part-time job while completing your studies. This is possible in the hospitality and retail sector but try learning some Dutch as well – this definitely makes a difference in the job hunt.

photo of boats parked on river

Cost of living

Utrecht isn’t a particularly cheap city to live in. Numbeo is a great website that will give you an idea of what you can expect to pay per month. Below is a summarised cost of living for a family of four as well as if you’re just one person:

For a family of four, you’re looking at a monthly cost of approximateoly 3 100 euros

For a single person, you’re looking at an estimated monthyl cost of approximately 888 euros

Estimated rental costs are approximated below:

Rent Per Month
Apartment in the city centre (1 bedroom)1213 euros
Apartment outside of the city centre (1 bedroom)953 euros
Apartment in the city centre (3 bedrooms)2170 euros
Apartment outside of the city centre (3 bedrooms)1465 euros

Estimated purchase prices for apartments are approximated below:

Apartment Purchase Prices
To purchase an apartment in the city centre (price per square meter)4922 euros
To purchase an apartment outside of the city centre (price per square meter)3761 euros

Estimated monthly utilities

Basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, garbage)207 euros
Internet36 euros

Estimated eating out costs

Inexpensive meal16 euros
Three course meal for 2 people70 euros
A meal at McDonalds8 euros
Cappuccino3.20 euros
Beer (Domestic / Imported)5 euros
Coke / Water2.86 euros / 2.09 euros

Estimated transportation costs

One way ticket using local transport2.80 euros
monthly transportation pass90 euros
taxt (normal tariff at the start of the trip)7.00 euros
Taxi (normal tariff for every additional km)2.37 euros
gas per litre1.67 euros
purchasing a carbetween 24 000 – 35 000 euros

Getting around

Utrecht is a pretty small city and many locals either walk or bike around from day to day. There isn’t a metro or subway system within the city, and really, it’s not needed based on the city size. There are however buses and tram routes which are well connected.

Public transportation in The Netherlands relies on the OV-chipcard system/ These can be purchased after you arrive and at any train / bus station. Utrecht Centraal is where most trains, buses and trams stop. Like every other Dutch train station, there is also a parking facility for bikes. The easiest way to get around really is by biking, so that should be one of the first essentials you buy upon arrival. Biking can seem intimidating in The Netherlands but you’ll just have to give it a try. There are designated bike lanes. Just be mindful of the biking rules and you’ll be good.

amsterdam architecture bikes buildings

Saving money after moving to Utrecht

Saving money after moving to Utrecht is possible. You’ve just got to be smart about your spending habits and what you chose to put down as expenses versus what are just simple luxuries. Be mindful of the different grocery stores around as their prices will differ depending on the regular stores versus high end stores. It’s a simple comparison as we would do here in South Africa between Checkers, Pick n Pay and Woolworths. Common grocery stores include Lidl, Albert Heijn and Coop.

Try shopping at the weekly fresh produce markets. Alternatively try going to Lombok which is situated near central Utrecht. Lombok is a Turkish-Moroccan neighbourhood with tons of grocery stores and butchers at much cheaper prices.

Should you learn to speak Dutch?

It’s a common question when moving to any Dutch city really…. Should you learn to speak Dutch? Technically no. You don’t need to learn to speak Dutch to live in The Netherlands because everyone speaks English but it will make living and socialising easier. There are a variety of apps for beginners out there as well as language exchanges and language classes that you can sign up for after you arrive.

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I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

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