Life in Amsterdam for Alison

I am constantly inspired by those who lead a life less commonly walked – whether it’s a change in career, starting a new random hobby or choosing to live in a weird and wonderfully different country! I recently visited my good friend Alison McGarry, who has spent the last two and a half years working and living in Amsterdam. I loved hearing all her stories and getting a peek of what it’s like to be a local in the land of bikes, fries and mayo, 4-day working weeks and laughable customer service.  Read on to hear Alison’s take on this place.

What made you want to move here?

I wanted to live in Europe and it was easy to get a visa here (for my partner, Marni). There’s a working holiday scheme that gave us a year to get settled and then apply for a longer residence permit. Also because English is so widely spoken it was a more viable option that other European cities.

What do you do for work in Amsterdam?

I’m a copywriter and web editor for a communications agency called EdenFrost.

Was it difficult to find a job as an expat here?

In some ways, yes! Arriving at the start of the summer meant that a lot of people were on holiday and companies would get back to me after weeks or months. Something I didn’t anticipate, though it makes complete sense, was that customer-facing jobs will only accept Dutch speakers. So even though I was also applying for temporary positions in retail etc in the beginning, I only heard back about copywriting roles that I assumed would be more difficult to land.

Can you tell me a bit about the hiring process? Visas etc?

I have a British passport thanks to my Scottish dad and that made things considerably easier. There’s a bit of paperwork you have to get through, such as getting a BSN number (kind of like an IRD number), and that’s a bit of an ordeal! You have to show your original birth certificate and all kinds of proof of where you’re living. Once it’s done though you can work and open a bank account etc.

The hiring process for my current job involved a writing test assignment and then two interviews. And here I am!

You mentioned the work-life culture is quite different in Amsterdam vs NZ. Please enlighten us!

Work-life balance is a real thing here. I have so much respect for it. Most people only work four days a week (I have a long weekend every other week), everyone’s encouraged to take their holidays, and the culture doesn’t glorify working long hours unnecessarily. I’ve seen how it makes people happier and more productive.


What do you love most about living in Amsterdam?

I love that it’s really connected to the rest of Europe. For example, just a three-hour train ride to Paris or a 50-minute flight to London. It’s been ideal for my incessant city hopping!

I also love that the Netherlands is so open-minded and progressive when it comes to social issues. It’s one of the best countries in the world for LGBTQ rights. And you know you’re doing something right when the crime rate is so low you’re closing down prisons and re-purposing them to house refugees.

What are the challenges of living in Amsterdam?

It rains a lot. Customer service can be laughable or non-existent (you get used to it though). Opening a bank account was a bit of a nightmare too.

Do you speak any Dutch? Is it easy to live here without speaking the local language?

Not as much as I should. It’s very easy to get by without it because the Dutch speak English so well. I’ve picked up a bit and I can understand quite a bit of written Dutch, especially from working with Dutch texts in my job. Speaking is more of a struggle!

What are some activities/must-dos you would recommend in Amsterdam?

Hire a boat (you don’t need a boat license) and it’s a nice alternative to the commercial canal tours. The Van Gogh Museum is amazing, and if you’re here in spring, you’ve got to go to the tulip fields.

What does a typical weekend in Amsterdam look like for you?

I’m all about being busy through the week and recharging at the weekend. It usually involves some combination of brunch, markets, shopping and meeting friends for drinks somewhere sunny. There are always a lot of great film festivals and exhibitions going on too. My company writes the Amsterdam Weekend Guide if you ever need inspiration!

Share your favourite spots for food, drinks, cafés, markets in Amsterdam

Too many! Mossel & Gin when I’m craving seafood, Hoed & Krelis is a new favourite, Staring at Jacob or Dignita for brunch, Wester Wijnfabriek or Wijnbar de Boelen for curling up with a really good glass of wine. And Hendrix is our neighbourhood local.