8 must-haves for students in Amsterdam
Here is a list of thngs that will make your life in Amsterdam easier:
1. The BSN number
BSN, or 'burgerservicenummer' is a citizen service number (social security number) and is unique for everyone living in The Netherlands. It is required for a lot of authoritative purposes. You'll need it to: open a bank account, start a job, claim the student benefits and register at any online government portal.
Your BSN will be provided to you when you register at the municipality (Gemeente) of your area. According to the recent changes in rules, to get a BSN, you'll have to first make an appointment at the city council you life in. You can do this by calling or visiting them. Make the appointment ASAP, because it usually gets very busy in the fall season due to students and expats coming from everywhere. I requested for an appointment on 28th of August and got it due on 17th October!
Once you get an appointment, go prepared with all your crucial documents (rental agreement + passport). When there, you'll get your BSN in a matter of minutes after they scan all your documents and put you in their system. Then, you've officially set your foot in the Netherlands. Welcome!
Note: if you are a VU student, you can register yourself for the council, at the university's campus during the Arrival Days.
2. Health Insurance Having a health insurance is mandatory for everyone living in The Netherlands. You may either go for the Dutch health insurance, or you may have private healthcare insurance from your country of origin. If you are an EU citizen, having an EU health insurance card is also sufficient. However, check beforehand what it covers - the financial services are pretty limited and differ greatly per insurance company and package you choose.
If you are a student, you can purchase student health insurances which are significantly less expensive. Some providers have a special Student Health Insurance which can cover you for around 15€ if you are an EU citizen, or 40€ if you aren't.
If you end up working and make more than 150 euros per month, you need a basic Dutch health insurance which can be a little heavy on your pocket. The majority of basic Dutch Health cares cost around 90€-100€ a month. But, if you go for a basic Dutch health insurance, you can apply for a Health Care Allowance at the Dutch tax office. If you do so, the government will provide you with a partly-waiver which covers a big chunk of your monthly insurance bill.
In our case, Vrije Universiteit (VU Amsterdam) made arrangements for students to apply for the health insurance straight away at the campus during the Arrival Days.
Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world. Owing to its flat terrain and the small city size and the fact that the streets have a special bicycle only track which is colored in red. This also makes cycling in the city safe by keeping it out of the other traffic.
Biking is always the fastest way to get somewhere in Amsterdam. The cyclists are given preference in crossings. There are proper bike parking places everywhere. Over 60% of the trips are made by bike in the inner city.
I was lucky enough to win a bike from an online lottery conducted by the University. However, getting a bike is very easy in Amsterdam. There are many Facebook groups where people sell their bikes for reasonable rates. Alternatively, bike shops are well spread throughout the city. There must surely be one within 2km from everywhere. You can read Elena's article in her 'what to expect when you're expating' series about biking for more tips.
Biking is your best bet to go somewhere in Amsterdam. It's good for your health and the environment. Other alternatives like Metro and Taxi are usually expensive. Biking is totally free of cost and is a good way of exploring the city. No wonder that there are more bicycles than residents in The Netherlands.
4. Maestro Bank Account
Amsterdam is quite advanced when it comes to money payment systems. Almost all the shops and stores have an option to pay by debit card. One of the first things you should do as a student in Amsterdam is open an account in a bank which is affiliated with Maestro. Why Maestro? Because some places don't accept MasterCard and Visa.
OV-Chipkaart is a public transport chipcard which is used for all public transport in The Netherlands. Whether it's the metro, tram, bus or train, this chipcard lets you get to your destination with just a simple tap. You can get the OV-Chipkaart by going to its website and apply for it, or find a Chipcard machine at a train station. If you apply online they will post the Chipkaart to your address. Crediting the Chipkaart is very easy: you can either do it online or at any metro station.
Having a personal OV Chipkaart also has other benefits. It can be used as an ID for example when you want to purchase alcohol from the supermarkets (you need to be 18 for this). The VU also offers the facility of lockers where you can access the lockers using your Chipkaart.
6. Umbrella The weather is mercurial in Amsterdam. You wake up to a bright sunny morning and within an hour, you might see grey clouds covering the city in rain and wind. I recall a day when it was so windy that the government had issued warning to people telling that the trains and metros weren't accessible. Still some people bravely ventured out to their workplaces in their bikes. That's one thing I love about the Dutch: no amount of rain or wind can stop them from going to their work, they are always determined and prepared for such things.
7. Apps Amsterdam offers some must have cell phone apps. These apps are things that you'll most likely use in your everyday life. 9292 is the ultimate travel planner for all public transport in the Netherlands. This app gives you the real time travel information and is very accurate.
Buienalarm is an app which is the most accurate to inform you about incoming rain. It studies the cloud patterns over your area to predict if it'll rain, if so, it'll nudge you a just before it happens to alarm you. Hence the name Buienalarm or Showers-alarm.
It's also a nice idea to have your bank app installed in your phone. I, for example, use ING and it's very convenient to do transfers using the app. In some cases where you forgot to carry your debit card, you can still pay using your cellphone.
8. A friend in Uilenstede
Uilenstede is the biggest student accommodation premises in all of Europe. It houses students, mostly international, expats and even some Dutch families. The good thing about Ulienstede is that there's always a party going on. And no matter who's party it is, somehow you'll manage to find a friend. This is why it is very important to have a friend in Uilenstede, who keeps you updated about all the student parties. It's a place where people from various nations and cultures live together. Uilenstede is an amazing place to meet fellow students and to develop your network. It's impossible to imagine being a student in Amsterdam and not spending a weekend in Uilenstede.