Monday, August 8, 2011

What's a fair salary in Amsterdam?

People constantly ask me about what a fair salary is in Amsterdam, but if I give a number, it's going to misleading. I've tried to explain the foreign cost of living before, but this is an update specifically aimed at nailing down a couple of points I should have covered better.

Here's what generally happens to the inexperienced expat:

1. They calculate the exchange rate and either drool or cry at the expected salary.
2. They might consult a cost-of-living calculator.

First, you have to remember that the exchange rate only matters when you're exchanging money. Got that? If you're on holiday from Thailand to France, converting Thai bhat to Euros is important. If you're moving from Thailand to France, it's not as important any more unless you regularly send money back and forth or are using this to build a nest egg and return home. Then the exchange rate is important. If you're not exchanging, forget it!

Second, the cost of living calculators are very dicey. Not only are they often out of date or rely on questionable assumptions, they may simply not apply to you. Again, consult my cost of living overseas post to get an idea of why they are dicey. Just one or two differences in your lifestyle can have a huge financial impact.

London, England
London is expensive.
Photo by TJ Morrison
What does this mean? Well, if you compare the cost of living between Boise, Idaho and London, UK, you see that London is twice as expensive as Boise. By Boise standards, London looks unaffordable. Except that London has roughly 32 times the population of Boise and obviously they can afford to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Even the fast food clerks can afford to live there. Do they have the same standard of living as in Boise? No way, but it's not that it's worse. It's different. It may not be for you. Who knows?

Boise and Foothills
Boise is not expensive
Photo by Boise Metro Chamber
You want to know how much you get paid here in the Netherlands? You can check out and that might give you some insight,  but you also have to remember that as a foreign knowledge worker, there's a good chance you'll get the 30% ruling which will mean that for an equal salary, you'll still earn more than a native Dutch worker.

More importantly, these are salaries that Dutch people live on and the Dutch are quite happy. If you do a naïve exchange rate calculation, it's useless unless your plans to move to Europe all involve "making a fortune". However, if your plans to move to Europe are for "better quality of life" and a comfortable living, then you'll be better prepared to accept that things here will be different, including salaries. How does five weeks holiday and dirt-cheap medical insurance translate? You'll have to decide that for yourself, but if you're coming over, you're probably doing it for reasons other than to strike a fortune.

So what do you? Study their market and learn what the locals make. Once you do that, you can know what a "fair" salary is and leave behind your expectations of what you think you should be earning.


  1. One of your better posts. Great points.

    I can only add the employer has a budget and you have a decision.

    They'll offer you something in their budget range. This something was determined by their experience in attracting and retaining employees.

    You have to decide if it works for you.

    It's not very complex.

  2. What about school? I have 4 kids that we homeschool currently. Does the Netherlands frown upon that?

  3. @ Robert: you might want to have a look at this website



  4. @Robert From what I know, for this most of Europe is really not the best place ...

    About the fair salary: I am still a student, but I always wonder about this (probably a conversation I would really dread), how to approach what you think you are worth, what you think you can expect etc. in terms of salary. Do you have any general advice on that?

  5. @step21: as a student, presumably with little to no work experience, if you're offered a job at all, you'll probably be offered the bare minimum of pay unless you have some absolutely outstanding qualifications. There's not much more I can really say. It also depends on your field and the employment market for said field. I'm knowledgeable about general expat issues, but when it comes down to specifics for given industries, it's harder to say.

    Also, if you're a student who wants to be an expat and you've not gone to school in your target country, it can be difficult to find an employer willing to sponsor a work permit. Again, it depends on the employment market in your field.

  6. @Ovid: Well of course coming straight from university would be a factor, but this was also meant in a general way (I'm still studying for a while and not looking for a job) I just meant that even if you assume 'minimal pay' because of lack of experience, you still would have to find a number based on country, field, etc. Field can be especially difficult I think because in some cases it is not always clear what your field actually is.
    About being an expat: Not sure in how far I qualify, because I am a EU national and thus (it being very likely that I stay in Europe) a work permit is not an issue. I am however exercising my free movement right by studying abroad 8but within Europe) so I can kind of relate to expat stuff.

  7. The cost of private, English languge school for my daughter was one big reason we didn't accept a job offer in Amsterdam. I have no problems with public schools, but we didn't think it would be fair to put an 8 yr old into a school where she didn't speak the language.

    @Robert I could be confusing the Netherlands with Germany, but I don't think home schooling is allowed.

  8. Well normal salary for starters is around 2200euro.
    I just got back from Amsterdam describing my experiences in three words: I loved it.
    Found myself a very nice place to through Amsterdam Holiday Apartments
    . They had a nice clean canal house where'd stayed,thinking about to life here aswell.

  9. I have a job question...

    I got my BA 2 years ago - major fine art painting.
    I do basic web design.
    And have done professional photography 15+ years.
    I have an early childhood development permit from california.
    And I have a CTESOL certificate for teaching english as a second language.

    Do you think there's any chance of me getting some type of teaching job in the Netherlands?

    Or is it possible to do freelance graphic design in the Netherlands?

  10. Hi Anonymous,

    You might want to check out the Dutch American Friendship Treay. That could let you freelance, but you need to create a business plan. Otherwise, you probably won't be able to freelance because you won't have a work permit.

    You can also check out to see if you can find a Dutch job in the teaching field. Unfortunately, I have no idea if you would actually qualify. The Undutchables Web site should also have teaching positions.

    In any event, start reading my work permit series to get a better understanding of what you would need to do to better your chances of getting out.