Homeless International Students: A trip through the housing jungle in Amsterdam

Poor supply overwhelmed by demand, scams, months of hostels and friends’ sofas. This is the life for international students in the Netherlands

Translated from the original Italian article by Caterina Cerio

“Looking for a room or a miracle” – This is one of the many exasperated comments crowding the Facebook groups’ message boards reserved for those looking for a house in Amsterdam. The scarce supply is overwhelmed daily by the flooding demand and what we see on social media is a silent battle to the death to win a few square meters of space to live.

And the chronic shortage is democratic – affecting both the Dutch and foreigners alike – though in reality the latter are the ones who suffer most from it: far from home, often for a short time, the internationals can only rely on faith (or fate).

The situation is dramatic to the point of having attracted the attention of the Volkskrant and Folia Daily – the University of Amsterdam magazine which in October published horror stories of freshmen forced to live in campsites or cars in the hopes of finding “the perfect flatmate.” Hoping in the Dutch housing jungle is no longer enough: for a job search, it is fundamental to “sell yourself.” To increase the chances of finding the longed-for roof in Amsterdam, it has also become necessary to focus on self-marketing.

Searching early is not enough

Some say it is enough to move in time, but in November a 24-year-old Portuguese student still had no accommodation.

After 8 months of unsuccessful hunting, at the beginning of the academic year there was still the fear of having to face daily commitments while living in the dormitory of a hostel or on the couch of some luckier friend: “For months I contacted home owners on Facebook and sites for a fee, but it’s useless,” says Ana to 31mag. “I’m already working as a trainee at Heineken Experience, and luckily a colleague is kindly hosting me, but this may last a little longer. I try to be positive, but the situation is really difficult.

Even Sara, a Spaniard, had begun researching a house well in advance, saying “When I was still in Tarragona, I realized that the situation would be complex. I booked a hostel for a week in the center of Amsterdam, but when I arrived the situation was worse than I thought,” says the 21-year-old trainee at a primary school in the city.

“After the umpteenth night in the hostel and the umpteenth negative response to my emails and messages sent home owners, I said to myself: if in a few days the situation persists, I will return home and cancel my internship.” Shortly before throwing in the towel, Sara has finally found accommodation. But she lives in a home with a Dutch family where, she says, she pays a lot and is forced to ride an hour by bike to the school where she works.

And who made this dramatic situation a business

This chronic situation has ended up feeding a hateful black market that gains from trainees, workers, and students looking for accommodation in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam.

Clara and Beatrice, respectively Spanish and Italian Erasmus students at the University of Amsterdam, were victims of the same scammer who extorted from Clara €400 and Beatrice €900.

“In Barcelona, ​​which is a very popular destination, the rooms in a shared apartment cost from 300 to 400 euros, the prices here are crazy. As if that weren’t enough, I trusted a written contract, I was scammed and robbed,” says Clara, “I wanted to stay a whole year, but that being the case it doesn’t seem possible.”

“We realized we had been deceived a week before the start of university courses because the girl with whom we had signed the contract was on the list of Amsterdam scammers. We came to know by chance from a guy who warned us on social media. We were astonished,” says Beatrice.

Is the problem limited to Amsterdam foreigners?

Is the jungle of scams limited to Amsterdam and only concerned with foreigners? According to Mitch, a Dutch student of Business in Utrecht, “In Amsterdam it is easy only for resident students to find a home, it is complicated for all the other non-resident Dutch. But it is also true that we can count on family members, acquaintances or friendships that allow us to…find stable accommodation,” he tells 31mag. And he admits: “If it’s difficult for us Dutch, it will be a big deal for foreigners and the problem for them is not only the capital but also the other university cities.”

In fact, a student at Leiden Law School, Francesca, says finding an available room in Leiden was complicated. “Now that I have started university, I understand that the Dutch can benefit from a network of knowledge or brotherhoods of which they are a part and often they do not realize how difficult it is for us foreigners to live here.”

Before finding accommodation, Francesca waited and looked for a home, staying in the hostel for weeks even though Leiden is much smaller than Amsterdam. She adds, “Most of the homeowners rent unfurnished rooms, so the student must also take care of the expense of the furniture.”

Is the university watching?

We have contacted the University of Amsterdam, the University of Utrecht, and the University in Leiden several times but in all three cases – despite repeated requests – the international offices have preferred not to comment on the matter.

While universities cannot be held directly responsible for the lack of housing in the Netherlands, Dutch universities invest heavily in foreign students and researchers, attracted by the promises of excellent education at affordable prices…without a warning about the risk of living without a roof over your head.


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