Amsterdam is a city with many different reputations.
For some, it is the “Venice of the North”, symbolized by the elegance of narrow canal houses and interlocking waterways. For others, the Red Light District and cannabis-peddling coffee shops capture a unique laissez-faire, fun-loving approach to life.
It is known for its culture and history, and its many famous residents – from Anne Frank to Rembrandt van Rijn. It is the capital city of the Netherlands and is as such the engine of a small country punching well above its weight in the world.
All this taken together has made Amsterdam one of the most popular destinations in Europe – and not just for tourists. The city is a big draw for expats looking for work, attracting thousands of new residents per year, and is famed for its culture, quality of life and economic opportunities.
Amsterdam is a global city and, thanks to the presence of a multitude of multinational companies and the widespread use of English, is the perfect place for a new graduate to start their career.
Here are 5 reasons to make Amsterdam your next port of call.
1) Open for business
The Dutch have a long and successful history of trading with the rest of the world.
As a small, flat nation bordering the North Sea, the Netherlands has always survived off the back of its international trade routes. Since bursting on to the scene in the 17th-century, the Dutch have never looked back, and were founding members of the European Union.
Today the Dutch economy has particularly strong links with Germany, Belgium, China, France and the United Kingdom.
Amsterdam is home to a large number of multinational companies – Royal Dutch Shell, ING, Unilever and Philips are among the biggest – and hosts offices for some of the fastest-growing global firms, such as Uber, Netflix and Tesla.
The importance of economic links to the outside world has boosted the appeal of English, the lingua franca of international business.
Many workplaces in the city use English, and a majority of the cities residents speak it as a second language, meaning one can get by without necessarily learning Dutch.
2) High energy
Aside from being the home of Royal Dutch Shell – once the world’s largest company – the Dutch energy sector is one of the most innovative and important in Europe.
With significant North Sea natural gas deposits, Holland was until recently a major exporter of LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) to the rest of Europe. Though gas production has declined in recent years, it has helped to support the growth of related sectors, such as chemicals and engineering firms.
Renewable energy hopes to pick up where the gas industry has left off, and Holland is leading Europe in Research and Development for renewable energy, especially in wind.
As a result, Amsterdam boasts many opportunities for engineers, chemists and other technical professions, and has strong service (and manufacturing) firms not just in the energy sector but also in agriculture, construction and electronics.
Amsterdam has long been a centre of innovation and a hub of expertise and has today an advanced economy sharing knowledge with the rest of the world.
3) Market innovation
The Dutch have made a big impression on the history of finance. Not only was the stock market pioneered in Amsterdam – where stocks in the Dutch East India Company were traded in the world’s first purpose-built stock exchange – but they also gave us Tulipmania, the original and most spectacular example of an economic ‘bubble’.
Predictably after such a strong start, the financial sector is still significant in Amsterdam. Here the multinational ING Group is the biggest player, though banks from all over Europe and beyond have a presence in the city. Aegon, a multinational insurance, pensions and asset management firm also calls Amsterdam home.
As a notoriously open-minded city with a history of innovation, it will come as no surprise to learn that Amsterdam’s startup scene is one of the liveliest in Europe.
Fintech and agrifood companies, in particular, have attracted a lot of investment in recent years, creating tens of thousands of jobs. There are over 500 international tech companies operating in Amsterdam, employing around 35,000 people.
Amsterdam has a firmly established tradition of dynamism and innovation, and that is hardly likely to change in our globalized, connected age.
4) Golden heritage
Culture is big business in Holland’s capital city.
The extraordinary artistic output of the Dutch Golden Age, which coincided with Amsterdam’s rise to commercial prominence in the 17th century, still fascinates and entices.
Over 20 million people visited Amsterdam in 2017 – a city with less than a million inhabitants – and it’s world-famous museums and historic architecture are among the major draws.
Though complaints of ‘overtourism’ have recently resulted in a raft of measures to help deal with this glut of interlopers – including a “tourist tax” raised through Airbnb – Amsterdam’s cultural and artistic heritage is also fuelling its creative economy.
Over 200,000 people work in the creative industries in Amsterdam, most notably in fashion, gaming and the media and advertising industries. The city’s international links have certainly helped develop and sustain this sector – as they have done for centuries.
5) More than canals and coffee shops
A city so renowned for attracting visitors and migrants must be doing something right.
In fact, most people think Amsterdam is doing a lot right.
Holland is consistently ranked as one of the happiest nations, and its capital city boasts easy-living, impressive history and culture at every turn, and has an elegant, walkable inner city offering everything you could wish for and more.
Beyond the stereotypical vision of Amsterdam as a party city, expats are flocking there thanks to excellent work opportunities and high quality of life.
If anything, Amsterdam’s success is its only weakness. With an expanding population, the only challenge for newcomers is finding affordable housing, as migration and pressures from tourism have pushed property prices up.
Amsterdam has been a global entrepot and a magnet for migrants for hundreds of years, and will, on present form, continue this tradition for a good while yet.