Moving to Utrecht
With nearly 200 nationalities living in this medieval city, Utrecht is quickly becoming one of The Netherlands’ international centers of education, research, business, and culture. Expats relocating to Utrecht will find a rapidly expanding cosmopolitan city and an excellent place to raise children, study, or work.
The fourth most populated city in The Netherlands, Utrecht’s population tops 330,000, with almost a quarter of these residents being students at the city’s four large universities. There are also plenty of primary and secondary schools, as well as readily available public transportation and a constantly growing infrastructure of amenities, making it a highly popular choice for families and professionals alike who are looking to relocate.
Utrecht tends to be mild and damp; even the driest months see quite a bit of rainfall. As in much of The Netherlands, temperature extremes are the exception. It can dip below freezing in the winter, but this is not the norm, while summertime high temperatures average around 21 degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit). This will be a welcome change for many expats moving from locales with unpleasantly hot summers!
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The Job Market
Utrecht’s location in the heart of the Netherlands lends itself to highly beneficial national and international connections. With key industries such as IT, Life Sciences, and Gaming as well as companies such as Oracle, Nintendo, Sybase, and Yokogawa, Utrecht truly has something for everyone.
Among the four major cities in The Netherlands—Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht—Utrecht has the lowest unemployment rates and the most job opportunities, although unemployment in The Netherlands on average is shrinking in 2015 compared with a year ago. Expats with the right experience will be able to find jobs, especially those who speak English. However, a working knowledge of Dutch and/or other languages will only improve your prospects.
The cost of living in Utrecht is similar to that of other locations in The Netherlands’ major cities.You may expect to pay for a meal out anywhere from 15€ to 60€. Single beers in restaurants run about 4€ each. 3€ will easily get you a cappuccino, a soda, or a bottle of water. Grocery costs naturally run a bit lower, with a liter of milk costing about 0.85€, a loaf of fresh bread costing about 1.27€, and 1kg of oranges costing around 2.20€.
On average, residents in 85m apartments pay around 200€ per month on utilities, which include electricity, heat, water, and garbage service. A typical 6 mbps Internet connection with unlimited data costs around 21€ per month.
Utrecht residents who want to live close to the city center can expect to pay about 929€ per month for a one-bedroom apartment or about 1560€ per month for a three bedroom. Those who prefer or are willing to live farther out, away from the city center, will find lower rents; a one-bedroom apartment in these areas will typically run about 800€ per month with rent on a three-bedroom in the same area costing around 1090€ per month.
Utrecht is experiencing the most rapid rate of development it has ever seen. International companies and expats are commonplace here, partially due to the fact that Utrecht boasts the country’s best-educated workforce and nearly the best standard of living. However, house-hunting can be a chore.
The city is in the process of expanding, but the historic city center will likely remain untouched and therefore the highest number of residents will continue to live in apartments. More people own than rent (60 percent), but more of those homes are apartments or high-density family housing than detached single-family houses. If you are new to the area or are planning to stay for only a few years or less, renting is probably the best option. But if you want to buy, act fast—housing prices in the area are rising after recently bottoming out, as are the number of homes being sold.
Expats will find Utrecht very welcoming and accommodating; in fact, the municipality even provides information in English for those looking to move to the area.
- Family-Friendly: Ijisselstei is a popular suburb with convenient train connections to Utrecht. This is a good option for nature lovers complete with scenic bike trails. De Vechtstreek is also popular with young families as well as retirees with its proximity to the Loosdrechtse Plassen lakes.
- Hip & Trendy: Those desiring unique architecture, trendy shops, world class festivals, a variety of museums to explore, and a bustling area small enough to discover on foot or by bike will enjoy living in the city center. You won’t even need a car here—in fact, you’re likely to find driving one in this area rather difficult.
- Up & Coming: Leidsche Rij, with 30,000 homes and newly constructed space for businesses is the largest new development in The Netherlands. This area is being created with a focus on sustainability, drawing those who value environmental friendliness. Leidsche Rij will also contain a new hospital, shopping areas, schools, churches, a train station, and more.
Schools and Education
Utrecht is globally recognized for its world class research institutes and universities. There are several large universities in the area, including Utrecht University, the largest university in The Netherlands and one of the top ranked schools in the world. Two other large institutions in Utrecht include the HKU Utrecht Achool of the Arts and Hogeschool Utrecht, a vocational university. In this city you can also find schools such as the smaller University of Humanistic Studied which, with its 400 enrolled students, shows the wide variety of options Utrecht residents enjoy when it comes to education.
There are also many excellent primary and secondary schools in Utrecht, including international options. Parents here have the freedom of choosing among various philosophies and religions, which is typical within the Dutch school system. Expats living here will find a range of schools offering high quality learning environments for students of many different nationalities.
Ranking against the World
Where Amsterdam is full of tourists and very accommodating to English speakers, Utrecht tends to offer a more authentic Dutch experience. There are more Dutch people living in Utrecht than those from outside the country—but since plenty of Dutch people speak English, and because the number of expats living here is not insignificant, an English speaker can get along just fine. The rapid expansion of the city, the large universities, and the influx of international companies all make it a little easier for qualified expats to find work.
In addition, there are several communities popular with expats, such as Ijisselstei, Leidsche Rij, De Vechstreek, and Nieuwegein, offering everything from ultramodern buildings to traditional Dutch architecture. And almost everything here is slightly less expensive than in the more tourist-heavy Amsterdam. In fact, those wishing to purchase their own apartments in the city center can do so in Utrecht for about half of what the same will cost them in Amsterdam. The cost of living is higher in Utrecht, however, than it is in many other cities in The Netherlands such as Rotterdam.
A Day in the Life
Utrecht residents enjoy close proximity to not only big city amenities but also to the lush Dutch countryside. Even those living nearby can take advantage of Utrecht’s attractions easily by taking a train into the city (and even those living in the city often opt for the train rather than driving their cars into the city center, an activity not recommended by locals!).
When you take the train into Utrecht, you’ll arrive in the country’s largest shopping mall. But the medieval center of Utrecht is full of more authentic delights, including its unusual sunken canals and cellar bars. (By the way, if you’d like to take a trip into Amsterdam for the day, it’s a mere 25 minutes by train.)
If an enormous shopping mall isn’t enough to keep you happy for hours, rent a bike and explore the streets of Utrecht from the beautiful 1930s houses in Wilhelminapark, where students commonly flock to picnic or just read in the grass, to the rich Dutch history and art preserved within the museum quarter. There are also two theatres and various festivals throughout the year celebrating all forms of artistic expression. Or catch the Utrecht Early Music Festival beginning around late August—but any time of year you can catch a variety of musical performances at Utrecht’s numerous venues.
If sports is more your thing, Utrecht offers a range of modern facilities. Spend a day rowing on the Oudegracht or take in the Jaarbeurs Marathon, the Classico Giro bicycle race, or another of the many sports events held regularly in the city.
Before you head home, stop into Café Olivier for a bite to eat and a beer or two. Located in an old church building and always packed, Café Olivier is a hugely popular dining option known for its huge selection of beers and delicious menu items such as salad with goat cheese, ham on the bone, and Grandpa’s Stew and Roasted Chicken. Or check out one of the city’s many other bars and restaurants to end your day in comfort and style.