Last updated on July 21, 2023
Traveling Europe is a bucket list dream for many. College students save and strive for a European backpacking trip, art students flock to Florence, hikers to Switzerland, and wine-lovers to France. In my college days, the love of Italian food and culture lured me over with a study abroad. More than a decade later I still have lovely memories of zipping around Europe on the trains and rock-bottom budget airlines. Traveling is one thing, and living somewhere is another.
There’s no need for me to sell the appeal of living in Europe, it’s a gorgeous region of the world, and one that has—surprisingly—a number of areas with an affordable cost of living. While Spain and Portugal stand out as the most affordable places to live in Western Europe, Berlin and Amsterdam have both emerged as expat hotspots due to an affordable cost of living compared to other major cities in Europe.
The ALA Cost of Living guides most often take an in-depth look at a single city or country. And while Berlin and Amsterdam are in two separate countries, they’re two cities expat often consider simultaneously when looking at this region of Western Europe. Perhaps the toughest part of choosing where in Europe to live is also considering which countries offer expat visas and a fairly painless entry process for new arrivals.
If you have the privilege of moving abroad as a digital nomad, or retiring to Europe, both Berlin and Amsterdam have a lot to offer in terms of quality of life, culture, and accessibility. The cost of living is significantly higher than in places like Thailand or Mexico. And it’s a notch up from the cost of living in hotspots in Eastern Europe, but what you get in return is usually worth the added costs for those expats and digital nomads interested in basing from a large city in Europe.
Why Live in Berlin or Amsterdam?
It all comes down to quality of life and culture if you’re considering living in Western Europe. While I far prefer the climes in Spain and Portugal (I live in Barcelona), if you can handle cold winters, then Germany or the Netherlands are appealing options. Even more, however, is that living in the EU makes traveling Europe super easy.
So, even if you choose to live in Berlin, you could spend a month in the south of Spain, or jump on an affordable flight to Africa. For travel lovers and digital nomads, using Europe as a base often makes financial sense. Though Western Europe costs much more than living in Southeast Asia, flights around the region cost a lot less. And with Norwegian Air and low-cost carriers flying NYC to London, North Americans can now fly home affordably too.
As far as the cities themselves, they each have their own compelling charms. Berlin is quirky, artsy, and interesting. Amsterdam is healthy, gorgeous, and creative. Both cities have a similar cost of living, but it’s the quality of life that expats should consider first when choosing between the two. There’s a huge expat community of creatives in Berlin, which is fantastic for those looking for an easy transition. But most Dutch people speak fluent English, which breaks down the barriers between expats and locals for those picking Amsterdam.
In the next section we’ll take a closer look at how the cost of living and quality of life compare in these two unique European cities.
Fast Facts About Living in Berlin & Amsterdam
Cost of Living Range
Baseline costs to live in either cities ranges from $1,200 to $2,800 per month
Euro; pegged roughly 1:1.10 with the US dollar (EUR rate here)
What is the expat community like in Berlin and Amsterdam?
The majority of expats in Berlin and Amsterdam are between the ages of 20 to 40, however there are retirees as well as families in both cities. Art and culture play a big role in the everyday life of Berlin, as well as Amsterdam. Both cities have a strong café culture, and good wifi. There is a blogger and digital nomad contingent in Berlin, but you can surely find your way outside of it too. More than digital nomads, you’ll find a range of artists, writers, and creatives in Berlin. Amsterdam is filled with a range of people from all walks of life, but has a small blogger contingent than Berlin. The fact that English is so widely spoken in the Netherlands makes the expat scene only one small portion of the potential friends and community in Amsterdam.
Average Local Salary
In Germany, the average monthly salary is roughly €4,000, but that is far over the minimum wage in Germany, which rose in 2022 and sits at €12 per hour.
In the Netherlands, the minimum monthly salary is €1,934 gross monthly, with a roughly €11 minimum wage—the Dutch government adjusts the minimum wage twice a year, and those under 21 make less than that. And note that the average wage is double the minimum in Amsterdam.
Are Berlin and Amsterdam safe?
Like any big city, there can be issues with crime. The latest buzz in Germany centers on the refugee situation and how that is affecting the culture and safety. It’s too polarized to have a firm grasp on the implications. These are pretty safe cities overall though, so you’re looking at basic safety precautions: Don’t walk home solo late at night, keep your valuables close, and lock up all parts of your bicycle tightly if locking it up outside. I highly recommend that interested expats visit both cities to better understand the vibe and way of life.
How to secure visas to move to Germany or the Netherlands
Germany and the Netherlands are a part of the Schengen Agreement, which means North Americans (and many other nationalities) can visit both countries without a visa for three months in a six month period. Because of the number of expats in Berlin and around Germany, there is a good deal of information online. In Germany, it is possible to apply for a freelance or artist’s visa (more info here). Before you can apply for a freelance visa, you will need to apply for a residence visa — this is also a requirement for those who wish to retire in Germany. It’s a mass of paperwork, but re-upping once you’re past the first visa is arguably easier. In the Netherlands, it’s far more difficult to secure the freelancer or startup visa and they have stringent policies in place.
Possible issues when moving abroad
For non-Europeans, the hardest part is often securing the visa. You’ll need to jump through hoops like translating documents and securing personal health insurance. You’ll also pay high taxes on income in both countries. Other than that, both cities have vibrant cultures, interesting nuances, and a lot to offer expats, digital nomads, retirees.
The Netherlands has a very child-friendly culture and a lot of life is lived outdoors. Many families use modified bicycles to navigate the Amsterdam. It’s common to see families at the city’s parks, navigating the farmer’s markets, and generally enjoying life.
Berlin winters can be grim, but, like the Netherlands, the city comes alive with outdoor activities in the summer months. Both cities have international schools and local options too.
Both Berlin and Amsterdam are pet-friendly cities and it’s easy to navigate the outdoor café culture with dogs in tow.
Quality of Life in Germany
A mecca for students, artists and musicians, Berlin is also favored by entrepreneurs, bloggers, digital nomads, and freelancers. So many choose Berlin thanks, in part, to Germany’s accessible freelance visa. But it’s also for the quirky, irreverent, youthful vibe that bursts with art and culture.
What’s it like living in Berlin?
A mecca for students, artists and musicians, Berlin is also a highly favorable place for entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and freelancers. All these various expats choose Berlin thanks, in part, to Germany’s generous freelancer visa. The city is overflowing with art and culture and has a young vibe. The café culture is strong and you can easily get around on public transportation. While there are some families and retirees in Berlin, the majority of expats and digital nomads are between the ages of 20 to 45. It’s the artist’s vibe that has so many expats choosing Berlin as their home. If you do a tourist search, you’ll see street art tours for nearly every neighborhood.
The language barrier is pretty doable in Berlin. Many Germans within the cities speak a decent amount of English, so in the early months of living there you can get by—but it’s recommended that you learn German if you plan to call Germany your long-term home (start learning right way if you hope to gain residency, since the language is challenging and proficiency is required).
German cuisine consists of meats like pork, beef, and chicken, and some fish. Vegetables are traditionally consumed in stews or soups, but are also served as a side dish. Root vegetables and cabbage are the most common. Germany doesn’t have a main national dish, as there are many regions within the country, and each region has its own specialty. Sausages are quite common; there are 1,500 varieties in Germany.
Traditional German cuisine may not be vegetarian or vegan friendly, but there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants to choose from in Berlin—Happy Cow lists more than 300 and is a great resource. If you’re celiac and require gluten-free food options in Berlin, you will not be disappointed. Both Yelp and Foursquare have gluten-free restaurant lists, and there are plenty of shops in Berlin selling gluten-free foods to cook at home. For expats who love street foods and cheap foods, the city has a range of options that come in at and under 5 Euros. It’s possible to eat out, drink, and have a good time on a budget that would be impossible in nearby France or in the U.K.
How Much to Live in Berlin?
All cost of living estimates on the right are adjusted to form a best-estimate on the budget for a single person in that city. The case-studies, however, include a range of expats from varying lifestyles and with varying requirements for their quality of life. With these large European cities, the price will come down to the neighborhoods you choose and the type of life you plan to lead. In both cities, you can lower your costs by cooking at home and taking public transport. The life you add above the basics, however, adds up quickly since you are, after all, living in Western Europe.
Also notable: taxes and insurance. Across Europe, income taxes are higher than back home, with fewer acceptable write-offs and with a lower threshold for what’s considered wealthy. Insurance is often based on income for the state system, here’s a bit more about that.
Cost of Living in Berlin: USD $1,600 – $3,200 per month
To get the rock bottom cost of living in Berlin, you need to factor in a flat-share or a studio outside the ring. Otherwise, a single person on a moderate budget can come in regularly under $2,000 USD as a baseline cost of living in Berlin.
|Rent (inside the ring)||$850 – $2500|
|Groceries + Restaurants||$400|
|Transportation (bike + light metro use)||$30|
|Internet + Phone||$60|
Berlin Costs: €1,450 – €2,900
Cheryl runs a site about living in Berlin and shares not only her own expenses to live on her own in the city, but also the results from a survey she ran of other expats in the city. Rent set her back €825 while living alone in a non-trendy area but a serviceable flat, but that cost rose a good clip when she moved to Mitte—her warm rent (including heating) for a two bedroom is now . As noted elsewhere, private health insurance for expats is not particularly cheap at ~€800 for freelancers (~€400 for those locally employed). Utilities are affordable in the city (under €100) and her food budget runs a mid-range €400 with €200 for eating out. Cheryl’s fixed, baseline expenses come in at €1,220 to live solo in Berlin—a figure that not includes her monthly health insurance at the employer subsidized rate of ~€400. When her variable expenses factored in, she’s hitting nearly €2K every month. In USD, you’re looking at topping $2,200 a month on her mid-range budget.
An Australian travel journalist and blogger living in Berlin, Rachel lived in Berlin with her partner for almost three years. Her cost of living came in at €1,357 on average per month back in 2016, which included an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg (a more expensive area in the city), a gym membership, health insurance and public transportation. She did not include a total of what was spent on food, but she does give an indication of how much the average meal for two would cost when ordering food and drinks. To update that for 2023, you’re looking at a roughly 30% higher baseline for that part of the city, given the past few years of inflation, which comes in around €1,800 without food included.
While legacy tenants can pay as little as €400 per month to rent an apartment outside of the ring in Berlin, that is mostly a relic of a bygone era for the city. The popularity and growth in Berlin means you should anticipate spending upwards of €700 per month for cold rent a nice place in a decent area of town, and €550+ to be outside the ring and commutable but not in a trendy area. You can spend far less if you’re willing to rent just a room in a flat with others, or if you’re supremely lucky and find a sublet from someone who is locked into a lower rent from years ago.
For transport costs in Berlin, you’re looking at an U-Bahn monthly pass costing between 58 and 80 Euro/month. This post has a good rundown of cost ranges for everything from internet to healthcare.
Quality of Life & Cost of Living in the Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a European hotspot for students and entrepreneurs. It’s a laid-back city with friendly locals, good food, and vibrant culture. To blend with the locals, you’ll need to a bike to navigate the city and plan on enjoying the city’s parks and cafes — this is a city that loves to live outdoors when the weather permits.
What’s it like living in Amsterdam?
Located quite close to Germany, Amsterdam is another European hotspot for students, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads. Amsterdam, in general, is a very laid back city with friendly locals, good food, and vibrant culture. To blend with the locals, you’ll need to a bike to navigate the city and use public transportation when your legs are not up to cycling. There is a strong cafe culture here too, and it’s a city that loves to live outdoors when the weather permits. This is also a great spot for startups. More than the uber-budget crowd, in Amsterdam you’ll find the coworking spaces filled with entrepreneurs and those on a mid-range budget working on their passion projects. And while there is a young crowd in Amsterdam, it is also perfect for families and retirees. The Dutch have a lovely focus on family, and children are welcomed and loved as a part of everyday life.
Unlike Germany, Dutch cuisine is heavy on vegetables and light on meat. Popular traditional food includes Stamppot (mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables like kale, carrots, or sauerkraut), Erwtensoep (thick pea soup), and Poffertjes (delicious tiny pancakes). Amsterdam (and the cities all over the country) offer a range of farmer’s markets with beautiful fruits and vegetables.
Being vegetarian or vegan in Amsterdam is quite easy, Happy Cow has a long list of restaurants to choose from, and dining in regular restaurants should not pose a problem as vegetables are an integral part of Dutch cuisine. When I housesat in Amsterdam, I also found the farmer’s markets delightful and enjoyed cooking with the range of beautiful fruit and veg on offer. Amsterdam is an easy city for those with celiac disease as most restaurants and cafes have gluten-free options—and are more than happy to tell you about them!
It also must be said that the weather can be lovely, especially in the summers. The temperate maritime climate means that while winter is cold, it’s considerably less severe than nearby Germany. You’ll have snow on the ground, but it’s a tad milder. Both countries, however, are generally categorized as dark and cold throughout December and January.
How Much to Live in Amsterdam?
I have adjusted the cost of living estimates on the to form a best-estimate on the budget for a single person living in Amsterdam with a similar lifestyle to those profiled. Europe is a place of general wealth, however, so there are few rock-bottom options, and with these large European cities, the price comes down to the neighborhoods you choose and the type of life you plan to lead. Ways to think about lowering your costs compared to the estimates include transportation options and food choices, as well as the location of your rental.
Cost of Living in Amsterdam: USD $1,800 – $3,200 per month
To get the a truly low budget in Amsterdam, you need find a good one-bedroom in a nice neighborhood outside of the city center. Otherwise, a single person on a moderate budget can come in regularly under $2,000 USD as a baseline cost of living in Amsterdam.
|Rent (in the city-center)||$1,250 – $2,200|
|Groceries + Restaurants||$450|
|Transportation (bike + light metro use)||$30|
|Internet + Phone||$70|
Amsterdam Cost of Living: $2,000 – $3,200
Beatriz is a Portuguese Millennial who updated her costs to live in Amsterdam since 2021. She shares an excellent breakdown of the key categories of spending you’ll face, and an average price range. So file away €1500 to live in the city center, then €170 for utilities, €100 for insurance, €60 for internet, and €300 for groceries to eat at home as a solo person. She totaled it all for two people and you come in at €2,784 as a baseline budget for two people. Lifestyle on top of that could easily inch it higher.
Romy and Dennis have an interesting perspective on moving to Amsterdam. They are a Dutch couple that previously lived in Eastern Europe and moved back to Amsterdam in 2016. They chronicled the process and shared insight into how the costs stack up now once they were back on home soil. While they don’t offer a final total, it seems that their living costs as a couple averaged about €2,500 per month minimum, with €1,394 going toward rent and utilities in the city center. Utilities, food, and other parts of their life then make for a good baseline look at costs for a mid-range budget in Amsterdam. Updated 30% for 2023, that comes in at about €3,250.
Rent in Amsterdam is higher than Berlin. If you’re keen on staying in the city-center you are looking at an easy €1000+ for a studio, and over €1500 for a one-bedroom in the city center—and it quickly rises from there as you add bedrooms or space. Outside of the city center, you can often find cheaper rent, like with anywhere, but you will pay a bit more as a baseline cost in Amsterdam versus Berlin. For a one-bedroom apartment in a good area outside of the city center, plan on €1200+ and be delighted if you score a deal better than that.
Links & Resources for Moving to Berlin or Amsterdam
Moving to Berlin Books
- A Better Life for Half the Price: A Mexican expat breaks down all the major expat spots in the world with costs, quality of living, and resources. I learned a lot and found a couple of countries I hadn’t previously considered. It’s worth buying if you’re still searching out which country is best for the life you want to live.
- Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America: The author of this book did the move to Berlin and has great insight. There are a lot of these general guides. The book above, Better Life is about where is a good culture fit, whereas this is the better of the lot of “move overseas” books that covers the practicalities and very hands-on information you need as someone considering living anywhere outside the U.S. If you’re new all the researching, this can kick-start your process. And if you are laser-focused on the retirement topic, versus moving overseas at a different state in life, this retirement guide has great advice.
- The Tax Book for U.S. Expats: This is well-priced and unique to expats and retirees filing abroad. It gives a granular look at forms, terms, and sorting out exactly how to file — good for those with complicated tax situations. More recently released, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans goes broader and is aimed at younger expats and digital nomads still working and handling how to earn income overseas, pay taxes, and live a nomadic life. It doesn’t explain the terms or niche situations/forms as well as the other book, but instead acts as a guide for younger travelers. Depending on your situation, pick up a copy of one of these guides before you leave so that you will have a tax system in place that maximizes the opportunities to easily file.
Resources for Living in Berlin
- Berlin: The Ultimate Resource Guide: Dan and Audrey Scott have called Berlin home for several years, and they have written an incredibly useful guide to the city. A must read if you wish to live in Berlin!
- Moving to Germany: Top 10 Things to consider: A helpful post covering everything from getting oriented in the city to visas to finding an apartment to shipping your belongings to Germany.
- The Neighborhoods of Berlin: A thorough breakdown of the neighborhoods so you can begin to consider in which part you would want to begin your apartment/home search.
- Living in Germany: This guide is actually for students planning to study in the country, so it includes a lot of helpful resources relevant for those considering moving to the country—what to know about renting a place, getting liability and the required student health insurance, and more.
- Planning to retire to Germany? This guide talks about the income, health insurance and inheritance tax.
- The German Retirement and Pension System: An extremely useful post for those wishing to retire in Germany; including information on the public retirement insurance system and individual retirement investments.
- How to Germany: Probably one of the most useful resource websites for those who wish to relocate to Germany. Worth bookmarking and referring to when you have a question prior to your move. Includes information on bringing your pet to Germany!
- Check out these FB groups and expat forums: Berlin Expats, Expatriates in Berlin, Berlin Freelancers.
Moving to Amsterdam Resources
- Finding the right visa: This residence wizard section of the Netherlands Immigration and Naturalisation Service gives all the residence/visa information you need; covering everything from being an Au pair in the Netherlands to being a start-up and more.
- Bringing your pets to Amsterdam? This regularly-updated article on details everything you need to know before you arrive, including documentation and vaccines.
- I Am Expat is a wonderfully useful website for those wishing to move to Amsterdam, or elsewhere in the Netherlands; includes information on health insurance, renting an apartment, entertainment, finding work, and more.
- Check out these FB groups and expat forums: Digital Nomads Amsterdam, Expats in Amsterdam, or Creative Freelancers Amsterdam.
Planning a Research Trip to Germany or Amsterdam?
- Pick out a good travel insurance policy like IMG Global (I’ve used them since 2011) to cover you while you’re either in transit visiting your future homes, or their insurance policies can work well as long-term expat insurance too (I used IMG for my first year living in Spain). You’ll also want property insurance once you’re living overseas—I’ve used Clements for many years now.
- If you’re visiting Berlin, I recommend Pfefferbett Hostel Berlin as a super budget option, or Leonardo Royal Hotel Berlin Alexanderplatz for mid-range prices and accessibility to the places you’ll likely need to research.
- If you’re visiting Amsterdam, I recommend Dutchies Hostel as a super budget option, or ClinkNOORD Hostel for mid-range prices and accessibility to the places you’ll likely need to research.
Cost of Living Comparison
Still researching the right spot to live? Our Cost of Living Guides share extensive resources on all the major expat spots around the world. These guides include thorough breakdowns of the culture, quality of life, vibe, and—importantly—budget breakdowns so you can better plan which spot in the world best meets your needs.