The freelancer’s guide to Amsterdam

The freelancer’s guide to Amsterdam

How to run your own business from Europe’s most distinctive capital city

The ‘Venice of the North’ is world renowned for its endless rings of 17th century canals, its Renaissance architecture and its vibrant culture. But, for the international freelancer, there’s even more to the Dutch capital than meets the eye. Although the Parliament and many of the Netherlands’ financial institutions are based in The Hague – or Den Haag – Amsterdam is home to a thriving business community and creative scene with freelancers soaring in number.

According to IPSE’s own research, there are now 52% more people freelancing in the Netherlands than in 2008 – and many of the new arrivals call Amsterdam their home. Meanwhile figures from the CBS, the Netherlands’ Office for National Statistics, suggest freelancers account for half of all businesses in Amsterdam. That’s considerably more than in the UK.

Where to work                                                                                                                                                         

The city is awash with places to get stuff done, meet fellow freelancers and find your perfect creative environment. There are dozens of dedicated co-working spaces available, even more hot desks across the city, and just as many coffee shops – those of a conventional and of a more liberal nature.

A ferry ride down the IJ river (IJ is a single letter in Dutch, hence the capitalisation) is the commercial hub of Amsterdam. Here you’ll find A Lab, Amsterdam’s self-proclaimed ultimate living lab, replete with fixed and flexible desk arrangements, lectures, ‘experiments’, parties, and the intriguingly named ‘Work hotel’ (Overhoeksplein 2, 1031 KS).

For those who just need an occasional place to retreat every now and again, the Thinking Hut (Mauritskade 55c, 1092 AD) offers day passes at a very reasonable 20 euros without the need to sign up for a contract. They also have in-house consultants to give you solid business advice if you need it.

If you need to be in close proximity to your clients, check out Launchdesk. Similar to the UK’s Spacehop, Launchdesk lets you book home office space and hot desks all around Amsterdam in the same way you would book a room on Airbnb. There’s plenty of choice and most rentals are very flexible, so you’re sure to find somewhere that suits your needs.

Where to stay

If you’re only staying for a week or two, there are hundreds of hotels to suit every taste and budget scattered around the city. For those looking for a bargain, Hotel Not Hotel is an interesting option. Local artists and student designers have left their mark in each room, which include a faux Spanish casa, a converted tram and a line of rooms behind swinging bookcases (doubles from £55, Piri Reïsplein 34, 1057 KH).

Freelancers missing the ‘Big Smoke’ should opt for the Hoxton. It takes its design inspiration from its sister hotels in London’s trendy Shoreditch and Holborn with vintage lighting, sofas and bookshelves, and once housed the Mayor of Amsterdam. Perks include free international calls, your own fridge and a daily breakfast bag (doubles from £118, Herengracht 255, 1016 BJ).

If money’s no object, the Waldorf Astoria oozes class with unparalleled service. Ornate staircases and elegant marble fireplaces sit below carved ceilings, with fine dining, a spa and perfectly manicured garden on offer. It’s even got its own boat (doubles from £353, Herengracht 542-556, 1017 CG).

What to see

This is a city steeped in history; countless museums, galleries, historic buildings and other cultural gems are always within a few minutes’ walk. Museumplein is home to both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, which between them house centuries of post-impressionist artworks, priceless trinkets, antique furniture and 18th century costumes.

Anne Frank House, meanwhile, offers a fascinating and poignant insight into the Frank family’s experiences of World War Two. Visitors can explore the entire building, used as a hideout by the family and restored to its original form (Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV).

Those with more contemporary tastes should check out Foam photography museum, which showcases work across all genres with a special focus on new talent. The gallery also organises special tours, lectures and discussions (Keizersgracht 069, 1017 DS).

What you need to know

From 1 May 2016, the Dutch Authorities introduced a new system for determining a freelancer’s employment status. It’s similar to that of the UK in that the freelancer must prove he or she is not working under the management or supervision of the client, amongst other things, in order to be seen as an Independent Professional and to receive the tax benefits of freelancing.

Adam Nichols, director of A2Z-CM, a Dutch company providing freelancers with brokerage and payroll services, provided some insight: “The same tax regulations for freelancers still exist, but there’s now more responsibility on the client to make sure the freelancer is working according to these regulations as an Independent Contractor. If the tax office decides the freelancer has not been working independently, then the client will be liable to pay income tax and social security premiums – and the freelancer will lose his/her tax allowances”.

Getting there and getting around 

Airlines operating in the UK fly from most major cities to Amsterdam Schiphol, so there are several flights per day. Prices start from around £30 when booked more than two weeks in advance and the journey itself takes just one hour. If flying isn’t your thing, you can also book tickets with Eurostar (via Brussels) from £49 each way.

Alternatively the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland takes around five hours and costs from £102 with a car or £49 as a foot passenger (including train tickets from London Liverpool Street).

Once you arrive, there’s frequent, reliable and affordable public transport in the form of trams and buses. Traffic is incredibly and refreshingly light here – because everybody cycles. There are an estimated one million bicycles in Amsterdam, a city with a population of less than 800,000. As well as easing congestion, cycling en masse makes for a much more tranquil city centre environment, and lessens pollution.

So should I freelance here?

Amsterdam feels like the very heart of a thriving, forward-thinking, creative, liberal Europe. If you’re looking for inspiration in your work, this is likely where you’ll find it. You’re guaranteed to cross paths with other interesting freelancers, and your costs will be significantly lower than they would be in, say, London. Find out for yourself. 

By Mark Williams