Since moving from Amsterdam to Berlin in August 2019 I’ve been asked the same question by friends, clients, colleagues and candidates – what are the main differences between living and working in Amsterdam and Berlin?
Now that I’ve worked in my role at OQ Berlin for an equal 12 months, I thought it fitting to share some thoughts based on my experience as an Expat living and working in Tech for anyone who is considering making a similar move.
Cost of living
Let’s just start with the most pertinent and commonly asked question: IS Berlin really that much cheaper to live in vs. Amsterdam?
Yes. (Even when you factor in the higher taxes and healthcare.)
According to Expatistan, Amsterdam is 29% more expensive than Berlin. This graphic will give you a good overview of living cost comparison.
The most significant difference is in accommodation. Unlike Amsterdam, in Berlin you get what you pay for. I lived in Amsterdam for three years and throughout that period I lived in five different flatshares and paid around 650- 750 euro per month for a room. In Berlin I have my own place located centrally for a similar price, bills included.
Someone wise once pointed out that you sacrifice one of three key things when looking for a home in Amsterdam: layout, price or location. And in my experience, mice are typically included in that price.
The culture and discussion around housing and gentrification are also different in Berlin. While prices are increasing, the wide array of protests against rent hikes and the attempt to introduce the five-year rent freeze are indicative of the attempt at maintaining the spirit of the city which is renowned for being a home for artists and creatives. Unfortunately, big tech salaries don’t help with this fight, but Berlin still has a long way to go before reaching the same heights as Amsterdam, London or Dublin.
I’ve found the average salary for a Software Engineer in Amsterdam is 5-7k higher than Berlin.
In the Netherlands, there is also the wonderful 30% tax ruling which marks the first 30% of your salary tax-free for 5 years and acts as an incentive for highly skilled migrants.
This makes a significant difference in your net salary per month especially in a city like Amsterdam. Many relocating candidates I’ve worked with over the years have based their decision to move to Amsterdam over Berlin on the benefit of the 30% ruling alone.
Berlin is four times the size of Amsterdam, so naturally, there is more scope and diversity in the offerings here.
Since 2017 new startups have injected over 19,000 jobs into the Berlin market, a huge increase of 32%. Fun facts, smaller start-ups are listed as the largest employers and Berlin has 2 x more startup jobs than Amsterdam. I always like to reference Dealroom for insights on startup markets.
Last year saw Berlin reaching its highest amount of investment to date, and a high degree of this money will go toward hiring and team building – and you wondered why there were so many recruitment agencies in town!
In terms of industry focuses, a heavy amount of funding is going into the Digital Health/MedTech sector here in Berlin. The Netherlands, with all of its incredibly forward-thinking geographical engineering acts as a solid incubator for Cleantech/Greentech start-ups.
Before I moved to the Netherlands I read a lot about how the Dutch have a very open working style and are quite big on work/life balance.
This point bore true having recruited for several Dutch founded businesses. While rarely advertised, a lot of companies are open to shorter contracts, where you work 32 hours across 4-days, or 36 across 5 days one week, and 4 in the next.
According to a 2017 study the Dutch actually work the least amount of any EU country. And a more recent study says that 4/10 people work part-time in the Netherlands, which is the highest number in the European Union. You can keep this in mind when negotiating a contract with a Dutch company.
In Berlin, we can see that companies in tech are becoming more flexible with working arrangements accelerated of course by COVID-19. I still hear reports of more traditionally structured companies demanding workers be on-site and plugged in from 9am – 6pm, with overtime being a pre rather than an odd occurrence.
This expectation is less common in international start-ups. It is often one of the core reasons Expats and Germans alike are leaving traditional German companies in favour of working in an international startup environment.
There is a notable difference between contract offerings between Berlin and Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, it is very standard to receive either an initial 7-month or 1-year contract with a one month probation period. Unlimited contacts are largely goldust and if you work with a company that has one, count yourself as the exception and not the rule. The notice period is usually one calendar month, so if you start a recruitment process in the last week of the month, then be very prepared for a very short and very rushed process.
In Berlin an unlimited permanent contract with 6-month probation is largely the standard. We have however noticed more and more companies (typically American owned) are offering 24 and 12-month contracts upfront.
The most difficult part of hiring in Berlin is without a doubt the 3 calendar month notice period (I actually thought this was a joke when someone first told me). Managing candidates through standard counter-offers for 3-4 months is no easy task. Make sure you consider this when moving or hiring in Berlin.
Anyone who lives in the Netherlands knows a thing or two about Dutch directness. Historically the Dutch language was a port language. Most of the words developed from giving directions and taking actions, ergo cultivating a culture of clear communication.
This way of communication made doing business in the Netherlands a lot more straightforward than it can sometimes be in Berlin. Dutch directness can be confronting at first, but it does mean you always know where you stand. It also means the job process moves very quickly in Amsterdam, feedback is given fast and decisions made quickly.
I have noticed a stark difference in business communication in Berlin.
Candidates have indicated it can be a frustrating environment to search for a job in. Some don’t receive feedback, or if they do, it’s the vague “its us not you” feedback which lacks any ability for someone to develop their interviewing skills.
In order to further understand and adapt to new standards of communication, I recently read Erin Meyer’s ‘The Culture Map’ which very clearly outlines a variety of business situations and how to communicate effectively in these international environments. Highly recommended!
- Cost of living: Amsterdam is more expensive than Berlin.
- Salaries: Salaries are higher in Amsterdam, but due to the cost of living, you will get much more bang for your buck in Berlin. Don’t forget Amsterdam’s 30% ruling which has a huge impact on your net salary.
- Job Market: There is greater diversity in roles, industries and products in Berlin because it is a much larger city. However, both cities have an incredibly strong startup scene and are considered some of the biggest tech hubs in the world.
- Working Culture: The Dutch are huge on work/life balance, a good portion of employers are open to contracts with a 32-hour working week in Amsterdam.
- Work Contracts: Pay attention to the 3-month notice period in Berlin if you’re moving jobs or hiring a new team.
- Cultural Communication: Expect Dutch communication to be very direct and organised.