Q&Amsterdam with Digital Project Manager Miranda Forwood

Tell us about yourself…

I’m an Australian who has been living in Amsterdam with my partner (Ben) for a little over a year.

I’m a Digital Project Manager and have worked in a variety of different digital roles.

We well and truly fell in love with Europe during a 3 month backpacking adventure in 2010. For both of us it was out 2nd time to this part of the world, but this was the trip that really made us want to live here.

So we knew we wanted to go to Europe but didn’t want to follow the standard migration path and head to London (no offense to London, I love that city!). We were initially looking at Berlin due to it’s burgeoning start up and tech scene, but there didn’t seem to be too many English speaking jobs and as a poor city, the issues with the European economy seemed to be a bit worrying. Then we discovered that Amsterdam has a really large expat community and English speaking jobs were fairly common. From then on in we didn’t look back!

As Ben has a UK passport, he didn’t need a visa, but I got myself a 1 year working holiday visa.  Australia has WHV agreements with many countries, so as long as you meet the age requirement, have a return ticket and a bit of money they are pretty easy to get!

 For those wishing to make a move to Amsterdam, or to the Netherlands in general, what advice do you have in mind?

While it’s quite easy to get a WHV for The Netherlands, once you get here it can be a bit more tricky.

I had done a lot of research and found a number of people who had issues with the processes, so at least I was prepared for the worst! It can be quite hard to get things set up as it all seems to be a “chicken or the egg” situation! You can’t get a BSN without an apartment, but it’s hard to get an apartment without a job, but you need a BSN to be able to get paid in your job!

The following are what you need to do in The Netherlands to be a resident and work legally:

1. Get an apartment or a place to stay where you can register for a BSN. You need to have a “permanent” address in order to register with the City Hall. You will be able to register at most places that you rent, but it’s important to ask before you sign the lease. I’ve heard stories of people not being able to register at their apartment due to landlords trying to dodge tax or something similarly sneaky! You can’t register at a hotel/hostel or anywhere temporary.

2. Get a BSN. You need this to work, get health insurance and basically everything in The Netherlands. hence the importance of being able to register at your address.

3. Get a job. If you’re looking for a career job and not just something to earn extra cash to travel, I strongly suggest you look for the job before you arrive or shortly after. The Netherlands has something called a “30% rule” for taxes which means if you have relocated for a job you get a 30% reduction on your tax. With taxes at around 50% here, this is VERY useful.

4. A bank account. Thankfully a lot of the larger banks have pages in English, making it fairly easy.

5. Health insurance

Health insurance here is mandatory and quite expensive (about 100 euros per month), but is actually pretty awesome. You never have to pay for doctors appointments (including physio and dental if that’s in your plan), and a lot of medicines are also covered. I still feel weird at the end of an appointment not paying for it!

Don’t let this put you off though, bureaucracy can be stressful at times but it’s worth it in the end.

I am very curious as to what the digital landscape / community / industry in your part of the world is like vs what it’s like in Australia. 

MF: I’m in Digital Advertising and the Advertising industry in Amsterdam is really big. While I’ve been working in digital for over 8 years, this is actually my first foray in to an Advertising agency, so I can’t really compare the it to the Australian industry directly. There are definitely a lot of opportunities in Amsterdam in the Advertising industry at the moment in both international and Dutch agencies alike. And with the headquarters of the recent Publicis – Omnicom merger set to be in The Netherlands, I’m sure there will continue to many more opportunities.

I love that working here is truly international. The client I work with is French and the websites I produce are for all countries in Europe. I can honestly say I’d never thought I’d be working on a website and having to consider it being viewed in Andorra, Bulgaria, Norway and Russia.

What are the differences in terms of opportunities, cultures, audiences, challenges…and what items have you found constant both in Amsterdam and also in Brisbane?

The main differences that I have found are:

– Working on projects that will not be seen in the country you live in.

Currently I’m working on a Spanish website, that will then be rolled out to 5 other European countries, none of which are The Netherlands. In Australia you might be in Brisbane, working on a site for a NSW client, but most often it will be for an Australian audience. I find it quite an interesting situation producing projects for countries other than your own and that don’t even speak that same language as you.

– Multicultural office

Interestingly the population of Amsterdam is 50% non-Dutch. I work with people from over 14 nationalities (I’m sure it’s more, but I’ve lost count!) in an office of only around 40 people.  Language differences can always be a challenge when working with people with such a huge variance in language backgrounds, yet all communicating in English, but we somehow make it work.

On a personal level, I love working with people from such varied experience all over the world. I’m learning so much from my colleagues and the experience they share is invaluable.

Things that never change are budget and deadline restrictions! Projects are projects no matter where they are and there are always budgets, timelines and scope creep to deal with. I have faced similar challenges in my work here as I have in Brisbane and it’s nice to know that my skills are transferrable, even across the other side of the world.

Unrelated to a digital career, I have found that digital is much more embraced as a normal part of everyday life here. You can make appointments for most things (doctor, hairdresser, restaurants etc) via email. I can email my doctor requesting a repeat prescription and he can send the script to the pharmacy via email for me to then pick up straight away. My doctor even personally emailed my with blood test results, no need for a phone call.

Life in Amsterdam! What have been your favourite and least favourite part of living in this city?

I honestly love this city! It’s really hard to explain it to people who haven’t been here, but it is so much more than the stereotypes! It is relaxed and happy and people here mostly seem to enjoy life. As soon as the sun comes out the terraces and parks fill up with groups hanging out and having a great time. You’ll have hundreds of people from all over the world in Vondelpark and everyone is enjoying themselves. You never have to worry about people being drunken idiots and causing trouble.

There is always something interesting going on here; my personal favourites being Queen’s Day (well, King’s Day now!), the Pride parade, Museumnacht and the very fascinating Christmas tree bonfire that happens just after New Year.

My favourite thing about this country and the thing I think I’ll miss the most when I leave here is actually the bikes! Being able to ride a bike everywhere is so amazing. With awesome bike infrastructure, no required helmets and a law that actually states that bikes have right of way over cars makes for the most enjoyable commute.

My least favourite part is winter. While it’s magical in the lead up the Christmas, after New Year it can get depressing. With many days never getting above 0 and the sun setting before 5pm it’s tough. Being from Brisbane where “winter” means 20 degrees and sunny, having to adapt to below zero temperatures is a complete shock to the system. And this year it was cold right up until May!

For those who are reading this, how can they contact you?

Twitter http://www.twitter.com/mirandaforwood

LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/mirandaforwood