1 August 2016

Francesca Catanuso - Expat in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Francesca Catanuso - Expat in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Ms. Francesca Catanuso is an American expat living in Amsterdam. She moved to the Netherlands primarily because it was too difficult to find a job in the U.S. Like most expats, she chose Amsterdam after going there on holiday and falling in love with the city.

Even though Ms. Catanuso has settled into Amsterdam quite well, her biggest challenge is still adjusting to the weather and culture. Ms. Catanuso said “Traveling for fun and living somewhere are two totally different things. I had serious rose-colored glasses when I moved here - that quickly changed. Setting up a life here and dealing with bureaucracy was very challenging. So was dealing with 300 days of rain a year. Also, finding housing is truly a nightmare unless you’re working with an agent.”

Adjusting to life overseas, especially when you move to a country with a completely different culture can be quite challenging. There are many ways for expats to overcome this kind of adjustment. Read more about how Ms. Catanuso was able to settle in Amsterdam through her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: My parents live in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I grew up between DC, Maryland and Virginia.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: To be honest, I couldn’t find a decent job. I was working 3 jobs (retail, restaurant and reception) and still living at home. I was ready to leave traffic, long hours and my parent’s house.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: I live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I came here with a friend in 2009 and absolutely loved it. I spent the next 2 years figuring out how to move here, and decided that school was the going to be the best, easiest way. So January 2011 I started my masters here.

Q: How long have you been living in Amsterdam?

A: Just about 4 years.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Amsterdam?

A: Traveling for fun and living somewhere are two totally different things. I had serious rose-colored glasses when I moved here - that quickly changed. Setting up a life here and dealing with bureaucracy was very challenging. So was dealing with 300 days of rain a year. Also, finding housing is truly a nightmare unless you’re working with an agent.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Amsterdam? What was your experience with these?

A: I didn’t have to get a visa because I have an Italian passport, and healthy insurance is legally obligatory, so it’s fairly easy to buy a plan that makes sense for you. What becomes tricky is filing the right kind of taxes in Dutch :O

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I moved here by myself, but now live with my English/Dutch boyfriend.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Amsterdam? How did you manage to find a social circle in Amsterdam?

A: Strangely enough, I found that making friends in my grad school program was very challenging, and making friends at work was a breeze. Because I work at an international company, I think people are really keen to meet other expats. When I first started working, I was also meeting people through meet up groups, Yelp events and the wonderful world of Facebook, channelling any friends of friends who might live nearby.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Amsterdam is a dream in the summer. The city is totally different and vibrant - cafes open their doors and everyone basically lives outside. The parks are heaving, everyone’s barbecuing and there are more summer music festivals than you can shake your fist at. There’s also tons of beautiful medieval towns within 20 minutes like Haarlem and Utrecht that are worth spending the day (or more) in. And of course, there’s always the redlights.

Q: How does the cost of living in Amsterdam compared to your home?

A: The cost of living in Washington DC can get pretty steep, but Amsterdam takes the cake, especially for eating out.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Amsterdam?

A: Dutch culture is great - they don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re a nation of people that value hard work and contribution, but also work-life balance. Amsterdam is really it’s own little bubble of culture (I feel like I can say that after living in Leiden and Haarlem). There is a very well-known fact that Dutchies tend to be incredibly direct which some take as rude. You need to understand that it’s really a lack of filter, not malus intent working here.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Amsterdam?

A: Positives. The beach (if it’s warm enough), efficient public transportation, health insurance, work-life balance, biking to work.

Negatives. The weather, the food, the language and customer service.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Not so much anymore.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: If I ever get homesick, it’s usually around the holidays. When I moved to Korea 6 years ago, I was constantly skyping family and friends to report back about all the crazy stuff I was seeing. When I moved to Spain I did the same. When I moved to Holland, I realized that this was keeping me from really investing in new people and my environment. For me, the best thing to do when I was homesick was establish boundaries with my old home and new one. Why am I homesick? Do I feel like I’m missing out? Can I find something equally cool about my new home? The answer to all of this is usually yes.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Not yet. I spent the better part of 6 years living as a messy nomad, and at a certain point, I realized I was making decisions about whether or not to eat chicken or buy beer. I realized that I like doing both and having a stable job. Strangely enough, I found that stability in the sex + drug capital of the world.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Truly accepting loneliness. It can be really scary to be alone in a country where you don’t know anyone. But once you get past all the scary and admit your vulnerability, you’ll find that actually, everyone is vulnerable in some aspect of their life. As an expat, it just seems a bit more obvious what your vulnerabilities are.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Smile. Free your mind. Be brave. Try new things. Invest in your surroundings.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Amsterdam?

A: I’m insanely jealous of yourlittleblackbook.com. Anne chronicles her jet setter life where she reviews restaurants, hotels and city trips. Can I haz that?