The Netherlands is a relatively small country, but it is loaded with student-friendly cities and quality LL.M. programs. Yes, foreign students will probably encounter at least a few national peculiarities - swarms of bicycles, fields of tulips, wooden shoes, and warm beer - but surrounded by international students and English-speaking locals, it's not too difficult to feel at home during your year in the Netherlands.
Amsterdam is the country's capital and financial center, but that can be easy to forget when strolling around the city. With only about 750,000 residents, Amsterdam has a cozy feel, different from other bulging European capitals like London, Paris, or Brussels.
By no means, however, is Amsterdam a sleepy town. The city is famous for its nightlife, museums, canals, architecture, Red Light district, and coffee shops, which draw millions of tourists each year. Admittedly, most law students won't live like tourists. But in their spare time, there is plenty of culture to experience in this vibrant city.
The University of Amsterdam estimates monthly expenses for students to be between 850 and 1,300 Euros. Like everywhere, monthly rent depends on many factors. Students can sometimes find bargain rooms in the 300-400-Euro range. More often, however, they'll pay somewhere around 500-550 Euros. Of course, luxury and a nice location will cost you more.
Other expenses in Amsterdam include groceries, books, insurance, public transportation, and/or a second-hand bike. A used bike will cost anywhere between 50 and 100 Euros (not including the big, fat lock you'll need if you still want to have it the next morning).
More than anywhere else in continental Europe, English is spoken widely and fluently. According to a recent study, 87 percent of Dutch citizens say they can speak English well enough to have a conversation. This is particularly true in Amsterdam, where it is quite easy to get by on English alone. That said, speaking at least a little Dutch will help endear you to the locals (even if they switch over to English right away!).
Rotterdam is the Netherlands' second city, the world's largest commercial port, and home to Erasmus University Rotterdam. Although it doesn't attract quite as many international students as Amsterdam, it is still a lively, student-friendly city with a very culturally and ethnically diverse local population. It is also less than an hour on the train from Amsterdam, so many students take weekend trips to the capital (that is, when they aren't buried in reading assignments!)
The Erasmus University law school is located on a leafy, modern campus in Rotterdam's eastern Woudestein district. Most international students live in university housing near campus, where there are plenty of bars and clubs nearby. Living costs are roughly the same as Amsterdam, but rents are slightly cheaper in Rotterdam.
Leiden has the oldest university in the Netherlands and one of the country's top law schools. With a student body of around 17,000 and a faculty of nearly 4,000, Leiden University gives the city the feel of a student town - good bookstores, diverse restaurants and cafes, and world-class museums. The Hague and International Court of Justice is only ten minutes away by train.
Leiden University estimates monthly student rents at between 300-450 Euros, total monthly living expenses ranging between 750 and 900 Euros. Like Amsterdam (and almost anywhere else in the Netherlands), most students get around on foot or by bike.
Utrecht is also close to The Hague, and is home to some 50,000 students. It has the largest university in the Netherlands, Utrecht University, as well other institutions, like Hogeschool, TiasNimbas, and HKU Utrecht School of the Arts. As a result, finding student housing here can be a challenge. The university does not operate any dorms or student housing of its own, but it can provide assistance in locating a room.
To the north lies Groningen, a bonafide university town with a student population of over 40,000. Given its flat landscape and many students, it is no surprise that Groningen has been dubbed one of the most biking-friendly cities in the world, an image cultivated by the local government and its policies to curb car traffic.
Situated just a few miles west of German border, Nijmegen is considered the oldest city in the Netherlands. It was settled by the Romans back in the first century. Today, it is known throughout the country as the home of Radboud University Nijmegen (with over 17,000 students) and the site of the famous Nijmeegse Vierdaagse (Four Day Marches of Nijmegen), the annual summer event when the ancient city swells with walkers and summer festival revelers.
For students who want a truly international experience, Maastricht might be a perfect fit. Sandwiched between the Dutch borders with Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, Maastricht was the city where European leaders signed the treaty that founded the European Union back in 1992. Maastricht University offers seven LL.M. programs, including a highly regarded International and European Tax program.
A few more important practical matters related to studying and living in the Netherlands:
- Applications for student visas for students from outside the EU have to be filed by the university you will study at. Upon acceptance or shortly thereafter, the administration will inform you what documents you need to submit.
- Non-EU students who want to work during their studies must apply for one of two kinds of work permits (Tewerkstellingsverklaring): one allowing ten hours of work per week throughout the year; the other allowing full-time work during the summer.
- Recent graduates of Dutch universities are generally granted a residence permit for 12 months to search for work in the Netherlands. Graduates must apply for this with the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation (IND) service.
Image: "Street scene in an Amsterdam Channel. The Netherlands" by Jorge Royan / Creative Commons (cropped and rotated)