Amsterdam canals and its houseboats are probably one of the first things you think of when you hear about the Netherlands. Many tourists fall in love with this quaint scene but what is it really like to live on one of those canal boats?
In the UK, we have our fair share of boaters living on the water fulltime. It has even become a hipster trend to leave the overpriced London apartments and make a new home on the Thames.
But what if you are ready for new adventures away from the UK? Is it a good idea to pack up a few belongings and make off for Amsterdam, drift between old Dutch trader’s mansions and tulips?
Of course, it is always a little more romantic in our heads but even then it is a realistic dream. This is what you need to know about what it is like to live on a canal boat in Amsterdam.
Can You Live on a Boat in Amsterdam?
Yes, you can and many people do. They are called houseboats for good reasons.
Similar to the converted narrowboats and barges in the UK, Dutch houseboats were a solution to limited available housing and skyrocketing housing prices. Amsterdam, with its many canals in the city centre, became a popular place to moor.
Unfortunately, Amsterdam houseboats are no longer as affordable as they used to be. Just like London boaters, you are paying high permanent mooring fees.
The city of Amsterdam has a total of 2400 boats, of which 750 are in the city centre. This sounds like a decent number for a small city of barely 1 million residents but there is a downside.
The municipality is no longer giving out new long-term mooring licenses. In other words, you can only live on an Amsterdam canal boat if you buy or rent a houseboat that already has a mooring license.
Even then, there is a potential problem. Buying the boat doesn’t necessarily mean that the mooring license is transferred to your name. The municipality has to do its own evaluation and if something isn’t in order they may choose to deny you the mooring license.
Splitting Your Time Between the UK and Amsterdam
Still have commitments in the UK that prevent you from living in the Netherlands fulltime? This might make things a little more complicated.
Amsterdam, and most of the other cities in the Netherlands, have a housing shortage. In response, the government has cracked down on homeowners that are letting their property or are buying property without actually living there. This applies to houseboats, too.
The general rule is that you have to live on the houseboat for at least 4 months in the year. Over a period of 5 years, you cannot live abroad for more than 6 consecutive months during each year. If you are staying abroad for longer than 8 consecutive months, you are required to de-register from the municipality.
Not spending enough time in the Netherlands means that you have to de-register. Since much of the paperwork is tied to being registered as a resident, this can create some bureaucratic issues.
This was less of an issue under the European Union’s agreement to free movement but now with Brexit it is all more complicated.
Letting Your Houseboat to Tourists
Getting a license to let your houseboat as a vacation home is very difficult in Amsterdam. In fact, in certain neighbourhoods it is completely forbidden.
Since July 1st 2020, letting your home to tourists in the neighbourhoods of Burgwallen-Oude Zijde, Burgwallen-Nieuwe Zijde and Grachtengordel-Zuid is forbidden. This includes AirBnB’s.
In other Amsterdam neighbourhoods, homeowners may let their homes for a maximum of 30 nights in a year and to a maximum of four different groups of people.
If you were hoping to earn extra income while you’re away, this option has its limitations. The local police does perform checks.
What Are Houseboats in Amsterdam Like?
There are two types of houseboats in the Netherlands. The first is the traditional houseboat, a boat renovated into a home. This is quite similar to the converted canal boats in the UK.
The second type is a ‘woonark’ which translates to a living ark. These are the modern version: a floating platform or pontoon without an engine. Technically, they aren’t a boat because you can’t sail away in them.
Both types of houseboats in Amsterdam a more luxurious than you might think. Since the boats are permanently moored, they also have access to the creature comforts that we have on land.
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is that they are connected to a sewage system. No need for a self-contained toilet when you live on a canal boat in Amsterdam. You’ll be the envy of every continuous cruiser in the UK.
That is not all you can expect from a Dutch houseboat. The boats are also connected to the electricity grid, heating and plumbing for all your taps.
This might seem surprising considering some houseboats look rather old. You are not wrong to think that – some really are 100 years old.
But their exterior says nothing about their interior. You see, tourists are not the only ones that like the look of old houseboats in the canals of Amsterdam.
There is a special committee that decides on city facades, including that of houseboats. Basically, you can do whatever you like inside the houseboat but if you want to change its exterior, you will have to get approval from the municipality.
What You Need to Live on an Amsterdam Houseboat
- A houseboat (!)
- Concession for the mooring location and/or other licenses
- Boat safety certificate (valid for 5 years)
- Houseboat insurance
- Proof of residency in the municipality
There are four types of licenses that you need to know about when you want to live on a houseboat in Amsterdam. The first is already mentioned: the concession for the mooring location.
The concession for a mooring location is called a ‘ligplaatsvergunning’. This is what gives you permission to live on a specific houseboat at a specific permanent mooring location.
In some situations, the ‘ligplaatsvergunning’ is tied to a person and not the houseboat itself. This means that even if you buy the boat, you cannot moor it in the same spot.
When you are in talks to buy a houseboat, make sure that you will also be able to take over the mooring location. Otherwise, you might end up with a houseboat that you cannot dock since Amsterdam no longer releases new mooring licenses.
Want to bring your own boat over from the UK and have found a mooring location in Amsterdam you can take over? Then you need a replacement license or a ‘vervangingsvergunning’.
Renovating or redesigning an existing houseboat? Building laws (which also apply to houseboats) are quite strict in the Netherlands and you will need a renovation license or ‘verbouwingsvergunning’.
For houseboats that are built from the ground up, or shall we say from the water level up, have their own special license type. These are called ‘omgevingsvergunning’ which is somewhat similar to a planning permission.
Getting a Loan
If you want to take out a loan to buy the houseboat, it gets a little more complicated. As anyone that has moved to the Netherlands can tell you, there are a lot of consequential steps.
In theory, as long as you go through the procedure in a certain order it goes smoothly. However, in practice, you might find that the order doesn’t make complete sense.
For example, you need to have a Dutch bank account to be able to apply for a mortgage. You cannot get a Dutch bank account without proof of residency in the Netherlands. You cannot get proof of residency without buying a houseboat or having other permanent accommodation.
This is why it might be useful to speak to a real estate broker that can help guide you through all the intricacies of Dutch bureaucracy.
How Much Does It Cost to Live on a Boat in Amsterdam?
Your biggest expense is buying the houseboat itself and the cost of mooring location license. Like in London, buying a houseboat in Amsterdam is not necessarily cheaper than buying a house in the same area.
On top of the concession, you also have to pay mooring fees or ‘liggeld’. This is your contribution to the utilities services and any maintenance or repairs that are necessary on the land side.
There is no strict regulation on the mooring fees. It mostly depends on whether it is under private or governmental ownership and the size of your boat.
Mooring fees are calculated annually and you will receive a letter with the required amount in January (for tax purposes). Again, there is no regulation so the fee can spike without warning.
What about monthly living costs? With permanent mooring you will be connected to all the basic utilities including gas, electricity and water and internet is no problem either.
The average Dutch household spends around €200 on monthly bills. Houseboats tend to be smaller so often your heating and electricity costs are lower.
Average cost of houseboat with mooring: €400,000 – €600,000
Average mooring fees private: €2500 (per year)
Average mooring fees municipality: €1500 (per year)
Transferring ownership of concession: €529
Annual maintenance and repairs: €500 – €1500
Monthly utilities: €200
Where Can I Buy a houseboat in the Netherlands?
Still in the UK? Then we recommend you take a look at the available houseboats on https://waterwonen.nl/. The website is in Dutch but with your automatic browser translation you will be able to figure it out.
You can also contact one of the brokers directly if you want help with the search. Most Dutch people speak decent English and they can guide you on how to best make the move to Amsterdam.
If you are already in Amsterdam, you can be bold and ask the people in the neighbourhood. Boaters are known to be helpful people. So, if you spot a for sale sign or find a neighbourhood that you really like, you could take a chance and ask your potential future neighbours about an available houseboat.
Renting a Houseboat
Don’t want to commit just yet? You’re being smart to want to give it a trial period, first.
Check out the houseboats available to let on bookahouseboat where you can find both short term and long term options.
Living on a Canal Boat in Amsterdam: The Pros and Cons
To sum it all up, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of buying a houseboat in an Amsterdam canal.
- Living close to nature yet in the city
- Dutch canal boats have full utilities
- Practically no neighbours, in the middle of the city
- Never too far from daily amenities
- Option to create a large luxurious houseboat
- Free to renovate interior to your wishes
- Amsterdam charm
- Not cheaper than buying an apartment
- Restrictions on leasing it out part of the year
- Very limited mooring availability
- Planning regulations limits external renovations
- Process of buying property as foreigner can be confusing
All in all, you are dealing with many of the same pros and cons as living on permanent mooring in the UK. The main difference is that most Dutch houseboats are actually modern on the inside.
You also have the option to live on a floating platform instead of a converted boat which gives you plenty of space. Then there is the charm of Amsterdam which you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
What do you think, is living on a canal boat in Amsterdam still as attractive?