What to Pack for a Study Abroad Semester in the Netherlands

Utrecht, Netherlands

Let me just start off by saying congratulations! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re planning to spend a semester abroad in the Netherlands. Any preconceptions, fears, anxiety, etc. that you may experience is normal. Worry not, though, because I can promise you everything will work itself out and in the end, the point is that you’re taking a huge step to enrich your college experience and travel the globe!

To give you a little peace of mind, I’ve compiled a list of things to pack (and what not to pack) that you may not have already thought of, and a few tidbits of advice (based on my four months of living here) that I think will be most beneficial to you.

Utrecht, Netherlands
Utrecht, Netherlands

Extra money

Having studied abroad twice now, I always end up wishing I had brought more money. If your budget allows or you have the opportunity to save, do try to put as much money as possible to the side for your trip. In other words, over budget your expenses. The USD to Euro exchange is not only weak (you pay around $1.18 per 1 euro), but the Netherlands is not necessarily a cheap place to live. I say this not to defer you from coming, but to keep you “in the know” so you can handle your money wisely. Take into account any unplanned trips to the bar, spontaneous traveling adventures to another country, and basic needs (tissue, toilet paper, school supplies) to name a few. Enough money will allow you to have fun and really enjoy what the country has to offer.

Here is a link that includes average costs of living.

Rain gear

Gear meaning rain boots, poncho, jacket, pants. It rains a lot in the Netherlands. I can be your witness to this as I’ve come home many times completely drenched from my tennis shoes to t-shirt.

Note: if you own any gear or don’t feel like bringing your own, there are plenty of shops in the Netherlands that offer these products (especially rain suits, my fashionable favorite).

Waterproof spray and/or waterproof backpack/cover

I mentioned the rain. Let’s not forget about your backpack! I find this almost more important than a rain coat as I carry my laptop in my backpack which is more valuable than whether or not my socks get wet. I would suggest bringing a backpack that is water resistant or a backpack cover. If not either of those, you can purchase a can of waterproofing spray here for quite cheap.

Clothing

Weather in the Netherlands is moderate (not too hot, not too cold) though you will experience a change of season during your semester. Because of this, bring layers. This will also be practical if you plan on traveling to other countries while here.

How much clothing to bring? For a six month stay, I packed about a weeks worth of clothing though I have to say I don’t even wear all of what I brought. If you want to minimize what you pack or just hate “baggage” (like me), I would say you can get away with 2-3 of each apparel category — so 2-3 short sleeve shirts, jeans/pants, comfy/gym pants, sweatshirts, etc.

If you’re worried about style, it’s quite relaxed and laid back here. You won’t need to dress “business casual” or professional. As it can rain at any point in time and most people are biking, there aren’t many people dressed in “fancy” clothing — unless that’s your style, then by all means you do you boo boo!

Hat, scarf, gloves

If you’re here for the Fall or Spring semester, I would bring warm clothing as it can get cold riding your bike in the chill of the winter wind. Not to mention if you plan on making a trip out to a colder country, these will come in handy.

Long socks

I didn’t think of this one until I started biking in the winter months… cold wind against my bare ankles is easily my least favorite feeling.

Comfy shoes suitable for biking and walking

Bring comfortable sneakers that are good for multiple purposes, such as biking, hiking, and walking. Make sure they are durable and will last you the duration of your stay.

Again, the style here is relaxed. As a country with more bikes than people, most everyone wears sneakers.

Flip flops

If you’re staying in student housing, you will want flip flops as you may share a bathroom with several people (I shared a one with four people).

Power stick/bank

Especially when you’re traveling, these things come in handy. From your trip here, to your trip home, and the many adventures in between, this is one thing I would not go without. Nobody likes a dead phone.

USB stick

In my university experience here, professors do not use the online portal very often, if at all. I have never submitted an assignment online. Most were sent via email, but there were several that required a USB stick for in-class presentations and the like.

A smaller bag or suitcase

Chances are you’ll bring a colossal suitcase with you on your arrival here. This is useful for your six month stay, but not so much if you plan on taking short spontaneous trips to other countries (and trust me, you will). Bring a smaller suitcase, backpack, or duffle bag.

Converter + adapter

Rule of thumb: converters are for hair dryers and adapters are used for electronics. If you use these in vise versa, expect an outlet blowout. I would bring several of both. Six months is a long time to use just one and is it possible that it could burn out or even destroy your electronics. If anything, invest in a nice one to avoid any mishaps. Also make sure at least one is small and light enough to carry in your backpack.

A combo lock

You will want one of these if you plan on obtaining a gym membership or staying at hostels while traveling to keep your expensive items safe.

Laundry bag (optional)

If you have a lightweight, portable laundry bag, bring it. Otherwise you can purchase a giant reusable grocery bag for about 1 euro at most grocery stores.

Umbrella (optional)

I leave this one as optional because it’s really not an expensive item to purchase while you’re here and you can buy one pretty much everywhere.

Laptop

If you have one, bring it. The school offers use of the computers though most SSH housing units are not in close proximity to the university and the libraries typically aren’t open during late hours like they are in the U.S.

Camera

You won’t want to miss out on documenting all your magnificent memories!

Cell phone

This was a big one on my list before I came. There are several options you can consider:

1. Bring your U.S. phone with a purchased international plan (through a U.S. carrier)

2. Bring your U.S. phone with current carrier plan, service turned off, Wifi usage only (I used this option and I highly suggest it. If you have an iPhone, just go to Settings > Cellular > turn off Cellular data / data roaming to avoid any charges. You don’t need to be surfing your news feed when you have the entire European continent to explore!)

Note: there are SIM cards available for purchase here with minutes on them as an additional add-on.

3. Purchase an international plan (NL carrier) which gives you service (at no additional charge) in most European countries.

The Hague, Netherlands
The Hague, Netherlands

What you don’t need to bring

  • Shampoo, conditioner, hair products, general vitamins, school supplies, makeup, body wash, basically any general goods. They have these here! Plus some recognizable brands that we have in the U.S. like Nivea and Dove.
  • Copious amounts of USD in cash. Bring enough USD in cash for your trip here, but don’t bring anymore than that as you often lose a significant chunk of it due to the exchange rate and service fees. You can use your debit card at pretty much any ATM here and withdraw euros, which typically only takes the minimum exchange and then a small percentage charge from your bank (mine was like 0.01%).
  • Hangers, towels, pillows. SSH student provides hangers for free, and otherwise you can purchase them for quite cheap at the IKEA here. They also have towels and pillows for as low as 3 euros.