Morgan's dream of living in Europe was a topic even on her first date with her partner Matt. "Matt had never been to Europe before, but it wasn't long until we booked out first trip together and he caught the travel bug," writes Morgan. Three years after that first date, Matt got the opportunity to open his company's European office. And they had a pick of pre-approved countries like Ireland, England, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands! After traveling to a few places on the list, they chose Amsterdam. Today, they share a charming Dutch canal house with their cat Frankenstein.
Where did you start?
When we found out we were moving, big decisions needed to happen fast. Matt's company put us in touch with a legal company in the Netherlands that helped prepare us for the visa process. They gave us a huge list of forms to fill out and certificates to obtain. The craziest thing we had to get was a "Certificate of Record Not Found" to prove that we were not married to either each other nor to anyone else. All of this paperwork had to individually notarized and then officially notarized by an "apostille". If I weren't an organized person, I don't know how I could have done it!
Our only hiccup happened because we came very, very close to the end of our travel visa (three months within 90 days inside the Schengen Area). I think we had only two or three days left on this visa. If we had overstayed, they would not have issued our resident/work visas. We ended up booking our airline tickets only after we scheduled our appointment with the IND office—and only a few days before our departure!
What were all the legal/passport/visa stuff you had to take care of?
- Passports and passport copies with all stamped pages
- Unmarried documents notarized with apostille
- Antecedents Certificates (no criminal history)
- Sponsorship declaration
"At first we thought that we'd be able to find a place to live online while still in the U.S. but we were very wrong."
How did you find a place to live?
At first we thought that we'd be able to find a place to live online while still in the U.S. but we were very wrong. The rental market moves so fast that most of the places we were interested in had already been rented by the time we contacted the rental agency. We ended up renting a hotel room for two weeks (not ideal AT ALL) and walking around the city every single day to find available apartments.
At one point we got into a little bit of trouble with one of the real estate agents. She told us that because we had asked to see the lease, we had technically made a verbal agreement to rent the property and were legally bound. Naturally we freaked out and tried to find a way out of it. Apparently it's something that is actually a law that will hold up in court, but isn't very common to follow through with. Thankfully we settled that and continued on in our hunt.
We looked at about 10 places before we found our current apartment. After a nightmare of house hunting for two weeks, we ended up using an agency to help us find a place and negotiate the lease for us. We signed the lease and moved in the next day—with only one day to spare before February! The lease agreement is pretty standard and a lot like the contracts in the U.S. I'd say the only big difference is that after one year, many of the leases fall into a month-by-month lease instead of another set time period. Another big different is that there are a lot of laws that protect both parties, especially the tenant.
Not much surprised me with the rental and paperwork process. Since we used an agency, they translated the lease to English for us, which made us feel comfortable signing.
How do you set up services like utilities?
Setting up utilities is exactly like in the U.S. except there are a lot of providers to choose from. We had a terrible energy provider for the first two years that we lived here, but have since switched to a much more affordable and eco-friendly provider. The most frustrating thing that happened during this process was that we weren't able to get a cell phone without a bank account and weren't able to get a bank account without a cell phone. We ended up convincing the bank to use an international number for a day until we got our new phones.
"I did a lot of research online about what to bring with and what to keep. What I learned from that is that everyone has their own opinion and you should just do whatever you think is best!"
How do you move your stuff to another country?
We were actually in a better place than we could have been because we didn't own anything important—no apartment, no car, no kids, not even a pet! We started with finding a sublet for our apartment in Chicago.
We then started on getting rid of everything we owned. We threw a "Come Drink All Our Alcohol and Buy All Our Stuff Party" and invited all of our friends. I had marked everything with colored stickers to indicate what was going with us and what was being sold. I did a lot of research online about what to bring with and what to keep. What I learned from that is that everyone has their own opinion and you should just do whatever you think is best!
"We then started on getting rid of everything we owned. We threw a 'Come Drink All Our Alcohol and Buy All Our Stuff Party' and invited all of our friends."
We brought things that we couldn't see ourselves living without for the next five years or more and our clothes. Most of the things we couldn't live without were artwork, but it also included some functional things like our newly purchased (European-sized) bed and my easels. There were things that we didn't want to get rid of, but also didn't want to bring with us either—like our bikes and our old yearbooks. These things are stored at my mom's house. Our little cat Frankenstein was adopted here, so thankfully we didn't have to look into figuring that out.
I had never shipped anything internationally before either, but I was a wedding planner in Chicago and know how to organize the logistics of mass quantities of important items moving from one location to another! When I packed a box, I wrote the contents of the box on the outside with a number. I then entered all this information into Excel. At the end of the packing, I took the total number of boxes and wrote "out of ___" after the box number. On every single box. So each box read "__ of __." Unfortunately when the moving company came, they insisted that they repack the boxes for insurance purposes. Thankfully they just took all the contents of my pre-packed boxes and put them into a new box with the same number. This system really helped us when our items arrived months later and we checked everything in. Of course at that point we had no idea what we had packed up in the first place!
What are some of the obvious differences between living in another country?
The biggest and most obvious difference about living in another country is the language. Our first two years we struggled with learning Dutch. This year we've made a New Year's resolution to finally buckle down and do it! Dutch people are so highly educated and know such an incredible amount of English, it's easy to forget they're not native English speakers!
What are some of the unexpected differences?
The most surprising difference was the quality of food! There's very little preservatives added to food here—even food you purchase from the supermarket. It's honestly life changing. Matt and I both feel so much healthier.
"You get used to the little bouts of homesickness and learn to roll with it."
What's the best thing about moving to Amsterdam?
The wine and cheese!
What do you wish you knew before moving to another country?
That it gets very lonely. I always thought that I was a very independent person, but until I moved here, I didn't know how much I needed to work on that. You get used to the little bouts of homesickness and learn to roll with it.
What advice do you have to give to anyone considering making a move to another country?
Absolutely, 100%, without question do it!
Tour Morgan and Matt's Amsterdam apartment → A Bohemian-Inspired Dutch Canal House