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Is this Europe’s most underrated city for expat living?

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Nanjing Night Net

Starting over in a new country is never simple, but for project manager Martin Frost, it was easy to see the benefits.

Frost, 35, originally came to Maastricht, the southernmost city in the Netherlands, as a Sydney University undergraduate in 2004. Undertaking a six-month exchange program in the field of brain imaging, he stayed for postgraduate studies – and met a Swiss girl who was also on exchange at the time.

Thirteen years later, they are still in Maastricht, now married with a daughter – and another baby on the way.

“The location, right in the heart of Europe, was really appealing,” says Frost. “We can go for weekend trips to Paris, Rome, London or Berlin really easily. And if it’s just for a day, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne and Dusseldorf are a short drive or train trip away.”

With just over 120,000 people, Maastricht isn’t a big city, but it has a lot going for it. Beyond its centrality, Maastricht has been lauded as one of Europe’s most underrated destinations – culturally exciting yet with a relaxed pace of life. The dynamic university town attracts a mix of local and international students and boasts arthouse cinemas, alternative shops, concerts and a world-renowned fine art fair.

“Growing up in Sydney, I would still love the buzz and possibilities of a big city but I really appreciate living in a smaller city now. Nothing is more than a 15-minute bike ride away and traffic jams just don’t exist here – not on the scale of Sydney.”

Frost lives with his wife Aude and their 17-month-old daughter Ella, just a 15-minute stroll from the main square – in amongst a mix of Dutch locals and expats. They’ve bought in a residential, tree-lined neighbourhood where every street name is somehow related to The Three Musketeers. “Comte d’Artagnan famously died not too far away from here,” says Frost.

All the houses in their street look the same – built in the 1970s and distinctly modernist in style. The strict building regulations in the area require every house to be painted white, which creates a charming uniformity.

“We have a carport and small terrace out the front, large open-plan living downstairs and a family bathroom and three bedrooms upstairs. The living room opens out to a lovely garden at the back, easily big enough for a modest game of backyard cricket.”

Buying is much more prevalent in the Netherlands than in Australia. “There’s a broad spectrum of houses on the market, so even fresh graduates can easily find something in their budget,” says Frost. “Banks are very willing to loan, no deposit is required and it is quite ingrained in the culture to buy early and often. We once heard that the average Dutch person buys (and sells) seven houses in their lifetime.”

For expats like the Frosts, it’s not uncommon to stay in the city for two to three years before making the transition from renting to buying.

That’s not to say rent isn’t affordable. “A two-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs about 1200 euros per month ($AUD1760). A small house further out of the centre costs about the same.”

Frost has considered moving back, at least for a few years, but is afraid he would be priced out of Sydney. “Having been earning euros (salaries here are substantially lower to coincide with the cost of living) and having been out of the housing market for so long, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.”

A few observations when home-hunting in the Netherlands:”When renting, be aware that places can be ‘kaal’ (Dutch for ‘bald’, meaning unfurnished) which means they don’t have floor coverings, light fixtures, curtains or any other furnishing. When I was a financially constrained masters student, I had no proper flooring nor light fixtures in my room for a year!””If you want to buy, consider using the services of a mortgage broker accustomed to assisting expats.””Most Dutch houses are built straight on the street, with big front windows that can make privacy a bit of an issue.””Most Dutch stairs are extremely steep and narrow – an architect friend of ours from Switzerland said most of them would be illegal there. This makes moving quite difficult!””Pretty much every house in the Netherlands is a terrace house. It’s a pretty big deal to have a freestanding or semi-detached home. Even a corner house gets special mention.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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