All You Need to Know

The choice to study abroad is a big decision followed by many more small, but significant, considerations. Where will I live? What courses will I take? Do I need a visa? How much will it cost? What is the application process like? The first step is to gather as much information as possible. We are here to help! Please don't hesitate to contact us with questions!

Do you have questions about the upcoming semester with regard to the coronavirus outbreak? Please see vu.nl/coronavirus and click on the link for international students.

Every year students from around the world with a variety of backgrounds study at VU Amsterdam as Semester in Amsterdam students. Want to know more about their experiences? Here you can find videos by our fabulous videographers, a link to our student blog, and the contact information of our student ambassadors.

Learn more from previous students.

Welcome to the world’s most diverse city! With residents hailing from over 180 countries, Amsterdam is considered to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. With 75 world-renowned museums, more than 350 festivals a year, and a 17th century canal ring which is now a UNESCO world heritage site, Amsterdam is a bustling cosmopolitan city with a small-scale feel which offers something for everyone.

Getting Around By Bike

With more than 880,000 bicycles - four times the number of cars - Amsterdam is a city of bikes. With an extensive network of cycle lanes, bicycle parking and specific traffic lights the city is perfect to traverse by bike. Everything in Amsterdam is within reasonable biking distance. Even though cycling in Amsterdam is fun and an essential part of living the Amsterdam life, it is not without risk. Check out this handy guide before cycling in Amsterdam.

Public Transportation

If you don't feel comfortable biking, no worries. The city of Amsterdam has an extensive public transportation network consisting of trams, metro services, buses, ferries, and trains. Extensive maps and timetables of all routes can be found on the GVB (municipal transport company) website

Public transport Card (OV-chipkaart)  

The most convenient and affordable method of paying for public transport is by 'OV-chipkaart'. We will provide all students with a refillable anonymous OV-chipkaart upon arrival. 

You can opt for automatic reloading which links the card to your bank account and automatically refills it when your credit drops below a certain amount. Or you can use a loading machine. Loading machines can be found in stations and in some buses, supermarkets, and convenience stores. You can also purchase single-ride tickets if you prefer, but using an OV-Chipkaart is cheaper, faster, and more convenient.  

Check in, check out

Public transportation in Amsterdam uses a check-in and check-out system. It is important to remember to check both in and out when using your OV-chipkaart. This can be done by holding the card against the check-in/check-out scanners which you will find on train and metro platforms.  For trams and busses, you will find the scanner on the bus or tram, you do not need to check-in before you board. You must also check in and out when changing to a different line or mode of transport.  

*Please note that in order to take the train, you must have at least €20 on your OV-Chipkaart. This is not the case for other forms of public transportation such as the metro, bus, tram, or ferry. Ferries are free and do not require an OV-Chipkaart to travel.

Living in Amsterdam

Upon arrival in Amsterdam, you will receive a goodie bag which includes, among other things, a SIM card. The SIM card is from Lebara and allows you to add credit for calling, texting and internet data. It is easy to download the app for iOS or Android and to top up credit on your phone. The SIM card can be used in all EU countries without extra costs.

You may consider bringing some cash for the first day, but it is usually easier to pull out cash upon arrival from one of the many ATMs in the airport and all over the city. Major credit and debit cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants. Bear in mind that most ticket machines for the tram and metro do not accept cash and some shops, such as many popular grocery stores, do not accept cards without a V-Pay or Maestro logo.

Apart from housing, you may consider the following estimated cost of living per month:

Food€150-300: This depends on how much you cook or eat out. You can reduce this price by shopping at discount supermarkets such as ALDI or LIDL, or shopping at one of the local markets.
Insurance€50-100:  All students are required to have health insurance. You can sign up for discounted student insurance during the arrival days if your home insurance does not cover you in the Netherlands.
Transportation€25-100: This depends on how much you bike and walk. Cycling will greatly reduce your public transportation costs.
Course Materials€50-100: Most professors make their reading materials available online.
Other CostsThis depends entirely on you and your personal lifestyle and preferences. If you want to travel and go to events every weekend you can expect to spend much more than if you prefer to stay home. Luckily, there are plenty of free things to do in Amsterdam! We also highly recommend getting a museum card for anyone that plans to spend their weekends at one of the many world famous museums!

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is a leading European research university with about 25,000 students and 2,500 academic staff. Approximately 15% of the student body is made up of international students. The university is host to nine different faculties on one centralized campus and offers more than a thousand English-taught courses in fields of study ranging from Humanities to Law to Medicine. With more than 50 Bachelor's degree programmes and over 100 Master's degree programmes, the university offers a wide range of study options. The university also welcomes about 250 PhD students every year. VU Amsterdam is also well-known for the VU School of Medical Sciences which has its own hospital, VU Amsterdam Medical Centre.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is ranked in the top 100 universities in the world according to the Shanghai ranking. The fields of Life and Agricultural Sciences and Social Sciences are ranked in the top 100 while Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy are ranked in the top 75. We have a strong reputation for high quality teaching. Students work in relatively small groups in which considerable emphasis is placed on interaction and a personal approach. 

Higher education in the Netherlands is world-renowned for its national system of regulation and quality assurance. All Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes at VU Amsterdam are accredited (officially recognised) by the Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). No other country matches the Dutch percentage of universities in the top 200.

About the Campus

VU Amsterdam is a campus university: almost all university buildings are situated on-site, with teaching and research facilities and several leisure activities all located on the same campus. The university campus is located in the business district, Amsterdam Zuid, just 10 minutes walking from the major train station and transportation hub, Station Zuid. From Station Zuid you can reach the centre of Amsterdam in 10 - 15 minutes. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has a welcoming and centrally located city campus with excellent facilities for teaching and research. 

The campus offers a wide range of related services such as:    

  • A variety of shops, cafés, and restaurants including a student supermarket.
  • A cultural programme offering a variety of theatre, music, and dance performances and courses at the Griffioen Cultural Center. Prices are reduced for students and staff.
  • Two Sports Centres with new facilities, a variety of classes from yoga to spinning, and a gym. Prices are reduced for students and staff.
  • A basketball field, beach volleyball field, and tennis tables are located on the campus ground and are free to use for students any time of day.
  • Great public transportation connection: 15 minute tram or bike ride to the historic city centre and a 10 minute walk to the major transportation hub Station Zuid.
  • The Main Building has a permanent exhibition space which showcases the work of new and established artists. 
  • Extensive underground secured bike parking.
  • Academic and cultural events organized on campus throughout the year. Events include the opening of the academic year and a public event programme including the VU Summer Break Festival, On the Roof Film Festival, and the Open Air Festival.

Food and Shopping

From the first cup of coffee in the morning to a delicious hot meal at the end of the day, the campus has a wide variety of cafés and restaurants to satisfy any craving. The Doppio coffee corner recently won the Audience Award in the Coffee Top 100. You can enjoy your food and drinks indoors or outdoors at one of the numerous picnic tables or on the steps. Books and other study materials can be find at the VU bookshop. There is also a fair trade shop and a student supermarket. 

IT and Study Facilities

Free WIFI is available for all students and employees on campus. There are several computer rooms, a notebook study room, and internet work spaces to study comfortably and quietly. All faculties have their own study and computer rooms. Students can also study in the faculty libraries. The buildings are generally open from 7AM to 11PM on weekdays and from 8AM to 6PM during the weekend. See opening times for each building.  

Student Associations

There are several types of student bodies at the university, mostly linked to a field of study. ESN VU Amsterdam is an organisation for all international and Dutch students at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. It brings together students from around the world to introduce them to the university and Amsterdam and to make them feel at home. ESN VU Amsterdam organises a number of activities throughout the semester including boat parties, borrels, weekend and day trips, pub quiz and movie nights, and more!

International Office

The International Office is located on the ground floor of the main building on the VU Amsterdam campus. We provide support to incoming and outgoing students in order to help make the transition to a new country easier. The International Service Desk is open weekdays from 12 to 2PM for any general questions you may have.

Fall Semester 2020
Arrival and Introduction15 - 28 August
Period 131 August - 16 October, Exams: 19 - 23 October
Period 226 October - 11 December, Exams: 14 - 18 December
Period 34 January - 22 January, Exams: 25 January - 29 January
Spring Semester 2021
Arrival and Introduction29 - 31 January 
Period 41 February - 19 March, Exams: 22 - 26 March
Period 529 March - 20 May, Exams: 21 - 28 May
Period 631 May - 18 June, Exams: 21 - 25 June 

The academic year is divided into two semesters. Each semester consists of three periods. Periods 1, 2, and 3 take place in the fall semester and periods 4, 5, and 6 take place in the spring semester. The first two periods of each semester are 8 weeks long (periods 1, 2, 4, and 5) and the last period is 4 weeks long (periods 3 and 6). Students generally take at least two courses in each of the first two periods. You are also free to skip the last period and return home in December (fall) or the end of May (spring). 

As an alternative to taking a course in periods 3 or 6, you can also choose to follow an extra course in another period.  Students can take a maximum of 30 ECTS (usually 5 courses) per semester. It is up to you to decide how many courses to take in each period. However, we do not advise students to take more than 3 courses in any one period as the course load is usually too intense.

A regular semester workload consists of 24 - 30 ECTS. ECTS is based on the principle that 60 credits is equal to the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. Each ECTS credit is equivalent to 28 study hours.  Unlike many other academic systems, these hours include contact hours spent in class as well as self-study hours spend independently outside of class. Students are advised to take a minimum of 48 ECTS per year or 24 ECTS per semester with a maximum of 60 ECTS per year or 30 ECTS per semester. A Minor Programme is worth 30 ECTS, but students may choose to skip the last course in period 3.

Dutch grades range from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The highest grades 9 and 10 are only rarely awarded. An 8 is considered a high mark while 7s and 6s are more common. Grades from 1 (very poor) to 3 are rare. Grades of 5.5 and higher are passing grades in the Netherlands, but we advise you to confirm what constitutes a passing grade at your home university. It is up to your home university to determine a proper conversion scale. 

Please be prepared for the fact that your final grade may be made up of only one final exam. Most courses offer re-sits if you fail the first exam, but if you only stay until period 2 in the Fall or period 5 in the Spring then the resit date may occur after you have already returned home. You must be present in Amsterdam to take the re-sit exam.

Study hours at VU Amsterdam are a combination of hours spent in class with the instructor and hours spent out of class. In general, a VU student has about 10 hours per week of strictly student/professor contact hours. The remaining hours are spent outside of the classroom and can include time spent working on assignments with other students from class known as “work groups” or time spent working individually on assignments known as “self-study.” 

The Dutch understanding of “self-study” is a fixed number of hours spent working on specific assignments. Although the number of hours spent by each student may vary, all students are expected to complete a minimum number of hours of self-study for each course. These vary per class, but you should be prepared to spend more time studying independently then you may be used to. Self-study hours are weighted the same as in-class hours and are thus included in the 1 ECTS = 28 contact hours calculation.

Studying at VU Amsterdam: What is expected of you?

  • Be an active learner and critical thinker: ask questions, participate, and share your opinion
  • Be present and on time: many teachers have a 100% attendance policy
  • Be prepared: less lectures, more self-study
  • Be accountable: you are responsible for knowing when your assignments are due and exams take place
  • Be transparent: always mention your source of information

Studying at VU Amsterdam: What can you expect?

  • High level of classroom interaction
  • Independence and active learning
  • Relative lack of competition
  • Direct feedback
  • Social equality
  • No grade inflation or scaling

Sustainable Campus 

VU Amsterdam has a clear vision for a sustainable future. We value the stewardship of our planet and the responsible planning and management of resources which leads to a sustainable future. Environmental sustainability is not only a priority for teaching and research programmes at VU Amsterdam, but is also a major consideration for construction and building projects. VU Amsterdam offers several Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes in the field of Sustainability & Energy, collectively known as Science for Sustainability. Flexibility, sustainability, and cost-consciousness are important factors in the development of the VU Amsterdam Campus. New sustainable buildings are created according to BREEAM standards, the most trusted sustainability assessment method. Old buildings are refurbished to meet current sustainability standards as much as possible.

We guarantee furnished accommodation to all students who apply on time. Additionally, Semester in Amsterdam is now offering the option to stay with a homestay family for a semester!

Read more about our housing options.

Your first few weeks in a new country are often full of daunting and exhilarating experiences. This is also a great time to explore the city and make new friends. In order to help you navigate this fun and exciting time, we organise a full orientation programme and schedule of cultural excursions throughout the semester to help you explore the ins and outs of Dutch culture. All costs for the orientation and Semester in Amsterdam social programme are included in the programme costs. Additionally, each semester we organise one pay-for trip abroad to another city in Europe!

See full programme overview.

Once you make the choice to study abroad, there are certain practical matters which must be taken care of both before and after arrival.  Certain things, like registering with the municipality and completing your immigration process (if applicable) are required, while other practical matters, like opening a bank account and arranging a bike before arrival, will simply make your life in Amsterdam must simpler and easier. We are here to help you with each and every process along the way!

Find a Complete List Here.

Still have questions? Please check our Frequenty Asked Questions page first. If you still cannot find the answer to your question, you can always e-mail us at [email protected].

Check the Frequently Asked Questions Page.