Moving Abroad: Raising Kids in Amsterdam vs. San Francisco


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Greetings from Amsterdam! My family and I have now been in Amsterdam for about two and a half months, and it’s finally starting to hit me — this is not a vacation! I actually live here! Moving abroad with a two-year-old has proven to be more challenging than anticipated, but we feel lucky to be here and are slowly starting to get settled. Now that the initial shock and excitement of being in a foreign place has begun to wear off, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the differences between San Francisco and Amsterdam. I thought it would be fun to share some of the things I miss about SF and some of the things I love about Amsterdam.

Getting Around

+1 Amsterdam

My favorite thing about Amsterdam is how easy it is to get around the city. We sold our car when we left San Francisco and bought bikes right away when we arrived. It is all about bikes here! Initially, I was really intimidated to bike around an unfamiliar city with Henry in a bike seat on the back of my bike, but I gained confidence quickly and realized what a fast, efficient and fun mode of transportation biking can be. I still bike a bit slower and more cautiously than your average Dutch mom, but I bike in the rain, cold and dark like everyone else! My days of wrestling a thrashing toddler into a car seat are over and I could not be more ecstatic! The traffic and parking challenges in the City were starting to wear on me, so biking feels like a breath of fresh air.

moving abroad with kids amsterdam vs san franciscoHousehold Conveniences

+1 San Francisco

One of the most seemingly insignificant, yet challenging things, about adjusting to life in Amsterdam involves navigating basic household appliances. Our apartment is set up like a typical Dutch apartment, with many small “combo” appliances. My microwave is also an oven, my washer is also a dryer, my dishwasher can hold dishes from about one and a half meals, and my fridge looks like it belongs in a college dorm room. I have had to adapt my cleaning and cooking routines a lot, which I know is a total first world problem, but I often yearn for the easy-to-operate, large appliances that I left behind in San Francisco.

Grocery Stores

+1 San Francisco

Speaking of things I find myself longing for…Whole Foods, Trader Joes’, and Rainbow Grocery, how I miss you so! My grocery shopping game used to be on point, but here it’s a little more complicated. I knew the aisles of Whole Foods like the back of my hand, Trader Joe’s was my go-to for kid snacks, and I used to go wild in the bulk section of Rainbow Grocery. At the grocery store here, I find myself wandering around aimlessly trying to find basic pantry staples, while periodically checking Google Translate to make sure the Dutch words on the labels mean what I think they do. Don’t get me wrong, there are cool stores here too, and I live down the street from an amazing outdoor market and a cute wine store (what more do you need, really?), but shopping here is more of a Dutch language crash-course than a simple task at this point.

moving abroad raising kids in amsterdam vs san francisco


+1 Amsterdam

San Francisco is a beautiful city, but there is something about the canals and architecture in Amsterdam that is extra-picturesque. The gables on top of the canal houses are so charming, and the cobblestone streets and historic buildings make me feel like I’m living in a storybook.  The streets are so much cleaner here (sorry, SF, it’s just the truth!) and compared to SOMA, where I lived in SF, it feels much safer here.


+1 San Francisco

Amsterdam may have won me over with its bikes and beauty, but compared to San Francisco, it really falls short in the weather department. Let the record show, I complained a lot during Fogust. I wasn’t a big fan of the windy, foggy days in San Francisco, but I realize now that we had it SO good. There were so many sunny days! The sun peeked through the clouds here on Christmas day and I actually shrieked with joy. Sun! A Christmas miracle! I can probably count on one hand the number of beautiful, blue skies days we’ve had since we arrived. It gets dark very early and is grey more often than not. I have heard that spring and summers here are lovely, warm and sunny, but right now all I can think about is where I can flee in search of sunshine for the rest of winter.

Kid-Friendly Activities

+1 San Francisco

One kid-related thing I miss about San Francisco is Pearachute. If you haven’t used Pearachute before, you have to check it out! Henry and I were able to drop in to classes and play spaces all over the City using Pearachute, and it was a great way to meet up with friends and try new activities without the pressure to commit to an entire session. We used Pearachute every week in San Francisco, and I miss the variety of activities we had access to at an affordable rate.

Public Libraries

+1 San Francisco

I also desperately miss the libraries in San Francisco. We went to the library at least once a week in SF and always had about twenty books checked out at one time; we do a lot of reading at our house! The libraries here are great IF you speak Dutch. Our local branch here usually has about five to ten English books available to check out, some of which are not age appropriate, so it’s not as easy to borrow books here. Kids are also limited to checking out ten books at a time here, and there is a fee for requesting books from other branches (I requested books online all the time in SF because it’s free). The libraries in San Francisco are such a great resource, so take advantage of them if you don’t already!


+1 Amsterdam

Amsterdam is missing some of the kid services that I counted on as a stay-at-home mom in San Francisco, but the overall kid-friendliness here more than makes up for it. I see a lot more kids in social spaces (like restaurants and cafes) here, and I personally feel a lot more comfortable out and about with my wild toddler here. There are a handful of designated kid-cafes, often attached to children’s clothing boutiques, around the city that provide high-quality espresso and food for adults, as well as kid food options and a play space with toys. Many parks also have attached cafes near the playgrounds, so that parents can enjoy their food and drinks outside while their kids play. The coolest example of kid-friendly spaces, though, are the children’s farms, or kinderboerderij. These petting zoos are free, located in different neighborhoods around the city (we are lucky to have one about five minutes away by bike!) and very informal. The first time we went, we were amazed that you can just walk in, explore and pet animals as you please. The small ways that kids are accommodated and embraced here make city life as a parent a little bit easier.

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I knew that an international move was going to be an adventure, but I had no idea how different day-to-day life in another country would be. I didn’t anticipate all the small things I would miss about our “old life,” or all the exciting things we’d get to experience here. I hope to share more about life abroad, moving, and travel with toddlers in future posts, so stay tuned!


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Kate grew up in sunny San Diego and is a beach girl at heart. She moved to the Bay Area to attend Cal (Go Bears!), where she studied Sociology and met her husband Zack. She has a Masters in Education from UC Santa Cruz and taught middle school in Santa Rosa and Austin, Texas before her son Henry was born in 2016. The family of three moved to San Francisco in February 2017 and miss good barbeque, but enjoy exploring the city together. Kate loves spending time outdoors with Henry, usually hiking or hanging out at the playground. When Henry is sleeping, you can find her cooking, curled up on the couch with a new book or working on her headstand in a yoga class.


  1. We did the opposite move, moving to the Bay Area after living in AMS as expats. I miss living there SO much (and agree that it is so much more kid friendly) – funnily enough, the “struggles” you are experiencing there are ones I am going through here… Pls let me know if you need any help/want to chat more about the city/having a kid there!


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