Moving to Europe is notoriously hard. As an American, I didn’t really pay attention to my international friends’ struggles of applying for permanent visas in the United States. When I decided that I wanted to move to the Netherlands long-term, I got to understand first hand the frustrations of being on the other side. Thankfully, if you wish to immigrate to the Netherlands, there’s something called the Dutch American Friendship Treaty which makes it relatively easy for you to obtain a self employment work permit.
I’m writing this with the desire that my experiences with obtaining the residence permit for self-employment under the Dutch American friendship treaty (DAFT) will also help other Americans who wish to also move to the Netherlands. Other blogs online helped me a lot as I went through the process, though I found that there is a lack of updated information about the process online. So, I’m hoping that my experiences in mid 2016 will help future residents from the USA in the Netherlands!
The process for obtaining a self-employment permit may seem long and daunting, but it’s totally manageable to do on your own (you really don’t need a lawyer!). If you are thinking about moving to the Netherlands and are American, it’s definitely the best option and totally worth doing.
How to Qualify with Dutch American Friendship Treaty
Have an American passport. Have 4,500 euro disposable income. And ideally some marketable skill.
It’s important to note that under the DAFT permit, you’re actually a freelancer. That means you work for yourself and you take on clients. You can’t be hired as an employee. Most companies are OK with that (actually many even prefer that due to tax and health insurance implications). Technically, no one client can contribute to more than 70% of your income.
For me, the Dutch American Friendship Treaty process took a little more than 3 months, which is not bad at all as far as resident application processes go. Of this, it took me about 2 months between the time I initiated my application and submitted the complete application, and then another 1.5 months approximately to wait to hear back.
Contacting the IND
Throughout the process you’ll probably need to talk to the IND dozens of times.
Contact the IND if you have any questions about the DAFT application process. Depending on the time of the year, wait times when you call the IND can be very long. If you’re calling the IND, always budget at least an hour for your phone call to be safe. If you’re on prepaid phone plans in the Netherlands, it’s probably a lot cheaper to call using Skype – otherwise your balance will dwindle quickly with all those minutes you’re on hold with the IND!
A little known trick if you’re looking to just have a question answered is to directly tweet the IND. They always respond within 24 hours and it’s a quick, painless way to ask a question. You could also email the IND, but the response time is a lot slower (like 3 days) and I actually didn’t get a response back at all one of the times I sent an email. So Twitter is the way to go for quick questions about the process! When you tweet, mention the Dutch American Friendship Treaty.
Here are the 10 steps I followed to obtain my resident permit with DAFT.
- Arrive in the Netherlands.
- Find a house / somewhere that allows you to register. Some of my housing tips are outlined here.
- Register your address at the Gemeente and get your BSN. Call and make an appointment with the Gemeente in order to register your address. You have to bring your passport, proof of residence (either a lease or a note from the main resident certifying you live there), and an “apostilled birth certificate”. Now I actually did not bring in a birth certificate with an apostille – they said I can just obtain the apostille and submit my documents again within 6 months. I was able to go ahead and register anyway. It seems like nothing will happen if I don’t submit the proper documents? (Let’s hope I’m right…) You’re not registered yet until you have your IND meeting, so bring the form they give you to IND to sign. You need the Gemeente registration in order to get a BSN (burgerservicenummer) – which is like the omni powerful social security number in the Netherlands.
- Begin your application with the IND. Call and make an appointment with the IND. Mention the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. I was able to get an appointment for the same week. (Some of the other blogs suggested that wait times can be very long – it seems like they improved the process because the next available appointment date was within a couple days). Your appointment date needs to be before your visa-free 90 days run out!
- At your appointment, bring your completed application form, passport, and fee (EUR 1293 at the time of my application. Ouch – but you got to pay it or leave!). Bring cash because they don’t accept non-Dutch cards there.
- Your application will not be complete yet at this stage, but that is okay. You have time to submit all the documents.
- IND puts a sticker in your passport, granting you the right to stay in the Netherlands for another 6 months as you wait for a decision.
- You are allowed to work in the Netherlands as a self-employed individual at this point – the sticker & the IND lady said so!
- NOTE: I realized afterwards that it actually makes more sense to do the IND appointment before the Gemeente appointment, this way you do not have to submit the registration form stamped by the IND back to the Gemeente. You can either bring this back physically or the IND can mail it back for you. This way you can get your BSN directly, instead of waiting for it to be mailed to your address!
- Get your KvK Registration & official extract. Go online and make an appointment with the KvK, which is the business registry of the Netherlands. Think of a name of your new business. Fill out the application form online (you need to translate your “business activity” to Dutch). At your appointment, bring your:
- ID (passport)
- Application form for a Sole Proprietorship. There’s also a digital version of the form when you get an appointment.
- Proof of address (either you need a lease for your “office” address or just your proof of registration for your home address)
- 50 euros application fee (cash or PIN – bring cash to be safe as many places don’t accept foreign cards)
- Another 15 euros to get an official extract (remember to ask for this!) – this is what you need to submit to the IND
- Congratulations, you now have your own company in the Netherlands!
- Apply for a Business Bank Account. I got an account with Rabobank.
- Many blogs suggested going with ABN-AMRO as they are the only major bank to offer English banking services. However, to my frustration, every time I called ABN-AMRO to make an appointment (like 5 times) – I would always be waiting for a long time and in the end my call would get cut off. I was supposed to speak with an “US Persons” desk (because of the Patriot Act) but I never was successfully connected to them. Their staff also seems to not know what’s going on – they said I cannot get a business account until I’m an actual resident, which I’m pretty sure is not true.
- Because I was unable to make an appointment with ABN-AMRO (who require appointments in order to create accounts) – I ended up just giving up and walking into Rabobank in Dam Square. There, they were able to set me up within half an hour. So far I highly recommend Rabobank!
- EDIT September 2017: Many commenters have suggested getting an account from Bunq. Bunq is a new “online bank” with whom you can set up a business account within 5 minutes. I have accounts with them, it really is that easy! You can also download statements directly from their app to submit to the IND.
EDIT January 2019: BUNQ now has a referral program of “Give 10 euros, get 10 euros”. Here is my referral link.
- Deposit EUR 4500 into your business bank account & get bank statement.
- After I received my business debit card from your bank, I was able to deposit the EUR 4500 “necessary investment” to my business via one of the cash machines at the Rabobank branch.
- Obtain a bank statement of your balance. I printed off a copy of my Rabobank statement from the online banking portal showing my account balance. I also called Rabobank business division to ask for a stamped document “proof” of the validity of my account (they said they’re not allowed to write my balance on paper, but sent me an official looking letter “proving” that I do indeed hold an account). These two documents should suffice for the IND.
- Get your “balance sheet” done by a certified bookkeeper in the Netherlands. Most agencies in Amsterdam are very expensive – like 450 euros to prepare one piece of paper that takes them probably 10 minutes to fill out (if all your assets just consist of the 4500 euro investment you made to the business). However I was able to find one that charged only 95 euros per hour + tax who was based in a different city (total came out to 115 euros). We just did everything virtually via Skype. I can recommend him whole heartedly! His name is Wim Van Gessel.
- Write your business plan. [NOTE: This is NOT a requirement under DAFT, but good to have] It just needs to be one page, though I wrote two. You should describe what kind of business you are running, your fee structure, how you plan on obtaining clients, your qualifications, and the business opportunity. Best if you can say something about how your business cross promotes the US-Netherlands economy. Here’s mine.
- Submit and wait! Best to do this in person so they give you a receipt, though you can also mail it in. You don’t need to make an appointment – you can just go to the IND front desk.
Refer to the extended discussion below in the comments. It’s likely your question has already been asked!
Feel free to add your question if it hasn’t been answered so I & others can chime in.
The IND will mail you a notice once you have been approved. The IND also sets an internal deadline for reviewing the application. If you don’t get a letter stating the deadline call them and ask what it is. Mine was September 7 – a little less than 3 months after I submitted my initial application. If you don’t get a decision, you can actually mail in a notice to hold the IND in default. When the IND is in default you can start getting paid for every day they miss the deadline by. Mailing in this notice also sets a fire under their chairs and gets them to make a decision more quickly! So if you don’t get a decision by the deadline, make sure you mail in the form (scroll down to the “IND does not decide in time” section).
I received a letter of my resident permit approval within a week after I mailed in the default form.
I had a bit of scare as the letter said to pick up the document within two months. At the time I was in NYC for work and didn’t plan to return to the Netherlands until 4 months later . Thankfully, the IND clarified that I just have to call again when I’m back and they will send the permit back to the right office.
With this permit, I can be out of the country up to 6 months in a year. When I’m out of the country I have to continue to be registered in the Netherlands and pay health insurance. The initial permit is for two years, after which I can renew it for 5 years. So now I am a proud resident of the Netherlands thanks to the Dutch American Friendship Treaty!
After Your Permit Arrives
But it’s not over! With a resident permit comes greater responsibility. There are certain things you can do and there are certain things you HAVE TO do once your resident permit comes through.
In your application process, health insurance is not mandatory. For your own sake you should probably have some form of health insurance. I got travel insurance via InsureMyTrip.com… It’s very economical!
Once you have your resident permit, though, you’re expected to have Dutch health insurance. You don’t have to get it immediately, but just know that once you get insurance, you’ll be charged from the day you become a resident. So might as well get it earlier rather than later! I went with the company OHRA.
Quarterly Taxes & Annual Income Tax
As a freelancer, you’re responsible for filing your own quarterly business tax declaration and your annual income tax declaration. DON’T FORGET TO DO THIS. If you want to appeal to the tax office, they’re not allowed to speak English to you. So, avoid making mistakes at all costs possible. The specifics of how actually to file your taxes is a whole nother beast, so I’ll save this topic for another post.
And there you have it! Let me know if you have any questions about the DAFT process, join the discussion below, and BEST OF LUCK!