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Getting a Dutch Freelancer’s Visa

If you’re past the age of studenthood but not yet an established professional, then moving to (northern) Europe can be tricky. Most immigrants are obliged to find an employer willing (and able) to sponsor them for a residence permit, and unfortunately such employers seem to be, in this day and age, few and far between. However, don’t lose hope! You may qualify as a freelancer without even realizing it.
Be sure to visit Limburg, a popular destination for Hollanders seeking exotic, “hilly” terrain.

The following is an account of my successful move to the Netherlands without any such sponsoring employer. The process may be similar in other European countries, but I can only speak about the Netherlands. The key is that you must define your working activities as freelance. Even if you haven’t considered your target career in such a term, think about if it could apply. I got a job offer from a Dutch university and wanted simply to be an employee of theirs (teaching English as a second language), but when the job didn’t qualify for sponsorship I adapted relatively easily to a freelance model. It’s perfectly feasible that you’re a freelancer with one big “client” who takes up most of your time, making your situation very similar in feeling to that of an employee (though for legal purposes your status will be as a self-employed freelancer).

Is the Dutch Freelancer’s Visa Right for You?

I intend the following account to be a guide for others like me who wish to undertake this arduous process. Even if you’re not in the teaching sector, if you believe you can define your job somehow in the freelance category then please read on. This article will be relevant to you if you:

  • are NOT an EU citizen
  • do NOT have a job offer from a company able to sponsor you
  • can define your work as freelance

A further note to applicants not from the United States: my application process was made easier by something called the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty (that’s right, we’re friends: it’s official). This treaty allows Americans to complete the application with a slightly more lenient set of documents. If you’re not from the US then you can still follow my guide, but note that in the application you must choose “Residence Permit to Work on a Self-Employed Basis” and follow those instructions (as opposed to Americans who may choose “Residence Permit to Work on the Basis of an International Treaty”).

And lastly, before we begin, I’ll quickly note that I managed this whole process without knowing a word of Dutch. It didn’t cause me any trouble except for the constant pang of language guilt tearing me up from the inside, as other English-speakers might be familiar with. By and large the Dutch speak excellent English and you’ll have to learn a lot of Dutch before you can out-communicate them.


Mr. Tops is an English teacher from the Great Lakes region of the United States. He has studied in Dublin and Edinburgh, and taught in Lisbon and Washington; currently he teaches in Maastricht. He prefers cats to dogs and enjoys rainy, miserable weather. The part of Europe that impresses him most are the gigantic, fairytale-sized snails, who appear majestic compared to the puny North American snail. When not teaching or writing, Mr. Tops is likely to be getting bogged down by all the menial tasks of life like buying groceries, or he might be making awkward small talk at InterNations meet-ups.

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