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Almost There: The Final Steps

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.
Before your permit is finished, these roses will smell like sawdust and failure. But after it’s approved they’re oh-so-sweet.

Oh, But There’s More

While you’re sitting around waiting for the slow arm of Dutch bureaucracy to dole out the product of your hard work and scurrying around, don’t forget that your company is already registered. This means that you’re on the hook for paying taxes. Hooray! Don’t worry, though, you have no income (you can’t; it’s illegal), so that means you have nothing to pay. But you still have to declare quarterly that you have no income. If you don’t, they’ll give you a fine, and then pick a number out of the clear blue sky and ask you to pay it. Trust me, it’s an unpleasant letter to get. (If you do get it, take it to a tax specialist, because he/she can send a letter and make it go away). Nobody told me that freelancers are required to make quarterly income declarations, but we are. You’ll get a few letters from the tax office (or Belastingdienst) after your KvK registration – one with a username, and another with a password. You can do everything you need to do online, e.g. pay a fine or make a declaration, but it’s a little tricky to navigate the website if you don’t speak Dutch. What’s worse, the tax office has an official policy that they will not speak English to you on the phone (or in person). They’ll speak enough to satisfy you that they can speak it quite well, but it ends there. Several of them hung up on me when I couldn’t produce adequately intelligible Dutch sentences. There’s no cure but to find a Dutch speaker and get help (odds are most Dutch people will be embarrassed by their own tax office and will be happy to help).

And Even a Little More: Get a VAR Statement

Yet another thing that nobody told me is that no proper institution/company will take your invoices seriously unless you have a VAR statement. A VAR statement is an official ruling about your tax status, given to you by the tax office. If you’re a true freelancer (i.e. if your biggest client accounts for less than 70% of your total work) then you’ll hopefully qualify for the “entrepreneur’s” status (also called the “profit” status). This is very much to your advantage – the tax rate is significantly lower than if you qualify under the “employee” status. Either way, you need the VAR. And again I would recommend doing it right and going to an accountant or tax specialist. Make a new friend! (Otherwise you can do it yourself on the tax office’s website). The VAR takes 4-6 weeks to process, so you should apply as soon as possible – before you get the permit, even. That way, once your permit comes, you can waste no time shoving invoices in everyone’s faces for all the freakishly great work you’re going to do.

Freelancer at Last

So, in the end, you’ll be nobody’s employee. In fact, avoid the word “employee” in all of your application documents (and tell your clients who are writing statements on your behalf to do the same). Replace it with phrases like “hire my services” and “work with me.” What you’ll be is a self-employed freelancer. If you end up having one big client who accounts for 95% of your work/time/income, then you’ve just managed to (for all intents and purposes) get a job in the Netherlands that didn’t qualify for residence/work sponsorship. (And hopefully it pays well, because you won’t qualify for the lower-rate “entrepreneur” tax category). You won’t get paychecks; you’ll send invoices. The company won’t withhold any money for taxes; you’ll pay your own taxes quarterly.

A final word: don’t let all this talk of self-employment and sending invoices and chambers of commerce freak you out. I never wanted to be anything besides an employee at a university. I’ve got no business doing business things – haven’t the mind for it. But it’s really not as hard as all that. Example: I didn’t know how to generate an invoice, so I googled “generate an invoice” and found a great website that anyone could use.

Godspeed.

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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