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Getting Started: Things to Do Before You Go

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.
You’ll even see slogans in English. As you’ll observe, they have already discovered the mystery of economics.

Plan for the Worst

I’ll be blunt: I moved to the Netherlands at the end of January, and I wasn’t awarded my residence/work permit until mid-September. That was over seven months of living expenses that I had to pay, all while it was illegal for me to have a job. Make sure you have the savings for that, or a unique talent for borrowing money.

Do It Right - Get Professional Help

You’re going to be sinking a lot of resources into this, and betting heavily on a positive outcome (even if your experience is better than mine, consider the risks like having to sign a 12-month lease). I would say that it’s worth it to spend a little more money to ensure that the whole thing doesn’t become a waste of time and funds. I hired a Dutch immigration lawyer who helped me compile the documents for my permit application. In spite of his ridiculously erroneous prediction that the whole process would take 3 weeks (a mere 29 weeks off the final tally), he was able to add a few useful documents to my application, namely excerpts from Dutch law proving that my situation fell within the confines of the permit’s requirements, and a letter in Dutch explaining my situation and why I couldn’t be refused a permit. I think I paid him something like €450.

Get Clients

I was advised to include, in my final application, at least three statements from clients who were interested in my services. If it’s possible to find clients before you move, then absolutely do it, as it will save you time. I got a job offer from a Dutch university, which is what kicked off my whole move. However, the job didn’t qualify for visa sponsorship, and so I found this freelancer’s loophole. “Loophole” may be slightly misleading – I didn’t circumvent the system, but rather I realized that the system is more fluid than I had originally thought. It’s possible to set up as a freelancer but to engage one major “client.” In truth, it may very nearly be the case that you “work for” one company/institution, but you’re actually set up as a freelancer. Legally, they’re your client, but practically, it feels like you’re an employee. However, for the purpose of the application, you must have several clients. For English teachers, this is not too difficult if you’re qualified – get in touch with language schools, get them interested in you, and ask them to provide a short letter saying that they would consider your services if you had a legal freelancer’s status. You don’t have to limit your search to institutions in one city, either – think about the possibilities of doing work online with institutions elsewhere in the country. Anything to get statements from potential clients.

Grab As Many Documents As You Can Before You Go

Any one of these “get your visa” guides is going to have a fantastically boring list of documents that you need. Many of these documents you’ll get after you move, but a few you can get started on beforehand:

  • Passport. Make sure it doesn’t expire for at least a year. I would recommend making your life easier and renewing it now if you can.
  • Apostled birth certificate. I’ll be honest: this was on all the “documents you need” lists but nobody hassled me when it turned out that mine wasn’t “apostled.” I applied for a few fresh birth certificates from my state government and thought that that would be official enough. Apparently it’s not – you need to send it back to your local government and have someone stamp/validate it. I was already in the Netherlands when they told me I had to send mine back to the US to have it done, but they also said it wasn’t urgent. They told me to “bring it back whenever you get it apostled,” and I don’t know if I would have gotten in trouble if I’d ignored them. But, you’d better be safe and get yours done ASAP.
  • Business plan. You’ll probably have time to write this once you get to the Netherlands, but if you want to get started now you might as well. If you’re like me you don’t know a business plan from a frying pan, but fortunately the internet (as usual) has all the answers/guides/templates you need. (Note: If applying under the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, I don’t think you strictly need this; it can’t hurt, however).
  • Old bank statements or proof of prior income. This may not be relevant to you if you haven’t worked before. However, if you’ve done this freelance job in the past, and made a living from it, then get proof of your prior income. It will be useful to include these documents in your final application since it proves that you’ve made it as a freelancer in your trade already, and thus are more likely to succeed in the Netherlands.
  • Your qualifications. Use this time to round up copies of your diplomas, certifications, awards, and what have you. You’ll want to chuck them in with your application to show the IND how awesome you are.
  • A bunch of money. Not only do you need to plan for potentially 7 or 8 months without an income (worst case scenario), but during that time and forever after you’re going to need to keep €4,500 in your business bank account (it’s 2013 at the time of writing; check that the amount hasn’t changed). I’m told that if you let it drop below that number they legally could throw you out of the country.

Get a Plane Ticket and a Place to Stay

These things are the most enjoyable part of the process, so try to have fun here. Dutch people are pretty tech-savvy so there should be adverts for rooms online, or at least you can shoot some emails to some realtors and set up viewings.

Important note: You will need a rental agreement as part of your application, so don’t just plan to crash at your friend’s place (unless you can get him/her to put you on the lease).

Pascal Tremblay

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