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The First Steps in the Netherlands

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.
The Netherlands is not immune to sunsets, nighttime, gravity, or other physical phenomena.

Where You Have to Go

Welcome to the Netherlands! There are a million things you still have to do. Basically, it breaks down like this: You have three appointments to get:

  • City Hall (Gemeente). Here you’ll register your address and they’ll give you a BSN (a social security number).
  • Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel or KvK). Here you’ll register your company. If you’re like me, then “your company” sounds glamorous and inaccurate, but that’s what it is, even if it’s just you and you’re just a freelancer. (Make sure you have a company name ready).
  • Immigration Bureau (Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst or IND). Here you’ll give all your information, documents, numbers, statements, registrations, etc., and wait for them to process it all and give you your residence/work permit.

Sadly it’s not quite as simple as that. The trouble is that these three entities do not communicate with each other, and there is no prescribed way that you’re meant to go about it. For example, I went first to the City Hall, where I did half of what I needed to do, but I couldn’t get the BSN number until I’d been to an appointment with the IND. The KvK will expect you to declare a start-date for your business within a week or two of your appointment there (so they can start taxing you), even though it won’t be legal for you to work until after the IND completes your visa, which could take up to six months (as mine did). Also, you can’t register with the KvK until you get the BSN, which you’ll only get after you visit the IND. The final application at the IND cannot be complete until you’ve squared everything away at the other two places, although it’s impossible because City Hall needs the IND’s signature before giving you the BSN, and the KvK needs the BSN as well. It’s maddening. But not impossible!

What you have to do is this (broken down in more detail hereafter):

  1. Go to City Hall, do everything you can. They won’t give you a BSN yet.
  2. Go to the IND, do everything you can. Your application will not be complete.
  3. Go back to City Hall. Having had the IND appointment, they’ll give you the BSN.
  4. With the BSN, open your business bank account.
  5. Go to the KvK, register your business.
  6. Send your BSN, your KvK registration, and your bank statement to the IND. Now your application is complete.

Get Your Appointments ASAP

  • City Hall. The moment you’ve arrived to your Dutch city – even if you haven’t secured your house/apartment yet – walk into the City Hall (Gemeente) and ask for an appointment to register your address. I recommend this in case they make you wait three weeks, like they did me.
  • The IND. Similarly, call the immigration bureau (the IND) and make your appointment as soon as you arrive. If I had known to do this I would have saved myself several weeks – you can’t go to this appointment until you have your City Hall one, but consider that you might have to wait several weeks for the appointment.
  • The KvK. According to the KvK’s website you need an appointment, so I suppose you should call them too. When I registered with the KvK in Sittard they only accepted walk-in appointments so I ended up waltzing in and waltzing out without any difficulty.

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