This post was contributed by Kate Frangos.
I lived in Amsterdam for 5 solid years from 2015-2020; getting that all-mighty visa is the key to unlocking your new life abroad in the Netherlands. Right before I turned 25, I moved to Amsterdam and embraced this new mantra of “going Dutch.” No, not split the bill per se, but literally do as the Dutch would do. You know, like buying a crappy, used bike, letting my hair get soaked in the 275 days of yearly rain, wearing orange on King’s Day, and putting mayonnaise on my French fries? Yeah, that kind of Dutch.
I worked in Amsterdam for several technology companies doing various marketing roles, and at one point started my own freelance business. And yes, you guessed it, I even filed my taxes in Dutch; what a flex!
But I admit it. The whole journey wasn’t easy. I was incredibly naïve when I first moved to the Netherlands, and naturally being a Pisces, I always wear my rose colored glasses.
Finding a job and acquiring a long-term stay, or in other words, a residence permit, is overwhelming. You have two choices. Either research, apply and get the specific visa before you move, or two arrive as a tourist in the NL and get your shit together within 90 days and figure out which residence permit is the right one and skip the visa. The visa is really just a big fancy stamp in your passport to allow you to stay more than 90 days as you apply for your permit once you arrive in the Netherlands. However, option two is what I did. I moved to the Netherlands without a visa, and got my shit together within 90 days.
However, if you choose option #2, you must have a registered a legal address before pursuing an ANY visa or residence permit. And if you don’t have a job or substantial income, getting an apartment can be quite difficult. Actually it’s insanely difficult in Amsterdam because there is a housing shortage (probably because the city is literally built over water). The dilemma is, how can you get a work visa if you still can’t find housing? What comes first? The chicken or the egg? It’s a vicious cycle, my friends.
Nonetheless, here are the three visa/residence permit options I have for you.
1ST: THE HIGH SKILLED MIGRANT VISA/PERMIT OPTION
Don’t let the title discourage you. “Highly skilled” doesn’t mean you need to be a world-renowned writer, chef, investor, etc. It’s rather a suitable and easy option for folks who’ve crafted their skill-set in a certain field, and in my opinion, have at least 3 years of experience under their belt. And no, you do not need to have a fancy pants Ivy League degree either to get this permit. I got the High Skilled permit in October 2015. I would never have thought I’d get it, but I got it after 10 months of freelancing while scavenging for full-time work.
The good news is that with this high-skilled migrant option, your employer does not need to apply for a work permit or sponsorship on behalf of you. We all know that HR shuns you if you’re a complication in terms of employment. The purpose of this option is to attract viable skilled professionals to contribute to the Dutch economy without having to go through a sticky sponsorship process. Here are some criteria you should know.
If you’re under the age of 30, your employer must give you an offer of at least 3,300 euros a month (2020 guidelines), which is about a 42,000 year gross. If you’re over the age of 30, you must make a monthly income over 4K a month. However, it’s easier said than done. I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences while trying to pursue this option.
For example, I interviewed for two jobs that would have qualified as a High Skilled migrant because of the high salary, but I faced some difficulty. In one situation, an HR woman refused to consider me for any right to employment even though the salary were qualified. To this day, she never emailed me and the government official back (who I CCED in the email) regarding my plea on why I was suitable to work under the HSM option legally.
Another bad situation happened while I was interviewing for a “Marketing Expert” position. Yes, that was really the title, sounds really over the top, right? The role was pretty high level, and I had doubts if it was a good fit. The conversation went smoothly with the Founder until I asked him if I could get the HSM, to which he flat out laughed at me. How dare I propose such a thing? I guess his company was a “starving start-up” and he didn’t want to pay me a living wage. How could I be so greedy to ask? I guess he wanted to pay peanuts, but get a marketing expert? Well, good luck, bro.
The moral of the story is, be careful who you ask if you want the option. You never really know how they will react. There’s nothing to lose, except maybe an awkward “no” and a rejection.
2ND: GOOD LUCK ON THIS ONE! (TEWERKSTELLINGSVERGUNNING) OR TWV
As strange and unfair as it sounds, there are many suitable international organizations and companies that sponsor according to the Dutch Immigration Office site. On the contrary, from my experience, once you begin to interview with these companies, they refuse to consider any sponsorship. It’s as if the word “sponsorship” equates to the black plague.
Once in February 2015, I said to an HR woman, “Your company is listed on the government sponsorship site. Why can’t you sponsor me?”
“Sorry we are not offering sponsorship.” one HR woman says. She stares at me blankly.
Sometimes HR plays dumb, “Can you legally work in the Netherlands?”
What I would like to say is, “Why no, I just arrived, and like, isn’t that what you’re supposed to help me with?! Aren’t you a sponsor?”
What I find annoying is that they expect you to know all the details on acquiring a work visa with legalities on your own. But isn’t their job suppose to assist internationals in integrating legally?
I lived in Germany for nearly a year and had an HR guy handle my sponsorship with such ease before I arrived on German soil. But maybe that company was an exception to the rule.
The bottom line is that the immigration office only wants a few things: contract of offer, legitimate passport, address of residence (which comes in time as well as local bank account, given that you receive your BSN (social security number) all supported by a legally recognized, sponsored organization, and you’ll probably a fee you pay to process the application.
In fairness, though, an ex-pat center official (a nice center for new expats in the NL) explained to me that getting the regular work visa (tewerkstellingsvergunning) is a royal pain in the butt. A company must apply for this visa on your behalf and the application can take up to 6+ weeks for a decision. Companies want to take their time hiring, but most don’t wait for the immigration office to approve your work visa.
Note: If you’ve pursued this option and you’re not an EU citizen, I would love to hear how you did it. Seriously, I want to know the details. Maybe I did something wrong. Comment below.
3RD: SELF-EMPLOYED/ENTREPRENEUR VISA TREATY FOR AMERICANS (AND JAPANESE)
This is the permit that I acquired when I first moved to the Netherlands. In March 2015, I submitted my application for the “Dutch American Friendship Treaty: Freelancer, Self-Employed, Entrepreneur” application. Before submitting the right documents, and painfully paying over a grand for the application fee, I had to register my “business” at the Chamber of Commerce or the KvN (50 euros for the company name, not bad).
Starting my first business…in a foreign country? Yes, it was intimidating to even fathom the thought. I knew little Dutch at the time and had only one Dutch language course completed. But fear not. This special Dutch-American Friendship treaty was established the 1960s (and recently a Japanese one too). It smoothes the process for American citizens who’d like to bring their business or services to the Dutch market. And I’d like to add that there is no other treaty in Europe like this available for Americans who want to reside in the EU. GO NETHERLANDS!
After you move into your new address and register with the local municipality/town hall or known as the “gemeente”, get your BSN (social security number), and Dutch bank account with Dutch phone number, here are the steps to getting this visa:
- Register your business in the NL through the KvN or in other words, the Chamber of Commerce. There are multiple chambers located throughout the Netherlands. The one I frequented was right next to Centraal Station.
- Invest over 5K in assets or income into a Dutch bank account, preferably a business one. Don’t touch that money, and if you do, reinvest before the end of the two year period of renewing the permit.
- Fill out a completed application with a dutch bank card ready at hand to pay the 1000 Euro plus fee.
- Hire a trusted bookkeeper or accountant to write an official opening balance bank statement letter showing your assets are at least 5K
- Also get an official bank statement showing the total income of 5K
Sometimes folks hire an international lawyer or business consultant who can fill out documents such as business plans, European VAT declarations, and forecasting plans in case you have a large corporation or if you’re selling products, trading, hiring large teams, etc. I didn’t hire a lawyer. It wasn’t necessary for me, but I think it’s needed if you plan to hire people and sell goods.
At the time, I was a sole proprietor (online marketing freelancer, one-woman show) and scouted out Dutch clients under my own terms. It’s tricky if you cannot determine your focus. You have to prove somewhat how you can contribute to the Dutch market or state what it’s lacking; that will strengthen your application. But in any case, if you’re struggling to find clientele in the NL, that doesn’t mean you cannot keep working with clients from other parts of the world. As long as you pay taxes to those countries that you’re working for and you continue finding Dutch clients too. In addition, if you fulfill your financial requirements by the end of the 2 year period, you can extend this visa for your business.
Rember, you always have something to offer. Don’t feel like you need to have some business that saves the Netherlands, or some original idea that will change their country.
I’m saying this because (I’m not even kidding), but one of my American friends opened up a legitimate mushrooms business in the Netherlands. He’s still going strong and “growing” strong, if you know what I mean 😉 The Dutch are pretty “open” to new ideas and quirky businesses.
If your application is incomplete, for example, if you are still waiting for your bank account’s complete funds, I highly advise you to submit your application anyway before the 3 month deadline. It can take up to 3 months before they make a decision anyway and they should give you a temporary visa in your passport after you apply. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about overstaying 90 days in the EU.
I needed the time to move my American dollars into my Dutch account. If you’re American with an American bank account, chances are you don’t even want to bother moving money electronically. Banks can have tricky and painstaking security measures of wiring which can cost you a lot of time and energy. Cold hard cash was my only option while I was moving my money over. It’s a pain and you will feel like a drug lord carrying too much cash in your pocket in order to make a deposit…So take precaution at your own risk.
You can check out more information here from iamsterdam.
NOW, THE FINAL WRAP UP.
There are other options, of course, to pursue a visa or permit. If you’re a student or you have a Dutch family member in the Netherlands, maybe even an EU partner (they don’t necessarily need to be Dutch, they can be from another EU country and you don’t need to be married) you may qualify for other permit options.
Which visa are you pursuing and in which country? What challenges have you faced during the application process? Leave your comment in the box below. Looking forward to reading your comments!
Meet Kate: An American having lived in Europe for nearly 7 years, 3 countries respectively, Germany, Netherlands, and Greece, Kate has a lot to share about living abroad. Check out her insta @katefrangos for more details about her adventures in Europe.