US citizens can, thanks to the Dutch American Friendship Treaty, apply for a Dutch residence permit for the purpose of self-employment. The requirements are very easy to meet and the permit is an eligible pathway to citizenship. In this article I cover how to apply.
Netherlands, some facts
The Netherlands is a small country nestled between Germany, Belgium and the North Sea. It is unusual geographically speaking due to having a significant part of its territory below sea levels. Despite its small population of 17 million, the Netherlands has been and still is one of the most influential countries in the world. It is famed for its liberal views, high standards of living, rich history and large contribution to Western culture. The Netherlands ranks very highly in nearly every index and with a GDP per capita of around 44000$US, is one of the most productive countries in the world. While its economy is highly diverse, banking, trade and shipping are the leading sectors. From a taxation perspective, the Netherlands is both a tax haven and a conventional taxation country.
Dutch American Friendship Treaty
Under the treaty, US citizens can apply for a long-term residence permit in the Netherlands for the purpose of self-employment. Qualifying is easy and only requires an investment of 4500 EUR (please note that this minimum must be maintained throughout your stay) and the registration of a business in your name (the practice of law and medicine is not allowed). The residence permit is renewable and can be converted into permanent residency after five years provided that you can pass the Dutch language and cultural test. This is by far the easiest way for an American to acquire residency / citizenship in the EU.
How to apply
The folks at daftvisa.wordpress.com have created a great step-by-step guide. They also have a directory chuck full of useful information and links.
1. Understand & Meet the Requirements
The IND lays out the requirements for eligibility to apply for residency under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty.
You must meet the following conditions:
You operate your business between the US and the Netherlands.
You start a new business opportunity and represent an American in the Netherlands or you start a profession in which you have invested a substantial capital.
You have a valid travel document (for example a passport).
You are not a risk to public order and national security.
You have sufficient and long-term means of support.
You have not previously stayed in the Netherlands illegally.
You have not given false information or have withheld important information to support any previous applications.
If you meet these conditions, read on.
2. Make an Appointment with the IND to Begin the Application Process and Make an Appointment with the City to Apply for your BSN
As long as you meet the criteria above, you can make an appointment with the IND to start the application process. Even if you don’t have all the information you need yet to complete the application, make the appointment. Depending on the time of year, your actual appointment may be weeks after you call the IND.
As an American, you have 90 days to stay in the EU. Your first meeting with the IND, when you hand in your application (regardless if it’s complete or not) is the starting date of your temporary visa. This temporary visa will allow you to stay beyond the 90 days.
As part of the application, you need to submit the following documents:
Copies of all the pages containing the identity details of your passport, including all pages containing travel stamps.
An original certificate of the registration at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (not older than 3 months).
When you are the sole entrepreneur (‘eenmanszaak’): A bank statement of the business showing the amount invested, as well as an opening balance sheet. Financial evidence supporting the application must be checked by a certified external expert (a chartered accountant, an accounting consultant, an accountant or a financial advisor.
Here’s the catch! In order to meet the last two criteria you will need your BSN number (or Dutch social security number). You will not be able to get this number without this first meeting with the IND as the municipality needs specific documentation from the IND in order to process your BSN application. You can go to the city and register prior to your meeting but they will not assign you a BSN number until after you have met with the IND.
Setting the appointment with the IND is your first critical step to get all the other elements of your application started.
After you hang up the phone with the IND, call the municipality to make an appointment to get your BSN number. When making your appointment, make sure to mention you are a US Citizen applying for the Dutch American Friendship Treaty visa and that you already have an appointment with the IND. Ideally, you should set your BSN appointment AFTER your IND appointment but depending on availability and how much time you have left on your visitor visa, this may not be possible. That’s ok.
Steps 3 and 4 may occur one before the other depending on when your appointments are scheduled.
3. Meet with the IND to Submit your Application
When it’s time for your first appointment with the IND, make sure you have the following:
A valid US passport
The application form completed to the best of your ability
The fee (You will usually have to bring this in cash unless you have a Dutch pin card. Since you need a BSN number to start a Dutch bank account, the latter is unlikely. Check the link for the latest fee as this does change frequently. And take note of the fee when you made your appointment. In case the fee changes between when you called and when you actually arrived, you may be able to negotiate paying the lower fee. In the three weeks between setting my appointment and my actual appointment, the fee doubled.)
At the meeting they will enter you in the system, take your fee, a picture, and images of your fingerprints and iris. You will also receive an extension to your visa, usually 6 months. The IND will request from you via post any missing information that you will need to complete the application. Essentially, by meeting with the IND, you are adding time to your visa and buying time to complete the application process.
4. Meet with the Municipality to Register at the Municipality to Receive your BSN
The BSN is your Dutch Social Security Number. You will need your BSN for all the official forms you will complete in the process. If someone asks you, “did you register with the city yet?” or if someone reminds you that you have four months from your arrival date to register with the city – this is the step they are referring to. All residents of the Netherlands have to be registered with the city within four months of arrival; the requirements and process differ depending on your citizenship and residence status.
If you meet with the municipality before your IND appointment, your registration with the municipality will be provisional. After registration you will receive a letter of preregistration (BvB) for the IND. The municipality mails this letter off to the IND for you. After you applied for a residence permit (at your IND appointment), the IND returns the BvB to the municipality. Only then will your registration with the municipality be final. You will then receive your BSN from the municipality by post.
If you meet with the IND before the municipality, you will need to bring proof you have applied for a residence permit through the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. This can be a letter from the IND or a sticker in your passport (extending your tourist visa for about six months).
For your registration / BSN appointment, you will need to bring the following documentation:
A valid passport or identity card.
If you met with the IND already, proof you have applied for resident permit (sticker of letter IND).
A rental agreement or deed of conveyance or written lodgings agreement with a copy of the proof of identity of the owner/main occupant of the house. I used a similar letter and brought with me a copy of my flat mate’s passport. This was sufficient.
A birth certificate
A proof of deregistration with the PIVA if you are moving to the Netherlands from Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba, Aruba, Curaçao en Sint Maarten.
5. Register with the KVK
You will need your BSN number in order to register your company as an ‘eenmanszaak’ (sole proprietorship) with the KVK (the Chamber of Commerce). There is no fee for this application. Depending on the office, you may not need an appointment but I recommend making one to avoid a long wait time.
You will need to bring:
A completed registration form
A valid identification document
The online form is in Dutch and English, which is helpful for non Dutch speakers. But the description of your company should be written in Dutch since they will enter the description into the system in Dutch. I wrote a rather lengthy description in English and the Chamber of Commerce official that helped file my application summarized it in a few words. If you have a detailed or complex business, I recommend asking a Dutch friend to help you translate the description for you so that it is accurate.
After registration, you will get an extract with your KVK details. The information you provide will also register you with the tax office, effectively applying for a VAT number. At the end of the appointment, request an official extract of your registration. This should be around €11. You will submit this extract to the IND to fulfill the requirement for an official certificate of registration with the KVK.
6. Submit a Business Plan
This is not explicitly listed on the IND website as a required document but every IND official I have spoken with has recommended that I do so in order to satisfy the following conditions set by the IND:
You have sufficient and long-term means of support
You operate your business between the US and the Netherlands
You start a new business opportunity and represent an American in the Netherlands or you start a profession in which you have invested a substantial capital
You may already have a business plan but it’s important to revise it so that:
It matches with the company category / set of services specified when you registered with the KVK
It supports that you are meeting the conditions set by the IND
If your business is incorporated, the initial capital investment requirement will be greater. The business plan will help to determine with the IND what the required amount minimum will be.
If you do not already have a business plan, a great place to have one professionally written for you is on Fiverr. Click here to learn more.
7. Apply for a Dutch Business Bank Account and Deposit Your Initial Capital Investment
You will need your BSN number and KVK number in order to apply for a Dutch Business bank account. The initial investment for a self-employed applicant is a minimum about of €4500. When you’ve set up your business account and made the initial deposit, get an official statement from your bank. This is the documentation you will submit to the IND.
8. Opening Balance Sheet Reviewed and Signed Off by an External Expert
The opening balance sheet is a fairly straightforward financial document but the IND does now require that it is checked by a certified external expert (a chartered accountant, an accounting consultant, an accountant or a financial advisor.) Depending on the complexity of your business, you will need documentation showing your assets at start up and liabilities/debt.
For most self employed applicants, the opening balance sheet can be completed with just the opening balance from your business account. If you have assets like a newly purchased laptop that you bought explicitly for your new business, bring in those receipts when you meet with the advisor as they may include it as an asset in your balance sheet.
In order to receive a renewal of your residency permit, you have to prove to the IND that the minimum required amount of capital has been in the business bank account without fail throughout the year. The external expert can provide this documentation as well with an official statement of your income. You can prove that this has been the case by means of an official statement of your income, a report of your business’ figures from start year to current year. When selecting your external expert for your initial application, you may want to consider if this is a service provider you want to work with long term as you will need this additional evidence as part of your renewal and many experts will not provide this information without an existing relationship.
9. Submit All Supporting Documentation
This can be done in person or by post. If your schedule allows and you are near an IND office, I recommend making an appointment to submit your supporting document. You can also go the IND office to submit materials without making an appointment but the wait times can be very long.
You can of course submit supporting documentation as you receive them but since each step usually requires official documentation from the previous step, waiting until all the steps are finished means you don’t have to request and pay for multiple official copies of this documentation.
Probably the most frustrating part with dealing with the IND is that all official communications are done by post. You can meet in person or speak on the phone but if they require any information from you to complete the application, this will be requested by you via post. Any confirmations regarding your application are not official unless it is by post. So keep track of your mail. Should you need additional time to fulfill requirements, contact the IND and request an extension. They are usually amenable to this.
Patience is probably the most essential criteria for this whole process. It can be frustrating. You may feel like you’re going around in circles sometimes but stay confident, diligent and patient.
11. Dutch Health Insurance
The IND does not specify a health insurance requirement on their site anymore. You may however meet an IND official who has not read this latest update and ask proof of insurance from you. Also, the municipality will expect you to sign up for Dutch health insurance after registration. The problem: you can’t sign up for Dutch health insurance without a residency permit number. There is however Dutch insurance especially for residency applicants that are stuck in this limbo. You can find more information here.