Expat Essentials

DIY Expat: Read this before you try to move to the Netherlands from the U.S.

So you want to move to the Netherlands ….

We don’t blame you. This is a near-perfect country with great vitality, culture, exciting cities, lovely countryside and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. And everyone speaks English.

Dispatches Europe is about the global mobility of talent, so we’re here to help.

The truth is, it’s not as hard as you might imagine, especially if you’re an American trying to escape Trump.

But the immigration process is also an education in and of itself. As Nina Avramovic Trnínič noted, the Brits are crazy for leaving the European Union just because it will add so much more drama after Brexit for those who want to live and work outside the United Kingdom.

 And students are really the ones who end up getting penalized by having to pay non-EU tuition without being eligible for EU student financing and free travel cards.



So, where do you start?

The most important thing you need to know is if you really want to move here (we live in Eindhoven), the easiest way is to get a job in the Netherlands with a multi-national corporation and let their HR department do the heavy immigration lifting. Or come as a student.

Otherwise, you need quite a bit of cash to start a business.

Whichever path you choose, you’re about to learn a lot of new terminology.

(See the end for a list of terms you must know!)

There are a number of ways to navigate the immigration process


For example, our daughter Lucy came over as a student at Tilburg University. The great thing about this is, as soon as she was accepted, school administrators started her student visa process and oversaw her immigation process for her.

Easy peasy.

The required documents including:

  • an apostille birth certificate (see details below)
  • passport
  • records related to her academic career
  • her original diploma and her official high school transcripts. (They needed these two documents to determine if her high school requirements were equivalent to the Dutch secondary school-leaving document.)
  • her official transcripts from her first two semesters at college.
  • once she was accepted, we didn’t have to pay the normal 1,296 euro fee you must pay to even apply for a long-term residence permit.

(See this post for an honest appraisal of the difficulties of enrolling in Dutch international schools.)

Now, us … which was a lot more complicated and scary

The biggest challenge was deciding which long-term visa to apply for. Because our immigration status is forever tied to our business status. We came to Eindhoven to start our expat-focused business.

We started this whole adventure under the misconception that we’d go with the new Dutch startup visa. WROOOONG.

As soon as I touched down, everyone from the local expat center to four immigration attorneys told me the startup visa was either a joke, or meant for people outside the European Union who didn’t have the luxury of immigrating under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. Which we did.

And they all agreed we’d want to take advantage of the 30-percent ruling.

The 30-percent ruling means your employer can pay you 30 percent of your salary as a tax-free “allowance,” a rule meant to cover additional expenses employees might run up working overseas.

Sounds great, right? But taking advantage of this meant we would have used way too much of our capital paying ourselves crazy salaries required under the 30-percent ruling … as much as 55,000 euros per year. This struck us as absurd because the whole reason we chose the Netherlands was that we’d read about the Dutch cultivating a startup culture.

The question we started asking ourselves after several surreal conversations in which Dutch officials kept telling us we had to pay ourselves these huge salaries was, “What part of startup don’t they understand?”

NO ONE in a U.S. startup gets paid for the first year or even longer. We know.

We worked two years in our first startup before we earned a penny. Then, when we got an investor, we took 50-percent salaries, with the remainder deferred. Only at the three-year mark did we get anything close to what the Dutch thought we should be getting paid the first day!

So, without putting you through the whole ordeal, you need to know this:

If you’re coming in with a company, you’ll be doing so as a highly skilled migrant. That’s the golden ticket. *

That means you have a job and a guaranteed paycheck that assures the IND officials you won’t be going on the dole right off the boat. That’ll you pay taxes and be a productive guest in their country.

As DIY Expats, we didn’t fit into that category. My wife Cheryl and I were starting a company as equal partners. The problem was, all this gets tangled up in the type of business we were starting. To simplify, we had to decide what sort of company we were going to be in order to know which visa to apply for.

Deep breath.

That’s when we talked to alllll these attorneys who told us we could set up our company as a B.V., the equivalent of an American limited liability corporation.


For us to have done that, one of us had to be the director earning a salary of a minimum of 55,000 euros.




SO, we started the whole process for real in March. It wasn’t until May that we finally found an official at the KVK  – the Dutch version of the Chamber of Commerce –  who explained we could form a general partnership.

This required us to have a formal partnership agreement, done by our American attorney. The TerrCher Partnership, registered in the U.S.

There were a LOT more steps, but basically what happened was, we gave up the 30 percent ruling benefit so we didn’t have to pay ourselves large salaries.

What we had to do as partners was deposit for eternity 4,500 euros each into a savings account …. 9,000 euros. Money we can’t touch because the idea is, it’s there to cover any taxes we fail to pay.

(You need to know this … until you get your KVK registration and your long-term residence permit, and the business officially exists, you cannot get a business bank account. Which is our next DIY Expat post. Stay tuned ….)

We were officially in business on 1 September, so the process took us roughly six months.

* Note: People from other EU countries have very few requirements should they want to relocate to the Netherlands. As Americans, we had three months to get everything done under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty before our tourist visas expired.



Terms you’ll learn:

Apostille: This is the internationally approved method of verifying documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates are authentic. The secretary of state in your American state authenticates these according to the standards set for each country to which you might migrate.

This is important: Make sure you order CURRENTLY certified documents that have been signed with the current registrar’s stamp. If your document is signed by an official who’s no longer in that office, then the secretary of state will not start the apostille process. If you think you can get to Europe and get the documents from home state quickly, think again. You’re talking adding days to weeks to the process depending on your birth state and/or state where you were married if a marriage certificate is required.

KVKThe Kamer van Koophandel is the Dutch version of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it’s a chamber that’s very much a part of the federal government, governing business registrations and taxation. Our experience with KvK officials was very positive … they’re knowledgeable, pleasant and they give great advice! You also get free coffee and Wifi while you’re waiting to see your contact. The only negative is, you get a different person each time, and it took us at least five visits to get our business registered.

IND Immigration and Naturalization Service. These are the people who decide whether to give you the long-term visa you’ll need to stay beyond your 90-day tourist visa. You’ll be seeing a lot of these guys. But if you have your paperwork in order, the process goes smoothly and relatively quickly. And we never had an IND official who wasn’t pleasant and helpful.

BSN – The BSN is your burgersevicenummer … essentially, your Social Security number. The Dutch, sort of like the Germans, like to keep track of everyone in their municipal database. So when anyone – native or expat – arrives or departs a city, you have to register with the City Hall, who records your stay via your BSN. Again, the people at the city halls we dealt with are friendly and efficient. 

More DIY Expat posts:

DIY Expat: How the road less taken led us to a quaint village in the Netherlands

DIY Expat: Everything you need to know about renting in Eindhoven

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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