The first question we are typically asked after explaining that our family moved to the Netherlands from the US is how we managed to do it. The most common ways to apply for a residence permit to reside in the Netherlands are:
- as a spouse or registered partner of a Dutch citizen;
- as a highly skilled migrant through a recognized sponsor (typically a company); or
- as a self-employed, independent entrepreneur. A special treaty, the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT), between the US and the Netherlands (and also interestingly, between Japan and the Netherlands) allows for a much easier path to residency for US citizens.
We took advantage of the DAFT treaty to move to the Netherlands. Without the treaty, as self-employed, non-EU citizens, we would have had a pretty high bar to reach to prove that our business served an essential interest for the Dutch economy. We would have had to satisfy a points-based test and to have invested a significantly higher amount of capital into the business. Under DAFT, the requirements are pretty basic. My partner and I each had to provide Dutch immigration (IND) with the following:
- a bank statement indicating that we each had the investment amount (€4500) in a Dutch bank account;
- a partnership agreement showing that both of us were planning to be employed in a business; and
- a business plan describing our business. A business under DAFT may be almost any business that is engaged in commerce, except a legal or medical practice.
We hired a Dutch immigration attorney to handle our DAFT applications and the application for my son as my minor dependent. Once my daughter had been accepted into her university program, she applied for a student residence permit separately. Although we might have been able to handle the DAFT application on our own, we wanted to make sure that the application was handled properly when first submitted. I had read that it was very difficult to rehabilitate a rejected DAFT application. Another factor we considered in hiring a lawyer was that we could not legally perform any work in the Netherlands until our residence permit was approved.
Certified and apostilled copies of birth, marriage, divorce, adoption or name change certificates are required for the application. First, we obtained certified copies of the documents according to state rules about what documents may be apostilled. Then, we presented those documents to the secretary of state for apostille. This can take quite some time, so all documents should be obtained in advance, knowing that there might be a delay when working with multiple state agencies. Our immigration lawyer also required us to submit an FBI criminal records check in our application to the IND that indicated that we had no criminal records.
Once our lawyer submitted the application, it took only five weeks for it to be approved, well before our arrival in the Netherlands. We successfully avoided the situation I’d read about when a DAFT application languished for more than six months when there was no professional follow-up with the Dutch immigration authorities. As as US lawyer, I wouldn’t have wanted to handle the application without the assistance of a Dutch-speaking professional. We were very happy with the service the lawyer provided, and he’s continued to advise us on matters when necessary.
We were simply moving an existing business to the Netherlands, so for our business plan, we simply provided a description of our business and list of assets along with past business sales amounts to our lawyer, and he drafted the report.
Because M and I were both employed in the business, we needed a partnership agreement. This document was prepared by an accountant recommended by our lawyer. Having an accountant is absolutely vital when you make your mandatory appointment with the KvK – Kamer van Koophandel which is where all new businesses must register and receive the all-important KvK number which must appear on your website and on your invoices in the Netherlands. In order to register with the KvK, you must have a Dutch tax number, but in order to get a Dutch tax number, you have to be registered at the KvK. This creates a crazy, circular situation that was resolved in our case by simply having the KvK employee call our accountant to handle the tax issue during our appointment. One of the most important aspects of the KvK registration is compiling a complete list of all the expected business activities you’ll be undertaking in the Netherlands.
The search for an accountant for our business was one of the most difficult aspects of moving our business to the Netherlands. I found that my e-mails went unacknowledged and unanswered for weeks at a time and phone calls were not returned, even with tax deadlines approaching. It remains an ongoing issue, but so far, we’ve been able to file reports and tax returns on time.
The residence permit is good for two years, but may be renewed. Ours was renewed last year for an additional 5 years. We plan to apply for permanent residence when we have lived here for 5 years or for naturalization, which could require us to renounce our US citizenship, although there are some exceptions that allow dual citizenship. There have been efforts by the Dutch legislature to extend the waiting period from 5 to 7 years before someone may apply for permanent residency or naturalization, but so far it has not passed into law.