I have a visa under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT), which means I am allowed to live and work in the Netherlands as a freelancer. While there is a plethora of information out there about the DAFT visa, everyone’s experience is different. So this is the story of how I got my visa.

Disclosure: I had an immigration lawyer help me through this process. I did NOT do it entirely on my own.

COVID-19 UPDATE: If you are looking for information about whether your residency permit/residence visa will be affected by coronavirus, please read this article about whether the COVID-19 subsidies will affect you. In short, if you accept financial aid for ZZPers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers during this crisis, your visa could be compromised. Further policy information has not been released yet.

About the DAFT visa

There aren’t a lot of pre-requisites to reside in the Netherlands under DAFT – or so it seems. Most people (and websites) will say “You just need to register with the Chamber of Commerce (KvK) and open a bank account with at least 4500€ – so easy!”

But moving to another country is never that simple, especially as an entrepreneur or freelancer. And my situation may be a bit unique.

Please keep in mind: This is just the story of my visa process for DAFT. The DAFT visa process may be different if you’re an American coming from the States or have a different timeline. My husband and I relocated from Germany on a very tight schedule! And if you’re a highly skilled migrant, it’s completely different.

Step 1: Get a mailing address

A view of Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam
The view from our apartment

I needed a mailing address before I could start the application process. I had to provide an address that Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst (IND) could use as my registration address and mail paperwork. So until we found a place to live in Rotterdam, I couldn’t submit my application.

We were searching from April through June 2018. My husband is a student with no income, and I am a freelance marketing consultant – neither of which appealed to many landlords in regards to income.

Securing a mailing address was a long and stressful process…but I’ll write about that in a later post.

Step 2: Submit the application

Around the time we signed the lease, I was also interviewing for a full-time position. Had the company hired me, I would’ve stopped the DAFT application process and obtained a visa through the company as a highly skilled migrant.

Being a highly skilled migrant is the best way to immigrate to the Netherlands (or at least reside here).

In order to be hired as a highly skilled migrant, a company has to determine whether you’re worth the trouble. For people under 30, the company has to pay you at least €3,381 gross per month as of 2020. If you are 30 or over, the company is required to pay you at least €4,612 per month.

When we signed the lease on June 24, 2018, I was at a crucial crossroads: submit my DAFT application now, or delay the application and avoid the processing fees in the event I’m hired.

I put off the process, but was not hired by the company. We submitted my application on July 8, 2018.

Step 3: Obtain a residency permit

Sterling Schuyler eats ramen at Tensai in Rotterdam
Me eating ramen soon after I submitted my application

Once my application was accepted, I made an appointment with IND for a residence permit.

On August 13, 2018, I went to IND and they put a sticker in my passport, which said I can work in the country while my application is being processed.

It was my first time going to a government appointment in the Netherlands, and let me tell you: it was efficient, pleasant, and quick. It really caught me off guard, but I’ve since learned that this is quite common in the Netherlands.

Step 4: Receive my BSN

A burgerservicenummer (BSN) is necessary to accomplish anything here. It’s the equivalent of a Social Security Number (SSN) in the United States: without it, you can’t receive benefits from the government, sign up for healthcare, or open a bank account.

Part of receiving a BSN is registering in the municipality. If I move out of Rotterdam, I have to de-register with Rotterdam City Hall, and re-register at the city hall in my new Dutch town, not because I’m an immigrant, but because that’s what all Dutch residents have to do.

So for this BSN/registration appointment, I had to bring:

  • my passport
  • a copy of our lease agreement
  • my apostilled birth certificate (see bonus step)
  • my apostilled marriage license (see bonus step)
  • a completed form that was emailed to me

On August 29, 2018, I brought everything except the apostilled documents – I only had the regular versions. City Hall let me register and gave me a BSN, and I had six months to bring them my apostilled versions.

Bonus Step: Acquire Apostilled Documents

My husband and I getting our regular marriage certificate

In order to complete my visa process, I have to give Rotterdam City Hall an apostilled copy of my birth certificate and marriage license.

Why? Because the bureaucracies of the world got together and said “How can we make more money?” (At least, that’s my theory.)

So in order to complete my registration/visa process, I had to:

  • obtain copies of these documents
  • send them to a special clerk’s office to look at the documents
  • have them confirm the documents are correct
  • then stamp and sign a piece of paper declaring the documents are correct

And then I paid the states for those documents.

California (where I was born) likes to make things especially difficult. When someone requests a copy of a birth or marriage certificate, they also need to submit a notarized copy of their ID. Then the document has to be sent or taken to Sacramento (the state capital) to be apostilled.

Georgia (where I got married) was a bit easier – I just had to mail the county a copy of my marriage license with a form explaining what I needed.

The Dutch government knows it’s not common for people (or at least Americans) to have apostilled documents, which is why (I assume) they allow a six month buffer. On February 4, 2019, I finally brought them the required certificates – five months after my registration, but nearly seven months after I initially submitted my application.

Step 5: Register my Business

So now that I had my BSN and I registered at City Hall, I could register my freelancing business at the Kamer van Koophandel (KvK).

The KvK building is easily the most pleasant government building I’ve ever been in. For my appointment on September 10, 2018, I was seated in the waiting room, which was an open space that felt barely occupied, yet was full of relaxed life:

photo: https://www.kvk.nl/service-en-contact/ondernemersplein-rotterdam/

While waiting, a gentleman explained to me that I was welcome to have a complementary coffee beverage from the cafe while I waited, and that one of his co-workers would be with me shortly.

Upon finishing my last sip of espresso, another gentleman called my name and I followed him to his desk. I gave him all my information and we set up my business in just 15 minutes.

Afterwards, he gave me a folder of paperwork and took me to one of the large monitors. “You can take a selfie here if you want. You don’t have to, it’s not a requirement,” he told me in a pleasant yet unenthusiastic tone. I decided to humor the KvK and take one.

The Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel) in Rotterdam lets you take a selfie with one of their picture frames
“I started” (more like “I’m almost finished”)

Step 6: Open a Business Bank Account

On September 11, 2018, I went to the bank with all my documents, and they happily accepted my money.

Once I opened my business bank account, I had to transfer a balance of at least 4,500€ to it, then have an accountant draft a document confirming that I did this (“an opening balance sheet of assets and liabilities”).

I then sent that to the lawyer, and he submitted that to IND to complete my application.

And then I had to wait.

Step 7: Approved!

On October 8, 2018, IND officially approved my application, but I couldn’t get an appointment for my residence permit until November 14.

But I didn’t mind waiting another month to pick it up – I was just happy to be officially approved.

Conclusion: Simple Does Not Mean Stress-Free

All things considered, the DAFT visa process is easy, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t stressful.

Securing an apartment that fit our budget (and all most of our furniture) was no easy task. With every day that passed, I could feel my sense of worth dwindle and disappear. Family and friends kept asking how we were doing, and I couldn’t find one positive thing to say. Not only were we struggling to find a place to live, but I was struggling to find work.

And without my BSN, I couldn’t open a bank account. Sure, I could shop in the country, but I couldn’t obtain a Dutch cell phone number because contracts require a Dutch bank account. And without a Dutch phone number, some companies didn’t want to call me for an interview.

Change is a struggle, but I can say with confidence that I’m happy I did it. I honestly can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

Sterling Schuyler lives in Rotterdam on the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) visa

Moving to the Netherlands is no easy task. If you’re thinking about relocating to Rotterdam, join our group or come to an event! Because when women support each other, incredible things happen.

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Sterling Schuyler
sterling@iwng.nl
Sterling Schuyler moved to Rotterdam in June 2018 from Bavaria, Germany, but she is originally from the United States. As a result, she has restarted her career three times, and currently works as a freelance marketing consultant. Whether you want to know more about her professional development, have questions about her own struggles, or just want to grab a coffee, she’ll be happy to hear from you.

13 thoughts on “An American in Rotterdam: How I Got My DAFT Visa”

  1. Hi there and thank you for sharing your experience so other prospective Americans can learn what the process is like. I’m currently trying to start the process of a DAFT application.. Quick question…Are you able to resister with the KvK before you have your BSN? I called IND to make an appointment to submit my application and was told that they wouldn’t make the appointment before i had my business registered and my Dutch bank account BUT it’s my understanding the BSN is required for both of those? Thanks for any info you can provide!
    Cheers,
    Stepahnie

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      Your understanding is correct: I couldn’t register my business with the KvK or open a bank account until I submitted my visa application and received my BSN. I did, however, submit my business plan with my application to IND.

      Strange that they wouldn’t even let you submit your application. It’s very common that people don’t submit complete applications because there’s no way for them to open a Dutch bank account. I’d recommend calling back – hopefully you spoke with a new employee!

      And please let me know if you have any further questions!

  2. Hi Sterling,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with others. Do you guys plan to renew in 2 years?

    Are the costs the same for married couples as individuals? Did you and your husband both have to pay the visa fee?

    I’m a U.S. citizen but my wife is from Argentina. Hopefully we would still be eligible.

    What do you guys currently pay for healthcare per month?

    I greatly appreciate your help.

    All of the best,
    Harry & Mica
    http://www.micaandharry.com

    1. Hi Harry and Mica!

      Yes, I intend to renew my DAFT Visa, unless a company is interested in sponsoring a highly skilled migrant visa for me.

      My husband is here on a student visa. If, however, I had sponsored him, I believe it would have cost an additional €260 in 2018. (The fees may have changed since then.) But my husband is an American citizen, and I believe he would’ve been subject to the same work conditions as my visa. I apologize – I don’t remember! But I will be happy to put you in touch with someone who may be able to help you further.

      As for healthcare, we pay separately because my husband receives a student health care package. Basic health insurance packages start around €100.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions!

  3. Hi Sterling

    Thanks for the post. I have a question on the renewal. What happens if I don’t any income for the first 2 years? Would I get renewal as long as I have the initial investment of 4500 euro in the bank account intact?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Jay!

      I haven’t been through the renewal process yet, but I will update this post as soon as I do. As far as I understand, you can renew your residency permit as long as your work and living conditions haven’t changed.

      According to the application (called “Application for extension of residence permit for work-related purposes of residence (foreign national)”), you can renew your DAFT visa if you have a valid temporary Dutch residence permit at the moment; you want to extend the residence permit for the same purpose of residence; and there are no changes to the situation that would affect the right of residence (ex: a criminal record).

      If you haven’t had any activity on your business bank account for two years, the KvK may be a bit curious, but technically you’d meet the IND requirements? As I said, I haven’t gone through the process yet, so I can’t say for certain. But if you’re concerned about your situation or have further questions, I can put you in touch with a lawyer who can help. And I’ll be sure to update this post when I renew!

      1. Hi Sterling,

        Thank you very much for your kind reply. I would surely love to hear about how your renew goes.

        Happy holidays and happy 2020.

        Jay

  4. Hi Sterling!

    This is actually my second time reading your post. But now that I’m in The Netherlands and about to go through the DAFT process myself I find that I need a bit of assistance. So I’m lucky in that I’m able to use an attorney for all the thorny IND-related stuff, but I can’t seem to get around the catch-22 of needing the IND sticker to get a lease and vice versa. Am I missing something? I did just get off the plane a few days ago lol? Any help is appreciated.

    1. Hi Sophia!

      Unfortunately no, you’re not missing anything – that’s part of what can make this a frustrating process! You can’t submit the application until you have a mailing address in the Netherlands, but it’s hard to obtain a lease if you don’t already have a visa/proof of income. So you need to find a landlord who is willing to give you a lease before you’ve completed your application.

      Alternatively, if you know someone who lives in a house or large apartment, you may be able to use their address so that you can get the ball rolling. But it means you have to register at their city hall (i.e. if you plan to live in Amsterdam, but your friend’s address is in den Haag, you have to register in den Haag before you can register in Amsterdam). If there are too many people registered at an address, it may cause issues down the line if you don’t remember to update your registration once you sign a lease. I recommend checking with your attorney before making this choice.

      This is definitely one of the most frustrating steps of the DAFT visa process, but I promise life in the Netherlands isn’t nearly this stressful once you’re registered!

      1. Hi Sterling,

        Great news! I found a place in The Hague, using HousingAnywhere. The best part is that each listing on the site clearly states whether or not registration is possible. Might be a helpful resource for others in a similar situation.

        Thanks!

        1. Congratulations! I’m so happy to hear it. And yes, thank you for sharing this information.

  5. Hi Sterling,
    Thanks for the enjoyable and informative story of your journey through the Dutch DAFT app process. I have done the same and experienced a great deal of the same stresses and successes – the former also in the area of housing. While the latter was also the relative ease of starting up a business etc. when compared to other countries and visas.
    May I ask you to share your lawyers name if you are happy with them? As the worst part of my experience (home hunting aside) was my sloppy lawyer.

    1. Hi Anthony!

      Yes, securing housing is perhaps the beginning of all the stress. And yes, I was very happy with my lawyer, Franssen Advocaten. I’ll send you their information via email!

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