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 DAFT, 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.
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 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
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 3,299€ gross per month. If you are 30 or over, the company is required to pay you at least 4,500€ 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
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
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:
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.
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.