A step by step guide for entrepreneurs and freelancers in the United States who want to move to Europe
As the birthplace of bluetooth and wifi, the Netherlands has a long history of leading the charge in innovation, entrepreneurship and starting business anew. From its diverse culture to tax credit incentives for startup investors, endless coworking spaces, and ongoing efforts to increase dynamic business presence, it’s no wonder The Netherlands has consistently ranked number 1 in the European Union for best places to start a business.
For those based in the United States, the Netherlands is a particularly appealing place to move and begin a life as an international entrepreneur. Why? A treaty established between the U.S. and the Netherlands on March 27, 1956 called The Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) which makes it much easier for citizens of the U.S. to migrate and start entrepreneurship in the Netherlands (more on this below).
At Lead Out Finance, we specialize in helping talented entrepreneurs and business owners to make their next big career and life moves as they settle into the Netherlands. Although it’s completely possible to run a business and build your life in the Netherlands without being fluent in Dutch, much of the administrative tasks and finances will be exclusively in the native language, that’s where we come in. Planning a business and/or life venture abroad can feel daunting but with over 25 years of experience, a bit of humor and attention to detail, we have what it takes to help ambitious humans just like you make your globe-trotting dreams come true!
Note: This guide is specifically written for United States citizens specifically seeking to stay in the Netherlands for longer than 90 days and who plan to be self-employed/entrepreneurs.
How to start a business in the Netherlands as a U.S. entrepreneur
Once you’ve moved past the Pinterest boards and travel day dreams, it’s time to start building the foundations for your business abroad!
Through every step of this process, it’s invaluable to have someone in your corner to translate, help avoid missteps, expedite the process as much as possible and much more. If you’re looking to hit the easy button on the immigration process, bookkeeping, tax filing, legal requirements, insurance, logistics and the process of utilizing the DAFT, we’d love to lend a hand! Contact us today to learn more about how Lead Out Finance can help you through every step of the process.
Step 1: Determine the requirements and prepare the necessary items
Each person will have a few different stipulations to meet pending on their current circumstances and country of origin, for the purpose of this post, we’ll assume you are a U.S. citizen and an entrepreneur.
For other countries/nationalities, use this handy tool to see what stipulations apply to your unique situation.
What you’ll need as a self employed person moving from the United States to the Netherlands:
What you’ll need as a self employed person moving from the United States to the Netherlands:
- Operate your business between the US and the Netherlands
- Start a new business opportunity or a profession in the Netherlands with a substantial capital investment of €4500 ($4,783.01 USD)
- Have a valid travel document (e.g. passport)
- Not pose a risk to public order and national security
- Be able to support yourself without relying on Dutch welfare programs
- Have not previously stayed illegally in the Netherlands
- Have not provided false information or withheld important information in previous applications.
- Make sure you’ll be able to meet the standard income requirements
Pro tip: If you are worried about not being able to meet the standard income requirements, there is a bit of wiggle room here! By working with Lead Out Finance early on in your immigration process, we can consult through this process and help you find ways to request extensions and/or exemptions on this requirement.
Step 2: Start your DAFT visa application process
Once you meet the criteria above, you can start the DAFT visa application process by filling out the DAFT application form here and mailing it to the IND along with copies of your passport and travel stamps.
Along with your passport and travel stamps, you’ll need to include a few key items once you’re able to get them such as:
- A bank statement if you are the sole entrepreneur
- An original certificate of registration at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce that is not older than 3 months
- An opening balance sheet verified by a certified accounting professional (that’s us!)
You will not have all of these necessary items right away but it’s good to get the DAFT visa application started and then mail it in once you have all of the necessary items.
Step 3: Book a biometrics appointment with the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND)
Do yourself a favor and make sure you complete this step before moving on to step 4. Why? Because during your biometrics appointment, you will have your information, photograph and fingerprints imputed into the system. Officials will then extend your temporary visa by six months and stamp your passport with a unique mark (needed for step 4). If any information is missing from your application, the IND will request it from you via post.
At your biometrics appointment, you’ll need a valid US passport and the fee with you in cash form. You can check the current fee amount here. Once you’ve paid your fee and completed your screening, you’ll receive an extension to your temporary visa.
Step 4: Get your BSN number
What is a BSN number?
The citizen service number (BSN) is a unique personal number allocated to everyone registered in the Personal Records Database (BRP) of the Netherlands. For context, many people from the United States would compare a BSN to what the U.S. calls a social security number. Much like a social security number application, registering for a BSN requires that you provide a legalized proof of identity and proof of residency.
Much like your social security number in the United States, your BSN also allows you to identify yourself if you need care, receive tax returns, apply for healthcare, open a Dutch bank account, etc.
To obtain your BSN, you should make an appointment with the Gemeente (in the city you plan on living in) and make sure to mention you are a US Citizen applying for the Dutch American Friendship Treaty visa.
In order to register for your BSN with your municipality, you’ll need to provide:
- A valid passport
- The sticker on your passport provided by the IND in step Proof you have applied for a resident permit (sticker on your passport from the IND obtained in step 3).
- A rental agreement/deed of conveyance/written lodgings agreement with a copy of the proof of identity of the owner/main occupant of the house.
- An apostille birth certificate – find out more on how to obtain this here
Law requires that you apply for your BSN within 5 days of arriving in the Netherlands so best to be quick about this step but know that there is (as of February 2022) a very REAL housing crisis going on in the Netherlands. It might be difficult to obtain the residency status/physical address needed to obtain your BSN within 5 days but do your best to establish a personal residential address as soon as possible.
Once you’re able to complete this step, you will receive your BSN within 5-10 days in the mail.
Step 5: Open your Dutch bank account
Once you have your BSN, you can use it to open your personal bank account (among other things).
If you’re wondering what banking solution to start with, we suggest Revolut for both your personal and business banking.
Step 6: Register your business with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KVK)
All businesses operating in the Netherlands must register with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK). Registration is essential to obtain a Value Added Tax (VAT) number, which is required for conducting business in the country. Residents of the United States might compare the purpose of this VAT number to what in the U.S. is called an EIN (a number that helps to uniquely identify your business in tax and other legal dealings).
To register your business with the KvK, you will need to book and appointment on the KvK website and bring the following items with you to your appointment:
- Your passport with the stamp the IND provided in previous step
- Your BSN number (obtained in step 4)
- €65 in cash or your new Dutch PIN/bank card to pay the business registration fee
- A brief description of your business (must be written in Dutch so be sure to have a native speaker help with this step)
- Around €15 in cash or your new Dutch PIN/bank card to pay for the official extract you’ll need (more info below)
With these items in hand, you will register your business as an ‘eenmanszaak’ (the equivalent of a sole proprietorship in the U.S.). After the registration appointment with the KvK, be sure to request/pay for your official extract that includes your KVK details
What is an extract, you ask?
The extract you’ll receive from the KVK is a summary of the company’s registration data (i.e. the business name and address, date of establishment, the names of those involved in the business/the leadership, Information about the legal entity, the nature of the company and its registered offices). It is very much like the official certificate one would receive from their Secretary of State in the United States.
Make sure you receive this official extract of your business’s registration during this appointment as you’ll need to submit it to the IND in order to finalize your certificate of registration with the KVK.
Completing this appointment and obtaining your extract will automatically enroll you with the tax office. You should be provided a VAT number (your equivalent of an EIN and/or business tax identification number in the U.S.) at this time.
Pro tip: Though this step in the process can be done DIY style, we highly recommend working with a professional organization such as our partner Maes Law. Maes Law offers both business incorporation AND immigration services. All of the paperwork you’ll be filling out during this part of the process will be in Dutch so not only is it handy to hire a team of native speakers, but you’ll have more insight and a better understanding of the process by working with professionals who can translate language and items needed.
Step 7. Open a Dutch Business Bank Account
Now that you have your BSN and KVK number in hand, you can apply for and open your business account for your business at a Dutch bank.
Once you have your Dutch business bank account open, be sure to deposit the minimum capital investment required by law, €4500 (approximately $4,785 USD as of February 2023).
Note: To remain legally compliant, you must deposit this investment into a checking account. You are legally required to keep it in a checking vs. a savings and you must maintain the €4500 balance at all times. The Netherlands takes this requirement very seriously and authorities have the right to review your bank statements to ensure you’re remaining compliant.
Step 8. Hire a certified accounting professional in the Netherlands
Now that your business is VERY MUCH official, you’ll need to generate an opening balance sheet and have it verified by an external expert. That’s where we come in! If you haven’t already partnered with Lead Out Finance by this step, now is absolutely the time to do so.
Although we love to be involved from the beginning and can lend a hand with many of the steps listed above, all entrepreneurs following this process MUST work with an accounting professional to complete the opening balance sheet verification process.
Step 9. Submit your verified opening balance sheet and extract to the IND
You can submit these items via mail (or drop them in the mailbox at the IND office) if you’d like or make an appointment to submit them in person. If you’ve chosen to work with our experienced professional team by this point, we’re happy to help with any questions you might have otherwise needed to take to your in person appointment so you can avoid the hassle and just mail in your outstanding items!
Step 10. Keep an eye on your mailbox!
The final step is where the waiting game begins. The IND will process all of your submissions and will contact you via post with anything else they might need. They will also send your official approval documentation through the post so be sure to watch closely for those communications.
At Lead Out Finance, we offer expert guidance and support to help you navigate the complex process of starting a business in the Netherlands, so you can focus on what you do best – running a thriving freelance business.