When I landed in the Netherlands, a bit more than a year ago (seven years now, in 2011) I had already schemed and made plans to get ahead and get all the important things done as soon as I would land. The main tasks where to get a BSN (it is your personal Social Number also know as Burgerservicenummer), a bank account, a house and of course a job. How hard could that be, right?
Well, it's hard if you don't understand how these things are all linked together, so let's try and clear things up a bit one by one.
What is a BSN, why would I need one and how do I get it?
BSN (Burger Service Nummer) is your Citizen Service Number and guess what, if you want to reside in the Netherlands you need to get one.
But getting a BSN might prove a bit harder. In order to get a BSN you need to have a house or a room (legitimate, with contract) under your name, which essentially means that you need to rent a house or a room that you can register for a BSN. Be careful though, not all rentals in the Netherlands allow registration!
If you have sorted your housing issue already then things are pretty straight forward. All you need to do is just go to your local Gementee (City hall) and make an appointment for a BSN registration. In some Gementees that aren't that busy you might even do it on your first visit but in Amsterdam's Gementee for instance, it might even take up to two weeks or even a month to set an appointment, so be prepared for a wait also. They will give you a list of things you need to bring along. Usually, it is your birth certificate (translated in English or Dutch) by a local translator or one (that is certified in your country), your passport and your house or room contract.
There is an alternative to the BSN though, in case you found your self in the Netherlands and you really need to get a bank account or need to register for other reasons. In this case, you can always apply for a RNI using your home address till you sort your housing issues. RNI is like a BSN and it is given to people that want to remain in the Netherlands for up to four months in order to work. After the four months you can renew it but if in the meanwhile you have managed to get a house that you can register you can convert your SOFI number into a BSN number.
In order to get an RNI you have to contact the Dutch Tax Administration (Belastingdienst), or your Gemeente (depends on the town) and make an appointment.
Health and Health Insurance issues
It is mandatory for everyone to have at least a base level of insurance (basisverzekering). If you don't you will be running the risk of a warning and fines. You are free to choose your own health insurance company and change companies once a year.
Offcourse don't forget that you cannot get insured if you don't have a BSN or RNI.
You have to be insured from the day you are registered at the Gemeente otherwise if you do that later, you will have to pay all the months that you missed. Most of the times you can make an arrangement with the insurance company to pay the fine in terms.
If your income is under a fixed minimum level, you can apply for a healthcare allowance (zorgtoeslag) from the tax authorities (belastingdienst).
You can visit toeslagen.nl and learn more.
If you are confident that you can fill in the forms by yourself then visit zorgtoeslag.nl to see if you meet the requirements and apply online. If your application goes further, you will have to pay 22,40 for this service.
Don't give money to anyone that says that they can help you with this for a fee. This service is free and all it requires is for you or someone that speaks Dutch to fill in the form correctly and for you to meet the requirements.
After you buy an insurance you should get a huisarts, he is a family doctor and you need to register with one for you. Every insurance company can provide you with a list or you can check the local gemeentegids (a guide to everything in your area).
Banks & how they work in the Netherlands
To open an account in the Netherlands you should have with you, your Passport, proof for an address in Netherlands (your house contract) and your BSN number. If you want to open anything other than a saving only account you will also need evidence of income such as an employment contract or payslip or the KVK document (if you are a freelancer or you own a business).
As for students, international students who wish to open a Dutch bank account have to have a valid passport or ID, the letter of acceptance from EUR, & proof of residence. You can visit a bank or ask about all the procedures at the university.
ABN-AMRO, which is now nationalized, has the most information in English online and a special expat package but you should generally have no problem conducting business in English at any of them. There a mobile app that you can check your account balance or make transactions is also available in the English language.
Another option is ING which is a very expat friendly bank.
Online banking is very common in the Netherlands. With the help of a calculator-sized device, you can make transactions 24/7. There is usually information in English but you can also get step-by-step tuition at the bank.
Also don't be surprised if the bank asks you about getting insured for cases of accidents or if you see a monthly fee. Every bank has different rules and charges for their services, so make sure you ask everything in advance.
Housing & the problems you might face
Finding a house or a room might be a bit tricky because the prices for renting a house or a room in the Netherlands are quite high and unfortunately being an expat doesn't help in some cases where landlords require even more than 2 deposits because they immediately label you as a "flight risk". I know it sounds harsh but it is the truth in many cases. None the less, remember that you have to be persistent and you have to negotiate a fair deal for the both of you.
In order to rent a house you need to prove with your work contract or your bank statement that you are financially viable to rent a house for the time agreed. If you don't have a job and you are not financial safe, most of the landlords and real estate agents (Makelaars) will probably turn you down.
You should also be careful not to get scammed. Never get a house without first having seen it and having verified who the person that is showing you the house is. Don't be shy, ask for a copy of their ID, their business card and KVK number in the case of a real estate agent. There have been many cases where people thought that they had rented a house or a room only to find out that they had been scammed.
Finally but also equally important. Never sign anything without clearly knowing what it is and what the consequences are for you. Never! Always ask the contract to be also in the English language too. They are obliged to give you one in English if you do not know the Dutch language.
Searching for a house can also be a hard task. There are many online sites (a quick google search will find the most popular) and you will find real estate agents (Makelaars) almost everywhere, but if you rent through an agency you usually have to pay a fee (rent price+23% VAT, but the Makelaar is then responsible for everything you might need or have an issue with. Don't forget it!) in addition to the deposit and the sites don't offer the most economic solutions always. Another option, and yes I know it sounds weird, is to also scout the super markets in locations you want to live. Many times there are bulletin boards with various offers and sometimes, even houses for rent!
Getting a job
If you hadn't already found a job before landing here, than start checking your CV's and start running. You will need a cover letter for every CV you send, make sure and take the time to make the cover letter appropriate for every position that you apply for and make sure that it is easy to read like your CV.
You can take some tips for your CV from our recent article Be sure that you have the right CV
If you think that you will apply for your dream job and that you will get called immediately, think again. It might take up to two weeks or even more get a reply and if it is a positive one, the interview sessions for some jobs might take even up to 2 months. So if you were thinking about settling in and looking for work later, keep in mind that later might get you way out of your estimated time.
My best advice is to be prepared, scout all the local work agencies and apply for many positions that interest you. You see, the financial crisis has touched the Netherlands as well and job opportunities are not as plentiful as they used to be. Be persistent and don't give up.
Lets recap a bit
Ok, so far, I think you are starting to get a picture of what is going on. My advice to you is, get a job so that you have a work contract, that will get you a house because you will be economically viable, and then you can also get a BSN and insurance and lets not forget that bank account. I know it looks like a mountain of work and running around, but with positive attitude, careful planning and persistence you will be OK. In any case, if you have an issue or a question you can always email us at [email protected] and we will try to help out.
Last but not least, getting around to get all these done!
If you have a smart phone then you are in luck. Most of the transportation services in the Netherlands already have mobile apps for most smart phones. Find out here how your smart phone can make your life easier in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands has excellent public transport links, but the newly installed swipe-card payment system has come under much scrutiny and is costing the Dutch government considerably more than anticipated.
BUY a OV-chipkaart as soon as you start using the transportation. Suddenly transportation is cheap(pi)er, quicker & easier! The OV-chipkaart is a Smart-card system that almost everybody uses in the Netherlands for the metro, bus and tram.
There are two types of cards: anonymous, which you can buy from the OV-chipkaart machines, or personal, which you need to apply for online or via the post and submit a photo.
PS. Don't forget to check out because there is a fine waiting if you don't ;)
We found out today (9/4/2013) that the Greek version of the PDF is no longer online on the SZW website where it was originally hosted. We have contacted them to enquire more information about why the file is not available anymore. Until then, we are hosting a copy of the Greek version on our server for anyone that might need it.