I’ve recently moved to the Netherlands and can say that the process of getting a visa, apartment, and starting up my business was pretty hassle-free. There’s very little bureaucracy I had to deal with, and the country seems to really support small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Dutch just get it.
Five reasons why the Netherlands is a great place to start your business:
The 2-Year Self Employment Visa
I previously lived in Japan, where your visa options as a startup founder require you to put down a $50,000 investment to get a business visa or apply for the entrepreneur visa which has a very short leash (hire 2 people and make revenue within 6 months etc). Unless you have substantial capital and revenue coming in already, it’s a bit tough for a scrappy entrepreneur.
Fortunately, it’s much easier in the Netherlands. The self-employed visa is open to any freelancer or business owner who wants to register and do business in Holland. You just need to show that you have a business plan (a few pages long, including basic financial projections), and preferably show that you already have some existing contracts or ties that will contribute to the Dutch economy (you have a Dutch client). Lastly, the capital requirement is 4,500 euros that you must deposit into your bank account, and maintain that balance all times. That’s basically it.
Now if you are from the U.S. or Japan, you can also take advantage of favorable treaties that the Dutch government has with these two countries. For the US it’s the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, and for Japan it’s the Dutch Japanese Trade Treaty. If you are from these countries, the big difference is that you don’t need to show you have any clients in the Netherlands, and your business plan can be a lot shorter. The visa application is a lot faster, too. (I am a US citizen and did this myself, and I have a Japanese friend who just moved to Amsterdam using this strategy) Here’s a great guide on the process.
There is also a ‘startup visa,’ which requires you to have a solid business plan, enough savings to live in the Netherlands (13,000 euros/year), and appoint a Dutch “facilitator,” which is basically like a mentor. The government is more than happy to connect you to a pool of facilitators who you can meet and choose, so it’s not that difficult to find one (although you can also go out and find your own facilitator). Read more here.
My fiancée and I were fortunate enough to have a great lawyer that guided us along the entire process moving to NL and setting up our businesses. We paid her upon completion, meaning that she did not charge until we received our visas. I recommend going this route instead of doing it all by yourself. It should cost around 1200 euros for the lawyer, 1100 euros for the application fee for a self employed visa, and the 4500 deposit in your bank account.
After 2 years, with either visa, you need to show that your business is “doing well” (making some consistent revenue) and can apply to renew it for another 3–5 years. The barrier to launching your startup in many European countries can come down to getting a visa to setup, and countries like Italy, France, Sweden and Belgium have high up front setup requirements. This may not be an issue for those who have revenue or over 50–100k in funding already, in which case your options are significantly broadened. But for those that are just setting up, the Netherlands is a great place.
2. Free (subsidized) coaching
As Bill Gates says, “Everybody needs a coach.” Especially if you are a freelancer or founder operating in a new country, the benefits of having a local coach are tremendous. They can help navigate the murky waters of a new culture, give you much-needed pointers & feedback, introduce valuable connections, share local knowledge that you won’t get otherwise, and give you positive reinforcement when things get tough.
Coaches can be expensive( easily $100-$300/hr), although certainly worth the price if you hire a good one and considering the value they are adding to making you successful. The good news is that you can get a coach for practically free, if you meet certain criteria! In the Netherlands, the government has a budget for a yearly subsidy (a few million bucks total) that is allocated for coaching new entrepreneurs. It’s called the SIB coaching voucher, and it’s badass.
If your business is under 3 years old and no more than 25% of your revenue went outside of the Netherlands, then you are eligible to receive up to 2,500 euros of coaching! You technically still have to pay the VAT tax, but you can write that off as a cost. That covers something like 16 hours of coaching. The great part is the flexibility to find your own coach, as well as the scheduling and time you want to have coaching sessions. In my case, I found a great coach (well, she kind of found me), and I prefer to have my sessions once a month for 2 hours in person. I come prepared with all my questions/frustrations and she helps me through it.
There may be some similar programs in different countries, but the beauty of this was the ease of the process. I had the freedom to choose my own coach, they applied for the subsidy, and it was approved within two weeks. From there I started coaching that month. Piece of cake. Lastly, there are all sorts of subsidies for entrepreneurs beyond coaching – from ‘innovation subsidies’ to ‘international business subsidies.’ Check out the company Boonstoppel, who advises entrepreneurs on the subsidies they are eligible for in the Netherlands.
3. The Dutch speak better English than Americans — and they’re honest as hell
Everyone speaks English fluently. I’m not talking about that Thai or French level of English where the countries are setup for tourism and so waiters and taxi drivers can communicate at a basic level. I mean that pretty much every Dutch person I’ve met has been able to hold a normal conversation (beyond the weather), and do so in an intelligent manner. From the co-working space to the electric company, the clarity in which they speak is enhanced by their directness.
The Dutch are notoriously forthright. When they do not agree with what you have to say, they will let you know. When they have something on their minds, they will tell you. Even the ever-abrasive Trump got a smack of Dutch bluntness (“NO!”) when visiting the Dutch Prime Minister. Some people may call it rude, but usually their intentions are good, and they’re just being honest. Most of the time, this just means it’s easy to have a conversation with anyone and get the information you need.
When we first got our apartment here, the process was a little bit murky. We knocked on a couple of real estate agent’s doors (which is not how you do it here, btw) and they told us straight-up that we should stop knocking on doors and call , and then slammed the door in our faces. As the Dutch proverb says, “Whatever you advise, be as brief as possible.” When we were explained the process, we followed it, and were able to find an apartment pretty quickly. Not to say the real estate agents gave the best service, but there was no fine print that was not explained to us nor any big surprises. For the most part, it was smooth-sailing.
This combination of English language skills and direct communication style make it business-friendly, even if the directness can be a bit too direct at times. After several years in Japan, which has a very indirect communication style (nobody says ‘no’ directly), I rather welcomed this change like a breath of fresh air. In any case, it makes setting up in the country and doing business pretty straightforward!
4. BUNQ- banking is easier than ordering a BigMac
When I was in visiting family in the U.S. before moving to the Netherlands, I started my application process to immigrate to Holland. This required me to start a bank account, which I was able to do from abroad using the Bunq app, a mobile/online bank that has the best UI/UX compared to any online banking service I have ever experienced in my life.
All I had to do was download it, upload my ID verification, and then I was approved for a Dutch bank account within a couple of days. From the app, I was able to order both a debit and credit card, for free, and I can handle all my payments and transactions from the app. This was for a consumer account, but I also use Bunq for my business account. It required me to enter my KVK number (business registration #) and ID, and that was about it.
The great things about Bunq: You can use the Bunq card in any country, they don’t charge withdrawal fees, they never charge foreign exchange fees (most banks charge 3%), the transaction speed between accounts is extremely fast, there are savings accounts with easy auto-save features, responsive customer support in English, and the security is pretty top notch with their fingerprint and hand-scan technology for larger transfers.
I’ve also noticed that the transfers between Coinbase Europe and your bunq account are instantaneous – buying/selling crypto and sending euros between the two accounts is faster than doing so with a Coinbase US account. (to be clear, bunq does not have crypto payments functionality, I simply mean that the direct debit processing is super fast)
The only downside is that the ‘credit card’ isn’t a real credit card in the traditional sense of the word. You cannot spend a balance that you actually don’t have in your account, as bunq’s philosophy does not align with charging interest. Rather, their model is a subscription based, so you pay a monthly fee to use the bank.
5. Micro-dosing magic truffles – legally
Taking small doses of psychedelic mushrooms or LSD is no longer just a practice among biohackers on the fringes of the Silicon Valley tech community. It’s quickly spreading to other major tech hubs, no doubt in part to Michael Pollan’s book on psychedelics “How to Change Your Mind” and a host of famous bloggers and podcasters (Joe Roegan, Tim Ferriss) who are supporting the movement both intellectually and financially.
While a hit of LSD is not going to make you the next Steve Jobs, perhaps it can still give you some edge. Growing research has linked controlled psychedelic use to a boost in creativity, heightened mood, and strengthened relationships. They are even being explored as a potential treatment for depression. It’s a little known-fact that several Ivy League Universities in the U.S. have rebooted research into psychedelics (Yale, Colombia, Penn, John’s Hopkins etc). The stigma around these substances is a historical relic, and we’re seeing that there is little science behind these negative claims – indeed, the worst drug out there is alcohol, by far.
Unfortunately, in most countries the possession of psychedelics, including mushrooms, is illegal and can get you jail time. I am a strong proponent myself and believe that the path will hopefully turn to legalization in the next few years, as it’s doing with marijuana, after a bit more research and lobbying. In the Netherlands, you don’t have to worry about it. You can go to the local Smart Shop and get a pack of magic truffles (essentially the same as mushrooms) for 20 euros and experiment all you want. That’s certainly less than a night out at the bar, and probably more meaningful! Or you can go to the coffee shop, purchase a pre-rolled joint aptly-named ‘Thor’s Hammer’ (or something a bit weaker), and take the edge off for a few hours all in the comfort of other like-minded people.
The larger point is not about the relaxed laws on drugs and prostitution. The Dutch have progressive attitudes towards everything from parenting to immigration, gay marriage and religious freedom. These attitudes are reflected in policies, which makes the country an easy place to live freely, be yourself, and experiment.