Setting up a business in the Netherlands

Setting up a business in the Netherlands

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Setting up as a freelancer or starting a business in the Netherlands? Dutch immigration law expert, Patrick Rovers, gives the basics to starting a business in the Netherlands.

"I'm an experienced designer from Berlin, Germany. Over the years I have acquired an interesting client base in the Netherlands. I have decided to move to Rotterdam and establish a freelance business in the Netherlands. Is that allowed without a work permit? What should I do and where should I go?"

Dutch immigration law expert, Patrick Rovers, replies:

As a result of the continuing economic crisis, the number of new start-up businesses in the Netherlands decreased in 2009. However, 2008 was a record breaking year as far as the establishment of new companies was concerned. Over all, freelance work remains quite popular in the Netherlands. Establishing your own company in the Low Countries is not difficult, as long as you make sure to comply with certain rules and regulations.

Citizens from EU/EEA countries who want to reside and work in the Netherlands enjoy special privileges. This concerns citizens from Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Malta, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. Swiss nationals are – under certain circumstances – classified as equal to EU/EEA citizens. Their employers are exempted from obtaining a separate Dutch work permit. Note that the generic Dutch work permit requirement is still applicable to employers of citizens from Bulgaria and Romania.

Citizens from EU/EEA countries are required to register at the Dutch immigration service who will issue special ‘Burger van de Unie’ stamps in their respective passports, if and when certain conditions with regard to paid employment are honoured.  

EU/EEA/Swiss citizens are allowed to establish their own business in the Netherlands. They are also required to register at the Dutch immigration service. The procedure is not complicated. In general the Dutch immigration service will ask for proof that the company is properly registered with the Chamber of Commerce. Or the EU/EEA/Swiss citizen is asked to submit a business plan, an opening balance sheet with financial prognoses, a balance sheet and profit and loss statement, or a tax return. Note that different rules apply to Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.

In general a start-up freelancer will have to register the new business with the competent Chamber of Commerce. It is worth to check out www.kvk.nl/english/startingabusiness. Quite often you will find a reference to the term ‘zzp’. In the Netherlands the terms 'freelance' and 'zzp' ('zelfstandige zonder personeel' or self-employed without staff) are used interchangeably.

The start up freelancer is required to timely register the business with the Dutch Tax Service (Belastingdienst). The Dutch Tax Service is responsible for issuing the VAT number (BTW nummer). It may be useful to check out the business section at www.belastingdienst.nl.

A personal registration number (BSN nummer) is usually issued to the EU/EEA/Swiss citizen following his/her registration with the local municipality, for example, www.rotterdam.nl.

Persons with non EU/EEA/Swiss nationalities, who want to go self-employed in the Netherlands, will have to follow different procedures as far as the Dutch immigration service is concerned. In my next column I will offer some insight into their possibilities.


Patrick R. Rovers, lawyer with Van Velzen C.S. / Expatica

This column is for informative purposes only, is general in nature, and is not intended to be a substitute for competent legal and professional advice. Dutch and European rules and regulations regarding foreigners, policies, work permits, visas, and residence permits/documents are continuously subject to change.
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2 Comments To This Article

  • Trini posted:

    on 29th October 2014, 09:32:49 - Reply

    Was there ever the follow up article pertaining to setting up your own business as a non EU/EER/Swiss. For the sake of a better response, I am canadian about to be on a graduate search year visa.
  • Rav posted:

    on 14th August 2013, 10:12:30 - Reply

    They make you take out a 43k salary from your newly set up Dutch company, on an annual basis even if you make little or no turnover. And, you are to pay up to 52% tax over that salary too.

    I would never EVER consider setting up a Dutch co. Better off setting one up in the UK. They don't force you pay over wage tax to their government before having gotten round to making your biz profitable to begin with. It is no wonder the Dutch ease of doing business is not ranked as high as that of UK or its old territories such as HK.