Work — your way

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

One way to get a tailor-made job in the Netherlands if you've already got a residence permit: hire yourself. Laura Martz explains how.

Times are good for job seekers in the Netherlands. And as more highly skilled foreign workers than ever before arrive here to work, a slew of equally skilled partners are close behind.

While those partners usually receive residence permits, they aren't always allowed to take paid employment. But they needn't sit on the sidelines.

Setting up a one-person business in the Netherlands with a residence permit is simple. Some expat partners cash in by consulting, while others take advantage of the freedom of freelancing.

"Setting up a business was so easy I kept thinking that something was wrong," says "life coach" and writer Julia Ferguson Andriessen, an American married to a Dutchman.

Ready to do business

Andriessen went to the local Kamer van Koophandel (Chamber of Commerce) - an official agency in the Netherlands - with her passport and residence card. She supplied rudimentary details like the business's name and phone number.

"When I left the KvK I had my KvK number and was ready to do business," she says. They even gave her a perk she hadn't reckoned on: a gratis website and email address.

American computer programmer Ann Barcomb says the KVK "spent quite a while on the phone talking with me - in English - and sent me all the documents I needed." She didn't even need to register. Programming, translating, writing and other jobs commonly done on a freelance basis are known as "vrije beroepen" and exempt from controls.

Barcomb only had to register with the Belastingdienst (tax service), which supplied "a similar kind of attention" and help with forms.

"My biggest problem was trying to get information from the (American) IRS," she says.

Doing the paperwork

With a residence permit sorted, the KvK-tax office two-step is all the paperwork needed to start a business.

But without one, the police insist upon a heavy burden of proof - a business plan, a demonstration that a new business will benefit the country - before they'll grant one just so someone can start a business.

The process is somewhat easier for people from countries with mitigating agreements with the Netherlands. They include other EU countries, some Eastern European nations and the United States.

Startup paperwork may be easy, but running a business is a whole different animal. "Almost half of startups do not survive the first year!" says a text on Amsterdam's Kamer van Koophandel website. "Why? Disappointing sales, neglected bookkeeping, underestimating the competition, not meeting legal requirements, etc. Many have not prepared well enough."

To help, many KvKs give courses in skills like management and business-plan writing.

Consultants can also save hassle. "I made sure I had an accountant I knew would understand me and not charge too much," said Briton Benjamin Wharton, who started his Amsterdam financial advice business in April 1999.

When in Rome...

But there are extra factors involved in succeeding abroad - like adapting to the culture. First things first: When in Rome, learn some Italiano. Not only will it smooth relationships with clients, you'll be lost in the red tape without it. Andriessen took her Dutch husband to the KvK. "There were a handful of times where translation was necessary and crucial to getting the information correct," she says.

And know the terrain. One way to gain much-needed experience and connections is to work for someone else first. Wharton went solo after a stint doing similar work for two Dutch firms.

Andriessen says, "Be sure there is a market for your services or products within the Dutch community or target audience you wish to do business with." She took a chance because of the first-year startup tax break, and because her business was cheap and easy to start. But most books advise people starting businesses to do market research before anything else.

Andriessen says there turned out to be "a terrific market" for her services - writing and helping people map out life and career choices. Plenty of expats, it seems, are in need of a new path. "If I had a car, I would be working more hours than I had in a day," she says.

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