Dutch visa for business owners

Self-employed Dutch visa for freelancers and entrepreneurs

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If you want to set up your own business, work as a freelancer or practice a profession in the Netherlands, you can apply for a self-employed Dutch residence permit.

If you want to live in the Netherlands and start your own business, work as a freelancer or practice a profession, you must apply for a Dutch residence permit as an entrepreneur. Certain conditions apply to each situation, which are outlined in this guide.

Immigration updates 2015–2016

  • The requirements to work as self-employed in the Netherlands can be rigorous if you are a foreign national. To avoid deterring new businesses, the Dutch government introduced the 'Startup Visa', effective as of January 2015, that allows new businesses a preparatory year to prepare the requirements for qualifying for the Dutch self-employment permit.
  • Further changes were made to the Startup Visa in 2016, when the Dutch authorities recognised that after the preliminary start-up year many enterprises were still not able to pass the rigorous scrutiny of the standard self-employed application. As of January 2016 startups may introduce a favourable recommendation from their business facilitator that will replace the points-based system.
  • The prices for self-employment permits were increased in January 2016 (see below).


Moving to the Netherlands

Different rules apply for citizens from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA – EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland – and their family members. Read more in Expatica's guide for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals moving to the Netherlands.

Otherwise, depending on your nationality, you may need a provisional residence permit (MVV) to enter the Netherlands in addition to a Dutch residence permit to stay in the country for more than three months, although exemptions apply. Find out if you need an entry visa for the Netherlands in our guide to Dutch provisional residence permits (MVV) and temporary residence permits.

Conditions for self-employed Dutch residence permit

If you're coming to work as a self-employed person or to set up your own business in the Netherlands, there are certain conditions that must be met to receive approval for your Dutch permit, most notably proving that your business activities serve an essential Dutch interest using a point-based system.

If you are applying for a residence permit to work for your own company, your business will be assessed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), a division of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, which awards points in three different areas: your personal experience, your business plan and how the business will benefit the Dutch economy.

The points-based review is rigorous; a well-prepared business plan with robust financial projections is a must and your application package should be very carefully put together. You must score at least 90 out of 300 points, of which you must score at least 30 points in each category. Only in very limited cases will an exceptional score in one category compensate for a unsatisfactory score in another category.

You must also prove sufficient and long-term means of support, for at least 12 months from the start of the procedure.

Businesses
To be deemed as self-employed when acting as director or a major shareholder of a company, you must additionally prove you have at least 25 percent interest in the company, be liable for risks and be able to influence the level of your income. If this is not the case, your relationship with the company would be considered as an 'employee' and you would be required to obtain a work permit for employees.

Freelancers
If you are applying to work as a freelancer you must additionally prove that you have work assignments in the Netherlands at the time that you apply.

Healthcare practitioners
If you intend to provide healthcare services you are subject to regulation by the Individual Healthcare Professions Act (BIG) and you must be included in the BIG register. Upon admission you are able to use your professional title in the Netherlands.

Startup Visa for new entrepreneurs

Since January 2015, certain foreign nationals may be eligible instead to apply for an entrepreneur permit for one preparatory year.

The Dutch authorities acknowledge that many startup companies are not yet in the position to satisfy the points criteria for the standard self-employment visa, and thus the start-up visa was introduced. The start-up visa authorises a one-year preparatory period in the Netherlands, during which the startup entrepreneur works closely with a business facilitator to get the new enterprise ready to satisfy the conditions of the standard self-employed permit. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) keeps a list of recognised facilitators.

The start-up visa cannot be extended. After the first year the facilitator can submit a positive reference to the immigration authorities to support the self-employment permit application. A declaration issued by your facilitator can be equal to at least the minimum score for personal experience, business plan and added value for the Dutch economy of the points based system. Read the conditions to see if you qualify for the Dutch Startup Visa.

Treaties with US and Japan

US citizens can operate as self-employed under a trade agreement between the US and the Netherlands – known as the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) – if they start a new business representing a US interest in the Netherlands, invest substantial capital in the enterprise and meet residence requirements in the Netherlands (staying at least six months per year). American entrepreneurs applying for a DAFT permit do not have to satisfy the points-based review. Find more information about the application process.

Japanese nationals are now able to work freely on the labour market in the Netherlands, however the IND still requires that a residence permit is obtained for stays longer than 90 days. For Japanese entrepreneurs, the IND currently takes the position that the self-employment permit is the appropriate residence permit. The application process is similar to that for US nationals, as there is also a trade agreement in place between Japan and the Netherlands. This is a situation that is likely to change and Japanese nationals should confirm the latest regulations before applying.

How to apply for a self-employed residence permit

If you require an MVV visa you must file your application at the Dutch embassy or consulate in your own country or in a country where you are legally residing, before you arrive. Read more about applying for your Dutch provisional residence permit (MVV).

If you only need to apply for a residence permit, you can wait until you arrive in the Netherlands to open your Dutch company and file your application. You can apply by making an appointment at your regional IND desk; click to find your nearest IND desk, and download the application form here. You can also apply prior to your arrival if you want to start work as soon as you arrive (apply for your residence permit). 

If you are applying for the start-up visa, you do not require an entry visa (MVV) regardless of your nationality, provided all the requirements for the permit are met. Read more about the application process; you or your facilitator can apply directly the IND using this application form.

Documents
When you apply for your residence permit, you will need to submit certain documents specific to your business and prove it has an essential Dutch interest. These may include:

  • your passport/ID;
  • proof of income;
  • proof that you are qualified to practice your profession (eg. degree or certification);
  • comprehensive details of your business, such as a business plan, legal and financial aspects, organisation, or market analysis;
  • a certificate of the registration at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (if you will be running a company in the Netherlands) – for more information, click here;
  • work assignments from Dutch employers (if you're a freelancer);
  • evidence of intended investments in the Netherlands (to demonstrate financial interests in the Netherlands);
  • proof of educational qualifications;
  • evidence of work connections and experience within the Netherlands.


Fees

You will have to pay a fee to process your application, which is non-refundable even if your application is rejected. Currently the self-employment permit costs EUR 1,296 (or EUR 389 after having a Startup Visa), or EUR 311 for the initial start-up visa. However fees are reviewed bi-annually; check the most recent information on fees here.

Timescale
You should allow 90 days for the IND to make their decision. In some cases the IND can extend the decision period for an additional 90 days.

Once you have your residence permit

Working
If you are self-employed, you can work without a work permit as long as the work you carry out is the same as set out in your residence application (ie. self-employed activity). If you take on any additional employment, your employer must obtain a work permit for you.

How long is the permit valid for?
Your permit is usually valid for a maximum of two years but it's possible to extend. Find out how to extend your permit when it expires.

If your circumstances change
If you are no longer self-employed, you will need to apply for a new residence permit. Read our complete guide to Dutch visas and permits to find out which permit could be suitable for your individual situation.

For more information

The Immigration & Naturalisation Service (IND)

See the IND website for more information and to find your nearest IND desk; in general, you cannot visit an IND desk unless you have an appointment (with the exception of collecting your permit).

For queries or to make an appointment, you can contact the IND by phone Monday to Friday, 9am–5pm on 088 0430 430 from within the Netherlands or +31 88 0430 430 from abroad.

Immigratie-en Naturalisatiedienst
Klantinformatiecentrum
Postbus 287
7600 AG ALMELO

The IND's twitter account @IND_NL can also be contacted for general queries between Monday to Friday 9am–5pm.


Expatica / Updated by immigration lawyer Christine Sullivan, Fragomen Worldwide

This information is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Dutch embassy or consulate in your home country.

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Updated 2016.

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