What are the requirements for starting a business in the Netherlands or setting up as a freelancer? This guide explains how to start a business in the Netherlands as a foreigner.
If you’re considering starting a business in the Netherlands, it’s important to be aware of the different business types, find valid immigration advice, and get the appropriate self-employment Dutch work permit. It’s good to know the different types of companies in the Netherlands, Expatica can help advise you on what steps are necessary to make you a Dutch business owner, and what are the local requirements for business administration.
Over all, freelance work and self-employment remain quite popular in the Netherlands. The Dutch freelance market has remained strong in recent years, sparking the government to implement a new Dutch start-up visa to set up a business in the Netherlands. Opening a company in Netherlands is not difficult, as long as you can comply with certain rules and regulations.
In 2017, however, Brussels reprimanded the Netherlands for continued barriers to permanent contracts and the rise in self-employment in the Netherlands, partly influenced by favourable tax conditions. The national statistics agency report some 1.3 million people undertake self-employed or freelance work, often alongside regular employment, with some two-thirds not insured for private pensions.
Below this guide explains the process and conditions for foreigners interested in learning how to start a business in the Netherlands.
Starting a business in the Netherlands
EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to the Netherlands enjoy the same benefits as Dutch citizens, chiefly being that they don’t need to obtain a residence permit (MVV) or work permit (TWV) regardless of their activity. This includes 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, where their employers are exempt from requiring a separate Dutch work permit. Newer EU members, however, are still required to obtain a Dutch work permit, currently applicable to citizens from Bulgaria and Romania.
A personal registration number (BSN number) is usually issued to EU/EEA/Swiss citizens following his/her registration with the local municipality, for example, www.iamsterdam.com if you plan on living and starting a business in Amsterdam. Your BSN number acts as your social security and tax number.
Non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, or third country nationals, who are seeking self-employment or to start a business in the Netherlands will typically be required to follow Dutch immigration procedures and obtain a residence permit (MVV) or work permit (TWV).
The residence permit for an independent entrepreneur requires proving your business serves an essential Dutch interest and earning a certain number of points in a points-based application. Those from America and Japan are exempt from the points-based system via certain treaties and can follow a less rigorous process. Read more information in Expatica’s guide to visas for self-employed workers and freelancers.
Company structures for starting a business in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has different regulations and legal forms for different business structures. Freelancers are typically sole trader/single-person businesses, whereas larger companies are often considered a private limited company or BV.
The two most common legal forms (rechtsvormen) are unincorporated business structures and incorporated business structures. Unincorporated businesses are known as ‘rechtvormen zonder rechtspersoonlijkheid’ (legal forms without incorporation), meaning you are responsible for your business income and potential debt. In other words, there is no distinction between your private assets and business assets. With incorporated businesses, or ‘rechtvormen met rechtspersoonlijkheid‘ (legal forms with incorporation), you have separate accounts and protection from your business debts.
The different types of unincorporated businesses are:
- Sole trader/single-person business (Eenmanszaak or ZZP)
- Limited partnership (Commanditaire vennootschap or CV)
- General partnership (Vennootschap onder firma or VOF)
- Commercial/professional partnership (Maatschap).
The different types of incorporated businesses are:
- Private limited company: ltd. and Inc. (Besloten vennootschap or BV)
- Public limited company: plc. and Corp. (Naamloze vennootschap or NV)
- Cooperative and mutual insurance society (Coöperatie en onderlinge waarborgmaatschappij)
- Foundation (Stichting)
- Association (Vereniging).
Legal requirements differ between the business structures. A single-person business, for example, can be set up without a notarial deed (although company registration is still mandatory), whereas a larger company (BV or NV) requires a notarial deed of incorporation.
Both BVs and NVs also have shareholders, and NVs require a minimum initial business capital of €45.000. The capital requirement was abolished for BVs in 2012, although start-up costs are estimated at around €1,500–2,500 and higher, depending on the business structure and business size.
The main difference between partnership structures is that a professional partnership (maatschap) is a form of cooperation between professionals, rather than a cooperation for the purpose of doing business (like CVs or VOFs). In any case, seeking expert advice is recommended. If you and a friend are starting a T-shirt company, for example, you would consider a commercial/professional partnership (maatschap), but if you’re starting a non-profit for the homeless, you would consider a foundation (stitching).
More information on legal forms and business structures can be found here.
How to start a business in the Netherlands
Step 1: Choose a business name
The name of your business or trade name must be unique. To check existing registered trademarks, you can contact the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP, or Benelux-Merkenbureau). Read more on the business register.
Step 2: Registering at the KVK
The Dutch immigration service (step 2) will ask for proof that the company is properly registered with the Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel or KvK). You can make an appointment online and fill out a registration form prior to the appointment. Although the form must be written in Dutch, the Chamber of Commerce provides English translations of all business registration forms.
You’ll need to bring around €50 for the registration fee, a valid form of identification (residence permit, Dutch driving licence or passport), a business name and detailed business plan, as well as knowledge of what type of business you will be registering.
To complete the registration, you may also be asked to show:
- a recent bank statement (less than 30 days old)
- for home offices, a proof of your home address
- a rental contract (or official letter of intent) if hiring a premises.
Most solo freelancers or sole-traders opt for an ‘unincorporated’ business structure (Eenmanszaak), but there are many different legal forms of businesses in the Netherlands, so it’s important to know which is right for you.
You can find more information in the KVK’s English guide on how to start a business in the Netherlands. 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.
Once your registration is approved, you will be given a unique company registration number to use on all outgoing invoices and mail.
Step 3: Registering at the IND
Citizens from EU/EEA countries are required to register at the Dutch immigration service (Immigratie en Naturalisatiedienst or IND), who will issue special ‘Burger van de Unie’ stamps in their passports, if and when certain conditions with regard to paid employment are honoured. You can contact the IND for more information.
Taxes for businesses in the Netherlands
Dutch corporate tax must be paid by sole proprietors (ZZP) as well as companies. According to the Ministry of Finance, ‘natural persons (such as the self-employed) pay tax on their profits through their income tax returns’. Read how and when to pay self-employed taxes.
Self-employed workers in the Netherlands are responsible for registering their business with the Dutch Tax Service (Belastingdienst), and submitting their own tax declarations. Corporate taxes in the Netherlands can seem complicated for the self-employed, but in a nutshell, Value Added Tax (BTW) returns, also known as turnover tax, must be filed quarterly, and income tax must be filed annually.
Paying VAT/Turnover tax
To file VAT returns, you must get your VAT number from the Dutch Tax Service; unincorporated businesses/ZZP can receive their VAT number when registering their Dutch business at the KVK. Currently, the standard VAT rate in the Netherlands is 21%, meaning it is your responsibility to request an additional 21% on each invoice sent to clients.
To ensure VAT is paid on time, Dutch law requires sending a dated invoice no later than the 15th day of the month following the one in which you completed the good or service for a client. VAT returns are filed electronically, no later than one month after the last day of each quarter, and payment for any additional VAT owed must also be paid at this time. After registering at the KVK, self-employed workers will receive a letter in the mail with their username and password that allows access to the tax website, where you can view the status of your tax return or file a digital tax return.
Paying income tax
Self-employed workers must pay annual income tax and file a tax return declaring all taxable income from the year. Taxable income consists of your business profits (revenue minus any deductible expenses, such as equipment, travel and materials), salary from employment contracts, and freelancing as a secondary activity. Read more about doing your income tax return in the Netherlands.
Tax credits for new businesses
The Netherlands allows private entrepreneurs a number of extra tax deduction, under the name of Entrepreneurs Deduction (ondernemersaftrek), as well as a general tax credits and labour tax credits.
The Entrepreneurs Deduction allows for the following tax exemptions:
- The general self-employment deduction allowance (zelfstandigenaftrek)
- Research and Development activities (aftrek speur- en ontwikkelingswerk)
- Co-operating partner deduction (meewerkaftrek)
- Start-up deduction in case of disability (starters aftrek bij arbeidsongeschiktheid)
- Liquidation deduction (stakingsaftrek).
As a freelancer, it’s vital to keep up with all aspects of your business’ administration, including invoices, bank statements, contracts and business expenses, as required by the Dutch tax authority. Invoices require a certain format and must contain specific information. Online accounting software can be helpful for doing this personally, as well as the assistance of a certified Dutch accountant for both administrative needs and paying taxes.
A legal invoice (factuurs), for example, must include:
- Date of invoice and a unique sequential number
- Date of delivery, service or when a payment was made (if different from the invoice date)
- Your client’s name and address
- Your KvK-isued business number
- Your VAT number (BTW-nummer) and amount of payable tax
- If applicable, the nature and quantity of goods or services (excluding VAT).
As a self-employed worker not covered any company insurance schemes, you are responsible for insuring yourself. Various types of personal and professional insurance need to be considered, such as Dutch health insurance, business liability, pension and unemployment insurance. ZZP Nederland provides information for freelancers in the Netherlands, as well as discounted ZZP-insurance products, although many providers exist depending on your needs.
New visa for starting a business in the Netherlands
A relatively new option for non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens is the Dutch start-up visa. Start-ups in the Netherlands have become incredibly popular in recent years, with the number of start-up investment deals increasing by 100% from 2014–2015, totalling some €430mn in 2015. There are reportedly more than 1,200 start-ups in the Netherlands, including many that were launched by expats with Amsterdam as their business base.
The start-up visa in the Netherlands allows non-EU citizens to begin a company in the Netherlands to see if they can prove the success of their business. The visa gives international entrepreneurs a one-year period to launch their businesses, allowing time for expats to learn the Dutch business environment, grow their client base, and so on. There are various requirements for the start-up visa, such as working together with an experienced Netherlands-based mentor and providing a detailed business plan. More information on the Netherlands start-up visa can be found here.
Starting a business in Amsterdam
Starting a business in Amsterdam is similar to elsewhere in the Netherlands as company registration is relatively similar across the country. In most areas of the Netherlands, the local Chamber of Commerce office can offer help and advice to foreigners starting a business in the Netherlands.
The Chamber of Commerce in Amsterdam offers valuable start-up resources, including workshops and business events on marketing, finance and administration. Note that most of these meetings are held in Dutch. Amsterdam’s Chamber of Commerce office is located at De Ruijterkade 5, open 8.30am to 5pm.
Check out our article on How to find office space in Amsterdam if you’re planning on setting up shop in the capital, and EBC Amsterdam‘s special offer on its virtual office services – especially for our Expatica readers.
- Dutch visas for self-employed freelancers and entrepreneurs
- Taxes for self-employed entrepreneurs in the Netherlands
- Chamber of Commerce guide for registering a business
- KvK brochure for starting a business
- English translation of forms
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