This post will be the first of a series of write-ups I am planning to share with you about my experiences as an expat living in Amsterdam. There is absolutely so much to write about, many topics have crossed my mind, but I thought I would start with the natural one first: the experience of arriving here and taking care of the mandatory steps in order to become ‘local’.
The word expat is used slightly off-context here in Netherlands. You don’t necessarily have to be on a temporary mission or a fixed-term assignment in order to be an expat. If you are a so called ‘qualified’ professional with an intention to stay for long time, you get the benefits of an expat in the Netherlands. I called it the benefits for a reason, because the Dutch know really well that in order to fuel their sizeable economy, they need more skill and force than what they already have. This is a tiny country, with a population of only 17 million. And to become a recognized economy in the world scale, you need a lot more. Therefore, if you fall in the so called ‘expat’ definition, you are more than welcome over here. Immigrating anywhere is not easy; you basically are leaving behind everything you are accustomed to, and entering a totally unknown territory. But, the Dutch system is specifically designed to make this painful process as easy as possible.
The orientation starts even before you arrive, and of course it requires some paperwork. It is not nearly as burdensome as one might guess. Almost all information can be submitted either online or via scanned document, so that the applications can start ahead of time. You first apply for a temporary residence permit, and against the general assumption of immigration services taking forever, this only takes 2-3 weeks. You get a notification that your temporary visa is approved and you can go to the consulate at your hometown and get it within a day, nice start! Once you have this, you are basically free to go in and out of Netherlands and the European Union… Please note that some EU countries may give you a hard time if you are entering the zone through them for the first time, so it is advisable to start with the Netherlands.
Once you arrive in the country, the immigration officer greets you with a smiling face and really welcomes you. You are in before you realize, and off to your ‘new home’, no hassles, no hardships. In almost all major cities, there is an expatcenter. I first thought that this was another tourist information desk where you can get nice booklets about the city and the country, but it is much more...
They have truly integrated all ‘localization’ services here. So, you don’t need to go to the registrar or town hall separately. You get your Dutch ID number (kind of a tax or social security number), you get stamped a work authorization in case it is not granted before, and you get fingerprinted for immigration. They say that you should receive your permanent residency card with a week, yes, you heard it right! As you are getting ready to step out, they offer you all forms and information about getting your driving license, and point you across the street to the banks where you can now open your first local bank account. All of this takes about an hour or two, and before you realize, you are ready for your first day of work!
There are two more formalities that you have to do within the first few months of your arrival; getting a health insurance and getting tested for tuberculosis, which are both mandatory here for foreign nationals. The insurance is just a matter of filing another online form, and the TB test is taken at the general health center in the city, but even there the process works like a magic and you are in and out within 15 minutes.
You might ask: can everything be so perfect? Of course not... One downside I might mention here is adapting to the local language. The sounds are very rough and different, so even as an English and German speaker, I have a hard time following people here. By the way, everybody is so friendly and well educated that they immediately switch to English when they realize you are not Dutch. And thank God there is google to translate all those local websites instantly to broken English for us :)
I tried to give you some flavor to the super-nice experience I have had with the painful process of changing your life. If you want to find out more details, there are a ton of websites out there describing all of the above in a lot of detail. The one I would highly recommend is www.iamsterdam.com, so if you are seriously thinking about making a move, definitely check it out, it helped me a lot!
Alright, this is it for now… I think my next post will be about the ease and joy of transportation in Amsterdam - it is simply amazing - so please come back and check out the site over the next few weeks…