An American expat’s journey

Column by Marla Thomson

Bags are packed, bank and credit cards have been notified, place to stay while abroad has been secured, airline reservation has been confirmed and reconfirmed. But this time I’m not heading off for another vacation or trip to visit a friend – this time I have a one-way ticket because I’m moving to the Netherlands!

Growing up, my father’s career took my family and me to many places, but it was the big move when I was just 11 years old that changed my life: we moved to Germany. I wound up living abroad until I was nearly 24 years old, save the last year of high school, that was spent back in the US. In those years I fell in love with Europe and became so integrated in German and European society that, as I would say: “Ich fühle mich wie ich halb europäische bin!” (translation: I feel like I’m half European!).But my own career, family commitments and life in general had me return to the United States, where I have been living for the past two decades-plus. I was fortunate to have a career that allowed me to travel back to what I always felt like was my second (or first …?) home. And travel back “home” I did, returning to Europe as often as I could and as fortune would have it, visit the Netherlands many, many times. So many times that not only did I become very familiar with the country, but it even began to feel like home.

Whenever I tried in earnest to move back to Europe – applying to international companies in the US and abroad, looking for ways to secure residency and even considering post-graduate studies in Europe – either the timing was off or my career was going too well to leave, or family commitments took precedence. Until about a year ago, when surfing the internet out of boredom I found the Dutch American Friendship Treaty that gives Americans a unique opportunity to secure a two-year resident permit. This was it, I thought, my chance to move back to Europe!

I wanted to be sure I understood the requirements of the DAFT agreement and immigration in general. With a little research on the internet, I found Adam & Wolf Immigration Lawyers in Amsterdam and booked a consultation with them via Skype. The firm’s lead attorney explained the general steps, what I needed to prepare ahead of my move, what was needed once the process was started and the all-important requirement of having a Dutch address.

A Dutch address. This was going to be challenging. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask them if I could stay with them to use their address. And with the status required by DAFT – self-employed with what would be a newly-established company – I didn’t have an attractive rental profile for prospective landlords, and certainly not with the competitive rental market that was undoubtedly filled with well-established people with solid rental profiles.

Fortunately the Netherlands is a great place for expat networking. I joined every expat website, forum, Facebook group and MeetUp group I could find and I contacted every business, freelance and women’s networking group to introduce myself and make local connections. I scoured online newspapers and marketplaces for apartments, particularly for private rental opportunities where I could meet the owners directly. I knew there was an apartment somewhere which someone would rent to me – I just needed to find it!

Fortunately I found an ad in an online newspaper for a studio apartment in the Bollenstreek – the bulb and tulip region near Leiden! In February I was able to meet the owner and see the apartment; but we both understood that it was a great match and the lease was finalized. Now with a Dutch address, I visited Adam & Wolf Immigration Lawyers in Amsterdam and began my residence permit application. With the ball rolling in that direction, I also made an appointment with Maurits Tax Consultants in Den Haag for a no-cost consultation.

During my February trip I quickly realized that this was a good move for me financially, for my future and for my dream of returning to Europe. Also, realized that I was in excellent hands with the immigration lawyers I retained and the tax consultancy I would eventually hire to help navigate the intricacies of Dutch tax law. For expats considering moving to the Netherlands – or any country for that matter – I highly recommend having local businesses help with these bureaucratic processes. In most cases you can do it on your own, but hiring a professional will make it much easier and faster and you’ll know you are doing these all-important steps correctly.

As I finish this article, I am less than twelve hours from boarding my one-way flight that will take me to my new home. The past months have been filled with planning, preparing, coordinating and tying loose ends here in the US. Now I get to think about my new home: this wonderful country that sits on the coast of the North Sea, small in size but mighty in European and world importance, filled with amazing history, culture, mind-blowing engineering, a beautiful mix of national traditions and international flair, and most importantly: some of the loveliest people I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing.

I am happy, thrilled and excited for the new adventure ahead of me in my new home, the Kingdom of the Netherlands!