A new batch of films from Streetfilms about cycling in the Netherlands has been making the rounds among biking enthusiasts lately. They show the world-class cycling infrastructure and stories of the real people living their lives on bikes here.
As a new Dutch resident myself, I’m always thrilled to see videos like this. I send them to folks back home to illustrate how delightful it is to live in a place designed for people instead of cars. But really, my verbal descriptions don’t do it justice. Take a look at these two below:
I’ve been noticing a lot of Americans commenting around the Web about how they’ve had enough of the dangerous, ugly streets in their cities. And I’m sure many of them would love to come to the Netherlands to experience Dutch cycling first-hand. Because the Dutch streets are so different from those in the US–it proves to be transformative for most people who experience it for the first time. It’s hard to really visualize how all the pieces fit together to make things work so well, with so little effort, unless you are physically here.
These days, coming to the Netherlands has never been easier. Websites like AirBnB, Couchsurfing, etc. make stays of up to 90 days as easy as taking an extended vacation–for US passport holders, there’s no additional costs, visa or paperwork required.
Dutch American Friendship Treaty
For those who want to stay longer than 90 days, US citizens can live and work in the Netherlands under the little-known Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT). The DAFT was created in 1956, and it allows US citizens to set up a business in the Netherlands and obtain a residence permit.
There’s a wide range of people taking advantage of the DAFT: the mobility-impaired, retirees, writers, designers, programmers, consultants, etc. Most are running one-person freelance businesses, working on short-term contracts with internationally oriented organizations and companies. The DAFT can be used to engage in any service or trade, except for those requiring specific certification like doctors, teachers, and lawyers. The capital investment is relatively small–€4,500 for a sole entrepreneur (which remains yours–you maintain this amount in a bank account to prove your compliance while you’re a resident).
Under the DAFT, your business doesn’t have to be profitable as long as you can show that there are minimal business-related activities. (This is key for people like retirees.) Another unique advantage is that you don’t have to prove that your business will benefit the Dutch economy, as other foreign business owners are required to do. You only have to deposit and maintain your capital investment in a Dutch bank account, and submit minimal paperwork periodically.
The DAFT is a great option for people in all stages of life: young people just getting started in life looking for international experience, people in mid-career looking to expand, or retired people who just want to live the good life. (This lovely video below is from Bicycle Dutch, showing the benefits of good cycling infrastructure to the elderly and mobility impaired.)
Make it Easy on Yourself
If you think you can bootstrap the DAFT process yourself, the government and accounting fees are less than €2,000 ( along with the €4,500 capital investment).
But you can avoid a lot of frustration, disappointment, and potential extra costs by getting some assistance. I used the services of Jeremy Bierbach of Avocado Legal. For a very reasonable flat fee, he fills out all of the forms and sets up your appointments, helps you with your simple one-page business plan, and makes sure you present all of the required birth certificates, etc. Most importantly, before these meetings, he gives you the coaching necessary to know what to expect, and what you should or should not say to the various government entities. He is also available to answer any questions that come up during the process.
Now that I have my business registered and my DAFT permit, renewing my residency every few years is basically effortless.
As you can imagine, relocation costs vary widely depending on the scale of your life–from simple modesty to extreme luxury, the Dutch have you covered. Here in the Netherlands, you can find furnished rentals, or you can find plenty of second-hand and discount shops for inexpensive housewares. Also, you don’t have to have a car. Used bikes are easy to find for less than €100, so your transportation costs can be extremely low. Health insurance is available to all for around €130 per person per month. And utility and food costs are comparable to those in the US.
The Netherlands has a great diversity of types of places to live–from small hamlets to bustling international tourist hotspots, like Amsterdam. As it is the cultural and tourism center of the country, it is the most competitive and most expensive place in the country. But even there, rents are still generally cheaper than the first-tier and second-tier US cities like New York or Austin.
Rotterdam, on the other hand, is physically the largest city in the country, and the industrial, shipping, and banking center. With a lively, diverse culture, modern architecture, and much larger places to lease, it’s on the rise–and in most other countries it would be considered the most livable city. Along with its own small commercial airport, it’s only 30 minutes by high-speed train from the big airport Schiphol, with Amsterdam only 15 minutes further. The city is growing, and in the future it will rank as one of the most vibrant, multicultural places in the world.
There are also many other other cities, towns, villages, and hamlets that have complete sets of amenities. From Den Haag to Arnhem, Maastricht to Deventer, the Netherlands has plenty of almost perfect places of every scale to live in.
It’s a Relaxed Cosmopolitan Life
Commerce is vibrant here, with a good mix of both small mom-and-pop shops and bigger retail. People are generally active, and with easy access to nature, are relaxed and relatively healthy. There is a distinct lack sprawl here, and they keep the countryside intact between cities and villages. Even with one of the highest population densities in the world, the countryside is usually an easy 5-10 minutes away by bicycle. There is a rural-like ambiance here because the cities and towns are quiet and aren’t dominated by speeding cars.
And because getting around is so easy and quick without a car, people are far more social. These daily, incidental interactions are a vital part of the cosmopolitan quality found in the streets and town centers, and has a huge impact on the cultural and business environment. It attracts a goldmine of energy and talented people, which is why so many of the top international companies in the world have found homes here.
When You Go Back Home
At the 2013 SXSW Eco conference panel Bike Curious? Dutch-style Cycling in the US, they talked about making radical changes to the streets of Austin, TX and other cities, inspired by visits to the Netherlands. These in-person experiences are starting to have a big impact in the US, even in places like the capital of Texas.
With international travel as easy as it’s ever been, Americans are in a great position to be able to visit distant and different places to help inspire them in making their home communities the best they can be. And for a lot of people, the Netherlands proves to be a great jumping off point.