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How to get a Dutch startup visa: 5 easy steps

Startup Visa

Startup visa. Nick Nedelchuk, founder and CEO of the Lokali unique travel service , talks about his experiences with getting a Dutch startup visa and explains why he chose this country for life.

The Lokali headquarters is located in Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands. And the process of obtaining a start-up visa turned out to be as simple as possible – in the best traditions of MVP.

It is widely believed that Silicon Valley is no longer what it was before. And the new “unicorns” will appear sooner somewhere in Europe, New York or Massachusetts, but hardly in California, where the cost of living exceeds all conceivable limits and negates the likelihood of enthusiasts creating a company from scratch in the garage of an ordinary house. After all, the minority can afford the house itself.

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I will not speculate, arguing about how true the opinion is. But the fact remains – if you are trying to realize your dream and build a large company that is designed to seriously improve the lives of many, California is not the easiest place to start.

Where, then, to settle down to create a new “unicorn” was easier, to remain in the spotlight, to remain part of a coherent innovation ecosystem?

startup visa
Window view of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Rotterdam, where the Locale Nick Nedelchuk office is located

“New Silicon Valley” is often called different cities or countries. The Netherlands is regularly mentioned in this vein. The kingdom managed to achieve the harmony that seems like a fairy tale to the inhabitants of the Valley.

The Netherlands is “the best country for raising children ” and at the same time “the best market in the world for tech companies ”, ahead of the United States in the ranking. Some more facts worth knowing about the Kingdom;

  • The Netherlands is in fourth place in the world in the ranking of ease of doing business .
  • In fourth place in the ranking of the most innovative economies in the world .
  • In third place in the ranking of countries in the world in the simplicity of digital business .
  • Amsterdam is the city with the fastest growing startup ecosystem in Europe .
  • Amsterdam is the top 1 developer capital in Europe .

These facts are enough to draw attention to the Netherlands as a country where you will begin your journey to a dream.

I initially moved to the Netherlands at the end of 2017 as a “highly skilled migrant.” Under this program, a lot of people move to the country every year. For example, in 2018 there were almost 20 thousand such people – this is 0.1% of the population of the Kingdom and 10% of the total number of immigrants ( link ).

Before moving, I lived in Moscow and worked as an IT project manager in one of the IKEA divisions. Through an internal job search engine, I found a similar position with the requirements that ideally suited me. The position was at the company’s headquarters in Dutch Delft.

The first time they wrote me from the Dutch HR in September, in October I had a face-to-face interview on the spot, in November I received a job offer, and January 2 was my first working day. The whole move was as fast as possible, harmonious.

The organization was perfect, and the state bureaucracy impressed me: they accept scans of documents via e-mail, in general almost everything is done via the Internet, and it took only two weeks from the moment the documents were submitted to receive a five-year residence permit in the country.

Love for the Netherlands came on the spot. I went to a new job as if on an adventure – not knowing what to expect. I heard a lot of good things about the Netherlands, but my own experience, unfortunately, was exclusively tourist. And the tourist side of Holland, as it turned out, does not closely convey the spirit, style and everyday life of life in the country.

The first months in the Netherlands were a great discovery.

  • The climate seemed like a fairy tale after Moscow: in February, magnolia blossoms, and in January, a lot of greenery and blossoming flowers in the flower beds.
  • State services are built around a person and solely for the benefit of a person. The idea “the state should do everything to make life easier and more pleasant” is transmitted through the processes of providing services (everything is very innovative, fast, efficient) and even through government employees, which, despite the automation of many components, have come across.
  • The society is very healthy, a lot of goodwill, sincere smiles and almost zero level of aggression. The mentality is comparable to the Russian one: straightforwardness is welcomed here, people understand and respect humor and sarcasm.
  • The Netherlands is one of the safest countries in the world. Here you can safely walk at night, there are no ghettos or dangerous areas.
  • Despite the difficulties of current international relations and the sad history with MH17, there is a positive attitude towards immigrants from Russia. The fact is that imperial Russia at one time built very close friendly relations with the Kingdom. The daughter of Emperor Paul, Anna, married a Dutch monarch and managed to become the “Princess Diana” of her time. There is a story that she and her brother Nicholas I even saved the Dutch royal family from bankruptcy. Finally, the general literacy level of the population allows many in conversations to associate Russia not with vodka, balalaika and the Communists, but with the Bolshoi Theater, the Tretyakov Gallery, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
  • I like the Dutch attention to the environment. This is the first country in the world where the entire railway system operates exclusively on renewable energy sources – electricity is generated using water, sun and wind.
  • The Netherlands is a tolerant country. Here, from school, people are taught to respect people of any race, religion, sexual orientation. Even the oath given when taking citizenship is written around these values. At the same time, the traditional Dutch family is invariably a mother with a father and three children, a large car and life in a spacious house in the suburbs.
  • A relatively short period before the opportunity to apply for a Netherlands passport: you need to live only 5 years in the country.
  • Everyone speaks English fluently and easily. In the Netherlands, this language alone is enough for life with a head, and the Dutch comes slowly on its own, over time.
  • Amsterdam is one of the main world capitals. This is a major global financial and technological center. Though here, even in other cities in the Netherlands, you feel in the center of the world, in close connection with all its parts. Ideal for building global products. Everything here inspires to look at the picture wider.
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I quickly felt really at home. Especially the Royal Guard officers, who traditionally meet at the border and check passports, helped. Most often, when they see my residence permit, they say: “Welcome home!”

Why a startup visa?

Although I moved to the Netherlands as a hired employee, it became increasingly clear to me over time – I would not stay in the corporation for a long time. Even when he lived in Russia, in December 2016, the idea of ​​“Locale” came to me.

And already in the new 2017, I began to actively engage in the project: together with co-founder Sergey Chebykin and the team, we thought out a business model, created a brand, built a concept, drew design and worked on development.

Our MVP was released in March 2018 – two months after my move. The first time a startup was a hobby. Hot, beloved, to whom I spent all my free time and dreamed that one day it would grow into a company with an office, employees and a product that millions of people around the world love.

How to get a Dutch startup visa: 5 easy steps 1
Locale’s first office at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) in Rotterdam. He cost us € 1,400 a month. In the photo: Julia Demyanchuk, our Growth Marketing Leader, and Masha Ominina – Head of UX Nick Nedelchuk

I managed to take a huge step towards the dream in May 2019. Then we signed SAFE with two business angels to receive presowing investments of $ 120 thousand. The story was incredible – the investor found us.

He was one of the Lokali clients who, using the travel service several times, eventually booked a walk in The Hague and Rotterdam with me (I, too, Lokali!) And in the end he suggested investing in the project together with his business partner.

At the time of signing the agreement, Lokali’s monthly turnover was $ 12,000, and operating profit was just over $ 3,000. Investments gave a sharp breakthrough to the whole product and team, and I myself finally decided – to hell with a well-paid job. It’s time for adventure!

startup visa

There was only one question – how to switch to full time in your own company, but at the same time stay in Holland? (I considered the option of moving to the States, but, after weighing the pros and cons, I refused.

The answer was found quite quickly – thanks to the network and the Internet. There are two options, as it turned out:

  • Not entirely correct and “grayish”, but which works de jure: (1) to get a job in an outsourcing company that agrees to apply for me as a “highly skilled migrant” – there are many such companies in the Netherlands; (2) to buy their services with their company. Such a scenario would allow me not to change my status, maintain tax privileges (for highly skilled migrants more than 30% of income is not taxed), but would preserve certain risks: the tax services of different countries might consider such a system illegal, although what is its illegality, I I could not understand the end.
  • The correct and entirely “white” one is to get a startup visa.
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After weighed the pros and cons, I decided to choose the second option. The path was a long but successful one. He submitted the documents on August 28, 2019, and on January 10, 2020 he went to the Rotterdam office of the Immigration Service and took his new residence permit.

How to get a Dutch startup visa?

The short answer is one-word spoiler: easy.

Dutch authorities have come up with a startup visa to attract tech entrepreneurs from around the world to their country. In the local immigration system, it has become a salvation bridge for new, weak companies with low turnover, which leads to an entrepreneur’s residence permit that has long existed.

Problem: in order to get a Dutch entrepreneur residence permit, you need to fill out a huge questionnaire that assesses the state of your business.

The result is the total score, depending on the answers to the questions. If it is more than the specified value – this allows you to apply for a residence permit. If less – then no.

Practice has shown that this process took a very long time and was simply not suitable for most startups. Beginning businesses would have to spend years before they could reach such momentum.

And by the time of strengthening positions, a large company will be much more difficult to entice to another jurisdiction. It is much more convenient to initially register a company in the Netherlands – then a bird in a cage.

startup visa
After registering a company in the Netherlands, I was invited to the mayor’s reception, where all newly arrived companies celebrated. In addition to Lokali, Innocent were on the list. They are also moving to Rotterdam! I took this photo when I was on stage. Before me is the mayor of Rotterdam Nick Nedelchuk

As a result, the authorities came up with an elegant way, which at the same time is distinguished by the incredible simplicity of the associated procedures – a startup visa.

  1. To get a startup visa in Holland, the first thing you need to do is find a facilitator. Facilitator is one of the experts in the field of innovation accredited by the Government. As a rule, business incubators, accelerators, hubs. Only 31 at the time of writing, a complete list is available here..
  2. The role of the facilitator is to evaluate your project in terms of growth potential and yourself as the founders. Theoretically, they ask themselves the question: “Would we be ready to invest in these guys?” If the answer is yes, you are in business. Tip: choose a facilitator that will be most useful to you, based on your profile.
  3. That is, if you make iron, go to the High Tech Campus Eindhoven (they work on the basis of the Philips R&D campus, and they also have connections with many scientific laboratories around the world and awesome expertise), and they will have nothing to do with the marketplace.
  4. The facilitator of my startup visa is Crosspring. These are very cool guys. A fairly small business incubator / investment fund, but very targeted assistance, useful tips, communication, networking. Less: specifically they will have to pay about € 2000–3000 for services.
  5. If you find the perfect facilitator and have perfectly pimped your product on him – that’s it, it’s all in the hat! What, thought it would be harder? Next, you will be asked to provide information on the co-owner of your original company, as well as your investors.
  6.  You will laugh – but no passports, extracts from the registry, and so on. Only a LinkedIn page and other resources on the Internet that talk about their activities. I love how simple it is here, in Holland, everything is done!
  7. In the next step, you will need to create your own company in the Netherlands. This, as a rule, is a matter of several days all about everything. Briddgehelped a lot in my case.
  8.  If you already have a company and all the more intellectual property has been registered for it, then there’s no problem. Everything will remain as it is, and the Dutch company will not have to own the original – not even the opposite.
  9. For simplicity, I created a separate, independent legal entity in the Netherlands – through it I pay myself and my Dutch colleagues a salary, pay an office and other expenses in the Netherlands (the state returns as much as 21% of VAT on purchases). It turns out conveniently.
  10. The cost of creating a company is from several hundred euros (for translation and notary services) to € 2000. Share capital may be € 0.01. Individual lawyers may advise setting up a holding structure to protect against possible liability in the future.
  11. This pleasure can cost up to € 10 thousand. Think a few times before agreeing. At the startup stage, the main thing is not to let him die. The holding should be built when you have income, and you will have something to risk.
  12. When you create a Dutch company, you can apply. The facilitator will provide you with a list of required documents. He is simple. All these documents must be provided in the form of scans.- Valid passport.
    – Just a piece of paper signed by you, certifying that you did not trade in people and do not intend to eat babies.
    – A step-by-step startup development plan is a very simplified version of a business plan, only without specifics, short without KPI and financial calculations. Goals can be set extremely vague, no one will track them except you.
    – Certificate of registration of your company in the Netherlands.
    – Bank statement that you have at least € 14 thousand there. Not necessarily your own bank account – there may be a company bank account. The main thing is to show that you have access to use this account.
  13. Once the documents are ready, your facilitator will collect them together and submit them on his behalf to the Immigration Service. They have a special online portal for this. All that remains is to be patient and wait. Officially, the Immigration Service has three months to review the application.
  14. In fact, everyone has different ways. Most of my friends got a start-up visa in 2–4 weeks. I did it for 3 months and 3 weeks. It is difficult to say what complicated the process. Perhaps the time played against me when I applied – the end of August, when a huge number of foreign students and expat employees came to the Netherlands at the same time, because just at that time the vacation season was ending.
  15. Toward the end of the waiting period, the Immigration Service will contact the facilitator and ask you to pay an administrative fee of € 326 for processing the application through it. If you received this request – a good sign, then wait a short time.
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startup visa
Your humble servant on the roof of a skyscraper in The Hague in December. The sun is shining, temperature +10 Nick Nedelchuk

If you apply for a start-up visa from outside the Netherlands, the process is somewhat complicated by the need, after receiving approval, to make an appointment with the Consulate in order to receive a special visa authorizing entry into the country.

So it is best to submit documents while in the Netherlands. This is possible – after you have applied for a start-up visa, your stay in Nyderanda is legal.

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The only restriction is that in order to travel outside the country and return again, you will have to paste a special sticker in your passport. It costs around € 160, but allows you to travel throughout the European Union and beyond until you receive a start-up visa.

Speaking generally about the process, the main criterion for making a decision on issuing a visa is the positive conclusion of your facilitator. The Immigration Service also seeks an opinion on the idea from RVO, it is a government-run business support organization. Inside there is a department that engages startups. It makes sense to get to know them in advance.

In the Netherlands, as in any Western country, everything is built on relationships – they trust you when they know you, heard, met you.

Good news: getting to know someone from RVO is easy. You don’t need any warm intro – just write to the coordinators of the national program for attracting startups here , ask for advice about the prospects of your company in the Netherlands, and most likely they will offer to meet and discuss everything in person.

When I wrote about Lokali in my time, I was lucky to meet the head of the program – an amazingly ideological young man who is burning with all his heart the idea of ​​building a new Silicon Valley, discussing all our prospects at dinner at a local burger, and at the same time present himself.

How long is a startup visa valid? What then?

A start-up visa is issued for a period of one year from the date of application (and not the issuance of a visa). Throughout the year, you need to regularly meet with your facilitator, report on progress and maintain a warm relationship.

It directly depends on whether you will be able to stay in the Netherlands longer – after a year, it is your facilitator who writes a conclusion about how your business is developing. If it is positive, you apply for an entrepreneur’s residence permit and receive it for two years (with the possibility of easy extension for the same period).

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The procedure looks surprisingly simple, but it really works. This is another advantage of the Netherlands, which I forgot to mention earlier – they believe in people here, they try to do everything in life as simple as possible so that your path to success is cleared of fallen pines.

If you have a bright idea, product and desire to bring it all to the international level – perhaps the Netherlands is the best place to make your dream a reality.

Well, when you move, be sure to write, we will create a new Silicon Valley in the heart of Europe together!

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