Starting a business in the Netherlands: A guide for foreigners looking to expand

Starting business in the Netherlands - a guide for foreigners looking to expand
  • International business

Starting a business in the Netherlands is a promising, yet tiring endeavour, especially as a foreigner. The process of starting a business in the Netherlands varies depending on the nationality as well as the type of business you are planning to open. We give foreigners inside and outside the EU a brief overview of everything needed for successfully starting a business in the Netherlands.

Why Netherlands?

With a GDP per capita of roughly 56,000 USD and home to over 2.3 million businesses at a population of just 17.5 million, the Netherlands is a European powerhouse that attracts entrepreneurs from all over the world.

The Netherlands offers access to the European market and a strong system that combines government planning, social welfare and private freedom. On top of that, its highly developed physical and digital infrastructure, skilled and diverse workforce as well as tax incentives for investors are all good reasons to invest. The government actively supports businesses, especially when it comes to innovation.

The following sections provide you with an overview on starting business in the Netherlands. To make your start as smooth as possible, we strongly recommend getting in touch with a local CPA (certified public accountant), so that you can focus on things that matter without being overwhelmed by bureaucratic hurdles.

Starting a business in the Netherlands as an EU and EFTA citizen

Citizens of the EU or EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) have the least hurdles when it comes to starting a business in the Netherlands as a foreigner. Citizens of these member states can directly move to the Netherlands and stay as long as they want. Your passport or ID card is sufficient proof of your rightful stay.

The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK) uses three criteria to assess whether you qualify as an entrepreneur. The conditions of starting a business in Netherlands are straightforward and easy to meet:

  • You provide products or services.
  • You charge a more than nominal/symbolic fee for this.
  • You participate in the (normal) economic traffic.

If you plan to start your own company in the Netherlands, you must register with the Dutch Business Register (Handelsregister). A valid Dutch address and residence document are necessary for this step. As you become a resident, which means your stay will exceed 4 months, you will need a citizen service number (BSN). To register with the municipality, you need a legalised and translated birth certificate.

Summary: 3 steps of starting a business in the Netherlands as EU/EFTA citizen:

  1. Get an address in the Netherlands
  2. Register your businesses at the Dutch chamber of commerce
  3. Get a citizen service number (BSN)

Starting a business in the Netherlands as a foreigner

If you are not an EU citizen, and you intend to stay for more than 3 months, you will usually need to apply for a temporary (MVV) as well as a permanent residence permit.

Before you can apply for the MVV and the residence permit, you must make an appointment at the Dutch embassy or consulate in your country of origin, or country of continuous residence. For the appointment, you are required to take the completed application form, your passport photo and your valid passport.

Sometimes you need to bring extra documents, as listed in the application form. A staff member of the Dutch embassy or consulate will register your application and fill in the application date on the application form. The Dutch embassy or consulate will further take your biometric data in the form of your signature and fingerprints.

Residence permit for foreign startups

If you plan to open a so-called “innovative business” in the Netherlands and you are located outside the EU and EFTA, you might first check whether you are eligible for a Dutch residence permit for startups, which is valid for a maximum duration of over 1 year. During this time, you are required to produce or introduce an innovative new product or service under the guidance of an experienced facilitator, with whom you have a (signed) agreement.

A facilitator is a business mentor that supports the startup entrepreneur. The exact level of support depends on the agreement and expertise and may involve operational management, marketing, research and investing acquisition.

Can you register a business in the Netherlands from abroad?

In theory, it is possible to register your business from abroad, however, this is rather the exception than the rule. If you want to register your business in the Netherlands, a business address in the Netherlands is required. A P.O. box address as your business address is not sufficient. .

There is one exception to the rule: If you live in a border region of the Netherlands and you have proof that you conduct structural and physical business activities in the Netherlands, you can use your private foreign address as your business address for your Dutch company.

Which company types exist in the Netherlands?

Before setting up a company, you need to make sure to choose the right company structure for your business. In the Netherlands, the most common structures are as follows:

  • Private limited company (bv or besloten vennootschap): The bv is liable for any debts, rather than you as an individual.
  • Public limited company (nv or naamloze vennootschap): The main difference between a bv and an nv is usually the size as an nv tends to be a larger company with several directors.
  • Cooperative (coöperatie): The cooperative consists of members, which can easily enter or leave the cooperative.
  • Association (vereniging): An association is an organisation whose main objective is not making a profit, but to organise social activities.

What else to consider?

Every new start is difficult. This is even more true when it comes to setting up a business in a foreign country. Make sure to have a backup plan in case things don’t go your way and be prepared for all possibilities.

For instance, most entrepreneurs underestimate the time to establish a business, including the time to set up a bank account. Further, there are a few things to consider when opening a business account. If you serve customers outside the European Union, you need to find cheaper ways to send and receive foreign currencies in the Netherlands, as your Dutch bank account is still reliant on the expensive SWIFT network.

amnis makes your transition easier. As a global payment and business debit card provider, amnis helps you keep your foreign transaction fees at a minimum and gives you access to the local SEPA scheme. You can pay like a Dutchman and are able to avoid the costly SWIFT network, even if you don’t have a Dutch bank account yet. amnis is the first step on your way to starting business in the Netherlands.

Learn more about amnis and sign up for a free demo account here:

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Sabrina Maly
As a marketing manager at amnis I provide SMEs with fx market, international business and news updates on our blog & FAQ page.
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