The logistics of living and working in Amsterdam

In the past few weeks, I have been many places. It hasn’t all been cafes and bars and picnics in the park. In chronological order, this is where I’ve been since the 9th of June 2008:

1. To the main IND office in Rijswijk. This is where I applied for permission to get a work permit, basically. After deciding to hire me, my employer gave me a 1-year job contract and made the appointment for me at the IND office. The outcome of this appointment was getting a sticker in my passport that proves I reported myself to the authorities and my visa is in process. I had to bring my contract, passport, and 1 official Dutch-size passport picture, and application forms (which were prepared for me by my employer, again). This was a really simple appointment – I was in and out of the building in ten minutes.

2. To the bank (ABN) to set up an account. In order to get paid, I need a bank account – practically everything here is done with bank transfers and direct deposit. Normally you have to provide a BSN number (which was called a SOFI number, or a dutch social security number). However! My employer has an agreement with this bank that allows employees to set up bank accounts before getting a BSN number (though I need to give them one within a certain time period). I needed to provide a letter from my employer and a copy of my job contract, along with my passport and an address.

3. To the main branch of the DienstPersoonsGegevens (DPG) in Amsterdam, on Stadhouderskade 85. This is where I had to register myself to the city with a legal address. See, in order to get a BSN number, I need a legal address in Amsterdam (keep in mind, everything about this process is different if you have an EU passport, which I do not have). And since you need a BSN number to do just about anything, this is a really important step. I’m fortunate enough to have friends that own their own apartment here in Amsterdam and said “sure, you can use our address to register.” I want to emphasize this is a really big deal here – I needed a copy of their mortgage agreement, a letter saying that I could stay, and a copy of my friends passport. And from here on in, all my mail goes to their place, which is also a huge deal. Everything is communicated through the post – my bank account number, my BSN number, etc. Anyway, everything went fine at the DPG (I was there for about an hour or so) and now I’m officially in the system.

There’s one weird thing that I needed to provide that I don’t have, which is a birth certificate with an apostle stamp. I have never been asked for something like this before and I really have no idea why the Netherlands needs it. I do have my original birth certificate, and the people at the DPG seemed really understanding about this whole lack-of-apostle-stamp thing. They said I had six months to get it, which means requesting a copy from the state of New York, where I was born. So, okay, I’ll start figuring out how to get that sometime soon.

I want to emphasize that because I have a job with a proper contract, my whole integration process into Amsterdam has become absurdly simple. Everything I’m doing right now is based on the fact that I have a job… and everything I do, I do with the help of the HR department at my company. I’ve had one or two very minor problems/inconveniences along the way, but honestly nothing even worth detailing in this blog. Every time I go anywhere, whether it’s to the bank or the immigration office, I just simply bring everything with me. Everything. My passport, photos, birth certificate, job contract, housing contract, etc., and of course I have multiple copies of each one of these things.

So, what’s next? Finding an apartment. I know, my housing situation must sound a little confusing. Here’s what’s going on, in the simplest terms.

-I’m registering at my friends’ apartment, in Bos en Lommer. This is where Amsterdam believes I live, where all my mail goes, etc.
-I’m actually living in a different apartment, south of Vondelpark, in the Oud Zuid. It is not possible for me to register there, since I’m “illegally subletting.”
-Therefore I’m looking for my own place, something nice and legal, someplace that allows me to register which…
-Is incredibly difficult to find here in Amsterdam for a million different reasons but…
-I found one anyway.

This is incredible! I’m going to move into my new place on the 1st of July. It’s located near the Weesperplein, which is technically in the center, but it’s actually more east of the the center (just across the Amstel). Anytime you change addresses in Amsterdam, you need to re-register. So – yes, I just went through this whole process of registering in Bos en Lommer and getting my mail sent there and everything, and now I’ll have to change all that stuff. The thing is, I just really needed that BSN number and couldn’t wait to register myself (and honestly, I didn’t expect to find an apartment so quickly). The good news is that there are DPG offices all over Amsterdam and I can change my address at any of them (think about them like little City or Town Halls), I don’t have to go back to the main branch.

So, just in case there’s anyone reading who might be embarking on something similar – honestly – none of this stuff was hard. Since every other person who moves to Amsterdam seems intent on emphasizing how hard it is to live here, how it’s impossible for Americans to find jobs, how dealing with Dutch bureaucracy is a total nightmare… I just wanted to be that one person on the internet who says that hey, in my particular case, it’s all working out fine. And even though it was raining while I biked to work this morning, I still thought, man, I am so happy to be here.