Dutch Bureaucracy in 3(00) Easy Steps

How to deal with dutch bureaucracy.

Potverdorie. So, you’ve arrived in the Netherlands, all wide-eyed and optimistic. But instead of nibbling (or scoffing) stroopwafels and flitting around quaint little markets on your bike, you’re busy: occupied with endless form-filling, stadswinkel-visiting and, gemeente-googling. You see, setting yourself up in Netherlands is red tape hell. But fear not. Here is my quick guide (with accompanying acrid commentary).


Setting up in the Netherlands is a full-time job.

Bureaucracy and the Netherlands

The Netherlands is arguably the most bureaucratic country in the world. The World Bank ranks it 28th in world in terms of ease of starting a business. Red tape literally did originate in the Netherlands. In the 16th century historical records were bound with a red ribbon or tape. And that tape was manufactured in Dutch city of ‘s Hertogenbosch. Let’s take a closer look at that specific Dutch brand of red tape.

The Stadswinkel: A Different Kind of Shop

Acquired an abode? Great. Now to the stadswinkel to register yourself and your address. Ah, stadswinkel. That delightful misnomer! While it literally translates as a city shop, the only thing for sale here is high blood pressure and tension headaches. A stern employee will eyeball you unsettlingly and then give you an appointment. For in a few weeks time. Yes, weeks. Till then, you have to sit it out. Everything hinges on this registration. If you don’t register with the gemeente (local council), you can’t open a bank account. If you can’t open a bank account you can’t get a job (or health insurance). If you can’t get a job…well you get the idea.

rage table

What. The. F…Frikadel. Why so complicated?

Banking on Trouble

Finally registered with the local council? Excellent! Now, the bank account. Well, maybe. When I tried to open an account, I was told needed a certain document (Inlichting uit de basisregistratie personen to be exact) from the council. Not being fluent in Dutch “officialese” I understood that this letter to be coming by mail. So I waited. And waited. In great frustration, I went to the stadswinkel to ask when this document would be arriving. “Oh, that? I can print it off for you right now.” I was told a matter of factly. And you are only telling me this now? I grumbled silently. Anyhoo, it was then back to the bank – where I was told I could have an appointment. Next week. Of course the Dutch don’t do walk ins!

Banks to check out:

Rabo Bank


ING Bank

SNS Bank

Health Insurance: The (Almost) Final Frontier

As soon as you have a bank account, you can arrange health insurance. There are so many policies available – do I want cover for physiotherapy? The dentist? Acupuncture and homeopathy? Mercifully, you don’t need to go anywhere for this as it can be done online and by mail. But do get insurance as soon as possible – excessive contact with Dutch red tape may cause health problems (like extreme irritability and chronic cynicism).

Need help with finding health insurance? Have a look at Independer.nl


Dutch red tape may leave you feeling under the weather

Final advice

Once you have a completed all these tasks, you can look into finding work. But that is a story for another day. But anyway, here’s my advice to you: Recruit the help of locals when trying to set up in the Netherlands. And have lots of patience. And my advice to Netherlands? Please, cut the red tape! But, I can just hear the response now: “Mevrouw, if you want to make a complaint please fill in this form…” Potverdorie.


  1. Can you give an example of a country where you came to live as a foreigner and settled the above things (local council registration, bank account, insurance etc.) in an easier way than in NL?

    • Hoi Dmitry. I’ve lived in Germany, Poland and Japan. I found it much easier to set myself up in those places than I did here!

  2. Hoi Dmitry. I’ve lived in Germany, Poland and Japan. I found it far easier to set myself up in those places than I did here!

  3. If you think the burocracy in NL is big, try Brasil. The thing in Brasil works like this: you can avoid a lot of burocracy if you have enough money for the bribe.

    • I’m Brazilian and this is completely untrue. There’s no bribe in these aspects. And NL is like Godzilla in bureaucracy, Brazil is like a sweet puppy.

  4. Nice article, but I also believe that it is exaggerated! 🙂

    I’ve just moved to the Netherlands after a year living in Italy. Ummm, if you think that the Dutch bureaucracy is difficult to bear, than the Italian one should seem like a sisiphic hell broke loose!

    I’ve also lived in Romania (I’m Romanian) and Greece – another great examples of amazing bureaucracy! I’ve also lived in Switzerland – but I can’t say anything bad about that one.

    So it’s all a matter of perspective. I chatted with the municipality on whatsapp here! I mean come on! They answered within minutes after I had sent them the message and they told me “yes, so the first registration in the Netherlands is a bit complicated, can we call you now to explain?”

    And then they called me. By “complicated” they meant that I had to bring in my ID and birth certificate and housing contract and a copy of my landlady’s ID. Come on! I was laughing within myself!

    I strongly suggest trying to live in Italy/Greece/Romania just for a few months. If Dutch bureaucracy is bad for, then prepare yourself for a change of perspective.

    * Small final note: I do understand that you compare the Dutch bureaucracy with better examples (Germany, Japan), but we have to really put things into perspective. There is hell in other countries.

  5. Started out wanting to live in the Netherlands but after trying to deal with their Byzantine bureaucracy I decided to give Germany a try. Compared to Dutch red tape Germany was a snap. Fired off a lebenslauf to some companies and, after a couple preliminary Skype interviews (and one in person), I was employed. Found an apartment within a week and strolled down to the Rathaus to do the formalities. No appointment needed, clerk spoke to me in English and I was in and out in 1 visit including changing my license.

    That’s another thing that drove me nuts about NL is that in order to get a Dutch license I would have had to pay out the nose to go to a driving school (only a driving school can arrange your road test). No matter that I am an experienced driver the schools still required that I take 10 or more “lessons” before they’d arrange the road test. We’re talking over 1000 euros just for the school alone then another 250 euros for the tests. My home state, Colorado, has an agreement with Germany which means no theory or road tests are needed. Just my license and a translation to swap for a Fuhrerschein.

    I still like Dutch culture and all I have to do is drive a few kms and I’m in the Netherlands but Germany is much, much easier to live in.

  6. Thanks Monique. You made my day. I moved recently to the Netherlands and I can’t be more frustrated by the bureaucracy. Sure, as a perception it depends on what other country you are comparing it to. Before I moved here I lived in the USA for 10 years and I am struggling understanding why everything takes so long in here. I arrived more than a month ago, and I still don’t have my debit card (which means I cant take a bus because there is no way to buy a bus pass with cash, at least in the city I am located), and I still have not received my health insurance card. Also, where I am located most places don’t take credit cards. To open the bank account I had to fill out a form, then after 4 days I received an email asking me to fill out another form JUST to get an appointment in the bank (For real???). Anyway, certainly there is not perfect place on earth, and the country has many good things, but saying that you have to get tons of patience in here is a reality.


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