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Starting a business in the Netherlands

Business ownership can be a wonderful way to take control of your expatriate life and create a career that is uniquely your own. Starting a business in the Netherlands can be complex if you do not speak Dutch, but the actual paperwork is not that difficult and, depending on the legal form you select, you can be up and running within days.

Should you start your own business in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is stricter in terms of who is considered an entrepreneur than (some) other countries.

Unless you are conducting freelance activities for only a few hours a month, you are responsible for:
registering with the Trade Register
registering with the Belastingdienst (Dutch tax office)
setting up a proper administration for your business

A large part of the decision to start a business is your intention. If you intend to operate a business full-time, work for multiple clients or import / export goods the KvK (Kamer van Koophandel) will be more likely to recommend business ownership than if you would only work for a single client or not selling goods.

Defining your intentions in a formal way can be difficult, but it is definitely worth it. Writing a short business plan and speaking to a KvK representative can help you determine your obligations.

Business structures in the Netherlands

Once you have decided that you do need to register a business, it is time to select what sort of business structure you wish to operate under. The structures break down roughly to two options: non-limited and limited liability. In general, a non limited liability structure is easier and cheaper to be established but you and your family’s assets will be on the line if your go bankrupt or be sued later.

Non-limited structures

- Eenmanszaak
- Partnership
- VOF (Partnership under common firm, such as for married partners)

Limited Structures

- BV (Private Limited Liability Company)
- Foundation
- Association

ZZP or freelance?
These days many people choose to work as freelancers in their field, performing a variety of tasks for other companies. In the Netherlands such people are known as both ZZP’ers and freelancers. It is important to keep in mind that ZZP is not an official Trade Register structure and you will need to select another structure to register; generally an Eenmanszaak.

ZZP’ers have the extra business concern of ensuring that they are not considered to be employees by the Tax Office at the end of the year. If you are ruled the employee of one of your clients, they will be on the hook for a variety of payroll tax payments for you; a potentially devestating situation. Plus you will lose your independence.

You can ensure your ZZP status by having at least three clients and intending to invest a minimum of 2.500 euros per year. Your can register this intent by filling out a VAR Verklaring form for the Tax Office. Some clients may require you to do so.

Register with Trade Register

Once you have selected your business structure and written at least a minimal business plan (KvK needs to know what you are marketing, to whom, how, your investment and expected results), you are ready to register your business.

Non-limited business owners can simple complete the appropriate form (in Dutch) for their structure and take it to the local KvK along with your ID, partner (if applicable) and other paperwork required according to the form. KvK staff will register you in Trade Register and you will pay a registration fee which varies by region and structure. This is a yearly fee to keep you in Register.

Limited businesses are more complex to start since you are essentially creating a corporation. The best advise here is to speak with an expert. KvK can help you determine if you need a limited structure and contact the appropriate people.

Keep in mind that you can register multiple business names and multiple activities under a single structure. Also, your information in Trade Register is public (so be ready for junk mail).

Registering with Belastingdienst

If you are registering an Eenmanszaak or partnership, you can register for a BTW (turnover tax) number simultaneously at KvK. Just complete a Joint Registration form and bring it over when you register with Trade Register. Belastingdienst will later send you a form to complete the information in their system and a login and password for their online services.

Everyone else must register directly to Belastingdienst after Trade Register to obtain a BTW number. You can request a Starterspakket which contains an Opgaaf gegevens startende ondernemers (Statement of information by a new business) form to help the tax office determine if you need a VAT number. Stater Centre at your KvK may be able to assist you with this. As with Trade Register, you should consult a professional if you have a complex structure.

If you have questions regarding what taxes to pay and what taxes to charge, you will have to take these to the Belastingdient’s website or a professional. Some information is available in English, but their Help Desk line is Dutch-only.

Setting up your business administration

Finally you will need to set up your business administration to be compliant with Dutch standards. This is quite straight forward and listed on the English side of the KvK’s website.

You are required to keep your books and documents for seven years and they should include everything involving money, goods, and services that flow between your company and the greater world.

You are also responsible for tracking your BTW (turnover tax) and creating sequential, informative invoices.

The extra stuff

Of course, there is a lot of extra stuff to keep in mind when starting your business, such as insurance, stationary, selection of office or store space, staff etc.

Your business plan should help you understand what needs to be done. If you need help, take advantage of the KvK’s Starter Centre to speak with a free advisor or visit their website (Dutch only).

Answers are not always easy to come by, so stay flexible and ask questions. Good luck!

Amanda

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Amanda Potter

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