Living the Cycling Dream in the Netherlands, Thanks to a 50-year-old Treaty

The Dutch American Friendship Treaty provides an opportunity to live in and experience Dutch culture firsthand.

A new batch of films from Streetfilms about cycling in the Netherlands has been making the rounds among biking enthusiasts. They show the world-class cycling infrastructure and stories of real people living their lives on bikes.

As a new Dutch resident myself, I’m always thrilled to see videos like this. I send them to folks back home to illustrate how delightful it is to live in a place designed for people instead of cars. My verbal descriptions don’t do it justice.

I’ve noticed a lot of people commenting that they’ve had enough of the car-dominated streets in their US cities. They would love to come to the Netherlands to experience Dutch cycling first-hand. The Dutch lifestyle is so different from that of the average American – it proves to be transformative for many people who experience it for the first time. It’s hard to really understand how well it works until you are physically here.

Many people don’t realize how easy it is to take that leap and that there are options beyond a short vacation visit. For example, Americans are allowed to stay in the Netherlands for up to 90 days – no visa or paperwork required. If you can arrange a sabbatical at work or do your work remotely, it’s a great option.

Dutch American Friendship Treaty

For those who want to stay longer, US citizens can live and work in the Netherlands under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT). The DAFT was created in 1956, and it allows US citizens to set up a business in the Netherlands and obtain a residence permit.

There’s a wide range of people taking advantage of the DAFT: artists, researchers, writers, project managers, designers, filmmakers, programmers, etc. Most are one-person freelance businesses. It’s available for basically any service or trade, except for those that need special certification like doctors, teachers, and lawyers. The capital investment is relatively small – only €4,500 for a sole entrepreneur (which you keep forever – you just maintain this to prove your compliance).

Under the DAFT, your business doesn’t have to be profitable as long as you can show that you are at least making an effort to get it off the ground. You also aren’t required to prove that your business will benefit the Dutch economy, which is an important advantage. You only have to deposit and maintain your capital investment in a Dutch bank account and submit the proper paperwork.

The DAFT is a great option for people in all stages of life: young people just getting started, people in mid-career looking to expand internationally, or retired people who want to live an easy and safe life. (This lovely video from Bicycle Dutch shows the benefits of good cycling infrastructure to the elderly and disabled.)

Getting Help

You can try to navigate the DAFT process by yourself, but you can avoid a lot of frustration, disappointment, and extra costs by getting some assistance. I used the services of Jeremy Bierbach of Avocado Legal. For a very reasonable flat fee, Jeremy fills out all of the forms and sets up your appointments, helps you with your simple one-page business plan, and makes sure you present all of the required birth certificates, etc. Most importantly, before these meetings, he gives you the coaching necessary to know what to expect, and what you should or should not say to the various government entities. He is also available to answer any questions that come up during the process.

Now that I have my business registered and my DAFT permit, renewing my residency each year is basically effortless.

Taking the Leap

If you think you can bootstrap the DAFT process yourself, the government and accounting fees are approximately €1,500 (along with the €4,500 “capital investment”, which you always keep). However, I found that the help that someone like Jeremy provided was a reasonable and worthwhile additional cost.

For relocation and living costs, if you travel light and are resourceful, it’s very modest. You can find furnished rentals, and there are plenty of community second-hand shops for inexpensive housewares. As you won’t need a car, and used bikes can be had for €100, your transportation costs are also extremely low. And health insurance is available to all for about €100 per person.

Amsterdam is the cultural and tourism center of the country, and therefore has the accompanying higher costs. But rents are still generally cheaper than in first-tier US cities like New York or San Francisco.

On the other hand, Rotterdam is also a great choice, with its lively, diverse culture, modern architecture, and much cheaper rents. Along with its own small commercial airport, it’s only 30 minutes by high-speed train from the big airport Schiphol, with Amsterdam only 15 minutes further. This is an up-and-coming city that’s growing fast, and in the future it will rank as one of the most vibrant, multicultural places in the world.

There are also plenty of other smaller cities, towns, and villages that have a complete set of amenities – making them great options for people who want an even quieter setting.

Actual Synergy

Once you get here, in addition to the biking, you will see how the urban design impacts everything in a positive way. Commerce is vibrant, with a good mix of both small mom-and-pop shops and big retail. People are generally healthy, with easy access to nature. Even with one of the highest population densities in the world, the countryside is never farther than 15 minutes away by bicycle.

While most Dutch cities have a cosmopolitan urban quality, they also have a village-like ambiance because they aren’t dominated by cars. Because getting around is so easy and quick without a car, people are more social. This has a huge impact on cultural and business development, and creates a perfect ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation. This setting attracts a goldmine of energy and talented people, which is why many of the top international creative and tech companies have found homes here.

Bringing it Back Home

A recent panel at the SXSWeco 2013 conference titled Bike Curious? Dutch-style Cycling in the US talked about making radical changes to the streets of Austin, TX, and other cities, inspired by visits to the Netherlands. These in-person experiences are having a big impact in the US, with evidence on the ground even in places like the capital of Texas. (And after all, America has deep Dutch roots.)

Sometimes the best thing you can do to energize your community is to go somewhere else for awhile to experience a different way of living, and then bring those ideas home.

Tara Ross is an American living in the Netherlands who loves the cycling lifestyle there. She is on a mission to find the global best practices in business, urban design, and food culture.

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1 Comment

  • I have seen my dream bike at Dutch bicycle shop Dublin. This bike is a beauty. The reason it is a 26inch tyres , wide saddle for my bum, has carrier bag on both side of the bicycle as well front and stand for the bike.
    It is a DREAM BIKE. It would be a lovely surprise a company give me a surprise for 2017

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