The smallest differences can sometimes cause some of the biggest anxieties. The Netherlands must be one of the easiest places for a Brit to move to. Everyone is really friendly, they nearly all speak perfect English and we share a European attitude to the way things tend to work but I’ve still been having some fun with cultural bureaucratic differences.
There are a number of things, that as a new resident of the fine city of Rotterdam, I have needed to sort out. I am not someone who has moved house very often and never out of the UK. In the past I’ve either taken my energy provider with me or had a limited number of new relationships to sort at any one time. Moving to another country, I have had to sort out a bank account for which I also needed a BSN number and a Dutch phone number. I have no idea who the current energy provider in the apartment is and have needed to find someone. It is tricky enough choosing an internet provider in the UK when we’ve heard of the companies involved and friends are happy to give you tails of associated joy or woe. I needed to find contents insurance and register with the VvE, (This is the owners association for the block who handle things like maintenance and building insurance for a monthly subscription).
If you don’t have an address you can’t have a bank account. If you don’t have a bank account, you can’t manage an address. In order to open a Dutch bank account you need an address and a BSN number. If you’re born in the Netherlands, you get one of these automatically. If not you need to register at the Town Hall. You need to do this within two weeks of moving to the city. I was prepared, I’d downloaded the form and filled it in before going over to complete on the apartment. I called the Town Hall only to be told that the next appointment wasn’t for three weeks. My estate agent recommended calling in in the hope that someone sensible might understand my predicament. We did just this and was helped by a wonderful receptionist who broke all the rules and got me a rush appointment to get a temporary stay number. She told me to say that I was going to be there for less that four months. She also told me that when I come and do it properly I need to have a certified copy of my birth certificate that has been issued in the past three months – I didn’t even know you could do that.
Armed with my temporary number I went into the nearest bank. ING. Bright orange with a stoic lion as their logo. I sat down with a young man who had me sorted in about ten minutes. He gave me a temporary debit card, bank account number and instructions for banking online. To progress with this I needed a Dutch mobile phone number. Their online banking on the PC is all in Dutch but their mobile App – which is excellent – is also available in English.
Rotterdam has free WiFi around every corner. I have an excellent UK registered smartphone so don’t need to double up with data. I needed a cheap and cheerful voice and text pay-as-you- go sim and handset. Easy – no bureaucracy – a cash transaction.
I have found that “Netherlands equivalent of….” is a great search technique with Google, especially when it came sorting out utilities. As the owner of an apartment which we were going to be leaving for a month, I needed some sort of contents insurance. I found an insurance comparison site and gave it all the information it asked for. I couldn’t have done this without my Dutch bank account or Dutch mobile phone number. I set things up and the comparison site Independer sent me confirmation that the insurance was valid. Fourteen days. In the Netherlands there is a strictly enforced fourteen days cooling off period when you buy something online. I’m not entirely sure how this would work with something like Amazon where you expect delivery the next day. I was told my insurance was valid from the time I applied but it was only this week that they applied to take money. I still haven’t heard anything from them. This might just be the way things work in the Netherlands but my UK brain goes into worry mode.
I also found an energy comparison site and have ordered a new supplier. Again the earliest they could transfer me was fourteen days after I’d placed the order. I have meter readings for the day we took over the apartment but I’ve no idea who I’ll need to pay for the month before I transfer – it may even been the same people. I will fret, until I get to the apartment in a couple of weeks that the power has been cut off.
Internet is not as urgent. The Apartment has cable already installed through a company called Ziggo. I’ve ordered an internet and TV package but am still trying to work out what else I need to do to get connected.
The Dutch seem to have a great system for collective maintenance. The apartment is freehold but I am required to join and subscribe to the Owners Association, or VvE. This covers building insurance, shared facilities, the post boxes etc. The VvE employs a company to manage things. This seems to run smoothly and they very neatly set me up for payment and asked what I wanted written on the nameplate by my post box.
I don’t know why I get so anxious about these things – they are all pretty run of the mill and I’ve not had any major disasters yet. In all my dealings to date I’ve found everyone on the phone or email to be friendly, helpful and quite laid back about all of this. I need to stop fretting. I need to remember that I am a fully signed up European and not the superior little islander that UKIP and half the Tory party believe I am.
I’m sure that when I return, the VvE will have done their job and my name will be there, next to my post box on Pancake Street for all to see.