7 visa options for non-EU business owners in the Netherlands

Feb 27, 2024

Foreigners who want to setup a business in the Netherlands, for example a startup or freelance company, need to have a valid visa if they want to actually work for their own company. Setting up a company in the Netherlands does not require you to have a Dutch work permit as such. But when subsequently working as a director in your company, you must be pay rolled in it. For this you need a work permit (or “visa”). For EU, EEA and Swiss (together “the Union”) citizens, this is not much of a problem: they can register at their Dutch municipality as a Union citizen. For non-EU citizens, however, the visa poses a significant hurdle when setting up their business in the Netherlands. The usual HSM visa is not available because this requires special IND sponsorship status in your BV, which is not realistically obtainable within the first year. But there are other solutions. In this article we will outline 7 possibilities.

Option 1 : through an EU family member

The easiest way to obtain a Dutch visa as a non-EU national is through family. This is called verification against EU law or "partner visa" (if your EU partner is Dutch). If you obtain this you are free to work in whichever capacity you like, including as a founder of your own company. These are the main options for you:
- as a spouse or registered partner of a Union citizen.
- as an unmarried partner of a Union citizen, if you have lived together for at least 6 months in a row before the date of the application or the decision.
- as a child or grandchild under the age of 21 of a Union citizen or of their spouse or registered partner.

If you meet these main requirements, your visa application basically is 100% guaranteed:
- You have a valid passport.
- You do not pose a threat to public order or national security. That means you do not have a criminal record and no legal action is currently being taken against you.
- The family member you are relating to has a valid residence permit for the Netherlands.

Term: 5 years. Afterwards you can apply for a new verification or a permanent residence document for EU citizens and their family members.
Costs: € 76 (for adults) and € 41 (for minors) IND costs.

Option 2: through a spouse or parent who holds an existing visa

If your spouse or parent is the holder of an existing visa in the Netherlands, you can perform an application as a dependent on that visa. Examples of such visa include the EU Blue Card, Highly Skilled Migrant visa, DAFT visa, or any other valid Dutch visa. As a dependent on either of these visa you are allowed to work in whichever capacity you choose, including as a founder of your own company. A dependent application is a separate application under that specific visa. Again, if you meet the main requirements, issuance of the visa is more or less guaranteed:

- You have a valid passport.
- You do not pose a threat to public order or national security. That means you do not have a criminal record and no legal action is currently being taken against you.
- The family member you are relating to has a valid residence permit for the Netherlands.

Term: varies per visa.
Costs: varies per visa.

Option 3: The self-employed visa

We need to get this one out of the way, but it should really be on the bottom of your list. For the self employed visa you must set up a Dutch company and then prove to the IND that your business is of essential interest to the Dutch economy. In order to assess this, the IND will ask advice from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). The RVO will evaluate your company in accordance with a point system, where points are awarded for your business plan, existing business, innovativeness, website, business contracts and such. It is a long and laborious process where no outcome can be guaranteed. In the meantime, you will not obtain a sticker in your passport that will grant you the right to work in expectance of the final verdict. You need the final verdict on the visa before you can get started, and this can take a very long time. The only good news is: this visa is open to anybody with a good business, and if you obtain this visa you are not dependent on anybody. We can help you out with this visa, but please make sure you have a good business plan and contracts with (prospective) clients before you contact us.

Term: 2 years, after which it must be renewed.
Costs: € 380 IND costs.

Option 4: Dutch-American Friendship Treaty and Dutch-Japanese Friendship treaty

The self-employed visa mentioned above is a hard way to obtain an independent visa in your own company. There are two exceptions to this: American and Japanese nationals have the option of obtaining the “light” version of the independent visa : the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty visa and Dutch-Japanese friendship treaty. Both are exactly the same procedures, apart from their different passport requirements. They basically dispose of the whole point system, allow you to work self employed immediately after obtaining your residence endorsement sticker (so without waiting until the final verdict). You simply are required to have a US/Japanese passport, to setup a company in the Netherlands and to deposit an amount of € 4,500 in your company’s bank account.

Term: 2 years, after which it must be renewed.
Costs: € 380 IND costs.

Option 5: the Startup visa

The startup visa sounds like an easy way to get a visa as a startup founder in the Netherlands. In fact, it’s arguably the most difficult visa in this entire list. You will probably not be pursuing it, but we will explain the basics in short. First you need to obtain a startup facilitator (or “mentor”). Then you need to make sure your product or service is innovative and be able to prove it. Together with your facilitator you must make a high quality business plan before submitting the actual application at the IND. Also you must prove you have enough resources to afford your living costs in the Netherlands. We do not perform this visa application because there are always better alternatives than this one.

Term: 1 year, after which it must be renewed.
Costs: € 349 IND costs.

Option 6: through an EU Blue Card

You are probably well aware the EU Blue Card is a nice visa option for regular employees, which is not available to business owners. This is true, but only to a certain extent. The EU Blue Card rules forbid you to own 25% or more in the company that employs you. This leaves room for co-founders in businesses with multiple shareholders to pursue the Blue Card, as long as they keep their stake under 25% of the new Dutch company. In addition to this, it is advisable to remain a regular employee of the company, and not a director. Although this is not strictly against the rules of the EU Blue Card (you can be a director without holding shares after all) it may lead to rejection and a longer application period at the IND. Just make sure you meet the minimum salary requirement (€ 5,867 gross per month) and have a Bsc. - equivalent 3 year diploma (preferably University degree).

Term : The duration of the Blue Card is connected to the duration of your employment contract. If you have an employment contract for 3 years, you get a Blue Card for 3 years. The maximum period is 4 years, after which a renewal has to be obtained.
Costs : IND registration fee (€ 380) and Nuffic diploma valuation costs (€ 150).

Option 7: HSM payroll solution

The HSM visa is not available to an entrepreneur setting up their business in the Netherlands because this visa requires a special “sponsorship” status at the IND. You can acquire this in your own BV, but realistically only after 1 - 1,5 years. But there is a work around here : the so-called HSM payroll solution. In this approach you enter into the employment of a payroll company, which is a Dutch BV with IND sponsorship status. The payroll company then invoices your clients for your work as a self employed contractor. The payroll company cannot invoice a Dutch company owned by yourself, because that would in effect result in a self employed visa situation which the IND considers undesirable. In this construction you can proceed to work independently for your clients within the Netherlands, with a valid visa. You can also apply a 30% ruling here if you are eligible. The obvious downside here is the continuing costs for payrolling, and the fact that you don't actually have an own company in which to expense business expenses.

Term: Same as the duration of your labor contract, up to a maximum of 5 years.
Costs: Payroll costs and increased employer’s taxes (expect about 50% on top of your regular salary). € 380 IND costs for HSM.

All these options allow for a 30% ruling in your own company, or the transfer of an existing 30% ruling. If you have any questions about this, feel free to plan a free intake below.