As I stray further and further away from the term ‘expat’ and closer and closer to the term ‘immigrant,’ I find I’m becoming too familiar in a land that was completely unfamiliar to me not so long ago.
Before I forget the challenges altogether I wanted to document, in a four part series, the amusement and frustration of moving to and living in a foreign country.
Living in a foreign country, now what?
I have a confession. When I moved to the Netherlands, I thought it was a not-so-subtle undercover alias for Holland (like USA to United States). I had no idea it was a region within the Netherlands and having never visited the country before, with an education not focused on geography (because ‘Merica) I can’t be entirely blamed. My lack of knowledge about the country certainly did not help when moving here.
My first week in the Netherlands can be categorised as:
BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!! What is happening?
Luckily I had my mother, some colleagues, and an eager front desk personnel (now friend) to help make the transition easier; otherwise, I’m not sure I would have successfully navigated the thorny maze.
Why was it so difficult to get settled? Let’s begin with the fact that I moved without a residence here. I had a lovely hotel room but no apartment. Unfortunately, I needed to get registered in order to get a BSN (similar to a social security number) and in order to get a bank account where I could receive a salary and pay for my new apartment, I needed a BSN.
Can you picture the chicken and the egg scenario?
I went back to City Hall no less than three times in my attempt to sweet talk my way into getting a BSN number. It was here that I learned that the Dutch do not ‘play with rules.’ If it cannot be done, it cannot be done. My first real phrase was “Dat kan niet.”
I’d lament to my mother and drag her along. The dinner or wine after (a la Madre) made the City Hall trips a bit more worth it.
Alas there was a glimmer of hope!
Finagling my way to registration
My new and first friend who worked at the hotel I was staying at suggested I talk to my company. A light bulb went off.
Ah-ha! It turned out I worked for a bank.
This was not news to me, but maybe news to you. ‘Despite working on the investment side, could I perhaps open a bank account without a BSN?’ I wondered. I spoke with my colleagues at the Bank, explained my situation and promised to put down a permanent address (more permanent than a hotel) with BSN as soon as possible. I even got HR involved to stress the importance of opening an account ASAP in anticipation of my first salary.
The urgency of the situation was conveyed and I had my first bank account. Now I could get my salary, which meant I could put money down on an apartment, register, and get a BSN.
With victory in my sight, I wondered how expats who didn’t work at a bank go through this process? It amazed me that people were able to register at all.
The coveted BSN
The search for the apartment will be saved for Part 2 of this saga. I’ll skip over the fun stories and go straight to the moment I marched into City Hall (mother still in tow) and proudly slid my renter’s agreement across the counter, showing proof of residency. It didn’t matter that I didn’t live there yet; the agreement was dated the 10th of December, so there was no reason for them to know that I wouldn’t move in for another 10 days. The Dutch authorities would disagree but this was my first silent protest.
Two weeks later, I received my BSN in the mail and the final approval for my temporary residence. I marched proudly to the local government office to pick up my temporary residence card photo ID. The most climatic part of this was that I looked like a Russian spy in my ID card (I couldn’t smile and I was wearing a turtle neck) and I thought that maybe I could tuck that away as a nice practical joke at a later date.
The complications of residency abroad
When I think back, as frustrated as I was at the time, my experience was relatively easy. The paperwork was not in English and I had to ask a number of people for help but overall, with some guidance, I figured it out and made it happen by January 1st (one month after arriving). But through this process I began to empathise with those before me and after who have had to establish residency in a new environment.
I wish I could say that for a majority of people, it’s relatively easy to move to a different country, or that they’ll have the same experience I had. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that and it gets me frustrated. I grew up thinking (and still do) that immigrants are an integral part of the backbone of a country – so why try and create countries without vertebrae?
Something to think about as I try to subtly insert my opinion.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of moving to a new country…