Not having an address makes you feel like you can't exist
When we sold our home in Amsterdam we needed to register to a new address. We obviously didn't have one anymore and since we were planning to travel for a long time, without even knowing if we would ever come back to live in the Netherlands, we chose to abide the law and report this. We knew that the Dutch law states that when you're not in the Netherlands for at least four months a year, you have to let the authorities know. So we did, we followed procedure. What could possibly go wrong? Today is March 13th 2017. We left the Netherlands on October 30th last year. We're on the road for close to five months now, and totally enjoying it. But sometimes it also feels like we're on a bureaucratic mission impossible for close to five months. We want to do everything by the book, but it seems the book isn't written with our case in mind. The concept of a digital nomad seems to be new, different and impossible to comprehend for the lawmakers.
From now on we will write about this procedure and the hassle we are running into, so one day you might be able to follow this path too. Without bumping into all the walls we have. Or you can just choose to take the alternative road and state that you live in a friends or relatives place. Avoid all this mess. It's not the legal way, but it seems to be the popular way. Many blogs are written on taking that path already, so we won't go into that.
I don't regret our decision, the truth prevails. Always. And one day the government will understand our situation and everything will be okay. Until that day, we'll just decorate the van, and pretend that it's a party.
No address, no right to work
It's supposed to be a modern world. The European Union took away the borders in Europe and the internet has made it possible to work where ever you are. All you need to generate an income is an internet connection and a company to bill from. Being a digital nomad shouldn't be a problem at all. You'd think.
The internet connection is no problem at all. You can go to places where they have WiFi or you just buy a SIM card with mobile internet and you're good to go. I'm writing this article in Morocco in a town called Sidi Kaoukhi now and with a personal hotspot on my phone I'm using a staggering slow 3G connection to do my stuff online. It may not be a brilliant glass fiber connection, but when you're sitting outside in the sunshine there's no need to rush anyway.
So far so good, but that's where the good already ends and the bad starts. About a month after we'd sold our house I checked the Dutch Chamber of Commerce for my company details. I don't know why, but it felt like the thing to do at the time. And my gut was right. Because when I checked, I couldn't find my company in the register anywhere.
It turned out that they had suspended my company for not having a current address and for not having an owner who was registered on a Dutch address. Or on any address at all. So I made some calls and wrote some letters. But all my efforts turned out to be futile, no address means no company. How I'd bill my clients was my problem. So they told me. About a month later the same thing happened to Hedwigs company.
After a lot of research I found a company online which helped us set up a new company without a physical address. Where? On the Seychelles: the home of the wealthy tax evading companies and, starting from now, the desperate freelancers without an address. Funny thing: when I filed the documents for the company they asked me if I made a mistake with my annual forecast. Surely that turnover figure would be monthly or weekly... After I explained my situation to them they accepted my application and as of late December we have a new company. Yay!
This is where bad turns ugly. We now have an official company in the Seychelles, so you'd think we're good to go. Only, we have no bank account to get our invoices paid on. We've tried several banks, but almost every European bank sends us going with the message they don't accept bank accounts from offshore companies in the Seychelles.
The reason behind the rejections is obvious, the Seychelles don't know income tax for offshore companies. So it's a popular destination for malafide business owners and the rich and evasive. Banks apparently don't want to have anything to do with that anymore. Even the Swiss banks - known for their morality and honesty throughout the years - sent me away.
At the moment it's been about four months of failure, but now my hopes are up for opening an account in Cyprus. Sure, we can take the easy route and pay the company that helped us to set up our new business some extra and make them also open a bank account in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But we prefer an EU bank account, so our clients can pay by SEPA transactions and to keep our costs low. Also it's a nice feeling that our money is still in Europe. But if we're not able to send invoices soon, we might still have to fall back to that option anyway.
It's a stressful feeling that we still aren't able to send out invoices from our new company. Sometimes we worry that we will never be able to open an European bank account and that we'll be forced to go the St. Vincent way. We're not in it for tax evading and we hate the fact that people would think that we do exactly that. Especially when your bank account is also far far away. The tax advantage is non-existent, because our income isn't high enough for big taxes to begin with. We'd even be better of with the Dutch benefits for low incomes. If they would acknowledge our existence.
On the other hand we're happy to not be paying taxes to a country that doesn't seem to want us in the first place. Instead we can now donate a part of our income to charity. It's a nice feeling being able to choose who to help yourself.
No address, no insurance
The Netherlands has good social security. It also has a good health plan with a mandatory health insurance. A very basic explanation: everyone contributes and that spreads the costs along the population. Sure, there are a lot of things that could be improved in that system, like anywhere I guess. But that's up to the politicians. So if you're Dutch, please go and vote on Wednesday!
When you aren't registered on an address in the Netherlands anymore, you lose the right to participate in that social security system. You also lose the health care. We knew this was going to happen, so we formally protested against it. But they said we didn't have an address and a company (say whut?!) in the Netherlands, so our protest was declined. With no other option we searched around on the internet for a private solution. We ended up with Allianz. They offer a Globetrotter Insurance which covers basically everything. And which has the possibility to add health insurance to that pack. So now that part is covered, let's hope we'll never use it.
When you live in a van, a good car insurance is a must. At the moment we live in a twilight zone whether we're covered in that department or not. We pay our monthly contribution, but it's unsure if we are covered in case of an accident. If I read the general terms and conditions of the insurance: we're not (because we don't have a Dutch address anymore). But when we put in some phone calls they told us we are. Then again as of today we still haven't gotten written confirmation on those words yet. And we asked for it plenty of times. As long as that's the case, I fear we really aren't insured and that we're just flushing our contribution money down the drain.
In the meantime we just try not to crash I suppose. We also started to look at different options, which vary from a very expensive insurance company that accepts everyone - including convicts, frauds and all other sorts of blacklisted people (good list to be in right?) - to exporting Chewie from the Netherlands to a country where they register and ensure cars without an address. We'll come back to you later on this one.
Basic human rights
Remember that I said you should go and vote next Wednesday? In the Netherlands everybody over 18 has the right to vote, except, apparently, when you don't have an address. We would love to vote, we've sent letters to try to be able to vote. But it all comes down to the same fault in the system yet again. If you don't have an address, even if you can provide a postal address, they don't know what to do with you. So they choose to ignore you and even strip you from you fundamental right to vote.
So if you are reading this and are planning not to vote, please go and vote anyway. If you don't know who to vote for, choose Ancilla van de Leest from the Dutch Pirate Party. Not only will you be able to tell your grandchildren someday you voted for a pirate, but also you'd may be able to compensate the two lost votes which she would have gotten from us.