Although no one knows for sure what the future holds for the status of British expats like me living in the European Union I do know that there is a chance that Brexit will mean some kind of change to my residency status and/or working permissions within EU countries. And so, like many other expat Brits, I started seriously looking into obtaining Dutch citizenship so, given any eventuality, I will still enjoy the same rights as my Dutch family.
The decision by Britain to leave the EU was taken two months ago but my application for Dutch citizenship is filed, in progress and awaiting the decision of the local mayor. It was filed a month ago actually. I didn't hang around! I could be about to get seriously Dutched Up!
The process has been painless, quick and much easier than I ever could have imagined. And because of the many questions I have had on Facebook about the process I am going through I decided to write this blog post and share my experiences.
Two Ways To Become a Dutch Citizen - The TheoryFirstly, there are two different routes to obtaining citizenship in the Netherlands - VERY DIFFERENT routes. There is the naturalisatie or optie route. So, to be clear, I am going through the optie route.
Requirements to Apply for Dutch Citizenship: Optie ProcessTo apply using the optie process you need to meet the following requirements:
- You have been married to a Dutch citizen for at least 3 years
- You have lived uninterrupted in the Netherlands for 15 with a legitimate residency permit
- You have not been in prison during the last 4 years or recieved a judicial sentence such as community service or a considerable fine. (I was told that a fine for running a red light for example was not an issue. Murdering someone is not considered okay.)
- You do not have more than one wife
- You are prepared to pledge allegiance to the Netherlands
For a comprehensive list of requirements visit the IND's website.
Why the Optie Process Rocks
If you meet these requirements you qualify for the optie procedure which is good because it means:
- You may keep your birth nationality, so long as dual nationality is accepted in your current passport holding country
- Costs are lower than through the naturalisatie route (in my case €179 - the naturalisatie route cost is €840 so a significant difference)
- An inburgeringscursus is not a requirement and so language skills are not tested
- The process is quicker, usually taking 3 months from filing the application with your local council (gemeente)
- And that's the other advantage - the application is done at your local town hall and doesn't involve the IND. And if you have ever had any interaction with the IND you will know that it an advantage for sure
My Application Process - The Reality
So that's the theoretical stuff of IND listed requirements covered. And now the reality...... How did my application process go?
Well, first step was to make an appointment online with my gemeente, where I am registered as living which in this case is Zoetermeer. The purpose of this initial meeting was to assess whether I met the criteria to become a Dutch citizen. I turned up at appointed time with my documents:
- My passport
- My wedding certificate
- My legalised birth certificate with an official translation (this needs to be shown if you have not previously shown it to Dutch authorities - I took it with me in case but it was already registered in the system from when I arrived in the Netherlands)
You also need to show your residence permit. As I am (at least for the moment) a citizen from within the EU I officially do not need a residence permit, though I did initially have one. Back in 2000 there was a lot of uncertainty about where to actually have one or not so I applied for one. I renewed it once but didn't bother renewing it again when I had been here for ten years. This did actually cause a minor hiccup in the process. I was told that I had actually only been officially registered in the Netherlands for 14 ½ years, and not the almost 16 years it has been since I arrived on Dutch soil. I was told I would have to come back in December this year. Gulp.
It turns out that although I arrived here in September 2000 the IND only got round to processing my residence permit in December 2001. (They lost my file when I moved from Voorschoten to The Hague so it was a few months in limbo until I realised I hadn't heard anything and The Hague came to the conclusion they knew nothing about an application for a residence permit....... Hence my comments about the IND above.) My husband piped up and pointed that as I am British I didn't actually need a residence permit, and so the IND blunder was irrelevant in my case and the date I first registered in Voorschoten was the date to use. We were back with September 2000 as the official start of my residency in the Netherlands. Phew, the optie process was back on the table.
I had already also got over the hiccup of being asked to show which language tests I had passed by explaining I was talking about the optie process and not the naturalisatie process. Man, we had to be on the ball that morning!
The woman helping me wandered off at one point to get her colleague to help her clarify the whole date of residency issue. She brought her back to the desk and scare number three followed. The colleague assisting asked whether my British passport contained my maiden name or my married name. By the look on her face it was obvious one of the choices was going to be a problem. Argh.
Luckily I gave the right answer.... had my married name been on my British passport things would have been trickier. My maiden name on my passport made things 'makkelijker'. I counted my blessings and I didn't ask why.
Hip hip hooray - I could tick off the boxes and was eligible for the optie process. The lady helping me asked when I would like an appointment for. I stared. My husband stared. She stared. Huh? I have an appointment now. I'm sitting right here. Right now. But no, I needed a second appointment to actually make the application. Of course, Dutch efficiency. So I made a new appointment.
And so ten days later I trundled back, my bag filled with every piece of documentation I could possible ever need in any situation. I was determined there would not be a third appointment.
After a very strange incident at the 'take a ticket' machine in which I had to apparently guess that the council had registered my appointment using random birth date details (entering my actual birth date resulted in an error screen) I did finally have my queue number.
Within minutes my number flashed up on the screen and sent me to a desk number that didn't exist. I got back in line, spoke to the most unfriendly receptionist the council could possibly find to be told the room I was looking for was upstairs. Of course it was. My psychic powers were a little off that day. But I found the room, took a seat and took a deep breath, psyching myself up for the next barrier.
Easy as Pie. Or Should That be Pastei?
It didn't come. No hurdles. No gedoe. I was back downstairs in less then ten minutes, much to my family's surprise who were waiting for me in the library.
I was helped by a friendly woman who had the application and declaration forms ready for me to read though and sign. This was the reason a second appointment was needed - so that everything could be pre-prepared! She went through a few points (like telling me a parking ticket or driving through a red light weren't seen as major felonies), checked I understood what I was reading through and getting myself in to, told me where to sign, took my money and that was that.
She informed me that a judicial check would take place - and if I wasn't found to be a wanted hardened criminal and I could expect an invitation to a ceremony from the mayor in around three months. Then she sent me off with a smile.
That ceremony she told me about is compulsory and it's where I'd be told what it means to be a Dutch citizen, pledge allegiance (by saying the 'verklaring van verbondenheid') to the Netherlands, confirm that I do actually feel a bit Dutch (which in all honesty I do) and . Once I have attended this ceremony I would then be a Dutch citizen. And my husband has promised to throw a big Dutch style party with bitterballen, a huge circle and very frothy beer. And of course you're all invited.
Watch this space.