After the bureaucratic nonsense the first week in the Netherlands, we enjoyed our time for the next two weeks, taking day trips, visiting museums and scouting out bike routes. We received an email from the Expat Centre that we still needed to bring proof of address with us in the form of a declaration from the person we were staying with. Given that we are staying at an Airbnb location, our expectations for a positive experience at the Expat Centre started to decline, but we checked with our host and our friends if anyone might be eligible to sign the form.
If you are trying to get any paperwork done, staying in an Airbnb or hotel is not the best option, however there aren't any better options unless you know and can stay with someone who owns their house or apartment. In the Netherlands, that is not very common. For people like us who need to get the paperwork done to get a rental contract... we just need to jump through a lot of hoops. It's just the sad truth.
In the end, our Airbnb hosts were not eligible to sign the form, nor could our friends (as much as they were willing to help us out!) So we went to our meeting at the Expat Centre with our expectations in the tank, glad that we had not cancelled our meeting at the Amsterdam Gemeente (City Hall) the following week, fully expecting to be told that only the Amsterdam Gemeente would be able to help us.
The Expat Centre was fun to get to anyway, and we got to take the Metro for the first time to Amsterdam's World Trade Centre. We went directly in and explained for the upteenth time our situation. Our consultant looked worried and told us she was certain we were doing everything in the wrong order. She went to consult her colleagues multiple times, and ultimately got caught up in the whole confusing catch-22 we had been living for the past three weeks.
The result was that, yes, Amsterdam Gemeente was our only option, at least for me to get my BSN number, which was required for every other application we would need to make. We also found out that our vital statistics documents were not going to be sufficient for all the processes down the line. In order to have our marriage registered in the Netherlands, which we would need for Brian's residency application, we were going to have to get our birth certificates re-issued, and, together with our marriage certificate, authenticated by the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands or Dutch Consulate-General in Canada. I had already looked into all of this back home, but was assured that all I needed was originals within five years. Even my re-issued birth certificate, already stamped by foreign affairs, was too old.
All of these requirements are buried in the small print, in link after link after link, and what we have learned is that every one you speak with needs to be questioned about every aspect of the process. You simply can't rely on any one, no matter how official, to give you the information you need to proceed. Every one we have spoken to, from consulates in Canada to government offices in the Netherlands has given us a different account of what is necessary, what the steps are and who we should be speaking with. I personally can only imagine going above and beyond to put people on the right track if I were in the position to, but while we have encountered that quality in our friends on the ground, not so much in the officials we must rely on.
We had a frank conversation with an immigration representative that really seemed to know his stuff, and he offered his services if we were still encountering difficulties down the road. But he expressed the opinion that I should become employed, at least on a part time basis, so that Brian's application for permanent residency is more secured. We hadn't planned on looking for employment for another three to five months, but given all the hiccups in the process so far, it was another thing on our list to look into.
We went downstairs to contemplate all of the complicated things that we needed to do over beer. We now felt certain that Amsterdam Gemeente would be my ticket to getting my conditional BSN (permanent address to be confirmed at a later date), and then we could open a bank account and get the ball rolling on securing an apartment. But for all the other applications - there was a whole new set of logistical issues, from whether we would need to return to Canada, to asking our families to request new copies of our documentation, to coordinating the documents safe and secure arrival at the various offices that needed to authenticate them, to getting them back to us... at a non-fixed address. I didn't cry this time though, because we had low expectations to begin the day with, and I actually felt that we came out more secure in our direction.
It turns out that we can (and will) hire a service to get our birth and marriage certificates stamped by the appropriate authorities, however they cannot request the documents that need to be re-issued on our behalf. That's because we're from Alberta and Alberta's registries are privatized. So we're having our parents request the birth certificates for us, and we'll send in the marriage certificate that we have with us (which is recently issued), and all three will, with any luck, find their way back to us at some future address with the requisite stamps and approvals.
So, we have just a bit of work ahead to keep us busy. With our priority item, the BSN, still outstanding for a few more days, we awaited our return to the fabulous Amsterdam Gemeente...