A Bureaucratic Nightmare: Part 1
It all sounded possible. The plan was to have all our official stuff done or in progress the first week. We knew that the first step was to get BSNs, which are basically the equivalent of SIN numbers back in Canada. We arrived on a Saturday, and come Monday, the BSN was at the top of our agenda. How hard could it be when I am a citizen of the country?
It wasn't really clear where to go as all of our online sources said to go to our municipal office. As we couldn't get more a more specific name than that, google maps was no help, so we decided to start with Town Hall. We woke up early on Monday and ventured out to the large town square where we thought Town Hall was. Absolutely nothing was open along the way (Monday mornings are basically like Sunday here in Haarlem). When we got to the Town Hall, there was a sign on the door saying they weren't open until 1 pm. So we putzed around for several hours, got SIM cards, and came back at 1:00 only to find out that this was just a tourist office. In fact, the office we needed to go to, the Gemeentehuis, was way back just down the street from our apartment. However, we were happy to be redirected by someone knowledgeable, and we made our way to the Gemeente.
At the Gemeente, we had trouble picking from a Dutch menu of bureaucratic services and a staff member came over and told us that what we needed disappears off the menu after noon. We would need to come back tomorrow morning. No problem!
Bright and early Tuesday morning we strolled down the street to the Gemeente, had someone help us at the terminal (there was no bold, underlined flashing entry saying BSN unfortunately!) got our tickets and went up to what we thought was the second floor to await our appointment with immigration. A few minutes later we realized we were on the first floor (the ground floor must have been level zero), so we made our way up the second flight of steps and waited in a little room with the same number as our ticket.
After some time, a rather contrary woman came back to her seat, explaining that she thought we weren't coming so she had left to do other things. We explained our situation, somewhat to her confusion. You're from Canada? You want to move here? Here to Haarlem? But you don't have a permanent address? And you say you're Dutch? But you don't speak Dutch? All this ended up with: you'd better learn Dutch and it starts now, and I'm rather annoyed that you've been in the country for three days and are not attempting to explain a complex problem in the native language. I was disappointed that the limited Dutch I was able to use was drowned out by this rant.
In the end, a BSN cannot be issued by Haarlem Gemeente unless you have a permanent address. Well, in order to rent a permanent apartment, you need a Dutch bank account, and in order to get a Dutch bank account, you need a BSN. So we found ourselves in a tidy catch-22. Fortunately there are three offices that issue BSNs without an address: Amsterdam, Leiden and Alkmaar. Perhaps not thinking clearly, we made the decision to go immediately to Amsterdam Gemeente since it was closer and we thought probably more equipped to deal with our unique circumstances.
Google maps was a poor solution in this case. We made it to Amsterdam of course, but with 14 entries for Amsterdam Gemeente, we weren't sure where to go. We walked to three different buildings before we got to the current Town Hall, adjacent to the Opera House. Once there, we found our way around but ended up in line to make an appointment. It turns out the nearest appointment was a month away. A month without a bank account, without being able to rent and without even the ability to subscribe to a cell service. We still had access to our Canadian accounts, but this wrinkle was going to make settling in take a lot longer than we expected. I'm not embarrassed to share that I had a good cry in the waiting room of Amsterdam Gemeente, and then we picked ourselves up and went down the street for a sandwich and a glass of wine.
During this little lunch, I received a call from the real estate agent I had been corresponding with for weeks prior to our departure. He explained that he had no properties for us and that we should probably look for a different agent. Actually in the context of that day, it was not the worst news that we had received because we get online listings every morning. But I was ticked because I had invested a significant amount of time in cultivating a relationship with this agent who turned out to be a real...insert choice words here.
The next day or so we felt pretty dejected, despite knowing that everything would turn out okay. It's frustrating when you feel that obstacles are put in your way just for the sake of making easy things difficult. But Brian made a call to the Expat Centre, and while we were enjoying a windy day at the beach, we got a call back confirming that they could help us, and that we now had an appointment with them one week earlier than our appointment at Amsterdam Gemeente. We decided to enjoy our free time over the next two weeks...