December 28, 2007

Various Work and Residence Permits in the Netherlands

Trying to find legitimate work as an American anywhere in Europe can be difficult. Right now, the Netherlands has a strong economy and low unemployment rate, and a lot of their business dealings are done in English. If I could get a work permit, I would have a pretty good chance at finding a job – even though I don’t speak Dutch.

I've mentioned this in earlier entries, but there's a basic order of how I need to do things in order to move to Amsterdam. Because I'm American, I do not need to apply for a visa (MVV, or Machtiging voor Voorlopig Verblijf). However, once I'm in Amsterdam, I need to apply for a residence permit. I'll need to have legal residence, proof of income, and a reason for living in Amsterdam other than the fact that I just like all the bikes. That's step one.

If I want a job in Amsterdam, I need a work permit, but how? I'm moving to Amsterdam on my own, just me and my US passport (and my aspirations to make documentary films, but that’s not going to pay the bills). Well, there is something called "de kennismigrant," or a "Knowledge migrant" permit. Expat Law sums up the requirements and rules for this particular permit:

Dutch employers are permitted to hire non-EU nationals without work permits if the following requirements are met:

1. The employer has enrolled in the IND Highly Skilled Migrant Program

2. The job pays a salary that meets or exceeds the minimum annual gross salary requirements which are based on the age of the employee. For 2007, the minimum annual salary requirement is €46,541 for employees 30 years of age or older, and €34,130 for employees younger than 30 years of age. The income criterion does not apply if the employee enters the employment of an educational or research institute as a PhD student, nor does it apply to post-docs and university teachers under 30 years of age.

There's also the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, which basically means that Americans are welcome to move to the Netherlands to start up a (profitable) business. "In contrast to other non-EU nationals who want to work in the Netherlands on a self-employed basis, Americans applying under the treaty do not need to satisfy the 'essential Dutch economic interest' test which is applied to non-EU businesses." There are a lot of requirements to meet, of course, including having at least €4,500 ($6,622 USD) in cash. Again, it's kind of nice to know that this exists, but I don't know if it would really help me. Under the rules of the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, "self-employment activities are only permitted in connection with the business plan." I wouldn’t be allowed to work for other employers (legally). If I get to the point where I want to start a production company, it's great to know that this Treaty exists... but I don't think I'm quite ready for that now.

What I would like to find is some kind of rule that allows me to live in the Netherlands while freelancing for American clients. When I move to Amsterdam in April, I will have enough in savings to get by for a while. According to
The Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment for the Netherlands
, the gross minimum wage for everyone over the age of 23 is €1,317 a month (that's $1,938 USD). What if I could prove that I could make that on my own, from American clients? That's only $485 a week. I guess that wouldn't really help me in terms of getting a work permit in Amsterdam, but I wonder if it would help at all in getting a residence permit, at least for a year.

It's so hard to imagine how people learned about all this stuff before the internet.

December 20, 2007

Finding an apartment in Amsterdam

I know that once I'm actually in Amsterdam doing the apartment search, I might look back at what I'm about to say and think that I'm insane. I'm kind of excited about looking for apartments in Amsterdam.

Anyone who does about five minutes of research on living in Amsterdam finds out very quickly that it's "impossible" to find an apartment. There's a huge housing shortage, the Netherlands is a small and overcrowded country, people are on waiting lists for years and years to get a place, etc.

But I'm telling you, spend two years in Paris and then over a year in New York City (in two different apartments), and the thing that will excite you is the fact that renting in Amsterdam isn't that expensive. It's not cheap, don't get me wrong. However, I've been combing through ads on a million different websites and one thing remains clear: for what I pay to live in crappy neighborhood in Brooklyn ($650 USD/453 Euros, plus utilities), I could live in a bigger, nicer apartment in Amsterdam. I'm not planning to find my own apartment; instead I'll try a flatshare situation so that I have roommates. Even that excites me - I have great roommate history and I would like to live with some other international types.

The state of the US dollar is an unfortunate issue. Two years ago $650 was more like 530€. Ouch.

Here in Brooklyn, people think that I'm lucky that I found a place so cheap. Again, I want to emphasize that my neighborhood isn't very nice and my apartment is very small and very run down - I don't even have windows in my bedroom. I know that finding a room for 450€ in Amsterdam won't be simple, but it's possible. It wouldn't be remotely possible in Paris at all. Since Amsterdam is such a small city compared to what I'm used to, I don't feel the need to be right in the center. It's such a short bike ride to get anywhere, and other than the two years I spent living in Philadelphia, I've never felt the need to live right in the middle of everything.

Just today I saw an ad for a room - 16 sq meters, 550€ a month, near station Vlugtlaan, and it included those lovely key words - registration possible. If I want to live legally in Amsterdam, I need a residence permit. And to get that permit, I need a legal residence. Technically I'm supposed to have the address pretty much the day I step in the country and apply for the permit with 8 days, but I don't think that is realistically going to happen. Instead I'll stay with a friend in Amsterdam and give myself three months (for three months I can just be there with a passport) to find a place. When the time comes to apply for the permit, I'll say "of course, I just moved to Amsterdam two days ago. I arrived from Paris and came to Amsterdam in a car." Since I'll be flying into Paris, I'll have the plane tickets as proof (if necessary).

This is going to be an interesting experiment. Will finding an affordable room in Amsterdam REALLY be more difficult than finding an affordable room in NYC or Paris? I'll find out this spring!

Slightly off-topic, but important: Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic are becoming part of the Schengen area, which means that there is now a 24-nation border-free zone in the European Union. This is good news for anyone traveling in Europe!

December 12, 2007

Inspiration from Philadelphia

This past Saturday (December 8) I was running (well, biking) all over Philadelphia from one event to another. I started off at Molly's Bookstore in the Italian Market, where Big Tea Party was having their 10th-anniversary celebration and fundraiser. They had a great crowd come out, and the small bookstore was packed with activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc.

I was happy to see someone I knew from back in the day, Ellen, come in to the room. As we started talking I caught her up on what I'm up to (living in Brooklyn and working in TV post-production) and what I'm planning in the near future. Part of me remains a little scared that that no one will take me or my plans seriously, but I shouldn't have been worried about something like that while I was at a fundraiser for an anarchist cooking/crafts/activist show. So I began talking in more detail about why I want to live in Amsterdam and the documentary that I want to make - and Ellen's response is "I did that exact same thing!"

I'm going to guess Ellen is about 40 years old. When she was younger, she decided to move to Paris with her boyfriend for no real specific reason (hey, me too!). Then she took a 3-day trip to Amsterdam, fell in love with that city, and relocated. She stayed for about five years, had her son there, and had a great story about living on a houseboat. She's currently a video production instructor in Philadelphia and also makes her own documentaries. Both of us shared pretty much the exact same views on why Paris is great but we don't want to live there and why Amsterdam is such an appealing city. As I talked in a little more detail about exactly what I want to do with the documentary, a guy says "sorry, I don't mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you were talking about Sarajevo - I did some shooting (with a camera, just to be clear) there in the past." So now I'm in this amazing conversation with an American documentary filmmaker who has lived in Paris and Amsterdam, and this guy who has experience shooting throughout Sarajevo, and they're both telling me that I should absolutely move back to Europe and make my documentary. "How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?" the guy (whose name I forget, dammit) said.

"28," I replied.

"Oh, you're still a baby! Of course you have to do this," was his response.

In my head, I silently thanked him for thinking of me as someone who is still a kid. Every so often I get an irrational fear in my head that I have waited too long, that I should have been out there when I was 18 years old. I should know more languages and I should have traveled to more places by now, and maybe it's too late and I should just stay in New York City and work myself into the ground trying to become a bigshot in TV production. But then I attend events like the Big Tea Party fundraiser, and I'm surrounded by people like Elizabeth, who will be celebrating her 50th birthday this year and is still just as passionate and daring as any 18-year-old. These people are still traveling, still protesting, still activists, and still have time to encourage me to do the same. I feel very grateful to have such amazing role models in my life.

It's always been hard for me to be patient, but I really want to do it right this time around. This is the good part about being 28, and not 22 - I simply know a little more now. I know that my first priority in Amsterdam must be figuring out a way to live there legally with a proper residence permit. I know that is going to be very, very difficult. The first few months I'm there - well, I have no idea what it will be like, but it won't all be sunshine and roses and bike rides and apple strudels. There will be mountains of paperwork, bureaucracy rules that I'm not used to, and the very real fact that I don't have a lot of friends living there right now that I can lean on for support. But when I do have all my paperwork in order and I've obtained the residence permit and gotten myself a place to live (and I don't doubt that I will be able to do all of that), I'm sure I will have made a few more friends along the way, and I'll toast to the next phase in my life.

December 7, 2007

Talking about another city that is below sea level

This post doesn't have much to do with moving to Amsterdam. If you've been following this blog than you probably noticed I've been writing a lot about the documentary I want to make (which is a huge reason for my move to the Netherlands). My inspiration to be a documentary filmmaker only grows stronger when I watch films like Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. Though Hurricane Katrina is at the center of the story, it's really a film about New Orleans and how that city fits in to the rest of the United States. And that being said, it's a film about the United States that I don't think the rest of the world has ever really seen before.

I was visiting the US (from Paris) and staying with friends in Philadelphia when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I consider myself someone who is relatively familiar with NOLA as a visitor. I've been there three or four times, never to just be a tourist, but always because I had friends who lived there. I've stayed in the real houses and apartments, I knew how to get around, I had my favorite bar (The Funky Butt, which closed several years ago), I knew where I liked to shop, etc.

Watching Katrina destroy New Orleans on the news broke my heart. I knew what it meant to have stagnant water just sitting there in a city that is already below sea level. I thought about the disgusting humidity that all Southerners deal with in the late summer, the mosquitoes, the rats, the snakes.... I knew that NOLA had pretty much become an open sewer. Everyone I knew in New Orleans had air conditioning, even if they lived in a run down, cheap, tiny studio apartment and were making minimum wage. There was just no way to survive that heat and humidity without it. Obviously, the electricity was down for days after Katrina, so there was no relief from the heat. The heat... god, I remember being in New Orleans in the summertime and taking three or four showers a day, changing my clothes all the time, and feeling exhausted just walking down the street to the next air-conditioned restaurant. It can become sweltering - average temperatures for August are 90 (32 celsius), and the humidity often makes it feel like it's over 100 (over 37 celsius). Imagine that type of environment buried under water so deep that it covered houses. It became absolutely toxic.

When I got back to Paris in early September 2005, all of my friends - or even just people in the neighborhood who knew I was American (like the guy who worked at the fruit & vegetable market I frequented) - asked about Katrina right away. They all said the same thing "But... really? Is it really that bad? Are you okay? Did it happen near you?" Their concern was absolutely genuine. Then they would say "But how did it happen? I mean, it's the USA, you are a rich country...and it looks like the whole city was just destroyed.. How is that possible? Are people really left for dead in the street? In the US?"

Yes. THAT is the real United States. That is what my non-American friends don't see in Hollywood movies or on MTV or read about in magazines. People walked for miles and miles in the sweltering heat without food or water to try and leave the city on foot if they didn't have a car... and were told AT GUNPOINT to turn around and go back. Dead bodies of humans, dogs, rats, etc., were left wherever they fell for days. Almost makes it sound like a war, huh? Especially when the media started calling the millions of people - the millions of American citizens who lost their homes - "refugees." The dictionary definition of a refugee is "a person who flees for refuge or safety, esp. to a foreign country, as in time of political upheaval, war, etc."

Political upheaval, war, etc. I guess "a bad hurricane that everyone knew was coming" falls under "etc." This wasn't exactly a surprise. The hurricane was a category five. Scientists knew the levees could break.

Come on! How are we one of the richest countries in the world, with a super powerful army, big enough to go in and invade/occupy other countries, important enough to world politics so that our presidential election is front page news all over the world... how can all that be true, yet we can still call well-educated, tax-paying, American born and raised citizens "refugees?" Well, maybe it's because as I watched these people try to get the bare necessities for survival (food, water, shelter), I realized they couldn't. Maybe because they weren't free to walk across a bridge on American soil, from one town to the next. Maybe because after days and days of being trapped, when people did get out on planes they had no idea where they were flying. Maybe because ... there wasn't much difference between New Orleans residents in 2005 and real refugees in war-torn countries.

The way the US federal government failed to react to Katrina did not surprise me a bit. But I can understand why other people just simply didn't get it, especially if they've never been to the US. I understand the confusion. This documentary explains the history, explains the storm, and shows the aftermath with brutal honesty. My eyes kept welling up with tears when I wasn't fuming with anger.

When the Levees Broke was released by HBO in December 2006. I don't know why I waited so long to watch it, and if anyone reading hasn't already seen this film... put it at the top of your priority list. And if you have already seen the documentary... stay angry.

November 29, 2007

Documentary talk

The 20th annual International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam is taking place now. It began on Nov 22 and lasts through December 2. Eleven straight days of documentary screenings... I've been dreaming of attending this festival for years. It's just one more thing that appeals to me about living in Amsterdam - for such a small city, there's so much going on.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I finally got my hands on a camera and did some taping. It felt great to be behind the camera for my own project again ... It's literally been years since I've done that. It's very small scale stuff, but it taught me a great deal. For instance, every time I use the Sony HDV camera it's always too dark. Always. I need to stop assuming that what I see through the LCD screen is what I'll see on a regular TV screen. I realize that even though I'm using this swanky, somewhat hi-tech camera, in my head I'm operating on the same rules that I learned when I first started learning how to film oh... seven years ago. I love video and am in no way a "film is better" snob, but I understand film in a way that I don't understand video. When I'm adjusting the f-stop on the video camera, my mind almost always starts thinking about what f-stop I would use if I was looking through the lens of a B&W 35mm film camera or a bolex 16mm.

The only thing that that will get me up to speed and thinking digitally is practice, so that's what I'm doing. I'll be editing all weekend and my goal is to have something finished by mid-December.

I am pleased with some aspects of my filming. For instance, the sound is really great and everything seems pretty much in focus (doesn't sound like much, but I consider that an accomplishment!). I was able to make my subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera (and was lucky enough to work with people who weren't camera shy!). I had to ask some very sensitive questions during one of my interviews and wasn't sure if I would be able to get through it without reacting, but while I had the camera running I stayed very focused on the task at hand. I saved all the reaction for after I turned the camera off.

So back to the topic of living in Amsterdam... Even though it would obviously be easier for me (logistically and financially) to live there with a real job and have some kind of work permit, there's still a part of me that just wants to live off savings and a bit of freelance work while I actively pursue trying to get into the Binger Filmlab for September 2008. I actually just realized they also offer a Documentary Directors Coaching Programme, which may be more up my alley rather than the Creative Producers Programme.

All of the options in front of me are good ones, I just have to wait and see what happens. November flew by at the speed of light, and I hope the same is true for the next four months!

November 16, 2007

Inching closer

Lots of exciting work-related and documentary-related stuff going on, and fortunately both of those things are pushing me closer to Amsterdam. I had a meeting with someone from this commercial post-production editorial company that I have my eye on - the agency with offices in both Portland, OR and Amsterdam (and a very small operation in NYC). It went really well, and getting in with this company would be a really huge step in the right direction for my career AND my goal to live in Amsterdam. Right now all I can really do is hope for the best and keep on top of the situation.

Ideally, I could freelance in Portland for this company for a few months, and in the off time I would go to LA and do the office job. That would really be the absolute best-case scenario. Experience, money, the chance to live in a new city, the chance to move ahead in the lovely world of post-production.. it's all really exciting to consider.

Last weekend I went down to my old hometown, Philadelphia PA. I was lucky enough to have a long lunch with my former boss, Gretjen. I worked for her as the Program Assistant for a non-profit cinema for several years, and value her advice and input more than just about anyone. She's made really important documentaries, she's fought for public access to come to Philly, and she's currently the Program Director for Scribe Video Center. By the time we were done with our meal, I felt like I had real direction. I know what I have to do next (WRITE!), I have an idea how much money I need to raise, and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to go the fiscal sponsorship route rather than trying to start my own non-profit business. Gretjen's advice and guidance really means the world to me, and I spent hours on Saturday writing and researching. Very, very productive.

I also spent time in Philadelphia with good friends that I don't get to see too often. Over brunch one day, my friends were asking me all sorts of questions about Amsterdam - mostly practical questions like how much I expect to pay in rent. It felt really good to have an answer (or at least a very educated guess) to everything I was asked. I really have done my research! The more I tell people, the more I get "oh, I have a friend/cousin/brother/ in Amsterdam, I'll get you in touch with him/her if you want." Yes! I do want that! I got back in touch this Dutch guy Marcel, who was my Hospitality Club host during my third visit to Amsterdam in September 2006. Right away, he said "you are welcome at my house." That's an invitation I certainly won't turn down when the time comes. When I stayed at Marcel's apartment, that was the first time I saw "real" Amsterdam and completely fell in love with it. I didn't know at the time that I would end up planning to move there, of course, but it all kind of seems to make sense now.

November 3, 2007

Organizational habits

This past week was particularly crazy, between work and Halloween and just general ... craziness. So I took a few days "off" from my obsessive need to plan out this move. I genuinely like planning and making charts and spreadsheets and organizing notes and coming up with backup plans and backup-backup plans. It's what makes me good at my job, and hopefully means I'll be a good producer. I'm also sure this is a direct result of me being my mother's daughter - she sent me two different spreadsheets to explain how much money I could expect to make if I go to work at her company for 8 weeks with everything worked out to the penny.

Moving to Los Angeles for 8-10 weeks is still on the table, but I also had another option pop up out of nowhere early in the week. A friend of mine told me about an editorial house that had offices in Portland and Amsterdam. She had met with someone while she was in Portland a few months back and said "hey, you might as well see if they have anything." A company that has offices in both the US and the Netherlands is a dream situation. I sent the company my resume and a short email, and they responded quickly and quite positively. There is a position they need filled in Amsterdam, working with a young editor from NYC - seems to good to be true! I had a really great phone call on Monday and since then I've been going back and forth with emailing the woman who runs the Portland office. It's possible I could have a job in the Amsterdam office sometime next year, but of course, it's also possible that nothing could come from all of this talk and I'll end up working full time in LA... but what a great set of options!

I'm using my Amsterdam-Paris train ticket as a bookmark (since I'm still reading the same book I was reading when I was there last month), and every time I see it I get excited. Beyond my dreams of being a documentary filmmaker and my career goals, I just love knowing that I'll be back in Europe. I'll finally make it over to Poland to visit my friends out there, I'll get to spend more time in Germany, and maybe one day soon I'll even be able to afford a visit to those pricey Scandinavian countries. Paris will be just four short hours away by train and I'll be living in one of my favorite cities in the world. That makes all this planning worth it!

October 27, 2007

The big money question

It's hard to aggressively save money while living in one of the most expensive cities in the US (and the 15th most expensive city in the world), and saving money needs to shoot way up on my priority list if I'm really going to be able to make this whole life-abroad thing happen. I thought through all of the possibilites, tried to create some kind of budget based on this raise I'm supposed to get in December, got a bit of a reality check at work, and I came to a realization: it's just not going to happen here. I really want to move to Amsterdam with at the very least $5,000 in savings (which thanks to the shitty exchange rate right now, works out to be €3,474) , and I'm nowhere near close to that goal. So I came up with an idea, talked it over with my mom, and at this point it sounds like the most realistic option I have.

If it all works out with The People In Charge, I'm going to leave New York City at the end of Janurary 2008 and move into her house in Los Angeles, California until April 15th. While I'm living at her house (which has plenty of room) I'll be exempt from paying rent and I'll work about 50 hours a week at her accounting firm. I've worked for them in the past and they were pleased with my performence, and since they always need extra help in tax season... it looks like I'll be welcome on board again. I'll make more than double what I make now and my only real expenses will be food, gas, and my cell phone bill.

This is going to be a pretty drastic move for me, even though it's only temporary (8-10 weeks). I haven't lived with one of my parents since I was a teenager, I haven't driven a car (which is necessary for LA) on a regular basis since 2001, and I don't even particularly like Los Angeles. However, I do have a lot of family and friends that live out there, and I might be able to meet some good film contacts if I make the effort. And most importantly, I would be able to save a lot of money - enough to get an apartment in Amsterdam. This does push my moving date back a bit - I orginally wanted to be in Amsterdam by mid-March, but arriving in mid-April shouldn't mess up any plans. I still want to apply for that Creative Producers Program at Binger, but the website says:

"The selection procedure takes place in two stages: a meeting of the international selection committee and an interview of the short-listed applicants.This procedure takes place between 5 and 6 weeks from the application deadline, and applicants are advised as to the outcome within 5 working days of the final interview."

Since the application deadline is March 15... if I was accepted and placed on the short list, I could arrive in Amsterdam right around the time I would need to be there for an interview.

It's a little shocking to think that if I follow through with this plan, I have just a little over three months left in New York City. That doesn't seem like much time, so I better do my best to make it count!

October 25, 2007

One idea...

I've been getting a lot of really amazing support from my family about the upcoming move, which means the world to me. Really, I couldn't ask for a better network of friends and family, and it really does feel good to know that people believe in me.

Since it doesn't look like I have to spend a lot of time and energy doing a visa application, I get to spend all my time and energy getting my shit together, to put it bluntly. I need to update my resume and possibly put together a reel, though honestly, I don't have anything I would be willing to put on a reel at this point. So in the next few months, I need to get back into producing my own video projects. I'm going to start making a series of short documentaries - no more than five or six minutes - and putting them up on the web once every 8 weeks. I would love to do more than that, but I honestly don't know when I'm going to find time to even start researching the first project. I suppose that one of the benefits to being totally broke this month is spending lots of time at home, where in theory I can get a lot of work done. Before I move to Amsterdam, I'm going to need a very polished resume, a newly updated website, and a final draft of my film proposal. I need to start applying for grants, figuring out what type of equipment I need to buy, and of course, I need to save money.

I've been looking at this school with great interest lately, especially their Creative Producers Program, which sounds like it would be perfect for me. It's a five-month program that would begin in September 2008, which is great timing. If I move to Amsterdam in March/April 2008, I could spend three or four months focusing on learning Dutch, continuing to make short documentaries and trying to find subjects for the longer documentary project. Then in July/Aug of '08, I would like to spend 4-5 weeks in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia doing a lot more "in the field" type of research (and maybe even some filming). Then, if I can get into this school and the program really is as good as it sounds, I could study for the next five months. I really like that this school is specifically a post-academic training facility and is meant for people who have already have professional experience. Again, if it's as good as it sounds, it would be a wonderful way to meet other filmmakers, writers, directors, etc. They even offer scholarships, which would certainly come in very handy in my situation.

It's been a little over three weeks since I made the decision to move to Amsterdam. I have been thinking about it for a long time, but it wasn't until I was there in early October that I was able to be sure. Of course, until I actually step foot in the country again everything is subject to change - but my mom said it best. "I know you, and if you decide that you want to do something, you're going to find a way." She's right.

October 22, 2007

Coming up with a plan

I intended to write up this post with all the paperwork next to me, but me and my paperwork aren't in the same spot right now, so let's just see if I can do this off the top of my head.

If I understand everything correctly, it seems like there's not much that I can do before I get to Amsterdam in terms of telling them I want to live there. Because I'm American, I don't have to apply for an MVV (Machtiging voor Voorlopig Verblijf - authorisation for a temporary stay) before I get there. This is a huge difference between France and the Netherlands (in a good way!). When I moved to Paris, I had to apply for a long-stay visa while I was still in the states (which required three separate trips to the French consulate in Washington DC) and then basically repeat the entire process when I got to France. But in moving to the Netherlands, I get to skip this step altogether ... which is just bizarre and kind of wonderful. The only people who DON'T need the MVV are EU/EER nationals, Americans, New Zealanders, Australians, and of course anyone from Switzerland. My nationality also exempts me from having to take a TB test once I'm there, and again, that's something I had to do in Paris (and that chest X-ray cost a lot of money).

However, once I arrive in Amsterdam, I'll have to go to the City Hall in the municipality where I live and apply for a residence permit. This requires a ton of paperwork and a lot of money... between €330-430, depending on which permit I apply for. I know that sounds extreme, but when I think about how much I ended up paying altogether for my Paris visa and carte de sejour, it's actually about the same. The residence permit application gets sent off to the IND (Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Dpt), and they have six months to decide if they want to let me stay. And during that time period, I'm considered legal. This page explains everything rather simply, though the first place I learned about all this was the 30-page IND brochure, which gives a lot more details.

If I'm granted the residence permit, it will be good for one year, which I think is great. One year will be enough time for me to figure out if this whole Amsterdam thing is a good idea, and if everything is going well, I'll be able to extend the permit (the IND will send me an extension application three months before the first one expires).

I still have a huge amount to do (like save money) to prepare for this move, but it's all very manageable and just requires a lot of self-motivation. The hard stuff will happen once I'm there - like finding a place to live in one of the most most over-crowded cities in Europe. That may have scared me a few years ago, but after budget apartment-hunting in NYC (which was even more difficult than Paris) on two separate occasions, nothing can scare me. Even the prices in Amsterdam aren't a huge concern, and again, I have living in NYC and Paris to thank for that.

October 18, 2007

The obvious questions

I've come to terms with the fact that I am not going to find a magic loophole that will allow me to obtain an EU passport. My closest European relative was a great-grandfather who was born in Ireland, which doesn't help me. And let's be honest, I don't have any super amazing skills or talents that Amsterdam is just dying to have that they can't find in a Dutch or EU person.

"So how will you make money?"

Good question.

I did get one lead on an American post-production facility that has an Amsterdam office. The best case scenario is that I would find a company to sponsor me - not totally unrealistic, but it's nothing I can count on.

The best chance I have of making money, assuming I can't find a "real" job in Amsterdam, is to continue doing freelance work for this accounting firm in Los Angeles and the tour company in Paris. The accounting work is great and pays well and could be a huge means of support - I would even be able to get documentation from them proving that they'll keep paying me no matter where I live. The tour company might be paying me to research and design new walking tours, and even train the guides at the start of the season. I also know that once I'm IN Amsterdam, opportunities will present themselves (they always do).

The other thing I'm not totally ruling out is coming back to the states once or twice a year for a few months at a time to work in NYC. There's always work in NYC, and I feel pretty established in this city now. I have pretty good contacts and I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't be difficult for me to freelance here. Sometime in the next month or so, I'm going to start telling everyone I know who works in tv/film production to keep me in mind if there are ANY European projects that need someone on location. The best way to find work is still through personal recommendations and word-of-mouth.

The real question is, how am I going to convince the Netherlands to give me a residence permit and allow me to live legally in Amsterdam? - that's something I'll go into in my next post.

"So, do you know Dutch?"

No. I do plan to learn the language when I get there. I also know that I could probably manage a very long time without learning the language - that's the curse of moving to a city where pretty much everyone speaks flawless English.

"Do you even have any friends or family in Amsterdam?"

Well, there's exactly two people there that I count as good friends. There's one other guy (also from upstate NY) with whom I drank beer and talked about photography with for about 30 minutes, and he seems really nice. But no, I don't really have a huge group of friends out there. Fortunately, I do still have a lot of friends in Paris, and a few others scattered around Europe. I know there will be homesickness and it's going to feel somewhat lonely at first, but that I can handle.

I have spent a lot of time in the past week or so going through Dutch immigration law and informing myself of all the options that are available to me. In my next post I'll go through everything I've learned and try to figure out the best plan of action.

So... why Amsterdam?

Lots of different reasons, but there's one reason that is more important than just liking the bikes and the attitude of the city.

I have plans to make a documentary about the rebuilding of Sarajevo (and possibly other cities in Bosnia and Serbia) - not just the physical rebuilding, but rebuilding the spirit. This topic is something I've been thinking about ever since I was lucky to spend about 3 weeks traveling around Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia in August 2006. Ever since I graduated from college, all I've wanted to do is make documentaries. Other than travel, this is my passion. For as idealistic as it may sound, I want to do something that will help change the world - I will always hold on to the belief that things can get better with enough communication, education, and information. Once I was done with formal education, I realized that the way I was keeping informed and the way I was still learning was by watching documentaries. I took film classes in college and I had big plans to make all kinds of movies... and I did make a few, just for fun, with friends. I was fortunate enough to work at a great non-profit, independent cinema from age 22-25 and was a big part of the Philadelphia independent film community. My boss was an amazing woman - in addition to running a huge film program, she was an activist and did camera work for Big Tea Party on the side. I learned so much from her over the years, and even got to be involved in some Big Tea Party productions.

I have two bosses at my current job, and both of them are brilliant executive producers. They're both British and both women - and I mention that because those are two things that don't make it any easier to be successful in the United States. Film and TV Production is still a male-dominated world, and an accent still isn't always looked upon favorably here. I consider myself very lucky and very fortunate to have worked under such brilliant women in my short career. My bosses are also Emmy-nominated documentary filmmakers. Two of the documentaries that they produced were released on HBO this year to all types of critical acclaim. Over the past year, I have learned so much from them that it almost makes the low salary and lack of health coverage worth it (only in the US can someone work on salary for more than 40 hours a week and still have no health insurance at all).

And now I'm finally going to make my own film. The timing is right, the idea is there, and now I just have to make it happen. In order to do this right, I'm going to need to go to Bosnia and Serbia at least twice a year for 3-4 weeks at a time, if not more. A lot of the inspiration for the film comes from my friend Lada, a young Bosnian woman who currently lives in Paris (we met and became friends on an organic farm in the north of France in May 2005). Amsterdam is only 4 hours away from Paris by train, and although I adore Paris, it's just not where I want to live. Maybe I will again one day, but it won't happen anytime soon. So when I started thinking about other European cities that I could call home, the first thing I thought about was Amsterdam. It has everything I need - close proximity to Paris, a thriving arts community, the amazing bike culture, and it's a huge transportation hub to the rest of Europe.

That brings me to all the other reasons I want to live in Amsterdam. I simply want to be back in Europe. I miss traveling, I miss the feeling of waking up on a train and not knowing what country I'm in, I miss being surrounded by a society that values travel and languages. While I was living in Paris, I visited at least 20 different countries. Having the freedom to travel and expose myself to different cultures simply by taking a short train ride is very important to me.

And of course, anyone who is into biking would fall in love with the bike culture in Amsterdam, and I'm no different. It almost seems like a fantasy land at first, and I admit, I haven't quite gotten over that.

So now there's all these practical questions to answer, like "but how will you make money?" and "what about the language?" and "but you just barely know two people in that entire city, are you sure you want to leave your family, friends, and job behind?"

The answer to the last question is Yes, I am sure. And the answers to all the other questions will come in the next blog post. Now it's time for me to get back to my Dutch immigration research...

October 16, 2007

The Introduction

I decided to start this blog to specifically keep track of my moving-to-Amsterdam progress. Now that I've made the decision and told my friends and family about my intentions to relocate, it's time to get the ball rolling... there's lots to do.

I'm originally from upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley. I moved to New Jersey when I was 18 to go to school, and stayed in Jersey until late 2002. From there it was off to Philadelphia, PA, where I lived happily for 2+ years, until March 2005. On March 8, 2005, I moved to Paris, France with my then-boyfriend. We didn't have a "real" reason for wanting to live in Paris, other than falling in love with the city when we visited in 2001 (but really, that's not so hard to do), and we both left behind good jobs and a lot of stability - it was the best decision I ever made.

The only thing that really set me apart from the other expats living Paris was my lack of a "reason" to be there. I wasn't in school, I didn't have a job, and I didn't speak French. Yet I was granted a long-stay visa by the French consulate before I left the US, and once I got to Paris I spent about 8 months dealing with the process of getting a carte de sejour. The many, many visits to the police stations and doctors offices and city halls and whatnot were hardly what I would call fun - but it all worked out in the end and at no point was I ever living in France illegally. That's the other thing that set me apart from most expats I knew! While I lived in Paris I tried my best to learn the language and spent a great deal of time traveling. I had saved a lot of money before moving abroad and worked odd jobs in Paris for cash - dog-walking, baby-sitting, and teaching English. I enjoyed teaching English more than I thought I would, but that may have had something to do with my students - two Japanese kids who were already almost fluent. In March 2006 I was hired to be a tour guide (2 hour long walking tours) and finally started to earn a regular income. It was a great job - I worked about 4 hours a day and got to meet people from all over the world, right there in my home city. It also prompted me to learn a lot about French History and do something I love - walk around Paris!

I moved back to New York City in late October, 2006. After almost two years of not working that much and traveling around, I was actually anxious to get back to work in my field. I started a job with a great TV/Film production company in Manhattan, where I'm still currently employed. I do a little bit of everything. Though my title is Post-Production Supervisor, I also help out with coordinating productions, managing the office, supervising the interns, updating the website, and act as an assistant editor when needed. I really love my job - it's drastically different every day and I get to work around smart, interesting, and creative people.

So why would I want to leave and move to Amsterdam?

Well, lots of reasons, but I'll save that for another post. First I want to explain why I started this blog.

When I decided to move to Paris, I had a huge amount of support and help from random strangers that I met on the internet. There's a lot I can learn from the Dutch consulate in NYC, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND), and so on. But the most helpful tool to find out how to REALLY get this stuff done and what to REALLY expect comes from reading blogs and getting to know people online. I've spent hours googling expat-in-Amsterdam blogs and have already learned way more than the IND could have told me.

One day, I hope this blog helps out another expat the same way all of the blogs on the internet are helping me. With any luck, I'll have a successful story when everything is said and done, and I'll be publishing from a beautiful cafe across the street from an Amsterdam canal, my bike locked up nearby and a fresh apple strudel on my plate.