This interview is a follow-up to an article in which we used Oleksandr’s insights and our own internal knowledge to describe how you can move to the Netherlands as a highly skilled migrant.
Oleksandr Savin started working for one of our Dutch clients as a QA engineer at our office in Kharkiv in 2014, and a year later relocated to Holland to work at his company’s Amsterdam office.
Daxx: Oleksandr, why did you decide to move to the Netherlands and how long have you been living there?
Oleksandr: I’ve been living here for about six months. I decided to move because I was interested in the project I was going to work on, and not so much because I specifically wanted to live in the Netherlands. If the company was based in any other country, I’d have moved there instead. But I do like it in the Netherlands. The country has a lot of characteristics that make it special.
Daxx: Could you give us an example?
Oleksandr: Social equality is very well-developed in the Netherlands. The middle class is very strong; there aren’t many rich people here, and not many poor ones either. The government helps the poor in many different ways, while the rich pay high taxes so that everyone has approximately the same quality of life.
Daxx: Have you noticed any differences in the mentality of Dutch people and Ukrainians?
Oleksandr: The Dutch are very straightforward, and Ukrainians aren’t like that at all.
Daxx: How does that affect your work?
Oleksandr: Here’s a good example. My boss offered me the job right after he interviewed me – that would have never happened to me back home.
Daxx: Are you learning Dutch?
Oleksandr: My wife and I are learning Dutch at a language school, not that you can’t survive without it. Everyone here speaks English really well.
In fact, knowing four or five foreign languages is considered the norm here. You risk being called an uneducated dummy if you only know two foreign languages (laughs).
Daxx: How long did it take you to find a place to live in Amsterdam?
Oleksandr: We started off living in Airbnb apartments, which obviously wasn’t very comfortable because we had to move all the time.
I contacted five different letting agencies over the course of a month. Two of them asked me to show a document stating that I’ve passed my trial period at work as well as a bank statement showing my income over the last three months. I couldn’t do that because I hadn’t made any money in the Netherlands yet, so these agencies refused to look for an apartment for us.
But the other three agencies agreed to help, so we left a request and specified the price range that suited us, and then they either sent us pictures of apartments or invited us to visit them ourselves.
The search took us approximately two months, and then we had to wait for another month until the current tenants moved out.
In the meantime we reviewed the lease. I wanted ours to say that I’d have a personal parking place next to the house and that we could use the apartment for doing business. Lena, my wife, was planning to provide manicure services at home, so she wanted to be able to use our home address as her business address.
Daxx: In what part of Amsterdam do you live?
Oleksandr: I actually live 30 kilometers away from Amsterdam, in Hilversum. My office is located on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which is great, because it’s always difficult to get to the city center.
I usually drive to work, which takes me about half an hour. When I use public transport the journey takes me about 50 minutes. Trains are very comfortable, and I wouldn’t mind taking them every day if it wasn’t more expensive than going by car.
Daxx: Does your company cover the cost of your commute?
Oleksandr: Most companies do regardless of how you get to work, but only if it takes you more than 20 minutes to get there. My company compensates €0.19 per kilometer.
Even if the company you work for doesn’t cover your travel expenses, you can fill out a special clause in your tax declaration and reclaim some of the money you’ve spent on your daily commute.
Daxx: What is the average rent in Amsterdam?
An apartment in the city center will cost you at least €1,500 per month. A place on the outskirts costs about €1,000.
Daxx: What about work culture differences? Have you noticed any?
Oleksandr: I definitely don’t have as many team building events and perks as I used to in Kharkiv. You can pay €50 per month for lunch at work, but that’s as far as it goes.
Here, people come to work to work, and nothing else. At 8 a.m. most of my colleagues are already at their desks. I start at about 9–9:30, which is pretty late by Dutch standards.
Everyone is very efficient and no one works overtime. They’d rather postpone a release than stay after hours. You’re the only one responsible for your work, and no one is going to breathe down your neck and push you to work harder.
Another interesting thing which you would never see in Ukraine is that because of the progressive tax system, many people here aren’t interested in getting a raise.
Instead, they negotiate working less for the same amount of money. Our office manager, for instance, works only two days per week, and a few other employees only work three days per week.
Daxx: Now that you’ve tried being both a remote QA engineer and an in-house employee, what tips on managing an offshore team can you share?
Oleksandr: If we talk about managing a team of Ukrainians, I think there definitely should be a team lead among them who’d link the developers and the employer.
Alternatively, the client could hire a local team lead that comes from Ukraine. That way, you get a much better level of understanding on every level.
Daxx: What tools does your company use to manage a distributed team?
Our main development centers are in the Netherlands and Ukraine, a couple of our developers are based in Scotland and Luxembourg, and we also have sales representatives in the US, China, and Australia.
We all use Hangouts or Skype for daily communication, Jira for task tracking, and Google Docs for documentation.
Daxx: Is your employment contract temporary or permanent?
Oleksandr: Normally, when you start working somewhere, you sign a temporary contract for a year, which is what I signed. You can have up to three temporary contracts with the same employer, and the next one you sign is permanent by default.
A permanent employment contract gives you a lot of benefits. One of them is that you can get a mortgage, which a temporary contract doesn’t allow. What’s more, the mortgage interest isn’t subject to tax, though bear in mind that your mortgage can’t exceed the equivalent of five annual salaries (more on Dutch mortgages here).
Daxx: And what happens when your contract expires? Are you allowed to stay in the Netherlands?
Oleksandr: If you relocate as a highly skilled migrant, all your residence and work permits are tied to a specific employer. If you decide to quit, you need to have a new job the next day after you leave, and your new employer needs to have already submitted all the necessary immigration paperwork.
That being said, if your employer wants to let you go, they’re required to give you a few months to find another job.
Basically, as an employee, you don’t get a lot of freedom to switch jobs. Your family members, on the other hand, can do whatever they want – get hired, start a business, or stay unemployed and receive unemployment benefits.
Daxx: What are your tips for someone who wants to move to the Netherlands?
My number one piece of advice is to save plenty of money – at least a few thousand euros. There are many things you’ll need to pay for before you start making money in the Netherlands. For example, you’ll definitely have to pay a big deposit before moving into a rental apartment.
If you drive at home and are planning to continue to drive in the Netherlands, get proof of accident-free driving from your car insurer because the cost of your Dutch car insurance will depend on the number of accident-free driving years you have on your record.
I couldn’t get it because I’d changed insurers, so I had to claim zero driving experience even though I’d actually been driving for five years. Because of that, my car insurance costs €60 per month, while someone with my experience would normally pay €15.
I also recommend you take out legal expenses insurance immediately after arrival. It covers all work, driving, and lease-related issues, and a lot more. It becomes valid three months after your arrival and costs €11 per month, which is a pretty good price for being able to sleep tight knowing you can always contact a lawyer who’ll look after your interests.
Daxx: Finally, could you estimate the cost of living in the Netherlands?
Here’s an approximation of how much my wife and I spend per month:
Rent: €1,000 (tax included)
General taxes: €750
Car (insurance + tax + gas + service): €400
Public transport: €150
Education (intensive Dutch course): €490
Food (groceries + eating out): €400
Healthcare (standard health insurance): €200