One week ago, the International Service Desk of Maastricht was officially opened with speech and song. The unpersoned desk offers computers with access to four Web resources specific to Maastricht region and information that international members of the community may need. A cute sitting area has also been added, although I’m not sure what it will be used for. Since one of the reasons I maintain this blog is to promote better information for expats, it seemed best that I checked out and report back on what this new service has to offer. By way of disclosure, some of my articles are reprinted with the Maastricht Region website which is associated with the desk.
I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that the service desk was going in. The four websites you can access are accessible from any Internet connection, so ultimately you don’t ever need to go to the service desk unless you have another reason to be at the Gemeente. I think that is the sort of resource you would make the most use of early in your arrival when you do not have your own Internet connection set up and are still going through paperwork that requires your presence at the town hall. So far no additional resource is such as English-language forms etc. have been added to the desk, although there are plans to expand the service in 2010.
The desk is opened the same hours as the Gemeente, which might make it inconvenient if you need to visit on the weekend, but everything is accessible online right now so that’s not a problem yet.
Monday – Wednesday: 08.30 – 16.30 hours
Thursday : 08.30 – 19.00 hours
Friday: 08.30 – 12.30 hours
Maastricht.nl: The Gemeente’s own website which has some basic information in English (German & French too) but more available in Dutch.
ExpatGuideHolland.com: A well organized resource aimed at expats moving to or in this southern region. Much of the information is general enough that it would refer to most of the Netherlands. Frankly I wish I had explored this resource much earlier in our move.
ZichtOpMaastricht.nl: This site may not be immediately useful to an expat but it does have some information you could use to learn your way around the city and about the history of the area. They also have some audio guides which are nice to listen to. The Dutch side is more extensive of course.
MaastrichtRegion.com: The site covers more specific information about the Maastricht region, including links out to some real estate and job boards (although I don’t know how far you can explore from the international service desk). Many of the links on this site go back to the Expat Guide Holland, so there is some duplicated information. Has a Dutch side as well aimed at native residents.
In an effort to apply something of a scientific method to my interaction with the new desk, I prepared three questions that I currently need information about. I actually have found information previously about these questions so I had some prior knowledge of what I might expect to find. I think they are representative of questions one might have after only having been in Maastricht for under year. Here are my results:
Question one: how can I put my mail on hold while I am on vacation?
To my surprise this question was actually the only one not answered by the International Service Desk. It requests very specific information but information about something that most expats will have to do at some point. I suspected that I already knew the answer to this question, but when I was unable to locate an answer through the computers I ask the Municipal Service Desk instead. The answer? Go to your nearest TNT post office and request a hold by placed. I haven’t done so yet, but once I do I will write up a more detailed description of the process.
Question two: What insurance should I buy?
While this isn’t really a question that can be answered broadly since everyone has differing insurance needs, I did find my answer at Expat Guide Holland which I thought offered the best rundown of available insurances that I’ve seen online yet. The descriptions are short but clear and include the name of each insurance in Dutch as well as in English. I discovered that the only required insurances are health insurance, car insurance if you own a car, and homeowner insurance if you own a house. The site also said that most people carry personal liability insurance and household contents insurance. This fits with information I’ve found previously on the subject.
Question three: Are there any entrepreneur support organizations in Maastricht?
I have visited the KvK (Chamber of Commerce) before and pose this question with little success, but I thought there might be more information here. I did discover on the Maastricht.nl website that there is a Business Contact Center at the Gemeente where business owners can get more information about doing business in Maastricht. The KvK was also mentioned, but the computers at the international service desk will not allow you to surf to their website for more information. I feel that this information is incomplete as I know there is a student entrepreneurial group through Maastricht University.
Overall I think that the desk is a good start, but because you can get all of the information available online there needs to be additional services provided to bring you to the Gemeente. I would like to see an actual reference librarian or adviser available for expats to help them answer those situation specific questions that we all have. Non-Dutch language translation of important documents or service that will help with the translations would also be invaluable, as signing documents you cannot read yet can be nerve-racking and legally dangerous. Fortunately the city seems to have plans to make improvements so I stay optimistic.
I am gratified that the city of Maastricht is making these steps and I look forward to future improvements to the International Service Desk and their support of international members of the community.