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Flying Home with Cats in Tow

And we’re back, but only for a limited showing. Now that Dan and I have moved out of Maastricht, I’ll only be making a few more posts before officially moving my blogging activities over to a new site. The website won’t be going away right away, but do expect to see changes some time in the future. I’d like the articles to continue to be available for new expats; in as much as they can be useful as things change. But for now, let’s talk cats.

The number one question I’ve gotten with our move back to the United States is “What about the cats?”. Would we be moving them? How? Do they have to be in quarantine?

Of course since the cats came with us from the US, we knew they would return there with us. I just didn’t expect US regulation on cats to be so straight forward. The USDA regulates the import of all animals, pets or for resale, and while their regulations on dogs and birds are pretty strict, about the only thing you need for a cat flown in cabin or hold is an inspection upon arrival. The inspection runs about $100 and they recommend you contact the airport before your flight to make sure someone is on hand. We avoided this inspection, as you’ll see below.

KLM/Delta in contrast has more strict regulations. They both required a rabies booster shot and a statement of health that was no more than 7 days old. We used a Pet Passport, an EU standard document for pet records, which was very handy. I hope that our vets here will be able to continue using it to track our cats’ visits and inoculations. Naturally the airline also had strict, and sometimes contradictory, regulations for the carrier, when to feed your pet before flight, etc. We were told to follow Delta’s rules since it was their airplane we’d be flying on (even though we booked through KLM). Finally you’ve got to get pre-approved to bring a pet aboard an airplane. Since there is limited space and other restrictions, it’s a good idea to get that approval early, as we discovered.

Flying Freight

The trickiest and more frustrating part of moving the cats actually arose from the time of year. In the winter most airlines restrict when you can transport a cat in the hold; generally because not all airplane holds are heated or because the animal could end up sitting on the cold tarmac. KLM/Delta had strict temperature rules, which is fine, but seemed unable to enforce them evenly. That was a problem. After weeks of no response from KLM, I contacted Delta (whose airplane we would be on) and they told me the cats could not fly in the hold. It would be too cold out in Amsterdam (remember how warm it was in early January? Seriously Delta?).
Of course Delta somehow didn’t communicate their decision to KLM and when we checked in the airline rep wanted to know where our animals were. Oh well.

Our alternative? Flying air cargo on the same plane. This meant we would have to contract with a third party company and paying 3 times as much. The paperwork was, fortunately, the same and the company we used did include carriers and pick up in Maastricht so we didn’t have to drive the cats up to Amsterdam with us.

In fact, except for the cost I was pretty cool with the cats going air cargo. They were on the same plane as us, I knew they would overnight in a proper pet hotel, and we got a day to clean up without pets under foot. Unfortunately the positive aspects of the experience were overshadowed by 2 hours of driving around Logan airport and the docks in Boston trying to get someone to sign our import documents. We had been given the impression that the contractor was taking care of all the clearance documentation and we just had to pick our cats up. Instead we had to track down an official who had the ability to release the animals to us. An official we found on in an office building several miles away in the docks for cruise ships. My takeaways?


  1. I’ll never use VCK Logistics as a pet carrier again. I don’t know who got their lines crossed, but I wasn’t impressed.
  2. If you bring animals in cargo into Logan Airport, give plenty of time to do paperwork.

Fortunately both Agatha and Einstein have settled in well over the last several weeks. They like their new, bigger space in my inlaws’ basement and I suspect the kibble they’re getting now might be a little less fattening. They’ve both lost weight, but they seriously needed it.

Catching the Elusive Job Monster

I’ve been back out on the trail of the elusive day job (the teaching position didn’t work out), so I thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject. There are a lot of places in the Netherlands where finding a non-Dutch speaking job is possible, but, unfortunately for me, Maastricht isn’t really one of them. Although there are a few English-speaking and international companies in the area, many are seeking people with multiple language skills. And frankly most people with a higher education also speak excellent English in this area. So competition on the English-only/monolingual market is quite stiff. If you do speak Dutch (and I mean enough to hold an interview in that language), you’ll have an easier time of it. I haven’t been hired yet, but here’s a few thoughts that have gotten me to the interview stage.

The Hunt

The job monster at rest. Photo (cc) sskennel.

When we first moved to the region, I started my job hunt with the various employment and temp services in the city. This is a pretty typical way to find a job in the Netherlands, even for things like housecleaning and waitressing. The overwhelming response from everyone was “No Dutch, No Job”. Simple as that. One or two places did have the caveat that if you work in finance or science, there are sometimes openings for English-only, but I didn’t have those skills, so I didn’t pursue that angle. There are a few Dutch employment agencies that cater to expats and multilingual people, but none of them extend their influence into the Maastricht region.

Instead I found more success searching for jobs via online job site, although personal contacts are certainly beneficial if you have them. Since the number of available jobs in English is low, I generally just do a regional search for “English”. Especially on the all Dutch sites, this will pop out a job description written in English; which are the ones I was looking for. Here are a few sites to get you started:

  • Look under Vacatures. I’ve found one job to apply to via this site.
  • BanenRijkLimburg: Limburg oriented job site for people with college and postgrad degrees.
  • A Dutch only job site for the Limburg area. I’ve found one job to apply to via this site.
  • Maastricht Region: A general resource site that includes a Job Opportunities section in English. The listings are provided by BanenRijkLimburg above.

You can see more job sites under my Expat Resources or if you’re really desperate take a look at Craigslist (underused in the Netherlands). Sources like Expatica tend to be more Holland oriented.

It’s a good idea to apply directly to employers in your area of expertise, particularly in academia where English-only or Dutch-optional jobs are a little more common. I keep an eye on Maastricht University (technically an English-language campus) and the area’s international schools for openings.

The best advice is to know what you do and don’t want to do, and then to stay flexible. I’ve had to look at my skills from different angles to make them slot into the available jobs. Not that I’ve applied to jobs I can’t do; I’ve just learned from my year in self-employment that the walls between jobs are squishy and something you considered trivial in one job maybe just what the new one needs.

Patience & luck are virtues as well. I went ahead and started my own business to carry me over until there was something available that I was qualified to do (and self-employment has actually improved many of my skills and made me more employable.)

The Trap

Do lobster traps work on jobs? Photo (cc) shino 誌野

Setting “the trap” (a no-kill one, you want that job right?) with your cover letter and resume in the Netherlands is pretty straight forward if you’re use to the American tradition. You’ll need to include a letter describing why you’re the person for the job, as well as either a resume or a CV. Generally employers seem to ask for a CV, but since my actual CV is 3 pages long with childhood retail jobs, I generally pare things down to the relevant positions. I like to include factual, descriptive explanations of what my jobs entailed as well since the jobs I’m applying to are not necessarily a straight line from my previous positions.

I’ve never been good at crowing about my accomplishments, so shifting to a less boastful cover letter has been easy for me. Keep it accurate and to-the-point. Most Dutch employers are not looking to hire you because you think you’re awesome. But don’t be afraid to regard your native English tongue as an asset. If you’re looking at English-only jobs, that’s really what the employer wants you for.

The Interview

Make sure the job monster isn't hungry during the interview. Photo (cc) Ped-X-Ing

Ok, I couldn’t think of a good metaphor for this one, but interviewing is naturally the next step in the job hunt process. Like in the United States you could be looking at a variety of interviewing situations. If you’re applying for a job where you’ll need to speak Dutch, I imagine your interview will also be in that language, but if you’re applying to an English-only position, the interview ought to be in that language. If you’re not comfortable in Dutch, ask to speak in English.

I’ve had a couple of interviews in Maastricht and found that the interviewers in both cases were happy to speak in my native language. My most recent one was a multiple person, in-person interview where we really just got down to brass tacks. I was asked why I wanted the job, but I didn’t have to answer those awkward roleplaying questions you sometimes get in the US.

Closing the Deal

Thank you for this opprotunity Job Monster. Photo (cc) yngrich

I haven’t quite made it to this point yet (fingers crossed), but there are a few things to keep in mind when accepting a job offer. The first is that, in the Netherlands, you can usually count on a 13th-month bonus and a holiday bonus, each of which are often equivalent to a month’s salary. Ask your employer about it. Also, you are not obliged to take the health insurance your employer offers you (you can stay with your current NL carrier if you desire), but the one sponsored by your employer sometimes will be offered at a slight discount. So it’s worth checking out.

Employment law in the Netherlands generally favors the employee, making it difficult to fire people, etc. Some companies do real backflips to try and keep their options open, so you should carefully read your contract. Or (more likely if you’re like me) get someone to read it for you. It’s not legal if it’s not in Dutch.

For more information about employment in the Netherlands that is less tainted by my personal experience, check out Maastricht Region’s Working section and IAmExpat’s Career section.

Photos are all used under the Creative Commons-Attribution License and are (in order) by sskennel, shino 誌野, Ped-X-Ing and yngrich.

Guess Who’s a Working Stiff

Ok, without the purple hair or orange worm.

That’s right. Me. Now when people ask me the inevitable question “what do you do?” I can tell them I teach English to adults at a trade school. Maybe now they will stop assuming I’m unemployed when I say I’m a freelancer.

But let me back up.

I’ve been wanting a part time job that takes me out of the house and force me to interact with real people since we moved to the Netherlands. While my business has brought me some income and taught me a lot, it doesn’t really help me meet people or improve my Dutch. So when an advertisement seeking a native English speaker came across my desk, I felt I had to apply. To my surprise and despite my lack of classroom teaching experience (or teaching credentials), I got an interview and then a job teaching in the evenings twice a week (3 teaching hours).

I’m a Teacher?

So a bit about this gig. Leeuwenborgh Opleidingen is a “technical high school” where students prepare for a trade (an MBO) rather than to go to University. English is taught because the language is so commonly used in the Netherlands and, in some cases, can be necessary for people to obtain jobs in their chosen field.

The classes I’ll be teaching are evening courses for the ‘techieck’ department, which provides training in technology, electronics, that sort of thing. Most of my students will be adults who are returning to school to improve their skills, change jobs, or because their workplace wants them to specifically learn English. I’m hoping they’ll be pretty self-motivated (and maybe a bit easier to teach than 15-18 year olds).

Native English speakers are valuable because of our life-long experience with the language; so much so that apparently my weak Dutch ability and lack of classroom experience isn’t a problem. It’s really going to be a steep learning curve for both myself and the people I’m teaching. Hopefully the weekly language teacher meetings will help me bridge that gap faster.

Starting up my Dutch lessons again will probably help too.

Heading through the front door.

Employee Red Tape

This is, of course, the first time I’ve had to deal with the hiring process in the Netherlands. As a teacher, I am required to have a background check run. Plus I need to show that I have health insurance (or sign up), decide if I want to sign up for workers comp, and figure out my travel expenses. I’ll be taxed at the regular Dutch rate for my tiny amount of income, but I will get a 13th month and holiday bonus; so that’s a plus.

The background check is called (I think) Verklaring Omtrent het Gedrag and so far has been very easy to deal with. My new employer filled out most of the form, I added in my personal information and then took the form to the Gemeente so they can send it along to whatever agency checks to see if I’m a masked vigilante, etc. The cost is only 30,05 euros. Now I’m from out of the country, so there may be some trouble getting approval, but I’ll cross that bridge in 4 week if I need to.

Tax-wise, apparently I fall unevenly into a category of people who work two jobs and therefore need to pay more taxes on their second job. (I know, seems unfair.) However…my other job is my business. I’ll have to talk to my accountant of what effect these three hours of employment are going to have on my taxes come the end of the year. Not much I imagine.

Besides that the rest of the paperwork is slowly falling into place and I’m exploring the textbook and program I’ll be using to teach with. Since I’m suppose to start next week, I do hope the school gets my teaching schedule to me soon. I’d like more than a day’s notice to prepare if possible. Wish me luck! And if you have teaching experience, feel free to share it below.

Put in on Credit: The Rabobank Way

creditcardDan and I made it over a year with only a Dutch bank card, but after a close call at the car rental office, we decided it was time to get a proper credit card. Our bank card is a Maestro card, and while we can use it at the ATM and to make purchases in store and restaurants, it can be very limiting online. Here’s what our process was with Rabobank.

Bank Cards vs. Credit Card
Bank cards and credit cards (from banks at least) operate differently from the ones in the United States. Bank cards can be used like a debit card in person, with a PIN number instead of a signature. But because they are not associated with a credit card brand or number, they cannot be used to make purchases online without iDEAL; a special banking payment method. Annoyingly some services, like car rental agencies, also require a credit card instead of a bank card.

To make up the difference a credit card can be obtained via your bank and can be used both on and offline, typically with a PIN number as well, but are still tied to your bank account. At Rabobank (and probably other Dutch banks), you can choose to have the credit card balance automatically paid each month or you can carry a balance (plus interest). This decision has to be made when you apply for the credit card and can only be changed at the bank itself and well in advance of the end of the month. Not being fans of credit cards to begin with, Dan and I opted to pay off the balance monthly and avoid the extra charges.

Applying for a Card
Obtaining a credit card was fairly simple with Rabobank. Since Dan is the primary wage earner in our family, the bank insisted he be there with ID, a paystub, a copy of his contract, and our lease. The card also had to be in his name rather than mine.

After the bank reassured itself that we had income, a representative ran us through the paperwork in a quick 20 minute meeting. After that it was all over but the waiting. The new card and PIN number were delivered separately several days later in the mail.

Now that we have a credit card, it operates just like a normal Mastercard, except we use a PIN number instead of a signature to ‘sign’ for our purchases. Having 2 cards is a little cumbersome, but that’s how it’s done. Good luck working out your own purchasing options.

Source: Originally written by myself for Maastricht Region: to Live.

The Semi-Legal Alien Adventure

Yesterday I tweeted about a secret mission to Eindhoven. Today I shall revel why it was so secret: for 2 days I was an illegal immigrant. (Gasp)

Image (cc) nathanborror via Flickr. CC-Attribution License

Despite carrying on a dubious family tradition, this was not nearly as interesting as that sounds. I had to re-apply for my residency card renewal in June after my first application went astray. Apparently I was suppose to mail it to Zwolle, not Eindhoven.  When I received notice that my application had been received (and would be processed after I paid the 288 euro fee), my old card only have about a week to go.  That wasn’t so bad. It was the knowledge that they had 6 months to decide weather to approve me or not that was the problem.

A few weeks with a lapsed card may not have been so bad (it would have stressed me out, but it’s not like I do anything to draw attention to myself), but 6 months would have restricted my ability to do anything that requires ID, travel outside the Netherlands, and would have resulted in awkward questions if someone official needed my ID. While being deported would certainly make an interesting end to this blog, I’m not willing to go that far for you all.

Fortunately there is an easy fix to tide me over. I got an appointment with the IND and they issued me a temporary residency sticker for my passport good for another 6 months. This sticker is basically the same one I had to obtain when we first moved to the Netherlands and it states that I can live and work here under the same conditions that we have been until my official renewal application has been approved.

It is not, however a travel visa, and if I want to go abroad and come back into the Netherlands I’ll have to obtain one for 40 euros. Since we have no travel plans at this time, that should be no problem. The gentleman I spoke with at the IND said that he guesstimated my application would be approved in 2 months, so I’ll just have to hold out until then.

Tips to Avoid Being a Semi-Legal Alien

  1. Send your renewals to the Zwolle office.
  2. Make a photocopy of your application before you mail it. Seriously, I forgot to do this and it slowed the re-applying process way, way down.
  3. Send your application on time. It was recommended to me to mail it at least 3 months in advance, but I think I’ll shoot for 4 next time since I seem to be accident prone.
  4. If you’re sure you’ll have a period during which your residency card has expired, ask for a sticker like the one I got. You’ll have to keep pressing for it, but it’s worth having for piece of mind.

Image (cc) nathanborror via Flickr. CC-Attribution License

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