Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Royal Delft Factory

DSC01699 Since 1653, the Royal Delft pottery factory has created signature fine porcelain and ceramic works here in the Netherlands.  The artisans still create and paint the works by hand, and, approaching the celebration of my mother’s fourscore years, it was a fitting place to shop for a gift and to peek into a bit of Dutch history.

The factory is located in a stained brick building along a crowded street in central Delft. Despite their reputation, the location is smaller and less prominent than I expected, even though it includes a museum, production facilities, cafe, and a showroom.  The Blue Delft theme carries through it all: even the toilet basins have the traditional glaze.

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The museum (6.50 euro admission) features many examples of the pottery and a wide collection of traditional Christmas and commemorative plates.  The artist painting pieces can explain the materials and process behnd the distinctive colors and patterns.

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The factory is filled with work in progress, waiting for paint and firing.

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The showroom prices are about double what I would expect, bottoming out at 100 euro and rising over 300 for most of the nice pieces.  There are “second choice” selections, with minute flaws, and everyday-ware in Delft patterns, which cost less, but  the hand-made articles are highly valued.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Raising the BV

DSC01764 This hasn’t been a good week for writing thoughts into my blog; there’s lots to catch up with.

But, as things finally crystallized into focus, it’s turned out to be a good week for most everything else.

The big event was Thursday’s signing ceremony at my accountant’s offices, Finsens, in Amsterdam.  The notary delivered a big black binder with gold lettering: Register van Aandeelhouders: Stone Bridge Biomedical BV, Gevestigd in Maastricht.   There were smiles and congratulations.

The formal black book defines the Bedrijfsomschrijving (business purpose)  as Het ontwikkelen en produceren van medische apparatuur en  bijbehorende software applicaties; het verrichten van IT diensten, advisering van bedrijven in de medische wereld en het beheren van stamrechten.  (or, “The development and production of medical equipment and related software applications; the provision of information technology services; advising companies in the medical world and the management of businesses.”)  Inside, are my business particulars, articles of incorporation, founding capital, and shareholders.

This is the final confirmation of incorporation, capping an  odyssey through the Dutch and US legal, banking, and tax systems. It’s really a remarkable thing; six months in conception, three in execution, and now real.

The legal elements went quickly and easily: I had good help and there were no surprises.  The bank was the most difficult element, taking much longer to execute a simple process that nobody seems to understand.  Tax matters are very complex, especially involving  transnational considerations, but I got good guidance through setting up lasting structures and submitting forms within tight deadlines.  I preserved my 30% ruling, got my AMEX card, and have books ready for my first quarterly report (already!). The business plan, logo, and website are drafted, and the actual content is starting to take shape.

DSC01767Immigration and employment procedures, securing a new residence permit, is next.  Most of the actual living arrangements are settled, and the last apron strings to the expat agreement will be cut next week.  For the time being, a bicycle and train pass will substitute for a car, and meetings in local cafe’s are taking the place of long-distance flights. It’s all pretty amazing, a bit intimidating, and potentially exhilarating, but I suppose that’s not too much of a change from four years of expat life.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dutch Insurance Coverage

The Dutch are among the most highly insured people in the world, and I’ve found that policies are available that parallel most of the coverage that I’ve had in the US.  ExpatFocus has a good overview: The basic policies for most expats include health insurance and third-party liability insurance. Auto insurance is compulsory if you own or drive a car, and renter’s insurance is available if your landlord or your US homeowner’s policy doesn’t extend to cover your apartment.

Here’s a quick rundown of the basic insurance types, what you might pay, and places to go for further information:

Health Insurance:  With very few exceptions, health insurance is mandatory once you register as a resident: Universal really means universal.  From a US perspective, basic coverage is very affordable, around 100 euro per month per person, and discounts are available if you belong to a gym, eat vegetarian, or avoid smoking.  Dental is automatically covered in policies for children under 18.

As an expatriate on assignment with a large multinational, I was able to use  one of the few Dutch exemptions: using the worldwide provisions of my US health policy without buying local insurance.  However, once I leave their employment, I have to subscribe to basic Dutch insurance even though I still carried US COBRA coverage.

A good basic guide to the details of the Dutch system, with links to comparison sites, can be found at JustLanded.com.

If you’re interested in healthcare policy, the Commonwealth Fund recently published a good overview of the Dutch, Swiss, and US systems.

Third-Party Liability Insurance:  This insurance covers you if you break something that belongs to someone else at their home.  My relocation people and expatriate guides recommend it as a cheap safeguard, so I purchased a policy from Centraal Beheer for about 30 euros per year.  It makes my Dutch bookkeeper laugh, but it’s peace of mind.

Expatica has a good introduction. It’s a good exercise of your Dutch skills to try to understand what is covered: damage from balls, for example, is covered only if they are less than 5 feet in diameter.

Home Insurance:  Home contents insurance, inboedelverzekering, and home liability insurance, aansprakelijkheidsverzekering, are sold separately,  although you can negotiate a discount if you buy multiple types of insurance from one company.  They cover damage due to fire, storm, flood, and theft with exclusions and exceptions that are familiar from US policies.  

Generally, you need to purchase a rider, a kostbaarhedenverzekering, if you want excess cover for art, electronics, antiques, or jewelry.   I’ve avoided buying this insurance because my US homeowners policy promises, in writing ,to cover me here.

Auto insurance:  Third-party liability insurance covers damages and accidents to bystanders and passengers.  Basic insurance is known as wettelijke aansprakelijkheid or WA; premium coverage is WA + beperkt casco or  WA + casco (restricted comprehensive and comprehensive, respectively).

You can, optionally, insure the vehicle against theft, fire and damage to yourself and your vehicle (allriskverzekering insurance).  A good overview is given at AngloInfo.

So far, insurance has been rolled into the lease on my car, and I don’t pay it as a separate tem.   Neighbors assure me that I can get lower rates online; quotes look similar to rates in the US.

Miscellaneous Coverage:  There is a range of insurances that you can purchase for special situations: year ‘round travel insurance, Life / Disability Life insurance (levensverzekering), is similar to schemes in most countries, burial insurance (uitvaartverzekering), legal insurance (rechtbijstandverzekering: guaranteeing access to cheaper legal advice and protecting against lawsuits), bicycle insurance (fietsverzekering: about 60 euro and replaces your bike if stolen, one time).

I’ve found that an evening’s conversation with a Dutch friend is usually the best way to get guidance on options and companies once you’ve educated yourself on the basics.