If you want to live in the Netherlands for a period of four months or longer, you are required to register with your local municipality. In order to do this, you must present a valid passport or identity card. In exchange, you will get a BSN number (burgerservicenummer) that is your citizen service number and is unique to every individual registered in the Netherlands. This number is of fundamental importance if you wish to build a life here, it is used for everything from banking to insurance, to being able to get a job.
The BSN number is your citizen service number, which is required if you want to work, open a bank account, use any health care institution, or apply for study finance and other benefits in the Netherlands. Once you register with the municipality, you receive your BSN number. (Unlike residence permits, there are no costs involved with this process).
In order to register with the municipality, you need a number of documents. It is required by law that you register, regardless of nationality or your reason for coming to the Netherlands. This registration gives institutions like the IND, the Tax and Customs Administration, and the Social Insurance Bank access to your information as well. You must deregister when you leave the country, or inform your new municipality of your new address if you move within the Netherlands (you will be automatically deregistered from your old municipality once you register in a new one). It is likely that your school or landlord will have a designated day or two in which representatives from the municipality are present to register you as you’re doing your introductory meetings at your school. However, if you don’t arrive on one of the designated days, it is up to you to go to the municipal office and register.
Please note: Depending on your situation, you may be required to take along other documents as well. Find out before the appointment. If you come from the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba for example you must supply a certificate of de-registration (uitschrijvingsbewijs).
Nuffic provides a page that describes the registration process and gives you further details about the municipal personal records data base (Gemeentelijke Basis Administratie or GBA) and your BSN number.
Many of the Dutch government’s processes and applications now take place digitally. This means you are required to have a digital verification, or signature, which is known as DigiD.
Before you can apply however, you need to have received your BSN number, therefore you must already be living and registered here in the Netherlands. You apply online, and it is recommended that you select authentication by SMS on your phone. Once you have applied, you must wait for your password to come through by letter in the mail, at which point you can fully activate your DigiD.
You can find a thorough explanation (in English) of how to apply here:
In the Netherlands, you must always carry some form of acceptable identification with you wherever you go in public. This is because it is a legal requirement that you can identify yourself if needed, for example if you are stopped by the police or have to deal with other important authorities.
A very common example is being stopped by the police for cycling through a red light or not having the right bike lights at night time. Even for these minor stops, if you do not have proper identification documents in these circumstances you can receive a fine of €50, and they might also bring you to the police station to verify your identity!
If you are from the EU or EEA, then you can just use your passport or just a driving license if you have one.
If you are not from the EU or EEA, then you can also use your passport, but if you don’t want to carry that around all the time you can also use your residence permit.
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