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When I registered myself and moved to this country, it was a personal matter. But after I had lived in China for three years, I definitely felt it may be a lot better option than staying in Hungary. At the time, Hungary had a Socialist government whose prime minister admitted to lying all the time to their people, but he didn’t resign. After a few years, Hungary got into the grips of a leftist government who built up a two-thirds majority from 53% of the votes of 53% of the voting-age population, which they managed to strengthen with changes to the constituencies. Now they have a two-thirds majority with 44.8% of the votes of about 52% of voters (detailed results in Hungarian here).

Since then, the country has been receiving a lot of criticism from the EU and the US for actions and declarations from mostly the Prime Minister about building a non-liberal democracy. The government seems to have changed not only the constituencies to its advantage, but has changed almost all institutions of importance, like the central bank, the media, courts of justice, the national tax office and its supervising agency, has syphoned the billions of pension reserves of future pensioners and is replicating the action with the last remaining reserves of those who were not involved in the first round, has been driving public education and the health system almost into the ground with fully taking their administration into the (rather inexpert) hands of the government. Now, after a lot of negative experience with my original country, it’s time to take stock of where my choice of leaving Hungary has led me to, and whether a similar action of fellow Hungarians would be worth it.

Emigration has been escalating ever since former members of the Warsaw Pact have been admitted to the EU and the area of the Schengen Agreement. The main targets of movements have been Germany and the UK, but besides Austria, a lot of other Hungarians have moved to the Netherlands as well, so it’s important to look at the situation and chances in this country for East-Europeans.

Most of my friends here have pointed it out as a fact that circumstances in the Netherlands have been deteriorating for about 15 to 20 years. Younger people have been complaining about too many rules, but to my mind, they should look at Hungary with its ever-changing regulations for solace. The most important factor is then security. Regulations don’t keep changing, people are more-or-less reliable with a number of them to be certain to let you down without a word if you’re not chosen for a position, but life in general is just as secure here as anywhere in the developed world (or in China, for that matter). Institutions take care of you, most matters can be securely and quickly handled, or at least registered for handing, over the internet, there’s not much waiting time for almost anything. Systems work well, charges and prices are on a level which are not above reasonable limits.

Prices are nowadays just as high (of low, if you like) as in Hungary, except for housing prices. You have to be aware that by selling a property in Hungary, you get nowhere here, but renting is reasonable – while there’s a 1-to-5 ratio for buying a flat, renting one may not cost you a lot more than in Budapest. There is a system of help for poorer people too. You can get help for the compulsory and comparably very high rate of health security insurance, like for renting. However, you have to avoid a trap here. Possibilities are that you can get a part of your renting fees and health insurance fees covered by the government/national tax office.

However, they reckon you are a member of the family where you rent a room if your address is the same. All of this year, I’ve been demanded to repay the amount I was paid in 2011, and although I’ve pointed out that I, as a 56-year-old Hungarian man, didn’t marry a 64-year-old Dutchman a year after his wife had died of cancer, such things, as I’ve found out, do not matter: one is considered to be living together with another if the address is the same, and one hasn’t got access to a separate kitchen and bathroom. I did, still, my case is still pending and I can’t be sure I can avoid paying back nearly a thousand Euros I was given three years ago.

Thankfully, no such problems with health insurance, which is about 60% covered by the health subsidy if your earnings are low. Just be aware that insurance costs and the amount you have to pay before you get paid by the insurer (your own risk) keeps climbing, your subsidy decreases as you earn more, but all these are expected and not dramatic changes like in Hungary. If you have a profession, you may or may not get a job, circumstances depending. As you can get informed from my earlier posts here, a teacher with a foreign degree has next to no chance, except if he has a British degree. If you have good expertise and documents about it in a special area of industry, you can get a job for a year or two, but, like Polish people, you may come in for a lot of criticism and problems. Some leaders in industry may even directly cheat you.

The situation hasn’t been helped by a large number of Romanians who had come here to take up the support and then disappeared. I could have done that if I had moved back to Hungary one or two years after I had taken the support. As a large number of temporary workers come into the industrial sector from Poland, I have to add a few words about them too. A couple of years ago statistics indicated that they had already become the largest minority group in the Netherlands. As a result, the xenophobic, anti-Islam, anti-foreigner right-wing Freedom party made a lot of noise and came in for a lot of criticism after they tried to temper with the situation over the internet and over working rights. This weakened their position in the Parliament at the elections in 2012, so since then, politics has been looking relatively quiet here. As it is, Polish people do not stay in the country, rather, they help the industry a lot by offering cheap work that locals couldn’t or wouldn’t do, stay for a year in shacks and then take the remains of their wages back home. They aren’t a burden for the security system so they are a lot more useful than some of the other foreigners who stay, scarcely get work and live on subsidies.

On the streets, the huge variety of people you can see seems like a security against anti-foreigner sentiments, but while security is very good, crime rates are low, your bicycle may still be stolen or damaged, small miscalculations in the supermarket could happen and groups of youngsters may shout at you in the street on the way home from school. But when you get into trouble in the street, even young guys will help you instantly.

If one stays here for good, one has to live on something. If you have incomes not exceeding ten thousand Euros per year, you don’t have to register anywhere other than with the local government and get a bank account, then you get your social security number and can fill in your tax return on-line. To perform many kinds of economic activities, you have to ask for a “VAR”, which is a declaration to perform your activities as an individual normally under licenses asked of a company. Above that sum, you have to register yourself as a small company, or a “ZZP’er”, and with that you’re asked to register for VAT (“BTW” in Dutch). This VAT is only slightly less than in Hungary, it stands at 21% now, so don’t underestimate it. Business charges burdened on businesses here is not a real reason for anyone to escape the Hungarian system.

Accountability and help from the system is. If you have any questions, you can make an appointment with relevant institutions within a few days, and if they can’t answer you well enough (probably because your question is outside their competency), they will still refer you to information or organizations that can. If you don’t have high skills, or can’t use them, or just want to try something new on the job market, the most usual way to do it is walk into a temporary job agency, or “uitzendbureau”, and you may get a small job for minimum wages at a factory, store, or the post office centre. In such a case, all administration, security deductions etc. are done by the agency and you can do your tax return the following year copying stuff from their year-end declaration.

What you can’t avoid for long is payment for health security, which is high and rates keep crawling upwards. You can try to use the European Health Insurance Card, but it’s intended for travellers, not for people settled at an address within the EU, so you have to get insured by the compulsory local system. Sooner or later, you’ll be demanded to do so anyway as all systems are linked together. Even your bank has to declare your basic data to the tax system once a year, only the details are secret. But one can live with this small matter.

On the whole, the Netherlands, with all its cultural void compared to Hungary, with all its quiet and efficiency and relative coldness of the population, is a good choice for those who want to start again on a calculable basis.

by P.S.

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