Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rijbewijs: a word that now makes me shudder...

Mounds of paperwork and frustrating processes are a given when relocating to a foreign country. I always knew that the Dutch were very by the book and fans of strict, formalised procedures (just think of my stressful visa application earlier this year!!!) but I have to say, the process for getting my rijbewijs nearly did my head in. Seriously. Never in my life have I been so incredibly frustrated over such a seemingly simple thing... Let me explain.

A rijbewijs is a Dutch drivers licence. In normal circumstances, after you've taken dozens of expensive driving lessons, you have to pass both a theoretical and a practical exam to be issued a licence. Luckily for us, we are able to skip these steps and 'just trade in' our Australian drivers licences for Dutch ones as Mitch receives certain tax benefits for being here on a highly skilled migrant visa (and as all my visa/residency things bounce off him, I also get this benefit). I had been assured that this was a simple process and much easier and less costly then going about getting a licence the traditional way....

I had read about what we needed to do in my 'Holland Handbook' - a useful book explaining essential processes for expats that was given to us by the HR department at Mitch's work. We trooped on over to our local gemeentehuis (basically, the council) with all the required paperwork and thought we'd be able to apply for our licences that day. Wrong - it took more then 2 months from that day until we could actually  even apply for the licence.

The first step was the eigen verklaring - basically, a form you fill out about your health. I was under the impression from other expats that you filled this out and it got sent off with your actual licence application - wrong again. After forking out 45 euros for our 2 forms, we discovered that we must wait until these forms had been processed and the CBR had given us our medical clearance. We filled them out and while I was doing mine, I had a query over one of the questions regarding eyesight. I wear contacts or glasses for driving as my distance vision is useless and I couldn't figure out if the question was asking if I have bad eyesight in general or if I still have bad eyesight even when wearing glasses (Google translate was failing me that day). I rang the CBR to clarify the question and the worker there explained that if I have any form of poor vision, I must tick 'yes' and so visit a doctor to get a certificate stating my condition. Grumbling away about this inconvenience, I rang my huisarts office to make an appointment for the eigen verklaring. The receptionist explained to me that normal doctors can't see me for this and I would need to see a specialist driving licence doctor.

I rang the special driving licence doctor to make my appointment (clearly telling her it was eyesight related after explaining my call to the CBR) and after telling me it was a cash only visit and claimable through health insurance (what a joke - we pay an exorbitant amount every month for compulsory health insurance, the least it could do is pay for this visit), she told me to make sure I brought my contact lens prescription and a urine sample with me... URINE SAMPLE! I nearly fell off my chair. I was really frustrated by this point and responded with a few tears of annoyance, trying to get an explanation as to why a bottle of urine was related to my eyes. After being told that they needed to test for everything (what - incase I'm taking miraculous eye sight fixing drugs???), I finally convinced her that there was no way I was coming if it meant having to cart a little yellow bottle of liquid on my bike and we both concluded that we could skip that step, even if it was 'required'.

The day for my appointment arrived and after riding half way to Germany on a freezing cold morning, I turn up and the doctor asks me what the name is the name of the medical condition I am suffering from that has resulted in my bad eyesight while wearing glasses. I was like ummmmmm.... I can see fine with my glasses ON!!!! She then explained that I was meant to tick 'no' on the eigen verklaring - apparently 'yes' was only for people who still can't see properly when wearing glasses (ummm - get a stronger prescription???). Although I had explained this to her on the phone when making the appointment, as she was kind enough to speak in English to me I decided that it was just one of those things lost in translation... I made it home, changed the answer on my form to 'no' and posted both our forms to the CBR.

A week or two later, I get some mail return to sender: my eigen verklaring!!! I had wrongly assumed that the fine print on the envelope said 'postage paid'. Turns out it said - 'postage not paid'... Argh!!!! Considering the piece of paper & envelope cost me 22.45 euros, I would've thought that they could have at least pre-paid the 44 cents of postage. I stamped my envelope and re-posted to the CBR, waiting for Mitch's to also be return to sender.

A week or two later, I received 2 letters from the CBR. One saying that they had received Mitch's form and it would take approximately 8 weeks to process and the second saying that Mitch had been approved and here's his medical clearance (why did the post office accept his unpaid envelope???!!!!). It took another week or so to get my medical clearance back because of the postage delay and once it appeared, we went back to the gemeentehuis to apply yet again - and once again, be sent home with our Aussie licences still in our wallets :-(

This round of the frustrating rijbewijs drama had involved the wrong piece of paper re Mitch's tax benefits. I had all the letters & documents from the uni re his approval under this particular scheme but it turned out we were missing the vital one from the tax office. Mitch called the tax office to see if we could fast track the piece of paper we required but no, it would take 10 working days to process and then post :-( A week later and still no piece of paper in the post, it occurred to me that the uni may have a copy of the document from the tax office we needed - a quick call to the HR department and we soon had this piece of paper on loan from the uni... Finally, we could go back to the gemeentehuis and *fingers crossed* apply for our licences! (luckily we did manage to get this from the uni as the tax office never ended up sending the paper. Useless!).

After heading in with all our mounds of paperwork & passport photos for what I was saying would be the last time (if we were sent home with our Aussie licences once again, I don't think I could have faced the thought of going back in yet again), our applications were processed by a really lovely, cheerful guy at the town hall. We payed our money, got a receipt with a copy of our Aussie licences on it and a note saying we are licensed but are waiting on Dutch ones (just in case - it'd be just our luck that the police pull us over when we are licence-less) and were on our way with the warning that it could take 2 weeks or 2 months to process the application.

A couple of weeks later and just in time for our big drive down to France, our letters arrived in the post with the happy news that our Dutch licences had been approved and we could pick them up from the town hall! We happily went in shortly after and it was a great feeling after more then 2 months of frustration to finally have that little piece of plastic in my wallet. And the best part - not only is it valid for 10 years (I was concerned it was only 1 year and we'd have to go through the process again this year), but it's PINK!!!! Yes, a pretty pink licence!!!!

So there you have it - my first experience of getting a drivers licence in a foreign country. Although we are both used to driving over here now, I'm still so thankful we didn't have to take the practical test - although, it wasn't quite as simple as I was expecting to simply 'swap our licences'. Considering we only have a little over a year left in Holland, it'll be interesting to see what happens when we return to Australia or wherever we end up next - here's hoping the process of getting our Aussie (or other) licences back isn't so painful...


  1. Wow - what a process Lu!! I love your number plate, very easy to remember! I hope your well! love martine

  2. Thanks Tia, I'm doing pretty good! Thinking of you! (the castor oil sounds yuk, I nearly gagged just thinking about it!!!). Hehehe I love our 'number plate' too - courtesy of Mitch and photoshop :-) Love lots xo


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