Getting set up
I have forgotten what it's like to get set up in a foreign country. Every country has its equivalent of an identity number for tax purposes. In the US, it's called a Social Security Number. In Singapore, it's your identity number. In the UK, it's called the National Insurance number. In the Netherlands, it's the SoFi number - short for SOcial and FIscal.
Getting this number doesn't mean that the tax man will chase after you. But in the Netherlands, a SoFi number is required before you can even open a bank account. This is not the case in the UK. A National Insurance number is only needed when you want to work and get paid --- officially. And that means, you must have the permission to work. In the US, you don't need to work to get a social security number.
How easy is it to open a bank account? In the Netherlands, you just need to show your SoFi number and your passport. Of course, you need to have a mailing address. In the UK, you need to show an address and passport. Personal banking is free but not in the Netherlands. The Dutch banker proudly told me today that his bank charges a mere 20 Euros a year for all transactions.
I remember queuing at a Job Centre in Marylebone for my National Insurance Number. In my designer business suit, I sat among the unemployed, homeless, and some long-term alcoholics who were there to collect their unemployment benefit. I sat for three hours thinking of the future ahead --- one of earning an income that is heavily deducted for national insurance and tax. The deductions would be my contributions towards those that I was sitting next to.
Today there was no queue, but it still took almost an hour to get my SoFi number. And when I finally got the paper, it was all in Dutch except for my name and the number. It's not enough to get a SoFi number, a bank account, and a roof over my head anymore. I need to learn Dutch to understand my bank statement and other bills! In that respect, it was easier to get set up in London, Singapore, and Houston!!!
5 September 2003 Friday