On the 28th of January 2020, I went to Gemeente (town council) Deventer and registered to be a resident in Deventer. I had to do it before the 31st otherwise I would have needed a stamp from the UK Registration Office (who were incredibly brusque and unhelpful) which would have taken 3 months, during which time I would have been without a passport for around three weeks therefore without any means to travel to the Netherlands. We heard about Covid, Wuhan, eating bats etc and that the virus was incredibly virulent and dangerous. We actually heard about it as we were travelling down to Harwich on the 25th January. In our time in Deventer we prepared documents and information so I could answer the questions correctly.

I was accepted by Gemeente Deventer and we set off back to Sheffield to sell our house. On February 2nd 2020 we put our house on the market. Up until Covid, house prices were strong and still rising. The estate agent/valuer placed a good price on the house, confident we’d sell it easily. We didn’t. We had loads of time wasters but for three whole months because of Covid, time stood still. People came with masks on, made their excuses instead of being honest, (the English way I guess) but one couple were strong and came back again. They put a bid in mid August which we accepted.

I applied for residency, proved we could live and afford to live in the Netherlands. With my wife being Dutch, I’m sure it was a lot easier than it could have been. On the 24th September I spoke to a woman called Ingrid at the Brexit Immigration Dienst and everything was fine with our finances and especially my personal application. There were numerous places where I could have my biometrics (fingerprints, passport, photo) taken; Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Almere, Eindhoven and Breda but Zwolle had the most dates available. Little did we know that we would end up living 12 minutes from Zwolle.

Although the UK stupidly left the EU on 31st Jan 2020, the transition period didn’t end until the 31st of Jan 2021 so everything needed sorting by then. At least I had my biometrics and IND interview arranged; November 19th! We’d better look sharp! I was happy, but there was still a house to sell. We went to the estate agents and solicitors and signed everything we could and made agreements everything else could be done from the Netherlands if we emigrated before the sale went through. Looking back, it was a dangerous thing to do, leave the house empty until it was sold and completed, but it was something we had to do to speed things up or at least keep things moving. As it turned out it wasn’t a second too soon. Brexit has taken away freedom of movement for so many people and I wasn’t going to be a victim of this stupid racist game. I didn’t believe the Tories would honour the Settlement Status agreement in full and wasn’t prepared to see my wife penalised in any way for being a citizen of an EU state.

Daylight greeted us on the Dutch coastline, with the familiar beacon and helipad at the end of the entrance to the Maas Nieuwe Waterweg.

On the 28th October we left the UK by night ferry on our favoured route, Harwich to Hoek van Holland. On the 29th we were in the Netherlands. By then the passport control knew I had residency in The Netherlands. Albeit due to circumstances totally out of our control, namely Covid, we’d had no way of travelling out of the UK to take up residency. Hopefully the Belastingdienst (tax) will look at our case sympathetically when they send our tax return in Jan 2022. Angelique, the niece of Astrid (my wife) spotted a rented property on Marktplaats, Astrid inquired about it and my step-son went to check it out. There were several people applied to rent it out, fortunately our financial credentials, guarantees etc and a huge stroke of luck won the day. The downside was, at nearly €1.000 a month, how long would we live there? It was dead money but we’d bargained for around €6.000 to €12.000 mainly because most rented house contracts are for a minimum 12 months. We didn’t have a house to move into, house prices were sky rocketing and there is a huge shortage of available properties in the Netherlands.

We looked at one house in Klazinaveen, it was awful. €134.000 and it was crap, it really was. It would probably need about €30.000 spending on it to get it up to scratch, plus the area was industrial. Other properties, mainly in the very north of Groningen were affordable, then people started overbidding by €40.000 and we were stretched to our limit. Notwithstanding the Tory disaster capitalists had trashed the £ so our exchange rate was diminished.

We had a nice place as our base though, Johann and Marian the owners, became friends and the wildlife in the garden of our temporary property was varied and colourful. We had three red squirrels, one of which we named Tufty after the red squirrel in the UK road safety programme in the 1960s. We had greater spotted woodpeckers, jays, bluetits, coaltits, a robin called Freddie, long tailed tits, chaffinches, greenfinches, mistle thrushes, blackbirds but only one or two sparrows. We even got the woodpeckers and jays to come within a metre of our door by hanging bags of peanuts in a hortensia bush by the door. Even the squirrels clung on, sometimes upside down, to eat peanuts from the bags. It was so good to see these creatures so close up.

For the first 10 days we had to quarantine, it dragged a bit but there was so much administrative work to do. Emigrating is not easy. We had WiFi and UK mobiles so we were busy almost from day one. After the quarantine was over, we tentatively walked out into the new world like newborn animals. Before we went through the trauma of re-registering and testing the car, we bought bikes as we knew the car might be off the road for up to 12 weeks. It was 11! The car needed new lights so it would be legal on Dutch roads, new right pointing headlamps and the reversing light and fog lamps had to be replaced because they couln’t just be swapped around as they were a different shape. That cost nearly a grand all told. We walked every day and kept fit. We bought bags for the bikes and did our weekly shop every few days instead due to limitations as to how much we could carry.

In mid November we thought our world was about to come crashing down around us. Here we were, in The Netherlands and the buyers solicitor refused to authorise the sale of our house in the UK on the basis their surveyor had questioned structural issues. We had to employ a structural surveyor. He told us not to worry, we’d sell it, no problem. He made a 40 page report and we had to pay £940 for the privilege. It didn’t read good. However, after weeks of worry, the buyers bank was satisfied their loan was good. We were constantly worried they might pull out. The only consolation was, they were also paying £1000 a month to rent when they could be in their own house. They could have pulled out right until the agreed date of the contract. I had pretty bad depression as did Astrid but she didn’t show it as bad as I did. Our families were incredibly supportive, my sister Gill helped so much with the remaining items we wanted sending over here. Initially it was Astrid’s son Dave whom we owed a debt to for letting us use his house as the address of our residency in the Netherlands. We have to thank many people. Psychological support was as important as practical and physical.

On 29th January 2021, the contracts were exchanged and the sale completed. It was done electronically followed by our live signatures by post. We’d already paid €55 to a private courier to send our agreements to the contracts on 20th December, it arrived in Sheffield on the 22nd but the solicitor had already broken up for Boris’s Covid Christmas so it was held in a sealed secured envelope until the 4th of January, another unnecessary delay.

YESSS! As soon as the confirmation email arrived, we read it together almost with disbelief. We both burst into tears of joy and happiness. Yes, we cried, we laughed, we celebrated with kibbeling and wine and beer and whisky. We walked through the woods laughing with happiness. However, we still had no house to buy or even to visit because almost every house had over 60 applications.

Then an incredible stroke of luck happened, and by God we needed some. Johann, our ‘landlord’ alerted us to the fact a few bungalows on a holiday park of which he was a director, became available to buy. In reality we had the choice of two. We chose the one that would benefit from the most sun and had the better garden. The other one was shaded by trees. They are way smaller than our house in Yorkshire but the more we looked at it, the more attractive it became. The land around it was deceptively large and as it was detached, it had block paving all the way around and a tiled patio down one side and at the front.

We only saw it with snow around it but the potential was good. It had been the coldest Dutch winter for 15 years, canals and lakes froze over and people came from far and wide with their skates to take advantage of the minus 20°c temperatures. We just went to watch and slip and slide through the woods. It was brilliant. I’d never seen it before. I cannot begin to describe how happy we were. After what had happened with the sale, the surveyors, the exchanges with the solicitor in the UK, a 9 week wait to complete the purchase of the house here was a piece of cake.

The bungalow came with strings attached. It was to be sold as a private living property but the rules are that it should be sold as a holiday home in which you can’t live. But there were also other rules that let you live in it for 360 days a year and it should be let for the other 5 and taxed under new belastingdienst rules as a holiday home at 8% instead of the normal 2% property tax. The local gemeente (council) had no problems with us registering with them as residents and not renters. We still don’t know what the belastingdienst will bill us with, hopefully as a residential home and not holiday home. There are other people on the park who have bought to live in and we really need to share their experiences with regard to this. We are ready whatever the belastingdienst throw at us. What will be will be. We can always contest their decision if it doesn’t sound reasonable.

The bottom line was, we have bought a house in Heino, Overijssel, The Netherlands.
We live in it, paid for in full with the cash from the sale of the house in Deepcar, Yorkshire, England.

Then it happened! It shook us to the ground. On the 12th of March 2021, Astrid received the news from her scan that it showed a small lump in her breast. Within a few more days it was identified as cancer and an aggressive one as well. After all we’d been though, Astrid was now having to endure not knowing how the cancer would affect her life. We made several trips to the hospital and eventually a date was arranged for an small but very important operation. She was assured it was not life threatening but cancer is cancer. The operation was performed, the cancer removed but she would require radiation treatment to burn away any possible remnants of the affected area. After a few more days, the specialist invited us to the hospital and told us it was gone, all clear, the cancer and the damage it had caused in the breast was gone. It was a massive moment. Nobody should have to go through this trauma but she came out from the other side with her head held high and so relieved.

The photo is of Voorzorg, where we stayed for the first 6 months of our new life in the Netherlands. We basically lived in the two rooms alongside our Mazda3.

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