Without a permanent address, many international students can’t register at the municipality. As a result, they are struggling to open a Dutch bank account and find a job.
The demand for housing reached a peak this year due to even more homeless students passing through the Portal Groningen at the Werkmanbrug. While this symbolically transforms them into Groningen residents, it gives them neither registration, nor a Dutch social security number.
It has been six months since Mehk Chakraborty, an international security master student from India, started looking for a room in Groningen. Yet she is currently staying with strangers who let her crash on their couch. Even though she is ‘extremely grateful’ to have a temporary roof over her head, she can’t help but feel anxious about being unable to register at the municipality, which is mandatory. ‘I can’t ask my current host to use their address for registration. It’s also illegal, as I am moving to someone else’s house in a few days.’
Without a social security number (a burgerservicenummer or BSN), Mehk can’t open a local bank account to access her scholarship and claim her sufficient funds back. ‘Around 6,000 euros is stuck with the university until I get a Dutch account.’
That not only complicates her daily expenses, but actually hinders the search for a permanent place, says Mehk. Even if she gets lucky enough to find a room before opening a Dutch bank account, she will be stuck in a loop. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay a month’s rent and a deposit in one go.’
The hunt for a student room is even more daunting for those internationals coming from non-EU countries where the IBAN system is not used. For example, in Peru, the home country of art history student Paola Valenzuela. Since she couldn’t open an IBAN account back at home, her rather limited choice of rooms was reduced to a couple of student housing companies. ‘When landlords learned that I have neither a Dutch account or an IBAN, all I heard was, sorry, but I can’t help you’, she says.
Even though Paola managed to secure a room at XIOR – ‘It’s not the cheapest option, but it is the only one I could find’ – she has been losing money on international transfer fees, while waiting for her appointment to receive a social security number. ‘It has been three weeks and I am afraid that I will need to overpay for my next month’s rent again’, she says. ‘The UG could have informed us in advance about the long waiting times at the municipality.’
But sometimes even EU students don’t have an IBAN bank account. Séamus Ó Muirthile, an astronomy student from Ireland, closed his Irish account because he uses Revolut, which turned out to be useless for transferring a yearly fee to a study association or sending Tikkies. ‘I recently discovered that there are online banks where you can open a Dutch bank account without a BSN, so I am going to give it a try.’
It’s not an option for Mahk, though. ‘Even online banks in the Netherlands don’t usually accept Indian passports, I found out’, she says.
Still, like Mahk, Séamus is worried about being unable to find a room and register at the municipality. ‘Hopefully they’ll be more lenient, because of the lack of housing’, he says. ‘I am lucky to have friends I can stay with, but without a BSN number I can’t apply for jobs next to my studies.’
It is unclear whether the municipality of Groningen will accept addresses of friends and couchsurfing hosts; however, students can register using the temporary shelter address, says municipal spokesperson Manon Hoiting. So if you secured a bed at The Village or the Martinihouse, then you should be able to receive a social security number.
In case you find yourself in a desperate need of the sufficient funds that you transferred to the UG upfront, it is possible to get them refunded to a non-SEPA account, says UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof. Though ’it is preferred that the refund is made to an IBAN account’.