“There were no rose-colored glasses”: how a Ukrainian frontend programmer relocated in Amsterdam
For the last five years, Ukrainian frontend developer Natalia Tepluhina has been working at GitLab as a staff frontend engineer (a career level that comes after senior, if you don’t feel like going into management), working as a core member in the Vue.js framework team, as well as participating in events all across the world as a speaker. In November 2020, she and her family moved from Kyiv to Amsterdam under the company’s relocation program.
In her interview to AIN.UA, Natalia talks about how difficult it was to organize the move in the height of the quarantine, as well as about what you need to be ready for if you want to move to the Netherlands.
Please tell us, when did you first think about relocation, and what was the reason?
Actually, I had not been “actively” thinking about relocation until 2020.
I mean, this was all like, “It would be nice to move… maybe.” Although I was aware of GitLab having a program of relocation to the Netherlands, with visa support included, I took no action in that regard.
It is even a little scary to talk about the main reason, because I can well imagine what a wave of negativity this could spark with the readers 🙂
I just wanted to live somewhere where I could feel comfortable outside of my own apartment or house.
See, in Ukraine, IT guys receive (relatively) high salaries and can afford to build their own comfort zone: to live in a gated community, with private healthcare, a private school for children, etc.
But once you take a step outside of this zone, you are pushed around in shops, cut off on roads; and I don’t even want to start talking about government institutions. In my view, in Ukraine we all have heightened anxiety, which often gives rise to aggression.
At some point, I began feeling tired of it and noticing things that I hadn’t paid attention to earlier. Such as polluted air (hello to spring fires and the smoke-filled Kyiv, plus endless traffic jams) or the unpredictability of the government’s actions during the quarantine (Oh, let’s tighten it! No, let’s lift it! No, let’s tighten it again!).
I was wishing for predictability and stability, and at some point I just decided to move.
There were no rose-colored glasses: I understood that there are drawbacks everywhere, it was just that for me Ukraine’s drawbacks became more substantive.
Did the company help you relocate? Was it more difficult because you moved with your whole family?
Yes, the company takes full responsibility for the processing of an entry visa, residence permit, and tax abatement for highly skilled immigrants (here called “ruling”).
The list of documents required for moving is very moderate (birth certificates of all those relocating, plus a marriage certificate, if you are married), but we had to fiddle about with reissuing obsolete documents, getting apostilles, and making translations. Having a family does not complicate the process much – there are just still more translations and apostilles.
I entered the country as a “highly skilled immigrant,” which is kennismigrant, or simply KM, in Dutch. For you to receive a residence permit of the type, your employer must either do some “preliminary work” to prove your value as a professional or be listed as a recognized sponsor with the Dutch government. Mine is the second case, so it was quite simple.
If you search for (and find) a job in the Netherlands, ask if it is possible to move in as a KM in the first place, because this is how you can get a tax abatement.
Did the move get harder because of the coronavirus?
Absolutely! For instance, bureaus of vital statistics worked slower due to the quarantine; apostilles took more time; the embassy of the Netherlands limited its appointments, plus this all was just heating things up. It was unclear whether the border would not be closed at a moment’s notice.
Can you name the pros and cons compared to living in Kyiv? Tell us more about taxes, costs, and the quality of life in general (healthcare, transport, food, culture…).
I should say it at once: if you want to move in pursuit of big money, the Netherlands is not for you. According to local standards, my salary is fairly good, but the purchasing power is much lower than the Ukrainian level. I had been ready for that, so there was no disappointment, but it is better to mention it.
Taxes are high, even with the tax abatement (ruling). The tax is progressive, so the more you receive, the more you give away. For example, if your annual pay is 100,000 euros, you will take home 59,000 without ruling or 76,000 with ruling. For those who want to dig deeper, here is a great calculator.
Transport is irrelevant for me – I work remotely, and all basic local travel, if needed, can be done by bike. All praises of Amsterdam’s bicycle infrastructure have been sung before me, and I am not going to repeat them.
The medical care is insurance-based, the insurance premium is about 120 euros apiece per month, but it is free for children.
It is difficult to talk about culture, as everything is closed – a strict lockdown and curfew are in effect here. Much the same can be said about the standard of living, but the air is definitely cleaner here, the food tastes better (that’s right, just food from a supermarket), and the atmosphere is calmer.
In terms of the prices for supermarket products, meat is significantly more expensive (indicative chicken breasts cost 7 euros per kilo), prices for vegetables/groats/milk are at about the same level as in Ukraine or slightly higher (milk costs 0.85 euros per liter, potatoes, 1 euro per kilo). At the same time, you can get some things, like a delicious ripe mango, for just 1–1.5 euros, which was impossible for me in the nearest supermarkets in Kyiv (even if there were mangoes there, their ripeness was about that of the said potatoes).
Human labor is expensive in the Netherlands, so everything that requires it rises in price rapidly. A cup of cappuccino, for example, will cost you 2.5–3 euros.
Tell us about the IT community in the Netherlands (or is the quarantine blocking all networking opportunities for now?). By the way, what does the quarantine look like in Amsterdam?
I had come across the local IT community even before the relocation when speaking at VueAmsterdam. In general, the environment is rather dynamic here, there are many meetups, many world-renowned conferences: not only Vue but also the likes of ReactAmsterdam or JSNation. By the way, one of the main organizers there is also an immigrant, Denis Radin.
The quarantine is strict now: everything is closed, except for grocery stores, even schools do not operate. There is even a curfew. Notably, 70% of the population approve of and comply with the quarantine measures.
You have been flying frequently to industry events across the globe. Will your relocation have any effect on that (once lockdowns are lifted)?
Absolutely! Previously, half of my long-haul flights were connecting through Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. Now it will be possible at least to shorten a flight by one leg, which is already superb.
Did you have difficulties with your adjustment, with the change of environment? Don’t you regret your decision now?
The Dutch are generally considered a straightforward and rude nation, but I haven’t noticed that yet. Maybe, it’s because Ukrainians are even more straightforward 🙂
There have been no difficulties so far; maybe, they are still ahead. Even before my move, I had read a lot about the country itself, about other migrants’ experiences, and eventually I had prepared myself for just about everything (occasionally, my experience even surpassed the expectations).
I don’t regret anything, not at all. Quite the opposite, I am very glad I managed to move.
There are dozens of openings requiring relocation for technical and non-technical professionals available in the revised job section at AIN.UA.