The Netherlands has the perfect combination of work/life balance and an extremely efficient work culture. With its stable growing economy and innovative startup environment (think Booking.com, PicNic or the High Tech Campus), why wouldn’t you want to work here? Unfortunately, as an international student, settling your roots down after your studies can sometimes be quite a challenge if you’re not from the EU or EEA. Though you can apply for the Zoekjaar visa, there is very little support provided for the graduates that do. Here at College Life, we see so many international students full of potential discouraged by the inaccessibility of the Dutch market and want to help.

College Life Accelerate is an accelerator program through which we will train (hard skills) and coach (soft skills) non-EU/EEA graduates in order to connect them with companies ready to hire. While companies expect a high standard of education and training from their applicants, graduates expect career opportunities for which they are qualified for. College Life Accelerate is the only accelerator program that’s tailored for the Zoekjaar experience.  Along with the College Life Accelerate program, this guide to the Zoekjaar visa will help you kick off your career and maximize your chances of landing a graduate job in the Netherlands.

A girl looking at the College Life Accelerate Guide


Download a PDF version of the guide and read it when it's most convenient for you.


Zoekjaar Fundamentals

A Zoekjaar Hoogopgeleiden (orientation year visa) is a year during which non-EU internationals can live and work in the Netherlands without a work permit. It’s a specific type of visa, which depending on your nationality, exempts you from doing any other administrative procedures in order to live here in the Netherlands. With a Zoekjaar visa, internationals have free access to the labour market for up to twelve months after their visa has been granted.

A woman creating a checklist for the zoekjaar application

There are no income requirements to qualify for the Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa). You are free to start a business, become self-employed or get a regular job. Even internships are allowed and do not require registration at a university. However, it is recommended that any internship opportunity you take should be used as a stepping stone towards a more sustainable job opportunity. Your end goal is, after all, to get sponsored by the company once your Zoekjaar visa expires. College Life Accelerate can help you achieve that goal.

The application costs 174 euros (February, 2020). You cannot work in other EU countries with a Zoekjaar visa. You have up to three years after your graduation date to apply for a Zoekjaar visa. Did you know that you can obtain it multiple times? You can apply for a Zoekjaar visa after successfully completing a university degree. However, this program needs to be different from the one you previously completed. A Zoekjaar visa requires you to be self-sustaining. You are not entitled to social security or governmental financial aid here in the Netherlands and it is recommended you get a part-time job to finance your search. Search for a part-time job on College Life Work!

Why does the Zoekjaar exist?

The Zoekjaar is most importantly an initiative from the Dutch government to strengthen its economy by attracting and retaining a skilled and diverse international workforce. The Dutch understand that truly international environments foster growth, productivity and progress. The Zoekjaar visa is an attempt to give international students and graduates the time they need to get started in the Netherlands. It’s an open invitation to make of the Netherlands what you will! The Dutch government has a real desire for young international graduates and talents to stay and explore their opportunities in the Netherlands once they’ve finished their studies and has focused on making the Zoekjaar as attractive as possible: The application fee was lowered by 40% and if you already live in the Netherlands the application process is quite easy.

Why apply for a Zoekjaar visa?

Very rarely are we actually allocated time to breathe. If you’ve gone straight from high school to your bachelor’s and then from your bachelor’s to your master’s and maybe even a PHD, you haven’t really had the time to truly find your own in the job market. Instead of being pushed into jobs you think you’ll like, here you have 12 months to see if living in the Netherlands is right for you. Not only is the Netherlands a hub of talent and technology, but it’s also a center for European innovation. Naturally, there are more than enough opportunities out there with companies looking for young talents who are just starting their careers. A Zoekjaar visa is also a point of entry into an English and international-friendly growing economy. The fact that there are no language or income requirements transforms it into a personal challenge where you can test your resilience and truly push your boundaries.


Zoekjaar Application

Now that you know what a Zoekjaar visa is and why applying for one is the personal challenge you've been waiting for, onto the application process. As most administrative procedures in the Netherlands, applying for a Zoekjaar visa is a pretty straightforward process which starts with checking if you meet the requirements!

People preparing their zoekjaar application

Requirements and conditions

EU and Swiss citizens do not qualify for a Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa) as they are allowed to stay and work in the Netherlands under EU law.

First, to qualify for a Zoekjaar visa you cannot have applied for a residence visa on the same basis as the one you are applying for now. Zoekjaar visas are valid for one study or research program. In order to qualify for a second visa, the study or research program has to be different from the one you previously applied with.

You have three years after obtaining your diploma or degree to apply for a Zoekjaar visa. Only the following programs are eligible:

  • Accredited bachelor's or master's programs in the Netherlands
  • Post-master's programs of at least an academic year (a minimum of 10 months) in the Netherlands
  • Studies in relation to the Cultural Policy Act
  • Studies that are offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding its development cooperation policy
  • Higher education programs designated by Ministerial Decree
  • Scientific research for which you obtained a residence permit in the Netherlands for aforementioned research according to EU Directive 2005/71/EC, EU Directive 2016/801, or as a highly skilled migrant
  • Master's or post-master's, or doctoral programs at a designated international educational institution abroad (at time of your graduation). Designated international institutions are establishments which are in the top 200 of either the general ranking lists or subject ranking lists of the following websites: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities

Students having obtained their bachelor’s abroad do NOT qualify for the Zoekjaar visa.

One of the following additional conditions needs to be met by graduates having obtained their degree abroad:

Source: IND


The Zoekjaar application process

The application process differs depending on two conditions: whether the Netherlands is your primary place of residence and if you're applying with a Dutch diploma.

Studying while living in the Netherlands

If you’re already studying here in the Netherlands and are considered a resident of the Netherlands when applying, the application process is a little bit easier. Since you are registered at the BRP and have a BSN, you can use your Digid to complete your application. Don’t have a Digid? Apply for one here. It’s a fairly short process that also gives you access to applications for allowances. Be sure to activate the two-step sms verification process. Your application should be processed within 3 weeks. Start your application here.

Please make sure that at time of application, you haven’t been out of the Netherlands for more than 6 months. After 6 months outside of the country, it is no longer considered your primary place of residence and you no longer qualify for the online application process.

Studying and/or living outside of the Netherlands

If the Netherlands is not your primary place of residence and you do not have a BSN number, the application process is a little bit longer. The ISN or Immigration and Naturalization Service recommend starting your application at least 3 months in advance. You can apply at the nearest Dutch embassy or consulate. Depending on your nationality, you may need a provisional residence permit (MVV) in addition to the Zoekjaar visa.

Citizens of the following countries are exempt from the MVV requirement: Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea or the USA. You are also exempt from the MVV requirement if you possess either a long-term residence permit or have resided in another EU member state for over 18 months with a Blue Card.

Any foreign diplomas must be evaluated by Nuffic and all documents must be legalized and translated into either Dutch, English, French or German.

Be sure to double even triple-check you meet the Zoekjaar visa requirement before sending in your application as the fee is non-refundable.

So, you've filled in and submitted your application and are waiting anxiously for an update. What is there left to do except for wait? Do some research, of course!  Deciding to stay in the Netherlands for an extra year in hopes of finding your path comes with a mix of unexpected and predictable challenges. Not only should you be well informed as to what you're signing up for but you should also be aware of what your options are once your Zoekjaar is over. Don't worry! We've got you covered.

Riding to complete the next steps for the zoekjaar application



Keep in mind that the Zoekjaar visa (orientation year visa) requires you to be fully autonomous and self-sufficient. Though you may qualify for some allowances such as the housing or insurance allowance, a Zoekjaar visa requires stable and sustainable financial autonomy. Budgeting will be your best friend and here are the tools to help you get by.


Another major challenge you’ll face at the beginning of your Zoekjaar is finding housing. For those of you already in the Netherlands, you’re probably familiar with the precariousness of housing for students and recent graduates. Landlords might not be that open to renting out their apartment to an unemployed graduate so start searching ahead of time. Check out our guide to student housing.

Finding a job

Finding a job can also be quite difficult. Though the job market here in the Netherlands is extremely inviting and open to internationals, there are still a lot of hurdles to jump before securing your dream position. Dutch isn’t required but basic knowledge is recommended, as it can be seen as a key asset. Keep in mind that you’re competing against Dutch students and EU nationals who are significantly easier to higher for companies as they don’t require work permits or visas. Now, you shouldn’t let this discourage you but instead motivate your search for that perfect internship or job! Look at growing and developing industries. Check out College Life Work for some international friendly companies or our guide to entry-level jobs to nail your job search. College Life Work is the only platform offering vacancies in the Netherlands open to non-Dutch students and graduates. There are no languages requirements expected of you as well as a selection of companies actively searching to hire international graduates.

Finally, why not sign up for College Life Accelerate? We've partnered with companies looking for international talent and industry experts to create a program tailored to zoekjaar graduates.


Becoming a highly skilled migrant

The Zoekjaar is actually quite comparable to the highly skilled migrant residence permit. If you manage to find a job at the end of your Zoekjaar and want to stay in the Netherlands, a logical next step is to apply for the highly skilled migrant status. Upon completion of a Zoekjaar, you have the added bonus of having a reduced minimum salary in order to qualify as a highly skilled migrant. This means that you can be hired as a highly skilled migrant from a minimum gross salary of 2,423 euros per month instead of €3,381 (under 30) or €4,612 (over 30).


Useful resources

As well as the IND website, here are some additional resources that should help clarify additional questions you might have:


Are you ready to see what the Netherlands have to offer you? By confronting yourself to a search year, you’ll gain priceless experience as well as the opportunity to settle down here. With College Life Accelerate, getting a job after your Zoekjaar is that much easier. What are you waiting for?


Coronavirus (COVID-19)

When it comes to getting a Dutch visa, the coronavirus pandemic has added a new dimension of chaos to what is an already complicated process. Thankfully, we’ve done all the legwork to give you everything you need to know. It is currently not possible to apply for a Dutch visa of any kind and this will be the case until further notice. Visa fees for any applications which were not processed due to Covid-19 will not be refunded. Extensions to existing visas for those who have not yet travelled to the Netherlands because of the pandemic will also not be granted – you will have to apply for a new visa.

Coronavirus and students

If you are currently in the Netherlands with a visa which has expired or will expire within the next month, the Dutch government has advised to contact the IND immediately by phone to apply for an extension. The phone number for the IND visa extension request is 088 04 30430. You are also eligible for a Dutch visa extension if your flight from the Netherlands has been cancelled or if you still meet the checklist for a short-stay visa, which you can find here (under the Checklist tab). If you are an essential worker (such as doctor) who requires a visa to continue working, you should also contact the IND for further assistance.

Urgent travel to the Netherlands for family related matters is permitted but there are strict requirements such as proof of a first-degree relationship (parent, spouse, sibling, or child). Permission will also be granted on a case-by-case basis. Finally, any foreign nationals who wish to return to their home countries have been advised to contact their embassies for assistance at this stage. To call these times crazy is an understatement, but thankfully the Dutch government has done a better job than most at keeping both its citizens and expats informed. Make sure to stay up to date with any updates by the IND as well as updates from the embassy of your country. This situation changes the day, but it seems that these changes are becoming increasingly positive as European countries slowly begin to relax their emergency measures and return to normal. Chin up, we will get through this sooner than we think!

Showing 26 comments
  • Alex

    Hi, I applied for an zoek jaar visa. I need to go abroad before I get a decision, and my current visa will expire while I’m abroad. I would like to know if another person can pick my visa instead of me? Is this possible?

    • Kristian

      Hi Alex,

      Great question. Unfortunately, it’s too specific for our team to answer this and may also depend on the municipality you are picking up your visa in. Please contact the IND directly about this, since they’ll have the most accurate answer.

      Good luck,

  • Tanya Khan

    I am planning to apply for a Zoekjaar, but at the moment im outside The NL. I would be planning for Visa in Nov or Dec 2020, if situation becomes normal. May I know if there are any changes in the requirement or eligibilty criteria for applying Zoekjaar? If yes, will it be applicable to tthe people who already applied in Nov/ Dec 2020?

    • Kristian

      Hi Tanya,

      Congrats on making this decision! At this moment, there are no changes in the requirements & eligibility for the Zoekjaar visa. My recommendation would be to read this guide just before applying, so you’re up to date with any (potential) future changes.

      In the meantime, you may also explore the College Life Accelerate programme (https://collegelife.co/nl/accelerate).

      Good luck,

  • Sofía

    I have a BSc. of 4.5 years, 2 years of industry experience and a good score of IELTS. I decided to study abroad a 2y masters (120 ECTS) in an EU country. Unfortunately I didn’t complete it so i couldn’t submit my thesis. Is it obligatory to present a diploma for this visa? Can I make it only with my previous experience and the credits I got so far?

  • Yaren

    I have graduated from university almost 3 months ago. My visa expires in December 2019. Can I wait until September to apply for a search year visa or do I need to do it right away?
    Are visas being issued these days by the IND and if I apply for it, will it start from the day I applied or from the day that I received it?

    Also , maybe a not so much related question: what is the difference between highly skilled migrant and paid employment? Is it not possible for non-EU people to be engaged in paid employment?

    Thank you.
    Kind regards

    • Kristian

      Hi Yaren,

      Below you’ll find answers to your questions:

      (1) We recommend you to apply for it just before your residence permit becomes invalid so that you have as much time as possible to use the Zoekjaar Visa to your advantage. 

      (2) Yes, visas are being issued by the IND. The Visa will be valid from the day that you apply for it.

      (3) The difference between these two types of employment can be found here: https://ind.nl/en/work/working_in_the_Netherlands

  • SN


    If I have worked for 6 months while I am on a Search year visa and my employer also applies for knowledge migrant visa before my search year visa ends, will these 6 months be considered in the 5 not interrupted years criteria for Permanent residence permit? OR no work experience is considered in the period of Search year visa when applying for a permanent residence permit?

    Thank you.


  • SN

    I am going to apply for a Search year visa. I know the procedure for that. However, could you tell what is the procedure of extending a dependent visa for my spouse?

    Thank you in advance.

  • Julian

    Hi, great information here, I have a question: I currently have a zoekjaar visa and haven’t been successful in terms of getting a job, with Covid-19 delaying or creating setbacks in job applications and whatnot I was wondering if the Dutch government will by any chance extend the visas of current zoekjaar visa holders? I ask this because I feel that the current situation isn’t normal and has squandered the opportunity of many people to take full advantage of their zoekjaar visa, any possibility of an extension?

    • Kristian

      Hi Julian,

      Great question. Since there have been no developments with regards to the visa extension question, my recommendation would be to work twice as hard in finding a suitable opportunity. One of the core reasons we launched the College Life Accelerate (https://collegelife.co/nl/accelerate) during COVID-19 is to tackle this exact problem by accelerating & scaling your networking efforts and helping you succeed in building a career in the Netherlands.

      Hope this helps,

  • A

    I was working as a doctorate researcher for two years. I graduated and got my Zoekjaar visa. The university was my first sponsor. How much does that sponsorship cost if my next employer wants to employ me after the end of my zoekjaar?

  • Carolina

    Hello College Life staff,

    Thanks for the useful info. I have a question regarding medical insurance. What should I when I graduate and then apply for the orientation year (in the meantime). Because I’ve noticed that my medical insurance as an international student ends when I graduate, and the one for the orientation year starts only when I have my permit approved. Does that mean I can not leave any gaps between graduation and orientation year application?

    Thanks a lot,

    • Kristian

      Hi Carolina,

      Great question. Since you are always obligated to have insurance while living in the Netherlands, we would recommend to initially apply for an international expat insurance (https://collegelife.co/nl/essentials/insurance/). Once you find accept a job opportunity, you must apply for Dutch health insurance with any of the available healthcare providers, for example unive.nl. At this point, we’d also recommend applying for the Healthcare Allowance (https://collegelife.co/nl/money/allowances/), provided by the Dutch government.

      Hope this helps,

  • VA

    Thanks. By the way, there are still 6 mths for my zoek jaar visa to end and I already have a job offer starting June. That means my contract ends in June next year. But if I tell my employer that I want to apply for kennisimmigrant visa at the end of my zoek jaar, won’t that win me a resident permit of one year even if my work contract ends June 2021?

    • Kristian

      Hi VA,

      Unfortunately, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘winning you a residence permit.’ If you wish to continue working in the Netherlands after your Zoekjaar, your employer must apply for the highly skilled migrant visa anytime up until your existing visa expires. Whether or not your contract is valid after your orientation year visa doesn’t change this fact.

      Is there anything else I can help you with?


  • Andrea Flores

    I recently graduated (on the 6th of may). But due to the corona situation the graduation was to be held online, so I went back to Mexico (my home country) to do quarantine time until the situation improved. I am planning on returning to the Netherlands in 1 month, but since I graduated i think the student visa will not be valid anymore and wanted to apply for the zoekjaar visa, but since all the visa procedures are stopped, I am not sure how to proceed.

    • Kristian

      Hi Andrea,

      Please check whether your student visa is still valid with the authority that issued it. If its not valid, you should request a provisional residence permit (in Dutch: ‘machtiging tot voorlopig verblijf’ or ‘MVV’) and follows the instructions in Question 2 of this article: https://ind.nl/en/Documents/FAQ_orientation_year_highly_educated_persons.pdf

      Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with,

  • Julie

    While I am in the zoek jaar and working for a company which is not in sponsorship list. What happens if my future highly skilled employer would not be in sponsorship list? Shall they apply earlier for sponsorship?

    • Kristian

      Hi Julie,

      Great question. Your future highly skilled employer doesn’t have to be on the sponsorship list to file for a sponsorship. Being recognized by the IND as a sponsor gives the company the following advantages:
      (1) The IND handles your applications faster: a decision is usually taken on a completely submitted application within 2 weeks.
      (2) Fewer pieces of evidence: you need to send fewer pieces of evidence with the application. Your own attestation that the employee meets the conditions is usually sufficient.
      (3) You can use the Business Portal to submit digital applications.
      You should, however, focus on managing your own & your employers’ expectations. The more transparent you are with the employer about your future ambitions as a employee of the company, the easier it will be for the company to make a decision whether or not to request a highly skilled migrant visa sponsorship. (Source: https://ind.nl/en/work/Pages/Recognition-as-a-sponsor.aspx and https://ind.nl/en/work/Pages/Engaging-a-foreign-employee.aspx).

      One of the learning outcomes of College Life Accelerate (https://collegelife.co/nl/accelerate) is “Knowledge” and “Application” in which we teach you how to (1) master relationship building with potential employers, allowing you to unlock new career opportunities and (2) understand how to build trust & rapport through (non-)verbal communication with target employers. Both of these learning objections will help you towards getting a sponsorship.

      Good luck!

  • VA

    I am still in the zoek jaar visa. If I get a job within the zoek yaar visa, should I wait for zoek yaar to end and then apply for the kennismigrant visa if I get a job in a company?

    • Kristian

      Hi VA,

      You shouldn’t wait until the end of the Zoekjaar Visa, but instead should actively engage in a discussion with your current or future employer (while you have the Zoekjaar Visa) about your goal of working for them as a kennismigrant. The more transparent you are and the better your relationship with your current employer, the easier it is for you to acquire a highly skilled migrant visa. This is very important, since you must keep in mind that the employer will be obligated to pay you at least the reduced salary criterion of €2,432 per month [2020] (source: https://ind.nl/en/Documents/FAQ_orientation_year_highly_educated_persons.pdf).

      During the orientation year, you are granted free access to the Dutch labour market. This means that there is, apart from the Minimum Wage and Minimum Holiday Allowance Act, no salary criterion that you must meet. Also keep in mind that you, yourself, cannot apply for this visa. A company must apply on your behalf and sponsor you.

      For more information on how you can build your career in the Netherlands during & after the Zoekjaar Visa, explore the College Life Accelerate programme: https://collegelife.co/nl/accelerate/


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