Article provided by Nedles, an IN Amsterdam partner.

Applying for permanent residency requires passing a civic integration examination (inburgeringsexamen). This exam comes in different types, ranging from the easier basic integration exam to the more difficult State Examination for Dutch as a second language (Staatsexamen NT2).

Most expats don’t need to be fluent in Dutch, as they operate in an international environment. For them, the easier, basic version of the inburgeringsexamen ( ‘Basic Civic Integration Examination Abroad’) will suffice. Let me fill you in on some of the details of this basic exam, so you’ll know what to expect and how to prepare.

For educated knowledge migrants, the basic exam should be a piece of cake. It requires reading, writing, listening and speaking Dutch at a very basic level (language level A2). You also need to answer a few questions on Dutch society. Again, nothing to worry about if you’ve lived in the Netherlands for a few years. Questions about the equality of men and women, the names of our neighbouring countries and the story of Anne Frank shouldn’t present too much of a challenge. To make things even easier, the answers are all multiple choice. So far so good.

The most tedious part of the basic integration exam is the so-called ‘orientation on the Dutch labour market’ (Oriëntatie op de Nederlandse Arbeidsmarkt) or ONA for short. ONA requires a lengthy and rather bureaucratic preparation period, beginning months before the actual exam. Also, the authorities need you to fill in a form with questions about your employment situation. Prepare to cringe a little.

For unemployed migrants with low job perspectives, ONA might make sense; however, for highly qualified expats with a good job, the questions hardly reflect their current situation and often come across as nonsensical. For instance, you absolutely must list three professions you’d like to work in, including the courses you’d need to follow – even if you already have a job.

I once guided a South African guest professor at a Dutch university through his ONA application. He had to list three possible places where he could look for job openings in his area of expertise. He wrote down LinkedIn and a website URL, but his application was rejected because he didn’t fill in the third option. So make no mistake: the civil servants checking your answers expect you to be thorough and complete. Sigh.

In addition, the entire ONA procedure – from filling out the application to taking the actual exam – can easily take two months, and that’s if you’ve filled out everything correctly. Missing a box or a question, like in the example above, may delay the procedure by an extra month or two.

My advice is to breathe deeply and answer the questions as best as you can, and you’ll do just fine. By the way, the more advanced State Examination does not include the ONA procedure. If you’re looking for an exam that’s more challenging, try the State Exam. But if you want quick results, the basic option works best.

So how long should you prepare for the basic exam? As an educated expat, you really don’t need to complete a lengthy six-month language course. Two months of home study – plus a handful of classes specifically tailored to the exam – will suffice. In my language school, Nedles, we bring knowledge migrants up to speed by teaching them A2 level Dutch in about six weeks. We then add an extra week or weekend of dedicated practice (with exam questions), and the students are good to go.

The final takeaway: don’t worry about the basic exam (it’s a breeze), don’t get upset about ONA (it’s not personal) and take a handful of Dutch classes to get you where you need to be.

Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions. 

Annelies Braams
Director of Nedles, a Dutch language school for internationals