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Government information for entrepreneurs

How to start an online business - a checklist

This information is provided by

Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, KVK | Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO | Statistics Netherlands organisation, CBS

Selling products or services in an online shop (called a 'webshop' in the Netherlands) involves more than building a website. You will need to register your company with the Commercial Register at the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK), register your domain name, keep records and pay income tax and VAT (BTW). If you intend to start an online business in the Netherlands, you must comply with various rules and regulations including those for online sales. You can use this checklist to quickly determine which obligations you must fulfil.

Are you allowed to stay in the Netherlands?

If you are going to run a business in the Netherlands, you must fulfil a number of conditions. If you are not an EU citizen, you may need a residence permit. Our interactive tool Coming to the Netherlands as an entrepreneur can help you find out quickly if this is true for you, and tell you what other obligations you have to fulfil.

Is your online store a business?

When does your online shop stop being a hobby, and become a business? The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce and the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration have several criteria:

  • profitability
  • independence
  • capital
  • size of the company, in time and money
  • customers
  • entrepreneurial risk
  • liability

Register with the Dutch Commercial Register and Dutch Tax Administration

New retail businesses, whether 'brick' or online, must register with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK) Commercial Register. If you register as a sole proprietor or as a cooperative, they will issue you with a VAT number and pass on your details to the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration. You therefore do not need to register separately with them. If you decide to register as a limited company or association, you will need to register with the Tax Administration separately. See also Legal business structures - an overview.

Sole proprietors: VAT number procedure changes as of 1 January 2020

Do you want to start as a sole proprietor (eenmanszaak)? In that case, from 1 January 2020 onwards, the Tax and Customs Administration will issue your VAT number when you register at the Chamber of Commerce. When you register with the Commercial Register, the Chamber of Commerce will forward your registration to the Tax Administration, and they will process this to provide you with your VAT number. This may take up to five days. Before 1 January 2020, the Chamber of Commerce issued you with your VAT number directly when you registered your business. The change in procedure is necessary to protect sole proprietors' privacy; prior to the change, the VAT number was linked to the private citizen service number (BSN). Personal data were freely available in the Commercial Register. The Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsbescherming) has ruled that this is a violation of the GDPR. If you were already registered as a sole proprietor with your citizen service number before 1 January 2020, the Tax Administration will issue you with a new VAT number. You don't have to undertake any action.

Make sure you have an IBAN account

If you plan to start doing business in or with the Netherlands, you will need a business bank account (IBAN). If you are from outside the EU, you may need to apply for one. The Dutch Banking Association has created a Quick Scan to help you find out if you are eligible. Read how it works.

Register your domain name (url or internet address)

You have to apply to a domain name registrar to register and purchase a domain name. The name has to be unique, and of course you need to respect other companies’ copyrights, trademarks, and trade names. The registrar will submit a registration request on your behalf to the organisation that administers domain names.

If someone else builds the online shop for you, you will only be permitted to modify the website yourself if you hold the copyright. Preferably, the designer should waive his personal rights. Another possibility is a licence for use.

Check the requirements for running an online business from home

If you intend to start a home-based online shop, you have to make sure your business does not cause nuisance to your neighbours, for instance because of extra traffic, due to delivery services.

You will usually have to report this intention to your local authority and check the municipal zoning plan. If you rent, you will also have to ask permission from your landlord.

Find out which taxes you need to pay

If your online shop is a source of income, the Tax Administration will most likely view you as an entrepreneur for income tax. You will then have to pay tax on your company profit. You need to pay VAT (BTW) on most products and services. The Netherlands has three VAT rates. You can obtain an exemption for some goods and services. You charge VAT to your customers, and then transfer it to the Tax Administration office. When your turnover in another EU country crosses a certain threshold, you charge the VAT-rate of that country. You have to pay VAT there as well, and you will have to register as a business in that country too. The threshold for distance salesExternal link differs per country.

Keep orderly business records

Every entrepreneur is obliged to keep business records. The rules are no different for an online shop. Your records must comply with certain rules. For instance, you have to retain your records for at least seven years. And if you wish to receive the entrepreneur allowance, you must keep a record of the number of hours spent working for your business.

Give clear information on your website

Your website must clearly state your company’s identity. Besides your address details, you must state your commercial register number and your VAT number. You must also inform customers about the price and features of your products, the method of payment, the order process, warranty, the cooling off period, and the delivery details.

Ask your customer's permission to place cookies on their computer

A cookie is a small file that saves internet settings on your customer's computer. You can follow their surfing behaviour or place targeted advertisements. Your customer must give you permission to do this. You should request this permission as soon as they enter your online shop.

Make certain that your customers' personal details are safe

You must handle customers' personal details with due care, in accordance with EU guidelines: the GDPR. Customers' personal details must be secured against loss or theft, for example. Please be advised by your internet hosting provider on available security options.

Ensure that your customers are able to pay securely

Secure payment is possible with a secure internet connection. A secure internet connection includes 'https' in your browser's URL.

Send order confirmations in writing

You must send customers an order confirmation in writing, enclosing your general terms and conditions, your guarantee conditions and your contact details. Your customer must receive this information – at the very latest – when the product is delivered or the service is provided.

Observe the rules on email advertising

You are not permitted to send emails or make mobile phone calls to private individuals or companies for advertising purposes without their prior consent.

Selling alcohol? You need a licence

You may only sell high-alcohol beverages via an online shop if you have an off-licence permit or a licence under the Licensing and Catering Act. You do not need a licence to sell low-alcohol beverages.

Selling tobacco? Follow the rules

You are allowed to sell tobacco online, but there are strict rules you must follow. You can publish an overview of tobacco products (with or without logos) and a price list on your website, but you must not recommend any specific product.

Draft the general terms and conditions

It is wise to use general terms and conditions to minimise your risks and provide clarity for you and your customers. General terms and conditions include rules about payment, delivery times, guarantees and disputes. You can use the specimen terms and conditions drawn up by the Dutch Home Shopping Organization (Thuiswinkel.org).

Check product, packaging and labelling requirements

Consumer goods must be safe to use. That is why the products your online shop sells must comply with several product requirements. Check which ones apply to you. There are also requirements for product packaging and labelling, for instance the language on the label when you export products.

See what Thuiswinkel.org can do for you

Thuiswinkel.orgExternal link (Home Shopping) is a Dutch organisation that offers advice, market research activities and complaints mediation to online shop entrepreneurs and their customers. You can also obtain a webshop quality markExternal link as proof of your online shop’s bona fides.

Statistics: turnover development webshops

The turnover development is shown as an index number. It reflects how the turnover has changed compared to the base year (2015). For example, an index number of 120 means that the turnover is 1.2 times as large as in the base year 2015. Or, 20% has been added compared to 2015.

Questions relating to this article?

Please contact the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO

This information is provided by

Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, KVK
Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO
Statistics Netherlands organisation, CBS