The Tax Expat in Amsterdam

This week explores the story of the Tax expat in Amsterdam, Boyan Kirchev, a tax and legal professional who grew up in Bulgaria and has now established his life in the Netherlands. We’ve been shouting and raving about the Netherlands as a tax hub for personal and professional development (notably in this recent blog), and Boyan has substantiated the evidence perfectly. Now, that’s enough from me, let’s throw it over to him.

Boyan, it’s a pleasure to have you join us for this week’s Tax Expat. At first glance, your experiences present a tax career full of successes, along with a significant job change to a legal counsel position in recent times. But as is the theme of these interviews, we would love to know more!

Thank you for having me.

So, getting down to business, where does your story begin and how was your experience at that time?

My story begins in Bulgaria. I moved from my hometown of Varna (a small but beautiful place on the Black Sea coast) to the capital Sofia to study law at Sofia University. When I was in my second student year, I started working part-time as an assistant in a law firm. In my fourth year of studies, I joined the tax and legal practice of Ernst & Young, where I continued working after my graduation.

Varna is quite the change of scenery when compared to the Netherlands! You’ve been living in the Netherlands for 12 years now, what prompted the move?

Almost 13 years now :))) And it was supposed to be just one. I’d never have guessed I’d be living here for so long.

What prompted the move – Well, in the law firm of EY, I worked with a lot of international clients and I noticed that my colleagues, who’d also done a degree abroad, definitely had an advantage. So, I started checking out master’s programs and scholarships in English abroad. It wasn’t possible for me otherwise, financially.

I was mostly looking at a master’s in EU law because Bulgaria’s membership was getting close and I felt I really didn’t know enough about EU law. My first choice of country would’ve probably been either the UK or France (as I speak French) and I almost got a scholarship for Oxford but flaked on the last test. By a random announcement, I heard about the MATRA (MTEC) scholarship for an LLM in International and European law with the University of Amsterdam. I’d never been to the Netherlands before and, frankly, didn’t really know much about the country.

In my mind, I only associated Amsterdam with tulips, soft drugs, and the Red Light district :)) But the conditions of the scholarship were great and UvA’s programs were highly ranked, so I thought I’d give it a go. And I won it. The idea was to be in Amsterdam for 1 year to complete the master’s and then return to Sofia. My employer was even willing to keep my place for the year, so my contract wasn’t terminated.

But then, I just fell in love with Amsterdam. I dare say it was from first sight. I remember my first days here and the feeling was just amazing and I felt immediately at home. So then, when the time approached for me to go back, I just thought: no, this is where I want to be. The decision was made and I decided to stay here 🙂 I terminated my employment with EY in Sofia and …. embarked on the difficult quest of finding a job in Amsterdam.

Clearly, the charm of the Netherlands has rubbed off on you. Do you see yourself there for the foreseeable future?

Well, never say never, of course, but yes, currently I don’t see myself moving anywhere any time soon. Amsterdam is a great place to live. I think it’s a very unique combination. You get the joys of a small town (you can get from one side of town to the other in an hour or so by bike) but at the same time, it’s so international and dynamic, and so many things are happening that make it feel like a major capital. The air is clean, people are free-minded and easygoing, it’s welcoming to foreigners, great for kids and families, and it has Schiphol. What more could you want?

When you first relocated, was it smooth sailing, or did it take some adjusting?

It took A LOT of adjusting. And for me, I sort of had to adjust twice. First, during my master’s year, it was the general adjustment to life in Amsterdam. It’s very different from Sofia in every aspect. The bikes, canals, tiny streets, the way things work, the international students’ community – It was a big big change for me. Even If you want communication – we were all speaking our ‘international’ English, with our accents and strange sentences – You have to get used to it. My second piece of adjustment was when I started working at PWC. Then I got really into a Dutch community and got to experience the Dutch mentality and way of doing things. And, again, it’s very different from Bulgaria. Ways of doing business are also very different. I think it took me a good two years to start feeling at ease with it.

Learning the language helped a lot. In a country where, the moment the Dutch hear a foreign name or an accent, they switch to English, that wasn’t so easy. But I guess it’s true what they say; learning a foreign language rewires your brain. It helps you get closer to the culture and mentality.

If you were to go back and start this experience all over again, is there anything you could see yourself doing differently?

Well you know, with the knowledge of now, of course, I would’ve done some things differently, but that’s the beauty of learning from experiences. I think, overall, I was very lucky, and I’m very fortunate how my life turned out here. So, I guess I’d do it all over again.

Such is life! If you could turn back the time – would you have made the same move?

Yes, 100%. The Netherlands and Amsterdam offer really unique experiences for internationals.

A pretty concrete answer there Boyan. What advice can you share for other tax or legal professionals who are considering a relocation abroad for their career?

Go for it! Even if it’s for a short assignment or a couple of years, it’s worth it. It just opens your eyes so much. You get to see things, both in your own country and the world in general, with different eyes. It’s as if you can then look from above and understand how and why things happen a certain way in different cultures. It’s a uniquely enriching experience that you have for life. Also, professionally for lawyers and tax specialists, in the current world of high-tech, globalisation, etc. it’s the perfect way of getting out of your bubble. It’s not easy for legal/tax professionals, of course, we study our national laws and get acquainted with our legal systems and going abroad is scary and difficult. But it’s worth it.

Those are some wise words Boyan, and I couldn’t agree more! Thank you so much for joining us on The Tax Expat, it’s much appreciated!

Are you a Tax Expat? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences and share them with our global tax network. For more information, please contact Alex Mann

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