Under Dutch law, a foreign individual or company may operate in the Netherlands through an incorporated or unincorporated entity or branch. Dutch corporate law provides a flexible and liberal framework for the organization of subsidiaries or branches. There are no special restrictions for a foreign entrepreneur to do business in the Netherlands.
The business operations can be set up in the Netherlands with or without a legal personality. If a legal entity has legal personality, the entrepreneur cannot be held liable for more than the sum it contributed to the company’s capital.
Dutch law distinguishes two types of companies both of which possess legal personality: the private limited liability company (besloten vennootschap met beperkte aansprakelijkheid - BV) and the public limited liability company (naamloze vennootschap - NV). These forms of legal entities are most commonly used for doing business in the Netherlands.
Other commonly used legal entities in the Netherlands, are the cooperative (coöperatie) and the foundation (stichting). The foundation is a common form used within the non-profit and health care sector. Other common business forms are sole proprietorship (eenmanszaak), general partnership (vennootschap onder firma - VOF), (civil) partnership (maatschap) and limited partnership (commanditaire vennootschap - CV). None of the latter forms possesses legal personality and, as a consequence thereof, the owner or owners will be fully liable for the obligations of the entity.
All entrepreneurs engaged in commercial business and all legal entities have to register their business with the Trade Register (Handelsregister) at the Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel). This section covers the abovementioned legal entities for doing business in the Netherlands from a legal perspective. After dealing with the distinction between a subsidiary and a branch, the above mentioned entities will be described in greater detail. This will be followed by a summary of the status of intellectual property rights in the Netherlands. Finally, this manual will explain the advantages and disadvantages of doing business through a subsidiary or a branch.