U.S. Citizens Right to Live, Work, Play in Dutch Caribbean, Including St Maarten, Under Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT)

You read that right. US citizens can quite simply live and/or work in Sint Maarten, and all of the Dutch Caribbean, under the Dutch American Friendship Treaty of 1956 (DAFT). When I first heard about this I thought it sounded too good to be true. So, of course, I Googled it. What I found was information about DAFT and also details about a court judgment ruling in favor of an American citizen who was attempting to live in Sint Maarten under this law.

All good, right? Well, not quite. The only information I could find that directly related to Sint Maarten was several years old. And the original terms of DAFT read as if it were only applicable for entrepreneurs who were willing to start a business in a Dutch territory and invest at least 4,500 Euro to do so.

But what about that court ruling? How does that apply, specifically, to Sint Maarten? I needed more information. So I contacted an attorney in Curacao (contact details are at the end of this article). If you have additional questions after reading this article you can contact me here.

Terms of the Dutch American Friendship Treaty (DAFT) and How it Applies to St Maarten

Under the terms of DAFT, and backed by a judgment of the Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba dated 15 December 2014, US Citizens, just like Dutch citizens born outside the Caribbean, have the right to stay in the Dutch Caribbean, including Sint Maarten, for a period of six consecutive months within a timeframe of one year. This differs from normal tourist visas, which are usually only valid for a maximum of 90 days out of 180. This is the first big difference that applies to U.S. Citizens due to DAFT.

Further, if U.S. citizens wish to stay longer or want to work on the islands, they can file an application for Declaration of Admission by right. Therefore, US citizens are exempt from applying for a residency or a work permit. As soon as the application has been filed, the person may stay on the island and are allowed to start working during the application period while they await the issue of the declaration. There is no requirement to be an entrepreneur or to make any minimum investment to gain residency and get approved. This is per the court ruling mentioned above that states US Citizens must be treated the same as Dutch Nationals not born on one of the Dutch Caribbean Islands. The Declaration of Admission for U.S. citizens is valid for an indefinite period of time. A U.S. citizen can live and work in Sint Maarten for the duration of the Declaration of Admission.

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s not. I’ve independently confirmed this with the Dutch law firm of HBN Law & Tax in Willemstad, Curaçao, and with the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service of Sint Maarten.

Step by step directions to live long term in the Dutch Caribbean

Obviously, a lot goes into a decision to move to Sint Maarten or anywhere else in the Dutch Caribbean. Do you have enough money to support yourself or do you need to find work? Do you have a place to live long term? There are lots of obvious questions that you’ll need to figure out before taking the plunge. But it sure is fun to think about, isn’t it?

Without being able to give you advice on your specific set of circumstances, what I will do is simply lay out the details of DAFT and how it applies to living in Sint Maarten. How you use this information is up to you. Also, keep in mind that this applies to any Caribbean island that is a Dutch territory, such as Sint Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba, Saba, St. Eustatius, and Bonaire.

Once you’re in Sint Maarten you will need to fill out a form called “Model IV Aanvraag Verklaring Van Rechtswege.” You can download the form here. Yes, the form is in Dutch and it needs to be completed in Dutch. I have translated the form into English and you can download the English version here. YOU MUST SUBMIT THE DUTCH VERSION, not the English version. I am only providing an English translation to assist you, it is not an official version of the form.

On the form, in the first section under “Who are eligible” you will not find a reference to the Dutch American Friendship Treaty. Yet, it does apply. For some reason, Sint Maarten has never publicized this law. But, it is applicable and they will honor it. If you have any questions or hesitation you can contact HBN Law and Tax for more information. See below for their contact information.

Once the Model IV form has been submitted to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, along with the other required documentation, you will receive a copy of your application along with an official receipt. This can be used as proof of residency and the right to work while you await formal approval. Keep in mind, there may be other tax documents and requirements that need to be completed before you start a job, so be sure to check on all the work requirements with a local attorney or other qualified consultants.

It normally takes four months to get the final approval letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. As soon as the Declaration has been obtained, the U.S. citizen shall register himself at the Population Register in SXM.

Here is a list of documentation required:

  • Complete Dutch form Model IV Aanvraag Verklaring Van Rechtswege
  • Color copy of passport (all pages)
  • Certified copy of birth certificate (not older than 3 years old)
  • Certificate of good conduct required from your local police department (not older than 3 months)
  • Proof of local accommodations
  • Proof of sufficient resources to live
  • In case the U.S. citizen is married or cohabited, a valid copy of the marriage certificate or the cohabitation agreement
  • In case the citizen has children, then a declaration from the school of the current school year
  • In case one of the parents wish to stay behind in the U.S., then he/she must submit a valid copy of his/her passport and a declaration that he/she has no issues with the fact that the children are moving to Sint Maarten together with the other parent
  • In case one of the parents has the official custody of the children, then the judgment of the court is required
  • An employer’s declaration signed by the employer if the U.S. citizen is going to work in Sint Maarten
  • Do not have to make any minimum investment to qualify

Immigration and Naturalization Service of Sint Maarten

A.T. Illidge Road 8 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

T: 721 543 0352

F: 721 543 0987

E: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, September 22, 2020, I interviewed Harshal Kirpalani, an attorney at the law firm of HBN Law & Tax in Willemstad, Curaçao. The information I gathered is summarized in this article. For assistance, please contact Ms. Kirpalani at [email protected]

This post in not intended to offer legal or any type of advice. It is merely intended to lay out information about the Dutch American Friendship Treaty and how it applies to the Dutch Caribbean. Please consult with an attorney or other qualified professional before making any decisions relating to the information presented in this article.

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Jon Strong

I am a U.S. citizen living in Phoenix, Arizona, with my wife and two sons. My family considers Saint Martin a second home and we’ve been there countless times. We love the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this island. The people have always made us feel at home and welcome.

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