Welfare systems are often perceived as key for migration decisions. Yet traditional international migration theories usually include this factor as rather static in nature and do not acknowledge the dynamic interaction with the individual life course. This is unfortunate, as the impact of macro-level circumstances on individual migration decisions may vary over a person's life, particularly for factors that are intrinsically connected to the life course, as is the case with the welfare system. In this study, we propose an innovative conceptual model which fruitfully combines insights from migration theories with principles of the life course approach. Using qualitative interview data from 36 European citizens born in Poland, Spain and the UK and residing in the Netherlands, we investigated how welfare systems are perceived and experienced at the individual level, and how these perceptions, knowledge and practices may enter migration decisions. Our study empirically underpins the main premise of the theoretical model that migration decisions and the factors shaping them should be explained as connected through the life course. The proposed conceptual model is suitable to explain the influence of welfare systems on migration decisions, but also that of other structural factors.