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Moving to Antwerp

Famous for being at the heart of the world’s diamond trade, Antwerp is Belgium’s main port city and a commercial hub that revels in culture and history. As the northern region’s largest city, the official language in Antwerp is Dutch. Most residents, however, are bilingual and many will speak at least some English.

Antwerp is a city defined by contrasts, where lavish classical buildings on cobblestone streets stand alongside striking modern architecture. This unique setting is reflected in the city’s leisure options. There's no shortage of restaurants and cafés, monuments, serene green spaces and iconic museums.

Locals will also readily remind expats that the city was home to great painters like Rubens and Van Dyck. This proud artistic heritage is still relevant, especially in the local fashion industry. As a result, there are countless boutiques and designer stores for expats who enjoy buying life’s finer things.

Antwerp is also one of Belgium’s most populated cities and is host to many of the country's biggest businesses. Many of these businesses centre around its port, where the River Scheldt opens to the North Sea. The local economy is largely driven by the petrochemical industry, oil refineries, electricity production and cargo.

Antwerp’s central location in Western Europe means that it’s easily accessible. The city has well-maintained roads. Its public transport system consists of modern rail infrastructure, an efficient metro, an extensive bus network and an international airport. Thanks to this comprehensive system of public transit, both inner-city apartments and houses on Antwerp’s suburban outskirts are viable options for new arrivals to the city. 

Expats moving to the city with children will be pleased by the variety of family-friendly attractions and they can be assured that they’ll have good options for education. There is also a wide selection of public and international schools for families to choose from. 

The city’s temperate maritime climate means that extreme temperatures are rare. Summer is pleasant, but it’s also the wettest time of the year, with high temperatures of around 72° F (22°C). Winter temperatures rarely drop below 32°F (0°C) and there’s more rain than snow. 

Overall, expats moving to Antwerp will find a welcoming city that has an abundance of options for entertainment, schooling and accommodation. The quality of life enjoyed by expats and locals alike is high and the city offers new arrivals a range of unique cultural experiences, making Antwerp an attractive destination for expats from all walks of life.

Accommodation in Antwerp

Even with limited supply and constant demand, property prices in Antwerp are stable and generally cheaper than other major European cities. Accommodation tends to be small but comfortable, and while most houses have good heating, air-conditioning is uncommon and unnecessary. 

It’s difficult to find condominium complexes with gyms or swimming pools. Expats tend to exercise outdoors in the neighbourhood parks, public pools, tennis clubs and gyms.


Types of property in Antwerp

Antwerp has a wide range of apartments, from old flats with high ceilings and chandeliers to modern glass and steel studios. Some of the most attractive and expensive apartments can be found in the city centre.

Expats who move to Antwerp with children tend to look for houses in the outlying suburbs. Neighbourhoods to the north of the city are especially popular for their larger houses, gardens and sense of community.


Finding property in Antwerp

Most expats in Antwerp choose to use estate agents who have databases of long- and short-term rentals to take out some of the effort involved in the process. 

The classifieds sections of local newspapers are another good source of information. Many of these have listings online too.

Expats can also physically look for somewhere to live in areas that appeal to them by keeping an eye open for signs posted in front of properties. 


Renting accommodation in Antwerp

The standard lease agreement in Belgium is for nine years. However, three-year contracts are also possible.

Nine-year agreements are more flexible and penalties for early cancellation aren't as severe as with a three-year contract. The lease terms can also be revised every three years. If an expat wants to terminate their lease, they need to give three months’ written notice. The penalty for not doing this in the first year of the lease is the equivalent of three months’ rent. If the lease is terminated in the second year, the penalty is two months’ rent.

Leases

Belgian leases contain a list of the tenant’s and owner’s responsibilities with regards to maintenance. Tenants are likely to be responsible for day-to-day upkeep like carpet cleaning and gardening. Given that tenants can be held liable for damages to the property, expats need to do a full inventory that’s signed by both parties. This should include the condition of the fixtures, walls, decorations and fittings, and whether anything is missing or needs repair.

Leases should include the names of the owner and the tenant, the property’s address, when the contract starts and ends, whether any parking spaces are included and the amount to be paid each month. Both parties have to sign the agreement.

All leases have to be registered with the Ministry of Finance’s local Receiver of Registrations office. This is the responsibility of the owner. If it isn’t done, the tenant can terminate the contract without notice and shouldn't be held responsible for any fines. 

Deposits

Expats will need to provide proof of income and pay a deposit of up to three months’ rent. They also might have to set up a standing order with their bank to pay the monthly rental as this is required by many landlords.

Furnished or unfurnished

Most rental properties are unfurnished. Some properties are effectively empty and don’t even have built-in cupboards, while others have an equipped kitchen with a refrigerator and stove. Expats should ensure they are clear on what is included in the property before signing a lease.

Utilities in Antwerp

Most rental contracts don’t include utilities such as electricity, internet and water. Expats who need to set up their own utility accounts will be able to choose between several gas and electricity providers. 

Areas and Suburbs in Antwerp

Deciding where to live in the city will be one of the most important decisions that new arrivals to Antwerp will make. Various factors will need to be taken into account including budget, proximity to work and public transport connections.

Most expats look for property close to the R10 ring road that circles the city centre. The districts around a series of streets called De Leien are also popular. These form sections of the N1 road that runs from Brussels in the south through Antwerp’s city centre and north to the Dutch border. The benefits of living in one of these areas include easy access to transport infrastructure and a wide variety of shopping and entertainment options. However, properties are expensive and traffic congestion can be a problem.

On the other hand, outer suburbs like Merksem, Deurne and Zurenborg offer a good range of accommodation options for expats. Despite their distance from the city centre public transport links are generally very good, making a car unnecessary in most cases. 

These are some of the most popular areas for expats in Antwerp. 


Popular expats areas in Antwerp

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Den Dam

Once inhabited by dock workers, Den Dam in the city centre is now a multicultural residential area. It retains a little of its edgy character and is ideal for those employed in the industrial areas to the north of Antwerp, without being too far from the city centre. Expats with children will enjoy spending time at the Park Spoor Noord, a rejuvenated rail yard that has sports facilities and cycling paths. The area’s strategic location is probably its biggest plus, but some find it less appealing than the beautiful tree-lined streets in many other areas of the city.

Zuid

A redeveloped museum district in the city centre, Zuid is popular among young residents who want to live close to the city’s nightlife and restaurants. Expats who live in this riverside area are likely to have pleasant views from their apartment windows and there are plenty of galleries, museums, monuments and designer stores to keep them busy. Getting around on public transport won’t be a problem, but it can get busy and may not be well-suited to families. 

Merksem

Merksem is a fairly large district just over the Albert Canal to the north of the city. Much of it is industrial, but it also has affordable accommodation and several large parks. Public transport links are good and parking is less of a problem than in other parts of the city. However, traffic can get congested, particularly around Bredabaan. Crime is also more of an issue than elsewhere in Antwerp.

Deurne

Deurne is best known for being home to Rieverenhof Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces. Consisting of 20 neighbourhoods and split into four sub-districts, Deurne has mostly townhouses and apartments, but there are also a few houses to rent. Its cultural attractions include museums, monuments and events. Public transport links are good, as is the cycling infrastructure. The Albert Canal area can get very congested, especially along Bischoppenhoflaan and around the stadium. 

Zurenborg

Hugging the R10 to the southeast of the city centre, Zurenborg is best known for its classic architecture. The area is split by a railway line. The northwest section has a village-like atmosphere that attracts younger residents, while the southeastern section, also known as Cogels-Osy, boasts quirky townhouses. The area’s aesthetic appeal is its biggest attraction and residents have easy access to several modes of public transport. It’s also far enough from the city centre to be fairly quiet, but not so far that there aren’t plenty of things to see and do. The biggest downside is that property in the area is usually quite expensive.

Education and Schools in Antwerp

There are several schooling options available for expat children in Antwerp. The city is home to several reputable international schools as well as several good public and private schools. Parents will need to take the fees, language of instruction, and location of any prospective schools into account before deciding on one for their children.

Expats with children at pre-primary age can enrol them at a nursery school or home day-care. Depending on the school, this can be free or fees are charged relative to the parents’ income.


Public schools in Antwerp

Public schools are divided into pre-schools, kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools. Flemish (a regional dialect of Dutch) is the language of instruction and other languages are introduced towards the end of primary school. 

Public education in Belgium is free to legal residents and is managed at the regional level. Children can start school at two-and-a-half years, but attendance is only compulsory from the ages of six to 18.


Private schools in Antwerp

There are a number of private schools available in Antwerp. The language of instruction in these schools is usually Flemish. Expats who plan to stay in the city long-term or whose children already speak the local language will find that private schools are a good option.

Most private schools in the city are Roman Catholic but allow for students of different faiths.


International schools in Antwerp

Most expats on short-term assignments in Belgium send their children to an international school. These provide various curricula such as the American, British and International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. The language of instruction is usually English and most give students a choice of French or Dutch classes. 


Admission to schools in Antwerp

By law, expats will need to enrol their children in a recognised school within 60 days of arriving in the country. To do this, they’ll need to provide proof of identity, a residence permit, vaccination records, their children’s academic records as well as the national identification number given on their Belgian social identity card.

International Schools in Antwerp

Most expats on short-term assignments in Belgium send their children to an international school. These provide various curricula such as the American, British and International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. The language of instruction is usually English and most give students a choice of French or Dutch classes. 


International schools in Antwerp

Antwerp International School (AIS)

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate (IB)
Ages: 2.5-18
Websitewww.ais-antwerp.be

Da Vinci International School Antwerp

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Cambridge, GCSE, A-levels
Ages: 2.5-18
Websitewww.da-vinci.be

DYP International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Cambridge, IGCSE, IB
Ages: 3-18
Websitewww.dypisbelgium.be

Lifestyle in Antwerp

Antwerp is Belgium’s shopping and fashion capital. An artistic energy pulses through its streets as people eat at roadside cafés, explore its attractions or take a quiet moment in one of its parks. 


Shopping in Antwerp

Expats will find all the variety they’d expect from a major city. They'll be able to shop at large malls and along historic pedestrian streets. The main shopping area is the Meir, which is also Antwerp’s most famous street. Connecting the Groenplaats town square to the central station, it's been a prominent part of the city for centuries and many historical buildings remain.

The Wijnegem Shopping Centre, about six miles (10km) east of the city centre, is the city’s largest mall with 250 stores from supermarkets and restaurants to fashion and hobby shops.

The diamond district is among Antwerp's best-known shopping areas. Set in an area around the central station known as the Square Mile, almost 1,800 diamond traders and jewellers are clustered together to form one of the international diamond industry’s most important centres of trade.

The Square Mile boasts more than just jewellery stores, however. The door to the old Middenstatie building opens onto Keyserlei, another of the city’s cobblestone shopping streets, lined with parked bicycles and trees. Here, expats will be able to enjoy lunch on a café terrace and shop at independent designer boutiques or the Century Shopping Centre. 


Eating out in Antwerp

Antwerp has a good selection of restaurants and its historical architecture means that many of the best establishments provide a feast for the eyes too. The wide variety of restaurants reflects the city’s diverse modern population. Diners can savour a broad palette of Castilian, French, Moroccan and local cuisine. 


Outdoor activities in Antwerp

Expats who enjoy the outdoors won’t be short of things to do. Antwerp has several parks and sports facilities and lends itself to being explored by bicycle and on foot.

The triangular piece of land occupied by the Stadspark was once the site of a 16th-century fort. Close to the station and the zoo, its central location gives expats a chance to escape the city’s bustle without leaving its boundaries. The park boasts a lake and several historical monuments and is especially popular with joggers, walkers and families. There’s also the Park Spoor Noord, which is a bit different from the traditional European city park. Its layout encourages visitors to be active. There are play areas for children and large patches of grass for sports, games and picnics.

There’s also plenty to do outside the city, including various cycle routes around the Flanders region, which can be used to explore the surrounding towns or tour the tranquil Belgian countryside. 

Kids in Antwerp

Expats living in Antwerp will find that this is one of Belgium's most family-friendly cities. There's a range of activities and attractions which cater to children and parents alike. Expat families in Belgium are unlikely to find themselves short of things to do. 


Kid-friendly activities in Antwerp

Antwerp Zoo

The highlight for many of the city’s families is the Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world. Boasting a nocturnal creature enclosure, aquarium and winter garden, it’s home to 950 species and takes at least half a day to explore. There’s also a daily sea lion show and feeding times for the hippos, penguins and elephants are crowd favourites.

Aquatopia is an indoor aquarium that houses various eco-systems, including mangrove swamps and coral reefs. Expats will have a chance to see aquatic creatures from around the globe, all within walking distance of the central station.

Museum Aan de Stroom

Another not-to-be-missed attraction is the 10-storey Museum Aan De Stroom (MAS). The complex is the city’s largest museum and contains priceless paintings, ancient artefacts and interactive exhibitions. All of the signs are in Dutch, but the museum has a smartphone app that translates everything into English or visitors can use one of the museum’s iPods for the audio tour. The view from the museum’s rooftop is one of Antwerp’s best.

Ruben's House

Ruben's House is an attraction perhaps best enjoyed by expats with older children. Antwerp is very proud of its association with the Baroque master painter and restored his palatial house to its former glory, opening it to the public in 1946. Aside from containing some of his most famous works, its ornate decorations make the house an attraction in its own right. 

The Pancake Boat

Younger expats and their parents are almost guaranteed to enjoy the Pancake Boat. A unique take on river cruises, expats will be able to board at one of several points in the city and enjoy their new surroundings while eating all the pancakes they want.

Getting Around in Antwerp

Antwerp is generally an easy city to navigate as it’s a compact metropolis. De Lijn, the public transport company, operates a comprehensive network of buses and trams. Expats wanting to travel out of the city can catch a train operated by the national railway service. 

Those who plan to use buses and trams frequently should consider getting a multi-ride Lijnkaart card. It works out cheaper than paying for individual rides. It can be bought at stations, supermarkets and newsagents. Expats will also be able to get public transport maps from station ticket booths. Single tickets are valid for an hour at a time, so passengers can swap between modes of transport. Tickets and cards are usually inserted into a ticket machine when boarding.

Walking around Antwerp is also pleasant. Around a fifth of the picturesque city centre is demarcated as pedestrian zones. 


Buses in Antwerp

The city’s main bus station is the Franklin Rooseveltplaats. It’s close to the zoo and the Antwerpen-Centraal train station. Buses also leave from both this train station and the Antwerpen-Berchem station in Zurenborg. 


Trains in Antwerp

Trains are operated by the NMBS and are the best option for long-distance travel as well as for residents who commute from the outlying suburbs. Tickets can be bought at station counters or through the NMBS website. 


Trams and pre-metro in Antwerp

The pre-metro, which runs underground as well as on surface lines, is part of the tram system that covers Antwerp and its surrounding suburbs. All trams use the same tickets as buses. The most prominent stops are Diamant station, below the central train station, and Groenplaats, from where the line continues west under the Scheldt River to the Van Eeden station. 


Taxis and ride-sharing services in Antwerp

Taxis are allowed to transport up to four passengers, while taxi buses can accommodate eight for the same price. Those with an official taxi permit have an illuminated sign on the roof and a red licence plate. Tariffs are determined by the city authorities and should always be shown on the meter. At the end of a journey, the driver must print out a ticket bearing the company’s name and telephone number for queries or complaints.

Ride-sharing services are readily available throughout the city but are often deemed unnecessary as a result of Antwerp's excellent public transport system.


Cycling in Antwerp

The city has a large network of cycle lanes as well as the Velo public bicycle hire scheme. Various passes can be bought from the Velo website or customer service offices near the Stadspark and the zoo. After receiving a card, people can take a bicycle from stations across the city before dropping it off at another station closer to their destination.


Driving in Antwerp

Expats with a driver’s licence from a non-EU country that doesn’t have an exchange agreement with Belgium can legally drive in the country for a year. In some cases, they’ll need their home licence translated into French or Dutch. After 12 months, the home licence becomes invalid and expats will have to pass a driving exam at their local municipality to get a Belgian licence.

Parking in Antwerp is limited and is managed by the local parking authority. The city is divided into different parking zones, some of which require permits that can be bought from district council offices or the parking authority. Multi-level garages are easy to find, though they can be a bit pricey. To avoid being fined or having their car towed away, expats should not park on yellow lines, at bus stops and in front of driveways.