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Moving to Antwerp

Antwerp is a city defined by contrasts, where lavish classical buildings on cobblestone streets stand alongside striking modern architecture. Famously 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. 

Locals will readily remind expats that the city was home to great painters such as 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 life’s finer things.

Living in Antwerp as an expat

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 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 and its public transport system consists of an efficient tram and bus system. Thanks to this comprehensive system of public transit, both inner-city apartments and houses on Antwerp’s suburban outskirts are viable accommodation options for new arrivals to the city. 

Cost of living in Antwerp

Life in Antwerp is not especially expensive – it's far less pricey than Brussels – but nor is it particularly cheap. As a country, Belgium has a high income-tax rate which ranges from 25 to 50 percent. Budgeting with post-tax figures is therefore important. For those who find themselves on a tight budget, cheaper-than-average options can be found for accommodation and food, though it may take some time and effort.

Expat families and children

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.

Climate in Antwerp

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 with a great lifestyle. There's 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.


Types of accommodation 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 accommodation 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

Leases

The standard lease agreement in Belgium is for nine years, though 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.

Deposits

Expats will need to provide proof of income and pay a deposit of up to three months’ rent. Belgian leases contain a list of the tenant’s and owner’s responsibilities with regard 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. At the end of the lease, the cost of damages or missing items may be deducted from the deposits.

Furnished or unfurnished

Most rental properties are unfurnished. Some properties are effectively empty and don’t 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

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

The best places to live 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, though properties are expensive and traffic congestion can be a problem.

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

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


Popular expat areas in Antwerp

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Den Dam

Once inhabited by dockworkers, 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 railyard 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.

Deurne

Deurne is best known for being home to Rieverenhof, the city’s largest park. This area 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 highly 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 atmosphere that attracts younger residents, while the southeastern section 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 a number of 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.

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


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. Children under 12 who do not speak Dutch can attend any primary school, while non-Dutch-speaking children over 12 must attend a school that has additional classes for speakers of foreign languages. These reception classes are focused on intensive Dutch-language learning. The child is fully integrated into all regular classes as soon as possible.


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 do 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 programmes. The language of instruction is usually English and most give students a choice of French or Dutch classes. International schools are popular among expat parents as the familiar language and curriculum can ease the transition between schools. That said, international schools can be prohibitively expensive, so parents should ensure their budget can cover the tuition.


Special-needs education in Antwerp

Special-needs education in Belgium focuses on inclusion and equality. The government is committed to ensuring each child exercises their right to education. Each language community has a respective Ministry of Education.

The ministry will first attempt to immerse a child into a mainstream school. If this is not possible or suitable, children would then be enrolled in a specialist school. There are various categories of specialist schools in Belgium. Some schools are focused on physical disabilities and others will focus on learning or behavioural difficulties.


Tutors in Antwerp

Whether parents are looking to improve their child's language skills, boost their grades in a problem subject or get assistance in preparing for a big exam, expat families can make good use of the many high-quality tutors in Antwerp. There are numerous large and small companies, as well as independent tutors, who can be hired to help. It can be particularly useful to ask fellow expats and the child's school for recommendations.

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

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.ais-antwerp.be

Da Vinci International School Antwerp

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Early Years, Middle Years and Primary Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2.5 to 18
Websitewww.da-vinci.be

International School of Belgium

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Early Years and Primary Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.isbedu.be

Lycée Français International d'Anvers

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.lfanvers.be

Lifestyle in Antwerp

Antwerp is Belgium’s shopping and fashion capital. An artistic energy pulses through its streets as people eat at roadside cafes, 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 modern malls and along historic pedestrian streets. The main shopping area is Meir, which is also Antwerp’s most famous street. Though the street draws comparisons with other major shopping streets such as 5th Avenue in New York City, this iconic street has been a prominent part of the city for centuries and many historical buildings remain.

The Wijnegem Shopping Centre is Belgium's largest mall with the retail area clocking in at 6 hectares. With 250 stores ranging from supermarkets and restaurants to fashion and hobby shops, there's something for everyone at this must-see mall.

The diamond district, known as the Diamantkwartier (Diamond Quarter) is among Antwerp's best-known shopping areas and is the world's largest diamond trading centre. Fans of all that glitters will find plenty of trinkets to gawp at here.


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 everything from Asian Fusion to Mediterranean food to French cuisine and local fare.


Outdoor activities in Antwerp

Expats who enjoy the outdoors won’t be short of things to do in Antwerp. The city has several parks and sports facilities and lends itself well 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 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. 

See and do in Antwerp

An exciting city with a storied history, expats will always find themselves with plenty to see and do in Antwerp. Beauty can be found everywhere here, from Antwerp's numerous museums and its many awe-inspiring centuries-old buildings to its refreshing green spaces. Here are some of our top picks.


Recommended attractions in Antwerp

Grote Markt

Situated in the heart of Antwerp's old-city quarter, the Grote Markt is one of Antwerp's most iconic attractions. Overlooking the square is the Town Hall (Stadhuis), a beautiful Renaissance building influenced by Italian and Flemish styles. Having been completed in 1564, this grand building has stood for centuries overlooking the square and is still actively used as a venue for political meetings. The square itself has a bustling atmosphere and there are plenty of good restaurants and cafes here to sit at and people watch.

Museum Aan de Stroom

Another not-to-be-missed attraction is the 10-storey Museum Aan De Stroom. The complex is the city’s largest museum and contains priceless paintings, ancient artefacts and interactive exhibitions. The 360-degree view from the museum’s rooftop is one of Antwerp’s best.

Park Spoor Noord

Set on reclaimed land that once held a railway, Park Spoor Noord is a wonderful place to spend a sunny day out and is particularly well suited to families. Children can splash about in the cooling water fountains while kids a few years older can enjoy showing off their moves in the skatepark. Adults, meanwhile, are sure to enjoy the concerts staged on the park's summer terrace.

Ruben's House

Antwerp is very proud of its association with the Baroque master painter Peter Paul Rubens. His palatial house was restored to its former glory and was opened 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.

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. Walking around Antwerp is also pleasant. Much of the picturesque city centre is demarcated as pedestrian zones. Expats wanting to travel out of the city can catch a train operated by the national railway service. 


Public transport in Antwerp

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. If buying tickets, it's cheaper to purchase them ahead of time rather than while boarding. Single tickets are valid for an hour at a time, so passengers can swap between modes of transport.

Trams and pre-metro

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. 

Buses

The city’s main bus station is the Franklin Rooseveltplaats, acting as a hub for both local and regional buses. The bus is useful for getting to places that aren't reached by the tram.


Taxis in Antwerp

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. Taxis with an official taxi permit have an illuminated sign on the roof and a red licence plate.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are readily available throughout the city and are a good alternative as they allow passengers to see prices upfront.


Cycling in Antwerp

The city has a large network of cycle lanes as well as the Velo public bicycle hire scheme. The first half hour is free. Various passes can be bought from the Velo website, with longer-term passes being cheaper. Once registered, 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 can legally drive in the country for six months. After six months, the home licence becomes invalid and expats will have to obtain a local licence. Some countries have exchange agreements with Belgium, meaning the foreign licence can be swapped for a local one, but nationals of countries without such agreements 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 or in front of driveways.