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Moving to Belgium

Expats moving to Belgium will find themselves in one of Europe's most diverse and fascinating countries. Located in the heart of the continent and housing the headquarters of the European Union and NATO in its capital, Belgium is a melting pot of influences from around the world.

Belgium is rich in both cultural history and cultural pleasures. What wine is to France, beer is to Belgium. With a reputation for gastronomy and the greatest selection of the world’s finest brews, this eclectic nation is warm and welcoming to anyone planning to settle here.

The country is, to a large extent, split between two dominant culture groups, the Flemings and the Walloons. The Flemish community is Dutch-speaking, mostly based in the north of the country and constitutes around half of the Belgian population. The French-speaking Walloons live in the south and east of the country and make up around a third of the populace. There is also a significant German-speaking population on the eastern border with Germany. 

All three of these languages are officially recognised and, while they may be predominant in certain areas, the Belgian capital is bilingual by law. This infiltrates every aspect of daily life in Brussels, from street signs to business dealings. It's this unique mix of cultures that is one of the most challenging aspects to come to terms with, but also one of the most fascinating.

Brussels is the political powerhouse of Europe with its historic Gothic buildings and European Union office blocks. Outside the thriving capital there lies picturesque countryside, the wooded gorges of the Ardennes, and an assortment of undiscovered lazy seaside towns.

With one of the world’s highest standards of living and a great quality of life, expats moving to Belgium can take full advantage of its housing, healthcare, education and infrastructure. The country also boasts a highly developed and incredibly dense motorway network, which links it with other European routes and facilitates access to neighbouring countries. 

There's a price to pay for all this, and the good life in Belgium incurs a high cost of living. However, expats who can afford this high cost of living will undoubtedly have a unique and positive experience during their stay.


Fast facts

Official name: Kingdom of Belgium

Population: About 11.5 million

Capital city: Brussels

Other major cities: Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Bruge and Liège

Neighbouring countries: Belgium is bordered by The Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east,  Luxembourg to the south and France to the west.

Geography: Belgium is a small Western European country made up of three main geographic regions, the northwest coastal plain, the central plateau and the Ardennes. The Ardennes is a heavily forested, rocky plateau in the south of Belgium. The rest of the country has a rather flat landscape, with a few natural lakes and many artificial waterways and canals.

Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Main languages: Dutch, French, German, English 

Major religions: Catholicism is the most widespread religion, with Islam and Protestantism making up a smaller demographic.

Currency: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency and is divided into 100 cents

Time: GMT +1 (+2 from the end of March to the end of October)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are used.

International dialling code: +32

Internet domain: .be

Emergency number: 112

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The country has an excellent public transport system. Expats can generally get by without having to own a car.

Essential Info for Belgium

Official name: Kingdom of Belgium

Population: About 11.5 million

Capital city: Brussels

Other major cities: Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Bruge and Liège

Neighbouring countries: Belgium is bordered by The Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east,  Luxembourg to the south and France to the west.

Geography: Belgium is a small Western European country made up of three main geographic regions, the northwest coastal plain, the central plateau and the Ardennes. The Ardennes is a heavily forested, rocky plateau in the south of Belgium. The rest of the country has a rather flat landscape, with a few natural lakes and many artificial waterways and canals.

Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Main languages: Dutch, French, German, English 

Major religions: Catholicism is the most widespread religion, with Islam and Protestantism making up a smaller demographic.

Currency: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency and is divided into 100 cents

Time: GMT +1 (+2 from the end of March to the end of October)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are used.

International dialling code: +32

Internet domain: .be

Emergency number: 112

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The country has an excellent public transport system and expats can generally get by without having to own a car.

Weather in Belgium

Expats living in Belgium will need to learn to manufacture their own sunshine amidst the normal protocol of grim, grey days. The weather in Belgium is temperate, and not unpleasant, but precipitation is constant and evenly distributed throughout the year. Rain becomes a normal part of life, but when mixed with the stark coldness of winter, can prove challenging for newly arrived expats.

Maritime influences from the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean make for cooler summers and moderate winters. Temperatures range from 72°F (22°C) during warmer months to 39°F (4°C) during colder months. The small size of the country means that weather in Belgium remains relatively uniform, with only a slight variation in the region of the Ardennes. The high elevation in this area begets colder temperatures and more snowfall.

Expats living in Belgium will quickly learn to bring along something waterproof, even if sunshine and blue skies start the day.

 
 

Embassy contacts for Belgium


Belgian embassies

Embassy of Belgium, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 333 6900

Embassy of Belgium, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7470 3700

Embassy of Belgium, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 7267

Embassy of Belgium, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 2501

Belgium Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 440 3201

Embassy of Belgium, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 631 5283

Consulate of Belgium, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 974 9080


Foreign embassies in Belgium

Embassy of the United States, Brussels: +32 2 811 4000

British Embassy, Brussels: +32 2 287 6211

Canadian Embassy, Brussels: +32 2 741 0611

Australian Embassy, Brussels: +32 2 286 0500

South African Embassy, Brussels: +32 2 285 4400

Embassy of Ireland, Brussels: +32 2 282 3400

New Zealand Embassy, Brussels: +32 2 512 1040

Public Holidays in Belgium

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Easter Monday

13 April

5 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day

21 May

13 May

Whit Monday

1 June

24 May

National Day

21 July

21 July

Assumption Day

15 August

15 August

All Saints' Day

1 November

1 November

Armistice Day

11 November

11 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday becomes a holiday. 

Pros and Cons of Moving to Belgium

Belgium is located in the very heart of Europe. It's bordered by the Netherlands and Germany in the north and the east, and by France and Luxembourg in the west and south. Belgium is at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin Europe, which is exemplified by its three national languages: Dutch, French and German.

Some of the advantages and disadvantages of living in this European country are outlined in the list below.


Languages in Belgium

+ PRO: A rich cultural experience

The accessibility of three very different languages can lead to an enriching experience. In most companies, one will hear three or more languages spoken by colleagues. Although most people speak either Dutch or French, it can generally be assumed that they will also speak English at a reasonable level. 

- CON: Complex state structure 

Three languages divided over three non-converging regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia) and communities also brings about a complex state structure. The state is for the large part federalized, which means that every region/community has a different set of rules governing areas such as housing, childcare and education. Expats living in one region and working in another will experience the complications that arise from this first-hand. 


Accommodation In Belgium

+ PRO: Live close to work

One of the benefits of living in a small country like Belgium is that it isn't necessary to live in the city in order to be close to work. If one prefers the countryside or a smaller town, it's usually possible to live there and work in the city. As a consequence, expats can benefit from the large price difference between renting in the city and on its outskirts. 

- CON: Regional property laws differ

Every region in Belgium has different rules and regulations when it comes to housing. This means regulatory requirements can differ depending on where one lives. In Flanders, for instance, a rental house has to be equipped with a smoke detector.

- CON: Property is expensive 

Although one can expect to benefit from the large price difference between locations, accommodation prices for buyers are quite high in comparison to other countries. Real estate taxes on property transfers also differ between the regions. 


Getting around in Belgium

+ PRO: Excellent public transport infrastructure

Belgium has great public transport. Almost every city can be reached by train in a short amount of time. Public transport within the cities is also excellent and varied, consisting of subways, trams and buses. If one isn't a fan of public transport, most cities are bicycle friendly. 

+ PRO: Easy regional travel

Another benefit of Belgium's small size and location is that London, Amsterdam and Paris can be reached by Thalys or Eurostar in less than three hours. This makes Belgium a great starting point for discovering Europe's finest capitals, even on one-day trips.  

- CON: Frequent public transport delays

Although public transport is cheap and accessible, trains do not always arrive on time. Delays are frequent and although they don't generally amount to more than 10 minutes, they should be taken into account if planning on commuting every day. 


Taxation in Belgium

- CON: Very high taxes

Belgium has one of the highest levels of taxation in the world. The personal income tax brackets range from 25 to 50 percent. Belgium also demands high social security contributions from both employers and employees. An expat should definitely have their tax and social residency status examined by an expert.

Belgium also levies VAT at 21 percent and regions, provinces and municipalities have some independent taxation powers. Expats living in Brussels should know that the Brussels Region is actually made up of 19 stand-alone municipalities, which all have the same level of taxation powers. As these taxation powers also include a supplementary tax on employment income, deciding in which of these municipalities one will live can have an impact on one's tax bill. 


Lifestyle in Belgium

+ PRO: Excellent dining

Belgium offers excellent cuisine. On top of typical hot dishes such as waterzooi or waffles. It also offers some of the finest beers in the world. Belgians enjoy a high quality of life, and expats should expect to gain a couple of pounds during their stay. 

+ PRO: Varied entertainment options

When it comes to relaxing, Belgium has a wide range of events and attractions. It has many museums, beaches and hilly forests, which make for great walking or fishing trips. 

Safety in Belgium

Belgium is generally considered a safe country to live in. Crime rates are relatively low, and the police are professional and well-trained to deal with emergency situations swiftly. Nevertheless, the country does suffer a very real threat of terrorism and has experienced deadly attacks in recent times.


Crime in Belgium

Belgium has a relatively low crime rate. Petty crimes, like pickpocketing and mugging, do occur in the cities but more serious crimes are rare. Expats will generally feel very safe within their apartments or homes, although Brussels has witnessed increased levels of home break-ins in recent years.

Major railway stations are hotspots for muggings and pickpocketing in Brussels and Antwerp. There have also been reports of thieves operating on trains, including on international routes such as those between Brussels and Paris and Brussels and Amsterdam.


Terrorism in Belgium

Brussels is home to a number of international organisations, including the EU and NATO headquarters. The city hosts many multi-lateral conferences and meetings. This, accompanied by Belgium's active involvement in the politics of the Middle East, have made the country a target for international terrorists.

The deadliest attack occurred in Brussels in March 2016 when coordinated suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station left 32 people dead and more than 300 people injured. The attack was carried out by a group affiliated with ISIS which was also responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks.

A number of ISIS sympathisers and active jihadists have been known to originate from Belgium. There have been a number of people arrested in Belgium believed to have links with anarchist and terrorist groups in recent years. Authorities are actively working to prevent further attacks.

Expats in Belgium should exercise caution at all times and keep abreast of the latest developments. 


Protests in Belgium

Political, labour and social groups are active and hold frequent protests in Belgium, particularly in Brussels. Although most of these are peaceful, they do have a tendency to disrupt traffic in the affected areas. Tensions among various immigrant communities have on occasion resulted in protests and violent scuffles. Right-wing youths have also attacked immigrants on occasion, primarily in the Antwerp province. Expats are advised to keep clear of any protests. 


Road safety in Belgium

Belgian roads are generally in good condition and well maintained. However, traffic accident rates in Belgium are high. Local drivers can behave erratically and drive too fast. Expats should adhere to the "priority to the right" rule, which is strictly enforced.

There have been a few incidents of robberies and express kidnappings on or around the motorways connecting Brussels to other major European cities, including Amsterdam and The Hague. Perpetrators flag vehicles down and then use threats of violence against their victims, taking them to the nearest ATM and forcing them to withdraw cash. To avoid falling prey to this, try to avoid picking up anyone you don't know.

Working in Belgium

Expats working in Belgium will find themselves in an open economy that punches far above its geographic weight. Despite taxes that are generally higher than many other countries, expats have continued looking for work in Belgium to enjoy the high quality of life it offers residents.


Job market in Belgium

Belgium has a strong manufacturing sector. However, the services sector accounts for the largest part of its economy. The country’s main exports include automobiles, metals, plastics, food products, finished diamonds and petroleum products.  

While the job market is highly competitive in general, many English-speaking companies in Belgium are either connected with the European Union or with NATO. These institutions are in themselves extremely competitive and tend to offer attractive employee benefits. 


Finding work in Belgium

Expats are most likely to find themselves employed in the services or manufacturing sectors, especially in the capital, Brussels. Those with the best chance of finding a job in Belgium work in specialised areas where there is a shortage of personnel such as engineers, technicians, mechanics, accountants, certain IT specialists and qualified teachers. 

Foreign job applicants who can either speak French or Dutch will have an added advantage over those who cannot, especially when looking for work outside of Brussels. In fact, it might be difficult to find a job if one doesn't speak the predominant language of the region.

Expats moving to Belgium on a non-EU passport will require a work permit and will likely find that it is best to secure a job before moving to Belgium. This makes the visa process easier, as the hiring company is required to apply for the work permit on the employee’s behalf.

Generally speaking, expats from European Economic Area (EEA) countries will only need a valid passport and identity document to work in Belgium. Work permits for Belgium are usually valid for 12 months and are renewable annually.

It can, however, be difficult for non-EU nationals to find employment in Belgium as the hiring company would have to prove that the position could not be filled by a European national.


Work culture in Belgium

Belgium is in the heart of Europe. It offers expats a diverse, multicultural working environment. Belgian business culture is largely influenced by Dutch, German and French business structures and etiquette.

The business environment in Belgium is fast-paced, demanding and aggressive. The local workforce is known for being skilled, productive and multilingual. Appearances are important to Belgian businesspeople. Expat men and women alike will be expected to dress formally and conservatively for any professional situation.

Expats will do well to learn a few phrases in the local languages and keep an open mind towards any new business practices they may encounter. 

Doing Business in Belgium

Expats doing business in Belgium will find themselves operating in a diverse, globalised and open economy. 

Belgium was ranked 46th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. The country ranked first in trading across borders. It also scored well in areas such as resolving insolvency (9th) and protecting minor investors (45th).

Expats wanting to work in the country will need to make considerable preparations. Its multilingual and multicultural makeup has created a business environment as varied as its population. Many foreigners find themselves having to become familiar with not just one, but multiple business cultures in Belgium.


Fast facts

Business language

German, French and Flemish are the official languages of business in Belgium. The language used will vary according to location.

Hours of business

Office hours are usually Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm. By law, workers can't usually work more than 38 hours per week, and more than eight hours per day.

Business dress

Business attire is formal and conservative. Belgians take appearances seriously and are known to be stylish.

Greeting

When greeting a Belgian businessperson, a handshake is appropriate for both men and women. Cheek kissing is reserved for friends and usually doesn’t take place between men.

Gifts

Gift giving is not generally a part of the local business culture, and usually is done between close associates on a more personal level. If someone does receive a gift, it's usually opened in the presence of the giver.

Gender equality

Men and women are treated equally in business and society. 


Business culture in Belgium

The business culture in Belgium can be confusing due to the country's diversity. There are stark contrasts between its two predominant communities – the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemings. With a quarter of the population being foreign, Belgium's business culture is further diversified.

Communication

French, Dutch and German are the three official languages in Belgium. The majority of residents speak either French or Dutch. While both communities are traditionally from specific geographic regions, they coexist throughout much of the country. Expats doing business in Belgium shouldn't assume that the cultures of these different regions are interchangeable.

It's very common for Belgians to be multilingual, especially when it comes to being able to speak French and Dutch. Depending on where they will be working in Belgium expats may encounter language switching, while negotiations between businesspeople from different communities might also take place in English.

Expats will need to be subtle and diplomatic in their business dealings. It would be a good idea to find out which language their associates are most comfortable speaking before they meet. Some Belgians take great pride in which community they belong to and may be offended if they're spoken to in the wrong language.

When in doubt, English is usually a good neutral option.

Business structure

Fleming business culture tends to follow a model similar to an egalitarian, hardworking German and Dutch style and businesses tend to be organised horizontally. Belgian-French business culture is similar to that of France, where businesses are structured according to a strict hierarchy, and where job titles and rank are very important. Generally, the Walloon economy is considered to be less productive than its Fleming counterpart.

A trait shared by all business cultures in Belgium is an insistence on compromise, even when it doesn’t significantly benefit either party. Belgian businesspeople see meeting halfway as a willingness to work together. This expectation is mirrored in the strong union culture in Belgium, which creates many demands on businesses. This is a point that expats should be prepared for if they intend to start their own business in the country.

Meetings

Business meetings in Belgium are conducted formally. Participants are expected to arrive punctually, and the meeting should be structured and efficient. Formal titles are generally used. German and Flemish speakers are more likely to use English titles, while French speakers are more likely to use Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle


Dos and don’ts of business in Belgium

  • Do be willing to compromise as it's a quintessentially Belgian value

  • Don’t be late. Punctuality is important, and lateness is frowned upon.

  • Do dress well. Belgian businesspeople tend to be stylish.

  • Don’t discuss personal matters or the cultural divisions in Belgium 

Visas for Belgium

Expats and foreigners visiting Belgium may require a visa before entering the country. As Belgium is part of the Schengen visa area, travellers who don’t have an EU passport or one from of a list of visa-exempt countries will be required to apply for a Schengen visa before arrival. 

All travellers entering Belgium should have a passport that is valid for at least three months, regardless of their country of citizenship.


Schengen visas for Belgium

Those who apply for a Schengen visa for Belgium will need to gather the required documents, complete a visa application form, and submit these to the Belgian consulate or embassy in their home country before they travel. Processing time can vary, so applicants should be sure to submit their application well before their intended departure date.

In some cases, applicants may be asked to provide additional documents at the discretion of the Belgian embassy or consulate. It's common for an applicant to be asked for proof of employment and proof of residence in their home country as an indicator that they will return home after their trip.

Expats wanting to travel to Belgium for business purposes will likely have to include a letter of invitation from the Belgian business party who will be hosting them and a letter from their local employer stating their duties in Belgium. Those attending a conference will often need proof of registration and accommodation.


Residence visas for Belgium

Expats wanting to stay in Belgium for longer than 90 days may require a residence permit, depending on their nationality. The procedure for getting a residence permit for Belgium may seem complicated. However, provided an applicant has all the correct paperwork and has followed the right procedures, the process should be a smooth one.

Anyone intending to stay in Belgium for the long term is required to report their presence in the country to their local commune within 10 working days after arrival. These new arrivals will usually need to produce their passport and identity card and will then be issued with a Declaration of Presence. 

Citizens of non-EU countries who wish to stay in Belgium for more than 90 days will need to arrange a residence visa before arriving. Non-EU nationals also need to register their presence at their local commune and should obtain a foreigner identity card after moving into a permanent residence. Non-EU expats moving to the country for employment will most likely also need a work permit for Belgium.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Belgium

Though EU citizens don't need a work permit, non-European expats are able to apply for three kinds of work permits for Belgium.

Application forms for work permits in Belgium are obtained from the relevant employment agency in the region of the country the expat intends to work. These offices include Forem in Wallonia, Actiris in Brussels and the Dienst Migratie in Flanders.


Work permits for non-European citizens

Non-European nationals will need a work permit to be legally employed in the country. It's usually the responsibility of the Belgian employer to receive authorisation to hire a foreign worker and apply for a work permit on their behalf.

Once their employment has been authorised by the relevant authorities, the expat employee can then apply for a Schengen Type D visa which enables them to enter the country and stay temporarily. While some other types of Schengen visas can be used to enter other Schengen countries as well as the country of application, the D visa is generally limited to one country. This visa must be applied for at a Belgian embassy or consulate in the expat’s home country.

There are three work permit options for expats in Belgium. Work permit type A is a long-term permit for expats who have legally worked in the country for four consecutive years. Work permit type B, which most expats moving to Belgium will require, is limited to work for one employer for a period of one year. Renewals must be applied for one month before the initial permit expires. Work permit type C, also valid for a year, is usually granted to expats staying in Belgium temporarily, such as students wanting to work during the holidays and refugees.


Work permits for European citizens

Citizens of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) don’t usually require a work permit for Belgium. European citizens working in Belgium must have a full EU or EEA passport or identity card. These nationals are free to enter Belgium for up to three months to look for work or set up a business. Those staying for more than three months are required to register at the local town hall in their city of residence in Belgium.

An EU or EEA national is usually granted a temporary residence permit which is valid for three to five months. This can be renewed for a further three months once the expat has secured employment and registered with the Belgian Social Security system. After this, expats in Belgium can apply for an identity card and can be officially registered in the foreign population register.

*Work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Belgium

The cost of living in Belgium is not as high as in other prominent European destinations. For instance, Brussels ranked 77th out of 209 countries in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2019, while London and Paris ranked 23rd and 47th, respectively. 

That said, the Belgian tax and social security systems are well-developed and this ensures that incomes are distributed fairly evenly across most industries. Furthermore. for many non-EU nationals, living in Belgium is particularly expensive in the initial transition stages due to the disparity between the euro and weaker currencies.


Cost of accommodation in Belgium

Rent payments usually account for a large percentage of a worker’s monthly expenditure in Belgium. Accommodation in Belgium’s cities is generally expensive. However, expats who are willing to venture outside major urban centres will find that their rental costs are substantially lower.

Energy prices in Belgium are very steep. The country is known as having some of the world's highest rates for utilities.


Cost of entertainment in Belgium

There are a number of entertainment options in Belgium to suit every budget. Museum and gallery entrance fees are generally low. Expats can also visit most of Belgium’s many public parks and historic buildings free of charge.

High-end clubs and restaurants are available in all major urban centres, as are smaller bars and cafes. Service charges and VAT are almost always included in prices, but it is customary to give additional tips for excellent service. Brussels is generally a lot more expensive than other cities in Belgium like Antwerp and Ghent.


Cost of transport in Belgium

The public transport system in Belgium is efficient and affordable. Its extensive network of bus, tram and metro routes make getting around major cities a relatively hassle-free experience. There are also a number of bicycle hire schemes available for those who prefer to avoid public transport. Transport between major urban centres is often available at a relatively low cost. 

Owning a car is not a necessity. This should save new arrivals some money when moving to Belgium. 


Cost of living in Belgium

Prices vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Brussels in March 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

 One-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 840

 One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 690

 Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 1,440

 Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 1,150

Groceries

 Dozen eggs

 EUR 2.80

 Milk (1 litre)

 EUR 1

 Loaf of bread (white)

 EUR 1.70

 Chicken breasts (1kg)

 EUR 9.40

 Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

 EUR 6.70

Utilities/household

 Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

 EUR 0.25

 Internet (uncapped ADSL or Cable – average per month)

 EUR 45

 Electricity, heating, water (average per month for a standard household)

 EUR 125

Eating out and entertainment

 Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

 EUR 60

 Big Mac Meal

 EUR 8

 Cappuccino

 EUR 3.20

 Coca-Cola (330ml)

 EUR 2.50

 Local beer (500ml)

 EUR 4

Transportation

 Taxi (rate per km)

 EUR 2

 City centre public transport

 EUR 2.10

 Petrol (per litre)

 EUR 1.45

Culture Shock in Belgium

Expats may face some culture shock in Belgium, especially when they first arrive. Most notably, there are three main languages and many different cultures all wrapped up in one fairly small country. 


Languages in Belgium

The northern half of Belgium is occupied by the Flemings, who speak Dutch, whereas the southern half is mostly occupied by the French-speaking Walloons. This is a result of the troubled history of the region that is now Belgium, which has been invaded and occupied many times. The country as it exists today has only been around since the mid-1800s.

The cultural and linguistic differences can be striking if one travels north into the Flemish areas or south into Wallonia. The buildings are different, the people are different, and the two communities generally have different traits. So, it can sometimes feel like a country divided in half.

The general perception is that the Flemings are more industrious and serious, as they tend to be quieter and more reserved. The Walloons are known to be more relaxed, expressive, easy-going, and outwardly emotional.

Most Belgians, particularly in Brussels, are adept with languages and can speak English in addition to their French and Dutch. It's still a good idea for expats to learn some Dutch or French, depending on the area they are going to be living in and the type of work they will do.


Greetings in Belgium

In many respects, the customs and etiquette in Belgium are fairly typical of the wider Western European region. Belgians are generally quite reserved and usually greet people they don’t know as friends with a handshake. In the French-speaking community, a kiss on the cheek is often common among people who already know each other.


Diversity in Belgium

Belgium is a fairly liberal society that is tolerant of different races, cultures and religions. In Brussels, particularly, expats will see people of almost every nationality, race or religion going about their daily lives in close proximity.

Expats should note that all Belgian citizens, immigrants, expats and tourists are required to carry some form of identification at all times in Belgium.


Drinking in Belgium

As a country famed for its beer, alcohol is widely available in Belgium. Most bars, cafés, restaurants and sandwich shops happily sell beer. It's even possible to buy beer at McDonalds. Beer is also considerably cheaper than in some other countries. A can of beer is often cheaper than a can of soda of the same size.

Officially it’s illegal to drink on the street but in practice, this doesn't seem to be enforced, as most bars have an outside area for smokers. It’s not uncommon to see people drinking beer in the park on a warm afternoon. 

Accommodation in Belgium

Expats will find plenty of reasonably priced, comfortable options available to them when looking for accommodation in Belgium. All kinds of housing can be found, whether it be furnished or unfurnished, from freestanding houses to luxury apartments.

Home security in Belgium is not a major issue. Although minor break-ins do occur in some neighbourhoods, these crimes are hardly ever violent. More often than not, the installation of a simple alarm system will be enough to deter potential robbers. Expats usually report that they feel safe in their homes in Belgium.


Types of accommodation in Belgium

The standard of accommodation in Belgium is typical of the Benelux countries, with comfortable, small houses predominating. Air conditioning is not a common feature However, the vast majority of houses have adequate heating systems. Expats should be aware that condominium complexes of the kind that might include a swimming pool or a gym are scarce.

In terms of community and parks, Belgium is a very family-friendly country. Properties tend to be on the small side in the city. Moving outside the city limits will often grant expats a bigger property and some beautiful country views. Within the city, there is also a plethora of outdoor areas, such as parks, swimming pools, tennis clubs and children's gyms. 


Finding accommodation in Belgium

It should not be difficult for expats to find and secure accommodation in Belgium. There are several online resources which can be used to find a home before arriving in the country. Though it's always recommended that expats see a property in person before signing a lease. Expats will also be able to use the classifieds section of their local newspapers in their search.

Rental agencies in Belgium offer a hassle-free means of finding accommodation and will usually handle all the administrative processes. However, expats should be aware that these specialists do charge a fee.


Renting property in Belgium

Most expats opt to rent property in Belgium and will normally use a rental agent. It’s useful to note that the standard, assumed lease agreement in Belgium is nine years. Strangely enough, many expats find that for shorter stays in the country, it's a better idea to go the nine-year route, as these agreements are generally more flexible. The letting agent should be aware of how long their client intends to stay in Belgium, however, so they can find the best option to suit their needs.

Furnished or unfurnished

Most properties in Belgium are offered unfurnished. Expats should check with the landlord or agent what condition the property will be in. In some cases, “unfurnished” may simply mean that there are no soft furnishings. However, it could also mean that there are no carpets or even basic electrical appliances.

Short lets

In Belgium, a short-term lease is typically signed for a three-year period. This is a typical lease expats usually opt for. This lease can easily be converted into the traditional nine-year lease if needed. Shorter contracts usually include steep penalties if the tenant leaves within the first three years. For example, the penalty could be three months’ rent if an expat leaves in the first year. Some rental agreements will have a clause requiring the entire three-year rent if one leaves early. Expats should, therefore, make sure they carefully read through the contract before signing anything.

Monthly rentals are rare. However, they can be arranged through specialist short-term agencies. Expats should note that these rentals come at a premium.

The rental process

After deciding on a property to rent, expats will have to sign a rental agreement. Rental agreements in Belgium must be covered by a written contract. This contract should be signed by both the tenant and landlord. This agreement then has to be formally registered. So, expats should provide a copy of the signed contract to the local registry office to show the deal has been properly concluded. Usually, though, the landlord will do this on the tenant’s behalf.

References and background checks

Before a rental agreement in Belgium can be finalised, expats will have to prove their residency status, identity and that they’ll be earning enough to cover their costs. Expats can usually prove that they will be able to pay the rent by providing documentation showing their savings and income. Alternatively, depending on the landlord’s requirements, an expat can also have a credit check done. In addition, an employer may be able to help by providing proof of earnings or acting as a guarantor.

Leases

The most common kinds of leases in Belgium are either signed for three years (short term) or nine years (long term). The three-year lease can come with strict penalties if an expat decides to terminate the contract earlier. On the other hand, the nine-year lease seems to be more flexible. 

Nine-year contracts don’t mean that one has to stay in the same place for nine years. It’s actually normal to have a three-month notice period. Landlords have to give six months’ notice and a good reason before they can evict a tenant.

Deposits

Deposits in Belgium are generally three months’ rent. This amount will be held by the landlord or agent in a separate account. This money shouldn’t be incorporated into business or personal cash flow.  It’s also important to note that expats should never hand over cash as a deposit – use a bank transfer instead.

Typically, the deposit will be paid back once the lease has come to an end and hasn’t been renewed by either party. The landlord or agent will do an exit inspection. If there are any damages to the property, the cost of repair will be taken from the deposit. It's best to have an expert document exactly what the property looks like before moving in and as soon as one moves out. 

Utilities

Before finalising a rental agreement, expats should always make sure what the terms of the lease are. In most cases, utilities like phone, electricity and water bills will be paid by the tenant. Details of the bills paid by the tenant will be set out in the tenancy agreement and are likely to include some maintenance costs. If the property has a garden, the tenant will be obliged to look after it. Tenants in Belgium are responsible for the upkeep of the home they rent.

Bins and recycling

Waste collection fees will usually be included in the rental costs. Collection times are arranged according to the local council’s schedule. Rubbish must be sorted for it to be recycled. Some types of rubbish can be collected from the home. However, most recycling can be disposed of at collection points and container parks.
 

Healthcare in Belgium

Expats can take comfort in the fact that the healthcare system in Belgium is one of the most reputable and reliable in Europe. Medical facilities in Belgium adhere to high standards of care and hygiene. The country has one of the highest numbers of hospitals and doctors per capita in Europe.

Hospitals and doctors in Belgium generally provide high-quality medical services. Pharmacies are widely available and emergency services are reliable. The healthcare system in Belgium is divided between hospitals that are either public or non-profit and private clinics. 


Public healthcare in Belgium

The entire Belgian healthcare system is funded to some extent by the Belgian government, which provides funds to mutual health organisations. All employees and self-employed workers in Belgium have to contribute towards a Belgian health insurance fund as part of the normal social security enrolment process. 

Expats who qualify for non-resident tax status may not be required to contribute to the national social security system, in which case they will probably be covered by their employer’s private healthcare plan. Anyone who qualifies for public healthcare can consult with any doctor of their choosing. Most doctors will have a good understanding of English. 

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is also a good resource for expats. It entitles European citizens working in foreign countries to the same treatment at the same cost as a national of that country. It should be noted that an EHIC card can't be used within Belgium unless it has been issued elsewhere in the European Union. 


Private healthcare in Belgium

Patients using private healthcare in Belgium usually pay the doctor for any healthcare provided and then claim from their insurance provider afterwards. This claim can cover anything up to 75 percent of the costs. Most dentists don't accept state insurance, so expats will likely need comprehensive dental insurance cover. 

Private healthcare treatments in Belgium can be prohibitively expensive. For this reason, many Belgians and expats supplement their state medical insurance scheme with a private healthcare policy to cover the difference.


Pharmacies and medicines in Belgium

Pharmacies in Belgium are plentiful and generally operate during regular working hours. Some pharmacies also operate 24 hours a day. A list of nearby pharmacies that are open after hours is usually displayed in a closed pharmacy’s window. 

Most over-the-counter medicines are available at Belgian pharmacies. Medical prescriptions must be paid for on collection. Expats should keep their receipts in order to claim costs from their medical aid. It's also advisable that expats make themselves aware of the generic names of any long-term medication, as brand names can vary from country to country. 


Emergency services in Belgium

Emergency services in Belgium are reliable, with generally rapid response times. Aside from the general European emergency number, 112, expats can also dial 100 for medical emergencies. Ambulances are not part of the national healthcare plan but may be covered by private insurance for those who have it.

Education and Schools in Belgium

There are three different national education systems in Belgium. The French, Flemish and German regions each have their own government-run education system which corresponds with the regional language. 

Education in Belgium begins in pre-primary school at age two-and-a-half but is only compulsory from six to 18 years of age. The academic year usually begins in September and ends in June. Vacations are usually in the first week of November, two weeks for end-of-year holidays, a week in February, two weeks in the spring, as well as national holidays throughout the year. Students are required to be present each day that is not an official school holiday and must present a doctor's certificate for any sickness-related absence. 

An expat family wanting to immerse their children in the local language has several options, and Belgium’s regionalism will in no way limit their choices. If staying in Belgium for a short-term assignment, most expats send their children to a local public school or an international school offering English as a language of instruction. In both cases, French or Dutch classes will be offered. 


Public schools in Belgium

Public schools in Belgium offer expat families an excellent opportunity to learn the regional language and culture by immersion. Extra costs associated with school supplies and school outings are kept to a minimum in public schools. However, these schools tend to offer far fewer extra-curricular activities than private and international schools.

The Belgian secondary education system is highly regarded. Admissions procedures change frequently, and often without warning. Expat families need to be prepared and take the steps necessary to secure their children’s place at the secondary school of their choice.

In their second year, students choose particular course options, which can be general, technical, artistic or professional in nature. Exams are given each year to assess the readiness of students for the next academic year. Consequently, repeating a year in Belgium is relatively common and less stigmatised than it may be in other countries.


Private schools in Belgium

Expats will also have the option of sending their children to private schools in Belgium. The teaching philosophies vary within and between all these institutions. Some of these privately-run schools are also subsidised by the government.

Many private schools are religious institutions, and most offer a curriculum that differs from the regional government curriculum, such as the Montessori and Waldorf curricula. 


International schools in Belgium

The main allure of international schools in Belgium is that an expat family will most likely find others who speak their home language. This commonality makes the transition to a new country that much easier for the whole family. It also allows students to continue with a familiar curriculum, assuming there is an international school that offers it.

Considering the complexity of public high school inscriptions and assessments, expat families with secondary-school-age students may find it easier to enter their children into an international or private school of some sort.

These schools can also administer non-Belgian exams such as the SATs and International Baccalaureate. Students are also likely to find a wider range of extra-curricular activities than what is offered in traditional Belgian public schools.


Homeschooling in Belgium

Homeschooling in Belgium is another option for expats. Before making this commitment, however, the expat family needs to be aware that the Belgian government has put strict guidelines and inspections in place. Parents who do not comply with these standards can be sanctioned. Therefore, proper procedures must be taken to ensure compliance with local laws.


Special needs education in Belgium

Special needs education in Belgium focuses on inclusion and equality. Therefore, the government is committed to ensuring each child exercises their right to education. Each language community has a respective Ministry of Education. Each ministry will first attempt to immerse a child into a mainstream school. However, each ministry will also follow its own approach, so the process followed will depend on where the child lives.

Inclusion of children with special needs into a mainstream school isn’t always possible. In extreme cases (for example when extended hospitalisation is required) children may be taught at home. However, in most cases, children would 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.

Enrollment into a special school can happen at any time in the school year. Parents should provide as much documentary evidence showing their child’s condition. In some areas of Belgium children with learning or behavioural difficulties are required to spend an initial period in a mainstream school before they can be considered for a place at a specialist school.

Transport and Driving in Belgium

Due to its small geographic size and well-established transport network, expats will find that getting around in Belgium is relatively easy. The country has an extensive train network. Belgian cities all have bus networks, some have trams, and Brussels has an established metro system. 


Public transport in Belgium

Trains

Belgium has a comprehensive and efficient rail network which offers the best way of getting around the country. Brussels and Antwerp have very good urban rail networks, while Brussels also has a metro system, which offers the best way to navigate the city. 

High-speed trains are operated by Thalys and Eurostar and offer services between Brussels and other European cities, including Amsterdam, London and Paris.

Buses

Belgium has an established bus network for both inner- and inter-city travel. However, buses are not as popular as trains for getting around Belgium, except in the rural Ardennes region which has few rail lines.

Trams

Several Belgian cities have tram lines, including Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. A coastal tram system offers travel along the whole Belgian coast. In Brussels the tram is integrated with the metro system, making it a convenient means of travel around the city.


Taxis and ride-sharing services in Belgium

Taxis are plentiful in Belgian towns and cities, with numerous private companies offering services. Taxis don't all look the same. However, they can usually be identified by the taxi sign on the vehicle’s roof. Metered taxis generally operate in different zones and offer variable rates. It’s best to negotiate the fare before setting off on a journey. 

Ride-sharing services and applications are also available in most Belgian cities. However, these are often made unnecessary by the country's excellent public transport network.


Driving in Belgium

With such an extensive public transport network, most expats living in Belgium will find that it’s not necessary to own a car. However, those wishing to have their own vehicle will find that driving in Belgium is quite easy. 

Roads in Belgium are generally well-maintained. Toll-free motorways connect all major towns and cities. One thing that expats may take a while to get used to is the road signage, which can be confusing at times. Road signs in Belgian cities are generally bilingual, but road signs in more rural areas are usually written in either French or Flemish. This can be confusing as place names can be spelt differently in French and Flemish and signage may suddenly change from one language to the other, depending on the region.

Drivers from non-EU countries need to have an international driving permit to drive in Belgium. Expats driving in Belgium should also be aware that priority should be given to traffic merging from the right. In cities, trams also always have right of way over any other vehicle. 


Air travel in Belgium

Due to its small size, there are very few domestic flights between Belgian cities. The main airport in Belgium is Brussels Airport. Other major airports in Belgium include Ostend-Bruges International Airport, Brussels South Charleroi Airport, Liege Airport and Antwerp International Airport, which offer flights to other European airports and further abroad.

Keeping in Touch in Belgium

Expats living in Belgium can easily keep in touch with friends and family around the world as well as contacts in their new home. The telecommunications system in Belgium is modern, efficient and reliable. Mobile coverage is comprehensive with cafés and bars often offering free WiFi.

Hardware and service provision aren't hard to come by, with both fixed and mobile phones available at company stores like Orange or Proximus. Bigger stores such as Krefel and Carrefour usually stock phones and computers alongside other electronics.

After sorting out the most pressing parts of the relocation process, expats can learn about different service providers with the help of Meilleur Tarif. This is a website run by the government’s Institute for Postal Services and Communications and is available in English, French, and Dutch. It calculates the best service according to the customer's needs and wants. Most of the companies listed can offer combination packages that include telephone, mobile and internet services. 


Landline phones in Belgium

International calls can be expensive. So, those with broadband will find online video chat services to be the most cost-effective way to make long-distance calls. The international access code for Belgium is +32. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code.

To subscribe to a telephone service in Belgium, clients must be over 18 years old and show proof of identification. Installation can take up to 12 days and prices vary depending on the plan and number of lines being installed, as well as travel and service time.

The most basic service plans include messages, call-back, caller ID for missed calls and three-way calling. The most popular phone companies in Belgium are Belgian Telecom, Base, VOO and Proximus.


Mobile phones in Belgium

Mobile phones are referred to as GSM in Belgium. GSM stores are easily found in most towns and have websites displaying their stock and services. Mobile phone companies require identification, proof of address and a bank account number for service, logistics that may take expats some time to establish if new to Belgium.

Once an expat has the proper documentation in order, they can either choose a prepaid or contract service, with most foreigners choosing the post-paid option. Prepaid plans may look cheaper at first, but going beyond the allowed minutes may prove far more costly in the end. Nonetheless, both options do have their conveniences.

There are various ways to reload minutes and data. For example, if one has a prepaid card through Orange, one could simply go online to recharge.


Internet in Belgium

Expats will find that most households are equipped with high-speed broadband, with a choice between unlimited ADSL or fixed-bandwidth contracts.  

To take out a contract, most being for a minimum of twelve months, customers need to provide identification, proof of address and a bank account number. Plans vary and don't have to be in conjunction with a person’s phone line. Many internet providers in Belgium offer full triple-play services which include television, internet and telephone.

Cable internet providers include Telenet, VOO and SFR Belgium, with each offering different speeds. Bandwidth in Belgium is relatively fast, but some internet providers have bandwidth caps in place to limit the amount of data transferred. 


Television in Belgium

Belgium’s public television is controlled by the VRT  (Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie) for Dutch-speaking regions such as Flanders and Brussels, while the RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Français) controls the French-speaking regions of Wallonia and Brussels. The BRF (Belgischer Rundfunk) controls the German community. Satellite channels are available in Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia from several operators. 


Postal services in Belgium

Mail is delivered Monday through Friday in Belgium. Most post office hours are from 9.30am to 4.30pm. Some post offices may be open on Saturday mornings.

If the recipient of a package is not home at the time of delivery, the postal carrier will put a notice in their mailbox. The delivery will be kept for approximately two weeks at the post office.  A legitimate form of identification is needed to collect a package.

Expats will often need to pay a fee or tax to receive packages arriving from outside of Belgium. If the recipient doesn’t have the required amount of money on them, the postal carrier will simply hold on to the package.

The Belgian post office is officially called Bpost, and its red and white swerve logo hangs in at least one window in every town. Supermarkets like Carrefour and Delhaize often have postage points where customers can buy stamps and send packages, although not all of them are equipped to mail international packages. Many gas stations and convenience stores also sell stamps.

Frequently Asked Questions about Belgium

Expats moving to Belgium often have questions about what life will be like in their new home. Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living in Belgium.

Should I learn to speak another language in Belgium?

Depending where one settles in Belgium, it may be necessary to learn a little French or Dutch. Brussels is a bilingual city and the majority of its citizens speak French or Dutch. However, most English-speaking expats moving to the city will find they can get by without learning another language.

Is Belgium a good place to raise children?

Belgium is a great place to raise children. The communities are safe and the education system is excellent - transferring between EU schools is easy. There also are plenty of international schools in Belgium, particularly in Brussels. Public medical facilities are world-class and the quality of life in Belgium is second to none.

What is the weather like in Belgium?

Belgium’s climate can best be described as mild and temperate. The coastal region sees a mild and humid year-round climate but the climate varies the further inland one goes. The average annual temperature is 46°F (8°C), while Brussels averages around 50°F (10°C) ranging from 37°F (3°C) in January to around 64°F (18°C) in July.

How safe is Belgium?

Belgium is safe but there are the usual incidents of petty crime such as muggings and pickpocketing, particularly in Brussels at major railway stations and on public transport. Belgian law enforcement and security maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, Brussels has experienced deadly terrorist attacks in recent years which have heightened fears in the country. Because Brussels is home to a number of international organisations, including the EU and NATO, expats living here should remain aware that some of these buildings could be targeted for indiscriminate terrorist attacks.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Belgium

The system of banking in Belgium is well-organised and sophisticated. Expats will find that managing money in Belgium is usually a hassle-free process.

Numerous local and international banks have branches in the country, with the main banks being ING Belgium, KBC Bank, AXA Bank Europe and BNP Paribas Fortis.


Belgian currency

The country is part of the Eurozone and the currency in Belgium is the Euro. One euro is divided into 100 cents.

  • Notes: 5 EUR, 10 EUR, 20 EUR, 50 EUR, 100 EUR, 200 EUR and 500 EUR

  • Coins: 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents and 1 EUR and 2 EUR


Banking in Belgium

Most people carry out transactions either at ATMs or via online and telephone banking. Some banks in Belgium operate entirely online, where it's possible to do everything from opening an account to using the bank's investment services and more. 

Belgian banks charge separately for individual services, such as debit and credit cards, internet banking facilities and regular transactions. The service charges and charges for credit cards vary depending on factors such as the customer’s spending limit and added services.

Banking hours in Belgium are normally 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Some banks are also open on Saturday mornings.

Opening a bank account

Opening a current account in Belgium is usually easy, regardless of the particular bank used. Expats are required to bring documents such as proof of identification, completed application forms and proof of address.

Some Belgian banks have the functionality for customers to open bank accounts online, with some allowing foreigners to do so before they arrive in Belgium. In these cases, the expat will have to inform the bank once their residency permit has been issued.

ATMs and debit cards

ATMs are widely available in Belgium. Credit as well as debit cards can be used. ATMs in Belgium used to be bank-specific, but this has now changed. Any card can be used at any ATM.

The main type of debit card used in Belgium is known as the Bancontact card. This is a chip card that has a four-digit PIN number. The Bancontact card can be used to draw cash at ATMs and to pay for everyday items, including groceries and petrol. 


Taxes in Belgium

Taxes in Belgium account for approximately one third of monthly salary deductions and depend on an individual’s family situation, such as whether or not they have dependants. Tax is paid on a progressive scale with tax rates of around 25 to 50 percent, depending on the taxpayer's income.

Tax-free allowances depend on the family situation of the employee as well as tax deduction payments such as pension and dependants.

Expats are generally considered to be tax residents of Belgium if they primarily work or live in the country and have registered at their local municipal office. As a result, an expat may be subject to Belgian tax on their worldwide income. Luckily, the country has double-taxation avoidance agreements with many countries around the world, so most expats should not be taxed twice.

There are, however, special tax concessions for non-Belgians who are in the country on a temporary basis, allowing them to be treated as non-residents for tax purposes. For expats, taxes on cost of living allowances, housing allowances and tax equalisation allowances may also be exempted within certain limits.

Expats in Belgium may want to consider offshore investments in order to manage their tax liability and to control when tax charges are made. Given the relative complexity of taxation in Belgium, however, expats would be well advised to consult with a specialist.

Expat Experiences in Belgium

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories from other expats living there. Contact us if you live or have lived in Belgium and would like to share your experience. 


Nina has been an expat in many different countries and is currently living in Yorkshire, England while waiting for her next adventure to begin. With a background in public relations, she blogs about the places she's lived, giving expats tips and advice on living in countries all over the world. Read about her experience as an expat in Antwerp.

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David Wallace is a Scottish expat living in Belgium. He divides his time between work in Brussels and weekends in Cheshire in England where his wife and child still live. While David enjoys the diversity and vibrancy of Brussels he misses his family back home and doesn’t get back to England as often as he would like. Read more about his expat experience in Belgium.

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Di Mackey is a professional photographer from New Zealand. She lives in Belgium, travelling where the work takes her. Read about her experiences of expat life in Belgium.

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Louise Fly has lived in Waterloo, Belgium, for five years and is both a full-time expat mother and housewife. These experiences have lead her to develop a specialist service advising expat spouses adjusting to life in Belgium and Europe. Read about her expat life in Belgium here.

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Michelle Nott is an expatriated American mother and wife with a background in education (early childhood through university level) and in business (for an international company). She enjoys discovering the world through travel experiences and through the innocence of her children's eyes. Read more about her experience as an expat in Belgium.

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