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Moving to Belgium

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. As a result, it is one of Europe's most diverse and fascinating countries.

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.

Living in Belgium as an expat

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.

Expat families and children

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.

Cost of living in Belgium

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

Climate in Belgium

The weather in Belgium is not one of the country's selling points. Though not necessarily unpleasant, light rain is fairly constant throughout the year and can be a bit inconvenient. To reduce the risk of being caught off guard, it's a good idea to carry a small umbrella in case of sudden showers.

Those not fond of heat are sure to enjoy the mildness of Belgian summers, with temperatures hovering around 72°F (22°C). Winters can be chilly and there may be snowfall, but temperatures typically stay above freezing.


Fast facts

Official name: Kingdom of Belgium

Population: 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: Christianity

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.

Weather in Belgium

The weather in Belgium is fairly grey throughout the year. The country's climate is temperate, and not unpleasant, but precipitation is a constant through various seasons. 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 brings 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

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

Embassy of Belgium, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 660 0880

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


Foreign embassies in Belgium

United States Embassy, 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

 

2021

2022

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Easter Sunday

4 April

17 April

Easter Monday

5 April

18 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day

13 May

26 May

Pentecost Sunday

23 May

5 June

Pentecost Monday

24 May

6 June

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.

As is the case with many famed countries around the world, Belgium can often be romanticised. Here's a balanced look at the pros and cons of moving to Belgium.


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 bring about a complex state structure. The state is for the large part federalised, 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: Easy to 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: 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 also bicycle friendly. 

+ PRO: Easy regional travel

Another benefit of Belgium's location is that London, Amsterdam and Paris can be reached by rail 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.


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. 

Working in Belgium

Many expats move to Belgium in order to work in the country's open economy, which punches far above its geographic weight. Despite having relatively high taxes, Belgium continues to attract job-seeking expats keen to enjoy the high quality of life it offers.


Job market in Belgium

Belgium has a strong manufacturing sector, but the services sector still 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 be 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.


Work culture in Belgium

Belgium is in the heart of Europe and 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 and demanding. The local workforce is known for being skilled, productive and multilingual. 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 by location.

Hours of business

Office hours are usually Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm.

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.

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 10 percent of the country's population being foreign born, Belgium's business culture is further diversified.

Communication

French, Dutch and German are the three official languages in Belgium. 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 their community 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.

A trait shared by all business cultures in Belgium is an insistence on compromise. 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.


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 permits for Belgium

Expats wanting to stay in Belgium for longer than 90 days may require a residence permit, depending on their nationality.

For non-EU expats, there are three types of residence permits which operate on a tier-based system. First, a B card is granted, which allows them a long stay in Belgium. After five years of being a B-card holder, foreigners may apply for a C card, also known as an identity card for foreigners, or a D card, which grants them status as a long-term resident.

Anyone intending to stay in Belgium is required to report their presence in the country to their local commune. Having done so, they will receive a document called a notification of arrival for short stays and a registration certificate for long stays.

For short stays of less than three months, EU citizens must do this within 10 working days of arrival and non-EU citizens within three working days of arrival. For longer stays of more than three months, EU citizens must register their stay at any point in the first three months, while non-EU citizens have eight working days to do so.

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 do. The Belgian work permit is also known as a 'single permit'.

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.


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.

There are two work permit options for expats in Belgium. The first is a single permit with indefinite term. This is a long-term permit for expats who have legally worked in the country for four consecutive years. The second work permit type is a single permit with a fixed term. This is the category that most expats moving to Belgium will require, and limits the holder to one employer for a period of one year.

Once their employment has been authorised by the relevant authorities, the expat employee can then apply for a Schengen visa which enables them to enter the country and stay temporarily.


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.

*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. Brussels ranked 78th out of 209 countries in the Mercer Cost of Living Survey 2020, while the likes of Zurich and London ranked 4th and 19th, respectively. 

The Belgian tax and social security systems are well developed and this ensures that incomes are distributed evenly across most industries. Still, 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 quite expensive, but expats who are willing to venture outside major urban centres will find that their rental costs are substantially lower.

Energy prices in Belgium are steep, so expats moving here should not expect utilities to be a minor cost.


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. 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 May 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

 One-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 900

 One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 700

 Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 1,500

 Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 1,200

Groceries

 Dozen eggs

 EUR 2.80

 Milk (1 litre)

 EUR 1

 Loaf of bread (white)

 EUR 1.60

 Chicken breasts (1kg)

 EUR 9

 Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

 EUR 6.80

Utilities/household

 Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

 EUR 0.22

 Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 EUR 45

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

 EUR 130

Eating out and entertainment

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

 EUR 60

 Big Mac Meal

 EUR 9

 Cappuccino

 EUR 3.20

 Coca-Cola (330ml)

 EUR 2.30

 Local beer (500ml)

 EUR 4

Transportation

 Taxi (rate per km)

 EUR 2

 City centre public transport

 EUR 2.40

 Petrol (per litre)

 EUR 1.40

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. Here are a few points to be aware of when settling into life in Belgium.


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 Flemings are more industrious and serious, as they tend to be quieter and more reserved. 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.

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.


Types of accommodation in Belgium

The standard of accommodation in Belgium is typical of Western Europe, with small comfortable houses the most common. Air conditioning is not a common feature, though the vast majority of houses have 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.

Most properties in Belgium come 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, but it could also mean that there are no carpets or basic electrical appliances.


Finding accommodation in Belgium

It should not be difficult for expats to find and secure accommodation in Belgium. There are several online resources that can be used to find a home before arriving in the country, but expats should always 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. Expats should be aware that these specialists do charge a fee.


Renting accommodation in Belgium

There are strict laws around real estate in Belgium that aim to protect tenants as well as landlords. To receive the full protection of the law, expats are advised to follow all the proper processes, which can be obtained from the government’s official information and services website.

Leases

A typical Belgian residential lease is for nine years, known as a 'long-term lease'. A tenant can break the lease with three months' notice at any time. If the tenant breaks the lease in the first, second or third year, they will have to pay a penalty of one, two or three months' rent respectively. Breaking the lease early after three years incurs no penalty. This type of lease is often referred to as a '3-6-9 lease' because the lease and its components can be revisited every three years.

There are also short-term leases available for a period of three years rather than nine. During a three-year lease, it is not possible to break the lease before the completion of the term. This means that tenants are responsible for paying the rent for the full duration of the contract, regardless of circumstances.

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. An employer may be able to help by providing proof of earnings or acting as a guarantor.

Deposits

Deposits in Belgium are generally three months’ rent. This amount will be held by the landlord or agent in a separate account. 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.

Utilities

Before finalising a rental agreement, expats should always make sure what the terms of the lease are. In most cases, utilities such as 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 may include some maintenance costs. If the property has a garden, the tenant will be obliged to look after it.

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.

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. 

Anyone who qualifies for public healthcare can consult with any doctor of their choosing. Most doctors will have a good understanding of English. 

EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit.


Private healthcare in Belgium

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.

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 health insurance in Belgium

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.

Expats who don't contribute to the national social security system should check whether their employer will provide private health insurance. If not, it's important to take out a policy independently to cover the high costs associated with private treatment.


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 five to 18 years of age.

If only 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.


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.

The Belgian secondary education system is highly regarded. In their second year, students choose particular course options, which can be general, technical, artistic or professional in nature.


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. 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 teaches it.

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. 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. 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 Belgium

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 around Belgium. 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.

Transport and Driving in Belgium

Thanks 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 too. 


Public transport in Belgium

Trains

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

High-speed trains 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.

Trams

Several Belgian cities have tram lines, including Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent. In Brussels the tram is integrated with the metro system, making it a convenient means of travelling around the city.


Taxis in Belgium

Taxis are plentiful in Belgian towns and cities, with several private companies offering services. Taxis don't all look the same but 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-hailing services and applications are also available in most Belgian cities and are a convenient alternative to taxis.


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. But 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 can legally drive for up to six months on their licence from home. After this, they will need a local licence. Some countries have exchange agreements with Belgium, allowing citizens to simply swap their foreign licence for a local one. Expats from countries without such agreements will have to take a test to obtain a local licence.


Air travel in Belgium

Due to the country's small size, there are 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 cafes 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 such as 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 Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Communications (BIPT) and is available in English, French, Dutch and German. 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. 


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.

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.


Internet in Belgium

Expats will find that most households are equipped with high-speed broadband. 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.

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 broadcast by regional entities. For Dutch-speaking regions, VRT (Vlaamse Radio- en Televisieomroeporganisatie); for French-speaking regions, RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Français) and for German-speaking regions, BRF (Belgischer Rundfunk). Satellite channels are available in Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia from several operators. 


Postal services in Belgium

Mail is delivered Monday through Friday in Belgium. If the recipient of a package is not home at the time of delivery, the postal carrier will put a notice in their mailbox. A legitimate form of identification is needed to collect a package.

The Belgian post office is officially called Bpost. 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 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. Most English-speaking expats moving to the city will find they can get by without learning another language, though doing so is a sure way to gain favour with locals.

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. 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.

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. The best way for expats to avoid becoming a victim is to be aware of their surroundings and keep valuables out of sight.

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, Belfius 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. Service and credit card charges 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 and debit cards can be used. 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. 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 are high, with income tax being paid on a progressive scale with tax rates of between 25 to 50 percent, depending on the taxpayer's income.

Expats are 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. 

Given the relative complexity of taxation in Belgium, we recommend expats 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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