Moving to Belgium
Things to know before moving to Belgium
Belgium is located in northwestern Europe, and despite its small size has an incredible heterogeneous culture. This is because the country is divided between a French-speaking community and a Flemish-speaking one. In addition to this, there is also a small German-speaking population in the eastern part of the country.
Why should you consider moving to Belgium?
There are multiple reasons why you should consider moving to Belgium. For example, the housing system in this country is affordable and easy to manage. Indeed, the process to obtain a property is completely manageable even through online platforms.
A second reason that will make you want to move to Belgium is its truly multicultural soul. As mentioned before, different cultures coexist with each other. Because of this characteristic, the country is officially multilingual.
Finally, Belgium has an incredible healthcare system. The country’s hospitals have an outstanding reputation and they offer adequate services and high-quality services. Next to this, Belgium also offers alternative healthcare treatments such as homeopathy and patients have access to specialists without necessarily going through a General Practitioner.
Relocating to Belgium is always a winning idea for multiple reasons. Located in the heart of Europe, this country has become a magnet for expats from all over the world because of its exciting nightlife and rich economy. However, be aware that English is not as widely spoken as you might think. Hereby you will find general tips regarding life in Belgium:
- At the end of the financial year, many employers pay a 13th-month bonus to their employees.
- Many rental properties in Belgium don’t have furniture, meaning that they are completely empty. If you lease one of these, you will have to provide your own appliances and probably even cupboards.
- Bruxelles hosts numerous international organizations and most importantly, European Union institutions
- Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, German, and French. As a result, the Belgian Constitution is also trilingual, highlighting the political friction between the different language and cultural communities.
- The education system is decentralized, making the enrollment process diverse and competitive.
Culture Of Belgium
Belgium has become a very popular destination for many expats. The community of expats living in Belgium is currently estimated at approximately 750,000, almost a tenth of the population. There are plenty of reasons why you should move to Belgium, but first and foremost for the excellent health care, education, and public facilities.
Belgium is a very small country with an estimated population of just over 10 million people. The country is composed of three separate and almost autonomous regions (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels) each of which has different languages
The country is a culinary paradise for expats thanks to its delicious dishes such as Moules Fritesthe, waffles, and incredible chocolate. A perfect accompaniment to these delicacies is Belgium beer, with hundreds of different types available throughout Belgium’s major cities. But Belgium is not just about food. Those passionate about history will enjoy the beautiful buildings and works of art spread all over the country.
Belgium has a strong tradition of fine cuisine which is well expressed in its large number of top-rated restaurants. The country is known for moules frites (mussels served with french fries) as well as waffles. Belgian chocolate is renowned around the world and may be considered a cultural institution. Next to these delicacies should be mentioned the well-known Belgian beer which is considered the national beverage. In fact, the country has several hundred breweries and countless cafés where Belgians enjoy a great variety of local brews, including the famed Trappist and lambic types.
Belgians are crazy about football. The Royal Belgian Football Association counts thousands of teams and clubs. Belgian’s national team, known as the Red Devils, has long been in power in international competitions. Another very much loved sport is cycling with numerous enthusiasts. Belgians enjoy attending the many road races, lining up along the route to pump their fists in the air when their favorite cyclist passes by.
Despite the popularity of the big two above, it’s tennis that is the most-watched sport on TV in Belgium where a full two-thirds of Belgians watch the sport every year.
Cost of public transport in Belgium
The Belgian public transport network is quite extensive, making it easy to travel through Belgium by train, tram, or bus.
For non-Belgian people, the public transport system might sound a bit confusing. Belgium has four public transport operators. All public trains in the country are operated by SNCB/NMBS. There is a regional division for buses, trams, and metro trains:
- Flanders: De Lijn
- Brussels: STIB/MIVB
- Wallonia: TEC
All different transport companies use their own separate ticket systems and rates. Luckily, in 2018 the MOBIB Travelcard was introduced. It’s a chip card that allows you to buy all the tickets you’ll need with 1 card and top it up at one of the many dispenser points. The card is valid on the entire Belgian public transport system and it will ensure you always get the cheapest tickets in the easiest way. The price for one card is 5€ and is valid for 5 years.
Public Transport In Belgium
Public Transport in Brussels
There are 3 different companies operating bus, tram, and metro lines in Brussels. However, they all share the same ticketing system, which makes it very easy to move around Brussels by bus and metro. A single ticket costs €2.10 ($ 2.44) and is valid for one hour. Within this time period, you can change lines unlimitedly.
Public Transport in Flanders
De Lijn is responsible for providing tram and bus lines in Flanders. It’s advised to buy your tickets in advance since onboard tickets are much more expensive. Single tickets are valid for 60 minutes. Within this time period, you can change lines unlimitedly. A single ticket costs €1.80 ($ 2.10).
Public Transport in Wallonia
TEC is the company operating in Wallonie. Also, in this case, it is better to buy your ticket in advance, since onboard tickets are much more expensive. Just like in Brussels and Flanders, single tickets are valid for 60 minutes. There are 3 kinds of single tickets, depending on the distance you’re traveling:
- A single Next Ticket will bring you across up to 2 zones and cost €2 ($2.33) in presale, or €2,50 ($2,91) on board. This ticket will get you all around the city.
- A single Horizon ticket has no zone limitation and costs €3 ($3.49) in a presale or €3.50 ($4.07) on board. These tickets cover medium distances and travel towards or between cities.
- A Single Horizon plus ticket includes the fast busses which cover larger distances between different towns. In presale, you’ll pay €5 ($5.82) and onboard €5.50 ($6.40).
Belgium has an extended railway system making it very easy to travel by train between all major cities and several smaller towns. Weekend tickets, starting from Friday after 19:01, are 50% cheaper. If you’re under 26, you can buy a Go Pass 1 for €6 ($6.99) that will bring you to any destination in Belgium.
Alternatively, you can also get a Go Pass for 10 trips at the price of €52 ($60.54). Trains run frequently throughout the day (at least 1 train per hour) and tickets can be purchased at any railway station. All tickets have open time schedules so you can board at any time during the day.
Taxis in Belgium are probably the most expensive in Europe. Cabs do not have distinctive colors but are easy to recognize thanks to a sign on the roof. Usually, you can find taxis near the main attractions, at the stations and ports. There is a set fare plus a certain amount is added per kilometer. There is a nighttime supplement as well. Uber taxis are only available in Brussels.
One of the most pressing concerns for expats who decide to move to Belgium is to find accommodation ideally before their arrival. The housing market in this country has noteworthy peculiarities to address. Therefore, the following guidelines will provide a general overview of these characteristics, along with an explanation of tenants’ rights. Finally, the section will illustrate useful suggestions on how to search for an apartment.
In Belgium, you can only rent a house for set periods of 3, 7, or 9 years. If you want to end the rental agreement at another time, you have to pay a penalty. The property market for those who seek either to rent or buy a property is attractive. According to studies previously conducted, only 33% of Belgians own a property meaning that there are plenty of options for non-Belgian home seekers. Housing prices are considered far lower than the housing market of all of Europe combined altogether.
There are no restrictions concerning the purchase of a property in this country. In case you want to rent out a property all you need to do is validate your identity and proof of authorized residence by the government, often known as a visa. It is also one of the requirements to give proper evidence of your being completely financially available to pay for the rent. An interesting fact about Belgium is that the government provides social housing to many single people and families with low-income rates.
Renting in Belgium as a foreigner
There are many ways to find a property to rent in Belgium. For example, you can hit the streets. Some owners simply place a ‘For Rent’ sign À louer (French) or Te Huur (Dutch) in their window, because maybe they prefer to deal directly with potential tenants. Another way is to search the Internet for potential properties. In this case, an agent can be extremely helpful especially if you are not in Belgium yet.
Furnished or unfurnished apartments?
In many countries, ‘unfurnished’ means the property still comes with light fixtures, window coverings, and the odd kitchen appliance. However, in Brussels, unfurnished means unfurnished. This means that you must provide most fittings and fixtures, including ceiling lamps, kitchen cupboards, appliances, and often floor coverings. The apartment will be neat and clean in most situations, ready to move in. You can also design and decorate such houses based on your comfort style. The tenants also pay for fixtures for the repairman. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to look at properties in person, so you can assess what will be included with your home and budget accordingly. Furnished properties are usually (meublé/gemeubeld) rare and often difficult to find except for short-term stays (less than a year).
Before signing any contract, always check the condition of the property. If the property is not in good condition, the tenant has the right to discard the contract. Any individual can also ask for the damage payments if convenient.
Requirements and documents to rent
Once you have found a property to rent, it’s time to pay a security deposit. This can be anywhere between one and three months’ rent, so it’s important to keep this in mind when budgeting for accommodation costs.
In Belgium, all accommodations are rented on the basis of a written and signed rental contract (also referred to as a lease or tenancy agreement). Be aware that your signature on a rental contract means that you accept all its clauses. The rules inherent in rental contract matters are subject to variations depending on the region in which the accommodation is located and the type of rental contract you sign. The lease or rental contract should include the following documents:
- Name of the owner and name of the tenant
- The start date of the contract
- Address of the property to rent
- Parking spaces, garages, or storage facilities included in the rental
- The monthly rent amount
There are two possibilities for a rental contract:
- a standard flexible lease for a period of between three and nine years
- a rather inflexible short-term lease for contracts lasting up to three years.
Rental process and rules
The owner of the property has to register the lease as soon as possible. If not, the landlord will receive a fine and the tenant can end the contract at any moment without having to give notice or pay any penalties. The registration can be in person at the local office of the property, by post, by email, or by fax.
Belgium possesses strong tenant rights, which puts tenants on the landlord’s safe side. The landlord cannot evict the tenant without a proper valid reason. On the other hand, if tenants have neglected the property the landlords can keep part of the deposit to pay for the necessary fixes. Usually, it is a rule that a period of six months’ prior notice must be given to the landlord’s tenant.
Buying a property as a foreigner
Whether you’re moving to Belgium or looking for an investment, you might be tempted by properties for sale in Belgium. The standard of living is high and Belgian property prices are relatively lower than neighboring countries and many other European capital cities. However, high property transaction costs can counterbalance any short-term benefits. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the Belgian housing market and regulations before buying a property.
Requirements to buy a property in Belgium
There are no restrictions to stop foreigners from buying property in Belgium, even if they are non-resident, although different tax implications apply between resident and non-resident buyers in Belgium.
House prices in Belgium
Listed properties for sale are known to have negotiable prices, and the idea is to make an offer slightly below your ideal price. New Belgian properties are usually subjected to extra charges. For example, VAT is charged on any Belgian property that is less than two years old.
The average house price in Belgium are:
- Brussels-Capital region €429,647 ($498,500)
- Flanders €236,189 ($274,040)
- Wallonia €196,000 ($228,230)
Get a mortgage in Belgium
Loans are typically fixed for a period of at least 10 years or more, as this provides a tax advantage in Belgium.
In order to get a mortgage in Belgium, you must be under 65 years old and submit proof of income. You must also prove that all your existing liabilities (rent, loan repayments, etc.), plus your mortgage payments, won’t exceed 35% of your net monthly income. The lending will be based on your ability to pay, and won’t take into account any rental income from the property.
You may also be required to obtain a survey of the value of the property. Surveys are done by an expert valuer approved by the mortgage company. The value assessment is often based on the replacement or forced sale value, not the market value. You will have to pay the expert valuer´s fees. Note that this survey doesn’t always give you signs of potential problems with the building.
Mortgages have typically a 20-year duration. The minimum loan is €30,000, with a maximum loan-to-value ratio of 85%. Since 2008, the market has been dominated by loans with interest rates fixed for the duration of the loan, or at least for ten years.
Process and steps to buy a house in Belgium
The first step when buying a property in Belgium is to pay a small deposit or holding fee, which you will lose if you back out of the sale. This commitment to buy is often requested by agents but not essential. It ties the buyer to the sale but allows the seller to back out without penalty.
The second step involves the sale agreement which outlines the details of the contract. At this point, you will usually need to pay a deposit of around 10% of the purchase price, after which you have four months to pay the remaining balance.
The third and final step is the notarised deed which transfers ownership of the property. This must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.
Guide to additional expenses when buying a home in Belgium
Here is a guideline for additional costs when buying a property:
- Fixed state-agreed costs for the services of the notary which are around 1.6%
- A deposit of usually 10% of the sale price
- Registration tax of 12.5%.
Utility companies: Electricity and gas
There are plenty of choices when it comes to signing up a contract for your utilities in Belgium. The Belgian energy market is liberalized, letting you choose the right electricity and gas supplier for you depending on your needs and where you are in the country.
The following companies operate in all three Belgian regions:
- Energie 2030 (gas and electricity)
- Engie (electricity)
- Lampiris (gas and electricity)
- Mega (electricity and gas)
Despite the wide range of choices between service providers that might seem intimidating, companies offer packages to make you save money.
Each region has its own water company. To set up a contract the following information is required:
- The address of the property
- The name of the new occupant
- The moving-in date
- The meter reading
- Copy of the new occupant’s passport or identity card
The water supplier is the Intercommunale Bruxelloise de Distribution d’Eau (IBDE) / Brusselse Intercommunale voor Waterdistributie (BIWD).
The water company for the region of Flanders is the Vlaamse Maatschappij voor Watervoorziening, VMW.
The water company for Wallonia is the Société Wallonne des Distributions d’Eau (SWDE).
What you need to know
- The governments of the regions are responsible for policy and regulation related to water supply and sanitation, and for environmental policy more generally.
- Many providers also offer green energy options
- Water is provided separately and you won’t be able to choose a supplier
- When it comes to paying your energy bills, there are three main components. The first is for the amount of energy you have used. The second is for the use of the power network itself. These networks are operated at a regional level; you cannot choose a different network or opt out of paying the associated charges. The third component is related to fees and taxes.
- Your energy supplier will ask you to check your meter readings once a year.
- Generally speaking, you’ll receive a water bill from your supplier once every quarter.
Languages of Belgium
Most people expect to hear Dutch or French in Belgium, but what surprises many is that the country has not two, but three official languages. Unlike other countries in Europe that have successfully created a united national identity out of multiple linguistic communities Belgium’s linguistic diversity has become a political affair in recent years.
Here are some basic words translated into Flemish:
Goodbye: Tot ziens
Thanks: Dank je
You’re welcome: Graag gedaan
While these are basic words translated into French:
Goodbye: Au revoir
Please: S’il te plaît
You’re welcome: De rien
- Flemish (Dutch): 60% (6.5 million)
- French: 40% (4.5 million)
- German: 1% (75,000 thousand)
Brussels is officially bilingual, with all street signs, transportation information, and even commercial advertising presented in both French and Flemish. But the reality of this supposedly bilingual utopia is very different from what the reality is. Despite the fact that Brussels is the capital of the European Union and home to thousands of international companies and organizations, you absolutely need some level of French if you want to complete the everyday challenges of getting a haircut, visiting a doctor, or shopping at the supermarket.
Minimum wage and average wage
The median annual salary in Belgium is around €19,126 ($ 22,190). However, Belgium does not have a minimum wage and there is no mandatory minimum rate of pay for workers in Belgium.
Belgium’s Minimum Wage is the lowest amount a worker can be legally paid for his work. Most countries have a nationwide minimum wage that all workers must be paid.
The Belgium minimum wage rate is €1,501.82 ($1747,25) a month for workers 21 years of age and over. For workers 21 and a half years of age, with six months of service is €1,541.67 ($1793,61) a month for workers; and €1,559.38 ($1814,21) a month for workers 22 years of age.
What is a good salary in Belgium?
Across Belgium, wages vary consistently. Although the cost of living in Belgium is relatively high, it is not as expensive as other European countries in Western Europe. Moreover, Belgium has one of the lowest gender pay gaps in Europe.
Average annual salary
When it comes to calculating the annual salary many factors come into play such as experience and education. Here are some examples of the average annual wages:
Occupation Average salary in euros/ USD:
- Nurse: €63,247 – $73,380
- Primary teacher: € 53.611 – $62,200
- Architect: €43,600 – $50,590
- Software Engineer: €37,655 – $43,690
- UX Designer: €36,460 – $42,300
- Web Developer: €31,926 – $37,040
- Product manager: €72,729 – $84,380
The most demanded jobs and their remuneration
The job market in Belgium is competitive and language skills are in high demand. Multilingual foreign workers or those that can speak at least one of the country’s official languages have more chances to find employment.
Here is a list of the most demanded jobs in Belgium. Occupation Average salary in euros/USD:
- Accountants €36, 222 – $ 42,030
- administrative staff €43,200 – $ 50,120
- Architects €72,172 – $ 83,740
- Electricians €54.632 – $ 63,560
- engineers, technicians, and mechanics €36, 222 – $ 63,390
- IT staff €27,708 – $ 32,150
The work culture of Belgium
Business Culture in Belgium is characterized by business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, and work-life balance.
- Belgians generally enjoy an effective work-life balance. They work to live, rather than the other way around
- Belgian organizations are aware of the business case for work-life balance, and some of them are now introducing flexible time and related policies to ease the pressures.
- Belgians, with their attachment to their local communities, often commute in to work from the countryside. Consequently, the morning and evening rush hours around Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liege, etc, see enormous traffic jams.
Belgium Work Culture: Dress Code
It is normal to wear a jacket, the younger high-tech companies may happily tolerate an open-neck shirt and jeans. Colour has no particular significance.
The quality of clothing is of only marginal importance in a culture that shows relatively little class-consciousness.
Women, the younger generation, in particular, may wear trousers, particularly trouser suits. When in doubt about the dress code for a particular business event, it is advisable to be well dressed rather than under-dressed. Uniforms, except for hygiene workers and chefs, etc., are rarely worn.
If unsure of the dress code and what to wear, it is perfectly acceptable to ask someone from the company you are visiting. Belgium has one of the highest average annual rainfall in Western Europe.
Relocation to Belgium
Once you decide that it is time to move to Belgium, you should carefully plan how to move your belongings. Importing goods from other countries to Belgium is relatively easy even for non-EU countries (including Switzerland). Be aware of the list of prohibited items so you won’t risk a fine.
There is good news concerning the transportation of pets. Even in this case rules are not too strict neither for EU countries nor non-EU countries (including Switzerland). Of course, there are rules to comply with, such as registering your pet with a microchip or vaccinating your pet with the required vaccine.
Customs regulations and permits for Belgium
For third-country nationals / moving from outside the EU
Belgian custom does not apply any particular taxation on tobacco products, for passengers aged 17 and older. The same regulation applies to alcoholic beverages.
Products of animal origin, not originating from an EU Member State, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, or Switzerland, are forbidden.
Prohibited and restricted items in Belgium:
- Weapons such as firearms and ammunition require a permit.
- Endangered animals, plants, and their derivative products protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) may require protected species permits.
- Animals are subject to a mandatory health inspection at the first point of entry on EU territory. They must also have a microchip or tattoo and rabies vaccine. A Common Veterinary Entry Document certifying the healthy inspection must be provided with the customs declaration.
- Pets traveling within the EU must have a valid pet passport.
- Meat and dairy products are allowed from EU countries.
You cannot enter the following items in Belgium:
- Counterfeit and pirated goods.
- Weapons such as switchblades and air guns
- Certain vegetables and plant products.
Even if you are planning a short trip to Belgium, you may still require a Schengen visa or a Belgium airport transit visa. The airport transit visa is for those that need to transit through Belgium to an area outside the Schengen Zone.
A Schengen Zone visa allows you to visit anywhere else in the Schengen Zone on a temporary basis for up to 90 days.
When applying for a Schengen visa, you will be required to provide supporting documentation. This should either be taken with you to your embassy or consulate appointment or be sent along with your application if you are submitting it via post.
Business visas are available for business people who wish to participate in activities that are related to business in Belgium. For this visa, you will typically need supporting documents, such as:
- Invitation letter from the Belgian company
- A certificate from your employer
- Business bank statement, preferably for the last six months
- Memorandum & Article of Association in original certified copy (registered with joint-stock companies)
- Trade License (first issued and present renewal)
- Proof of trip financing
There are two different kinds of work visas, and which one you need will depend on whether or not you are self-employed.
1) Employee visa
Your employer should obtain this visa on your behalf before you arrive in the country. Necessary documents to obtain an employment visa are:
- medical certificate
- passport photos
- completed and signed application forms.
- criminal records disclosure covering the previous year.
2) Self-employed visa
Before you can even apply for a self-employed visa, you will need authorization from the Federal Public Service for Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy. This comes in the form of a “professional card” which you can request from the Belgian embassy. The embassy will require completed and signed application forms, 4 passport-size photos, a project plan, and a criminal records disclosure, in order to consider your request. You should also submit your CV, copies of your education and qualification certificates, and any professional references or letters of recommendation that you might have.
What documents do you need?
The supporting documentation is as follows:
- A signed and completed Belgium visa application form
- Two identical passport-size photos
- Your passport
- Copies of any previous visas
- A Language Preference Form
- Proof of Schengen Travel Insurance, with a minimum €30,000 coverage for medical emergencies and repatriation
- A cover letter – this should state why you wish to visit Belgium and the details of your trip
- A round-trip flight itinerary – this should contain the dates and flight numbers of your entry and exit from Belgium, or the Schengen Zone if you are visiting multiple destinations
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of civil status
Depending on whether you are a citizen of another European country, you may or may not require a work permit. Citizens of the European Union and European Economic Area do not need a work permit. For others intending to work in Belgium, the categories for work permits are as follows:
The A Permit is only available to foreigners who have already been working in Belgium on a B Permit. It is granted to people who have been working in Belgium for a minimum of four out of 10 years. The A Permit does not tie you into a specific job and allows you to change employers if you wish to.
Your employer should obtain this on your behalf before you start working in Belgium. It is valid for one year and you are contractually committed to your employer and the job for this period of time.
The C Permit is suitable for those with limited residency status, such as students or refugees, who want to take up temporary work. C Permits are not tied to a specific job or employer.
Long-term visa application
If as a non-EU citizen you want to stay more than three months in Belgium, you are classified as a resident and will have to go through a range of formalities to obtain a residence permit. In any case, your nationality will evidently not be enough to obtain the right of residence. The general rule is to obtain a D visa (long-term visa) from the Embassy in your home country before you arrive in Brussels. However, in some cases, it is also possible to lodge your application directly in Brussels with the municipal administration in your place of residence.