Moving to Belgium: Guide
There are plenty of reasons to want to live in Belgium, from its people and culture to moving there to further your career in major industries like food processing, manufacturing, or its booming digital sector. Whatever the reason you want to move there, you want to make that move smoothly. We’re going to go into the different steps it takes to ensure that your new life begins with as few hiccups and as much ease as possible.
Before you go
Not everyone who moves is going to move permanently, and they may want to continue owning and maintaining a house back in their home country. However, it’s a good idea to remember the steps you should take before you go if you are going indefinitely. Neglecting to cancel utilities like electricity, gas, and internet can wrack up heavy costs without you noticing it. The same goes for any service subscriptions. Take the time to look through two months’ worth of bank statements to identify any standing orders or other automatic payments to make sure you miss nothing. Tell your tax authorities that you’re leaving, as well as your bank if you’re not going to close your accounts outright. If there are any loans you’ve taken or money you’ve borrowed from friends, paying them off now can help avoid a lot of complication in the near future. If you have your home in Belgium set up already, then arrange your forwarding address. While using it, work through your contacts list of friends and family to let them know your new address.
Finding your home
Most expats moving to Belgium settle in Brussels. But because of its small size and decent infrastructure, it’s not difficult to commute from the rural areas outside the cities and towns that offer access to all of goods and services there while giving plenty of space.
Renting a Belgian home usually follows either a nine-year lease or a more short-term arrangement. Despite the name, nine-year leases actually allow for more flexibility than many realize, with a three-month exit clause available in most contracts. If it’s used within the first three years, however, you might have to pay a penalty of three months’ rent further. The upshot of renting is strong tenant’s rights, allowing you more freedom to improve and change your home.
Buying a home can be more complicated, initially. House prices are lower in Belgium than the majority of the EU. However, there are associated costs that can make the initial process more expensive. If you want to buy a home, make sure you choose an estate agent that offers translation services, as they are more used to helping new arrivals cope with some of the country’s more complicated market rules.
If you buy a home, don’t forget you’re going to have to set up your own utilities, too, if you can’t get them transferred from the previous resident. The prices of phone lines, gas, water, and electricity vary from region to region. In some, paying for a TV license isn’t necessary at all, while it is in Wallonia.
Ensuring you’re legally allowed to visit and stay in the country is essential. If you’re a citizen of countries in the European Union and you have a valid passport and proof of identity that you carry with you at all times, you can get a residency with little issue. If you’re planning a long-term or permanent move, then it’s wise to get copies of some of your most important documents, too. Medical records, academic records, birth, and marriage certificates. It can take several weeks to a month or more to receive copies of some of these, so start preparing in advance.
Getting your possessions moved
It can also take months for some goods to arrive depending on how you transport them, so that’s another aspect of the move you want to start on as soon as possible. Of course, when moving to Belgium from within the EU and the Schengen Zone, companies like LOPA Removals to Belgium focus on expediting your service as soon as possible. From quick quotes and query replies to the actual transport of goods, removing from one place and setting up in the next, get in touch early and you make the transport of your possessions no issue at all. From within the EU, many goods and personal items can be transported duty-free if they’ve been owned for 6 months, so you won’t be looking at exorbitant costs, either.
Reporting to immigration when moving to Belgium
If you’re moving to Belgium for a period of more than three months, you have to register within 8 days. Find your nearest town hall or municipal administration office. While the process is the same throughout the country, the way it’s implemented by local authorities can differ. It might be different in Brussels compared to how it is in Bruges. For that reason, do your research beforehand. It’s sensible to bring with you someone who speaks French or Dutch if you do not.
To gain successful residence in the country, you need to have a few things on you. These include:
- The contract for the apartment/house you are living in
- Four passport-sized photos
- Proof of income or financial means such as a work permit, employment contract or pension papers. You can receive state pensions from other EU countries where you’re a citizen while living in Belgium so long as you keep the relevant state body up to date.
It can take a couple weeks to verify what you provide. When that’s done, you will be informed of it. Then, you will receive a Belgian electronic ID, or an eID-card in four weeks. This is the ID you must carry with you at all times, or it can result in arrest and legal troubles. After some time, it will be upgraded to a permanent resident’s card, providing you complete the rest of the process.
Getting social security and healthcare
As soon as you begin working, you must register for a Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds. These are the social security and healthcare management groups, linked to different political parties. The Belgian healthcare services are some of the best in Europe, but even though it’s not automatic, it is mandatory if you’re self-employed or employed. Healthcare works differently from the schemes in many other countries. When you visit a doctor’s/pharmacist’s/dentist’s, you must pay a cost up front before receiving treatment. After that, you are reimbursed. Different Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds reimburse different amounts for different services, so it’s important you find the package that works best for your needs and to your means. Both employers and employees are required to pay into your healthcare, so you won’t be bearing the brunt of the cost alone. Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds require an eID to register, and getting social security and healthcare is an essential part of upgrading your temporary ID to a resident’s card. So, make sure you don’t delay the process when you arrive.
Take advantage of the benefits available
Expats in Belgium can gain from certain benefits. For example, you can apply for a special tax status, that may see you getting taxed different rates, or not at all, for income sourced from Belgium. Of course, in these situations, you are likely to have to pay tax for income sourced from your home country to the state of that country. These benefits aren’t extended to all, so make sure to see whether or not you qualify when you start working.
Open your bank account
It’s requested in some areas that you open a Belgian bank account. Even when it isn’t, it’s a good idea regardless. Many banks offer services specifically for expats, including foreign language assistance to make things much easier to understand while you’re still learning the language. To open your account, you will need your eID and proof of residence.
Moving to Belgium – Work
Unless you’re receiving a state pension or able to otherwise live off savings and investment incomes, you’re going to need to find work. You might already have organized work prior to moving. If not, however, it’s a good idea to start learning the norms of Belgian CVs and interview etiquette. Adjusting your CV is as simple as sticking to the tips below:
- The first section is your personal information, listing your name, address, date of birth, telephone number, civil status, and if you have had any military service. The two main differences here are that employers in Belgium like to know a lot about applicants. When you’re listing your civil status, include the names of your spouse and children. Secondly, even though it’s not mandatory anymore, it’s tradition for males to include military service.
- Work experience follows, including entries for each company, their names, employment periods, the position, and your responsibilities and work processes listed in bullets. These are usually the longest sections of the CV and the tradition here is to list with the most recent first. Unlike some countries, you shouldn’t skip any position, no matter how minor or irrelevant it seems. Of course, spend the most time and detail highlighting the most relevant.
- Educational background is next, including where you were educated, date of enrolment and the course title. Grades aren’t necessary if they’re not relevant to the position. Again, start with the most recent entries first.
- Language skills: as mentioned, Belgium operates primarily in two languages, Dutch and French. However, any other languages, including English, are highly valued by employers. Don’t forget to include how proficient you are and if you have any certificates attesting to your skills.
- Employers here like to know a lot more about your extracurricular activities than in many other countries as they generally like to know a lot about the people they hire. Go into detail about whatever groups you’re affiliated with and what you do in your spare time. If any of them show management, leadership, organizational, or administrative skills, give them almost the same detail you would give your past work experience.
- Finally, end it with a brief summary of your career goals.
Cover letters are relatively short and to the point. Three paragraphs on an A4 page to give the employer just enough to scan and grasp the situation. The first details why you’re writing. The middle, the bulk of it, should be somewhat formal, summing up why you think you’re a good candidate and why you’re applying. In the last, you need to only conclude by requesting a meeting.
When self-employed, the process is somewhat more complicated than in other countries, and different professions need different professional cards and have to follow different steps. It’s a good idea to get in touch with your local authorities or look for guides for to find out the details of what that means.
Getting around when moving to Belgium
Public transport is enough for a lot of Belgian residents and new arrivals. As small as it is, there’s never too far between stops and the efficiently maintained network, bringing trains, tram, bus, and metro systems together is relatively easy to use. The MOBIB-card is replacing traditional tickets, too, costing only 5 Euro to acquire and lasting a period of five years. There are also plenty of deals constantly on offer from the country’s many recreational locations, including the expansive tram system that gives a tour of the entire coastline.
Public transport can be cheaper and sometimes more convenient, but most Belgian households still have at least one car. If you already have a driving license in the EU, it’s likely you can simply exchange it for a Belgian one. If you’re from a country that doesn’t have this agreement with Belgium, however, you can get a six-month long temporary driving permit. When staying for longer, you may need to retake your theory and practical tests. These applications and replacements will all happen as the same local office where you first get your eID.
Of course, enjoying life in Belgium is all down to growing accustomed to where you live. Figure out whether Dutch or French is the most popular language where you’re moving and start learning in advance. Most people, when they first move, know little about a country. For that reason, it’s a good idea to use online expat groups to meet people who have shared your situation. They can help you get used to the many differences, small and large.
The truth is that Belgian culture isn’t uniform. No country’s culture truly is, but here you have a mix of Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons, each with their own cultures, TV stations, political parties and much more. It’s not unheard of to get culture shock moving from one part of Belgium to the other. So, finding people with some experience to help you get to know the area you live in can be most helpful.
Of course, there are elements fairly common in the lives of all Belgian nationals and new arrivals. If you’re greeted by your neighbours and invited to their home, bring flowers of quality chocolates for the hostess. Cleanliness and personal appearance are taken very seriously, too, to the point that an untidy garden could be something of a displeasure to your neighbours. But on the whole, Belgian people are respectful and mannerly, but a very personable and warm group at the same time.
The tips above are only the beginning of life in Belgium. As small a country as it is, it is rich with friendly, diverse people, a plethora of sightseeing opportunities, and a thriving professional environment. Hopefully, this guide serves simply as a way to help introduce you to all of it.