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Moving to Belgium? A Guide to Belgian Living, An Expat’s Guide

What Expats Need to Know About Taking the Leap

Belgium is much more than just a pretty face: it’s also a country that’s rich in heritage, art, chocolate, and welcoming residents. For these reasons and many more, people have been flocking to Belgium for centuries, contributing to its current position as one of the smallest yet most densely populated countries in Europe. With just more than 10 million residents, it goes without saying that expats from virtually every background and walk of life will be able to find something they love about Belgium’s landscape, communities, and culture. Whether you’re considering moving to Belgium for work, play, relaxation, or simply to spend the rest of your life eating Belgian waffles or moules Frites, there’s no doubt that Belgium has something wonderful to offer you and yours. Read on to learn more about this gorgeous country, and how you can make your move to it as streamlined as possible.

Why Move to Belgium?

Belgium is a sought-after country for many reasons. In addition to its high standards of living and out-of-this-world healthcare, education, and communities, Belgium also has a large expat community, with more than 75,000 people from various backgrounds, cultures, and locations living within the country’s borders. While the cost of living in Belgium is high compared to some other places in Europe, the standard of life is high as well. Residents here can expect quality jobs, plenty of family and sick leave, quality healthcare and education for children, and a focus on a healthy, active, happy lifestyle. For many people, this makes the additional monthly expenditure well worth it.

Moving to Belgium: The Immigration Process

One thing to know about Belgium is that gaining residency here can be tough. Unless that is, you’re coming from an EU country. If this is the case, you’ll have no problem immigrating to Belgium and, to live and work in the country, you’ll only be required to register for a residence permit once you’ve secured a job. If you’re not an EU national, though, you’ll face a much tougher road. In recent years, Belgium has been overwhelmed by immigrants and illegal immigration has become a problem. As such, Belgium authorities have cracked down on the country’s immigration policies, and people from outside of the E.U. often find it difficult to secure residence here. If you want to achieve residence in Belgium, the first thing you’ll need to do is to obtain a work permit. In Belgium, work permits are granted by government offices and must be obtained by employees before said employee moves to apply for residence. Once the work permit has been obtained, you’ll need to get to work applying for a temporary residency visa. This paperwork is required for anyone (except for EU nationals) who wants to stay in the country longer than 90 days. Part of securing residency in the country is registering with the local commune in the area you live no later than eight days after your arrival. This step is required for everyone that is not an EU national. Within two weeks of moving into your residence, you’ll need to submit an application for a “foreigner identity card,” which allows you to be formally registered in Belgium’s database of the foreign population.
Unfortunately, applying for a foreign identity card is one of the most difficult aspects of the entire immigration process. To complete the sign-up, you and all of your family members who are older than 21 must take a trip to the town hall in the city in which you choose to settle. You may be required to provide proof of marriage, birth, income, residence, or more, depending on the unique circumstances of your immigration. Because immigration in Belgium can be difficult, and because requirements and needed documentation may change often, it’s wise to check the official website of the Belgian Immigration Office before you begin working on your residence application or visa paperwork.

5 Important Facts About Living in Belgium

Belgium is different than virtually any other place in the world, and expats interested in moving to the country should know the following five things:

1. Employee bonuses are standard here. In Belgium, good jobs are everywhere, and people lucky enough to secure employment in Belgium will typically enjoy a generous end-of-the-year gift.
2. “Unfurnished” means unfurnished. Unfurnished rental properties in Belgium are devoid of kitchen appliances and, in extreme cases, things like cupboards and shelves. Be prepared for this as you begin searching for rentals in the country.
3. You must register your lease. In Belgium, all tenants renting property are required to register their contracts with the Ministry of Finance with the Receiver of Registrations. This must occur within four months of the lease being drafted and signed. Otherwise a fine will be issued.
4. All foreign documents must be legalized. In Belgium, you’ll need to get a document called an Apostille whenever you bring paperwork that did not originate in Belgium in for submission.
5. You must carry your ID card at all times. Every man, woman, and child in Belgium over the age of 12 years must carry their ID cards everywhere. If you are asked for your ID by Belgium officials and you cannot produce it, you can be placed under arrest for 12 hours.

Finding Housing in Belgium

When it comes to renting a property in Belgium, you’re in for a treat. Belgium offers a wide selection of beautiful, clean properties to rent and people in the country will be able to choose from homes and apartments. Unlike many places in other parts of the developed world, tenants who rent in Belgium often enjoy the freedom to renovate the property they rent, and fixes like painting or light remodeling will not generally be frowned upon. This said, however, it’s still essential to understand your rental rights before you rent a property in Belgium.
While it’s possible to purchase property in Belgium, renting here affords many of the same freedoms of home ownership, merely without the burden of a mortgage. Because of this, many tenants decide to rent property rather than purchase it.
What’s more, rental contracts in Belgium are designed to encourage tenants to stay for the long-term, and generally run more than a year. When it comes to actually finding a property to rent, many new expats in Belgium find it helpful to hire a real estate professional to assist in the search and rental process. This can streamline the method and help ensure that you find a property you love in Belgium.

The 5 Best Places to Live in Belgium

1. Antwerp
The largest port in Belgium, Antwerp has a long history of glamor, glitz, and celebrity status. Nearly destroyed in intense bombings during WWII, Antwerp has since risen from the ashes of itself as a hip center of art, culture, and dining. Expats here can enjoy everything from the city’s stately architecture to its many green spaces, ample waterways, and jobs in a variety of industries. Rental prices here are higher than in other, more rural parts of the country, but many expats find that it’s well worth it to be in the center of all Antwerp has to offer.

2. Brussels
By far the most iconic city in Belgium, Brussels is the country’s capital and is widely regarded as its most exciting and intriguing destination. Known for its high fashion, delicious dining destination, stunning architecture, and vibrant nightlife. A fascinating mixture of medieval architecture and intensely modern goings-on, Brussels is a place that has something to offer virtually everyone. In addition to its high quality of life and eclectic selection of open-air cafes and electrifying pubs, Brussels is home to some of the most famous artists and thinkers the world has ever known, including Magritte. Ideal for expats who want to get a true taste for all Belgium has to offer, Brussels is in the center of it all.

3. Bruges
One of Belgium’s smaller cities, Bruges is a creative hub and is often flocked to by expats who want to live in the innovative center of Belgium’s tech and maker scene. Dotted with scenic canals and ancient, cobbled streets, Bruges is just as nice to look at as it is to live in, and expats who settle here will quickly find something to love about the scenic city.

4. Leuven
Just a short 25 kilometers east of bustling Brussels, Leuven is a stately city that offers the hustle and bustle of Brussels without quite so much busy activity. The oldest university town in the country, Leuven is a popular destination for people who want to attend or work with the college and, thanks to the influence of the university, has some of the most unique art, music, and dining attractions in all of Belgium.

5. Dinant
Situated on the banks of the River Meuse, Dinant is an impossibly scenic area that draws nature lovers of all types. Ideal for anyone who wants to spend time outdoors and enjoy a quiet, laid-back pace of life, Dinant is all of the beauty and relaxation of a rural town, without sacrificing any of the good jobs or amenities.

Pros and Cons of Living in Belgium

Living in Belgium offers many benefits and many drawbacks. Understanding them both is the best way to ensure that you’re making a smart decision about the big move.

Pros:

Cons:

Conclusion

Belgium is a beautiful place that offers a high standard of living and plenty of unique attractions fit to draw virtually anyone in. Whether you’re considering moving to the country for its great jobs, beautiful scenery, lovely rental standards, or delicious food, there’s plenty to love about Belgium.
A diverse, beautiful, and varied place, expats who find themselves in this gorgeous country will develop a community and find their favorite parts of the cities quickly. This, combined with Belgium’s love of all things luxury, makes it easy to see why so many expats have been flocking to the country for years.
As beautiful as it is unique, Belgium offer a high standard of living, plenty of unique attractions to explore, a compelling mix of medieval and modern architecture, and friendly people willing to embrace expats from all walks of life. While there are many wonderful places to live in the world, Belgium continues to take the cake as one of the most in-demand and welcoming.