Living in Belgium: An expat’s checklist

Before diving into the world of Belgian chocolates, comics and beer, there are a few necessities expats need to take care of from their first week in Belgium.

You have successfully braved the immigration gauntlet and been rewarded your Belgian visa. Now you’re in the heart of Europe, ready to indulge in the home of frites, waffles and more than 500 types of speciality beer.


Key facts every expat should know about Belgium

  • Many employers pay a 13th month ‘bonus’ to their employee, which is usually awarded at the end of the financial year. 
  • Many rental properties in Belgium are not “equipped”. If you lease one of these you will be required to provide your own appliances and, in some cases, even cupboards.
  • Leases in Belgium must be registered with the local office of the Receiver of Registrations, Ministry of Finance within four months of being signed. If the registration is late you will be fined.In Belgium you are required to have all foreign documents legalized.
  • You will be expected to get a numbered and dated certificate that is known as an Apostille whenever you submit any form of official paperwork that originated outside Belgium.
  • All residents of Belgium over the age of 12 are required to carry their identity cards with them at all times.
  • If you are asked to produce your card and are unable to do so you can be placed under administrative arrest for up to 12 hours.


Here is a checklist for the first 8 things you need to do after you arrive in Belgium, from the very first week after you land.


1. Report to immigration and register your address

You must first register with your local municipal administration office/town hall (maison communale/gemeentehuis) upon eight days of arriving in Belgium. This procedure only applies if you plan on staying in Belgium for more than three months. If approved, you will be issued a Belgian eID-card (electronic ID) after several weeks; your electronic foreigners’ identity card acts as your residence permit and should be carried on you at all times.

To avoid headaches, have all the right documents at hand: passport, the contract for your apartment/house, at least four passport-sized photos, and proof of health insurance and sufficient financial means (ie. work permit, scholarship, pension papers or other financial guarantees).

The registration procedure is the same throughout the country but individual communes have different ways of implementing it, so check before you go.


2. Open a Belgian bank account

Having your own Belgian bank account will make living simpler and in some cases may be requested, for example, to receive your salary or pay rent. There are many large and small banks in which foreigners can open an account (compte à vue/zichtrekening). The main Belgian banks include ING, BNP Paribas Fortis and KBC, plus there are several financial providers that offer expat-specialised services (foreign languages, for example).

To register for a current or checking account, you will need a passport or your Belgian eID-card as proof of identity, along with proof of residence. If you’re interested in having a savings account or credit card, banks will advise you on specific requirements and yearly fees.


3. Relocation, move and accommodation

  • If you don’t have a property to move directly into, look for a hotel deal or an “aparthotel”. Whether you plan to rent or buy a house will depend on how long you plan to live in Belgium.
  • For renters, the standard ‘nine-year’ lease is actually more flexible than short-term contracts, which can be fixed up to three years but if terminated early, a renter may be forced to pay out the full rental period. Nine-year leases, on the other hand, can be broken with three months’ notice; a penalty of up to three months’ rent applies within the first three years, after which no penalty applies.
  • Once you have located a rental or bought a property, sign up for utilities, phone, mobile/internet and TV.
  • Sign up for a postal relocation service so that all you mail arrives at your new address.
  • Remember to arrange insurance for your home and contents, health and travel.When you arrive, register in your new commune.


4. Signing up for healthcare

Belgium is known to have one of the best healthcare systems in Europe. Employees and self-employed residents are required to sign up for state-sponsored insurance schemes (or mutuelle) to claim partial reimbursements of their medical costs.


5. Taxation

If you intend to be a resident in Belgium, you will be required to file your taxes in Belgium. Talk to a tax expert who is familiar with double-taxation treaties and dual taxation to make sure you start on the right note.Do a final tax declaration in your current country before leaving.


6. Getting around: public transport

Getting around Belgium is simplified by the country’s accessible and efficient public transport network. Its integrated train, tram, metro, and bus systems allows for quick transfers between different transport types. In Brussels, the city public transport is run by STIB/MIVB while bus transport outside the city is handled by De Lijn in Flanders and TEC in Wallonia.

Increasingly across Belgium the MOBIB-card is replacing old magnetic and paper tickets, which will be completely phased out in some areas in the coming years. The card costs EUR 5 and lasts five years, and you can load on any kind of ticket or season pass onto it.

Transport links around the country provide great weekend getaways destinations, and there are various ways to save money, such as half price return travel on weekends or a B-excursion pass, which includes transport and admission to attractions. Along the Belgian coast runs the world’s longest tram route, which provides access to the entire coastline from the French and Dutch borders. Read about the top 10 places to visit in Belgium, or Belgium’s top festivals.


7. Exchanging your foreign driver’s licence

If you plan on driving in Belgium, certain foreigners are required to exchange their foreign licence for a Belgian one. If no agreement is in place with your citizen country, you may be required to pass a driving and theory test first. You can read more about licences and Belgian road rules in this guide to driving in Belgium.


8. Become culturally Belgian

Once you have successfully cut through all the red tape, it is time to let those itching feet explore the local and expat scenes in Belgium, meet the community and learn the quirks of Belgian culture. Get to know your new neighbours and meet locals or fellow expats by joining various clubs and community associations, try the top Belgian foods, and see the little ways that Belgian culture changes you.

There are many stunning historic buildings to visit and quaint, cobbled market squares to sip coffee, such as Brussels’ Grand-Place, the city’s medieval main square which hosts a daily flower market from March to October. There are masterpieces in galleries and museums like the Royal Museums of Fine Arts or the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, which houses creations from Belgium’s most lauded comic strip and cartoon artists. The quirky side of Belgian culture can be best seen at Manneken-Pis (although don’t believe all the myths of Manneken-Pis).

The best time to explore Belgium, however, is during the colourful burst of top Belgian festivals, such as the famous three-day Carnaval de Binche – watch out for flying oranages! – the biennial Zinneke Parade or the Parade of the Giants. You can also enjoy many green spaces around the city or take a bike tour around your new home.

Living in Brussels wouldn’t be complete without delving into the city’s gastronomic scene and gorging on delicious chocolates, waffles and moules frites, for which Belgium is famous. Pair that with a few of the hundreds of different types of speciality Belgian beers and you’re on your way to being a full-fledged Belgian adoptee.


Source: Expatica, 2019


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Friday May 31, 2019