Expats FAQ in Belgium

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Bank

Q: Is it expensive to maintain a bank account in Belgium?

A: Yes, it can be expensive as Belgian banks deduct separate charges for individual services like online banking, debit/credit cards, or even regular transactions. Service and other charges for credit cards are based on the spending limit of the owner and some added services.

Q: What are common banking hours in Belgium?

A: Banks in Belgium are usually open from 9am to 4pm on weekdays. Some banks are open on Saturdays but only in the morning.

Q: What are the requirements for expats to open a bank account in Belgium?

A: Unlike in other parts of the world, banks in Belgium can be very liberal with expats. For opening an account, they only require a valid ID or passport, filled out application forms and proof of a Belgian address. Expats in this country are also allowed to open an account online, and even before they arrive. If an account is opened before arrival, the expat has to inform the bank when he or she has received a residency permit.

Business

Q: Is bribery common in the Belgian business scene?

A: It's not very common, but it does exist especially among suppliers and buyers. Around thirty years ago, bribery was commonplace in the Belgian business scene. Today, Belgium has consistently ranked high in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index since 2012.

Q: What is the business dress code in Belgium?

A: Business wear in Belgium normally includes a jacket (not necessarily a suit). Modern technology companies, though, are more tolerant to casual wear and may even encourage basic shirt and jeans. There are no particular meanings associated with color (jazzy hues are still less used than neutrals). Belgians are some of the least fashion-conscious people in the world, but they will do anything to avoid looking grubby.

Q: What are the requirements for business travel to Belgium?

A: Expats who want to make a business trip to Belgium need a letter of invitation from a host Belgian business party, and a letter from their employer, indicating details of the trip. Those who come to attend a conference or any similar business event should prove that they are registered and have arranged accommodation and return tickets.

Q: What are the requirements for business travel to Belgium?

A: Expats who want to make a business trip to Belgium need a letter of invitation from a host Belgian business party, and a letter from their employer, indicating details of the trip. Those who come to attend a conference or any similar business event should prove that they are registered and have arranged accommodation and return tickets.

Children

Q: Are there government subsidy programs for newborns in Belgium?

A: Yes. The ONE and K&G are two popular providers of public subsidies for newborns in Belgium, including children of expats who are legally residing in the country. Subsidies are provided for newborns up to the age of 3, and priority is given to children of parents with full-time employment.

Q: At what ages may children be accepted in nurseries in Belgium?

A: Nurseries in Belgium, which are usually managed by the Public Social Welfare Centers or local communities, accept children from age zero to three. Fees depend on the parents' taxable income, and discounts are given to those who place two or more children in one crèche. Generally, crèches are usually open from 7am to 6pm, and closed on weekends and national holidays.

Q: What are "registered childminders?"

A: Registered childminders are people who provide care for children in their own home, and may be independent or affiliated with a nursery. The maximum number of children they can mind at a time is four, including their own kids younger than three, if any.

Cost of living

Q: Is it expensive to live in Belgium?

A: The cost of living in Belgium is high, with Brussels being among the 50 most expensive cities around the globe. Interestingly, the city is still cheaper to live in when compared to more than 50 percent of capital cities in Western Europe, including Paris and London. Additionally, the Belgian social security and tax systems are so efficient that incomes are equitably distributed.

Q: Is tipping necessary in Belgium?

A: It is not necessary, but it is a common practice to encourage excellent service. Prices often already include VAT and service charges.

Q: How hard is it for expats to transition into life in Belgium?

A: Life in Belgium is only difficult for expats in the beginning, and it's usually because of the strength of the euro against other currencies. However, as soon as they begin to earn in euros, life does get better on the financial side.

Health

Q: Are dental treatments covered by state insurance in Belgium?

A: In most cases, no, but some dentists offer an installment payment scheme. Because of this, both locals and expats find it wise to purchase private healthcare insurance to supplement their state insurance.

Q: Do people in Belgium get to choose a doctor of their liking under the public insurance system?

A: Yes, they can choose any doctor they want. Expats can find doctors in phone directories under Doktors in de Geneeskunde or Docteurs en Médecin. Most doctors speak English.

Q: Are expats qualified to contribute to Belgium's public health insurance fund and receive benefits?

A: Yes, they can contribute to the public health insurance fund. This is part of the social security enrolment process for all, whether locals or expats. However, there are special private health insurance policies designed specifically for the needs of expats (for example, medical repatriation).

Housing

Q: Is it expensive to rent a house in Belgium?

A: House rentals are some of the expats' biggest expenses in Belgium. And because energy prices are very high, Belgian homes also have some of the highest utility costs in the world.

Q: Is Belgium considered a family-friendly country?

A: Belgium is quite a family-friendly country. While residential properties tend to be limited in size (some have no gardens), there are many outdoor areas like swimming pools, parks and children's gyms in each neighborhood.

Q: Are expats allowed to buy a house in Belgium?

A: Yes, and prices of houses in Belgium are reasonable. However, to make a worthwhile investment, expats should use the property for at least five years, considering that closing costs can be as high as 20% of the market value.

Leisure

Q: Is Belgian beer really the best in the world?

A: Belgians will always claim that their beer is the best in the world. After all, it's one of the things they're famous for. However, what amazes expats is that the drink is available anywhere and everywhere, even at McDonald's. And its price is cheap. One can is often cheaper than a same-size can of Coke.

Q: How strict are liquor laws in Belgium?

A: Liquor laws in Belgium are strict but not really enforced. For example, it's illegal to drink in the streets but people do it all the time. Beer drinkers are also a common sight in parks, both at night and in broad daylight.

Q: What sports are popular among Belgians?

A: Football, known locally as soccer, is the number one sport among Belgians. Racing is another. The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is Belgium's famous challenging racetrack where the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix is held, aside from Spa endurance races and other similar events.

Looking for a job

Q: Where can expats get a Belgian work permit application form?

A: Application forms for a Belgian work permit are available at the relevant employment agency in the region where the expat intends to work. In Brussels, they can be obtained from Actiris; in Wallonia, they are available at FOREM and in the Flanders Region, expats can go to Dienst Migatie.

Q: Do EEA citizens need a work permit to be employed in Belgium?

A: No. Citizens of the European Economic Area (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) do not need a work permit in order to be employed in the country.

Q: Are Belgian employers particular about punctuality?

A: It depends on the region. For example, Flemish Belgians are more meticulous about time than the Walloons. Generally speaking, punctuality is considered a virtue, but a simple apology is often enough for a late arrival and will be warmly accepted.

Money

Q: How is personal income tax computed in Belgium?

A: Around one-third of employees' salaries in Belgium are deducted for tax payments, depending on their family circumstances, and whether or not they have children or other dependents. The same factors are considered for determining tax-free allowances.

Q: What cards are most commonly used for payments in Belgium?

A: International credit and debit cards are accepted in Belgium, but the main card used for purchases is Mister Cash/Bancontact, a debit chip card with a four-digit PIN. It is also used to withdraw cash at ATMs, as well as to pay for day-to-day expenses like gas and groceries.

Q: What is the currency used in Belgium?

A: As part of the European Union, Belgium uses the euro as its official currency. Belgium has been an EU nation since 2002.

Moving

Q: What language do people speak in Belgium?

A: Belgium is a bilingual country, with public signs coming in either French or Dutch. In day to day life though, most people speak French. That means the language barrier is not a serious issue as many expats are likely to think.

Q: What's the weather like in Belgium?

A: The weather in Belgium is rather temperate, but showers are constant throughout the year. Because the country is geographically small, its weather is generally the same in all regions, except in the Ardennes where it's colder and snowier because of its high elevation.

Q: Are basic customs and etiquette in Belgium any different from those in other parts of Europe?

A: Not really. Like most other people in Western Europe, Belgians tend to be a bit reserved, but happy to extend their hand as a greeting to an acquaintance. Among French communities, people greet friends with a kiss on the cheek as they normally do in France.

Pets

Q: Which animals are covered under the EU Pet Passport Scheme?

A: The EU Pet Passport Scheme, which has been in effect since 2004, covers only cats, dogs and ferrets. All such animals entering Belgium from an EU country cannot be admitted without this Pet Passport. Other animals may be admitted on a case to case basis.

Q: Where do people register their dogs in Belgium?

A: Dogs in Belgium are registered with the ABIEC/BVIRH (Association Belge d'Identification et d'Enregistrement Canins/Belgische vereniging voor Identificatie & Registratie van honden), located at BP 168, 1060 Brussels.

Q: Where can expats find vets in Belgium?

A: Expats can visit tourist information offices, police stations or town halls to get a list of names and addresses of local vets, many of whom speak English. Vet clinic hours vary in Belgium and some vets only make home visits. The Belgian Veterinary Union (Union Professionelle Vétérinaire) website also has a search feature that allows people to locate vets per region and language spoken.

Schools

Q: What language is used for instruction in Belgian schools?

A: In Belgium, there are three unique education systems in place - the French, the Flemish and the smaller German language schools around the border with Germany. The mean of instruction used in each of these schools is their own native language. However, it is not necessary to send a child to a school that uses his or her own language. In fact, many families are sending their kids to another language schools. For example, a Dutch child may be sent to a French school and vice-versa, for the purpose of better language acquisition.

Q: When does an academic year begin and end in Belgium?

A: An academic year in Belgium runs from September through June, but there may be small variations between local and the international schools. Vacations are scheduled on the first week of November, the last two weeks before the year ends, one week in February, two spring weeks and all national holidays.

Q: Are private schools as expensive as international schools in Belgium?

A: No, private schools are always less expensive than international schools in Belgium. Furthermore, there are private schools which are subsidized by the state, including religious schools (Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Islamic) and those which follow the Steiner and Montessori education systems.

Shopping

Q: Where do people usually shop in Belgium?

A: There are plenty of places for shopping in Belgium. ALDI Supermarket is popular because its prices are incredibly cheap though there won't be many famous brands in stock. Bio-Planet is a favorite of vegetarians and those who like to consume all organic products, from food to cosmetics. There's also the Carrefour chain, the only hypermarkets in the country, and Profi which sells both cheap, in-house products and famous brands at discounted prices.

Q: Where can people find the best chocolates in Belgium?

A: There are many shops around Chausse d’Ixelles where chocolates are great-tasting but cheap. A 250-gram box of pralines sells for 3.40 euro - surely the cheapest in town. For more luxurious chocolates, people go to Neuhaus where 250 grams of the candy costs around 9-10 euro. White praline is said to be the best in this shop. The most expensive chocolates in Belgium are those sold in a store near Notre-Dame de Sablon's Gothic church. Chocolates there are around 14.40 euro for six bars.

Q: Where are the best lace shops located in Belgium?

A: Bruges has some of the best lace shops in Belgium. There's Apostelientje Lace Shop at Balstraat 11. Also the Little Lace Shop at Markt 11 and, of course, the highly reputable Bobbin Lace Palace at Breidelstraat 20, next to Markt. Brussels has its share of lace shops too, like Manufacture Belge de Dentelles at Galerie de la Reine 6-8, which sells an exceptional array of lace products, from parasols to utilitarian items and even antique lace.

Telecommunications

Q: How fast is the Internet in Belgium?

A: Bandwidth in Belgium is generally fast, although some providers of the Internet put caps in order to control the volume of data transfers. Cable Internet companies in the country include Numéricable, VOO and Telenet.

Q: What is the telephone numerical code system used in Belgium?

A: Belgium follows a closed telephone numbering system but retains "0" for national calls. The country's Internet access code is +32 and the outgoing code is 00 plus the country code. Public phones are still very common, accepting either phone cards or coins.

Q: What are the popular ADSL providers in Belgium?

A: ADSL in Belgium is widely available through companies like Skynet, Mobistar, Belgacom and Scarlet. There are many more telecom companies in the country, and most of them provide triple services of TV, telephone and Internet.

Transport

Q: What is the best transport option for intercity travel in Belgium?

A: What is the best transport option for intercity travel in Belgium? Buses and trains are the two main options for intercity travel in Belgium, but trains are more popular because of their speed, except in the Ardennes where rail lines are few.

Q: What language is used on road signs in Belgium?

A: Road signs in Belgium are mostly bilingual, but in more rural regions, they are either in French or Flemish. It usually gets confusing for expats because spellings may differ in French or Flemish, and names of places can also shift from one language to the other in some regions.

Q: What are the most important traffic rules in Belgium?

A: Traffic rules in Belgium aren't very different from those in most other parts of the world. Drivers keep to the right-hand side of the road, kids below twelve can't travel in the front seat, everyone inside a moving car should wear a seat belt, and there are speed limits - 31 mph in central areas and 74 mph on highways.

Travel

Q: What is one thing people shouldn't travel to Belgium without?

A: In Belgium, nobody leaves home without an umbrella or a raincoat. Regardless of the weather forecasts, showers are part of normal daily life in the country.

Q: Are there any particular health precautions to consider when traveling to Belgium?

A: There are no major health risks in Belgium, but travelers are advised to keep anti-diarrheals in handy. While hygiene standards are high in the country, local menus almost always include mussels and mayonnaise, which may not sit well with unfamiliar tummies. Whether the food is contaminated or the eater is simply not used to such ingredients, diarrhea can cause dehydration and must be corrected.

Q: Do all Belgian cities have international airports?

A: Not all cities have international airports, but all key destinations do. The biggest is the Brussels Airport, and there's also the Ostend-Bruges Airport, Brussels-South Charleroi Airport, Liege Airport and Antwerp Airport. All of them have flights to other airports in Europe and overseas.

Visa

Q: Who are exempt from needing a visa when traveling to Belgium?

A: Exempt from getting a visa when entering Belgium are citizens of certain countries such as US, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Canada and Singapore. Wherever they come from, all people entering Belgium must have a passport that is valid for a minimum of three months.

Q: Do EU and EEA citizens need a residence permit to live in Belgium?

A: No, EU and EEA citizens don't need a resident permit to live in Belgium. However, if they plan to stay in the country beyond 90 days, they have to report to their local commune no later than ten days after arriving in the country. When reporting to the commune, they will be required to present their passport and a valid ID card, and receive a Declaration of Presence which is valid for 90 days.

Q: How do non-EU citizens with a residence visa, obtain a temporary residence permit in Belgium?

A: After arriving in the country, non-EU citizens with a residence visa should report to their local municipality to obtain a temporary residence permit. They also have to register at the local commune no later than eight days after arrival and get a foreign identity card within the first two weeks of moving into a permanent Belgian address.