Basics of banking in Belgium



When you open a current account (compte à vue/zichtrekening) in Belgium, you will need to submit several documents for identification before opening an account. Bank requirements in Belgium include proof of residence along with a Belgian I.D. card or passport as proof of identity. It is also possible for you to open an account and receive code numbers to manage your account even before your arrival in Belgium. You may collect your bank and credit cards when you visit the bank after your arrival in the country. Bank transactions are usually done in the currency used in Belgium, which is the Euro.

Expats may open different types of savings accounts with most banks in Belgium. Common banks found in the country include:

Expats need to keep in mind that a certain amount of savings account interest from income taxes is exempt from taxes in Belgium. Term deposits usually require an investment of up to 12 months and the usual interest rates in these banks are 0.15% to 0.45%.

Normal banking hours in Belgium are 9am to 4 or 4:30pm Mondays to Fridays; a few banks are open on Saturdays and smaller branches close for an hour at lunchtime (usually 1 to 2pm).

Bank Transfers

With bank transfers being the order of the day, Belgium is quickly moving towards a cashless society. Cheques are hardly ever used to make payments in the country. There are two kinds of bank transfers:

(1) In which case you instruct the bank to pay money to someone else from your account (virement/overschrijving)

(2) In which case you authorise the bank to let someone take money from your account (domiciliation/domicilie)

Standing orders may be used for recurring payments such as your rent and utility bills. To arrange for a standing order (ordre permanent/bestendige opdracht) give your bank the relevant information which includes the bank account number of the person or company to whom you want to make a payment.

Debit & Credit Cards

When you open an account you will initially receive a debit card which you can use to make payments, transfer money and use the ATMs (distributeurs automatiques) (an additional charge for using ATM's of other banks may be applicable). Debit cards are widely accepted by retailers and service providers across Belgium. Major debit card providers include Bancontact, Mister Cash and Maestro. To make small purchases in the country you can use a cash card (named "Proton" in Belgium), which is just like a phone card.

In Belgium, charge cards are usually referred to as credit cards and most so-called credit cards issued here function like charge cards in which case payments for purchases are due when billed and cannot be spread over several months or years. Both Visa and MasterCard are usually available through banks in conjunction with current accounts. American Express and Diners Club are also popular and are issued directly by the respective companies and are less well accepted in shops and restaurants. Credit card costs are around €20 to €50 per year; depending on the type of card and level of service you choose (gold, platinum, etc.). Travel or other forms of insurance are included in your annual fee for some cards.

Bank Transfers 

Most Belgian banks now offer self-banking services through which you can pay bills, set up, authorise and change direct transfers and make transfers between accounts (including international transfers via the SWIFT system) with just your phone, fax, bank machines or your home computer. Sometimes you may be required to download the bank's software to generate payments or make other sorts of transaction that require validation. Some other banks have secure websites where customers can transact just like they do at a bank machine, except for cash withdrawals or deposits.

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