Are you planning to leave your own country to come and live in Brussels? Here is a summary of the procedures and formalities to address before, during and after your move.
Be prepared: formalities and documents
- Living in Belgium (> 3 months)
Any citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA = European Union + Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) has the right to live in Belgium for more than 3 months if they are working officially, are registered at a recognised educational institution, or have sufficient funds available to cover their living costs and social/medical cover. A current, valid ID card or passport is all you need. You need to register with the local authority where you live within 3 months of arriving.
Citizens of other countries need to have a visa, which they can request from the Belgian consulate in their country of origin.
- Single Permit
No work permit is needed for EEA and Swiss citizens who come to work officially in Brussels.
Since 2019, for citizens outside EEA, to work in the Brussels Capital Region for more than three months, the work permit and residence permit must now be requested from Brussels Economy and Employment through one single step. After the procedure, the Single Permit proves the right to both reside and work in Belgium.
- Proof of deregistration in your country of origin
Before coming to live in Belgium and being able to register in the population register, you need to deregister from your residential address in your country of origin.
- Driving licence
A licence issued in any country within the EEA is valid in Belgium. However, if you are staying for more than two years, you need to swap your licence for a secure European licence. Citizens of non-European countries can exchange their licence for a Belgian licence if there is a reciprocal arrangement between the two countries. Otherwise, they will need to pass a driving test in Belgium (French or Flemish only).
Be together: arriving with your family
- All documents must be valid
Before coming to live in Brussels, please make sure you have all the documents you need for yourself and your family: current, valid identity cards or passports, proof of deregistration (home, schools), driving licences, registration or contract of employment, Single Permit if requested...
- Your spouse's business/career
To be happy overseas means every family member being happy. If your spouse takes a career break, it may be useful to negotiate terms for a potential return to their employer. Although Brussels is mainly a French-speaking city, speaking both French and Flemish is a requirement for many jobs. If your spouse wants to find employment in Brussels, it would be wise to look for potential openings and whether their qualifications will be accepted. A list of careers with skills shortages in Brussels can be found on the Actiris website (public service for employment in Brussels - French or Flemish only).
- Schools and nurseries
Brussels has many international schools covering the educational needs of expatriates from around the world, starting from the age of two and a half. The location of these schools may well influence your choice of an area to live. In addition, you can always register your children for an official Belgian educational establishment, in French (www.enseignement.be) or in Dutch (www.onderwijsinbrussel.be). School is compulsory in Belgium from ages 6 to 18 (Kintergarten is possible from ages 2.5 to 6).
Before the age of 3, public or private crèches will welcome your children. It is better to select a crèche that has been approved by the bodies responsible for childcare: ONE for French-speaking institutions and Kind&Gezin for Dutch-speaking institutions. It is important to arrange this well in advance, because crèche places are highly sought after in Brussels, with demand generally outstripping supply.
If you are bringing Felix or Fido with you, then you need first to take them to the vet (rabies vaccine, certificates, etc.). Also think about organising your travel arrangements for them (plane, train and so on, even in a car you may be asked to produce certificates). Finally, to be allowed into Belgium, pets need to be microchipped. Once in Belgium, you also need to register your furry friends with a Belgian vet.
Be home: finding a nice place to live
- Temporary accommodation (Hotel, B&B, etc.)
While finding your long-term home, Brussels can offer a wide range of furnished apartments and houses, and short-term accommodation. You can look at what is available on the Brussels Destination website.
- Rent or buy
Despite being the capital of Europe, Brussels enjoys property prices which are attractive compared to the rest of Europe. As well as the traditional property pages such as Immoweb and Immo Vlan, various specialist sites for expats can help you in your search for the right home: For example, My Sweet Home Expat or Expat Housing. If you are uncertain about which area to choose, read our article about schools for expats.
- House move
Think ahead and book and organise your move well in advance, using a removal company that has all the necessary certifications to handle an international removal. There are no customs formalities if you are moving from an EU country. Also make sure that your removal company has planned for the formalities required of them in Belgium (parking signs, lift licences, etc.).
Be mobile: getting around in Brussels
Brussels has a mixed reputation when it comes to traffic! Traffic jams are a daily event, and are long. And traffic offences are often heavily penalised. It is also not easy to find a parking space. When looking for somewhere to live, ask about parking in the area, and if necessary, plan to rent a garage if one is not included. If you do arrive in Brussels with your car, be aware that if you stay for a longer period, you will need to register it in Belgium. To do this, bring with you its present registration document, your driving licence and international insurance card.
- Soft/alternative mobility
More and more inhabitants of Brussels are taking to their bikes (whether they own it, share it, or use Villo! bikes), or electric bikes (Brussels is anything but flat!) or other forms of transport that allow them to move past the traffic jams, like monowheels or stand-up electric scooters. Sit-down scooters (electric or not) are also becoming more and more popular. Brussels also offers a system of shared cars, billed by the minute, that allow you to pick up and drop off a car in the Brussels area without having to pay for parking: Zipcar and DriveNow are the two most popular.
Brussels is generally well served by public transport. The metro, not always easy to use in the opinion of non-residents, does have the advantage of avoiding the jams in which both buses and trams still get caught (even if much of the time these have their own lanes). In Brussels, public transport is managed by STIB-MIVB, whose website offers explanations and timetables. There are also buses arriving from both the Walloon region (TEC) and Flanders (DeLijn), providing links to the outskirts. The regional network, work on which started in 2004, is still not finished.
It is also possible to take a train from Brussels (North, Central, Midi), in particular to get to the airport (see the SNCB/NMBS website). Finally, around 1,300 taxis and 600 Uber-X drivers (limos) can be found on the streets of Brussels. A ride between the airport and the centre will cost you between 35 and 50 euros.
Be comfortable: banking, insurance and taxes
- Your bank in Brussels
Several major banks offer you their services in Brussels. But there is only one that focusses specifically on Brussels and its inhabitants. It is also the only one with the word "Brussels" in its name. You are already on its website, that augurs well! It is called KBC Brussels (KBC, its parent, is the 3rd largest bank in the country). To make your transfer to Brussels simpler, KBC Brussels has dreamed up some simplified formalities so that you can open your bank account online.
Of course, the major insurance companies are to be found in Brussels (AXA, AG, Ethias, P&V, etc.). Most of the time, banks will also offer you a full package of the insurance policies you will need (third party liability, home, vehicle, etc.) This is also true of KBC Brussels.
Everyone who is registered with their local authority in the register of foreigners has to pay taxes. This may be personal income tax (IPP: household income), company tax (ISOC), non-resident tax (INR: owners of properties, or carrying out a business activity, without being resident in Belgium) or tax on legal persons (IPM: associations, etc.). If you live in Belgium for more than 6 months of the year, you are required to pay all your taxes in Belgium.
Be well: health and pensions
- Medical check-up and vaccinations
Before leaving, check that you are in good shape, by visiting your doctor for a check-up. While there, collect the necessary documents if there are any medical certificates you will need. Also ask your doctor to tell you the names used in Belgium for any regular medication that you take (or its equivalent).
- The Belgian social security system
Belgium has an extensive social security system. Foreigners are also entitled to some types of allowances and social support. The benefits that you can enjoy as a foreigner depend very much on the reasons you are spending time in Belgium. The exhaustive site for social security in Belgium provides detailed information in 4 languages (FR/NL/DE/EN).
- The 3 pillars of pensions: legal, supplementary, personal
In addition to the legal pension which is the first pillar (built up from the contributions deducted from your salary by the State) and the supplementary pension that forms the second pillar (built up by your employer using group insurance or a pension fund), personal pension savings allows you to build up an additional pension, with tax benefits of 30%. Click here to find out more about pension savings.
Be welcome: everything you need to know about Brussels
- History, geography, culture, politics, languages…
Belgium is a small country whose political institutions have extreeeemely complicated structures! A federal constitutional monarchy, with a parliamentary system (all of the above!), it is one of the 6 founder states of the European Union, the main institutions of which are based in Brussels. Belgium contains 3 different linguistic groupings: Dutch speakers (57%), French speakers (43%) and a tiny group of German speakers in the east of the country. There are also 3 regions: Flanders in the north (Dutch-speaking), Wallonia in the south (French-speaking) and the Brussels-Capital region, officially bilingual but mainly French-speaking (around 85%), even though it is surrounded by Flanders. Even the Belgians find this complicated! Luckily, the well-known "Belgian art of compromise" allows all these people to rub shoulders in a fairly friendly fashion (the rivalry between French and Dutch speakers is mainly in the political arena: there is no trouble on the streets, don't worry!). If you are curious (and brave!) you can learn more from the Wikipedia page devoted to the Brussels-Capital region.
Local legislation applies to foreigners who live in Belgium. With a few minor differences, the rules are much the same as in the other countries in the European Union. But there are some special points that you need to know about (speed limits, rental deposit requirement, etc.). Find out as much as you can before you get here.
- Telecom operators
There are three main operators in the Belgium market: Proximus, Orange and Base. All of them will sell you prepaid cards that allow you to have a contact number (which can be transferred free of charge to the other operators) while you make up your mind. Proximus, the incumbent phone operator, offers packages that bundle digital TV with over 80 channels, a high-speed internet connection, mobile and landline phones. In Brussels you can also opt for VOO or Telenet in some districts.
- Leisure (visits, going for a drink, a meal, an evening out, etc.)
The inhabitants of Brussels are famous for knowing how to enjoy life. They enjoy spending their time sitting in restaurants and bars (with a glass of beer, wine, a martini or a cocktail). They will be happy to give you advice: most people in Brussels welcome visitors and enjoy helping them discover their city.
As for expats, one of the highlights of the week is on Thursdays, Place du Luxembourg, in the European quarter. As soon as the sun is over the yardarm, all the bars around the square are full. But of course, most of the websites aimed at expats will give you tips on how to find good company.
Also take a look at the 10 most important apps for enjoying life in Brussels.