Expat destination: Belgium

28 May 2018

This article was written by Maiju Hamunen, FIDI Global Alliance’s Communications Officer. Originally from Finland, Maiju has been living in Belgium for the past six years after a few years in the UK, Italy, and Portugal.

“Belgium? Never heard of it. Is that in Brussels?” Belgians are used to being misunderstood. Known for its beers, waffles, fries and a small weeing man – Belgium offers much more than the usual stereotypes. One returning theme? Complexity.

Belgium has 6 parliaments and 3 official languages: Dutch, French, and German. It currently houses almost 2 million people that were born outside of the country – a considerable amount for a state of only 11 million inhabitants. And as the capital city of Brussels is home to people from more than 180 different countries, any expat will fit right in.

Belgium is a peculiar, lovable country – full of contradictions that are sure to keep you surprised. Are you ready to join us? Welkom! Bienvenue! Willkommen!

A deciding factor: institution or private sector?

Every expat moving to Belgium should consider the difference between public institutions and private sector, as the status of your employer will have a significant impact on your daily life.

Brussels is the seat for many international organisations, from the European Union (EU) to NATO and the World Customs Organisation. Many of these institutions have their own international schools for the children of their employees. They also offer dedicated health centers, language schools and other exclusive benefits that are not guaranteed for private sector employees.

When you make your move, be sure to check which additional benefits you are entitled to.

The extreme highs and lows of taxation in Belgium

As contradictory as it may sound, the level of your income taxes can be either one of the lowest or one of the highest in the world.

Employees of the EU institutions, for example, pay only around 10% tax on their salaries. Private sector employees, on the other hand, are subject to a sliding scale of tax rates depending on their income, with the average worker paying 42%. Some of the highest earners are expected to contribute more than 50% of their annual income to the Belgian authorities.

You have been warned. To avoid unwelcome surprises, calculate what your net salary in Belgium would be.

Conquer the red tape to enjoy our healthcare

While the public health care system in Belgium is quite comprehensive, you need to fully engage or you may be in trouble. Unlike in many other countries, you will need to specifically opt in and jump over a few administrative hurdles to get the full coverage.

For starters, you will need to register with your local commune or city hall. This process can take from a couple of weeks to a few months, so allow ample of time for the proceedings.

Once you have registered with the commune, it is mandatory to enroll with a semi-private health insurance fund (‘mutualité’) in order to fully benefit from the largely high-quality public healthcare.

Most Belgian employers (as well as the international institutions) also offer their employees fully privatised health care options that cover anything from private rooms in hospitals to free sunglasses. The options vary greatly, so be sure to find out exactly what your expat package comprises of.

A family home or a trendy loft? Up to you

The housing market in Belgium is excellent for most expats. There are a number of options available, and compared to many other expat hubs in the world, such as London and New York, rents are generally very affordable.

The monthly rent of a two-bedroom apartment in the central Brussels neighborhood of Ixelles is typically € 1,500. A larger family home (a ‘maison de maître’) in popular expat suburbs in Brussels, such as Woluwe, can be rented for about € 2,000 a month.

Outside of the capital, rent is often even less expensive.

At the heart of Europe – with plenty to offer

Belgium is full of quirky festivals, historical breweries and sporting events to keep any visitor entertained. Between the beautiful old castles, huge wild forests, and World War II memorials dotted around the countryside, you will be spoilt for choice during off days.

If you do have some extra time on your hands – and you’ve already visited Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, and Namur – Belgium is an excellent base for exploring the rest of Europe. London, Paris, and Amsterdam, for instance, can all be reached by train in just two hours.

So, what are you waiting for? Come for the exciting job in an international environment, stay for the rich culture, delicious beers and the diverse, expat-friendly population. You’ll be surprised how easily you’ll fit in.

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