Building on its fairly central geographic location and its advanced transportation system, Belgium has been an important industrial and commercial base in Europe over the years. The country’s transportation sector is important to commerce in both Europe and globally1, helping the country attract an increasing number of expats. Belgium currently houses an estimated 220,000 expats, compared to an estimated 150,000 in the year 20002. If you’re looking to join the growing expat community in Belgium, this piece offers an insight into things to consider.
Things to Consider
Three (maybe four) languages:
Belgium is bordered by the Netherlands in the north, Germany in the east and largely by France in the south. All of these three countries influence the languages spoken in Belgium. The people in northern Belgium predominantly speak Flemish, a variation of Dutch. French is the predominant language in southern Belgium and German is only predominant in a relatively small region on the German-Belgian border.
Given the political importance of Belgium — being the unofficial European Union capital as well as the headquarters of NATO — foreign diplomats, politicians and civil servants have made English the lingua franca in the capital region of Brussels3.
Consequentially, since language could be a big determinant between how easy or difficult it is to settle into another country, you’d want to choose the region whose language you understand, or at least, decide on the region you’d move to and become proficient in the language ahead of time.
Cost of living
Mercer, the world’s largest human resources consulting company, currently produces annual cost of living and housing reports for expats in over 200 of the most common expat destination cities around the world and it currently assigns Brussels position 104 on its cost of living index4. In Mercer’s index, the higher the position is the lower the city’s cost of living.
However, it’s worth noting that Belgium is a developed country, with various rankings from organizations like United Nations and OECD, rating Belgium highly in terms of standard of living. Typically, a higher standard of living comes at a higher cost. The country’s advanced tax and social security system is a pointer. Income tax in Belgium is anywhere between 25 percent (for annual income between 0 and €10,860) and 50 percent (for annual income in excess of €38,080)5. Most people working and living in Belgium are also subject to social security contributions6. To put perspective on the cost of living in major Belgian cities, consider that the cost of living in Brussels and Ghent is 12 percent and 4 percent more expensive than in Madrid respectively. In addition, the cost of living in Brussels and Ghent is a 22 percent and 14 percent higher than Lisbon respectively7.
With the Belgian economy being a service and trade economy, for the most part, the majority of the jobs in the country are service and trade jobs. The service sector accounts for about 77 percent of the GDP versus 22 percent from industrials and 0.74 percent from agriculture. In addition, you’ll need a work permit to work in Belgium. Belgian work permits come in three classes — A, B and C permits. To obtain the A Permit, you’d typically already have a B Permit and must have been employed for at least four out of 10 years of living in the country. The A Permit offers more flexibility over B Permit in that it allows you to work for any employer. The B Permit, on the other hand, is typically obtained by employers on behalf of a prospective employee and it commits the holder to the job for which it was obtained. Permit C is targeted at people whose residency is limited in duration. Permit C would be ideal for students.
Sending Money Back Home
At Xpress Money, we believe that sending remittances back to your home country is a big part of being an expat. Like in most countries, you have the traditional bank transfer option. However, it’s been proven that bank transfer isn’t the only option to send money internationally. Money transfer companies, like Xpress Money, offer expats multiple and cost – effective options to send money back home. Xpress Money has recently launched its services in Belgium with Travelex, a foreign exchange company, to offer low cost and secure money transfer services in 12 Travelex branches across Belgium.
Now that we’ve offered insight into some of the important things to know about Belgium, let’s drive it home with these fun facts. Did you know that Belgium is the home of French fries as well as home to many great beers? Well, now you do. Good luck with your move to Belgium.