Work in Belgium: Finding a job
Find work in Belgium with this comprehensive guide: job websites and recruitment agencies in Belgium, jobs in demand in Belgium, Belgium's current job market and Belgian work permits.
Many foreigners easily find work in Belgium, and chances of finding jobs in Belgium's main cities, particularly jobs in Brussels, are increased by the extensive international business scene and European Union (EU) presence.
With many EU institutions, NATO and lots of other major international organisations and multi-national companies based in Brussels, there are a great many job opportunities for foreigners in Belgium. In a country with three official languages and many more used in its cosmopolitan capital of Brussels, you’ll give yourself the best chance of finding a job in Belgium if you have good language skills; you'll be competing with locals who are typically bilingual or multilingual, including a decent level of English proficiency. This guide explains where to find the best jobs in Belgium.
This guide to Belgian jobs includes:
- Jobs in Belgium: job websites, recruitment agencies and organisations
- The Belgian job market: unemployment, minimum wages and taxes
- Available jobs and shortage occupations in Belgium
- Belgian business culture and work week
- Belgian work visas and permits
- Language and qualifications required
- Belgian job applications: Belgian-style CVs and interview tips
The job market in Belgium
In December 2015, Belgium had an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, only slightly lower than the EU average of 9 percent. However, youth unemployment (those under 25) stood at around 23 percent; in previous years, the largest increase, perhaps surprisingly, was among those with higher education level qualifications.
Most Belgians work in the service sector – legal, banking, media and tourism – with around a quarter working in industry including textiles, glass, engineering, car assembly and chemicals. The Belgian government also maintains a list of the main industries and employers in Belgium.
There are lots of big companies including Banque Nationale de Belgique, Proximus (telecoms, previously Belgacom), Ageas (insurance), Anheuser-Busch InBev (brewing), Bakaert (manufacturing, chemicals), Colruyt (food retail), Delhaize (food retail), D'Ieteren (automative), Elia (energy), KBC (banking/insurance), Solvay (chemicals), UBC (pharmaceutical) and Umicore (materials technology) – as well as many international companies with their base in Brussels (click on the links for each company's job page).
Belgium has one of the highest minimum wages in Europe – in 2015, Belgium's minimum wage started at around EUR 1,502 (for 21 years olds) to EUR 1,559 (22+ years) – although by law companies can make agreements with employees at any wage rate. Belgium, however, also has one of the highest tax rates in Europe, ranging on a sliding scale between 25 percent up to 50 percent depending on how much you earn. Read more in our guides to employment contracts in Belgium and taxes in Belgium.
Available jobs in Belgium
Most available jobs in Brussels are for highly skilled workers within the services sectors, such as finance, international institutions and businesses, estate agencies, education, and public health and social services. Despite Belgium's unemployment rate, the country reports an ongoing issue with skill shortages, particularly in IT and engineering.
Some shortage jobs include:
- project managers
- nurses and midwives
- IT staff like computer system designers and analysts
- technical and commercial sales representatives
- admin staff
- building trades, including electricians, plumbers, joiners and plasterers.
Belgian management culture
The duality between the French- and Dutch-speaking regions is reflected in the Belgian workplace, which has traditionally followed the French hierarchical style where top managers make all the decisions. This, however, has been increasingly moving towards the more egalitarian Dutch approach of flatter and more open organisations, with more information flow and delegation. So while companies may still be fairly hierarchical, management authority rests more on competence and the aim is usually to reach a consensus or compromise – which can often be a protracted process. Belgians appreciate logic and reasoning and expect arguments to be backed up by clear facts and figures. They also value personal contact so not all business takes place by email or over the phone.
You may be offered a temporary contract at first as a trial period. You’ll most likely be working a 38-hour week with eight-hour days, around 20 days a year holidays plus 10 days public holidays. Employers divide yearly salaries into 13.92 months in order to provide extra income at different times of the year, giving an extra 92 percent in spring as ‘holiday pay’ and an extra month at the end of the year. You can read more in our guide to Belgian business culture.
Belgian work visas
All EU/EEA (European Economic Area – EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Swiss nationals can work freely in Belgium without the need for a work permit, although if you’re planning to stay longer than three months you’ll need a registration certificate.
Citizens from elsewhere will generally need a work permit, and certain nationalities will also need a visa to enter the country, although exemptions apply.
There are three official languages in Belgium: Dutch is spoken in the Flemish community in the Flanders region to the north of Belgium; French is spoken in Wallonia to the south of Brussels; and German is spoken in the south east. Between 10–20 per cent of the country, especially those in the Brussels-Capital region, are bilingual and speak both French and Dutch. You would most likely be expected to speak the language of the particular region in which you’d be working. In some cases, mainly in international companies, English may be sufficient.
If you come from a country signed up to the Bologna Process you will have your educational qualifications recognised in Belgium. Everyone else should contact NARIC (Flanders) or the Education section of the Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (Wallonia) to get foreign educational certificates of all levels recognised in Belgium. If you want to work in certain professions, you may have to have your professional qualifications, both your training and experience, officially recognised or regulated before you can work in Belgium. Check here to find out if you need to have your profession regulated and how to go about it.
On Expatica's jobs in Belgium pages, you'll find a constantly updated list of jobs in different sectors across the country.
If you’re from the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you can search for a job in Belgium through EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal. This is maintained by the European Commission and designed to aid freedom of movement within the European Economic Area (EEA). As well as looking for work, you can upload your CV and get advice on the legal and administrative issues involved in working in Belgium. EURES also holds job fairs and events in various location throughout the year.
Public employment services
Each region of Belgium has its own public employment office where you can browse job vacancies, upload your CV, search for training courses, or get advice on your job search from a consultant online or at a local office:
- Actiris covers the Brussels-Capital region
- VDAB covers Flanders
- Le Forem covers the Walloon region
- ADG is for the German community in Belgium.
The EU and NATO
The European Union employs more than 40,000 people in various institutions, many of which are in Brussels. You do have to be a member of an EU country and usually also fluent in at least two or more languages. For information about working for the EU, current job vacancies both permanent and temporary, and to make online applications, see the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). Also have a look at EuroBrussels for jobs in EU organisations based in Brussels.
NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) also employs a lot of foreigners but you must come from a NATO country to apply.
Check out vacancies at other international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Belgium in the press in your home country or on the agency websites. You can find the names of all the NGOs in Belgium in the WANGO directory.
Job websites in Belgium
- Academic Jobs EU - academic and research jobs
- BrusselsJobs – business, finance, admin and IT jobs for multilingual workers in Brussels and beyond.
- English Language Jobs in Brussels.
- Heidrick & Struggles – executive search company.
- Jobs in Brussels – and the rest of Belgium, aimed at English speakers, with jobs in business, legal, IT, finance, accounting, HR and international consultancy.
- LinkedIn Belgium
- Michael Page Belgium
- Randstad – specialising in project-based or freelance temporary positions.
Sign on with as many recruitment agencies as possible. They tend to specialise in different sectors. Look them up in the Belgian Golden Pages (in English). They should be recognised by the trade federation Federgon. You’ll also find most of the usual European and international employment agencies – such as Adecco, Hudson and Manpower Belgium – in Brussels and other major cities.
You can apply to become an English-language assistant in a state school or college through the British Council if you have an A-level, B1 or equivalent in French. If you have a TEFL/TESOL qualification you can look for a job with a private language school or business at TELF.com, ESL Base or i-to-i.
You can find job ads in the weekend editions of the main nationals newspapers:
- in Dutch – De Morgen, De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, De Tijd, Het Laatste Nieuws.
- in French – La Dernière Heure, Le Soir, La Libre Belgique, La Meuse, L’Echo.
- in German – Grenzecho.
Belgium, and especially Brussels, is a fantastic place to network with so many international companies and expats already working there. As a result, many positions get filled through word-of-mouth without the need for advertising. There are trade associations, business groups and professional bodies, and networking organisations.
Here are a few of them:
- American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium
- Belgian Business Association – for gay professionals
- British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium
- European Professionals Network – based in Brussels
- Professional Women International (PWI) – a Brussels-based multi-national forum for women in business.
Make the first move – speculative job applications
Speculative job applications are an acceptable way to find work in Belgium. Find companies by searching online at:
- the Belgian Golden Pages (in English)
- business directories like Kompass and Europages
- the Federation of the Belgian Chambers of Commerce which has links to registers of all Belgian companies
- Voka, Flander’s Chamber of Commerce representing more than 18,000 companies in Flanders.
You can also look up international companies with offices in Belgium. When you submit speculative applications, make sure you find out which language to use and to whom you should address it.
Traineeships, interships and volunteering in Belgium
The EU offers traineeships for university graduates via the European Commission Traineeships Office (Bureau de Stages), otherwise internships or summer placements can be arranged by AIESEC (for students and recent graduates) or IAESTE (for students in science, engineering and applied arts). Interships can also be found at Europlacement and Intern Abroad.
For those aged between 17 and 30, volunteer programs are arranged by the European Voluntary Service (EVS), where you work abroad for up to 12 months in exchange for board, food, insurance and a small allowance. Concordia is another organisastion for volunteer opportunities.
Start your own business
Foreigners can also consider setting up a business or as a freelancer in Belgium.
Once you have found a job, you’ll need to know how to put together a Belgian-style CV and cover letter to make sure your application gets the consideration it deserves. To find out how to prepare your CV and covering letter, and well as what to expect in a Belgian job interview, see our guide to applying for a job in Belgium.
- Guide to Belgian work permits
- Moving to Belgium: Guide to visas and permits
- Applying for a job in Belgium
- Business culture in Belgium
Find a job in Belgium using Expatica's jobs search.
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