Belgian bank guide: Banking in Belgium for foreigners
This Belgian bank guide explains banking in Belgium for foreigners, from choosing a bank in Belgium and opening a Belgian bank account to getting a debit, visa or credit card in Belgium.
Belgium is one of the major banking and financial centres on mainland Europe, with Belgian banks influencing the country's position as a pioneer of the cashless society. Combined with Belgium's multicultural nature, today there are many banks in Belgium offering specialised services to expats, including non-resident bank accounts, as well as online banks in Belgium.
Within the Belgian banking system, there are many payment options available and credit and debit card payment is widely accepted in both small and large retail facilities. Despite banks in Belgium offering sophisticated payment systems, however, cash for small purchases is still sometimes the preferred option. As currency in Belgium falls under the single-currency zone, transferring money between Eurozone states is easily facilitated.
This guide to Belgian banking includes:
- Currency in Belgium
- Belgian banks and ATMs
- Types of debit and credit cards in Belgium
- Lost or stolen Belgian bank card
- A list of banks in Belgium
- How to open a Belgian bank account
- Banking in Belgium: services and making payments
- Offshore banking in Belgium
The currency is Belgium is the same as the Eurozone, sharing a common currency with Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain, as well as a collection of microstates. Euros from any of the 19 countries may be used anywhere in the EU. Of the older EU countries, Sweden, Denmark and the UK remain the outsiders and kept their own currencies. Despite prolonged economic crises in some Eurozone states, the euro has rebounded and just surpasses the dollar.
Although 1 and 2 euro cent coins are in circulation in many European countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland have genenerally phased out these small coins by allowing retailers to round goods up or down to the nearest five cents. Most likely smaller currency in Belgium will not be handed out as change (unlike in bordering countries such as Germany), although 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and EUR 1, 2 coins are commonly used currency in Belgium. Currency in Belgium also include notes of EUR 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, although most grocery stores and retail will not accept notes above EUR 100.
On one side of euro coins is a map of Europe that was designed by Belgian designer Luc Luycx. On the other side is a design specific to the country where it was minted. All euro notes are the same, regardless of which country they come from, and feature symbols representing co-operation, openness, dynamism, and harmony.
Cash dispensers or ATMs (distributeurs automatiques) are found at most Belgian bank locations, and they all take the Bancontact/Mister Cash cards issued by Belgian banks, as well as some international debit and credit cards. Certain ATMs may not issue cash on credit cards, in which case sometimes trying a different Belgian bank's ATM can work, otherwise you will need to visit a bank office to take out cash.
Dispenser lobbies within Belgian banks are open after hours but usually only for bank customers, who are required to swipe their bank card to get in. You may find yourself queuing at peak times for an ATM at central banks in Brussels, or that machines are low on cash after a big Saturday night.
The most common bank card is the Bancontact/Mister Cash card, which is a debit card in Belgium. It is linked to your current account and accepted in department stores, supermarkets, gas stations and high street shops. It’s a good idea to have one of these, as there are still some places in Belgium that don’t accept alternatives. A Bancontact/Mister Cash card with a PIN number will be issued when you open a Belgian bank account.
Most types of credit card are accepted in Belgium to varying degrees. It is also possible to get a Belgian debit card with Visa Electron, also known as a Visa debit card in Belgium. If you get a Visa in Belgium or MasterCard in Belgium from a local bank, the standard option is for this to operate like a debit card, with the full balance taken from your account each month. Most major banks also offer credit cards in Belgium, which can range in fees up to EUR 50–100, depending on the type. American Express and other major international credit cards can also be obtained and used in Belgium.
You can cancel a bank card by calling Belgium’s 24-hour emergency ‘Card Stop’ service at 070 344 344. To report a theft, go to the nearest police station where the incident happened. The police will issue a certificate for your bank and insurance company. Find a full list of emergency numbers in Belgium.
The main Belgian banks are BNP Paribas Fortis, ING and KBC, but there are many to choose from, including those offering specialised financial services for expats. See Expatica's listing of banks in Belgium.
The full range of financial services is on offer, including expat banking services in English. Most websites of Belgian banks include a branch finder. All the major banks in Belgium offer their services in French, Dutch and English, and some expat services offer more.
Belgium’s sophisticated banking system also provides for truly online banks, where you can open and manage your account without ever having to see your banker. In some cases, these banks offer zero fees for basic bank account services online; if you do ever need to use in-branch or other services, however, the fees can add up so it's important to weigh the costs.
Like most European countries, banks in Belgium must comply with the US FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) legislation, which allows for bank data to be exchanged with the US. Under this agreement, which took effect in Belgium in July 2014, all financial institutions (banks, insurers and some investment institutions) are required to report any bank accounts held by US taxpayers to the Belgian tax administration, which then provides an annual report to the IRS.
The implications for Americans opening a bank in account in Belgium include additional administration to determine if you are a US taxpayer and extra documentation. This typically increases the fees charged by Belgian banks or can even result in being turned away if an institution can't handle the paperwork. There are banks in Belgium, however, that offer services for US expats, such as BNP Paribas Fortis and ING.
Main banks in Belgium
Below is a list of main banks in Belgium. Most websites of banks in Belgium include a branch finder, although some Belgian banks offer to open a bank account online.
- BNP Paribas Fortis: www.bnpparibasfortis.be
- ING: www.ing.be
- KBC Bank: www.kbc.be
- Belfius: www.belfius.be
Online banks in Belgium
- Hello Bank! – an online and mobile bank owned by BNP Paribas Fortis
- Keytrade Bank– offers online banking and trading services, under the Crelan Group
International banks in Belgium and local Belgian banks
- AXA Bank Europe
- Banca Monte Paschi Belgio
- Banque CPH
- Bank J Van Breda & C
- BBVA Belgium
- Banque Triodos
- Beobank Belgium
- Bpost bank – an independent Belgian bank owned by Belgian Post Group (Bpost) and BNP Paribas Fortis
- Delen Private Bank
- National Bank of Belgium (NBB) – the central bank of Belgium
- Rabobank Belgium (Antwerp)
- Record Bank – retail banked owned by ING
- Santander Consumer Finance
- Unico Banking Group – a partnership of eight banks.
Banks in Brussels
Many of the above institutions have several banks in Brussles, although the above list is not exhaustive. Find a list of banks in Brussels on Yellow Pages. You can also check Expatica's listing of banks in Belgium, which typically cater to foreigners.
To open a current or checking account in Belgium (compte à vue/zichtrekening), you need either a passport or Belgian ID card as proof of identity and typically proof of residence. Once the account is opened, your Belgian bank will send you a Bancontact/Mister Cash Belgian debit card to your registered address, or arrange for you to pick it up. A PIN number will be given or sent to you separately. Read more in our guide to opening a bank account in Belgium.
If you want to open a savings account (compte d’épargne/spaarrekening) or add credit cards in Belgium, the bank can advise you on the different options and fees.
Online banking allows you to open a bank account in Belgium prior to moving, although international banks in Belgium are also increasingly offering these services, so ask at your chosen bank what's possible. Read more in our guide on what to prepare before moving to Belgium and digital banking for expats.
Internet and phone banking in Belgium
Most major Belgian banks offer both telephone and internet banking as separate add-on services, or included in an annual ‘package’ fee. Internet banking and EU laws allow complete account management and easy payment of regular and non-standard bills throughout the Eurozone. There are reduced fees for standardised euro transfers below a threshold limit. You will need the international bank account number (IBAN) and Business Identifier Code (BIC) for transfers.
While they can be found, cheques are more or less obsolete and can attract penal banking charges. They are not recommended, nor are they encouraged by banks in Belgium and in most of Europe.
Belgium's payment transfer slip
If you do not bank online the most common means of payment is via a bank transfer (virement/overschrijving). This is an orange and white payment slip found at the bottom of almost all Belgian bills. This has to be filled in, signed and handed in at your bank in Belgium or paid via an ATM machine.
Online banking in Belgium is becoming the more popular payment method, and many mainstream Belgian banks offer smart phone apps to transfer money throughout Europe via mobile phone as long as you have the account IBAN number of the recipient.
Direct debit in Belgium
This practice, known as domiciliation/domiciliering, is the most efficient way to pay regular bills, as you can authorise companies that you trust to debit money from your account before a bill deadline. It is commonly used for utility bills.
This is called ordre permanent/bestendige opdracht and can be set up for regular payments of a fixed amount, like rent or mortgage repayments.
You can also use it as a way of saving a fixed amount regularly, by automatic transfer from your current account to your savings accounts.
Those living or working abroad may find that holding an international bank account makes it easier to manage their finances as they change countries. Essentially, an offshore bank is one that is located outside the account holder’s country of residence, typically in a low tax jurisdiction. These banks tend to offer financial and legal advantages over domestic banking arrangements.
Accounts are often available in multiple currencies, which can be more convenient for those making or receiving payments in different currencies. In addition, more complex foreign exchange features may be available, such as being able to fix currency prices for up to a year in advance, which can remove the uncertainty of international finances. Read more about offshore banking in Belgium.
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