Banking in Belgium

Banking in Belgium

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From opening a bank account in Belgium to paying your bills, here is Expatica's guide to the Belgian banking system.

Belgium is one of the major banking and financial centre on mainland Europe and has been a pioneer of the cashless society. Within the Belgian banking system, there are many payment options available and card payment is widely accepted in both small and large retail facilities. Despite a sophisticated payment system, however, cash for small purchases is still sometimes the preferred option. However, as part of the single-currency zone, transferring money between Eurozone states is easily facilitated.

Currency, coins and notes in Belgium

Belgium is in 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 surpassed 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 these smaller coins 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 still the norm. Notes include 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.

Paying cash in Belgium

Cash dispensers or ATMs (distributeurs automatiques) are usually found at 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 you can try a different bank's ATM or visit a bank office.

Dispenser lobbies within 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 for an ATM in central Brussels at peak times, or that machines are low on cash after a big Saturday night.

Debit and credit cards in Belgium

The most common card in Belgium is the Bancontact/Mister Cash card. It is linked to your current account (debit card) and is 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. If you get a Visa or MasterCard from a local bank, the standard option in Belgium is for this to operate like a debit card, with the full balance taken from your account each month. Most major banks offer credit cards, 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.

Lost or stolen bank cards 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. Read more about what to do in our guide to emergencies in Belgium.

Banks 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 include a branch finder. All the major banks offer their services in French, Dutch and English, and some expat services offer more.

Opening a bank account in Belgium

To open a current or checking account (compte à vue/zichtrekening), you need either a passport or a Belgian ID card as proof of identity and typically to show proof of residence. Once the account is opened the bank will send you a Bancontact/Mister Cash debit card, or arrange for you to pick it up. A PIN number will be given or sent to you separately.

If you want to open a savings account (compte d’épargne/spaarrekening) or add credit cards, the bank can advise you on the different options.

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.

Online banking allows you to open a bank prior to moving to Belgium, but other banks are increasingly offering these services, too, 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

Most major 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.

Cheques

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 the banks.

The 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 or paid via an ATM machine.

Direct debit

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.

Standing order

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.

Offshore banking in Belgium

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.

Main Belgian banks

Most websites include a branch finder.


For more information, read about opening a bank account in Belgium


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Updated 2016.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Jela posted:

    on 24th March 2016, 11:37:30 - Reply

    I recently arrived to Belgium and was told I cannot open a bank account until I get an official residence card. I do not know if this is only for non-EU people, but I might get my residence card only within 2 months. How people in these situations get payed? Can you please write something about this issue? Many thanks.

    [Moderator's note: You can also post questions on our Ask the Expert free service.]

  • Kat posted:

    on 4th November 2014, 11:38:04 - Reply

    "Belgium is a pioneer of the cashless society." Are you kidding me? how many times have I had to search for an ATM because the restaurant/bar/store/etc did not take cards!?
  • Rebecca posted:

    on 2nd October 2014, 06:09:56 - Reply

    Please update your article as Proton is no longer available for use in Belgium as of the first of October 2014