Opening a bank account in Belgium
Find out the requirements to open a bank account in Belgium, either from Belgium or by opening a bank account online as a non-resident. Which is the best bank in Belgium for you?
The banking system in Belgium is modern, sophisticated and digitalised, making opening a bank account in Belgium a relatively straightforward process. Belgium was an early pioneer of the cash-free society, and since the early 1970s has been innovative in implementing automated payment processes.
Today, many banks in Belgium perform transactions electronically and automatically, making opening a bank account in Belgium and managing your money convenient. Salvatore Orlando, head of expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis, explains the process how foreigners can set up their banking in Belgium and open a Belgian bank account either in Belgium, online or as a non-resident.
Opening a bank account in Belgium
Opening a Belgian bank account is facilitated by Belgium's advanced banking services, which includes some banks that allow you to open an online bank account without having to enter a bank at all. This makes it much easier to open a Belgian bank account online as a non-resident or before entering the country, helping you tick off at least one requirement on your list of things to prepare for moving to Belgium.
Banks in Belgium typically provide checking and savings accounts, although larger banks and some specialised banks provide financial investment solutions to expatriates, such as mutual funds and life insurance. Belgium's banks offer a range of services, including investment banking, credit cards, loans, mortgages and insurances you may require.
Finding the best bank in Belgium
There are more than 100 banks currently operating in Belgium, including many foreign banks (although note that the Belgian bank Optima was declared bankrupt in June 2016). Belgium has among the highest bank branches per capita in Europe, although some experts say the rise of electronic banking could lead to a decline in the number of bank branches by up to 30 percent by 2020.
With the full array of financial institutions and banks in Belgium, it's possible to find one tailored to your needs, such as English-speaking services, cheaper international money transfers or online trading and investment tools. Finding the best bank in Belgium will depend on the services you are looking for.
Opening hours for banks are typically 9am to 4pm, and extended to 7pm on appointment. Most banks provide a location finder on their website to find your nearest branch. You can find more information in our guide to banking in Belgium, or check Expatica's listings of banks in Belgium and financial services in Belgium.
Some major banks in Belgium include:
- BNP Paribas Fortis (French, Dutch, German and English)
- HelloBank (French, Dutch and English)
- KBC Groep (French, Dutch, German and English)
- Belfius (French and Dutch)
- Beobank (French and Dutch)
- ING (French, Dutch and English)
- AXA Bank Belgium (in French and Dutch)
- Argenta (in French and Dutch)
The post office in Belgium also provides banking services under the independent entity Bpost. Post office banking is usually less expensive than commercial banks, and can be handier as their opening hours are longer.
The full range of financial services is offered by banks in Belgium, including specialised expat banking services in English. All the major banks offer their services in French, Dutch and English, and some expat services offer more. Many banks will offer you overdraft protection on your account, but you will have to provide proof of income for this option.
Most banks will send you statements via post at regular intervals detailing your transactions over a period of time (deposits and payments). This is usually weekly or monthly, and you can decide what you prefer. You can typically also access online banking to find this information yourself.
How to open a Belgian bank account
Opening an account in Belgium is an easy process. Some banks permit you to open a bank account online; you submit an online request and the bank will send you the required forms and information. Via this process, some banks also allow you to open a bank account online as a non-resident. You can also walk into any branch and open a Belgian bank account in person.
Many banks accept non-resident bank accounts in Belgium, so it is possible to set up an account before you move to Belgium. Another option is to open a bank account with an international bank that has branches in both your home country and where you plan to move abroad.
One main factor is that you will typically be asked to provide proof of residence before you can open a bank account in Belgium. This can be a rental contract or a household bill and is typically required to be Belgium-based. However, some banks may accept this from your home country or let you submit evidence after you arrive in Belgium, so it's useful to talk with a bank manager to check options.
Documents for opening a bank account
- Passport or a Belgian ID Card
- Proof of residence
If you open a bank account in Belgium before entering the country, you will have to go to your local branch to provide proof of residence on your arrival.
Opening a Belgian bank account if you are self-employed
Opening a business bank account is part of the process of setting up a business in Belgium. If you are a self-employed person living in Belgium you must open a bank account for your business use only, separate from your personal bank account, regardless of whether you are setting up as a self-employed individual or a company. You should put your account number on all your business documents.
Bank charges and fees in Belgium
The costs for checking accounts vary between banks in Belgium, ranging from online free bank accounts to EUR 150 annually, as most banks charge for each service provided (credit cards, online banking, etc.). Most banks in Belgium also offer packages for an annual fee but it’s best to shop around to find the best arrangement for you.
Some banks provide cheaper or even free bank accounts to people under 25, including a debit card and possibly credit card. The idea is to attract young customers who will remain with the bank long term.
Taxes on savings in Belgian bank accounts
As part of a tax shift effort by the Belgian government, the withholding tax on dividends and interest increased from 27 to 30 percent as of 2017. Regulated savings account interest, however, is taxed at 15 percent withholding tax, which is exempt if the amount is not higher than EUR 1,880 annually per tax-paying person. Read more about taxes on investments and savings in Belgium.
Paying bills from your Belgian bank account
Direct debit, known as domiciliation/domiciliering, is the most efficient way to pay regular bills, where you can authorise companies to debit money from your Belgian bank account before a deadline, such as for utility bills.
Standing order payments – called ordre permanent/bestendige opdracht – can be set up for regular payments of a fixed amount, like rent or mortgage repayments. You can also use it to build up a savings account by automatic transfer of a fixed amount from your current account.
Banks in Belgium also allow clients to activate Zoomit, which is a free internet and mobile banking service that sends any important documents, such as invoices, credit notes and pay slips, to your bank account where you can manage everything in one place, removing the need for paperwork and allowing for quick online payment and reminders for over-due bills.
Belgian bank account debit and credit cards
Credit and debit cards are common in Belgium and widely accepted. Cheques are becoming obsolete and usually come with a fee. ATM machines are widely available and although Belgian bank customers were previously required to only use their bank's ATMs, this is no longer the case.
The most common debit card in Belgium is known as the Mister Cash/Bancontact card. It is a chip card that has a four-digit PIN code. You can use the Bancontact to withdraw cash from ATMs or pay directly out of your account using your PIN code. Some banks also provide smartphone or tablet payment options.
Most types of credit card are accepted to varying degrees; fees range up to EUR 50–100, depending on the card type or if it is included in your banking package. Other major international credit cards can also be obtained and used in Belgium.
If you lose your Belgian debit card
If your debit card is lost or stolen, you can block it by calling Card Stop at 070 344 344. You should also notify your bank as soon as possible.
Transferring money abroad
Moving money from your account in Belgium to an account elsewhere may result in a fee from both banks.
The Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA) initiative of the European Unions makes transfers of the euro currency within SEPA-member countries easier, faster and cheaper – in most cases free or for the cost of a local transfer. Transfers within SEPA countries (28 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino) take one to two days, whereas pre-SEPA the process could take much longer.
SEPA transfers require you to provide the IBAN (international bank account number of the recipient) and the BIC (bank identifier code) of the recipient’s bank (this is also called a SWIFT code).
SEPA also made it possible to use your debit card to make euro-based payments in another SEPA country, just as you would do at home. Also under SEPA, if you have a bank account in any Eurozone country, you can continue to use it to receive your salary, even if you reside in another Eurozone country.
For transfers to non-SEPA countries or in a currency other than euro, you also need to provide the IBAN and BIC as well as the address of the bank to which you are making the transfer. Most online banking systems enable you to make transfers from your computer.
The European Union also has deposit guarantee schemes in place that typically protect investments and deposits up to EUR 100,000 within the eurozone in the event a bank fails.
Salvatore Orlando, head of expatriates / BNP Paribas Fortis / Expatica
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