Opening a bank account in Belgium
Find out how the banking system works in Belgium and the requirements to open a bank account, either before you move or once you’re living in Belgium.
The banking system in Belgium is modern, sophisticated and very convenient. 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 transactions are performed electronically and automatically, making managing your money in Belgium convenient and straightforward. Salvatore Orlando, head of expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis, explains the process how foreigners can set up their banking in Belgium.
Banking in Belgium
Opening a Belgian bank account is facilitated by Belgium's advanced banking services, including some banks where you can even open a bank account completely online, without having to enter a bank at all. This makes it much easier to open a Belgian bank account before entering the country, helping you tick off 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.
Choosing a 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.
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 a list of banks in Belgium, as well as arange of financial services in Belgium.
Some major banks in Belgium include:
- BNP Paribas Fortis (French, Dutch, German 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. 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 Belgium's banks, 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.
Bank charges and fees in Belgium
The costs for checking accounts vary from bank to bank – ranging from free online bank accounts to EUR 150 annually – as most banks charge for each service provided (credit cards, online banking, etc.). Most banks 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 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.
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.
How to open a Belgian bank
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. You can also walk into any branch and open an account in person.
Many Belgian banks accept non-resident accounts, so it is possible to set up an account before you move to Belgium. You can do this online in some cases or in person if you are visiting the bank before you officially move. 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 factor is that you will typically be asked to provide proof of residence – this can be a rental contract or a household bill, typically required to be Belgium-based but some banks may accept this from your current country of residence or let you submit evidence after you arrive in Belgium.
Documents for opening a bank account
- Passport or a Belgian ID Card
- Proof of residence
If you open an account before entering the country, you will likely have to go to your local branch to provide proof of residence on your arrival.
Opening a bank account if you are self-employed
If you are a self-employed person living in Belgium you must open a bank account, separate from your personal bank account, for your business use only, 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. Setting up the business bank account is part of the process of setting up a business or establishing yourself as a freelancer in Belgium.
Paying bills with your Belgian bank account
Direct debit, 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 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 as a way of saving a fixed amount regularly, by automatic transfer from your current account to your savings accounts.
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.
Cash, cheques and card: how do you pay in Belgium?
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 previously were required to only use ATMs from their own bank, 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. 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 or if it is included in your banking package. Other major international credit cards can also be obtained and used in Belgium.
Taxes on savings account interest
As part of a tax shift effort by the Belgian government, the withholding tax has increased from 25 to 27 percent as of 2016. However, there has been no change related to savings account interest: 15 percent withholding tax for savings account interest, which is exempt if the amount is not higher than EUR 1,880 annually per tax-paying person.
Transferring money abroad from Belgium
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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