The cost of living in Belgium is relatively high but still considered affordable, including the cost of living in Brussels, when compared to some of its neighbours.
Though the cost of living in Belgium is definitely up there, it is nowhere near as expensive as some other western European countries. This guide will help you navigate the costs of living from healthcare and food to housing, transportation, education, and much more.
Belgium’s strategic location in the European Union makes it an important country both economically and politically. Much of the Belgian economy depends on the export of manufactured goods to the rest of the EU, with shipments of the raw materials coming in from neighbouring countries as well. This has allowed Belgians to enjoy a high standard of living.
This guide to the cost of living in Belgium includes:
- General cost of living in Belgium
- Housing costs in Belgium
- Utility costs in Belgium
- Cost of public transport in Belgium
- Costs to study in Belgium
- Costs of childcare in Belgium
- Healthcare costs in Belgium
- Costs of groceries in Belgium
- Cost of dining out in Belgium
- Tax costs in Belgium
- Social security and pension costs in Belgium
If you are concerned about steep living costs, keep in mind that the Belgian social security and tax systems are very advanced, meaning that income disparity is much less of an issue than in some other countries.
Another thing to remember is that with higher costs of living come higher standards of living. Belgium is among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of standard of living, according to the OECD.
Brussels was ranked 27th in Mercer’s 2018 quality of living survey. The standard of living in Brussels remains high, and the cost of housing and public transportation are generally lower than neighbouring European cities.
The total cost of living in Brussels is estimated to be:
- 6% more expensive than Madrid
- 10% cheaper than Munich
- About the same as Rome
- 23% cheaper than Paris
- 37% cheaper than London
- 39% cheaper than New York
Bruges is the famous capital of West Flanders, a province in the Flemish part of Belgium.
Rent, food and transportation are some of the things that Bruges’ residents spend the most on. The total cost of living in Bruges is estimated to be:
- 14% more expensive than Madrid
- 4% more expensive than Munich
- 3% more expensive than Rome
- 7% cheaper than Paris
- 10% cheaper than London
- 24% cheaper than New York
- 14% more expensive than Madrid
Antwerp is the largest city in the northern, or Flemish, part of Belgium, as well as the largest Belgian city in terms of population. It is also a huge business and fashion centre, which hikes up prices but also the standard of living. The total cost of living in Antwerp is around:
- About the same as Madrid
- 13% cheaper than Munich
- 4% cheaper than Rome
- 26% cheaper than Paris
- 39% cheaper than London
- 41% cheaper than New York
- About the same as Madrid
Ghent is the capital of East Flanders. Like Bruges, the standard of living isn’t as high as in Brussels and Antwerp, but as a port and university city it offers some things that Brussels doesn’t.
The total cost of living in Ghent is around:
- About the same as Madrid
- 12% cheaper than Munich
- 25% cheaper than Paris
- 38% cheaper than London
- 38% cheaper than New York
It is possible to buy and own property, although most expats choose to rent in Belgium instead. When you compare the average renting prices with the average salary in Belgium, renting a house with two bathrooms and three bedrooms is feasible.
Alternatively, expats might choose to rent a serviced apartments on a monthly basis through a property portal such as BBF, which has flats in Brussels and other cities in Belgium.
Brussels has higher rent prices and more competition for rentals, especially from foreigners. In Brussels’ city centre, prices average around €1,500 per month for a three-bedroom apartment. Although Antwerp has an overall higher cost of living, rent for the same kind of apartment is less, at around €1,200 per month.
Of the four main Belgian cities, Bruges is the cheapest in terms of renting a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre. There, you will only spend about €1,000 on average per month.
One thing to note when looking to rent in Belgium is that most contracts are for nine years. This doesn’t mean you have to stay for nine years; however, it can sometimes be cheaper than a short-term contract. Read more in our guides to renting in Belgium or renting in Brussels.
If you want to buy property in Belgium, prices in the city centre of Brussels are around €3,200 per square metre. In Antwerp’s city centre, apartments cost an average of €2,660 per square metre. Ghent is the most expensive for buying at around €3,730 per square metre. Read more about buying property in Belgium.
In Brussels, you can expect to pay about €125 a month for utilities, which generally includes electricity, water, heating and garbage, for an apartment measuring around 85 square metres. Depending on the area that you live in, these prices could rise.
Read more about utilities, internet, TV and telephone in Belgium.
Most Belgian cities are well connected by public transport in Belgium. In major Belgian cities, a transport pass for the month costs around €35–€50. These passes can be used on every mode of public transportation. A single fare usually costs around €2–€3.
Taxi rates start off at around €4 in Brussels, and are around €2 per kilometre thereafter. In other major cities, the starting rate varies but the rate per kilometre is generally in the same range. Driving in Belgium is a common option, with gas prices ranging from €1.20–€1.40 per litre.
Public schools in Belgium may seem tricky to navigate at first, but keep in mind that the Belgian school system has the advantage of being located in the same country as the European Union headquarters. Depending on where you live in Belgium, your children will be taught in either Dutch, French or German, although there are many international schools in Belgium.
In a private or international school, you will have more control over what and how your child is taught. Some schools are bilingual, while some teach exclusively in English. Tuition fees in international schools in Belgium range anywhere from €6,000 to €30,000 a year, depending on the school.
Studying in Belgium is also much cheaper than in the United States and many other countries. Students from EU countries pay an annual fee of around €500–€600, although students from abroad pay considerably higher fees.
Crèches (or kinderopvang in Dutch) in Belgium are the go-to option for working parents. There are both state-run and private Belgian childcare centres, although tax deductions are available for both. The spots go very quickly though, and it is recommended to start the application process early in your pregnancy.
Childcare costs vary depending on which part of Belgium you are in and your personal income. In the Flemish region, expect to pay between €1.30 and €23 a day per child, while in French-speaking Belgium the prices are slightly higher at around €2–28 per day. Keep in mind that this is based on the household income and is tax deductible to an extent.
Everyone living in Belgium is entitled to child benefits. The monthly prices in 2019 are the following:
- First child: €92
- Second child: €170
- Any subsequent child: €254
Additional allowances based on age are added once the child reaches six years. Find out more in our guide to childcare in Belgium.
Everyone in Belgium is required to have Belgian health insurance, either through the state system, privately or a combination of both. Healthcare in Belgium is paid via social security and health insurance funds, allowing patients to choose their own Belgian doctors and hospitals.
Although you generally pay upfront, a good portion of healthcare costs are reimbursed. Those with state insurance can opt for supplementary private insurances to get all the money back from treatments.
If you are employed by a company in Belgium, expect about 13% of your salary to go towards health insurance each year, deducted automatically. Your employer will contribute another 25% to round out the cost. Read more about health insurance in Belgium.
Groceries are a hard thing to gauge in terms of prices because of the variables involved, such as the size of the household, dietary needs and favourite brands.
However, the average Belgian cost of monthly groceries is around €150 per person, but this varies widely depending at which stores you shop.
Belgium, and its capital city of Brussels in particular, is known for its culinary prowess. Brussels has been compared to such cities as New York, Hong Kong and Paris because of the sheer quality and variety of dining experiences it has to offer. The prices, however, are also up there for fine dining.
But you can easily find cheaper options, so those who love to eat out will not have to limit themselves. Inexpensive meals for one person range from €10–€15, with a half-litre of commercial beer costing around €4. As a comparison, a McDonald’s value meal is around €8 and a cappuccino around €2.70.
A mid-range restaurant offering a three-course meal for two will generally cost about €60, up to around €100 per person or more in Belgium’s top restaurants. A 10–15% service charge will be automatically added to your bill, so you do not need to tip unless you want to.
Belgium is famous for having the highest tax rates in all of Europe. Top earners are hit with a whopping 50% of their income, compared to 45% in other European countries, although government reforms aim to reduce the Belgian tax burden and a number of Belgian tax deductions can be claimed.
Taxes start off at 25% on income up to €12,990 a year, with the highest tax being 50% on incomes of €39,660 or more (see Belgian tax rates). The state collects income and company tax, while municipal authorities handle municipal and property taxes.
Everyone living and working in Belgium is expected to contribute to the Belgian social security system. Your employer generally arranges this for you. Typically, 13% is taken from your salary and your employer pays another 24%. If you are self-employed, you can also get social security but must register for it yourself.
Social security in Belgium consists of seven different things: medical care in the form of reimbursements, pension benefits, family, accident, vacation, work-related injury, and unemployment. Read more in our guide to social security in Belgium.
Those who live and work in Belgium are also entitled to a pension. The pension in Belgium is usually based on how much you earned and the years you worked. More is explained in our guide to Belgian pensions.
For economic indicators of prices, such as inflation and tax news see the Belgian government’s website.