Belgium is one of the major banking and financial centers on mainland Europe. Belgian banks influence 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 specialized services to expats, including non-resident bank accounts.
This guide to Belgian banking includes:
- The banking system in Belgium
- Currency in Belgium
- Banks in Belgium
- Banking services in Belgium
- Opening a bank account in Belgium
- Payment methods in Belgium
- Lost or stolen Belgian bank cards
- Offshore banking in Belgium
- Banking security and fraud in Belgium
- Making a complaint about banks in Belgium
- Alternatives to using banks in Belgium
- Useful resources
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The banking system in Belgium
Belgium has a sophisticated banking system and is one of the main banking and financial centers of the European Union. There are currently 95 different banks operating in Belgium. The majority of them are part of international or foreign banks – this includes around 3,195 branches (increasing to 5,896 when including independent bank agent branches). The country’s central bank is the National Bank of Belgium; 50% of it is owned by the state and the other 50% traded as shared on Euronext Brussels. The Financial Services and Markets Authority regulates banking in Belgium.
Currency in Belgium
The currency in Belgium is the same as the Eurozone. They share a common currency of the Euro (€) 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 micro-states. 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. The current exchange rate of the Euro (May 2019) is 1.13 against the GBP and 0.89 against the USD.
Although 1 and 2 euro cent coins are in circulation in many European countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, and Ireland have generally 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 €1, 2 coins are commonly used currency in Belgium. Currency in Belgium also includes notes of €5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500. Most grocery stores and retail will not accept notes above €100.
Cash machines and ATMs in Belgium
There are over 13,700 cash dispensers and ATMs in Belgium. Most are at most Belgian banks. They all take the Bancontact/Mister Cash cards from 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 must swipe their bank card for entry. 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.
Banks in Belgium
There are a number of large and small Belgian banks to choose from, including those offering specialized financial services for expats. See Expatica’s directory for listings 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. Most banks in Belgium open between 9:00-17:30, sometimes closing for around an hour for lunch.
The main Belgian banks are:
Online banks in Belgium
Belgium’s sophisticated banking system also provides for truly online and digital 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. Some of the big online and mobile providers of banking in Belgium include:
- N26 – an international mobile bank that offers free accounts and many user-friendly features on their English language app
- Nickel – a subsidiary of the French BNP Paribas which allows you to open an account online or in a newsagent
- Revolut – a UK-based mobile bank operating internationally, allowing customers to open an account in minutes
- 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
Around 84% of the banks in Belgium have foreign owners. These banks have similar services, opening hours, and expat-friendly deals to Belgian banks. International banking in Belgium includes:
- Bank of America
- Citibank Europe
- Deutsche Bank
Banking services in Belgium
- Current accounts – banks offer a range of account for the day-to-day management of money;
- Loans and overdrafts – borrowing options are available with most banks in Belgium for things such as holidays, home renovations or vehicle purchases.
- Mortgages – many banks offer mortgage loans in Belgium to customers who meet their criteria.
- Savings and investments – dedicated banks such as MeDirect offer options ranging from simple savings accounts to investment portfolios. Read our guide to investing in Belgium or drawing a pension in Belgium.
- Insurance – many banks offer insurance policies in Belgium such as home insurance, car insurance or life insurance.
- Digital and online banking – most standard Belgian banks now offer internet banking options as well as phone banking to make it easier for customers to access their accounts and keep track of finances.
- Mobile banking – some of the bigger banks also offer mobile banking apps in Belgium, enabling customers to bank and make payments using their smartphones or tablets.
- Business banking – Belgium is a country with a strong community of entrepreneurs, and many banks offer a selection of accounts, products, and services to help start a business in Belgium or become a freelancer in Belgium.
- Expat services – bigger banks and international banks usually have products and services tailored towards the needs of Belgium’s sizable expat community as well as English-speaking staff at bank branches.
Opening a bank account in Belgium
To open a current 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 comes in a separate letter. 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.
Read more in our guide to opening a bank account in Belgium.
Payment methods in Belgium
Despite banks in Belgium offering sophisticated payment systems, cash for small purchases is still sometimes the preferred option. 63% of small payments under €12 are still in cash. As currency in Belgium falls under the single-currency zone, transferring money between Eurozone states is simple.
While they can be found, checks are more or less obsolete and can attract banking charges in many European countries. Checkbooks are no longer issued as standard forms of payment by banks in Belgium.
Debit cards are popular in Belgium. They are the second most common form of payment for online purchases, according to figures between 2015-18. 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 places that don’t accept alternatives. You receive a Bancontact/Mister Cash card with a PIN number when you open a Belgian bank account.
Most types of credit cards are accepted in Belgium and they were the most popular form of online payment method as of 2018. 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, although fees can greatly vary depending on the type. American Express and other major international credit cards can also be obtained and used in Belgium.
Direct debits and standing orders
Direct debits in Belgium are known as domiciliation/domiciliering. This is the most efficient way to pay regular bills; you can authorize companies that you trust to debit money from your account before a bill deadline. It is common for utility bills.
Standing orders are 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 standing orders as a way of saving a fixed amount regularly, by automatic transfer from your current account to your savings accounts.
You can set up direct debits or standing orders by contacting your Belgian bank. Many banks also allow these to be set up online.
Online and mobile payments
Belgium has been one of the forerunners of online and mobile payments. According to a 2019 PwC report, 47% of Belgians use mobile payments and this is expected to increase to 68% over the next five years. Banks and credit/debit card companies now offer apps for more convenient digital payments and there are also digital wallets such as PayPal and a range of new mobile payment providers on the market.
See the Expatica guide to mobile banking in Belgium for more information.
Local money transfers
Local bank transfers (virement/overschrijving) can also be made from most Belgian banks. This is a popular option for those who don’t have internet banking or don’t like making online payments. An orange and white payment slip is 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.
International money transfers
You can transfer money to overseas accounts from Belgian banks if you have the IBAN (international bank account number) and BIC (bank identifier code) of the recipient, although this can result in fees from both banks. Countries within the EU/EFTA can make SEPA (Single Euro Payment Area) transfers between countries that are easier, faster, and cheaper – either free or for the cost of a local transfer. For SEPA transfers, you also need the recipient bank’s IBAN code as well as the BIC (also known as the SWIFT code). SEPA transfers usually take around 1-2 working days, with international transfers to non-EU/EFTA countries usually taking around 3-5 days.
For international money transfers, there are alternative solutions to banks that can prove cheaper and more convenient, such as:
You can also use online comparison tools to save on fees, obtain the best exchange rates and find the cheapest option for your international money transfers.
See our guide to international money transfers for more information.
Lost or stolen Belgian bank cards
Bank charges in Belgium vary across different banks for the various services that they provide. Each bank should provide you with a full list of fees when you open an account or have the information readily available online. General bank accounts can range from being free to having either an annual or monthly fee attached. Current accounts that charge are usually in the region of €5 a month, with premium accounts sometimes being more.
Using debit cards and ATMs is usually free as long as you stay within your account limits, although you may well incur charges if you use foreign cards, withdraw foreign currency or go overdrawn when using a Belgian ATM. Credit cards in Belgium range from being free to charging a monthly or yearly fee (which can be between €50-100 a year) plus the APRC (annual percentage rate charge). Costs for loans and mortgages from Belgian banks will depend on the APRC, plus some providers may also include additional fees. SEPA money transfers are usually free (or around €5 for instant payments) while transfers to non-EU countries normally start at around €10, with larger transfers costing more.
In 2018, Belgium adopted the EU ban on stores adding surcharges for credit and debit card payments.
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 in our guide to offshore bank accounts.
Banking security and fraud in Belgium
Banking fraud is becoming more of a problem for many countries in the digital age. The good news is that banks are introducing tougher security measures to protect account holders, with internet and mobile accounts now frequently offering greater levels of security and protection against fraud. Some mobile apps now have biometric ID options (e.g. fingerprint) in addition to or instead of password protection.
There were over 3,200 cases of internet banking fraud reported in Belgium in 2018. Most of these were related to phishing, which is where someone emails or calls the account holder pretending to be from the bank in order to get access to their account. There are a number of ways to protect yourself against this kind of fraud, such as:
- never clicking on a link to a bank website in an email that’s been sent. Always log in by typing the bank’s website address into your address bar;
- never giving sensitive or confidential information such as account password by email or over the phone;
- making sure you only make online payments using a secure payment platform;
- never entering the PIN of your debit or credit card directly into a website;
- never storing any of your personal data on your mobile device;
- contacting your bank immediately if you receive any suspicious requests
If you feel that you have been a victim of banking fraud in Belgium, or if any bank cards become lost or stolen, you should take the following measures:
- contact your bank immediately;
- report the problem to the police, who will issue you a certificate for your bank and insurance company;
- cancel your bank card by calling Belgium’s 24-hour emergency Card Stop service on +32 70 344 344
See here for a full list of emergency numbers in Belgium.
Making a complaint about banks in Belgium
If you are not happy with the service provided by your Belgian bank and want to make a complaint, you should first contact the customer service or complaints department at the bank. Details should be available on the bank’s website. If this doesn’t resolve your issue, you can refer things to either the Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) or the Ombudsman for financial services (ombudsfin).
Alternatives to using banks in Belgium
For those on low incomes or struggling to get credit with high street banks, Credal is a Belgian financing cooperative that offers credit options and financial support. Its main purpose is to offer services to organizations such as charities and workers’ cooperatives as well as those self-employed who are struggling to finance their activities through standard banks. Credal also offers personal credit to individuals on low incomes to fund purchases necessary for their daily life. More information on what is available and how to apply can be found here.
- Financial Services and Markets Authority – the regulator for banking services in Belgium