Find out how to open a bank account in Belgium, including from abroad as a non-resident. Our handy Belgium banking guide covers the best banks in Belgium, the required documents, the fees, the taxes on savings, and international money transfers.
The banking system in Belgium is modern, sophisticated and digitised, 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.
In addition, online banking and smartphone apps are now the norm, meaning it’s easier than ever to monitor your accounts and transfer money.
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.
BNP Paribas Fortis
BNP Paribas Fortis offers a comprehensive network of specialised branches for expats, with extended opening hours. Their specialist multilingual advisers are happy to answer all your questions whenever it suits you best.
Bank account opening 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 branch at all. This makes it much easier to open a 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. It also comes in quite handy when a rental agency asks for your banking information before giving you a lease.
Check out our quick video guide on how to open a bank account in Belgium:
Banks in Belgium typically provide checking and savings accounts, although larger banks and some specialised institutions 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 around 100 banks currently operating in Belgium, including many foreign banks . Indeed, Belgium has among the highest bank branches per capita in Europe. This could be set to change, however, as banks streamline physical branches due to the popularity of electronic banking. For example, AXA announced in 2017 its plans to close more than 200 of its 630 Belgian branches.
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, so shop around. As part of the streamlining of physical banks, some specialist services in bank branches are now only available by appointment.
Opening hours for banks are typically 9:00 to 16:00, and extended to 19:00 on appointment. Some bank branches will close for a period over lunchtime before reopening in the afternoon. 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:
- Belfius Bank (French and Dutch)
- BNP Paribas Fortis (French, Dutch, German and English)
- ING (French, Dutch and English)
- KBC Groep (French, Dutch, German and English)
With online bank bunq you can open all your Belgian bank accounts in just five minutes using nothing more than your mobile phone. You get real-time access to your account, instant payments, and dedicated customer support available in English, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish.
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 languages. 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, and if you lose copies of statements, you can fill out an online form to have them re-printed and posted to you.
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 simply 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.
To open an account before you reach Belgium, apply online with your bank of choice and then when you arrive, you’ll need to visit a branch with proof of identity (for example a passport or ID card) and proof of legal address (in your home country or Belgium). Some banks will also require you to provide proof of residence once your permit has been issued.
Documents for opening a bank account
- Passport or an ID Card
- Proof of legal address
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.
Specialist accounts for self-employed people usually include features such as the ability to have multiple account holders and make transactions in a range of currencies.
Bank charges and fees in Belgium
The costs for current accounts in Belgium vary between banks, and depend on the package you choose. Banks will generally offer free basic accounts and paid-for accounts which can include extra features such as the ability to bank in other currencies, or extra bonuses such as cashback on purchases.
Some banks will charge a fee of a €5-6 a month for premium accounts, while others operate with annual fees instead. As a new customer, you might be able to get an introductory fee-free deal for the first year.
Many banks also provide discounts to younger customers. For example, parents are able to open accounts for their children for free and some banks offer incentives to encourage them to do so. Adult customers can also get free accounts from some providers up to the age of 28, as banks look to attract long-term account holders.
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% in 2017. Regulated savings account interest, however, is taxed at 15% withholding tax, which is exempt if the amount is not higher than €960 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 have come together to allow customers to use Zoomit, 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 overdue 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 €50 a year 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.
Transferring money abroad
Moving money from your account in Belgium to a foreign account may result in a fee from both banks.
The Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA) initiative of the European Union 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 €100,000 within the eurozone in the event a bank fails.
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