Opening a bank account in your new country may feel daunting, but here is a handy guide to help you navigate through all the procedures, options and offers especially designed for expats.
Choosing a bank in Belgium
Shortly after your arrival in Belgium, you may be able to work with your bank account from home. If you come from another European country, you may even be able to continue using that account during your entire stay.
Still, a local bank account is handy for receiving income, paying in shops, and setting up payments for utilities. Many of these features are readily available with online banking.
If you find an expat section on the Belgian bank’s website, that’s a sign that at least they have thought of you. Some even have a fully-functional English version of their website; that way, the language barrier never comes in the way of your needs.
Usual bank fees
Bank account management fees differ bank per bank. Online bank accounts typically come without a yearly account management fee. Other bank accounts have extra features, like multi-currency options. Some of those bank accounts are free for a certain period of time. Alternatively, you might receive a cashback when you direct-deposit your salary on the account.
Domestic money transfers are typically free of charge in Belgium, as well as within the EU. A foreign receiving bank may apply a fee.
Foreign currency (non-euro) transfers, or transfers outside the EU, come with transfer costs or foreign exchange costs, sometimes both. These costs differ from bank to bank. Banks list these in their charges and conditions.
Easy local and international payment options
Most bank accounts come with debit cards in Belgium. Belgian debit cards typically have the international Maestro function. The latter only applies to geographical Europe unless you whitelist extra countries. The whitelisting is usually possible online. Maestro debit cards are also more and more accepted in online shops. However, applying for a credit card (Visa and MasterCard are the most common) broadens your payment options internationally and online.
Online banking is well developed in Belgium and available on desktops, tablets or smartphones. Security varies from bank to bank, but a card reader or digipass is still common with online banking. Most banks have fully-functional apps for tablets and smartphones which include extra practical features such as QR codes. Near Field Communication (NFC), fingerprint identification, six dots, and many more security methods are commonly used to log on or to perform transactions.
Financial but also insurance institutions
Most banks in Belgium offer all banking services, but they also offer home, car, life, and travel insurance. It can be very practical to use one institution for all of these services; fees tend to become competitive when bundled. Of course, nothing prevents you from having a bank for financial services, an insurance broker for your insurance portfolio, and even another bank for your financial investments.
The special case of US citizens
Financial transparency is constantly growing internationally. US citizens will not be able to be served by some banks in Belgium because of the FATCA regulation. The banks that serve US citizens need a W9 or W8BEN form, plus the Tax Identification Number (TIN). No bank offers financial investments to US persons, as only specialized financial advisors are equipped to do so.
Non-US persons will still have to fill out a CRS form and provide their TIN too.
Extras and bonuses
Some banks have developed specific communication for their expat customers. They’ll organize information seminars on a variety of important subjects such as real estate, pensions, or tax-compliant financial investments. These are most helpful to help you realize your projects in Belgium, accompanied by the financial services and insurance that fit your needs.
What if you leave Belgium again?
After you leave, some banks allow you to keep your bank account, bank cards, and other products. Check with your banking institution which services you can keep and which not. Establish a new means of communication with the bank after your departure. Don’t forget to close your account when you no longer need it.