Find out when you can apply for Belgian citizenship or long-term residence in Belgium, and the conditions and processes for applying.
Once you have resided in Belgium for five years and if you plan to live in Belgium long term, you may be eligible to apply for either Belgian citizenship or permanent residency. Different conditions apply to qualify for either permanent residency or Belgian citizenship, although both types of permits offer similar benefits. Find out whether you are eligible to get Belgian citizenship or Belgian permanent residency.
This guide answers some important questions:
- Who can get Belgian citizenship or permanent residence?
- What is the difference between Belgian citizenship and permanent resident?
- Which type of Belgian permanent residence?
- What do you need to apply for permanent residence?
- How to apply for Belgian citizenship
- Can you have dual nationality?
- Information and help for Belgian citizenship and permanent residence
Brexit: is now the time to apply for Belgian citizenship?
As Belgium allows dual citizenship, British citizens who qualify might consider applying for Belgian citizenship to maintain access to living in the Eureopean Union (EU). However, no changes will be made to the freedom of movement of British citizens to Belgium until the UK’s exit is negiotiated, estimated to take a minimum of two years after the UK evokes ‘Article 50‘ to begins the proceedings.
Who can get Belgian citizenship or permanent residence?
After five years of uninterrupted living in Belgium, citizens from the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA – EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland acquire permanent residence automatically. Non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens are also eligible after five years but must submit an application with their local municipality for permanent residence. If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU, this can count towards your five-year period.
An ‘uninterrupted’ period is defined as that you have resided legally and continuously in Belgium during the five years preceding your application, without having left the Belgian territory for a continuous period of more than six months. In addition, you cannot have been absent from Belgium more than one year in total, meanng the combination of all your trips abroad cannot exceed one year in the five-year period.
After five to 10 years, both EU and non-EU residents in Belgium can apply for Belgian nationality, although a strict set of conditions must be met.
Permanent residence or Belgian citizenship?
In general, permanent residence (residency card types B, C, D E+ and F+ explained below) allows you to stay in Belgium indefinitely, working or otherwise, under similar conditions and enjoying similar rights and benefits as Belgian nationals.
- open access to employment, conditions of employment and working conditions;
- right to education, recognition of qualifications, grants;
- welfare benefits;
- social assistance;
- freedom of association and union membership.
Citizenship gives you all the above but you can also leave Belgium for periods of time without losing your status, while with permanent residence, if you leave for longer than one/two years, you lose your status. Plus, Belgian citizenship can help you get the sense of belonging to a nation and a community.
Both citizens and permanent residents have the right to vote in different types of elections, as well as those who swear allegiance to the Belgian constitution.
In recent years, however, the citizenship requirements have become stricter with increasing integration and language conditions, therefore fewer people are actually managing to become Belgian citizens.
Which types of Belgian permanent residency exist?
If you have resided in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of five years, you will typically qualify for Belgian permanent residency. There are several types of permanent residency under Belgian immigration legislation, depending on your situation and nationality.
Only EU/EEA/Swiss nationals and family members can obtain the E+ and F+ cards. The B, C and D cards only apply to third country (non-EU) nationals.
Find out which type of permanent residency applies to you:
The right to unlimited stay: Electronic residence card type B
Any third-country national (non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizens) who has resided legally and continuously in Belgium for five years on the basis of employment is entitled to an electronic residence card type B. Holders of this residence card type are registered in the foreigner’s registry.
Family members of Belgian and EU nationals are also eligible for this type of permanent residence after five years of legal and continuous residency in Belgium, which also entitles them to unlimited stay in Belgium.
The B permit allows you to be absent from the Belgian territory for a period of one continuous year. As long as you do not exceed the one-year period outside of Belgium, you are entitled to return to Belgium and you keep your residency right.
The right to establishment: Electronic residence card type C
Once you have secured a residence card type B, you can subsequently apply for the right to establishment. Individuals who hold a residence card type C are registered in the civil registry rather than the foreigner’s registry.
The difference between the B and C permits is that after you are registered in the civil registry as a C-permit holder, you are entitled to certain types of social welfare assistance that do not apply to others.
EU long-term residency status: Electronic residence card type D
If you resided legally and continuously in Belgium for five years, you can apply for the EU long-term residency status. To qualify, you must have a monthly minimum income of EUR 793 (plus EUR 264 per dependent), you must be covered by health insurance and you cannot be a risk to public security. Holders of the residence card type D are registered in the civil registry.
Holders of the D permit are allowed to leave the Belgian territory for a maximum period of six continuous years if they remain in the EU during that period. In addition, the D permit-holder is allowed to leave the EU for 12 consecutive months without losing their residency right.
If you hold a Belgian Blue card, you will also be eligible for long-term residence after five years of uninterrupted stay in Belgium and be able to obtain the D card as above. However, if you have lived in other EU member states on the basis of a Blue Card, these years can also be taken into account for the calculation of the five-year period, as long as you spent the two years preceding the application in Belgium.
The main difference between the D permit and the B and C permits is that the D-card is recognised in other EU members states. Being classed as an ‘EU long-term resident’ allows you to initiate a residency procedure in another EU member state without needing to obtain a visa first.
Right to durable stay for EU nationals: Electronic residency card type E+
After five years of uninterrupted living in Belgium, EU/EEA/Swiss nationals acquire this type of permanent residency automatically. Holders of the residence card type E+ are registered in the civil registry.
Right to durable stay for family members of EU nationals: Electronic residency card type F+
After five years’ uninterrupted living in Belgium, family members of EU nationals acquire this type of permanent residency automatically. Holders of the residence card type F+ are registered in the civil registry.
Please note that these types of permanent residency are also available to other categories of foreign nationals than those listed here. This list is limited to the most common types.
How to apply for permanent residency in Belgium
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens and family members
EU/EEA and Swiss citizens acquire permanent residence automatically after five years of uninterrupted stay in Belgium. However, if you want to obtain the electronic version of your residence card (E+ card), then you have to go to your local municipal office (find your local commune in Belgium); the card is valid for five years and is renewable. Family members from non-EU/EEA or Switzerland can get an F+ card, also valid for five years and renewable.
Non EU/EEA/Swiss citizens
If you’re a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen, you must always file a specific application for permanent residency at your local municipal office (find your local commune in Belgium). Your application will be sent to the Federal Immigration Office for review. If your application is successful then you’ll be given the relevant residence card. These permits are valid for five years and are renewable.
Applying for Belgian citizenship
The standard procedure for acquiring Belgian nationality is via a ‘nationality declaration’, although a number of options exist. The declaration is based on one of the grounds prescribed in the legislation, such as marriage to a Belgian national, legal residence, or parent of a child born in Belgium. Each of these grounds is linked to a strict set of eligibility criteria.
These conditions include, among others, legal residence of between five and 10 years in Belgium. For example, to acquire citizenship through residence you must have been living in Belgium for five years, be able to prove that you speak one of the three main languages and that you are socially and economically integrated – such as by taking an integration course or having worked in Belgium for the past five years. Even if you want to acquire citizenship through marriage to a Belgian national, you must have been living together for three years, still fulfil the five-year residence requirement and also have knowledge of one of the three main languages.
To start the process, you should file your application at the Belgian town hall of your place of residence; your Belgian municipality will inform you on what documents you need for your individual situation. After submission, it takes in principle four months to obtain a decision on your file, although some foreigners have reported longer waiting times. See here for a list of addresses and contact details.
When preparing your paperwork, documents should be originals or certified copies, and less than six months old. They also need to be translated into the language of the municipality where you apply (either Dutch, French or German), using a sworn translator.
If you receive Belgian nationality, you can typically keep your original nationality; the Belgian authorities do not require you to renounce your citizenship from your home country. However, your country of origin may do, so you will need to check.
For detailed information on acquisition of nationality, see Belgian non-profit Objectif (in French or Dutch so use a web translator if necessary), which has up-to-date information on procedures and documentation. The Belgian Ministry of Foreign affairs also provides some details on naturalisation. You can contact Expatica’s Ask the Expert free service, Objectif or the Belgian Foreign Ministry to ask questions. For information on Belgium’s electronic identity cards, see eID.