As an expat, you need to organise certain registrations and insurances upon moving to Belgium. We explain what to prepare to ease the stress of the move.
When moving abroad, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the numerous priorities that demand attention and time. If you are moving to Belgium, there are certain registrations and insurances that are mandatory for foreigners planning to live there long-term. This includes certain aspects that need to be arranged from your first week of arrival.
As an experienced expat with more than 12 years abroad, Salvatore Orlando, the head of expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis, understands the strain associated with settling into a foreign environment. “I have had to set up in several countries, and it’s never easy,” he says.
Below he shares the key processes an expat needs to arrange when moving to Belgium – plus insight on what can be prepared in advance to make your first steps in Belgium less chaotic.
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Step 1. Register at your local town hall
Within eight days of arriving, any third-national foreigner who plans to live in Belgium longer than three months must register with their local town hall (maison communale/gemeentehuis). This starts the process for receiving your residency permit.
Citizens from the European Economic Area (EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and Switzerland (and their family members) do not require a Belgian visa or permit; however, they still need to register with their local town hall after arriving in Belgium.
The registration procedure is relatively similar across Belgium, although communes may have slight differences in the implementation of this procedure. Some town halls are also more used to dealing with foreigners and may offer foreign languages and quicker processing times. Others, however, deal mostly with locals and can take longer.
You will need to show a number of documents when you register:
- Passport or ID card;
- A rental/housing contract;
- Passport-sized photos, between two and four depending on the paperwork;
- Proof of health insurance;
- Proof you can support yourself in Belgium (for example, a work/traineeship contract, pension allowance or sufficient savings).
Once the town hall has all your documents, there will be a residence check by the police, usually two weeks after your visit to the commune. “Don’t forget your name on the bell,” advises Salvatore.
Once this residence inquiry is positively confirmed, you will get a Belgian national number and be registered in the population and foreigners register. You will also receive your residence permit; the best option is to get an electronic format, which has a chip. The e-card costs about €25 and is valid for five years, after which you can renew it.
A tricky aspect of the registration is that you typically need to show proof of health insurance. To apply for Belgian health insurance, however, you need to show proof of residency. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out both of these processes parallel, and report to one or the other that your request is in progress. But if you are an EU citizen, you can show proof of your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Step 2. Register for social security
After moving to Belgium, all residents pay contributions towards their social security and healthcare. In order to do this, you must register for social security. If you work in Belgium, your employer normally does this for you. If you are self-employed, you will need to register yourself which you can do by contacting the National Social Security Office. Both employers and employees make monthly contributions towards social security. You can use these funds to pay various social benefits, including:
- unemployment benefits;
- sickness benefits;
- incapacity or disability benefits;
- family allowances;
You should register for social security, or make sure that your employer has registered you, as soon as you arrive in Belgium. This is because you will need to be registered in order to sign up for health insurance (see Step 3). See this guide to social security in Belgium for more information.
Step 3. Sign up with a Belgian healthcare insurer
After moving to Belgium, you must register with a state insurance scheme (known as mutuelle/ziekenfonds). This enables you to access state Belgian healthcare. The registration is critical if you want to claim reimbursements on medical expenses while living in Belgium.
The whole process can take between three and six months. If you’re an EU citizen, it’s useful to request your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you leave your home country. This card covers you for a certain period and can act as a useful bridge until you can register for Belgian healthcare.
Before joining a mutuelle/ziekenfonds, you will need to present your proof of registration at the town hall where you live in Belgium. Therefore, this needs to be arranged first. The catch-22 situation, of course, is that you must present proof of health insurance to be registered at the Belgian town hall; but you must present proof of registration at the town hall before you can get health insurance. However, your health insurer won’t request that you show your e-resident card immediately, so you can at least start the procedure.
You are free to register with any mutuelle, so check if any have specialized services, for example, English-language information. Your mutuelle will also typically provide supplementary insurances, but it’s important to know that there is a six-month period before you qualify for a reimbursement. If you have an emergency, such as health or dental, you will need to pay upfront unless you have alternative health insurance.
Both you and your employer must make contributions to the Belgian social security to be eligible for Belgian healthcare. See this guide to health insurance in Belgium for more detailed information.
Step 4: Accommodation – rental guarantee, inventory, setting up utilities, and telecommunications
One of the most important steps when moving to Belgium is arranging a roof over your head. Usually, it’s easier for newcomers to rent in Belgium; although foreigners have no restrictions buying Belgian property. It is typically easier to learn the market before making a big investment. Before you can finalize a rental contract, however, you will need to arrange a rental guarantee and an inventory of fixtures.
It is common to pay up to two months as a rental guarantee, however, the process is slightly different in Belgium. Rather than paying cash to the landlord, the deposit is placed in a savings account, opened under the names of both you and your landlord. You consequently need both signatures in order to withdraw any money, so nobody can withdraw anything alone. This gives tenants more security that their deposit will be returned at the end of the tenancy agreement, provided everything is in order at home.
Another advantage of the deposit guarantee system is that you can also receive a small interest on the capital amount, which is tax-exempt.
“Being prepared is the key. You can open a Belgian bank account before you arrive and have your rental guarantee prepared in advance. It will be quicker to get a roof over your head,” Salvatore says.
Inventory of fixtures and fittings
By law, an inventory must be done by two parties and the inventory is cause of much concern when renting in Belgium. Make sure the inventory is done properly and thoroughly, as this can save aggravation in the long run and protect you against having to pay out for any damages that pre-date your tenancy.
“It’s important to do it properly and take it seriously. Belgian landlords are quite fussy and you might find yourself having to pay for a pre-existing dent in the wall you never noticed,” Salvatore advises.
Setting up utilities and telecommunications
If you rent furnished accommodation when moving to Belgium, the chances are that gas, electric, and water are already running. All you must do is contact the providers and transfer everything to your name. However, many rental properties in Belgium are unfurnished. You might need to reconnect these utilities. This can sometimes take a few days; make inquiries ahead of your move date. The energy market in Belgium is open to competition and there are many private providers available. Water supply is controlled at the regional level. Shop around for deals when choosing a new supplier. If you’re taking over an existing supply, get meter readings done when you first move in.
You must follow a similar process with phone, internet, and TV. If these are already running, contact the providers to transfer everything to your name. If you need to install a landline, you’ll need to register with Belgacom, Belgium’s national telecom provider. Once you install the line, you can sign up for telephone and internet services from any company.
Once everything is set up, the easiest way to deal with payments of all household bills is to set up direct debits or standing orders. This ensures everything is paid on time. For this, you will need to set everything up using your Belgian bank account.
See our guide to connecting utilities, telephone, internet, and TV for more information on setting this up.
Step 5. Open a bank account in Belgium
When moving to Belgium, it is important to have a Belgian bank account for receiving salary and paying small daily costs. This is also necessary to set up things such as the rental guarantee and insurance for your housing. “It’s really one of the first things you have to do when you arrive,” Salvatore explains. “Plus it’s important to have at least one personal contact at your new bank when you first move abroad; someone to whom you can ask questions, who is going to be there to help you, and act as a personal adviser – maybe even in your mother tongue,” he says.
“Besides, Belgium is statistically one of the cheapest countries in the EU for banking services and to open an account.”
To open a bank account you will need to show your ID or passport plus an official proof of address. Interestingly, your official address doesn’t have to be Belgium, it can be from your home country or the last country you lived. This can be an important piece of paper to have with you when sorting things like electricity, gas, phone bill, driving license, or your HR working document.
Expats usually have two options when opening an account. The first is to open an online bank account, even before they arrive, where they will receive one debit card and have access to a range of online services.
“It’s a great system, but keep in mind that if you want something extra like a credit card or transactions at the branch of the bank, you can be charged every time for these additional services,” Salvatore says.
The second option is a current bank account, which includes a monthly fixed fee for the services you need, including in-branch help, online banking, and several cards such as debit and credit cards. Most Belgian banks also offer savings accounts which both residents and non-residents can access.
See this guide to opening a bank account in Belgium for further information.
Step 6. Taking out the necessary insurances
Besides health insurance and social insurance, there are a number of other insurances that you might want to consider when moving to Belgium. Not many forms of insurance in Belgium are compulsory. Beyond insurance for healthcare and unemployment, only car insurance is a legal requirement for those that drive. However, there are other insurances that expats commonly take out, depending on their situation. These include home insurance to protect property and belongings. If you are renting, you will typically only need to think about covering your own personal contents; the landlord’s insurance should cover the building itself. The other is personal liability insurance, which covers you in the event of accidents or injuries caused to third parties. This includes things like someone tripping on a loose slab in your home or being bitten by a family pet.
See this guide to insurances in Belgium for more details.
Step 7. Sorting out your tax status
All Belgian residents need to pay tax on their income on an annual basis. Registering for tax in Belgium is done through registering at your local town hall (see Step 1). However, if you are a foreign resident in Belgium, you might be eligible for non-resident tax status; this is only if you meet certain conditions. This may entitle you to certain tax allowances; for example, you only have to pay tax on professional income earned within Belgium. To claim non-resident status, your employment must be temporary and meet specific criteria. See this guide on registering for non-resident tax status in Belgium for full details.
Step 8. Getting a Belgian driving license
Whether or not you need a Belgian driving license depends on where you come from. Residents of EU/EEA countries can use the licenses from their home countries after moving to Belgium. However, non-EU/EEA nationals will need to exchange their license for a Belgian driving license within six months of relocating. Information on exchanging a driving license in Belgium can be found at your local town hall. See this guide to exchanging a foreign driving license in Belgium for more detailed information.
“It’s important to use the time before moving to Belgium to prepare all of these things,” Salvatore says. In his opinion, this is key to giving you less to organize in your first week and settling quicker into the more exciting aspects of living in Belgium.
As an expat himself – and having lived in six different countries before settling in Belgium – Salvatore Orlando is best placed to understand the banking needs of other expats. After graduating with an MBA, he developed a strong experience on expat financial services and is now Head of Expatriate Retail & Private Banking with BNP Paribas Fortis.Explore insurance options as an expat