Find out when you can apply for Belgian citizenship, and the conditions and processes for applying.
Once you live in Belgium for five years, you may be eligible for Belgian citizenship. 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 EU. However, no changes will be made to the freedom of movement of British citizens to Belgium until the UK’s exit is negotiated. This will take a minimum of two years after the UK invokes 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 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 lived elsewhere in the EU, this can count towards your five-year period.
An uninterrupted period is residing legally and continuously for the five years preceding your application. During this, you cannot have left 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, meaning the combination of all your trips abroad cannot exceed one year.
After five to 10 years, both EU and non-EU residents in Belgium can apply for Belgian nationality. However, you must meet a strict set of conditions.
Permanent residence or Belgian citizenship?
Permanent residence (residency card types B, C, D E+ and F+ explained below) allows you to stay in Belgium indefinitely. This stay is 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. 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.
In recent years, however, the citizenship requirements have become stricter with increasing integration and language conditions. As a result, 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 typically qualify for 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. This 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 can return to Belgium and you keep your residency rights.
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 registration, you can access certain types of social welfare assistance that don’t 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 €793 (plus €264 per dependent), you must have health insurance, and you cannot be a public security risk. Holders of the residence card type D are registered in the civil registry.
Holders of the D permit can 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 can leave the EU for 12 consecutive months without losing their residency right.
If you hold a Belgian Blue card, you are also eligible for long-term residence after five years of uninterrupted stay in Belgium and be able to obtain the D card. However, if you lived in other EU member states with 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 recognized in other EU member states. Being an EU long-term resident allows you to start a residency procedure in another EU member state without obtaining 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. This list only covers 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.
If you’re a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen, you must always file a specific application for permanent residency at your local municipal office. Your application goes to the Federal Immigration Office for review. If your application is successful, then you’ll receive a 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 has 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 fulfill 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 four months to obtain a decision on your file. However, some report 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 gaining citizenship, see Belgian non-profit Objectif (in French or Dutch), which has current information on procedures. The Belgian Ministry of Foreign affairs also provides some details on naturalization. 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.