Belgium is an attractive destination for expatriates looking to relocate within the European Union, not least due to its position as the de facto capital of the EU and home to many European institutions.
This small, peaceful country offers excellent professional and educational opportunities, with charming Belgian cities and towns, historic architecture, a well-developed infrastructure and transport network, and the cuisine and culture that many expats prioritise.
As a unique location with three official languages, regions such as Gent, Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp have multicultural communities, with around 1.5 million international residents and roughly 30,000 UK citizens.
Let’s look at the practicalities of moving to Belgium, from selecting the most relevant visa category and structuring your finances to finding a home to settle into your new life overseas.
Visa Routes for British Citizens Moving to Belgium
There is little doubt that the Belgian government’s immigration rules are strict, owing to the demand for visas from non-EU citizens worldwide. However, the Belgian population has among the largest proportion of foreign nationals of any country internationally.
Belgium offers several potential visa categories depending on the purpose of your move, whether you intend to work or launch a business, and where you are relocating from. The D Visa is the most relevant visa for those outside the EU looking to live long-term in Belgium.
This long-stay visa permits holders to live in the country for three to six months, enabling expats to apply for a residence permit. The exact visa requirements will vary based on your circumstances, but may include:
- Attending a meeting at the nearest Belgian embassy or consulate to discuss your application.
- Providing evidence of a valid passport and your civil status – such as marriage and birth certificates.
- Showing proof of comprehensive private health insurance alongside a medical certificate from the NHS.
British expats moving to Belgium to retire will be expected to provide evidence of sufficient financial means to support their lifestyle and ongoing living costs.
Finding Accommodation and Deciding Where to Live
Belgium offers the convenience of being a short distance from the UK – the average flight time between London and Brussels is just over one hour. It is common for expats to have previously visited the country and explored the cities and regions to decide where they would like to live.
You may choose to rent a property when first arriving in Belgium to have the opportunity to decide on the right location to purchase a home or may need to live in a specific area within a reasonable commute of a workplace.
Property prices naturally vary depending on whether you are buying a modern, spacious townhouse or apartment in the heart of the Brussels region or wish to purchase a traditional terraced house in the suburbs.
Homes within the centre of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, command a premium, and properties near the EU institutions in Antwerp are also more expensive than elsewhere.
As an indication, comparable costs are as follows:
|Price Per Square Metre to Purchase a City Centre Property
|Price Per Square Metre to Purchase a Property Further Out
On average, rental prices in Belgium are 36.3% lower than in the UK, while consumer prices and rent are collectively 11.5% more affordable in Belgium.
Searching for Employment and School Placements
English is widely spoken throughout Belgium, and there are several highly regarded international schools for families to choose between – although most are within Brussels, the capital city.
Like most other countries, foreign nationals moving to Belgium can enrol in local educational institutions once they have secured a long-stay visa or permanent residency. Many expats tend to opt for an English-speaking school initially unless their children are already bilingual.
Annual fees for an international primary school placement are an average of €16,730 (£14,433), and a preschool place costs roughly €541 (£467) per child per month.
If you wish to move to Belgium for employment reasons, you need an appropriate work permit. Should you intend to run or launch your own business, you must present your plans to the Belgian immigration authorities before relocating. You will normally require either a self-employed or business visa.
Belgium offers myriad job opportunities with many global companies, an unemployment rate well below the average across the EU member states, and buoyant manufacturing, tourism, legal, financial and service sectors.
The norm is to complete your job search in advance, ensuring you have permission to work in Belgium alongside the relevant long-stay visa or residence card.
Belgian Work Permit Categories
There are several types of work permits you may need to apply for:
- The A-category work permit applies to any paid occupation and is valid indefinitely. To be eligible, you must have lived in Belgium for at least ten years and have four years of work experience on a B-category work permit.
- B-category work permits are issued to expats working for and sponsored by a named employer and apply to areas of work where there is a shortage of qualified applicants already within Belgium.
- C-category work permits are offered to foreign national expats moving to Belgium temporarily and those with family members associated with the Belgian government or consulate.
It is important to apply for the right work permit category if you intend to work since this may influence the duration of your stay and the type of Belgian visa you qualify for.
Organising Finances, Taxation and Income Streams
Moving to any EU country requires careful planning, ensuring you know how your finances, income and tax obligations will change. The first step is often to calculate the costs of the move itself and the budget required to purchase or rent a home, but it is also essential to understand how your ongoing expenditures may change.
Belgian taxes are amongst the highest in the European Economic Area (EEA), making tax planning even more crucial. Most residents are subject to Belgian taxation against their worldwide income, irrespective of their home country or nationality.
However, if you live in Belgium as a non-resident, you only pay local taxes on your earnings from within the country.
While Belgium has a double tax treaty with the UK, evaluating your tax residency position remains important with a tax system that levies up to 50% taxation on incomes of €46,440 (£40,080) and above.
Expert Financial Guidance for Expats Moving to Belgium From the UK
For any further information about planning your move to Belgium from the UK, the costs of your relocation and how best to manage your ongoing finances, please get in touch with the Chase Buchanan Wealth Management Belgium office at your convenience.
*Information correct as at January 2024