Belgium is a popular European destination for expats from around the world, with excellent living standards, low crime rates, good infrastructure and a rich history, architecture, and cuisine.
However, moving to any overseas country carries practicalities. It is important to understand some of the essential aspects, such as how average salaries, living costs, and taxes compare with your home country.
Here we summarise some key information you should be aware of when considering relocating to living in Belgium, or selecting the most suitable route to EU residency.
Relocating to Belgium
One of the first considerations is where you might live, with three autonomous regions, each with a distinct culture. Expats moving to Belgium to pursue career opportunities often live in Flanders, in north Belgium or Brussels.
People in Flanders speak Dutch or Flemish, and around 58% of the total 10 million Belgian population lives here. Brussels is a bilingual and diverse city with a broad metropolitan area and, of course, the location of the European Union administrative headquarters.
The capital city is the country’s economic centre, attracting a large influx of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and skilled professionals. However, Flanders is the main industrial region and the location of most Belgian manufacturers and production plants.
There are thriving expat communities throughout Belgium, including in French-speaking Wallonia, with the below cities among the most popular:
- Antwerp is in Flanders and the second-largest city behind Brussels. It has a huge port and a vibrant tourism sector and is known for fashion and modern trends, attracting young professionals, artists, and students.
- Bruges is a historic city known as the Venice of the North, with winding canals and numerous cultural attractions – the centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Liege, in Wallonia, is a small but economically important city, with lower living costs and festivals throughout the year, alongside a busy nightlife scene.
Living in Belgium, it is always worth spending time there, checking commuting journeys, and assessing whether housing costs and job availability align with your expectations.
Average Living Costs in Belgium
Belgium is not regarded as a cheap place to live but is an economically wealthy country that offers high living standards. The OECD Better Life Index reports that Belgium scores highly on low pollution levels, water quality, voter participation, education, and skills.
The currency is the Euro, and average living costs are as below, in comparison with the UK:
- Property rental prices are 27.4% more affordable.
- Groceries in Belgium cost 12.9% more.
- Restaurant prices are around 1.3% higher.
- General consumer prices, excluding rent, are 5.6% more expensive.
The average salary in Belgium is €3,832 per month (£3,376), which compares favourably to the UK average of £2,750 per month, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, as in most countries, higher managerial and professional positions tend to command higher than average pay rates.
One of the areas where Belgium is more affordable is housing, depending on where you may wish to purchase a property.
In 2022, the average property sale price in the Brussels region was €483,970 (£426,570). However, in Flanders, the average cost was €314,360 (£277,076) compared to €208,333 (£183,624) in Wallonia.
Expats moving from overseas countries with higher average property prices may find they can afford a larger home or live in a prime area with a lower budget than they might expect. Rental prices are also considerably lower than in the UK, although exclusive locations in central Brussels will naturally attract a premium.
Paying Taxes in Belgium
The Belgian tax system levies some of the highest tax deductions in Europe, with income tax brackets reaching up to 50% for the highest income earners, far above the 38% average top bracket across the EU.
Expats working in Belgium are normally liable to file tax returns and pay the relevant obligations. However, this may depend on their residency status, source of income, and whether they are living in Belgium permanently or splitting their time between another country.
Current income tax rates begin at 25% for income up to €13,870, increasing to 40% for earnings up to €24,480, 45% for wages up to €42,370 and 50% for all income above this.
Some expats may qualify for a new tax regime launched in 2022, where executives and specialists recruited from overseas receive a deduction, where 30% of their income, up to a cap of €90,000, is exempt from tax – although they must earn over €75,000 and meet other criteria.
Another complication is that while most Belgian taxes are federal, others are regional and vary between municipalities, although income tax, corporation tax and VAT are consistent nationwide. Communal taxes can range from zero to 9% of income, with an average of 7%. Non-residents living in Belgium usually pay a flat rate of 7%.
Otherwise, most tax rates are the same for residents and non-residents. Still, non-residents may be eligible for rebates or deductions if 75% or more of their worldwide professional income originates within Belgium.
Expats moving to Belgium in retirement should be cautious of the differences in inheritance tax rates between the three regions. There are rules around how an estate can be shared, with at least 50% automatically passed to children, according to new inheritance rules introduced in 2018.
Our article about Expat Advice for Pension Planning in Belgium provides further insights.
Belgian Visa Categories for Expats
Any non-EU foreign national living in Belgium for over 90 days must have an appropriate visa or permit, with a D Visa used for long-stay visits. The D Visa is the first step, and expats looking to become self-employed, or start a business, need a professional card which allows them to trade and conduct business activities.
Although several rules apply, expats moving permanently to Belgium can submit a citizenship declaration after five years of residency and may be eligible for a Belgian passport. For example, citizenship applicants must speak at least one of the three national languages, prove they have economically integrated by providing a work record or evidence of self-employment, and be able to work unless they are retired and drawing a pension.
If you would like more information about living in Belgium as a foreign national, you can download our Free Guide to Expat Taxes in Belgium, or you are welcome to contact the Chase Buchanan Brussels team to arrange a convenient time to talk.