Belgium at a Glance
Working in Belgium
Most expats working in Belgium are directly or indirectly employed by EU institutions or NATO. Together with its numerous affiliates and sub-organizations, NATO accounts for nearly 4,000 international military and civilian staff in Belgium. In fact, the SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) community near Mons is a nearly self-sufficient village with residential areas, shops, schools, sports facilities, a library, and a cinema.
Thanks to its international character, Belgium has also become a preferred location for international business. Expats employed in Belgium add to the country’s highly productive workforce and help drive this modern, private-enterprise economy. Apart from Brussels, expats who find a job in Belgium often settle in Antwerp, the world’s most important diamond trading center.
Like so much else in Belgium, the economy is also of a dual nature: People working in Belgium’s Flemish regions profit from a diversified industrial and commercial economic base; on the other hand, the Walloon economy in the French-speaking region is somewhat less dynamic.
The service sector is the main economic driver in all parts of the country, both with regard to GDP and employment figures. According to 2013 statistics, just under 77% of the Belgian workforce is employed in the services sector, while the industry sector accounts for slightly less than 23% of all people working in Belgium. The agricultural sector provides employment for a mere 0.8% of the workforce in Belgium.
As a country of few natural resources, Belgium relies heavily on trade. Belgium imports significant amounts of raw materials and exports large volumes of manufactured goods which leaves it vulnerable to global market fluctuations, although three-quarters of its trade is with other EU lands so exposure to currency fluctuations is limited. Far likelier are problems stemming from the international banking and financial services sector. In 2008, several Belgian Banks required government assistance and one was partly nationalized.
Work Permits for Belgium
EU nationals do not require a permit in order to start working in Belgium, but all third-state nationals should be aware of this additional obstacle before they can start their new job in Belgium. However, the responsibility of obtaining a work permit for a foreign employee usually falls on the employer rather than on the employee. The following types of permits are available for people who want to start working in Belgium:
- A Permit: This one is an exception, as it is only aimed at foreigners who are already working in Belgium on a B Permit (see below). It is exclusively granted to people who have been employed in Belgium for a minimum of 4 out of 10 years. The advantage of an A Permit over a B Permit is that holders of the former are no longer tied to a specific job and are permitted to change employers.
- B Permit: This is the permit your prospective employer needs to obtain on your behalf before you can start your new job in Belgium. It is valid for one year and commits you to the job for which it was originally granted. The challenge for the employer lies in proving that the vacancy cannot be filled by any current citizens or permanent residents of Belgium.
- C Permit: People with a limited-duration residency status, e.g. students or refugees, can apply for this permit if they want to take up temporary work. C Permits are not tied to a specific job or employer.