Belgium at a Glance
Living in Belgium
- Belgium does not have a homogenous national identity, as the country is divided between the Dutch and French language and culture.
- Education is compulsory between six and 18. The education system is decentralized, making the enrollment process diverse and competitive. There is a big offering of international schools.
- The Belgian healthcare system covers up to 75% of medical expenses and there is no need to see a general practitioner in the first instance.
- There are multiple ways to find housing; among the most popular are newspapers, newsletters, and expatriate organizations.
Why are so many expats living in Belgium? The answer to that question is relatively simple. Most foreigners are based in Brussels, which is not only one of the EU “capitals”, but also hosts the NATO headquarters. Almost 15% of all 11.2 million of Belgium’s current inhabitants were not born there — about 12.5% of the people living in Belgium are foreigners! International diplomats, politicians, and civil servants working for one of the many intergovernmental organizations in Brussels make up a significant share of these foreign residents.
High Population Density and Air Pollution
Belgium is a highly urbanized country: an estimated 97% of all people in Belgium reside in towns or cities. With over 370 people per km², the whole country has a very high population density.
In some respects, the Belgian government has failed to adequately respond to the challenge presented by such figures, leaving Belgium’s residents to suffer from the environmental impacts. In the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, the country was ranked 41st, which puts it between Cyprus and Costa Rica and far behind other European countries.
In general though, foreigners don’t face any adverse circumstances. The country’s poor environmental record rarely has an immediate effect upon everyday life. There are no extreme weather conditions: Belgium enjoys a temperate climate with mild winters and cool summers. Rain, humidity, and clouds are featured rather prominently in the daily weather forecast.
A Culture without Compromise
When it comes to Belgian culture, it is safe to claim that the country does not have a homogenous national identity. To be sure, generally speaking the culture refers to all the aspects that are shared by all the Belgians regardless of their spoken language. However, each area has its own characteristics and the culture seems to be closely related to the language spoken there.
For instance, the Flemish-speaking community is closer to the English-speaking culture and the Dutch one, whereas French speakers seem to draw more from the French customs and their way of living. For this reason many Belgians perceive themselves above all as Europeans and feel very close to the European culture. This might be partially also influenced by the presence of European institutions in the capital.
This fragmented culture influences the Belgian political system as well; as a foreigner you might be surprised by its complexity, but you should know that even locals struggle to understand it. In short, there are three decision-making authorities: the federal government, the three language communities (Flemish, French, and German), and the three regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital). Each region has its own government and its own responsibilities. This very friction between Flanders and Wallonia, or between the French- and the Flemish-speaking groups, forms the basis of the current political divisions, as each group wants more decision-making power. At the heart of the issue there is the reluctance to reach a compromise.
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