A large number of 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 in Belgium add to the country’s highly productive workforce and help drive this modern, private-enterprise economy. Apart from Brussels, expats 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. Indeed, the service sector composes almost 77% of the GDP, compared to only 22% from industry and a mere 0.74% from agriculture. It is therefore understandable that most people are employed in the service sector.
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 nations 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.
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. 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:
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