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What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Brussels

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  • Kelly Powell

    I loved moving to Brussels. But after a while I felt homesick. On InterNations I met a bunch of people from the US. That helped a lot.

Relocating to Brussels

  • The city has a bilingual status, which is reflected in a complicated system of government and administration.
  • If you hail from an EU country you don’t need a visa to enter Belgium; for third-state nationals it is possible to apply for a so-called Schengen visa.
  • Depending on your situation there are different visas available; after having obtained one it is necessary to resister with a local commune.

Most expats moving to Brussels find it relatively easy to settle down in this international city, which is not only the capital of Belgium, but also one of the “EU capitals”. Due to the many intergovernmental organizations and especially the presence of the European Union institutions, Brussels has become a major center for international politics. Numerous journalists, diplomats, politicians, military personnel, and civil servants from across the globe move to Brussels every year, creating a metropolitan flair in this city of just over a million inhabitants.

A General Impression of Brussels

The weather in Brussels is not exactly tropical: expats moving here will encounter a temperate climate, with relatively cool summers and mild winters; temperatures rarely drop below zero or get above thirty. However, you should be prepared for quite a lot of rain all year round — similar to London or Amsterdam. While it is not the greenest city in Europe, Brussels does have quite a few public gardens, parks, and forests to be enjoyed on a sunny day.

As an expat in Belgian, you should be aware of the city’s bilingual status, which is reflected in its complicated system of government and administration. As one of Belgium’s three administrative regions, the Brussels-Capital Region unites 19 municipalities, which are predominantly French speaking.

Brussels is also the administrative seat of both the French and the Flemish Communities. This does not only cause confusion among expatriates moving to Brussels, but also among long-standing residents. Public administration is organized on various levels, as competencies are spread across regional, communal, and municipal bodies, or sometimes a mixture of all three. Newcomers should allow for some time after their move to find their way through the bureaucratic maze.

The First Step: Do You Need a Visa?

EU citizens (including Swiss nationals) do not require a visa to move to Brussels. Most other nationalities do need a visa to enter Belgium, although certain countries benefit from a visa waiver agreement. To find out whether you need to apply for a visa, please check with the Belgian embassy or consulate in your country of residence.

Application forms for both long-term and short-term visas have to be completed and sent to the nearest Belgian mission in advance of your move to Brussels. Please note that additional documents must be submitted with your application, depending on the type of visa you need for moving to Brussels.

What Is a Schengen Visa?

A Schengen visa grants third-state nationals limited access to all 26 member states of the Schengen area. These include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

“Limited access” means that your stay in the Schengen area is limited to 90 days. There are, however, no restrictions to the purpose of your stay. A Schengen visa can be used both for business travel and vacation.

How to Get a Schengen Visa

Together with your application form, you need to submit your passport (valid for at least three months beyond the duration of your stay), two passport photographs, a travel or health insurance certificate, and evidence of sufficient financial means to support yourself. For business visits, a letter of invitation from a Belgian company outlining the purpose and duration of your stay is also required.

It takes three to four weeks to process a Schengen visa application, and you must pay an administration fee of 60 EUR. Once the visa has been granted, you will be asked to present a valid return ticket for your journey. For more detailed information on the Schengen visa, consult our article on relocating to Belgium.

Administrative Issues in Brussels

If You Are Planning on Staying for a Longer Time

There are several different categories of long-term visas for Belgium. The type of visa depends on the purpose of your stay in Brussels. Processing times may vary, but an administration fee of 180 EUR is due for most types of long-term visas.

Together with two completed applications forms, you will need to submit the following standard documents:

  • your passport (valid for at least one year)
  • two recent passport photographs
  • an official criminal record disclosure covering the year preceding your application
  • an official medical certificate (or a copy of the one already provided for your work permit). Every Belgian embassy or consulate should provide you with a list of approved doctors for this purpose.

Belgian Visas: Which One Is Right for You?

The following overview deals with the main kinds of visas available to people coming to Brussels for work or business.

  • Employee visa: This is only granted together with a work permit (B), which must be obtained separately by your employer. The permit is initially valid for up to 12 months and can be renewed after a year. Highly qualified candidates who earn more than 39,802 EUR per year (2016) can get the work permit B without a labor market study.
  • Self-employed visa: Before applying for this visa, you need the authorization of the Federal Public Service for Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy. This authorization comes in the form of a “professional card” (carte professionnelle / beroepskaart), which can be requested via the Belgian mission. Among other things, your application for that card needs to include a project plan and proof of your professional skills and experience.
  • For well-qualified and well-paid applicants, the European Blue Card is also a valid option. You must have a bachelor’s degree, a confirmed job offer in Belgium, and an annual salary of 51,466 EUR or more per year (2016). The card is valid for an initial period of 13 months and can be renewed for about five years in total.
  • Senior managers are not eligible for the European Blue Card if they earn more than 66,406 EUR per year (2016). However, they are usually exempt from work permit requirements in general. If you are a high-level executive wanting to work in Belgium, please ask your company or the Belgian mission how to proceed.
  • Research: Scientists and post-docs are usually exempt from work permits as long as they are conducting research in Belgium or have a hosting agreement with an accredited research institute. The exemption can last up to three years or for the duration of the research project.
  • Specialist visas are also available for investors, interns, au pairs, de facto relationships (when one of the partners is Belgian), regrouping families (when one person of the married couple is Belgian), and working holiday visas for Canadians between 18 and 30 years old.

After the Visa Comes Registration

There is a legal obligation for foreign residents to register with their local commune within eight days of arrival. However, this only applies if your stay exceeds a period of three months. You can find the contact details of all municipal authorities on the website of the Association de la Ville et des Communes de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale. When showing up to register, you should bring proof of residence in the form of a rental agreement and your bank details.

A new Europe-wide system of electronic identity cards for foreign residents has recently been implemented in Belgium. It replaces the old carte blanche (certificate of inscription), carte jaune (identity card for third-state nationals), and carte bleue (identity card for EU nationals). The new electronic card contains biometric data on an invisible chip, serving as a certificate of address registration, residence permit, and alien ID card for third-country nationals. The new identity card for EU citizens in Belgium is similar to that for Belgian citizens.

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  • Kelly Powell

    I loved moving to Brussels. But after a while I felt homesick. On InterNations I met a bunch of people from the US. That helped a lot.

  • Maria Lombardi

    You can really get lost in the "capital of Europe" - InterNations helped me to get settled and to make a lot of expat friends.

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