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Living in Antwerp

A comprehensive guide about living well in Antwerp

Living in Antwerp places you at a crossroads between history and modernism. If you are seriously considering spending part of your life in Antwerp, however, there is some essential information you should know, such as educational options for children and city health services. The InterNations GO! guide to living in Antwerp gives you all the answers you need.

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Life in Antwerp

At a Glance:

  • The city has a historical flair, but is increasingly multicultural. On the streets you can hear both Dutch and French.
  • Antwerp offers a range of different leisure opportunities — from modern architecture, to the Antwerp zoo, to the many shopping venues.
  • Your children can begin attending preschool as of age 2½. Primary school begins at age six. You can choose between public or international schools.
  • Healthcare is mostly a state system and it is complemented by private alternatives. In case of emergency there are different options as to whom to contact.

The Languages of Antwerp

Antwerp is a pocket-sized city with a very international character. Part of this is due to the fact that people living in Antwerp are often multilingual, or at least bilingual, and multicultural. Still, locals speak the Brabantian-Antwerp dialect of Dutch.

Because the city is situated in Flanders, Antwerp is a quite different city than Belgium. The French culture of the capital is not replicated in Antwerp — although this is not to say that its residents do not speak French. As half of the population speaks at least three foreign languages, you will definitely be able to get by with Dutch or English, and French will also be understood.

A City with a Historic Flair

Living in Antwerp is like walking through a living history museum. About one-fifth of the historic city center is a pedestrian zone, so you can enjoy the ancient town traffic-free. Take in the Grote Market and Groenplaats, which are popular tourist spots but essential experiences, even if you are living in the city on a long-term basis.

Antwerp has a famous cultural past: two of its most important figures are Christophe Plantin and Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens, especially, is known around the world as a highly distinguished artist, but not many people are aware that he lived in Antwerp. His works can be found in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen), as well as in the Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal), and many other Antwerp churches.

Leisure, Culture, and Diamonds in Antwerp

If you want to enjoy some cultural highlights, the Vlaamse Opera House and the Bourla Theater are both hubs of performing arts in the city. If architecture is more your thing, Antwerp’s edifices range from Gothic to postmodern, making the city a real treat for architecture buffs!

The city’s zoological garden, Antwerp Zoo, is one of Europe’s oldest. Thanks to renovations, it is now also one of the most modern on the continent and ideal for a day out with children. If you prefer something a little more style oriented, check out the city’s fashion scene — after all, a life in Antwerp means living in the Belgian fashion capital. The ModeNatie is the epicenter of the fashion district: it is home to the Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI), the Fashion Museum (MoMu), and the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Shopping, therefore, is one of this city’s favorite hobbies!

The biggest modern indoor shopping center is the Grand Bazar. Antwerp has always had a tradition of open markets. After you’ve settled in, you should get out and experience the range of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly markets selling everything from food and flowers to exotic birds and North African delicacies.

Last but not least, Antwerp is also the diamond capital of the world: in 2011 the local industry turned over 56 billion USD; it directly and indirectly employs around 34,000 people; and around 80% of the world’s rough diamonds and half the world’s cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp. There is a square mile around the Central Station, the Diamantkwartier, which is packed with about 380 workshops and around 3,500 brokers, merchants, and diamond-cutters. Make sure you take a look at diamonds featuring the renowned “Antwerp Cut”.

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Childcare and Education in Antwerp

Antwerp is home to many high-quality state and private educational institutions. These cater to children from age 2½ to post-graduate university students and everyone in between! This means that taking your children with you to Antwerp as an expat won’t be too daunting. The following guide should familiarize you with the educational environment in Antwerp.

A First Impression of the School System

The city administration manages state schools of all levels: preschool, kindergarten, primary, and secondary. However, there is also an independent, essentially Roman Catholic, network of schools available: in 1965, both an official (state) and an independent (Jesuit) institute were founded. These cater to students of all levels up to university age.

International students considering higher-education institutes in Antwerp can use the Antwerpen Studentenstad website to get familiar with all the main educational institutions in Antwerp.

For Your Younger Children

In Antwerp, you can choose between having an in-home daycare provider and enrolling your child at a nursery. For both types of care, you might be required to pay nothing or some fees relative to your income. Otherwise, you will pay for care at either a daily or monthly rate.

The city of Antwerp is very well equipped with child minders, independent nurseries, and state-run nurseries, as well as nurseries for temporary or emergency use. More information on early childcare is available in Dutch on the city’s childcare website.

Due to the high number of children in Antwerp, the city encourages you to enroll for a space at a childcare center as soon as you know that you are pregnant. Otherwise, there is a significant chance that your child will miss out on a place! If a place is offered to you, respond quickly, otherwise you might lose it in spite of your foresight.

At the age of 2½, children can start preschool; while this isn’t compulsory, almost all Belgian residents take the opportunity to send their kids to some form of preschool or kindergarten. Most primary schools in Antwerp have a kindergarten associated with them, which children can attend the year before they enter primary school.

The Start of Mandatory Education: Primary and Secondary Schools

Primary school begins at the age of six in Flanders. Children usually start learning a foreign language towards the end of primary school, so as to build up fluency from a young age. Secondary school then begins at the age of twelve. You can register your child for the school of your choice via an online form. On Antwerp Schools you can find more information on primary and secondary schools. It is important to know that by law, you are required to enroll your child in school within 60 days of your arrival in Belgium. To do so, you will need proof of ID, a residence permit (if you are not an EEA citizen), proof of key vaccinations, and your child’s previous academic records. You will also need your child’s national identification number, located on your child’s Social Identity Card or Kids-ID. Check that the school you are applying to recognizes international qualifications, as not all do. 

As an expat you might choose to opt for an international school. There are many to choose from, but the two most popular amongst expat families in the city are the Antwerp International School (AIS) and the DYP International School, which is directly linked to the British education system.

An Artistic Higher Education

There are lots of choices for students of university age in Antwerp. This is especially the case for students who are artistically inclined: they may find their calling at the National Higher Institute and Royal Academy for Fine Arts (founded in 1663) or the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Music (founded in 1898).

The following higher education institutions, with more than 40 campuses throughout the city, are just some of those available to students in Antwerp:

Healthcare and Emergencies in Antwerp

Choosing Healthcare: Private Isn’t Always Better

The city readily provides comprehensive healthcare to all of its residents. Given that Belgium is often seen as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, this should not come as a surprise. Healthcare is predominantly a state system which is complemented with private alternatives.

You need to pay fees for both healthcare systems. It is worth noting, though, that using private healthcare does not necessarily give you an advantage. This is because the state healthcare funds (mutualiteit) allow you to choose any doctor, clinic, or hospital suited to your needs, just as is the case if you opt for private care.

The ABCs of Health Insurance

If you are working for a Belgian company, your health insurance contributions will be automatically deducted from your salary due to integration with the Belgian social security system. Your employer will also contribute to these payments, from whom you need to obtain a written certification of employment, which you use to sign up with a health insurance fund.

Your fund will only reimburse 50% to 75% of your bill, which is why many people also sign up for additional private insurance. When your doctor prescribes medication, make sure that the medication is on the list approved by the government and, therefore, refundable.

General practitioners require you to pay for their services yourself, after which you can obtain a refund from your health insurance. For this purpose, you receive a set of stickers from your insurance fund: in order to be reimbursed for a GP visit, you must attach a sticker from your healthcare fund to the doctor’s bill and submit it. Your Social Security Identity card, which you will receive from your health insurance fund, should be taken along on every visit to the doctor, a pharmacy, or a hospital. For visits to pharmacies and hospitals, the reimbursement rate is applied directly, so you don’t have to pay the full amount.

What to Do in Case of Emergency in Antwerp

If you need to contact an on-call doctor in Antwerp, call: +32 (0) 900 10 512. If you can wait until business hours, you can visit a GP. This list from the American Embassy provides the details of English-speaking doctors in Antwerp.

If it is an emergency, you might need one of the following numbers: for any emergency, the European number is 112; for an ambulance or the fire brigade, call 100. For police, use 101.

You should also be aware of the different hospital groups that exist in Antwerp. The biggest is the Antwerp Hospital Network (Dutch), though there are others:

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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