Belgium is located in the very heart of Europe. The Netherlands and Germany border it in the north and the east, and France and Luxembourg border it in the west and south. Belgium is at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin Europe, which is exemplified by its three national languages: Dutch, French and German.
As is the case with many famed countries around the world, Belgium can often be romanticised. Here's a balanced look at the pros and cons of moving to Belgium.
Languages in Belgium
+ PRO: A rich cultural experience
The accessibility of three very different languages can lead to an enriching experience. In most companies, one will hear multilingual conversations among their colleagues. Although most people speak either Dutch or French, it can generally be assumed that they will also speak English at a reasonable level.
- CON: Complex state structure
Three languages, divided over three non-converging regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia) and communities, also create a complex state structure. The state is largely federalised, meaning every region/community has different rules governing areas such as housing, childcare and education. Expats living in one region and working in another will experience the complications that arise from this first-hand.
Accommodation in Belgium
+ PRO: Easy to live close to work
One of the benefits of living in a small country like Belgium is that it isn't necessary to live in the city to be close to work. If one prefers the countryside or a smaller town, living there and working in the city is usually possible. Consequently, expats can benefit from the considerable price difference between renting in the city and on its outskirts.
- CON: Property is expensive
Although one can expect to benefit from the significant price difference between locations, accommodation prices for buyers are quite high compared to other countries. Real-estate taxes on property transfers also differ between the regions.
Getting around in Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent public transport infrastructure
Belgium has excellent public transport. Almost every city can be reached by train in a short amount of time. Public transport within the cities is also fantastic and varied, consisting of subways, trams and buses. If one isn't a fan of public transport, most cities also have extensive cycling infrastructure.
+ PRO: Easy regional travel
Another benefit of Belgium's location is that London, Amsterdam and Paris can be reached by rail in less than three hours. This proximity makes Belgium a magnificent starting point for discovering Europe's finest capitals, even on one-day trips.
- CON: Occasional public transport delays
Although public transport is affordable and accessible, trains do not always arrive on time. Delays are frequent, and although they don't generally amount to more than 10 minutes, they should be considered if planning to commute daily.
Taxation in Belgium
- CON: Exorbitant tax rates
To contribute to public services and its high quality of life, Belgium has one of the highest levels of taxation in the world. The personal income tax brackets range from 25 to 50 percent. Belgium also demands high social security contributions from both employers and employees. Expats should definitely have their tax and social residency statuses examined by an expert.
Lifestyle in Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent dining
Belgium offers exceptional cuisine. On top of typical hot dishes such as waterzooi or waffles, it also offers some of the finest beers in the world. Belgians enjoy a high quality of life, and expats should be prepared to enjoy the country's diverse culinary offerings.
+ PRO: Varied entertainment options
When it comes to relaxing, Belgium has a wide range of events and attractions. It has many museums, beaches and hilly forests, making for great walking or fishing trips. Additionally, Belgium has many theatres, concerts and festivals on offer.
Cost of living in Belgium
+ PRO: Affordable essentials
The cost of everyday essentials such as groceries and public transport in Belgium is relatively affordable compared to other Western European countries. This allows expats to maintain a comfortable standard of living without breaking the bank.
+ PRO: Competitive utilities
Utility costs in Belgium, such as electricity, gas and water, are generally competitive compared to other Western European countries, allowing expats to save on monthly expenses.
- CON: High cost of dining out and leisure activities
While the essentials may be affordable, the cost of dining out, leisure activities and consumer goods can be higher than in other countries. Expats may find themselves spending more on these items, especially if they frequently indulge in Belgium's renowned culinary scene.
Education in Belgium
+ PRO: High-quality education
Belgium boasts a high-quality education system, with many well-regarded local and international schools. Expats can choose from various options to ensure their children receive a quality education tailored to their needs.
+ PRO: Access to top universities
Belgium is home to prestigious universities such as KU Leuven and Ghent University, offering expat students excellent higher education opportunities without the need to leave the country.
- CON: School availability and language barriers
The availability of spots in international schools can be limited, so it is essential to apply early. Additionally, language barriers may arise in local schools for expat children who are not fluent in French, Dutch or German, making the transition more challenging. Expats moving between regions may find navigating the differing educational structures and requirements challenging.
Healthcare in Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent healthcare system
Belgium is known for its efficient, high-quality healthcare system, which is accessible to both residents and expats. The country offers a comprehensive range of medical services, with many healthcare professionals speaking English, easing communication for expats.
- CON: Mandatory health insurance
Healthcare in Belgium is not free; health insurance is mandatory for expats, and must be obtained either through their employer or purchased privately. While this ensures access to quality care, it does add an extra expense to the cost of living for expats in Belgium.