Pros and Cons of Moving to Belgium
As one might have already figured out if moving to Belgium, or are planning to move to Belgium, the country is located in the very heart of Europe. It is bordered by The Netherlands and Germany in the north and the east, and by France and Luxembourg in the west and south.
Given its location, Belgium is at the crossroads of Germanic and Latin Europe, which is exemplified by its three national languages: Dutch (spoken in the Flemish North), French (spoken in the Walloon South) and German (spoken in a small, picturesque eastern corner of the country). These main characteristics have a large impact on daily life in Belgium as will be shown in the list of pros and cons below.
Languages in Belgium
+ PRO: Different languages equals a rich cultural experience
The accessibility of three very different languages can lead to a very enriching experience. In most companies of a certain size, certainly in Brussels, one will hear three or more languages spoken by colleagues. Although most people speak either Dutch or French, it can be assumed that they will also speak English at a reasonably good level.
- CON: Culturally sensitivity among locals
Although three languages can appear to be a great thing, it should be noted that most Belgians are very sensitive about it. In Flanders people speak Dutch, in Wallonia they speak French. Brussels is officially bilingual, but most of the inhabitants now speak French although historically it was a Dutch-speaking city. When in doubt, speak English.
- CON: Complex state structure
Three languages divided over three non-converging regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia) and communities (Dutch, French and German), also brings about a complex and difficult to understand state structure. In trying to appease all the different kinds of people that inhabit Belgium, the state is for the large part federalized, which means that every region/community has a different set of rules governing areas such as housing, childcare and education. Expats living in Flanders but working in Brussels will experience this first-hand and should consult before making certain commitments.
Accommodation In Belgium
+ PRO: Live close to work
One of the benefits of living in a small country like Belgium, is that it is not necessary to live in the city in order to be close to work. If one prefers the countryside or a smaller town, it is possible to live there and work in the city. As a consequence, expats can benefit from the large price difference between renting in the city and outside the city.
- CON: Regional property laws differ
As already mentioned, every region of Belgian has different rules and regulations when it comes to housing. This means regulatory requirements can differ depending on where one lives (in Flanders, for instance, a rental house has to be equipped with a smoke detector).
- CON: Property is expensive
Although one can expect to benefit from the large price difference between locations, accommodation prices for buyers are quite high in comparison to other countries. Also real estate taxes on property transfers differ between the regions.
Getting around Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent public transport infrastructure
Belgium has great public transport. Almost every city can be reached by train in a short amount of time. If one is working in Brussels and wants to escape the corporate feel of the city over the weekend, the lovely town of Knokke near the sea is a must see - and is only a 90-minute train ride away. Public transport within the cities is also excellent and varied, consisting of subways, trams and buses. If one is not a fan of public transport, most cities are also very bicycle friendly.
+ PRO: Easy regional travel
Another pro of Belgium´s small size and location is that London, Amsterdam and Paris can be reached by Thalys or Eurostar in less than three hours. This makes Belgium a great starting point for discovering Europe´s finest capitals, even on one-day trips. One can leave early in the morning and be back before supper. If one doesn´t want to go too far away from home, there are the beautiful medieval Flemish cities of Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp close by.
- CON: Frequent public transport delays
Although public transport is great because of Belgium's extensive network and accessibility, trains don't not always arrive on time. Delays are frequent and although they do not always amount to more than 10 minutes, it should be taken into account if one is planning on commuting every day.
- CON: Road conditions
Another con is that Belgium has a lot of traffic jams, which can be very time- and energy-consuming if travelling to work by car. Also the roads are not always in the best condition.
Taxation in Belgium
- CON: Very high tax levels
Belgium has one of the highest levels of taxation in the world. The personal income tax brackets range from 25% to 50%. Belgium also demands high social security contributions from both employers and employees. An expat should definitely have their tax and social residency status examined and consult for optimisation. Belgium also levies VAT at 21% and regions, provinces and municipalities have some taxation powers. With regard to municipality taxation powers, those expats residing in Brussels should know that the Brussels Region is actually made up of 19 stand-alone municipalities, which all have the same level of taxation powers. As these taxation powers also include a supplementary tax on employment income, deciding in which of these municipalities you will live can have an impact on your tax bill.
Lifestyle in Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent dining
Belgium offers an excellent cuisine. On top of typical hot dishes such as Waterzooi or French (from frenched not from France!) Fries with Stoofvlees, and excellent trademark desserts such as Liege or Brussels Waffles, it also offers the finest beers in the world. Besides world-known brands such as Stella, one should also try Duvel, Leffe or Geuze. Belgians share an exuberant lifestyle, so don´t feel bad for gaining a couple of pounds along the way.
+ PRO: Varied entertainment options
When it comes to relaxing, Belgium has a wide range of events and escapades. It has tons of museums, a beach and coastline in the north and hilly forests in the southern Ardennes, which make for great walking or fishing trips. And again the best part is that all of this is within a two- or three-hour drive from where one is staying.