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Belgium is located in the very heart of Europe. It's bordered by the Netherlands and Germany in the north and the east, and by France and Luxembourg 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.
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of living in this European country are outlined in the list below.
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 three or more languages spoken by 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 brings about a complex state structure. 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 one region and working in another will experience the complications that arise from this first-hand.
Accommodation In Belgium
+ PRO: 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 in order to be close to work. If one prefers the countryside or a smaller town, it's usually 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 on its outskirts.
- CON: Regional property laws differ
Every region in Belgium 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. Real estate taxes on property transfers also differ between the regions.
Getting around in 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. Public transport within the cities is also excellent and varied, consisting of subways, trams and buses. If one isn't a fan of public transport, most cities are bicycle friendly.
+ PRO: Easy regional travel
Another benefit 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.
- CON: Frequent public transport delays
Although public transport is cheap 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 taken into account if planning on commuting every day.
Taxation in Belgium
- CON: Very high taxes
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. An expat should definitely have their tax and social residency status examined by an expert.
Belgium also levies VAT at 21 percent and regions, provinces and municipalities have some independent taxation powers. Expats living 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 one will live can have an impact on one's tax bill.
Lifestyle in Belgium
+ PRO: Excellent dining
Belgium offers excellent 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 expect to gain a couple of pounds during their stay.
+ 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, which make for great walking or fishing trips.
►The Cost of Living in Belgium page is a great overview of various everyday expenses expats will incur while living in the country.
Are you an expat living in Belgium?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Belgium. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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