Belgium has a long history of innovation in science and technology making it a great place to work and study. Here are some practical things to know before you move to help you quickly settle in.
Visas and Permits
If you are a citizen of the EU/EEA or Switzerland you do not need a work or residence permit to study or research in Belgium. However, if you plan on staying for more than three months, you must register at your local administration office/city hall when you arrive in Belgium.
If you are a student, researcher, or professor coming to Belgium for more than three months from outside the EU/EEA you will need to apply for a long-term visa (D visa, Authorization for Provisional Sojourn). You must apply at the Belgian consulate or embassy in your country of residence as soon as possible as it will take several weeks to process your visa. Your application will include a copy of your passport, letter of admission/job offer and hosting agreement from your university, proof of financial means, a certificate of good conduct, and a medical certificate. You will have to pay a supplementary administrative fee before applying for this visa. Once you arrive in Belgium, you will have to get a residency permit.
Within eight days of arriving in Belgium, anyone who will be staying in the country for more than three months (including those from the EU) must register at the local administration office/city hall. Those from outside of the EU will also apply for their residence permit at the same time. The documents you have to bring with you will depend on your citizenship. The immigration office will request that the police verify your address and rental agreement so it is important your name is on your doorbell and mailbox. A police officer will visit your Belgian address to confirm that you actually live there. It can take up to four weeks for this to happen. Once you have received a confirmation letter, you can make an appointment with the immigration office to get your residence permit. Non-EU nationals will be issued an eID Residence Card which will function as their identity card while in Belgium, while EU nationals will be issued a residence document.
Bringing Your Family
It is possible to bring family members (spouse/registered partner and children under 18) to Belgium with you as a student, researcher, or visiting professor, but it can take a few months for them to get the proper visas if they are not EU/EEA nationals. EU/EEA nationals don’t need a visa to move to Belgium with you. Once your family arrives, they must also register and will receive a registration document. Family members who are EU/EEA nationals don’t need a work permit to work in Belgium.
If your family members are not from the EU/EEA, you will have to come to Belgium first and find suitable housing for yourself and your family. Then you will need to have your housing contact legalized at the Registry Office (Registratiekantoor) and send it to your family as proof of suitable housing. You will also need to send them an attestation from your health insurance provider that they will also be covered while in Belgium. Once they have received all necessary documents, your family members will have to apply for family reunification at the Belgian embassy or consulate in their home country. After they arrive in Belgium, they will have to register at the local city hall for their residence permits. A police officer will be sent to visit your accommodations to see that your family members are living together with you. Your family members will then receive their Certificate of Inscription in the Foreigner’s Ledger. Your spouse or partner should be able to obtain a work permit as well, either on the basis of their own employment or on the basis of your right to work in Belgium.
Anyone living and working in Belgium needs health insurance. While the legal contributions for health insurance will automatically be deducted from your salary, you will have to affiliate yourself with a public Belgian health insurance company that will cover about 75% of the cost of medical expenses. You will pay a quarterly fee for affiliation.
Students and researchers from EU/EEA countries should get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before coming to Belgium. The EHIC card ensures you are partially reimbursed for any essential medical costs.
After you have your residence permit card or document, you can open a Belgian bank account. Major banks in Belgium include ING, KBC, Befius, and Argenta. It is a good idea to have a few weeks worth of living expenses available in your home bank account as it may take some time to get your Belgian bank account and salary deposit set up. Check with your home bank before you travel to make sure you will be able to use your bank card abroad.
Learning the Languages
While English is the working language of many universities and research institutions, learning French or Dutch will help you immensely in your daily life. Many universities offer French or Dutch courses for their international students and staff that are either fully or partially subsidized. There are also Dutch courses offered at a variety of price points at language centres across the country such as Alliance Française and Berlitz. Here is some more information about language courses available in major Belgian cities.