Why live and work in Belgium?

Vacature magazine, a specialist recruitment magazine in Belgium, devoted a special edition to why Belgium is such an attractive country for foreign professionals: "11x best of Belgium". As we considered it important to expose you to some of he main points in this special edition, we extracted the main points. You can, however, download the full article (pdf, 574 kB).

  • Living in Brussels, the heart of Europe, but affordable
  • A labour card after just 10 days
  • Belgians put plenty of time, effort and money into cooking and eating
  • A job for partners within 17 weeks
  • Belgium is bubbling with culture
  • International vision

    Living in Brussels, the heart of Europe, but affordable

    Buying a house in Brussels is a good and reliable investment.

    In Europe, Belgium is one of the cheaper countries for buying real estate. Countries such as France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland are all more expensive. Even when comparing the different capitals, Belgium scores well. Only Berlin is cheaper than Brussels.

    Deloitte Real Estate compared the prices of houses in Austria, Belgium, Tsjech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and UK by taking into account the GDP per capital and the cost of a house of 70 square meters. In Belgium such a house cost is 4 times the annual salary, placing Belgium as the cheapest, with only Germany and Denmark having comparable prices.

    Those who buy a house as an investment see the Brussels real estate market as a good investment.

    Although Brussels is situated in the middle of Western Europe, a region that is ranked pretty highly with regard to cost of living, life in Belgium is not as expensive it may seem. In a list of cities with the highest cost of living compiled by Mercer consultants, Brussels is ranked at just 71 in the overall ranking. London is ranked at 25 and Paris at 37.

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    A labour card after just 10 days

    In Belgium, foreign employees are issued with a work permit and labour card within ten to fifteen days. As such, Belgium has one of the fastest and most flexible procedures in Europe

    Companies in Belgium seldom complain about the procedures for attracting foreign employees, the country has one of the fastest and most flexible procedures in Europe. “To start with, Belgium is more flexible towards qualified personnel than our neighbours,” explains Jos Barbé, Head of the Department for Migration in Flanders. “The salary criterion for qualified personnel in Belgium is 34 261 euro per annum, both for seconded employees and employees of a Belgian company or division. In the neighbouring countries, the salary barrier is higher. But that is not the only advantageous condition. Since 2003, expats can acquire a labour card for any profession. That is not the case in most European countries.” Belgium is, moreover, the fastest country when it comes to issuing work permits and labour cards. Barbé: “On average, it takes less than 10 to 15 working days before the permit is issued to the employer and the labour card is sent to the commune. In some cases, the approval period is even shorter. For employees in bottle neck professions, the procedure takes just five days.”

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    "Belgians put plenty of time, effort and money into cooking and eating"

    Indian expat Nirman Arora, academic assistant at the University of Ghent, is a food lover with a special weakness for Belgian chocolate, beer and sprouts. He describes Belgian cuisine as rich and modest.

    As an expat, while deciding to come to Belgium, we envisaged a small country in the west of Europe with a population of approximately 10 million that has a short history starting as a kingdom in 1830. Before that, this country had been part of the Roman Empire, Germany, France, Spain and also Holland. We can trace the impressions of all these cultures invading Belgium. Belgian food and cuisine only started developing its own style in the 19th century. And still, for me it is difficult to define the real Belgian cuisine because all regions in Belgium have their own traditions and recipes. One thing distinguishing Belgium is that it is a country of big cuisine rather than fine cuisine.

    What I like about Belgians is that they like cooking and eating and tend to put plenty of time, effort and money in it. People are invited home for a dinner evening or go together to a restaurant to spend the evening there. As Belgians like cooking and eating, I found plenty of very typical dishes and recipes. Although, remembering their names has always been a tough task for me, I do not forget to relish their taste. These are some of the most popular ones I could find in almost every restaurant: stoofvlees met frieten (pork meat cooked in dark beer, served with a brown sauce and french fries), hesperolletjes (warm ham rolls with cooked chicory and cheese sauce), waterzooi (pieces of chicken meat cooked together with vegetables and potatoes in a white sauce), hutsepot (vegetables and potatoes cooked together, served with sausages or pork). Brussels sprout is my favorite, which is typical for Belgium.

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    A job for partners within 17 weeks

    French native Stéphan Boerhof came to Belgium a year ago in the wake of her Dutch husband. Originally this was against her better judgement, as she thought Belgium was grey and boring. But only after one year, she has a wholly different outlook on things. Thanks to the flexible labour card policy for partners of expats, she has had the opportunity to point her career in a whole new direction.

    “On average, around 40% of the partners of expats seek employment in their new country of residence,” says Alain Verstandig from Net Expat Group, a support office that works for companies with expatriate employees. Net Expat helps partners compile a realistic ‘partner professional plan’, tests the partner’s skills and knowledge, inquires into personal objectives, provides specific training for applying for jobs, negotiating and networking, and helps with job selection in the local market. “Net Expat finds work for 82% of such partners within a period of 17 weeks. In Belgium, the opportunities are somewhat broader than in most other countries because English is usually sufficient.”

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    Belgium is bubbling with culture

    Belgium is a veritable Mecca for international culture fans. Its myriad of historical cities is home to an equally diverse array of performing arts: top class dance, theatre and music.

    Foreigners find it always remarkable that they can see a quality production of International standard almost every day and at very low prices. This is due to the government providing considerable subsidies for the cultural sector. Compared to other countries, Belgium scores well in terms of ticket prices. The performances on offer are top quality. The Flemish Government policy is to attract the better foreign productions to Flanders. Consequently all the major art institutions in Flanders have an explicitly international charter.

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    International vision

    Toon Berckmoes, former general manager of CultuurNet Flanders: “Belgium’s main advantage is that there are many different large, historical cities within a short distance of each other. The cultural landscape in these cities is also highly attractive. For people interested in dance and theatre, Belgium is a virtual paradise. We are a world centre for dance and in the domain of fashion, lifestyle and shopping, Antwerp also enjoys prime of place.” That the international level of the performing arts is not just PR talk is demonstrated by a few figures. A study conducted by the Flemish Theatre Institute in 2004 revealed that approximately one third (34%) of all performing arts productions toured internationally, with more or less half of all Flemish dance productions also including an international play list.

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