Pros and cons of living in Belgium as a foreigner

Dive into what life in Belgium for foreigners looks like, so that you know if that’s something for you.


5 minute read
Updated on 25 Sep 2023

Wondering if living in Belgium is a good idea? You might be drawn by the country’s international atmosphere, affordable housing and a salary that will let you live a good life. But are you aware of the progressive taxation system and the country’s complex socio-cultural landscape?

Let’s dive into what life in Belgium for foreigners looks like, so that you know if it’s right for you!

Pros of living in Belgium

You’re in for a tasty life

Let’s start with the obvious! Belgian beer and chocolate aren’t overrated. Here you’ll indeed get world-class beer, fluffy Belgian waffles, crispy fries, and of course, amazing chocolate that’s on par with Swiss brands.

You can buy great Belgian beer even at a supermarket. And if you’d like something special, you’ll be amazed by the selection available at drankencentrales.

It’s more affordable to study in Belgium than in neighbouring countries

Belgium’s investment in education is among the highest in the 40 OECD countries. And that reflects in its high quality! Studying at a Belgian university is affordable compared to the nearby Netherlands, France and Germany. The tuition fees in Belgium are lower, even for non-EU students. The difference is even greater when it comes to English-speaking countries like the UK, US and Canada.

As a non-EU student in Belgium you’ll pay around €4,000 per year and you might even be able to reduce the financial burden by getting a study grant or a scholarship!

Are you from one of the least developed countries? You have a good shot at getting a scholarship or discount on tuition fee at most Belgian universities!

Living in Belgium is a good opportunity to travel

Living in Belgium, you’ll have the chance to explore the rest of Europe with ease. Netherlands, France and Germany are all within arm’s reach. In fact, you can reach Amsterdam and Paris in a mere 1 and a half hours by train from Brussels!

Thanks to such a central location and good connection to the rest of Europe, Belgium boasts amazing opportunities for business and networking.

You won’t spend most of your salary on housing

You’ll be surprised to know that the EU capital is actually one of the cheaper places to rent. On average, finding apartments for rent in Brussels is 43% cheaper than in Paris and 37% cheaper than in Berlin. And prices are even lower when you look at cities like Antwerp or Ghent!

Check our rental index by city for an overview of rental prices in Europe.

Belgium's healthcare system is one of the best in Europe

Belgium’s healthcare system is praised by expats from around the world. Thanks to the generous funding through social security contributions, Belgian healthcare is universal and nearly free. Since you pay monthly social security contributions of 13.07% from your gross salary, you already contribute a lot to healthcare pre-tax. In the end, you only need to pay a monthly membership fee of around €8 to your health insurance fund.

Plus, unlike in most European countries, you don’t always have to go through lengthy processes at your GP. In most cases, you can book your appointment with a specialist directly and around 75% of your costs will be reimbursed.

General English proficiency is pretty high in Belgium

As an English-speaking expat, you don’t have much to fear when moving to Belgium. Belgians can converse in English pretty well. However, if you don’t have a job in your pocket yet, it’s better you learn at least one of the official languages to increase your chances.

Working in Belgium offers a great salary and benefits

With a minimum wage of €1,842.28 and a gross median salary of €3,321 per month, Belgium’s among the countries with the highest salaries in Europe. Plus, working as an employee, it’s common to get benefits like a company car, laptop, meal discounts or free language courses.

Say goodbye to working overtime

Especially, if you compare it to the US, Belgium’s work-life balance is one to envy. The standard work week in Belgium is 38-hours-long and working overtime, in most cases, must be compensated. It’s also becoming more common to work ‘flexi-hours’ when you choose yourself when you perform your work!

There is enough time to unwind too. As a salaried worker, you get 4 weeks of vacation and 10 public holidays on top.

In Belgium, during your holiday leave, you're paid both your regular salary and a holiday allowance of 92% of your salary.

Cons of living in Belgium

You’ll have to learn to save money on groceries

Belgium’s known for its expensive groceries. On average, food and drink in Belgium are around 10% more expensive than in the Netherlands. This is why many locals actually do their shopping abroad.

On a positive note, lower rent prices and affordable public transportation subscriptions make up for the high food costs. Plus, you can always save some money by doing groceries at cheaper supermarkets like Colruyt, Aldi or Lidl.

Estimate your budget for living in Brussels.

It can be hard to find a job as a foreigner

When browsing through Belgian job boards, you’ll often read ‘EU residents only.’ That’s because hiring non-EU applicants always costs extra work and money. And chances are you’ll often get rejected just for this reason.

But don’t give up! There are enough companies that are ready to go the extra mile to find the right candidate. But, once again, your chances to land a job in Belgium will be much higher if you speak Dutch or French … or both.

Belgium’s socio-political system is very complex

Guess what country’s set a world record for the longest period without an elected government? Belgium indeed! Between 2010-2022, Belgium took 589 days to reach an agreement.

Belgium is split into 3 different regions: French-speaking Wallonia, Dutch-speaking Flanders and bilingual Brussels. And the truth is French and Dutch don’t like each other that much. This is why, these days, each region and linguistic community are governed by their own set of rules on housing, education and childcare. And things are confusing for an expat, to say the least!

Weather in Belgium can be tricky

If you haven’t been to northwestern Europe, you might realise that it feels like 3 different seasons in one day there at times. Belgium’s weather is comparable to that of the Netherlands and the UK and it's quite unpredictable, we have to say. Luckily, the winters are pretty mild and if you arm yourself with a good weather app, you’ll get used to it in no time.

Belgians can be reserved and hard to get to know

As a foreigner, life in Belgium can be tough if you aren’t used to putting yourself out there. Belgians tend to be reserved and closed off at first. Especially if you come from a Mediterranean country, you might find Belgian culture a tad cold. So, it might take some effort and courage to make friends when you’re new to a city.

But it surely pays off to break the barrier! Some great ways to meet locals are sports, cultural events, workshops, courses or work/study. Just gather your confidence and talk to people. What’s the worst that can happen, right?

Here’re some tips for making friends in Belgium:

  • Take the initiative. Belgians love scheduling like no one else and you need to plan in advance to meet up with someone.
  • Belgians love their comfort zone and staying close to home and their social circle. Show your genuine interest in their life to get them to open up.
  • Belgians can be hard to read. As we said, they’re quite reserved, so if you’re confused about where you stand with someone, don’t take it personally.

Along with the high salary, come high taxes

Living in Belgium, you’ll spend between 25-50% of your income on taxes. That’s quite a lot indeed. But the good news is that you get what you pay for: robust healthcare, efficient public transportation system and all those other benefits of living in Belgium we mentioned above!

Large Belgian cities are among the most congested in the world

Let’s start with a fact: Brussels is the 3d most congested city in Europe and North America.. In 2020, people in Brussels lost around 134 hours in traffic. In Antwerp the number was twice as low that year, earning it the 41st position.

Luckily both cities have a pretty good public transport system, where you can reach most places around the city centre through underground metro or tram lines. Biking is also growing in popularity, hand in hand with the development of cycling infrastructure.

Once you weigh the pros and cons of living in Belgium, you can confidently decide whether moving there is for you! However, nothing compares to experiencing the country for yourself. So, pay a visit to some of the popular Belgian cities and prepare to be blown away!

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