Moving to Belgium?
Moving to Belgium
At a Glance:
- Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, German, and French. The Belgian Constitution is accordingly also trilingual, which is a symptom of the political friction between the different language and cultural communities.
- Its capital hosts numerous international organizations and most importantly, European Union institutions, and is renowned internationally.
- There are many visa categories for Belgium, which differ based on the purpose of your stay.
When you tell people that you are moving to Belgium, you can be certain that someone will mention beer or French fries. However, expats in Belgium will soon find out that the country has much more to offer.
Yes, this tiny nation in the heart of Europe is the cradle of the — misnamed — French fries. It also produces delicious chocolate and countless varieties of beer. Yet, there are a few more things you should know before your move.
Not One, but Three Languages
Belgium is a small, federal parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch as the official head of state. Depending on which region you end up moving to, you will hear a variation of French, Dutch, or German being spoken by the locals. While all three of them are official languages, they don’t necessarily co-exist, except possibly in the capital, Brussels.
People moving to Belgium’s northern regions will find themselves in the Flemish-speaking part of the country. Flemish belongs to the same linguistic family as Dutch and shares many similarities with it. Therefore, if you are familiar with the Dutch language, you might be able to understand Flemish, too. If you consider settling in Belgium’s southern parts, French is the official language spoken by the majority of the population. German is only heard in two small enclaves on the German-Belgian border, where expats relocating to Belgium for professional reasons are rather unlikely to live.
The Socio-Political Issue of the Languages Dividing Belgium
The move to Belgium’s trilingual constitution is a fairly recent development — a first step towards creating a federal state. However, the linguistic division still causes problems both on a political and cultural level.
Upon arrival in Belgium, foreigners are often surprised when they realize how complex the system of government is. This is due to the autonomy of the three language communities as well as tensions between the French and Flemish parts of the population. Expats in Belgium usually discover that their experience of the country largely depends on the language community they live in.
Your move to Belgium might be complicated by the complete absence of a nationwide cultural infrastructure. Neither the media nor major organizations and institutions transcend the linguistic borders.
A Capital of International Prestige
Belgium is a relatively small country. While the entire nation prides itself on its international flair, it is mainly the Brussels-Capital Region which attracts foreigners moving to Belgium. As the only officially bilingual region of the country, Brussels serves as the national capital as well as the seat of administration for both the French and the Flemish communities. Foreigners moving to Belgium’s capital will notice the bilingual road signs, but on the streets they are most likely to hear French.
Brussels is, of course, one of the capitals of the European Union — hosting the European Commission, European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union — and home to the NATO headquarters. It is thus no surprise that the countless foreign politicians, diplomats, and civil servants active in Belgium’s capital have established English as the lingua franca of Brussels.
Government officials are, however, not the only foreign nationals moving to Belgium: in the wake of Brussels’ rise to international political significance, increasing numbers of multinational enterprises have been tempted by a move to Belgium, too.
Getting the Right Visa
EU citizens do not require a visa in order to enter Belgium. For short-term stays, there are special visa waiver programs for some countries outside the EU as well. To find out which type of visa you need, contact your nearest Belgian embassy. All visa applications must be addressed to your nearest Belgian embassy or consulate before you move to Belgium. There is one application form for short-term visas (up to 90 days) and one for long-term visas. In addition to your valid passport, several supporting documents are required, depending on the purpose of your stay. Non-EU foreigners moving to Belgium need a long-term visa.
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