Tips for relocating to Brussels (or Belgium in general)


Belgium is renowned for the quality and easy accessibility of its healthcare. With 4.9 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants (WHO data for 2013), Belgium enjoys the world's highest doctor to patient ratio.

The publicly funded Belgian healthcare system is one of the best in Europe. It is cheap (less than 10€ per month per family) and works on the principle of mutual funds. You can get an additional private insurance on top of this to cover everything that is not included in the public insurance, but few people bother unless they have particularly poor health. For example the public insurance will reimburse about 20€ on a 25€ consultation to a general practitioner (GP). Most heavy unplanned surgeries (e.g. after an accident or heart attack) are covered too, but you will need to pay a little extra on your mutual fund to cover planned hospital stays like for childbirth. Note that if you are planning to have an operation or give birth in Belgium, you should take the extra hospitalization cover (such as Hospitalia) at least 12 to 15 months in advance. It is very cheap (2 to 5€ per month), so it is worthwhile to take it.

Here are a few health mutual funds (mutualités in French or mutualiteit in Dutch) available in Brussels:

You will need to register at your municipality's town hall once you arrive in Belgium to benefit from the Belgian social security. Your electronic ID card serves as health insurance card (for doctor's visits, hospitals and pharmacies) once you have joined a mutual fund (which is compulsory, by the way).

If you are an EU citizen and staying in Belgium for the short-term (less than three months), or going there regularly for work while staying registered in your home country (as many EU workers do), you can receive medical treatment in Belgium and request the money from your government healthcare provider back home. In order to do this, you should apply for your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC, formerly E111) at least 6 weeks before arriving in the country.

Opening a bank account

The procedure is very straightforward in most Belgian banks. You don't need a visa or residence permit to open a bank account in Belgium. You don't even need to go to the bank physically. KBC and ING both offer the possibility to open an online bank account for free. BNP-Paribas-Fortis offers expat acounts with free multi-currency current accounts. The fourt major bank, the state-owned Belfius, is unfortunately less friendly to English speakers.

Mobile phones, Internet and TV

It's generally a good idea to get a Belgian sim card as soon as you arrive. You can buy them in almost any supermarket (usually at the cashier). The main mobile carriers in Belgium are Proximus, Base, Mobistar, Scarlet, and cable companies like Telenet, Voo and Numéricable. There are numerous smaller carriers, and supermarkets also sell their own rechargeable pre-paid sim card, although it is generally cheaper to get a monthly subscription (possible by credit card if you haven't opened a bank account yet). Proximus has the best coverage and the fastest 4G network, but is a bit more expensive. You can compare the network coverage of the three main carriers on this interactive coverage map. The site allows you to compare mobile phone, fixed phones and Internet plans in Belgium.

Internet service providers (ISPs) are essentially the same as mobile carriers, as the distinction between cable and telephone companies has all but disappeared in the last few years. Cable companies, however, have not been entirely liberalized, and only one cable provider is available in each of Brussels's 19 municipalities. For example, residents of Brussels City can only get Numéricable, those in Etterbeek will have Telenet, while Voo is the provider in Uccle or Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. Satelite TV is uncommon in Belgium as the cable offer is so extensive (over 70 channels with the basic subscription and up to 200 channels with options). An alternative to cable is Proximus TV, which is practically the same as cable TV but through a fixed phone/VDSL line.

Where to live in Brussels ?

Brussels is a very heterogeneous city. In fact it has been compared to a amalgamation of small towns, each with their own style and personality. The most expensive neighbourhoods are those in the eastern and southern fringes, lining the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes, Belgium's largest beech and oak forest), particularly in Woluwe-St-Pierre and Uccle. These are more residential neighbourhoods more suitable for families.

Single people and couples might prefer more central and lively neighbourhoods with lots of restaurants, cafés, bars and activities. The favourite locations for expats are the Merode/Montgomery neighbourhood at the confine of Etterbeek and Woluwe, the upper part of Brussels City, around the EU district, Royal Palace and Sablon, roughly between Madou or Arts-Loi until Louise, and all the Louise Avenue quarter itself.

The income disparity in Brussels is one of the highest of any European city. You can easily visualize the social class gaps by neighbourhoods on this wealth map.

Wealth map of Brussels

Rent a temporary apartment in central Brussels