Working in Belgium
The job market
What are your chances of getting a job?
EU citizens have the right to work in Belgium and are employed in a wide range of jobs. Some international organisations have offices based in the country and can provide good opportunities for overseas jobseekers.
Belgium does have a high unemployment rate though, which could make it difficult to find work in certain areas. Try to show in applications that you have the required skills and aim to get relevant work experience before applying to increase your chances of getting a job.
Many people living in Belgium are able to speak more than one language. If you only speak English, this could put you at a disadvantage. Dutch (Flemish), French and German are all spoken in different provinces and it's likely you'd be expected to know the official language for the region you'd be working in.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, transportation equipment, scientific instruments, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, petroleum. International organisations such the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are also large employers.
- Shortage occupations: varies between regions but jobs most commonly advertised include mechanical engineers, nurses and midwives, computer systems designers and analysts, technical and commercial sales reps, and secondary education teaching professionals.
- Major companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev (brewing company), KBC Group (banking and insurance), Ageas (insurance), Solvay (chemicals), Dexia (banking), Belgacom (telecommunications), Banque Nationale de Belgique (banking), Delhaize Group (food retail), Colruyt (food retail), Umicore (materials technology).
What’s it like working in Belgium?
- Average working hours: 38 hours per week, with an average of 8 hours a day. Agreed authorisation is needed if additional hours are to be worked above this.
- Holidays: accrued throughout your time working for the employer but usually you get around 20 days, plus 10 public holidays.
- Tax rates: Belgium has one of the highest tax rates in Europe. The percentage of income tax you pay rises as your income increases. The rate of tax increases on a sliding scale from 25% to 50% depending on how much you earn. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure you're not losing any UK pension rights.
Applying for jobs
You don't need to be in Belgium to apply for jobs. The application process is very similar to that in the UK: either a CV and covering letter or an online application form.
Provide the standard type of CV used in the UK for jobs with large multinational companies or international agencies in Belgium but check with the employer if it's okay for it to be in English. Try to keep it to a maximum of two pages. CVs for smaller, local companies may be a bit longer but in the same style.
Job adverts are usually in the language used by the company so you should match your application to this - unless they've stated that they'd like applications from other language speakers.
Interviews vary with each company but will mainly follow formats that are also used in the UK. You should be informed of what is to be expected before hand.
Get more applications and CV advice.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
Following the Bologna Process and the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), UK qualifications are usually recognised by an employer.
- Academic Jobs EU: for academic and research jobs in Europe
- EURES - European Job Mobility Portal: includes a searchable database of a large variety of jobs in EU countries, including Belgium
- EuroBrussels: for jobs in EU Institutions
- Eurograduate - The European Graduate Career Guide: an online service for European graduates which lists career opportunities
- Jobat: available in Dutch, French and English, you can receive jobs by email and search jobs by sector or region.
Belgium is well served by recruitment agencies which specialise in particular career areas. Details of agencies can be found in the Belgian Golden Pages.
A walk along the high street in most major towns or cities is also likely to identify the most popular agencies.
The main newspapers and magazines in Belgium are:
- De Gazet Van Antwerpen - Flemish
- Het Nieuwsblad - Flemish
- La Libre - French
- Le Soir - French
- De Standaard - Flemish
Employers might contact your university's careers service if they wish to target English-speaking students, so it's worth keeping an eye on your university's vacancy board.
Some jobs are never advertised and are instead filled through word-of-mouth or networking. Send speculative applications to companies you're interested in working for to see if they have anything available.
Getting work experience
Erasmus+ is the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014-2020 and covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities. Both under and postgraduate students can study abroad for 3 to 12 months. Erasmus+ also provides opportunities for work experience for students to learn new skills or languages, as well as volunteering in different countries for between 2 weeks and 12 months.
Work placements and internships
- The European Commission offers an official in-service traineeships scheme which lasts five months and runs twice a year. Contact the European Commission Traineeships Office for more details.
- A searchable database of placements in Belgium in a variety of job sectors is available at Europlacement.
- Course-related placements starting in the summer, lasting from four weeks up to one year for undergraduates of science, engineering, technology and applied arts courses are available with IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience).
- Search for internships in Belgium at Intern Abroad.
- A student-run organisation, AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales), provides international traineeship exchange programmes, which offers work experience for periods ranging from 6 weeks to 18 months.
- Teaching opportunities are available at the International School of Brussels (ISB).
- In order to teach English, you'll need a Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification, available through various organisations. TEFL jobs can be found on a variety of job sites including TEFL.com, tefl-jobs.co.uk and ESL Base.
Recruitment agencies and government employment offices can help with finding short-term vacancies. Also try searching in employment sections in various newspapers.
Gap year and volunteering opportunities
Belgium has an excellent road and rail network linking you to the rest of Europe, making it a good location for a gap year.
Do you need a visa?
EU nationals don't need a visa or work permit for Belgium. If you're planning a temporary stay of less than three months you should register with the local authority. You'll need your passport to do this and will be granted a 'notification of presence.'
If you want to stay in Belgium for longer than three months you must apply for a registration certificate. For this you'll need your passport and declaration of presence. You'll also need to state your reason for staying, for example, work, study, etc. Depending on which requirements are met you'll either be issued with a registration certificate or your application will be sent to the Aliens Bureau.
Citizens of non-EU countries may be required to have a visa or work permit. Contact the Belgian embassy in the country where you're currently living to find out how to obtain one of these. If you’re living in the UK go to the Belgian Embassy.
How do you become a permanent resident?
EU nationals can apply for permanent residency after living in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of three years. Your individual circumstances will be taken into consideration to decide whether it's granted. See the Belgium Portal for more information.
Living in Belgium
- Cost of living: living costs in Belgium are generally considered to be lower than in the UK but higher than in some other European countries.
- Internet domain: .be
- Currency: Euro (€)
- Health: the standard of health care and medical facilities in Belgium is high. Residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) should get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling. You’ll still need to have travel insurance but the card entitles you to state medical treatment. This will be provided on the same terms as for Belgian nationals, meaning you'll only pay a fee for treatment if a Belgian national also has to pay a fee.
- Type of government: constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
- Laws and customs: Belgian law requires everyone to carry some form of identification, so make sure you have your passport with you at all times. Possession of drugs and trafficking in drugs are serious offences. Since April 2011 it has been forbidden to wear clothing that hides a person’s face either largely or completely in any public place. Those wearing this type of clothing (including tourists) could risk a fine of up to €137.50 and/or detention of up to seven days.
- Emergency numbers: the European emergency number 112 can be used in Belgium for ambulances, fire brigade and police. British citizens can get help in an emergency from the British Embassy Belgium.
- People: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
- Major religion: Roman Catholic 75%