Hey, welcome to Brussels! We hope this guide will help you find your way around and integrate more easily! 🙂 This guide belongs to you, make good use of it and do not hesitate to share it and talk about it around you!
We are garagErasmus, the professional network for Erasmus students and this guide you are about to discover is the result of the Handshake project we developed in partnership with the Fondation Hippocrene. We wanted to offer a useful and practical tool to all young (or not so young) people arriving in big cities such as Brussels, Paris and Milan. We know how difficult it is to find your way around and understand how things work, so we have tried to put together some information in these few pages that may be helpful for you in your integration into your new life.
You will find information on: how to get to Brussels, administrative procedures, employment and education, housing, health and medical assistance, etc. We invite you to visit the summary page to see which pages or parts of the guide you want to read, enjoy!
Pre-reading tip: If the websites listed in our guide are in French or Dutch and you don’t know these languages, use the Google Chrome browser to visit the website and right-click: choose the option “translate into (the language of your choice)”.
If you have any comments to make, don’t hesitate to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are several ways to get to Brussels here below we list the more practical:
The nearest airport is Zaventem Airport.
Other Belgian airports (depending on the country of origin):
- Brussels Charleroi: shuttle buses to Brussels are available every 30 minutes (a single ticket to Brussels costs about €17).
- Liège Airport: in front of the airport, it is possible to reach the city of Liège to get to the famous Liège Guillemins train station, bus lines 53 and 57 serve this drop-off point (note that line 57 does not run on weekends and public holidays). Then, at the station, all you have to do is to take the connection to Brussels (always plan and buy your tickets on the SNCB website or on the terminals in the station before boarding).
- Ostende-Bruges Airport: to get from Ostend airport to Brussels, you have to take the De Lijn tram from the airport (stop Raversijde Luchthaven) to Ostend city (stop Oostende Station perron 2), from there you have to walk to the Ostend train station and take a connection to Brussels (again via SNCB).
It is also possible from Paris airports (Orly and Charles de Gaule), Luxembourg Airport, and Amsterdam, but it’s further away.
High-speed train lines connect Brussels to several major French and German cities as well as Amsterdam and London. It is, therefore, possible to travel by train to Brussels from other major European cities. All the necessary information is available on the Thalys website.
SNCB connects all major cities (and villages) within Belgium, just plan your trip on the SNCB website to get all the information.
Accommodation & housing
Finding accommodation in the “capital of Europe” can be difficult on a budget and as you can see on the map, outside the centre is not always cheaper. Brussels is composed of 12 communes (municipalities), each of them has different characteristics and different average prices for housing.
The rental can vary from 500 to 800 euros on average, depending on the location and facilities and it is very common to share a flat with other people. There are several websites to find accommodation to rent such as Facebook groups, online and on-site real estate agencies, and websites with advertisements from private individuals. Here below some examples:
Be careful before signing any contract and never pay in advance without signing, if you are asked: run away, it is a scam!
The best thing to do is to ask to visit the place before signing or paying anything.
The city centre of Brussels is easily accessible by public transport: train, tram, metro, and bus. Alternative means of transport such as scooters and bike sharing are also available.
Metro, tram and bus.
There are many ways to get around Brussels, but the metro is by far one of the easiest. Preferential rates exist for children (under 12 years old it’s free) and students (18-24 years old: 12€ for the year), school subscriptions and other subscriptions are also proposed.
Tickets can be bought at ticket offices and machines in metro and tram stations or directly from the driver on buses and trams (only the 1-trip ticket) – which is more expensive – and at SNCB stations in Brussels region. Transport is free for children under 6 years of age, provided they are accompanied by an adult. Underground metro and tram stations are indicated by a white “M” sign on a blue background at street level.
Sometimes it is more interesting to walk than to wait for the bus or the tramway, especially if the distance to be browsed is more or less short because these means are subject to traffic.
You can check all the prices and information about transportation in Bruxelles here: https://www.stib-mivb.be/?l=en.
This transport has been available in the major Belgian cities for a few years now, with several companies making scooters available to the general public, with rates per minute varying according to the company (note that you have to download the application to be able to unlock and use them). This transport is easy and convenient to use although care must be taken as accidents can happen quickly!
Brussels encourages this type of transport with Villo (https://www.villo.be/en/home)! You can hire a bike at one of the stations in the 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region and return it to the station of your choice. The bicycles are docked at parking terminals and all you need is an international payment card (Visa, etc.). A sum of €200 is blocked as a guarantee but is not debited. Different “subscriptions” exist, such as the annual subscription of €33.70 and a “short-term” subscription at €8.20 per week or €1.60 per day.
For the less sporty, the best option is Billy Bike. Download the app and then charge €0.18/min.
The administrative procedures vary a lot depending on your place of origin, for EU nationals it is simpler but do not worry if you come from extra-EU countries, there will be just some more paperwork.
Residence documents EU nationals.
For most EU nationals, the ID is sufficient.
Residence documents foreigners outside Europe.
The visa must be applied for at the Belgian embassy or consulate in the country where you live. If there is no Belgian embassy or consulate in the country where you live, you should contact the Belgian embassy that is responsible for your country. This is usually located in one of the neighboring countries. The visa application procedure can take a long time. Therefore, apply at least four weeks before your departure.
Find all the information about visas on the website of the FPS Foreign Affairs (FR/NL).
In case of more than 3 months staying in Belgium (for both EU/non EU nationals).
If you plan to stay for more than three months as a foreigner in Belgium, you must go to the municipality where you live within eight days of your arrival (or as soon as possible) to register in the population registers; you must have an effective residence in the municipality.
For the registration in the municipality you should bring your documents, a proof of domicile, and a proof of study, work or registration at the unemployment office Actiris as a job seeker.
Long-term/permanent residence documents are also the responsibility of the FPS Foreign Affairs, to whom you must apply in this case. Some useful links:
Health and medical assistance
In this section we will provide you with some useful information on the health system in the Belgian capital.
All emergency calls are free of charge, so don’t hesitate in case of need!
- 100: Medical emergencies and fire
- 101: Federal police
- 112: EU common emergency line all services
- 02 479 18 18 (FR/NL/EN) : Doctors on duty
- 0903 99 000 (FR/NL): Pharmacists on duty
- 02 426 10 26 (FR/NL): Dentists on duty
- 02 644 24 24 (FR/NL): Vets on duty
- 070 245 245 (FR/NL): Anti-poison centre
Tip: An application is also available on Android and Appstore for emergencies: BE112 – this application can also locate you (useful when you don’t know where you are).
Find a doctor, dentist or another health professional in Brussels.
It’s easy! Just go to the website: doctoranytime.be or www.mgbru.be. Directly connected to the agendas of health professionals, the platform allows you to make appointments simply, freely and immediately. You can filter your search by language, care needs, other patients’ opinions, etc.
Social security in Belgium, how does it work?
The European Health Insurance card guarantees basic state-provided healthcare but you must register yourself with a mutual insurance company in order to benefit from various essential services:
- Compulsory insurance (reimburses your health care costs – illness or accident at work).
- Supplementary insurance (higher reimbursement rate with an additional financial contribution due to a mutual insurance company).
- Hospitalization insurance (possible option if you want to benefit from a better coverage of hospitalization costs).
- A social service (supports individuals and families).
As an employee, you contribute financially to the system by paying “social charges” directly by the employer to the NSSO (13.7% of your gross salary).
To register, simply visit one of the following mutual insurance companies (each of which offers specific services for expatriates) or via their website – in both cases, contact a person working for the mutual insurance company of your choice in order to gather all the necessary documents for your registration.
The various mutual insurance companies where you can register in Brussels are the following:
- Mutualité Chrétienne
Boulevard Anspach 111-115, 1000 Bruxelles
+ 32 (0)2 501 58 58
+44 (0) 1475 777625
Boulevard Brand Whitlock 87, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
02 733 97 40
Avenue d’Auderghem, 40 – 1040 Bruxelles
+ 32 2 210 59 5
Boulevard Louis Mettewie 74-76, 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean
- Union Nationale des Mutualités Socialistes
Rue St-Jean 32-38, 1000 Bruxelles
02 515 02 11
Tip: You can consult your social security rights in Belgium via the Coming2belgium application. These rights vary according to your personal situation and in particular your status (employee, self-employed, etc.) and your nationality.
How to get medical reimbursements?
You will receive “stickers” (vignettes) a few weeks after your affiliation with a mutual insurance company. These “stickers” are essential for identifying the documents you will send to your mutual insurance company.
At the end of the consultation, all doctors covered by the agreement must issue you with a certificate of care to be returned or given to the mutual insurance company in order to be reimbursed. Before sending this certificate to your mutual insurance company, it is essential to affix a mutual insurance company sticker so that it can be identified!
At the time of writing this guide, the Covid restrictions have all been dropped, leaving room for “life as it was”. Nevertheless, if the situation should change, all official information for Belgium can be found on this website (information available in FR, EN, DE and NL): https://www.info-coronavirus.be/fr/
To open a current account in Belgium, you need an official Belgian address (your home address), your national registration number and valid proof of identity. If you have emigrated, it can be useful to always have a Belgian current account. For certain income or expenses, for example, or simply to keep your savings.
Many banks cannot open a new account for you from abroad if you do not have an official address in Belgium, but some can:
- CBC: You can open a free current account without having a home address or Belgian nationality, and this can even be done online. But you have to go to Belgium to sign the contract and get your bank or debit card(s).
- Belfius: You can apply for a current account at Belfius. If you live in the EU countries – or in Norway or in Iceland or in Liechtenstein – you can also open a retirement savings account. To open your account, you need an official identity document and a document that proves your address abroad (if it doesn’t appear on your identity document). You get a Belgian account with a Belgian IBAN number, a payment card and the benefits specific to your account or package.
You can only open the account in a Belfius branch and not online!
- ING: You have to send an e-mail to the ING Non-Residents’ Department, which will send you a questionnaire. The bank will ask you about your relationship with Belgium: nationality, secondary residence, family, work, etc. With this account, you can only use the digital bank and you also have to go to Belgium at least once to open the account and withdraw your cards.
Not 18 yet?
Then, you need permission from a parent or guardian. This person must also provide the mandatory information and official documents.
It is common for young people to come to Belgium to study, whether it is for Erasmus mobility or not. Generally, higher education institutions are very open: Brussels is not the capital of Europe for nothing, here is the list of the universities in Brussels: https://www.poleacabruxelles.be/institutions/.
If you have children, many free schools from nursery school to the end of secondary school are also located in Brussels and among the neighbouring municipalities: http://www.enseignement.be/index.php?page=25932&act=search&check=&nive=110%2C111&geo_mots=&geo_type=1&geo_prov=B&geo_cp=&geo_loca=&rese=tous&opt_spe_type=
To enroll in a school at any level of study, it is essential to refer to the procedures specific to the school in question, which can usually be found on their website.
Although the change of city is sometimes done because of a professional opportunity, it also happens that some people arrive without any plans. If this is the case for you, don’t panic! There are many platforms where job offers are frequently posted. Moreover, Brussels is the capital of Europe and therefore, the city offers a lot of opportunities to people from abroad.
Each region of Belgium has its own public employment office where you can browse job vacancies in Belgium, upload your CV, search for training courses, or get advice on your job search from a consultant online or at a local office: Actiris covers the Brussels-Capital region.
Besides the public employment service, we advise you to register (if you have not already done it) on LinkedIn, where many offers are posted, especially in Brussels. Some other useful resources to look for a job:
https://ec.europa.eu/eures/public/en/homepage – EU job search portal
Please note that if you are not a national of a country belonging to the European Union, a visa may be required in order to work, here is the website where you can find the procedures: https://www.mobilitedesjeunes.be/index.php/venir-en-belgique/travailler-en-belgique/immigration-autorisation-de-sejour-permis-de-travail
Useful french expressions:
Hello = Bonjour
Good evening = Bonne soirée
Good night = Bonne nuit
Goodbye = Au revoir
See you soon = A bientôt/ A tantôt
See you tomorrow = A demain
What is your name = Comment vous appelez-vous?
How are you = Comment allez-vous?
Would you repeat please? = Pouvez-vous répéter s’il-vous-plaît?
How much does it cost ? = Combien cela coûte?
May I pay by card? = Puis-je payer par carte?
What time is it? = Quelle heure est-il?
Can you show me the way? = Pouvez-vous m’indiquer le chemin?
Where are the toilets? = Où sont les toilettes?
Where are the fittings room? = Où sont les cabines d’essayage?
May I help you? = Puis-je vous aider?
Could you help me, please? = Pourriez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plaît?
My name is… = Je m’appelle…
I live in… = j’habite à…
I’m fine = Ca va bien/ Je vais bien
I’m not feeling well = Je ne me sens pas bien
Thank you = Merci
Please = S’il vous plaît
You’re welcome = De rien
Excuse me/ Sorry = Excusez moi/Désolé/Pardon
Congratulations = félicitations
Turn to the right = Tournez à droite
Turn to the left = Tournez à gauche
Go straight = Allez tout droit