Belgium is most widely known for its delicious chocolates, many varieties of beer and French fries. But the country has so much more to offer. Belgium has not one, but three official languages – Dutch, German and French. The nation’s constitution is also trilingual, on account of the different languages and communities. Belgium is home to several international organizations, as well as European Union institutions.The capital city of Brussels is perhaps the best-known Belgian city. But there are many Belgian cities besides Brussels that expats may be interested in moving to. Belgium has an extensive public transport system, making it easy to live further away and still be able to commute to and from the workplace.
Brussels itself is a great place to live. It is home to a number of global organizations, such as NATO and the EU. It is also a good place for those looking for lucrative jobs or careers. Salaries are good and companies also provide legal protection and annual leave.
Expats moving with family or with plans to start a family in Belgium will find Waterloo a good option. It is a small town located on the capital city’s outskirts and offers affordable housing and good schools.
For something a bit more trendy, Antwerp is an ideal choice. With a vibrant atmosphere and a variety of restaurants, clubs and bars, Antwerp is an attractive choice for younger expats.
Those looking to study abroad will find Ghent to be a comfortable choice. A university city, Ghent offers cheaper housing and a number of restaurants and museums. Belgium has something for retirees too.
The city of Tervuren is a peaceful destination with a beautiful landscape, an excellent choice for those who wish to live in the countryside. Belgium also has a number of cities beyond these, and for expats wondering where to move, here’s a guide to Belgium’s major cities.
It is the largest city in Belgium and an important one, considering that it serves as the administrative center of the EU. It is referred to as the capital of Europe and its population is comprised of varied nationalities. The city is a popular expat destination as it offers a good quality of life, pleasant weather and good job opportunities. Since it serves as the administrative capital of Europe, it also has a considerable population of diplomats from across the region. Those looking for a lucrative career will benefit from moving to Brussels. It is home to multinational companies and frequently hosts business conferences, which are ideal for networking. Brussels was impacted by the recent economic low but has recovered considerably.
The city is steeped in history, but also has a youthful atmosphere with swanky eateries and great shopping sites. The public transport system is modern and efficient, making it convenient to travel around the city. Brussels also has quality healthcare facilities and many reputed international schools. Housing is readily available, although costs tend to be higher in the city center. More spacious housing is available on city’s outskirts. The one downside of living in Brussels is the traffic jams, an issue that can be circumvented by finding housing closer to work.
Brugge, or Bruges, is the biggest city in the region of West Flanders, and also its capital. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a population of 117,000. It is home to the College of Europe. Since the city is built around canals, it is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’. The climate in Brugge tends to be cloudy with frequent rainfall. Expats will find it convenient to navigate around the city by foot. Brugge is a beautiful city with a friendly local population.
A well-preserved medieval city, it is renowned for its spectacular architecture. In the middle of the old town stands one of the most prominent landmarks of Brugge, the Belfort or Belfry, a medieval bell tower from the 13th century. Due to the old buildings and canals, the city still has a medieval atmosphere. One of the delights of living in Brugge is the joy of taking walks through its narrow cobbled streets, or better still, taking a boat trip on the canals.
The capital of the province of Flanders, Antwerp is the hub of the global diamond trade. It is an important port city and is made up of the northern region, inhabited by the Dutch-speaking Flemings; and the south, inhabited by the French-speaking Walloons. Antwerp’s official language is Dutch, although most locals are fluent in both Dutch and French. Some also speak a moderate amount of English.
Antwerp has the highest population among all of Belgium’s cities and is also an economic and business center. The main driver of the local economy is the petrochemical industry. The city has a rich cultural heritage and has the distinction of being the former home of a number of famous painters such as Rubens and Van Dyck. Due to its central location, it offers the advantage of easy accessibility to the rest of Europe. Within the city, the infrastructure is impressive; the city is equipped with well-maintained roads, modern railroads, a metro and an efficient bus network. Antwerp is a great location for expat families due to its many public and international schools.
Located in East Flanders, Ghent is perched on the meeting point of the Scheldt and Lys rivers. A multicultural city, it is a blend of different languages, lifestyles and culture. There is a lot to see and do in Ghent. In the old part of Ghent, expats can explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Flemish Béguinages and the Belfry of Gent. Architecture buffs can set their sights on some of the medieval architecture that still exists in the city, along with several historical buildings. Belgium’s healthcare system is one of the best in Europe. There is a high quality of medical care, modern facilities and short waiting times.
Ghent University is among the top 100 universities in the world. The local economy is centered around Ghent’s famous port, the Port of Ghent, the third largest port in Belgium. Many global companies have their offices here, resulting in job opportunities for expats. In summer, Ghent hosts ‘Ghent Fests’, a festival that attracts almost two million visitors each year.
Genval is a French-speaking city just outside the Brussels region. It is located in the Flemish territory. Expats living in this city will find it convenient to commute, as it is a 20-minute train ride from the capital city of Brussels. The area by Lake Genval is the most expensive part of the city and is home to water sports facilities.
The student city of Leuven consists of the communities of Leuven, Heverlee, Kessel-Lo, Wilsele and Wijgmaal. The city has nearly 90,000 residents along with almost 35,000 post-secondary and 11,000 secondary school students. Leuven is almost a half an hour drive from Brussels. Like most other Belgian cities, Leuven is known for its beautiful architecture. But the highlight of Leuven is its atmosphere, which is youthful and vibrant because of its student population. The city develops a perceptible buzz at the start of the academic year and eases into a tranquil calm once the examination period is over and vacation begins.
Leuven also hosts many fairs, markets, concerts, music fests and sports competition, keeping the vibe in the city lively. The advantage of living in Leuven is the relatively cheap rental and property rates. But this has also led to stiff competition and expats should do some research on where they wish to live before they arrive here. Leuven is also a great place to learn or polish your Dutch, as the language is taught on a number of programs. The university also offers Dutch and other language courses for an affordable fee, and this is open to everyone, even those who are not students.
Liège is one of Belgium’s largest cities and also an important economic hub, especially in the region of Wallonia. It is also the capital of the French-speaking region of Wallonia. Liège is commonly referred to as the ‘glowing city’ due to the warmth and hospitality of its residents. The city has a rich cultural heritage and there are several significant historical monuments, such as the 16th-century palace of the Prince-Bishops of Liège. A Sunday afternoon in Liège will see most residents spending time at the market square or ‘Batte’. The city is also known for organizing a number of music, art and folk festivals, all of which take place in the city center.
Liège even has a vibrant nightlife due to its many bars and clubs, which tend to open rather late at night. Expats will be able to find accommodation in Liège in the form of apartment buildings. Most expats tend to settle down in the boulevards of Le Mont St-Martin, Frère Oban and Piercot, Botanique and Les Terrasses. The Outremeuse area set in the heart of the Meuse river is gaining in popularity too. Expat families looking for good schools will find ideal accommodation in the suburban areas of Le Sart Tilman and also Cointe and Embourg. Le Sart Tirlam is also a university area.
This is a quaint Dutch-speaking area with a considerable expat population. Tervuren is lush and green and lies to the southeast of Brussels. It is among the richer regions of Belgium. The houses are large with acres of land, although these come at a steep price. It is accessible via a tramline. Tervuren lies at the end of the tramline. Getting around the town is also easy by car. Expats will find Tervuren safe and prosperous. The town emerged from a modest settlement during the Middle Ages and became an outpost for nobility. The Sonian Forest lies to the south of the village, while to the east lies the Park of Tervuren, which was built 499 years ago on the instructions of archduchess Isabel. The enclosed park has hills, a river, some lakes and monuments such as the Africa Museum. The west of the village is the exclusive royal golf club of Ravenstein, constructed in 1906. The older villas are located to the north of the town’s center.
Mechelen, located on the river Dyle, is a historically significant city in Flanders. With a population of 80,000, it is situated halfway between Brussels and Antwerp. Mechelen used to be the capital of the Netherlands from 1506 to 1530. Renowned for its wood carvings, its churches still bear remnants of it. Today Mechelen is a vibrant, trendy city, while still bearing traditional roots. The royal carillon school in Mechelen is known across the world as an important training center in the skill of playing the sets of bells hung in church towers, called carillons. The city’s downtown area still has many buildings constructed according to the old Flemish-style architecture. In recent times, Mechelen has developed into a hub of non-profit organizations, such as the Red Cross, due to its easy accessibility and affordability.
The French-speaking city of Waterloo is a highly self-sufficient destination and those who live here have no need to travel to and from Brussels for things they require. It is popular among expats due to the many international schools and relatively cheap housing options. Expats will find big houses available, and many of these have plenty of land. There is also a stream of high street shops and big shopping centers. Waterloo is especially popular among expats from the United States and Scandinavia. In fact, the city has the highest concentration of American expats in Belgium. Waterloo lies to the north of Braine-l’Alleud, the place where the Battle of Waterloo took place on the 18th of June, 1815, which led to the final defeat of Napolean. Waterloo is also the home of ASUB Waterloo, one of the most successful rugby teams in Belgium. Waterloo is divided into six districts, Faubourg Ouest, Faubourg Est, Chenois, Centre, Joli-Bois and Mont-St-Jean.