Belgium is a popular destination for students and expats looking for high quality of life, affordable education, and opportunities to live and work in Europe. This guide provides key information on Belgium’s education system, tuition fees, cost of living, visa requirements, and more to help you decide if moving to Belgium is right for you.
Why Move to Belgium?
Here are some of the main reasons international students and expats choose to move to Belgium:
- High quality of life: Belgium ranks very high on quality of life indexes, with high incomes, good work-life balance, affordable housing, high-quality healthcare, and overall life satisfaction.
- Affordable, world-class education: Higher education in Belgium is very high quality and relatively affordable compared to other European countries. There are also many English-taught programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level.
- Gateway to Europe: Belgium’s central location makes it easy to travel around Europe. It’s also home to major EU institutions, making it great for those interested in European politics and policy.
- Multicultural and multilingual: Belgium has a very international, multicultural population. It’s an excellent place to become fluent in French, Dutch, and other European languages.
- High ease of settling: Belgium makes it fairly easy for students and skilled migrants to obtain visas and work permits after graduating compared to other EU countries.
Education System Overview
The education system in Belgium is decentralized, with separate systems for the Flemish, French, and German-speaking communities.
Here is a quick overview:
- Preschool (ages 2.5-6): Optional but widely attended. Focus is on social and emotional development through play.
- Primary school (ages 6-12): Compulsory education begins at age 6. Subjects include native language, arithmetic, environmental studies, music, arts, and physical education.
- Secondary school (ages 12-18): Secondary education is also compulsory. Students choose between general education or more vocational/technical tracks. Instruction is in the language of each community.
- Higher education: Includes bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programs at universities, university colleges, and specialized colleges like arts schools.
Belgium has a highly reputed higher education system with some of Europe’s top-ranked universities. Education is regulated and largely financed by the different communities.
Finding a University
There are approximately 100,000 international students in Belgium, with the majority enrolled in Dutch-speaking Flemish institutions. When researching Belgian universities, be sure to check if your program is taught in Dutch, French or another language.
Here are some top universities in Belgium to consider:
- KU Leuven
- Ghent University
- Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain)
- Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
- Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)
Several specialized colleges also offer bachelor’s and master’s programs, including in business, engineering and visual/performing arts. Examples include Antwerp Management School and the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp.Be sure to check admission requirements, which vary by university and program. Application deadlines are generally between January and April for programs starting in September.
Tuition Fees and Funding
The good news is that annual tuition fees at Belgian universities are relatively low compared to other European countries, generally ranging from €900 to €4000 ($950 to $4200) per year at the bachelor’s level.
However, non-EU students typically pay higher tuition fees than European students, on the range of €4000-15,000 per year. Some universities also charge higher fees for certain English-taught programs. Always check carefully with your chosen university for exact costs. For funding, international students can apply for scholarships at their chosen university or from organizations like the Belgian government or Fulbright program. Part-time work is also possible during studies and after graduating. Students from lower income countries may qualify for reduced tuition rates.
Cost of Living in Belgium
Belgium has a high overall cost of living compared to the European average. However, it also has high average salaries to offset expenses. Here are some typical costs of living in Belgium as a student or expat:
- Housing: €500-800 per month for a studio or shared apartment, more in big cities like Brussels7
- Food: €200-300 per month for basic groceries
- Transportation: €50-100 per month for a student transportation pass
- Healthcare: Low cost under Belgium’s healthcare system
- Other costs: €150-300 per month for phone, insurance, entertainment, etc.
So in total, plan on about €1000-1400 per month in living expenses as an international student in Belgium. Costs may run higher in Brussels. Having about €850 per month at a minimum is recommended to cover basic needs. The good news is Belgium has a well-developed social support system, including unemployment benefits, universal healthcare, and a guaranteed minimum income scheme to help cover basic needs if you struggle financially.
Getting a Visa
Non-EU nationals wishing to study or work in Belgium longer than 90 days need to obtain a national D visa and residency permit.The visa application process includes:
- Getting acceptance from your university
- Proof you can support yourself financially
- Health insurance
- Police clearance certificate
- Visa application form and fee
Work permits are also required for any employment alongside studies. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to switch from a student visa to a work visa after graduating in Belgium compared to other EU countries. Family members may also be eligible for dependent visas to accompany you to Belgium. Be sure to check visa requirements for your country.
Popular housing options for students and expats include private dorms, shared apartments/flatshares, and private studio or one-bedroom apartments. Here are some tips for finding housing in Belgium:
- Check with your university’s housing office for dorms and homestay options.
- Use websites like Housing Anywhere, Uniplaces, and Beroomers to find private student housing.
- Check Facebook groups like Expats in Brussels for shares and listings.
- Budget €500-800 per month for an average room or studio.
- Apply early, as housing gets very competitive before semester start!
When signing your housing contract, be sure to register with the local municipality within 8 days of moving in to obtain your residence registration and ID card. Landlords typically take care of utility costs like electricity, gas, and internet.
Getting a Job in Belgium
Belgium has plenty of job opportunities, especially in metropolitan areas like Brussels which houses major EU agencies and companies. Here are tips for finding work:
- English-speaking jobs are abundant in business, IT, engineering, education, tourism and more.
- Make use of university career centers and job search sites like StepStone.be.
- Consider internships and student jobs to gain experience while studying.
- Networking is key – connect with professionals on sites like LinkedIn.
- Average salaries are around €3,800 per month, with higher pay in IT and engineering.
- Graduates can stay and work for up to one year after finishing their studies.
In some fields, French, Dutch or German language abilities may be needed depending on where you work. A work permit and residence card are required for long term employment. Fortunately, switching from student to employee status is fairly straightforward in Belgium.
Belgium has an excellent universal healthcare system that provides high quality medical services at low personal cost. Health insurance is mandatory for all residents. Students can generally obtain coverage for about €50-100 per month. European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) also provide basic coverage for EU residents. Additional private insurance can supplement services not covered under public insurance. In general, coverage is very affordable, with low out-of-pocket costs for doctor visits, hospital care and prescriptions.
Moving with Family
Belgium is very welcoming towards families and provides nice perks like:
- Generous parental leave policies after having a child
- Monthly child benefits to help cover costs
- High quality healthcare and education
- Abundant recreation activities for kids
- Good public transportation suitable for families
Public schools are free, while many fee-based private and international schools exist as well. All resident children must attend school between ages 6 and 18.Families planning to move to Belgium will need to secure appropriate long-term visas and permits for all members. Be sure to research requirements for dependents and children. Having an offer of employment or sufficient financial means is typically required to bring over family.
Experiencing Belgian Culture and Lifestyle
Once settled in Belgium, there is so much to experience! Here are some highlights:
Cuisine: Enjoy Belgium’s famous chocolate, waffles, fries, beer and cheese. Cafes always have excellent meals.
Sightseeing: See medieval towns like Bruges and Ghent, historic Brussels, the port city of Antwerp and more.
Nature: Trek through Belgium’s countryside and forests, or relax at North Sea beaches.
Arts and music: Belgium has outstanding classical concerts, music festivals, museums, theatre, architecture and galleries to experience.
Nightlife: Lively nightlife abounds in university cities and Brussels, with clubs, eclectic bars and one-of-a-kind beer halls to socialize in. Belgians tend to be more reserved at first, but warm up quickly and are very friendly. Don’t be afraid to practice the local languages and immerse yourself in all that Belgium has to offer!
With high quality of living, renowned universities, English-speaking jobs, and major European influence, Belgium makes an excellent choice for studying, working and living.The decentralized education system provides affordable, globally-ranked programs at all levels.
Students can obtain visas fairly easily and often transition to full-time careers after graduating in fields from business to tech to arts and more. From world-famous beers and pralines to medieval sites and European culture, Belgium promises a high standard of living and endlessly vibrant experiences. If interested in an affordable European lifestyle, high-paying jobs and travel access throughout the continent, consider Belgium as your next overseas move!