Belgium is considered to have a high cost of living compared to other Western European countries. However, this reputation is not entirely deserved, as both the UK and France have higher living costs. Although costs for utilities are high, rents in Belgium are reasonable, and significant savings can be made on food and by using the excellent and cheap public transport network. Brussels is the most expensive place to live in Belgium. This is mainly due to the fact that the capital attracts a lot of short-term expats, which has pushed up rents for prime properties in recent years.
Other pricey areas include Leuven, Mons and Antwerp, but rents and living costs are more manageable in the suburbs and rural areas. The average research/lecturing gross monthly salary is €3,600 (£3,108) in Belgium, so it is possible to have a reasonable standard of living after you have paid your bills.
Its status at the heart of the EU means that Belgium is a magnet for expats from all over the world. Despite this, rental properties are widely available and rents reasonable, depending on the property and its location. There is a broad range of accommodation options, from plush apartments in central Brussels to fully-furnished houses in the suburbs and rural areas. The majority of expats (and Belgians) choose to rent and the standard lease is up to nine years. Although there are no restrictions on foreigners wishing to buy property in Belgium, but owning a home is not seen as a good investment due to little fluctuation in house prices, as well as high property taxes and legal costs.
The best way to find accommodation in Belgium is either through an online portal such as Immoweb, with a local rental agent or by searching newspaper classifieds. If you are moving for a job in a university, your Belgian employer will generally help with relocation costs and finding accommodation.
Most landlords require a security deposit of around three month’s rent in Belgium. This amount is placed in an interest-bearing bank account in the tenant's name and returned on leaving the property (with any damages deducted).
Homeowners (not tenants) must pay an annual tax on their property which is calculated on the presumed annual rental value and decided by the local authorities. Municipal taxes for refuse collection and other services are levied by regional authorities and are calculated at a rate of 9% of your income tax contributions and automatically deducted from your salary.
Belgium has a de-regulated gas and electricity market and there is a wide range of suppliers to choose from. The main supplier of electricity in Belgium is Electrabel. You can use Brugel or Test Achats to compare prices, deals and packages before signing up. Tap water is safe to drink and water bills are charged on an annual basis. Belgium has good internet broadband access in nearly all areas and companies such as Belgacom and Telenet offer bundled services which include broadband, mobile phone, land line and cable TV.
The basic cost of utilities (gas, water, electricity, refuse) for an 85m² city centre apartment is around €130 (€110) per month. Broadband, phone and TV packages start at around €40 (£33.29) per month.
TV licences were abolished in the Dutch-speaking regions (Flanders) and Brussels in 2001. In the French-speaking regions (Wallonia) a fee of €100 (£86) is charged per household each year. The fee is used to fund Belgium’s French and German public broadcasters, BRF and RTBF.
Healthcare and medical costs
Belgium has a high standard of publicly-funded healthcare. The healthcare system is made up of public health facilities and services, along with private clinics and hospitals. Healthcare is funded through a national insurance scheme (paid into by all employed and self-employed residents) and the government. However, many Belgians and expats supplement their state medical scheme with a private healthcare insurance policy at a reasonable cost. All EU/EEA residents are able to access the Belgian healthcare system for free and get full benefits once they start paying into the national insurance scheme on becoming resident employees. It is advisable for those from outside the EU to take out private medical insurance on relocation to Belgium.
Belgium has a fantastic range of shopping options and is famous for its large outdoor markets selling fresh produce, clothing and traditional Belgian gifts and chocolate. You can find a list of the many markets in Brussels here. The dominant supermarket chains are Carrefour, Delhaize, Cora, Aldi and Lidl. Shops are generally open from Monday to Saturday (until 8pm for supermarkets) and most are closed on Sunday.
The sales tax rate (VAT) in Belgium is currently set at 21% for most goods and services. A reduced rate applies to certain items such as social housing, foods, drinks, hotels and medicine.
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – €775 (£668)
- Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – €630 (£543)
- Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – €2,883 (£2,484)
- Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – €2,226 (£1,952)
- Loaf of bread – €1.69 (£1.46)
- Milk (1 litre) – €0.88 (£0.76)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – €0.88 (£0.76)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – €1.16 (£1.00)
- Packet of cigarettes – €6.00 (£5.17)
- Petrol (1 litre) – €1.28 (£1.10)
- Cinema ticket – €10.00 (£8.62)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed October 2016)
Budgeting and saving
Belgium can be expensive, particularly in Brussels, but expats have reported cheaper living costs than in other major European cities. Food and eating out can be pricey but you can cut costs by shopping in budget supermarkets such as Aldi, Lidl or Smatch which can be found in most urban areas. Another way to save on shopping, electricals and computing is by using the price comparison site Vergelijk.be (in Dutch).