For example, some landlords are unwilling to rent to families including disabled people. The feeling is that the disability makes the family difficult, more likely to cause damage to the property or require expensive modifications to the building.

These concerns are unfounded, based on misunderstanding of the realities of disability, and should no longer be part of the conversation. Simply put, finding a home should be no more difficult for one family than the next.

Let’s look at the reality of making finding a home accessible for all…

Is it as scary as landlords think?

Whilst it’s true that accessibility needs are not as scary or complicated as many people feel, there’s no denying that requirements do exist. Users will have specific needs which will need to be addressed for them to live comfortably and independently.

The most visible form of disability is mobility: wheelchair users, both in the case of people who need a wheelchair permanently, or only on occasion, need space and easy access. Ensuring that doors are wide enough in the home, and ramps are in place instead of steps is the most common consideration, but that’s not the end of it.

Wheelchair users will also need to ensure that any facilities such as lifts have wide enough doors and can take their weight plus that of their chair. The best way to find out the client’s needs in this case is simply: ask! Some people who have mobility impairments are able, for example, to climb one or two steps – some are not.

Bathrooms may need the most modification, with some people needing handrails, walk in showers or similar. Whilst this CAN be the case, it’s worth starting by asking what their current setup is and whether the space is suitable. After all, there’s little point installing handrails if the turn from bathroom to bedroom is too tight to navigate anyway.

One concern a landlord may have is having to add “ugly” bars or supports to the bathroom. However, there are now many products on the market that are easy to install and remove. There are also “invisible accessibility” architectural solutions that can make a home adapted for your clients of all ages and abilities.

For users who have sensory disabilities, the requirements might be a little less obvious. For a person who is deaf, for example, any home will need to have fire alarms installed which give a bright, visual cue or vibrate. These adapted fire alarms are available online and can be installed just as easily as any other fire alarm.

Someone with a visual impairment might have a service dog or may want to live very close to their place of work or school. A quiet and calming environment can have a profound impact on those with learning disabilities or people with autism. Location is key, but so is acoustic insulation, as anyone suffering from tinnitus will tell you.

In fact, if a person has a high sensitivity to external stimuli, hearing the neighbour’s refrigerator humming away all night can do more than just ruin a good night’s rest. Similarly, living above or next door to a restaurant or having a room that backs onto the communal bin area will be a no-go for anyone sensitive to scent.

What can relocation agents do?

The first step is to make a positive effort to change your business and mindset to accommodate the needs of disabled customers. This isn’t just about having a wheelchair friendly door and a ramp to your office (although this is of course a great first step).

In Belgium there are subsidies available for businesses who wish to make adaptations to enhance the accessibility of their offices and commercial spaces. For example, in Brussels the subsidies cover up to 70% of the whole cost of the operation. You can find out more about the subsidies available for your business here.

The most important thing is to create an environment in which your clients feel safe to discuss their needs. Not just once, but throughout their contact with you. That starts with your marketing, dedicating space on your website to make it clear that you support clients with a disability and how you do that. Any qualification interviews or questionnaires should also include space for families to indicate any specific needs or requirements they have.

It’s crucial to approach this conversation in a positive way. Don’t ask for a list of disabilities, that can come across as both insensitive and invasive. Instead seek input on specific needs from the property. Even ask for any features or facilities which their current accommodation has (or lacks) which would be needed in their new home. The aim is to invite disclosure without invading privacy.

Disability-related needs should be proactively considered when arranging property visits as well. It’s common for relocation agents to schedule one or two days of property viewings and drive the clients from one viewing to the next. In this case, it’s important to establish whether a family has any specific needs which may impact how they can travel. Does anyone need to bring a wheelchair? If so, how much storage space is needed for it? Or does anyone have issues getting in and out of vehicles, ruling out lower cars? Also here, the best way is to ask your client directly.

Equally, you may find that a family wants to use public transport to ensure they can get around independently following the move so the locations and order of visits will need to take that in to account. For people who have a mobility disability, ensuring accessible public transport is available near is crucial: you will find information in the websites of public transport companies, such as STIB, TEC or De Lijn.

You may also want to find and have access to a sign language interpreter in the case of a client who is deaf or hard of hearing. You can’t always rely on family members to relay messages, and engaging an interpreter is a strong sign of how much you are dedicated to supporting your customer. You can communicate by writing, of course, but for an on-site visit using the services of a sign language interpreter will be easier for all.

Please note that there isn’t really a “universal sign language” so first ask your client if they would like a sign interpreter, for which language, and then you can contact a specialised professional.

Try to hear what’s not being said.

Cultural, social, and personal reservations can sometimes make people reluctant or unwilling to disclose their needs. In those circumstances, it can seem almost impossible to help the people who need it most.

The only thing to do in these instances is to be aware of the indications which you are given. For example, a family instant on having a home on the ground floor may have a member who has mobility limitations. Equally, a need to be as close as possible to work or school may indicate the same.

Ultimately, there is a limit to what you can do. The best thing you can do is to be clear that your business stands ready to support the specific needs of clients with a disability, when they are raised, and that you are listening. Opening the door to the discussion will make all the difference.

More than just a nice thing to do.

Offering inclusive service options is about more than doing the right thing. It’s about keeping an open mind and hearing the things that aren’t being said. Ensuring that your business is actively capable of supporting the needs of clients with a disability will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

By offering services tailored to this sector, you open a whole new market for yourself. You will also create a differentiator for your business against more traditional competitors. There’s a clear business case for ensuring that your company is ready to support the needs of all. Though, just like any new market, you will need to invest both time and money to make the most of this opportunity.

Our thanks to Eleonora Censorii of Destination Everywhere Accessible Travel for her insight and support in this series. If you would like to discuss making your business more inclusive for people with disabilities, or further information on the solutions mentioned in this article, we recommend having a chat with Eleonora.

ABRA members enjoy a free consultation and discounted rate from Eleonora.

 

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How does healthcare work in Belgium?

Great question!

Healthcare is partially funded through the social security contributions that you pay on your salary. This will cover 50-75% of your cost of treatment. Though this rises to 80% when it comes to prescription medication.

You can sign up to state-sponsored health insurance, commonly known as your mutualité or mutualiteit, which will let you claim some of your costs back. If you’re not a fan of paying part of your medical costs, you can take up private health insurance to cover all of the costs.

Once you have this in place, you’re covered for trips to the doctor, hospital and dental care. You’ll also receive maternity care as part of the insurance, provided that you have been insured for a qualifying period of time before becoming pregnant.

Applying for public health insurance

This is the easy bit. As the public health insurance is paid from your salary, your employer will do much of this for you. If not, then you will need to register yourself at your local social security office.

The only thing you need is an eID card, which you will receive as part of your visa application. You may then select one of the public health insurance companies to use. There’s little difference between them all. They mostly are formed around a specific political or religious group.

Note that, if your employer is handling the health insurance process for you, it’s common for them to sign you up to the company which they work with. But, as mentioned, all mutualities are reliable.

Taking private health insurance

If you prefer to have all costs covered, or have a pre-existing condition, it’s worth considering taking out private health insurance. This may cover your medical costs completely, giving you peace of mind around your health.

It’s worth asking your employer if they offer private health cover, so be sure to check before you sign-up yourself.

As with any insurance, there are many providers, and we recommend check to ensure which providers meet your needs. Some, for example, offer family plans to cover your spouse and children, whilst others offer international cover. Ideal if your job sees you travelling regularly.

What about this Zorgkas thing?

If you’ve been in Belgium a while, you might have found a bill for the Zorgkas landing on your doormat. But what is it and do you have to pay? In a word: yes.

In Flanders (not Brussels or Wallonia), all persons aged 25 and over must pay an annual contribution of €62 to the Zorgkas, or Vlaamse Zorgverzekering. It is not an optional thing.

This payment is additional to your own contributions to the mutualité and goes towards paying healthcare costs for those who aren’t able to or who need additional support. Think of the elderly, people who are chronically ill or those with additional care or mobility needs.

What’s next?

With all of your insurances and documents in place, it’s time to choose a family doctor and a dentist. It’s even possible, if you want, to register with multiple doctors, though you will need to pick one to hold your records.

You can find doctors on the Golden Pages website, though we would suggest asking colleagues or friends for recommendations. It’s common practice for you then to have an initial consult with your new doctor, just to ensure that you’re happy with them.

Where it’s fairly easy to find a GP local to you, dentists tend to have waiting lists for new patients, so try and register as soon as you arrive. It’s no fun trying to find a dentist when that sore tooth is playing up.

Accessing services

With all of your insurances in place, you’re ready to go. Most doctors work on an appointment system, though some do permit walk-ins, on a first come, first served, basis.

To access medical services, you need only present your eID card. From there, the provider can check the insurances that you have.

As a rule, you will need to pay for treatment at the point of consultation. These costs may then be claimed from your insurance provider, less any deductible. Just ensure to get and keep your receipt from the treatment, as you will need to submit this to your insurance provider with any claim for reimbursement.

Mental Health Services

And of course, sometimes it really is just a case of feeling a little lost and lonely in your adopted home country. Being able to talk to someone can make all the difference when you’re feeling anxious, are struggling to adapt to your new life abroad, or if the kids are playing up.

CHS, the Community Help Service, has a free 24hr anonymous helpline staffed by highly trained volunteers as well as an expert professional team of psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and coaches. Help is only a phone call away.

With that, you’re all setup for healthcare in Belgium.

Of course, we wish you good health and hope you never need it! If you hit any issues with setting up your healthcare, we’d recommend speaking to one of our members. Our relocation specialists are experts in helping people like you move to Belgium and settle in. You can find a list of all our members here.

ABRA Members CM and Partena Business & Expats are both national health insurance providers, or mutualités.

Whereas ABRA Members Expat & Co and Vanbreda Eurinsurances offer private health plans especially designed to meet expat needs.

 

 

 

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Do EU citizens need a visa to work in Belgium?

As with every country, there are many different options of visa in Belgium. But, depending on where you’re from will define what you do or don’t need to live, work or study here.

If you’re a citizen of an EU or EFTA country, then you won’t need a visa at all. With the agreements which are in place within these groups, you can work, travel, live and study freely in Belgium. However, you might need to report your arrival to the municipality at the local town hall within ten days of arrival.

When you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need a residence card, called an eID card. To get this, you will need to register with the Immigration Office. This can be quite a lengthy process, so we recommend doing this sooner, rather than later.

What type of visa do you need?

For those who are not an EU or EFTA citizen, there are two main types of visas in Belgium, the short stay and long stay.

Short stay visas are for visits of under 90-days, and are called Visa Type C. These can be used for vacation, work, study or hospital visits. You can pick these up from your local Belgian Embassy or Consulate and take a minimum of 15 days to arrange. We say minimum as they often take much longer, especially during the summer, so applying as early as you can is highly recommended.

Note that not every country needs one of these visas for vacations. UK, US, Canadian and Australian citizens don’t need them, for example. If you’re not sure, we recommend checking out the latest advice from the immigration office.

If you plan to stay longer than 90-days, then you’ll need a long stay visa. Called a Type D, these visas cover the whole range of reasons for staying in Belgium beyond three months, including work, study or visiting family.

Getting to work in Belgium

Working within Belgium is relatively simple if you’re from within the EU. However, if you’re from a third country and plan to work for more than 90-days, then you will need a work permit to be employed here.

There are several options depending on your contract term and planned status.

For Entrepreneurs, you’ll need a professional card in addition to the Type D visa to work in Belgium. These are issued by regional authorities, and you’ll need one in place before you start to trade here. It is necessary to have this card for any trade or to complete any business activities in Belgium.

Expats moving to Belgium for long-term work will need to have a fixed-term, single permit which will be completed by your employer. Again, this is in addition to the Type D visa. These permits can take many months to arrange, so it’s important that your employer starts the process well ahead of your proposed start date.

If you’re coming to Belgium to work periodically on a Schengen visa, then it’s possible to get a 90/180 work permit. With this, you can work for up to 90 days out of 180 in Belgium. Your employer will need to arrange this for you and, when you have it, you can use it to arrange a Type C short stay visa from your local embassy or consulate.

Visas for spouses and family

The Type D long stay visa is the one needed if you plan to join your spouse who is coming to work and live in Belgium in the long term.

Note that you will need to be able to prove your relationship and that you have sufficient funds to support your family and expenses to be successful with this application.

Studying in Belgium

Moving to Belgium to study will mean that you need a Type D visa. To receive this, you will need to be able to prove that you have been accepted to study at a recognised Belgian University or educational institutional. You will also need to be able to prove that you can sustain yourself financially whilst in the country.

Crucially, the visa will also enable you to work up to 20-hours per week during the academic period and longer during holidays.

Navigating the process

Arranging and completing your visa application in the shortest time possible can be a complicated and daunting proposition. That’s where our members come in.

If you’re planning to move to Belgium, we’d recommend you have a conversation with a relocation agent as soon as you can. They can support you through the visa application process and keep on top of it for you. They can also support you with the logistics of the move, finding a home, schools and settling into the country too.

You can find a full list of our approved relocation agents right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And this time of year, through into the summer, is their busiest time. With 3 to 5 visits per day, his team will often work on weekends to meet the deadlines laid out by the client, rental agent and even moving companies. Coordinating with everyone involved to do the best job he can with the time allowed.

GMFC focuses on deep cleaning for expatriates who are leaving a rental -property. It’s his aim to ensure that, when they hand back their keys, the landlord gives them back all of their deposit.

The deposit problem in Belgium

Renting a property in Belgium is similar, in many ways to other countries, with most landlords requiring a deposit equivalent to two-month’s rental, plus a month’s rent in advance.

So far, so good.

However, at the start of your tenancy the landlord will complete an inspection report. This is usually conducted by a third-party, with the costs involved shared by both the landlord and tenant.

When leaving, the tenant will agree an inspection date with the landlord, who will then have a third-party complete the exit inspection report. Based on this, the landlord may, and frequently does, keep some or all of the deposit based on the condition of the property.

Whilst some allowance for wear and tear may be made, poor maintenance and cleaning will be penalised. Gianluca and his team are finding that the frequency and size of these penalties are only increasing each year. Losing your deposit is not the nicest of ends to your time in Belgium!

So, how did Gianluca come to make it his mission to reverse this trend? That’s a story that starts some time ago…

Opportunity Calling…

In 1996, Gianluca started working for his brother’s industrial cleaning company. For the next 15 years, he learnt the industry. From large scale site cleaning to window cleaning, they dealt with high-end, business clients.

What happened next, they really weren’t equipped for. “Around 2008, we started to receive a lot of requests for end of tenancy cleaning”, but as an industrial cleaning company, the company wasn’t well suited to deal with this type of request. So, seeing an opportunity, in 2010, Gianluca decided to see if he could make a business helping these people out.

Over the following years, the business grew rapidly. Working not just for the tenants themselves, but also for landlords, relocation agents and the multinationals who were employing the expats. It was clear everyone was invested in getting the deposit back. The expats want the money back and the landlord wants the property ready for the next tenant.

Start right, end right.

It became clear, in the early days of GMFC, that simply doing the exit clean was not the way to ensure success. Moves are often delayed or run over time, so it’s frequently the case that the team has less time than needed to deal with the issues they find.

These issues start on the day that the expat moves in. As they settle into their new home, new job and new country, their thoughts aren’t on the exit inspection, and why would it be?

Without care, and regular maintenance, the problems begin to build. So, by the time that Gianluca and his team arrive, often the day before the exit inspection, they need to firefight, and do the best they can. That leaves little time or space to do everything to get 100% of the deposit back.

That’s why Gianluca expanded beyond the pre-exit inspection deep clean.

GMFC now offers a comprehensive suite of maintenance and care services for expats throughout their tenancy. Handyman, painting and renovation services are available, as are gardening services, for those who don’t have time.

By taking care of the issues as they occur, expats can save themselves money, keep their home in a nicer condition and ensure that all of that deposit is coming back to them.

Success built on a spotless reputation.

Under Gianluca, GMFC has grown to a company of around 15 team members, which can double in size in the busy periods. Working smart, Gianluca has a set of hand-picked contractors who come in to help when the work floods in.

And flood, it does.

With 14 years in the industry, GMFC has a client list any business would be proud of. Large corporates including Exxon Mobil, GSK, HSBC, Sony and BP trust his team to get the job done. So do international bodies including NATO and the embassies from Iceland, Latvia, Slovenia and Norway.

But they’re not just about the big guys. GMFC work for many individuals, and they tackle properties of all sizes, from studio apartments to large houses. If you need their help, they’ll be there.

 

ABRA is proud to have Gianluca and the GMFC team as members of our association. In fact, they joined us in the year they were founded, fourteen years ago, so we’ve been with them from the very start.

If you need GMFC’s services, you can contact Gianluca here or find out more about them here.

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Long-term impact from short-term rentals

With the huge market and the profits available, Airbnb has attracted business who have purchased large numbers of properties within popular cities. The lack of administration and paperwork necessary, has also seen some landlords shift from long-term rental, to focusing on short-term tourist rentals.

The explosion in properties moving to Airbnb only, has seen thousands of properties drop out of the rental marketplace. In 2017, for example, over 2,800 rentals in Antwerp alone.

The knock-on impact has seen property prices and rental prices skyrocket. With that, the stock of available properties has shrunk, further inflating the rental prices of those properties which remain.

At its peak, Barcelona was seeing over 21.3 million registered overnight stays in a single year. Against a population of only 1.6 million people, that’s a huge number. In 2020, a study by the Journal of Urban Economics found that rents in areas with high Airbnb activity jumped by 7%, as opposed to 1.9% on average. House prices were also affected, seeing a 17% jump in areas with Airbnb but only 4.6% across the city as a whole.

With a reduction in the number of permanent residents, local amenities, such as corner shops, are also feeling the pinch. Areas which experience high volumes of short-term rentals are more likely to have fewer local shops and services as they are simply no longer needed.

From an expat perspective, the market becoming smaller has enabled some landlords to reject expats instantly. Why go for a shorter rental, when there are a large number of locals who will take longer contracts? This is of clear concern for our members and the expats who we support.

A global challenge

As with any new technology or idea, legislation is often far behind the game. The new business model involved, along with the sheer volume and explosive growth has left many government bodies, both local and country-wide, scrabbling to catch up.

These are problems which appear wherever Airbnb arrives and sparks a boom in short-term rentals. Which has led some cities to legislate to curb the impact of the company’s presence.

Some of you may recall that Belgium first introduced legislation around person-to-person rentals back in 2016. Following much controversy and a lengthy legal battle with Airbnb, the Brussels Parliament accepted an updated ordinance at the end of January 2024.

In 2021, Barcelona was the first to actually ban short-term room rentals, making it illegal to rent out a room for less than 31 days at a time. It is, however, still permissible to rent out entire houses and apartments with the correct permits.

Many other major European cities are tackling the issue by capping the number of days which a host can rent out a property. In Amsterdam the limit is 30 days per year, whilst London has set the cap at 90 days.

This trend is being followed across the world, with Tokyo outright banning the website, as have some boroughs of Montreal, Quebec.

But change is coming at a country and regional level as well.

For example, Italy’s tourism ministry has begun to take control of short-term holiday lets. The country now requires that the property is registered on a national database, that guests sign a contract with the host and that the host registers guests’ details on a national database. The aim here is to control overtourism and tackle housing shortages in tourist hotspots.

On a larger scale, the EU Competitiveness Ministers agreed to a plan for how information on short-term rentals can be made available and shared throughout the 27 countries in the bloc. The plan will require all hosts to register for a unique identification number which will need to be displayed on all advertisements. Sites like Airbnb will be required to check and verify the codes for any rental properties on their site. The aim here being to regulate the industry and to combat the growing number of illegal and poor condition rentals being sold to consumers.

Striking a balance

Whilst the damage which short-term rentals can do to a community are increasingly well documented, the benefits should not be overlooked.

Providing easily accessible, affordable and well-located accommodation is a huge benefit to local tourism. And with tourists comes revenue for local businesses and attractions. The resulting jobs and investment in the local area should not be discounted or ignored.

That said, a balance is needed to avoid overtourism and, more crucially, to minimize the negative impact that the tourists have on local people. When an industry results in entire cities becoming unaffordable for local people, then something needs to change.

Thankfully, it appears that the issue is now being fully realised and concerted effort is being made to address it. So, whilst companies like Airbnb are set to continue to grow for now, change is coming that will return the heart of local cities from hosts to residents where it should have been all along.

The inspiration for this industry update came from the superb article by BBF Apartments. If you’d like to know more about the steps Brussels is taking to address illegal Airbnb locations in the city, we highly recommend that you take a look at the article.

BBF Apartments is an ABRA member offering over 1,700 serviced, furnished or unfurnished apartments throughout Antwerp and Brussels. You can see their available apartments on their website.

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Every year, in early Spring, the team at Tourism Flemish Brabant create a Dutch language guide to exploring the province on foot. However, this year, they’ve also created a limited edition, English language guide.

The guide outlines 12 walks, suitable for new and experienced walkers, listed by the season when they’re best visited. You’ll also found details of the route markers you need to follow, plus recommendations of places to visit and eat around the walks.

And the best bit? The guide is free, all you have to do is pay the postage!

Not sure if you need a FREE walking guide in your life? Well, here are our four favourite walks from the guide. If you want the other eight, you’ll need to pick up your own copy.

Big Oak Walk – Bierbeek

Located around 30 minutes east of Brussels, Bierbeek is a small town nestled in the countryside.

The walk covers 12.6km through woodland, including over 1,000 majestic oak trees. This is a lovely area to lose yourself in nature and get away from the hustle of the city.

And when you’re done, what to do? Well, the guide gives a strong recommendation of a bistro where you can “enjoy a local beer and something scrumptious”, which is always great in our book!

Halewijn Walk – Zoutleeuw

An hour’s drive outside of Brussels sits the city of Zoutleeuw. With a population of just under 8,500 people, Zoutleeuw is home to the historical St. Leonard’s Church which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Halewijn walk covers 11.4km and will take you by St. Leonard’s, if you’d like to visit. Before that, you’ll be treated to trip through Het Vinne Provincial Domain, a nature reserve which includes the largest natural lake in Flanders.

Het Vinne also includes a watch tower to see the whole lake, a playground for the kids and an art trail with free art book. If you want to see the lake and learn more about it, there’s a free, 90-minute tour available.

Kesterbeek Walk – Beersel

Beersel is 30 minutes’ drive south of Brussels, though you can get there by train in just 18 minutes.

At only 8km, this walk does include some height, so get ready to elevate your heart rate. Running through the Zenne River’s valley, this is a fantastic way to enjoy the local countryside and to work up a thirst for a trip to the local brewery when you’re done.

Whilst you’re in Beersel, we’d recommend you take a trip to Beersel Castle. Built in 1300, it has a rich history and is considered one of Belgium best preserved castles.

Warande Walk – Tervuren

17.5km to the east of Brussels lies the historic town of Tervuren. A treasure trove of historical and cultural sites, the village of Tervuren is worth a visit on its own.

The Warande walk encompasses the St Hubert Chapel, Het Spaans Huis restaurant, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. At only 5.8km long, you get a lot of sights for a short distance.

The Royal Museum for Central Africa holds a vast collection of specimens from central Africa, including over 10,000,000 specimens in the Department of Zoology, 200,000 rock samples in the Department of Geology and over 120,000 objects in the Department of Cultural Anthropology.

Finally, if Tervuren sounds familiar, that might mean you’re a dog lover. One of the four distinct varieties of Belgian Shepherd takes its name from this region.

Our thanks to the team at Tourism Flemish Brabant for letting us have a sneak peek at the latest, limited-edition English language walking guide. If you’d like a copy of your own, it is available now and you can pick it up here, for the price of the postage.

 

 

 

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Whilst there is little data on mobility by race or ethnicity, we can say that only around 20% of expatriates are women. This may stem from the expectation that women are the primary care givers within a family, but it highlights that businesses may not be doing enough to enable women to take advantage of opportunities, irrespective of their domestic situation.

It is unsurprising then that a Deloitte survey found that only 10% of global mobility teams are active in DE&I discussions. Or that only 15% actively track DE&I data for global mobility. But with international experience having clear benefits for leadership skills, an opportunity for more diverse leaders is being missed.

So, what can you do to bring the global picture in-line with the local one? How do you ensure consistent experience and standards throughout your business? And why does it matter?

Benefits of DE&I.

From cultural to neurodiversity, a varied team with different characteristics, identities and experiences can be a big business win.  Not only does it allow you to access a larger talent pool, leveraging the expertise of a diverse workforce can increase innovation by up to 20% according to the World Economic Forum.

Another important reason to incorporate DE&I initiatives is that they align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as support your Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It’s all connected…

We all want to be an attractive employer, and DE&I is a great way to improve your reputation.

Get some figures.

So, where to begin? The first place to start is to actively track DE&I information through your global mobility programme. This provides a clear starting point and give you a deeper understanding of how your company is performing.

This can often be one of the most daunting steps to take. But it does present an opportunity to start a dialogue with your internal teams to get them onboard at an early point.

Focus on outcomes, not actions.

All too often DE&I has been reduced to a series of checkboxes which, when complete, means that the job’s done. Right?

Well, that’s often not the case in the places it matters. With the people on the ground.

Once you have data of where your business is, the next step should be where you need to go. What SHOULD your global mobility proposition deliver? Which groups within your business are underrepresented within the expatriate cohort?

Asking questions like this will start to give you an appreciation of who is currently being left behind by your programmes and therefore who needs your help the most.

With that established, it’s time to engage with those groups within your business. You need to understand what blocks, real of perceived, are stopping them from taking these global positions and how you can help.

Build it in.

With what you plan to do and who for established, it’s time to break that down into steps, and integrate that within your business.

This will require that you work to deeply connect both your global mobility and DE&I processes from a top-level down. Establishing then refining policy frameworks and procedures which will ensure the successful delivery of desired outcomes.

You will need to ensure that this isn’t done solely as an HR directive. The Global Mobility teams within your business, and any third parties who you work with, will have invaluable insight and experience. By developing this aspect of your DE&I strategy in this way, you give it the greatest probability of long-term success by listening to those doing the job at a local level.

DE&I Training & Integration.

This isn’t as simple as getting your global mobility team on a course. They should be having those already.

We’re talking here about the teams where expatriates will be arriving. DE&I is not a global standard, it is a highly localised concept with members of the same country in different countries having wildly different expectations. Without care and thought going into this aspect of a relocation, problems can easily be built in.

So, ensuring a global level of best practice and training all members of your team to that standard is the first step. It is also wise to develop a programme to help new arrivals settle and integrate both with their new colleagues and new home. This can include assigning a local “buddy” within the office for each expat, arranging social events, and giving localisation, as well as language training.

Communication.

With all of this in place, you need to let your team know. Be clear where global mobility schemes have been unsuccessful previously and what you are looking to achieve now. Then ensure that you clearly let the target groups know that these opportunities are for them.

A good communications drive should be about letting members of your team know what they can be doing and how they can do it. Crucially, you should also address the common concerns and issues which under-represented groups raised to you previously. Acknowledge that these have been issues, then explain how they’ve been fixed.

Finally, book in a timeline for where and when feedback will be sought on the success of this new DE&I initiative. Make space and time to review how this is doing and then to refine what you’re doing even further.

For too long DE&I has been disconnected with global mobility programmes. In leaving it out, many will have missed out on invaluable life and professional experience. But, with care and by listening to those affected, we can ensure that this is no longer the case.

If you would like support in improving your global mobility programmes, especially with the relocation and integration of expatriate staff, then ABRA members can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Actually not that Big…

At only 30,528 square kilometres, Belgium is the fifth smallest country in Europe. Whilst you might think that being small isn’t a benefit, it means you can get to France, Luxembourg, Germany or the Netherlands with only 2 hours driving, not bad at all.

You’ll also find yourself really close to some key European capitals including London (320km), Paris (265km) and Amsterdam (173km) with train services to all three.

So, if you’re looking for a home that lets you travel and see the rest of Europe really easily, you won’t find a better one than Belgium.

(And if you’re wondering, the four smallest countries in the EU are Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and AndorraNow you’re trivia quiz ready!)

4 Languages, 1 Country.

Did you know that four languages are spoken widely in Belgium?

Well, there are, and one of them certainly surprises many people:

  • 59% speak Dutch*.
  • 40% speak French.
  • 1% speak German.
  • And 55% speak English as a second language.

The area you live in will define which language is most prevalent. So, make sure you know which language you need to know for your chosen home city.

Whilst the main cities will see most people able to use English, for more remote or quieter areas, even a basic level of the local language is beneficial.

*Though this could most accurately be called Flemish, which is to Dutch what American is to English. The same but some different words, phrases and pronunciations.

Local Government Rules.

Where some countries have large, centralised government, Belgium does things smaller. Every Belgian municipality has its own City Hall, called a Commune, which handles the administrative and bureaucratic side of life.

If you’re staying for more than three months, you’ll need to inform your local Commune. This is where you get your Residence Visa, so take along lots of identifying documents including your passport, ID, any marriage certificates and birth certificates, for you and your family.

But the Commune is about more than admin, here you can find out lots more about the local area and your new home. Information on local events, schools, and pre school facilities can all be found here, so don’t forget to ask!

The Favourite Form of Transport.

The Belgians are great lovers of sport and the outdoors, so, of course, they’re into cycling. The country offers a lot of choice for those who enjoy life on two wheels. If you’re a casual rider who likes the flats, fancy a challenge with hilly areas or just see a bike as a commuter choice, the Belgian cycle network has you covered.

From urban Antwerp to bucolic Flemish Brabant, getting around by bike is easy.  In fact, in a country of 10.4 million people, there are over 8.8 million kilometres of mapped cycle routes. Those are split into over 158,000 individual routes, 9,800 of which you’ll find in Brussels.

The paths themselves are really well signposted and kept in great condition. However, the Belgian weather doesn’t always play ball, so make sure you take the right clothing for any cycling adventures you have planned.

That said, if you prefer off-road mountain biking, there are over 2,800km of trails documented by enthusiasts. These trails cover over 55,500m of route descent, letting you choose the level of challenge you want from your trip.

Whether you’re a beginner or ride as a serious sport, Belgium has the terrain and infrastructure for you. Is it any wonder that Belgium gave birth to the world’s greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx?

Dinner is Served.

While many people know that Belgium is famous for chocolate, waffles and beer, do you know just how big those foodstuffs are and what else you can get? After all, you can’t live on beer and chocolate. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Well, let’s start with the beer. As of 2021 there were over 400 active breweries in Belgium, producing over 1,500 different types of beer. Whatever your beer of choice, you’ll find it in Belgium and some distinct varieties around it as well.

When it comes to chocolate, things are even more impressive. Boasting over 2,000 chocolatiers, producing over 172,000 tonnes per year, chocolate is big business in Belgium. Though this isn’t a surprise when you consider that chocolate production in the country can be traced back to the 17th century.

If that’s dessert and drinks taken care of, what about the main course?

Many people are surprised at the importance of Belgian fries, or frites as a staple. You’ll find many shops selling them in the towns and cities across the country. That explains why Belgians eat more fries than Americans, per year, and why they’re the national dish.

But once you have your fries, what to put with them? If you’re feeling saucy, there’s a lot on offer including familiar sauces like mayonnaise, curry and tomatoes, but you’ll also find more exciting varieties. These include Andalouse sauce (peppers, mayonnaise, tomato paste, & pickles), Samurai sauce (mayonnaise, Tunisian chili, spices, tomatoes, & peppers) and sauce Americaine (mayonnaise with tomato, chervil, onions, capers, seafood stock, & celery) should you be feeling more adventurous.

From there, we’d recommend trying moules-frites (mussels with fries), stoofvlees (a hearty beef stew to drench your fries with), and waterzooi (a creamy stew of fish or chicken). Whatever your tastes, you’ll be well fed in Belgium!

These are just some of the hidden gems of wisdom you’ll need to know to live in Belgium. If you’d like help unlocking the secrets of Belgian life, then we recommend working with some of our members. They can help you plan and complete your move with ease, then support you as you find your way in your new home country.

 

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The truth is that many of these problems and negative experiences can be resolved with two simple things; thought, and education.

Picking up your whole life and moving to another country can be incredibly stressful. But if you or someone in your family is disabled, the stress is compounded by uncertainty. What are the facilities for people with disabilities like in the new country? Will access to services be possible?

With many relocation agents untrained in supporting these clients, it’s too easy to miss the signs of someone in need. That said, if we do notice an issue, many feel uncertain how to approach and offer help around someone with a disability.

This isn’t helped by the low expectations that many disabled people have when using services not designed for them. Simply put, they are so frequently overlooked or uncatered for, that they see that as the baseline of service. In fact, this happens so often, that many disabled people don’t mention, or even hide, their disability from service providers.

We can all agree that this isn’t how it should be.

The truth is that many of these problems and negative experiences can be resolved with two simple things; thought, and education.

For example, asking someone if they’re disabled can be confronting. However, asking if they have any particular needs relating to facilities or accessibility will allow someone to discuss what you can do to help, rather than what their “problems” are.

Similarly, if a client is insisting on ground floor accommodation, taking the time to ask whether this is a personal choice or an issue of accessibility gives an opportunity to disclose, rather than an intrusive challenge.

When it comes to showing accommodation, ensuring that you know what accessibility features are available at each property will save time and show your awareness of different needs.

Changing the way disabled people are seen to shift focus from the disability to the person behind it is essential. The best way to do this is with a standard toolkit within your business to upskill your team to support disabled people through education.

A toolkit is best developed by asking disabled people what they need. Establishing needs and preferences of real people who use your service. Then using those experiences to refine your processes and service offering for future users. Constantly evolving, developing and improving.

So, aside from a warm feeling of helping people, why should a business invest time, money and resources in making such a big change to your business?

It’s just good business, that’s why. Much of our industry works on good word of mouth. With disabled customers being so poorly taken care of, being one of the only companies offering them a professional, considered service will improve your reputation and attract more clients.

Additionally, many relocation agents work with HR teams who have diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements. By being able to include services specifically aimed at disabled customers, corporate clients will find your business a much more attractive and acceptable partner for their staff relocations.

Taking a stand to support disabled people is not only the right thing to do, but it will also help your business grow and give you a whole new set of services to offer. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a great idea!

Throughout 2024, we will be featuring a number of Industry Updates created in partnership with Destination Everywhere Accessible Travel. Together we will discuss some of the key concerns and challenges which disabled people face before, during and after relocation.

If you can’t wait for the next one, we recommend you reach out to Eleonora to see how she can help make your business a more disability supportive experience.

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Little videos remain big.

Short form video has been leading b2c and b2b communications for years. You need look no further than the 1.5 billion monthly active users on TikTok to see that. But as other social platforms have started to take the Asian giant at their own game, this is only the beginning.

So, whether you’re considering tinkering with TikTok, sampling YouTube shorts or having a ramble on Instagram Reels, 2024 is the year for it.

Whilst 90% of businesses interviewed by Amazon in 2023 were already using video, that last remaining 10% all cited the same issue: lack of time. It’s worth knowing that users aren’t necessarily looking for polished, professional content on these platforms. Instead, they’re looking for authentic, clear and fast information.

That’s right, you don’t need to hire a full camera crew to make it work. Just an idea, try it and see what happens.

If you’re thinking about taking a step into video, we recommend writing down a few ideas, then recording them over a few days. And, after a quick check for major issues, put them out into the world. Then ask your viewers what they think, see what people like. Use that to help to decide what to do next. And… repeat.

Recycling is everywhere.

For once, we’re not talking about the environment. Instead, think about how you can reuse your communications in imaginative ways.

The first, and obvious one with our first trend, is to put any content you make in different places. Don’t just make a TikTok, use a different edit of the video and turn it into a Short for YouTube, another change and you have a Reel for Instagram.

This applies with text too. If you’re posting on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, consider reusing similar, but edited, content on the different channels at different times. If your post isn’t time critical, this month’s post is next month’s tweet!

But this isn’t just about chopping about something you’ve done already. A blog post, with care, can be turned into an engaging infographic, images with text for Instagram and a podcast.

If it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying, slightly differently, elsewhere.

Just be mindful that you don’t put the same information out in different ways on five channels in the same week. After, if you do, why do people need to follow you in more than one place?

Rise of the machines.

As we mentioned last year, Artificial Intelligence (AI), is developing in many areas of business. In 2024 we expect to see the use of certain types of AI to continue to grow, specifically Chatbots.

These useful applications can act as first line sales and first line support. With careful implementation, your business will gain a 24/7 member of your team who can help your customers find meaningful and useful answers to their questions quickly.

Business leaders who have implemented a chatbot on their site have seen a 67% increase in sales as a result. Imagine what that level of increase could do for your business.

In fact, the AI industry projects that AI chatbots will become the primary customer support service for a quarter of all companies by 2027.

All of this, and you’ll gain more hours in your day as the basics of customer service are taken on by the AI. So, when are you getting yours?

The world is still on the move.

…thankfully for us!

Year-on-year, people are accessing websites, apps and services via their mobile devices more than any other type of device. It was 14 years ago, that Eric Schmidt, then-CEO of Google, coined the term “mobile first” as a design structure. But even all these years later, many businesses are not ensuring that their website and services work on mobile devices.

Currently, around 56% of all internet traffic comes from mobile devices. This makes it crucial that, if your website is the first contact a prospective customer or partner has with your business, the site works. As ever, you never get a second chance at a first impression, and if your first impression is of a broken, unusable website, it’s bad news.

But, more than that, many search engines, including Google, use mobile performance to decide where a site should appear on their results pages. So, having a non-mobile friendly site might result in your website being pushed down the rankings.

So, how can you tell?

The first thing is to use your own phone. Just visit your website and make sure everything is visible and works as well on your phone as it does on your laptop.

That’s the first step, the next is to run it through an online tool to get a more detailed look. There are many sites out there, but a site like mobiReady can take a look for issues that you won’t notice on your phone. Their page score will let you know if you’re doing well or actually have some areas of concern.

If there are areas for concern, then it’s time to speak to a specialist for a tune up. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people are visiting your website or service, if 56% of them can’t work the site when they arrive, does it?

Clarity of message.

2024 will be the year where clarity will be king. As we mentioned earlier, people are looking for authenticity. A more human, real connection, even from businesses.

We’ll see this in the continuing of the trend for clear, honest communication. This comes from a deep understanding of your potential client and what you bring to their world. What problems are you solving and how do you do it?

Once you understand that, tell them.

Be clear, be direct, be honest.

Remove the jargon and the pretense.

Let your customers understand how you will make their life better, and then do it.

This year, companies doing that will win big in 2024.

And there we have it! Our crystal ball predictions for what will make communications in 2024 look just that little bit different to 2023.

Are there any we missed? Or do you have any questions on the ones we’ve included? Find us on social media and let us know!

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This year, NetExpat and EY returned to update their findings. Sam Pinney, Director Benelux/ APAC Client services & Global Advisory for NetExpat said:

“Originally launched in 2018 by NetExpat, in partnership with EY, the Relocating Partner Survey is the most comprehensive benchmark survey ever conducted related to the spouses and partners of transferees. The 2023 survey leveraged the historical data from the last 5 years, along with new feedback from corporate HR representatives, mobile employees and their partners to showcase perspectives from these three different viewpoints.”

For the 2023 report, the team added in more topics to reflect the changing priorities within the industry. Specifically:

  • The effect of hybrid and cross-border remote work
  • Family Experience
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)

Looking Beyond the Employee

As with the 2018 survey, this new work provides new insight into the priorities and needs of employees and their families.

Crucially, employees and their partners feel that employers have listened and begun to prioritise the Family Experience. This has seen corporate programmes begin to reflect the needs of families more accurately. As the report highlights “the well-being of the family is a key component of the services companies should consider offering in an international relocation package”.

We can see the success of these new look programmes in the survey results. Looking at partner support, for example, only 31% of employees felt that employers were doing enough in 2018. This has jumped to 55% in 2023.

Additionally, offering support beyond the employee enhances the DE&I agenda of the employer.

Changing Attitudes

Increasingly relocating employees are coming from Generations Y and Z, which is seeing a shift in priorities for partners.

Specifically, when we look at the importance of second incomes, younger generations find two incomes to be more important than previous generations. We see this in the survey results with second income being important to 69% in 2018, rising to 74% in 2023.

This new breed of mobile talent is also expecting more from their prospective employer. Especially when it comes to supporting their partner and family. Whilst corporations are evolving their programmes to offer more services to the family, there is still work to be done to meet the expectations of new, relocating employees.

The Importance of Family

It is crucial that employers who are seeking the best international talent keep these changes in mind. When we look at the most common reasons for assignment rejection, 3 of the top 6 relate directly to family. By not creating a programme which proactively supports the partners and family as a whole, key talent can be lost.

Beyond the initial acceptance, when common reasons for failed assignments are reviewed, family is a key factor here too. In fact, 74% of respondents listed their partner not being happy as a factor in the failure and 38% included issues with their children.

How to Improve the Family Experience

We are already seeing a shift in the approach of employers. The focus is moving from “cash” to “care”.

Where ten years ago 61% of businesses would use a cash allowance to attract partners, this has now dropped to 36%. In its place, we’re seeing an increase in direct support to the partner, with 69% of employers offering this and 51% offering integration support for non-working partners.

Additionally, the pre-decision consultation is an emerging practice which shows great promise. These can be used to reassure the employee and their family before they make the decision to become mobile. Whether handled by internal HR assets or external providers, these are a great opportunity to proactively address common assignment rejection issues.

Corporations are increasingly offering support through a peer-to-peer system. This sees a person with whom the family/partner identifies offering support to the family. This is an extremely effective and cost-efficient way to provide tangible support to the partner and family. This also provides a framework for monitoring and proactively addressing the common reasons for failed assignments before they become critical.

All of this leads to a stronger framework for talent retention, which is the best outcome for all involved.

Our thanks to NetExpat, especially Sam Pinney, for the agreement and support for us to produce this brief for our ABRA members. If you would like to look deeper into their results, you can download your own copy of the report here.

 

 

 

 

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Brussels

The capital of Belgium and home to the European Parliament, Brussels is a bustling multicultural centre. It’s a great place to live as an expat, offering a huge range of employment opportunities, as well as international schools. In fact, nearly 40% of the population of Brussels is non-native. Unsurprisingly, most people speak English, which is very useful as you work on your Dutch and French!

The city includes a thriving centre, full of amazing restaurants and bars to sample some of famous Belgian beer.  Away from the centre, the city offers quiet suburbs ideal for families. All of this is connected with an efficient public transport system which makes getting around easy.

But, as you’d expect, this can come at a cost. Brussels can be an expensive city to live in, especially when it comes to accommodation. Selecting the right municipality to live in can have a big impact on these costs though. For example, if cost isn’t an issue, then Etterbeek or Ixelles/Elsene would be a great choice. However, if you’re looking for something a little more cost effective, then Anderlecht might be worth a look.

Antwerp

If Brussels is the economic powerhouse, then Antwerp is the cultural heart. Focusing on fashion and cultural tourism, the city is the perfect home for creatives and those seeking a trendier home. This, of course, has attracted expats from around the world. In fact, over 180 nationalities call Antwerpen home, with sizable English and American communities in the city.

Of course, the fact that Antwerp is Europe’s second largest port, also contributes towards the city’s international flair and flavour. Home to Europe’s largest petrochemical cluster and hotspot for startups, Antwerp truly is an international hub of trade and innovation.

As you’d expect, this means you’ll find international schools, universities, expat communities and clubs in the city.  The city has a younger feel, offering good employment opportunities for students, good public transport in the centre, biking infrastructure and much more affordable rent than Brussels.

On the cultural side, diamond capital of the world Antwerp is home to world class museums, including the stunning MAS, Chocolate Nation (for those with a sweet tooth) and the Museum Plantin-Moretus, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As with the Capital, Antwerp has many residential areas, each with their own unique feel and prices to suit a range of budgets. You’ll find many of the residential areas to the north of the city centre. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend the industrial Het Eilandje, or the or, if you fancy a livelier space, check out the trendy Het Zuid. A little further afield, but still within the Antwerp ring road, residential hotspots like Oud Berchem or Zuremborg are very much hip and happening.

Ghent

If you’re looking for a distinctly Belgian city, then Ghent might just be perfect for you. Often said to be the most beautiful city in the country, Ghent is growing in popularity.

Central to the growth is the University of Ghent, which is helping the city to become a centre for research and development. Around 30% of the population are students, so their efforts are clearly working! This is also attracting businesses around the engineering and life-sciences industries.

The city itself is gorgeous, very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, which has been a key focus for the current city government. Despite the size of Ghent, you’ll find a welcoming, village feel to the city with small boutiques, great restaurants and a vibrant atmosphere. We’d recommend navigating the city on two wheels, as it’s the best way to see the canals and architecture. Though do look out for the tram rails! They can be a big surprise for the cyclist distracted by Ghent’s architecture!

Accommodation in the city can be expensive. With the city begin at the meeting point of the rivers Scheldt and Lys, many properties offer stunning rivers views, but that doesn’t help the rent! We’d recommend you take a look at homes in Muinparkwijk, Coupure or Visserij to get you started.

In addition to the large variety of public schools, Ghent has a successful international school, which includes a pre-school, elementary school and, as of September 2023, a secondary school.

Leuven / Louvain

If a deciding factor of moving to Belgium for you is the beer, then we’d recommend you consider the heart of Belgian Beer, Leuven. The city is the home of the biggest brewery in the world, AB InBev, the owner of Becks, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Leffe, and many more besides!

From craft beer festivals to international short film festival, Leuven is known for having a good time. Concerts, competitions, and sporting events add to the vibrant atmosphere of this historic destination. The city is also home to KU Leuven University, and an international school, making it ideal for expats with children.

You’ll also find that you can easily commute to the larger centres, like Brussels and Antwerpen, from Leuven. So, if you want the big city job, but a quieter homelife, this would be an ideal location to commute from.

More importantly, with the internationally renowned Institute of Microelectronics and Components (Imec) looking to attract an additional 1,950 staff by 2035, local opportunities abound too!

Liege / Luik

Situated on the river Meuse, Liege is gorgeous city, with parts of dating back to medieval times. The city is also close to the German and Dutch, with Luxembourg not too far away either. Liege is one of Belgium’s largest cities, and the biggest in the French speaking area.

But it’s not just the language inspired by France; you’ll also find that the cuisine in Liege has some strong French influence and creativity.

Nicknamed “the glowing city”, Liege has a vibrant nightlife, helped along by the world-class educational institutions within the city.  The city also hosts annual music festivals, including the huge Les Ardentes multi-day event and Jazz à Liège.

You’ll find many expats centred in the apartments on streets including Rue due Jardin Botanique, Rue du Mont St-Martin, Piercot, and Boulevards Frere-Orban.

Wherever you choose to put down your roots, you can be sure Belgium will be a fantastic home for you. If you’d like to know more about the details of moving here, you can find out how to find a home from our recent update.

When you’re ready to take the next step, our ABRA members can help you find a new home and get the move done, no matter where you are in the world. Check out our members – including international schools – and start planning the next step in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What does it cost to buy or rent in Belgium?

Belgium is surprisingly inexpensive place to have a home. In fact, Belgians spend an average of only 18% of their disposable income on accommodation though this is more like 30% for professionals moving to the larger cities.

It is especially cheap when compared to other parts of Europe. For example, rent is an average of 31% cheaper than in The Netherlands or, if you’re from further afield, about 35% cheaper than in the US.

This translates to a one-bedroom apartment coming in at an average monthly rent of €820 per month or €1,240 for a three-bedroom. Though this does jump to €1,100 and €2,000 respectively for Brussels, for example.

That said, price differences can vary hugely between cities, communities, and even neighbourhoods, so be sure to do your research before finalising your budget.

If buying is more your thing, the average Belgian apartment costs just over €3,500 per square metre in the city centre or €2,850 outside. And, before you ask, the average interest rate for a 20-year fixed rate mortgage is 3.27% at the time of writing. That makes owning your own place surprisingly achievable, even within the bigger cities.

Thanks to Numbeo, for the information. If you’d like to read the latest data (the above is from November 2023), you can check out their site here.

As with every country, there are nuances to renting or buying a home in Belgium. Let’s dive in and look at what you can expect, what you need and who can help.

Renting an apartment or house in Belgium

If you’re on a short-term contract or want to get to know the country before buying, then renting is a great way to find your feet. Around 28.7% of the population choose rental accommodation.

Most rental terms in Belgium are around three years, however, short-term options can readily be found in the larger cities. A common short-term choice is serviced apartments which often cater to the expat and contract work community specifically.

One reason for the number of people choosing rental properties over ownership is the level of legally protected rights renters get in Belgium. If you choose to rent, you will have greater freedom to redecorate or improve the property than many others in the EU. Additionally, rental agreements are designed to make it hard for the landlord to evict the tenant, giving a greater level of protection and security for renters.

Once you’ve found your dream place, you’ll need several documents to be eligible to rent, these include:

  • A copy of your passport.
  • Proof of earnings, such as a recent bank or savings statements.
  • If you’re a non-EU/EEA resident, you will also need proof of employment or long-stay (category D) visa.
  • It is not uncommon for some agencies or private landlords to request references too.

Moving on to the costs, it is typical for a tenant to pay two to three months rent as a security deposit, depending on whether you’re moving to Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia. Note that this must be made electronically, it’s not legal to complete this in cash.

All going well, an inventory report will need to be completed. This makes a record of the contents and condition of the property. This is often done by an external company and typically costs €300 and €400, which is usually split between the landlord and tenant.

Note that, in addition to your rental, you may also be responsible for additional costs including monthly service fees which can range from €50 to €100. This covers things like maintenance of elevators, the cleaning of common areas, and so on.

As well as being legally required to take out fire insurance, you’ll be responsible for your utilities; these are never paid for by the landlord. For an apartment these two should come to less than .

Buying an apartment or house in Belgium

If you’re ready to take the plunge and buy straight away, you’ll find it’s a great time to buy. Belgium is one of 16 countries in the EU where house prices have started to come down due to higher interest rates cooling the market.

Mortgages are widely available for those under the age of 65. One key requirement is that you will need to show that your mortgage repayments will not exceed 35% of your monthly income. The mortgage industry offers a range of products including fixed-rate, variable rate, and combined rate.

As with any property purchase, there are costs and taxes to pay before the place is yours. In Belgium, these are currently:

  • Deposit of around 10%
  • Registration tax for existing properties (note that rates vary between the different regions in Belgium)
  • Federal VAT on properties newly built or less than two years old
  • Notary’s fee (0.2-4%)
  • Cost of deed of sale (€800–1,000)

The process for the actual purchase of the property is similar to other countries, the three main steps are:

  • The commitment to buy (offre d’achat/ koopintenties): when completed, you are committed to buy but the seller can back out without penalty. There may also be a small holding fee to pay here, which you will lose if you back out of the purchase.
  • The sale agreement (compromis de vente/ verkoopcompromis): This is the legal bit and gives the detail of the contract. This is where you will usually have to pay the deposit. From signing this document, you will have four months to pay the balance of the purchase.
  • The notarized deed (acte notarié/ notariële akte): The final step and, when complete, the property moved to your ownership. The deed must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.

And, just like that, you’re a new homeowner, congratulations!

As with any complex legal process, there can be bumps and nuances on the way. We would always recommend that you take professional advice from a suitably qualified specialist in Belgium, speaking of which…

When you’re ready to make the move to Belgium, you’ll find all the support you need from our members, we’re ready to make sure your next move is an adventure every step of the way.

 

 

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The basics.

From Blade Runner to The Terminator, for most of us the concept of artificial intelligence has always felt a little Hollywood. A fantastical idea to underpin a great story, but nothing real. Yet here we are. AI is here and it’s here to stay. So, what is it really and how can we make it work for us?

At its core, AI is the ability for a computer to think like a human, or at least to appear to. This currently presents itself as computer programmes which are able to reason and learn from experience.

The recent explosion in awareness of AI has come from a new type of system based around a technology called Generative AI. This sounds fancy, but in practice it means a system that can create text, images, music or other media based on patterns it finds in examples which it is given called training data.

We can see this at work with today’s most popular AI system, ChatGPT. This is software which can create human-like text based on a user’s request. ChatGPT creates articles using information taken from a huge collection of text including books, articles, and web pages To this they add more information from news articles and Wikipedia.

All of this data is used to train software which is designed to mimic human thought. When the software has processed all of the data, ChatGPT can predict what text should come next in a sentence based on analysis of text it has seen before. It can also refine output to express specific feelings and make the text context appropriate. This leads to very natural, human-like text being produced by ChatGPT and systems like it.

Users can write a request on ChatGPT and ask it to produce original text on most topics. They can even request a specific tone or feel. So, if you’d like your marketing to sound like it was written by Shakespeare, ChatGPT can make that happen.

This same process is used by all other AI software, whether they’re creating text, images, video or any other types of media.

The limitations and risks of AI.

Whilst what they can do is amazing, current AI systems are far from human capabilities and bring risks of their own. Some headlines would make you think that the risks are a future in which Skynet takes over the world, but in reality, the concerns are a little more mundane, though no less important.

One concern is the sources of information used by these generative AI systems, as this data defines the capabilities of the AI. That is to say, if your AI isn’t trained with quality, reliable data, then this can lead to issues. There are concerns that, as more information and content is created by AI, this could lead to a downward trend for the quality and an increase in bias of the media these systems produce.

This reliance on data sources means that the system only knows what it is told. It is important to understand what information an AI system has access to before using it.

As discussed, Generative AI stores large amounts of information. Current systems use publicly available data, but, as the use of AI grows more sensitive or private information could be included within their training data. AI is as vulnerable as any other IT system to being hacked, so this will create concerns around privacy and security going forward.

Finally, there are also ghosts in the machine, a bit like Short Circuit, if you’re a fan of 80’s movies. Whilst we understand how the software within an AI is made, we don’t know how they actually process and reproduce information. This makes it hard to predict what an AI will do. We’re already seeing this with AI chatbots who have been found to be making up information, as has ChatGPT.

How can your business use AI today?

For all of the concerns, AI still has great potential and is something to think about for your business. In a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 80% of business leaders are already use generative AI regularly and are finding that it improves efficiency and performance.

But what can AI actually do for your company? Here are some of our favourite uses for AI available for your business today:

  • Customer Service – implementing an AI Chatbot, such as FreshChat on your website can help with fielding the first level of customer queries. By responding to frequently asked questions and simple requests, an AI can cut down on staff workload and reduce response times for customers.
  • Finance – Generative AI is great at spotting patterns and making predictions. This means it is perfect for fraud detection and financial forecasting for your business. A great AI forecasting tool is Datarails.
  • Transportation – AI driven apps like Waze are great for route planning and traffic prediction, ensuring you make your meetings on time.
  • Marketing – as marketing moves to deeper levels of automation, AI can help with customer segmentation, social media, and more accurate targeting for your marketing. When it comes to marketing AI, we’re fans of Sprout Social.

There still remains a lot of concern that AI will result in job losses for those in non-leadership roles. That’s why it’s crucial to keep in mind one important fact; AI is a tool. Integrating it into your business should be approached from a “people first” perspective, ensuring that it complements your team, not replaces them.

AI opens up new opportunities and roles within your business. Consider offering training on AI best practice and qualifications for the new tools to your team to empower them to use AI with confidence.

It’s also worth considering adding AI policies to your business. This will enable you to define acceptable use for AI as well as data protection and privacy expectations. If everyone understands what AI is and is not for, problems can be avoided before they occur.

The future is together.

AI is no longer science fiction, it’s science fact. By understanding what AI can (and can’t) do, you can make informed choices about when, where and how to add it to your business.

Whilst there’s no doubt that this technology will develop and grow in the weeks, months and years ahead, early adoption will help you make the most of this exciting technology. Successfully adding it to your business will increase efficiency and give you a competitive advantage, but only if done with care.

 

 

 

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Well, the first step is to build a plan of action to make your business a sustainable service provider. However, knowing where to start can be a challenge.

Thankfully EuRA, in collaboration with the Coalition for Greener Mobility, has produced a new white paper covering sustainable development goals for Destination Service Providers (DSPs). This includes details of the framework DSPs should use to develop and meet sustainability goals in all areas of their business.

The aim is to help you create your own Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It will help your business look beyond financial goals and begin to develop value within society. Part of this includes considering then managing environmental sustainability and social responsibility issues. An effective ESG programme should also describe how you monitor and review your performance and manage your business.

We recommend that ABRA members develop and adopt an ESG programme as a matter of best practice. To get you started, here are our top take aways from each section of the EuRA Sustainability White Paper.

Environmental Sustainability

A good ESG programme should be built into the fabric of your business. Your environmental planning should consider every operational perspective of your business, from the office to service delivery.

Within the office, consider:

  • Power suppliers – choosing suppliers who provide renewable energy has never been easier. This will have an instant impact on your business’s carbon footprint.
  • Paper consumption – the world has never been more digital. It’s worth taking the time to see which of your business practices can be taken fully digital. Moving away from printing unnecessarily will not only protect natural resources, but also save your business money in paper purchases and storage solutions.
  • Training – Ensuring that your team is fully up to date with business policy and best practices will help minimise your carbon footprint.

Service delivery can also have a strong impact on how sustainable your business is:

  • Work with the right people – ensure that you’re working with other companies who share your sustainability goals. If they don’t, provide them with guidelines covering your requirements and support them to become compliant with your needs.
  • Help your assignee – Providing information on public transport, sustainable power suppliers and recycling options will help your assignee start sustainably.
  • Consider how you move – Is it possible to use public transport or even to cycle for your team? Can service delivery occur at the weekend when traffic may be lower? By being conscious and minimising use of fossil fuelled powered vehicles, you can cut carbon emissions and save money.

Social Sustainability

The social side of an ESG programme is where you consider how your business impacts wider society. We’re not just talking about the environment though, this is also about the wellbeing and quality of life of customers, assignees and suppliers.

By considering what impact your business has on the lives of others, you can quickly develop a plan to be a positive force within your community.

  • Take care of your team – look at ensuring your team has a positive work life balance, that vacation means time off, not less calls, and that stress is kept to a minimum. You should also ensure that you’re providing an environment where your staff can develop skills and feel fairly compensated for their time.
  • Financial transparency – create and enforce equal pay and payment best practice policies. Also allocate annual budget to train your team and to achieve the business’s ESG goals.
  • Bring your customers along – inform and educate your customers on sustainability best practices. Making your own ESG programme easily accessible and a prominent part of your messaging can help here too.
  • Encourage your community – by actively engaging with your local community, your business can be a force for good for all. This can take the form of charitable work, sponsorships, internships or encouraging employees to let you know what the business could be involved in.

Governance

All DSPs are subject to checks, best practices, areas of compliance, reporting and policies to ensure their ethical and legal operation. ESG governance ensures accurate reporting, transparency of operations whilst pursuing integrity and diversity within leadership.

Key areas to think about within your business include:

  • Compliance – consider the policies and practices your business needs to follow. This can include GDPR, anti-money laundering and anti-bribery policies.
  • ESG/Sustainability Advocacy and Ownership – The success of any far-reaching policy hinges on consistent implementation. Tasking one or members of your team to own and implement the ESG programme is a great step towards success.
  • Risk Management – it’s crucial that you consider factors inside and outside your own business. Completing risk assessment of suppliers, partners and your own workforce will give you a clearer picture of business vulnerabilities and ways you and others can improve.
  • Write it down – Your entire ESG programme should be documented and available. There’s no point in creating a policy unless everyone who needs it can access and use it.

If you’d like to read the white paper in full, you can request your copy from the EuRA website. The EuRA sustainability framework is a living document, so it doesn’t cover every possible situation. If you think something important is missing, we’d love to hear about it to get it added to future versions.

ABRA is working towards our own ESG programme, which we aim to have in place during 2024. Our Sustainability Committee will define the programme roadmap, and objectives. Once completed, we will pass this on to all members and make it available to all.

If you would like to help with this process, then members may join our Sustainability Committee. If you would like more information, please contact us here.

You also might enjoy EuRA’s Sustainability Training Series, an interactive webinar programme. To find out more, or to access the session recordings, visit EuRA.

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