Exchanging your driving license for a Belgian version remains an administrative hurdle for expats. As soon as you are registered as a Belgian resident, this becomes compulsory. Depending on the commune in which you live, this exchange can take any number of weeks, during which time you cannot drive. Our relocation committee remains on the case and has been in contact with the authorities to gain further clarification.
As previously reported, there are recognised and non-recognised licenses, EU models and non-EU models. Recognised European model driving licenses that do not have an expiry date, need to be exchanged within two years of registering as a resident in Belgium. Owners of a recognised EU model license with an expiry date need to be exchanged before this date, or within five years of registering here, whichever comes first.
Where the recognised driving licenses enjoy a fairly straightforward exchange process, both non-recognised and non-European models go through a lengthy and complicated procedure. There are two main bottlenecks in the exchange process: the length of the authentication procedure and the booking of driving exams.
Owners of a recognised non-EU model driving license are able to exchange their license after having been registered as living in Belgium for over 185 days. Until then, they can drive with their national license. Owners of a non-recognised non-EU model driving license will need to sit an exam before being eligible for an exchange. This exam can only be booked once the expat has received their Belgian resident’s card and has been registered here for over 185 days. To further complicate matters, owners of a non-recognised driving license are not allowed to drive in Belgium once they have registered as a resident with a Belgian town hall.
Efforts to Align Procedures
The main difficulty in trying to coordinate a smoother process and align exchange procedures stems from the fact that we are dealing with both regional and federal authorities, as well as individual communes. Any driving license sent in for exchange goes from the town hall to the local police, then on to the federal police for authentication. Once it has been authenticated, the driving license goes back to the local police and then on to the town hall. As the federal police are confident that licenses are authenticated within two to three weeks maximum, it appears the delays are on a more local level.
The committee has explored multiple options, including enquiring whether expats could present their driving license to the federal police in person or submit their documentation along with the Single Permit request. Sadly, neither are options as they would require a change in the law. Similarly, asking embassies to provide an authentication document is not as straightforward as it sounds. Although a handful of countries do this, they are few and far between and a number of countries (including the USA) have already indicated they will not be implementing such a system.
Although hardly ideal, it would appear that lobbying with your local mayor and/or town hall is most impactful Deborah Loones tells us. She has done so for Ghent and has the impression that the procedure has sped up somewhat. Together with Eléonore van Rijckevorsel she has been in touch both the Vereniging van Vlaamse Steden en Gemeenten, or VVSG, and the Federal Government to see if the exchange of driving licenses and speeding up access to (bi)lingual exams can become a priority.
Individual Town Hall Procedures
In the meantime, our committee has started enquiring with different Brussels town halls as to their procedure. We have started listing their responses in an Excel spreadsheet, which our relocation members can find under the ‘full member info’ section of our website after logging in. Whatever the outcome of these talks, the relocation committee continues to make driving licenses a priority.
On the upside, there is good news from the commune of Etterbeek. They have now launched a brand new website. Expats looking to register as first time residents of Etterbeek can now use the email address email@example.com to book their appointment. EU residents can book their appointment online and only need to show up to collect their new IDs. Non-EU residents will need to make an appointment and come in to request their IDs in person. Simply use the green button ‘prendre rendez-vous’ on the new website www.etterbeek.be. Along with the new website comes a new address for the town hall, which has now moved to Avenue des Casernes 31, 1040 Etterbeek.
Quick Overview for Etterbeek Town Hall
■ New physical address: Avenue des Casernes 31, 1040 Etterbeek
■ New website: https://etterbeek.brussels
■ New procedure for registrations:
∞ Non-EU: first registration only on appointment, as well as all other steps of the registration and renewal: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/adresse/premiere-inscription-ou-suivi-ressortissants-hors-ue
∞ Non-EU: Collection of residency card or registration certificate on appointment: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-h-ou-aia-pour-etrangers-demande
∞ Non-EU: collection of a residency without appointment is possible following the instructions outlined here: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-ou-h-pour-etrangers-retrait
∞ EU: first registration by mail: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/adresse/premiere-inscription-ou-suivi-ressortissants-ue
∞ EU: order and collection of the card on appointment on: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-h-ou-aia-pour-etrangers-demande