The top 5 best places for expats to live in Belgium

If you’re an expat planning a move to Belgium, well, we can’t blame you. After all, Belgium isn’t just famous for waffles, beer and chocolate, it also offers some unique job opportunities. In a country of a little over 10 million people, you’ll find the headquarters of the European Commission, the European Parliament, NATO, Materialise and many others.

But where should you set up your new home? Each city offers distinct flavour, blending a rich history and architecture with thriving modern culture. To help you make your choice, here are our recommendations for where expats should live in Belgium.

'The city itself is gorgeous, very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, which has been a key focus for the current city government. '

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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