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Good for career, bad for relationship? Study reveals highs and lows of expat life in Belgium

20:56 06/10/2015
Quality of life survey compares Belgium's healthcare, education, employment and ease of integration against 38 other popular expat countries - and the Belgian results are mixed

Belgium is one of the best countries in the world for education and career progression - but scores less favourably for expats when it comes to relationships and social integration. 

These are some of the findings of a new global expat quality of life survey which ranks Belgium 30th out of the 39 countries studied, with Singapore on top. The latest HSBC Expat Explorer study was based on interviews with more than 21,000 expats worldwide.

So what does Belgium get right? And where is there room for improvement?

 Schools and childcare

Belgium is a great place to bring up children, according to the report, with the country's schools ranked 4th out of 39, while it is the fifth best country for childcare quality. The study praises Belgium's "many excellent public, private and international schools".

 Boosting your career

Getting a job in Belgium is a smart move. The country comes 8th out of 39 for job security in the study and also made the top 10 ranking for career progression. "It’s a tough job market for an expat to crack," the report says, describing the Belgian business environment as "fast-paced and demanding" and the business culture potentially "confusing". However, it adds: "New opportunities are emerging as the country’s economy continues to make a strong recovery from the global financial crisis."

 Good healthcare

Belgium comes a respectable 16th out of 39 for the quality of its healthcare system, described as "comprehensive" and "among the best in Europe" with a high number of doctors and hospitals per capita. The autumn issue of The Bulletin Newcomer includes our first-ever Health Guide in response to the massive demand from readers for information on Belgium’s healthcare system.

And here are three areas where expat life in Belgium is less rosy...

 Closeness with partner

HSBC describes Belgium as a "great place for families" - but expat life can put a strain on relationships according to the survey. Asked about their "closeness with partner", Belgian expat respondents were largely pessimistic, causing the country to be ranked 37th out of 39 in this category. On the other hand, official new figures published this week show a 5% increase in weddings in Belgium in 2014 and a 2.3% decline in divorces, so perhaps all is well after all.

 Difficulty making friends

Belgium scored near the lower end of the ranking for integration (30th), social life (31st) and making friends (27th) - suggesting the expat experience can be a lonely one for many of the people surveyed. One South African respondent living in Belgium advises: "Be prepared that the collective spirit of any nation other than your own is very different, so acquaint yourself with 'how the people are'."


Expats in Belgium appear to not feel particularly safe living here, according to the HSBC study. The country is ranked 30th out of the 39.

Do you agree with the findings? How could the expat experience in Belgium be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Photo: Stephane Mignon/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons

Written by Paul McNally



Many of the ambitious Belgians I know who do not come from rich families don't work here. They are in London or Luxembourg. The tax system in Belgium penalises high salaries and fails to adequately tax rich people with investment income as opposed to salaries. I also do not agree that Brussels the capital is at all safe. How can a city with so many marginalised people be safe ? The metro after a certain hour is a no-go especially for women and women in particular are harassed groped and followed in certain areas - speaking from experience. The economy may be 'rich' but I have never seen a 'rich' country that feels so poor and abandoned. I am referring especially to much of Brussels and swathes of Wallonia.

Oct 7, 2015 02:02
John Willemsen

The high taxes are indeed inhibiting the economy. Luckily, there are now (finally) talks about shifting the taxes from labour to wealth, which would be great. It's not easy to survive as a small entrepreneur such a

Oct 12, 2015 09:06

I agree totally with the rankings especially the safety. I was approached by a man with a knife while riding my bike on a bike path. I haven't ridden my bike in two years and probably won't ever ride my bike in Belgium again.

I could go on and on about making friends, having a social life and integration here, but I won't. To put it politely none of the natives, who I've encountered, make none of the three easy to accomplish.

Oct 13, 2015 00:16

Thee years running I was paid a bonus. Three years running, my tax top up bill almost exactly matched the amount of bonus that remained after the tax man took most of it in the first place. I would say that being in Belgium was good for my career but if I added up what I have paid in taxes, and for what? Naff all, that's what. It just vanishes in to the Belgian state. There have been numerous reports that Belgian taxes are poor value for money, and they are right. I guess those who have been unemployed and sick with a dozen kids may feel different.

I did have the odd moan on this site and was invited to pizz off if I didn't like it, so I did, along with about 250 other well paid jobs.

Belgium is a good place to be rich, to sit on a pile of old money. Despite the claims of some, it's not a workers paradise. Work hard and make a good salary and you become a cash cow for the state. It's good to finally see something being done, but I suspect it's a case of too little and far too late. They have known their taxes on employment have been far too high for decades.

I found Belgium to be a great place to make friends and far from unsafe, unless you include driving which is lethal. But then I never lived in Brussels.

Oct 14, 2015 01:27

Useful post, thank you. I think the majority of people want to have a good high-paid job. But it's not always easy to get such job. The most important thing is to be a professional, then you will be in demand. And, after for a long time trying to find a job, I realized that it's important to know how to represent yourself. I mean your appearance, your speech, resume (you can always get help ) Paying attention to all this, you can make yourself a candidate №1.

Dec 14, 2016 10:45