Well ok that’s not true, they are going to tell you… eventually. It’s very difficult to learn what exactly all the steps are though.
I’m about to move to a different city, and all the bureaucracy and administrative stuff I’m having to plan and deal with has inspired me to write this blog post on my experience with my move to Belgium.
Several background points though beforehand:
1. I moved to Belgium for a corporate job. Meaning, I already had a job contract with a Belgian company before I even planned to move there.
2. I am a non EU national and I require a visa to even set foot in Belgium for any purpose.
3. I was already living in France on a student visa that was still valid and could still be renewed for another year.
So basically I was moving from France to Belgium.
You would think it would be easier? Not really. Considering you aren’t an EU national (normally called third country nationals), the French student visa doesn’t really make much of a difference administratively, except that you can do the whole process in France as a resident, and not have to go back to your home country.
How to go about the applying for a work permit once you have a future employer:
1. If you are a normal corporate worker, the normal way is to find a job and a company that will apply a work permit for you. There are a lot of different types of work permits however in this case, this follows now the Single Permit Work Process.
This is a useful page from the immigration ministry of Belgium regarding what are the things you need to know if you want to come to Belgium to work as a 3rd country national (non EU nationality).
Note that these pages are in French. There is an option to also see the page in Dutch. I do not recommend to check the page in English as the English version is severely lacking in information. Just use Google Translate.
If in a job interview and the employer asks you if you are familiar how the process goes to obtain a work permit, you can always send them this link. (I’ve been asked this several times)
2. Your employer will be the one to submit all documentation to the appropriate authorities. However, they will request several documents from you to be able to complete your dossier. For the moment, they are as follows for non EU nationals (subject to change if they change the process again):
- a copy of your valid passport or travel document;
- proof that he has sufficient means of subsistence, the duration of his occupation as a worker, and, where applicable, the employer’s VAT number – This is something that the employer should normally provide;
- proof of payment of the fee – This is something they call a redevance. You should see in the link how to pay it. Normally, unless your situation applies to the exceptions listed, you pay the most expensive fee (now at 363 euros!). They never said it was cheap to get a job. I’ve heard from others that they were able to negotiate with the employer to have them pay this, but on my end, I had to pay it on my own;
- an extract from the criminal record or an equivalent document, provided that the non-European national is over 18 years of age – This must be not more than 6 months old. You have to give one for you where you live and from your country of origin (if you don’t live in your country of origin).;
- a medical certificate – Here you must get a medical certificate from a doctor who is certified by the Embassy of Belgium where you live. I had to call the Belgian Embassy in France to get this list, they also had it posted on their website. For the medical certificate to be signed by the doctor, in my experience, the doctor asked me to do an x-ray and a blood test for a variety of diseases, but honestly this experience varies greatly depending on the doctor you go to ;
- proof that the non-European national has health insurance covering all risks in Belgium for himself and his family members. – For this, if it is your first time to come to Belgium, then your employer only has to fill up the document in the page.
3. Your employer must now submit your request to the region. There are several scenarios related to the timings, and all of that is listed here.
It’s important to note that once your request is accepted as admissible (all your documents are present and nothing is missing from your side or employer’s side), then there’s usually a deadline of 4 months, and believe me, they can take those whole 4 months to make that decision.
Also, only your employer has direct communication with the ministries. It is never you directly asking them for updates.
4. Once your request is approved, you should receive some documents from your employer which will enable you to request for a Long Stay Visa (Visa D) from the Embassy where you reside. The process for this varies greatly from embassy to embassy. Please check the website of the embassy you plan to apply from.
Note that if you do not live in your country of origin, you DO NOT NEED to go back to your country of origin to apply for the long stay visa, AS LONG AS you hold some sort of proof of residency in the country where you are currently residing. For example, I was a student with a valid French Student Visa. This enabled me to get my Visa D from the Belgian Embassy in Paris.
How long the process takes also varies from each embassy. In France, I was able to get an appointment in the morning and received my passport with visa in the afternoon of the same day.
5. Finally, once you have your Visa D, you can communicate this to your employer and you can determine an actual start date and make plans to actually make the move to Belgium!
Note that we had to amend my contract 5 times in anticipation of the real date that I could arrive and start working.
6. Once you are installed in your first residence in Belgium, it is of upmost importance to take an appointment or show up at the city hall (stadshuis / commune) within 8 days of your arrival in Belgium. You have to take this appointment in the city where you LIVE, and not where your job is. Note that in bigger cities such as Leuven, you need to go online and schedule an appointment on their website. In cities such as Brussels, take care of the postal code of where you live. If you live in 1000 Brussels (city center), it is normally a first come first served system and you must line up early in the commune. For other places, there can be a special system or you can just show up, please research online especially during these times of social distancing.
In this appointment they will require some papers that come from your employer (you should be sent all these papers beforehand), and they will start the process of registering you in the commune.
7. Normally after your visit to the commune, the police will now come to verify your address. You will never know when they come so it’s a bit of a challenge to be there. If they come and you are not present, they should leave a piece of paper in your mailbox telling you they came by and asking you to call or go to the police office to set an appointment of when you can be around.
This process can also be challenging depending on where you live. I’ve known some people miss the police multiple times to the point it was months before they could actually be registered.
IMPORTANT. On the first day of your stay, PUT YOUR NAME IN THE MAILBOX. This is the primary thing that the police look for (aside from you of course).
8. Once the police verifies your address, you only need to wait for a letter from the commune stating that you can come again to the city hall to have your fingerprints taken, your signature recorded, and pay for the ID card. You will have to then wait around 2 weeks (normal processing) for your ID card.
9. On a set date with the commune (from previous step), you go back and finally get your ID card!! You will receive a Residence Card of Type A which means that your residence is tied to your employment. If you will lose or change jobs, you will also technically lose your right to stay. Nowadays this card has a validity of 3 years, versus 1 year from 2019.
Note that before the ID card expires, your employer must start the process for renewal at least 6 months before. You will have to again supply some documents (only the health insurance if I remember correctly), and then wait for the renewal to be approved (which can last several months). Once it is renewed, you will have to again go to the city hall to get a new card. There is normally a period wherein they take your card and you have to wait for your new one. Note that any time you are without your ID card, you are not allowed to travel outside of Belgium.
It is extremely important to not let your ID card lapse. This can affect your ability to stay in Belgium and in the future, obtain permanent residence. Therefore you should be vigilant with your employer about making sure that everything is renewed in time.
If you move houses / cities, you have to repeat the procedure of the house check.
After moving, you need to present yourself to the commune within 8 days. The police will again come to check you at your home. You will also need to wait again for advice from the commune to return for prints etc and for your new ID card.
As I mentioned, the Residence Card Type A means that your permission to stay is tied to the employer who “sponsored” your work permit. If you will change jobs, you have to literally do EVERYTHING again (except for the visa because you are already in Belgium). You will have to supply the same documents (Police, med cert, insurance) and pay the same redevance or fee. Yuo will also get a new residence card that will reflect your new employer.
Common misconception about the ID/Residence Card
If you are like me with a residence card B, then you have to know that you cannot travel to other EU countries with JUST this card. It is not equal to a national ID card as the EU nationals have. You always have to travel with your passport AND your residence card.
It’s quite rare in cars, buses or trains to do checks, but it does happen. If you are flying, then it is absolutely mandatory to bring your passport AND your residence card.
Once you have been working and staying in Belgium for 5 consecutive years (no breaks), you will have the right to apply for the Residence Card Type B, which means you are a permanent resident of Belgium. The most important thing you will enjoy is the right to residence without being tied to your employer. Meaning, you can change jobs and not have to worry about doing the whole process again. Once you have this Type B card, you can also further try to apply for citizenship if you are eligible.
I’ve not done this process yet so I’m unfamiliar with it and for now that’s all I know. 🙂
To be quite fair, this process is not too difficult. It takes awhile but in the end, compared to the process of many other countries, it is not so difficult and the requirements do make sense.
I also am quite glad that many of the employees in the city halls are quite happy and willing to talk and explain things to you in English (though you may encounter some who only speak the local language).
Anyway I hope that I’m able to reach someone who badly needed help on this 🙂