Living in Belgium : Guide for new arrivals in Brussels and Wallonia

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Settlement programme in Wallonia

What is the settlement programme for new migrants in Wallonia?

The aim of the settlement programme is to welcome and support new foreign residents in Wallonia, help them acquire basic knowledge on how society functions and social relations in Belgium and facilitate their integration into the country. When registering with the municipal authority, new foreign nationals receive an information document and are given the details of the nearest settlement office to their home. The settlement programme currently comprises a welcome module (compulsory phase) and settlement agreement (which is currently non-compulsory).

The entire settlement programme is free and is run by the Centres Régionaux d’Intégration (regional integration centres, CRI for short).

So that language is not an obstacle, the services of an interpreter are available; interpreters are provided by a social interpretation service approved by the region of Wallonia.

The programme is divided into two phases:

The welcome module (compulsory phase)

The welcome module is the first phase of the settlement programme. It is compulsory for some categories of new migrants. The welcome module comprises

  • a free and individual social assessment, the purpose of which is to determine the individual’s personal and professional programme,
  • information on rights and obligations in Belgium,
  • guidance on social and administrative aspects, depending on the needs identified.
  • The settlement agreement (non-compulsory phase)

    A settlement agreement can be signed between the new migrant and the regional integration centre and assures new migrants of the following, free services:

    • language training
    • social & professional guidance
    • citizenship training

    The maximum duration of a settlement agreement is two years and the regional integration centre (CRI) is in charge of monitoring and assessment.

    The settlement programme is also tailored to each individual and provides guidance in line with the identified needs (language, work, accommodation, family, health, leisure etc.). Wallonia wishes to ensure that everyone has access to proper support and assistance, to help them integrate into their new environment. Therefore, the entire programme is available to all migrants, subject to availability of spaces.

    Who is eligible for the settlement programme for new migrants?

    New migrants are defined as: any foreign national who has been living in Belgium for less than three years and who holds a residence permit that is valid for more than three months, with the exception of citizens of one of the Member States of the European Union, the European Economic Area, Switzerland and their family members.

    The Walloon Social Action and Health Code defines the persons who must follow the welcome module of the settlement programme and those who are exempt.

New migrant settlement office in Brussels (BAPA)

In July 2013, the French-speaking parliament of Brussels adopted a decree on the settlement programme for new migrants living in the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR). The settlement programme is aimed at “all foreign nationals aged 18 or over who have ‘been legally resident in Belgium for less than three years and are entered in the register of foreign nationals of a municipality of BCR, who hold a residence permit valid for more than three months.”

The BAPA’s role is to organise settlement programmes for new migrants in Brussels. It provides the necessary information and support to enable them to live independently. It helps them achieve social emancipation by providing training in citizenship and social customs in an urban and distinctly multicultural environment. It encourages new migrants to attend French courses and other training courses.

The programme completed by new migrants is voluntary and completely free of charge. Specifically, it has two components:

  • The primary component involves a welcome (information on the settlement programme, rights and obligations), a social assessment and a language assessment.
  • The secondary component takes the form of a settlement and support agreement. It provides the basis for an individual support programme and the option of attending training: language training (learning the French language or literacy) and citizenship training providing basic information on how public institutions work, social relations in Belgium and the host society.

Beneficiaries of the programme receive a certificate of completion of the primary component and, if appropriate, the secondary component of the settlement programme. The new migrant settlement offices are responsible for creating the programme and issuing the certificates of completion.

There are two approved offices:

ASBL VIA has two offices:

Schaerbeek, Rue Kessels 14, 1030 Brussels

Office hours Monday to Friday, 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon and Tuesday 5.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.
+32 (0) 2 563 52 50
info@via.brussels
http://www.via.brussels

Molenbeek, Boulevard Léopold II 170, 1080 Brussels

Office hours Monday to Friday, 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon and Thursday 5.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.
+32 (0) 2 563 52 51
info@via.brussels
http://www.via.brussels

 Director: Janaki Decleire, J.decleire@via.brussels,
+32 (0) 2 563 52 63

Plan//Map

 

ASBL BAPA BXL

bapa-bxl

ASBL BAPA BXL,

Brussels, Boulevard Anspach 1 bte 24, 1000 Brussels

Office hours Monday to Friday, 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon and 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. and Thursday 5.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m. during school term time.
+32 (0)2/279.49.70
info.bapabxl@brucity.be
www.bapabxl.be

Director: Christelle Sermon, Christelle.Sermon@brucity.be ,
+32 (0)2/279.49.70

Plan//Map

Brussels, Boulevard Anspach 1 bte 24, 1000 Brussels

Under what conditions can you take part in the program?

  • you have to be registered at the municipality
  • you must have been living in Belgium for less than three years
  • you must have a residence permit for more than three months

The local authority will inform you about these services. You will also find a list of a service close to you in the chapter Advisory Informations

Can the programme help you find training?

The advisors will help you find suitable courses.

Your training needs will be documented in the agreement you sign with the office.

This agreement details individual monitoring and the content of the training. Depending on your situation, it will, for instance, provide for French lessons, citizenship training and career or professional training guidance.

The advisors will give you the contact details of organisations who can assist you with your needs.

You will receive a certificate upon completion of the programme.

What does the programme involve?

What does the programme involve?

The programme starts with an individual welcome meeting with an advisor who works for the service.

  • Many of the support service advisors speak several languages. A number of them have themselves been new migrants and have encountered the same obstacles and questions as you.

At these meetings, the advisor will help you:

  • assess your situation and draw up a list of your needs: language, accommodation, income, healthcare, schooling for children, employment, training etc.
  • undertake the necessary steps,
  • find out about the rights and obligations of all citizens living in Belgium.
  • During a programme, you will learn a lot about Belgian society: such as, where and how to find work, where to turn when you are ill, where your children can attend school and so on.
  • The programme is free.

  • The support services offer tests to assess your French language ability. They will, if necessary, tell you about the French language courses offered by state-approved organisations.

In Brussels, the support services offering the programme are called “Bureaux d’Accueil pour Primo-Irritants”, or ”BAPA” for short (new migrant settlement offices).

To find out more about the BAPA, see the section “New migrant settlement offices in Brussels”

The BAPA’s role is to organise settlement programmes for new migrants in Brussels. It provides the necessary information and support to enable them to live independently.

In Wallonia, they are called Centres régionaux d’intégration (regional integration centres), or “CRI” for short.

To find out more about the settlement programme in Wallonia, visit the Social Action and Health portal of the Region of Wallonia.

or

See the “Settlement programme in Wallonia” section for general information.

In Brussels, there is also a Flemish programme. This Flemish programme is organised by the BON (Brussel Onthaal) settlement office

It comprises:

  • a basic Dutch course,
  • an introduction to Flemish and Belgian society,
  • help finding a job or training,
  • information on culture and leisure facilities,
  • a civic integration programme
  • individual meetings with an advisor.

Visit the BON’s website for more information about their services: http://bon.be

What exactly is the programme?

The support services have put together a programme which helps you resolve any difficulties you encounter in connection with your recent arrival and point you towards various services that are there to help you integrate.

Each region of Belgium has its own programme and offers a variety of services. For more information on the programme, see the section What does the programme involve?”.

Why an accompaniment service for newcomers?

In your dealings with the local, regional or federal authorities, depending on how much progress you have already made settling in, you will be given the contact details for a support service for new migrants in your region. The support services will provide you with information and guidance as soon as you arrive in Belgium.

They will help you locate the services you need. You can make an appointment with the service to obtain all the information you need to set up home in Belgium.

Go to the “Support service for new migrants” section under the heading “Information and advice”: icone info to find the service that suits your needs.

What does integration mean?

Integration is a widely-used term with respect to migrants, but what exactly does it mean?

Firstly, it is a two-way process:

  • for migrants, integrating entails effort to understand, adapt and become familiar with the host country and live there completely independently. In particular, this involves learning French and understanding and respecting the rights and responsibilities associated with life in Belgium.
  • for the host society, it entails ensuring that migrants’ rights are respected and that they are treated in the same way as Belgians, particularly in their dealings with government authorities and on the job market, and developing a policy to encourage integration efforts by organising training, guidance or permanent education.

Integration means participating fully in cultural, economic, civic and social life in Belgium.

Rather than a particular “model” that must be followed, there is a set of principles to be observed, on both sides: individual freedom, equality – gender equality in particular – and non-discrimination, freedom of sexual orientation, the right to privacy, religious freedom, children’s rights, the observance of rules governing social life (highway code, rules on the roads and neighbourhood relations, civic rules), and equal treatment in their dealings with government bodies.

Knowledge of French is essential to participating in civic and cultural life, facilitating social interaction and achieving your professional plans.

  • French lessons are organised in Wallonia and Brussels by numerous organisations (such as schools, municipal authorities, associations etc.). The terms of enrolment and course content vary from one organisation to another. Some of the courses are free.

In Wallonia and Brussels, since 2013 the local authorities have run settlement programmes to assist new migrants in French-speaking Belgium with the steps they need to take.

Specific resources

LEGAL AID

For legal advice (immigration, divorce, dispute with your landlord, conflict with a private company, etc.), you can see a lawyer. You will find a list of lawyers and their contact details at the website:

You can also contact the Legal Aid Office (BAJ or Bureau d’aide juridique) for a free initial consultation. For legal proceedings or more in-depth advice, a lawyer may be appointed for you, if you meet certain income conditions. You will find the contact details for a BAJ near you at the website:

ADDE (Association pour le droit des étrangers or Foreigners’ Rights Association) has the mission of promoting immigrants’ rights with a view to greater social justice. It provides free legal advice by E-mail, telephone or appointment. It can also refer you to an association near you: 02/227.42.41 servicejuridique@adde.be

The Centre pour l’égalité des chances (Equal Opportunity Center) also has a legal aid service specializing in immigrants’ rights. To find a contact point near you: free-phone number 0800/12800,

Some family planning centers also offer legal consultations (family law).

It is also possible to consult a mediator [?], if you would like to resolve your dispute by discussing it with an outside person. This can avoid costly legal proceedings

Most private service providers (banks, insurers, telephone companies, etc.) have a mediator.

SOCIAL AID

The Centres publics d’action sociale (CPAS or Public Social Action Centers) offer aid and support if you have a physical, social, psychological or medical problem. CPAS can help you in different ways: they can rm you, support you or offer you financial aid, a food package or help in finding a job. To receive aid from CPAS, you must meet certain conditions. There is a CPAS center in each municipality.

DISCRIMINATION

The Centre pour l’égalité des chances et la lutte contre le racisme (Equal Rights and Anti-Racism Center) and the Institut pour l’égalité des femmes et des hommes (Gender Equality Institute) offer support for victims of discrimination. To file a complaint or find a contact point near you: toll-free 0800/12800.

TRANSLATION & INTERPRETING

If you have trouble writing, you can contact social services, legal aid or an association near you.

For more information, please contact your municipality.

If you have difficulties speaking or understanding the language of your Region, there are specialized translation and interpreting services available. The request must be made through a social structure (association, municipality, hospital, medical center, etc.). Talk about it with your contact person. This service is called SeTIS (Services de traduction et d’interprétariat en milieu social – Translation and Interpreting Services in Social Contexts).

ILLEGAL MIGRANTS

If you are undocumented, there are specialized agencies that can advise you (about health, housing, jobs, etc.).

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

If you or someone you know are the victim of domestic violence, you can talk about it by calling the domestic violence hotline (free-phone number 0800 300 30). A person will be there to listen to you, advise you and guide you. In case of emergency, or to file a complaint, you can contact the police directly.

Internet resources

INFORMATION FOR NEWLY-ARRIVED IMMIGRANTS

There is a website about legislation and procedures concerning foreigners (residence, jobs, housing, etc.).

USEFUL GENERAL INFORMATION

Another website gives you a full range of information to guide you for housing, health, jobs and other important needs:

The Citizens’ (“Citoyens”) portal on the Wallonia-Brussels Federation website will provide you with information about everyday life and about the various subjects addressed in this brochure:

BELGIUM AND YOUR REGION

Belgium’s federal website:

Brussels-Capital Region website:

Walloon Region website:

YOUR CITY AND YOUR MUNICIPALITY

Most cities and municipalities have a website. For example:

Find out more from your municipality or your city, as well as from:

INTERNET

You don’t have Internet access? In Wallonia, you can go to an EPN (Espace Public Numérique or Digital Public Space)

At many municipal libraries, Internet access is free of charge.

You don’t read the language well enough to use these sites alone? You can ask a professional, a neighbour, a friend or anyone with good language skills to guide you through these sites.

Participating in social and cultural life

In both Wallonia and Brussels, in addition to the individual services that they can provide you (guidance, social/medical/psychological aid, etc.), many associations organize social and cultural activities that you can participate in, depending on your areas of interest: human rights organizations, women’s rights organizations, nature groups, citizens’ groups, etc. They operate locally, in your neighbourhood or municipality, or, more broadly, regionally or within the Federation. They include:

  • cultural and continuing education associations,
  • youth movements, centers and associations,
  • immigrant associations or immigrants’ rights groups.

Do not hesitate to learn more about the goals and activities of these associations, via immigrant offices or regional integration centers or directly on the Internet:

Support services for newly-arrived immigrants

These associations offer information, support and guidance for newly-arrived immigrants. They know the needs of new arrivals and can offer you practical support.

IN BRUSSELS

  • 1000 Brussels
  • Maison de la Solidarité
  • Place Sainte-Catherine 44A
  • Tél. : 02/279.63.80
  • Fax : 02/279.63.89
  • 1030 Schaerbeek
  • ATMOSPHÈRE AMO (Youth Aid Association)
  • Place de la Reine, 35
  • Tél./fax. : 02/218.87.88
  • GSM : 0484/953.288
  • www.atmosphere-amo.be
  • 1050 Ixelles
  • CIRÉ (Coordination and Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners)
  • Rue du Vivier, 80/82
  • Tél. : 02/629.77.10
  • GSM : 0484/953.288
  • www.cire.be
  • 1070 Anderlecht
  • CONVERGENCE
  • Boulevard de la Révision 36-38
  • Tél. : 02/523.82.46
  • GSM : 0473/81.61.55
  • www.convergence.be
  • 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean
  • SAMPA (Aid for New Immigrants in Molenbeek)
  • Rue Comte de Flandre 15
  • Tél. : 02/422.06.11
  • Fax : 02/422.06.27
  • www.molenbeek.be
  • 1190 Forest
  • CONVIVIAL (Movement for the Integration of Refugees)
  • Rue du Charroi 33-35
  • Tél. : 02/503.43.46
  • Fax : 02/503.19.74
  • www.convivial.be
  • 1210 Saint-Josse
  • LA VOIX DES FEMMES
  • Rue de l’Alliance 20
  • Tél. : 02/218.77.87
  • Fax : 02/219.60.85
  • www.lavoixdesfemmes.org
  • Dutch language service
  • BON (Brussels Office for Foreigners)
  • Rue de l’Avenir 35 – 1080 Molenbeek-Saint-Jean
  • Rue Ph. de Champagne 23 – 1000 Brussels
  • Place Colignon 4 – 1030 Schaerbeek
  • Tél. : 02/501.66.80
  • www.bon.be

IN WALLONIA – REGIONAL INTEGRATION CENTERS

  • Brabant wallon
  • CRIBW(Regional Integration Center for Brabant Wallon)
  • Rue de Mons 17/1 – 1480 Tubize
  • Tél. : 02/366.05.51
  • www.cribw.be
  • Charleroi 
  • CRIC (Regional Integration Center for Charleroi)
  • Rue Hanoteau 23 – 6060 Gilly
  • Tél. : 071/20.98.60
  • www.cricharleroi.be
  • La Louvière 
  • CeRAIC (Regional Intercultural Action Center of Central Belgium)
  • Rue Dieudonné François 43 – 7100 Trivières (La Louvière)
  • Tél. : 064/23.86.56
  • www.ceraic.be
  • Liège
  • CRIPEL (Liège Regional Integration Center for Foreigners and Persons of Foreign Origin)
  • Place Xavier Neujean 19B – 4000 Liège
  • Tél. : 04/220.01.20
  • www.cripel.be
  • Mons
  • CIMB (Mons and Le Borinage Regional Integration Center)
  • Rue Grande, 56 – 7330 Saint-Ghislain
  • Tél. : 065/61.18.50
  • www.cimb.be
  • Namur 
  • CAI (Intercultural Action Center of Namur Province)
  • Rue Docteur Haibe 2 – 5002 Saint-Servais (Namur)
  • Tél. : 081/73.71.76
  • www.cainamur.be
  • Verviers 
  • CRVI (Verviers Regional Integration Center for Foreigners and Persons of Foreign Origin)
  • Rue de Rome 17 – 4800 Verviers
  • Tél. : 087/35.35.20
  • www.crvi.be

What precautions do I need to take in my personal affairs?

  • Before signing a document or a contract [?] read it carefully. Do not hesitate to ask questions and to review essential points. Ask a professional for advice. In case of doubt, do not sign!
  • Note. A signature makes the document official and legally binding. When you sign a document, you are agreeing to its content, and you are accepting a legal obligation with respect to the person who asked you to sign it..
  • You should keep a copy of any document that you have signed.
  • Ask for a receipt when you make a hand-to-hand payment. this receipt should indicate the date, amount and reason for payment: for example, “rent December 2011.” It should be signed by the person who received the money. Keep these receipts. They may be used as proof in case of problems.

What insurance do I need? What is it for?

In Belgium, two types of insurance are mandatory: automotive civil liability [?], if you have a car, and home insurance, if you are a tenant or homeowner.

If, in an accident, you damage someone’s car or if you hurt that person, or if your house burns down, you may be forced to pay large sums of money. If you are insured, your insurer will pay for you. To be insured, you must pay a premium each year to the insurer. In return, the insurer will pay all or part of the costs associated with the accident.

  • It is strongly recommended that you insure yourself against all risks and damages that could cause you major money problems if you had to pay for them yourself. Family insurance (also known as “personal civil liability insurance”) will pay for any damages that you or a member of your family causes to someone else. Hospitalization insurance covers medical expenses that your “mutuelle” does not reimburse.

To take out an insurance policy, you can contact your bank, the Post Office, a broker or you can go directly to an insurance company.

What about credit?

Beware of credit! It’s tempting to buy something on credit, but there is a risk: you could go so far into debt that you can no longer make your regular payments. The total price with interest is sometimes much greater than the amount originally borrowed. Furthermore, if you receive credit offers from unofficial individuals or companies, you might be exposing yourself to fraud.

  • If you really need credit but your income is low, subsidized social credit may be of interest.

You can, for example, contact Credal: www.credal.be

What do I do if I have money problems?

Debt mediation services can advise you if you are no longer able to pay your bills (rent, utilities, loan payments, etc.).

To find out the contact details for a service: contact the CPAS office for your municipality or telephone the Walloon Region: 0800/11.901 or in Brussels: 02/217 88 05

  • In case of difficulties, do not ignore your bills! Notify your providers, ask to pay in instalments, seek out help.
  • Be careful with unpaid fines! A good tip: pay your fines as soon as your receive them. Otherwise, fines can double, and you will receive a visit from a bailiff to confiscate your property.

Do I need to have a bank account? What is it for?

Yes, it’s essential. Having a bank account enables you to pay for things by automatic transfer (for example, gas and electricity bills) or by bank card (your purchases in retail shops). The two most common accounts are the

  • With a checking account, you can deposit, withdraw and transfer money and make your payments.
  • With a savings account, you can save; in other words, your money will earn interest.

With a bank card, you can withdraw cash from distributors (ATMs) and pay for your purchases at retail shops.

  • Fees vary from bank to bank. Compare and check what services are included.
  • If you do not have a residence card in Belgium, you can still open a basic checking account at a bank if you present official proof of your identity (passport or identity card from your country of origin).
  • At the Post Office, you can also open a checking or savings account.

www.bpost.be

What can I do to have fun, relax or play sports?

When weather permits, street fairs, flea markets and music festivals are held all over Brussels and Wallonia.

Information about events can be found in free newspapers and in the events sections of major newspapers. A schedule of events and leisure activities can also be found on the web: www.culture.be

There are opportunities to play a wide variety of sports.

For more information: www.adeps.be

Sporting associations near you can provide rmation about what activities they offer.

Most municipalities have a “Sports & Leisure” or “Tourism” page on their website.

To learn (even) more: consult the “Citizens” space on the Wallonia-Brussels Federation website: www.cfwb.be (under “Leisure” or “Tourism & Sport”) as well as the French Community Commission website (Cocof): www.cocof.irisnet.be.

How can I participate in cultural life?

Many artistic and cultural activities are organized. Performances, concerts and exhibits are also held in many municipalities, notably in the 115 cultural centers of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. The Culture department of your local government generally has a schedule of activities in the municipality.

Free newspapers and the events sections of major newspapers also contain rmation. Cultural centers can also rm you about what activities they offer.

There are also a number of museums.

  • Museums in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation offer free admission one day each month. Some are free all year round.
  • If you receive aid from CPAS or from some associations, you may receive tickets (Article 27), at a reduced price, to attend cultural events.

You can borrow books from libraries or music CDs and films from media centers.

To find a cultural activity or event near you:

For more information, please see the Citizens’ space on the Wallonia-Brussels Federation website: www.cfwb.be

How can I participate in an association?

There are associations of all kinds: professional, sporting, cultural, social, humanitarian, philosophical and environmental… Some offer training and cultural, creative and citizen activities. This enables people from all communities who live in a neighbourhood to meet each other, get to know each other and live more harmoniously together. There are also associations for citizens of different nationalities, friendly associations, and associations that promote integration and participation in cultural life.

By participating in an association, you will meet other people, and you will participate in the life of your local community or in a social project.

You can become a member or volunteer. Being a volunteer means giving a few hours of your time to an association. A volunteer receives no salary and has no work contract.

  • Here are some ideas: help disabled persons, help organize a cultural activity, teach a class, hand out brochures, help children with their homework, do the shopping for the elderly, do administrative work, etc.

For more information about volunteering:

To learn about existing associations:

For youth associations:

Who can take care of our baby during the day?

If you are often gone during the day (because you work or are in school/training), you can have your baby (until age three) taken care of in a day-care center or by a babysitter. Starting at the age of 2 years 6 months, you can sign your child up for pre-school.

See the “Education” chapter. 

  • The cost of subsidized day-care centers and babysitters varies depending on your income. There are also non-subsidized day-care centers and babysitters. Some of these are expensive. Find out and compare prices.

Ask ONE for the list of day-care centers and babysitters.

Where can we get medical check-ups for our baby?

ONE organizes medical check-ups for children under the age of three. These allow you to monitor your child’s health and growth and to get vaccinations.

  • You can go to ONE even if you are an undocumented person.

Who else do we have to rm after the birth?

  • Do not forget to report the birth to your “mutuelle”. It will register your new-born child and will guide you through the next steps.

You may also be entitled to a new-born child bonus or a family allowance. Your “mutuelle” will tell you what you have to do.

What do we have to do when our child is born?

When your child is born, the mother, the father or both must report the birth to the municipality where the child is born, within 15 days after the birth.

  • If you are an undocumented person, you must also do this.

If you are not married, the father must officially acknowledge paternity in the municipality where you live. You should do this before the birth, since the future mother must also be present. When paternity has been recognized, both the father and the mother can exercise parental authority, equally.

When you report the birth, you will receive a birth certificate. The birth certificate is an important document for the future of your child. It is important to keep it in a safe place.

  • If you are an undocumented person, your child will still receive a birth certificate.

What administrative formalities does the future mother have to complete during her pregnancy?

Tell your “mutuelle” that you are expecting a child. They will explain what you have to do.

See the “Health” chapter.

Labour law protects pregnant workers: they cannot be fired or exposed to high-risk working conditions during their pregnancy.

  • If you work, ask your physician for a pregnancy certificate, which you must present to your employer.

Who should we see?

You can consult a gynecologist [?]. Your general practitioner can refer you to one.

Throughout Wallonia and Brussels, ONE (Birth and Childhood Office) organizes pre-natal consultations, where you can see a general practitioner, a gynecologist or a midwife, free of charge.

To find a ONE center near you, please visit the website: www.one.be

In Brussels, you can also contact the Flemish equivalent of ONE: “Kind en gezin”: www.kindengezin.be

  • You can go to ONE even if you are an undocumented person.

We are expecting a child. Is it important to see a doctor?

Yes. Right from the start of your pregnancy, it is important to obtain pre-natal care. This is important for the growth of your unborn child and for yourself. It gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get answers about pregnancy and childbirth. 

We do not get along anymore and we no longer want to live together. What do we do?

In case of major problems in a couple, you may decide to separate or divorce. Only divorce definitively ends the marriage.

In case of separation, you may ask the justice of the peace to define temporary measures relating to this separation (for your home, children, income, etc.).

Ask your municipality for the contact details for your canton’s justice of the peace.

There are several types of divorce proceedings. Important questions must be ruled on during these proceedings, including custody of any children, child support and alimony payments between the ex-spouses.

For more information: www.notaire.be

  • A lawyer may help you. You can also contact a family mediation service.

 See the “Information & Advice” chapter, “Legal Aid.”

What will our marriage change?

As spouses, you have rights and duties to each other. The law requires you to live together and to help each other. There are different marriage regimes with somewhat different rights and obligations.

For more information : www.notaire.be

Spouses are equal. They have the same rights and duties.

Marriage does not change anything about the individual freedoms of either spouse. Spouses have autonomy within the marriage, both in terms of their personal lives and their professional lives. Each spouse may, for example, practise the profession or trade of their own choice and maintain relations with their friends.

We are a couple, and we want to get married. What do we do?

If you want to get married, you must meet four conditions:

  • You must each be at least 18 years of age
  • You must both agree to the marriage
  • You must not be too closely related
  • You must not be married to someone else

You must declare your desire to get married in the municipality where one of the two future spouses lives.

In Belgium, only civil marriage [?] is legally recognized.

  • If the future spouses also want a religious wedding, the civil wedding must take place before the religious one. 
  • If you are civilly married [?] in another country, your marriage is, in principle, valid in Belgium as well.

For more information: contact your municipality.

We live together, but we do not want to get married. Is this possible?

Yes. In Belgium, many couples live together without being married. This is known as rmal cohabitation. If you want to live together and benefit from couple’s rights without getting married: there is also legal cohabitation.

For more information: contact your municipality.

Where can I find other information?

When you sign your child up for school, the school administration will give you rmation, and you will be able to ask questions. If you do not speak the language well, try to bring someone with you to translate.

A lot of rmation can be found on the Wallonia-Brussels Federation website: www.enseignement.be

What do I do if my child is having problems in school?

Some schools offer solutions for pupils who are having difficulties in class.

  • You can ask to meet with your child’s teachers to find out what can be done to help your child.

If these difficulties persist or if they are very significant, the teacher and the school will refer you to specialized agencies that can assist you: PMS centers [?], homework schools and other services.

If your child has a learning disability or special needs, there are specialized educational options starting from the preschool level.

In Belgium, children must attend school from age six to age 18. They can also attend pre-school starting at two years and six months of age.

Parents are responsible for their children’sregular attendance at school.

  • Children of undocumented parentsare required to go to school as well.They must be registered and attend schoolregularly.

Most schools are mixed: girls and boysattend the same schools and take classestogether.

What can I do to help my child in school?

The greatest service you can provide to your child is to monitor the work he or she does at school: meet with teachers, make yourself available, help your child with homework, provide support, ask him or her how school is going, look at his or her class planner [?]

  • At all schools, there are parent-teacher meetings. You should attend, even if language problems and unfamiliarity make this difficult for you. You will meet your child’s teachers, and you can help them get to know your child better. You will understand better what is going on at school. You can also ask for help from other parents. 
  • There are parents’ associations that help parents have their opinions heard and allow them to participate in how the school runs. Find out more at your child’s school.
  • Some schools have tutoring programmes as well as French language classes for newcomers to Belgium: in particular, “bridging” classes.
  • There are also tutoring possibilities outside the school itself (for example, homework schools).

For more information: www.ffedd.be

Who can take care of my child during non-school hours?

Schools have day-care centers for children aged three to 12 before and after school hours. In general, a fee is charged.

Schools also have after-school study hall, where children can do their homework and participate in sporting and socio-cultural activities.

Outside the school, there are also many extracurricular activities for children and teenagers (sports, choir, dance, music, drawing, creative expression, etc.).

You can find out more at your child’s school.

  • Prices vary from one activity to another and from one association to another. 

During school holidays, you can sign your child up for a holiday camp, a recreation class or a day-care center.

You can find out more at your child’s school, your municipality or ONE (Birth and Childhood Office)

  • Some “mutuelles” provide financial aid.

Do I have to pay to sign 
my children up for school?

No, there is no cost for enrolling at a school run by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.

But take note! Some school services and supplies may require payment: school lunches, after-school care, study hall, some cultural and sporting activities, photocopies, books, equipment, etc. These school expenses are paid by the parents. 

  • If the school asks for money to sign up your child, you have the right to refuse.
  • Find out what the school expenses are. They differ from one school to the next. If you have financial problems, you can ask to meet with school administration to find a solution.
  • Financial aid does exist for secondary school pupils (scholarships).

 You can find out more at your child’s school.

In Brussels, a French or a Dutch school?

In Brussels, you have the choice between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking schools for your child. It is important, as a parent, to think about what is best for the child. Once the language and school have been chosen, it is best for the child to stay in the same place. 

Ask your municipality for the list of schools of all types, as well as the sign-up dates for primary schools. Do I have to pay to sign.

Official school or free school?

In French-speaking Belgium, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is in charge of education and its funding. Schools are organized either directly by the Federation itself, by a local authority (Province or COCOF [?], City or Municipality), or by a private association. These “organizing authorities” are responsible for defining the school’s philosophical orientation, its organization and its educational approach. 

All official schools (écoles officielles, organized by national, regional or local government) adhere to a set of principles and values (search for truth, scientific objectivity, openness, tolerance, etc.), without promoting any single philosophical doctrine or religion. A class on secular morality or religion is taught, depending on parents’ choices. 

Many free schools (écoles libres) are associated with an organized religion (most of these are Catholic, but Jewish, Protestant and Muslim schools also exist). Some free schools are secular or are organized with respect to a specific project.

Unless they are not recognized (and therefore not subsidized) by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, schools in Wallonia and Brussels all teach the same knowledge and skills for a given level (uniform curriculum).

  • Free schools should not be confused with private schools. Private schools may be recognized by an external authority (such as the French baccalaureate programme), or they may be certified by Belgian authorities but teach in a language other than French or Dutch. At private schools, parents must pay tuition for their children. This is why these schools are much more expensive. 

How do I choose a school for my child? What is important?

You can choose the school freely.

  • It is important to choose a school where you and your child will feel welcome and at ease. Visit several schools. Ask for advice from other families and from your neighbours. Ask to meet the head of the school, to visit classrooms and to meet one or more teachers, if they are available. 

Most parents choose their children’s school based on its geographic location. But this is not the only important aspect. 

What about enrolment?

We recommend that you look for a school and sign your child up quickly after you arrive in Belgium. Make an appointment at the school.

  • If you have difficulties speaking or understanding the language, you can go to the school with an interpreter or someone who is able to translate for you. You can also ask for the services of a professional translator/interpreter. Ask at the school. 

All children have the right to enrol in a school, whether they are Belgian or foreign, and whether they have regular immigration status or not. The school may refuse a child in only one case: when there are no more available places.

  • Children with no residence card or visa must also sign up for school and attend regularly. 
  • Note! things are a bit different for the first year of secondary school. 

 You can find rmation from your child’s school or, if he or she is not yet signed up, you can consult a prospective school, or the following website: www.inscriptions.cfwb.be

Does my seven-year-old daughter have to go to school? My son is 16 years old. 
Does he have to go to school?

Yes. From the ages of six to 18, school is mandatory. 

Six years old: This is when primary school starts. Primary school lasts for six years, and at the end, your child will receive a diploma allowing him or her to start secondary school.

At the end of primary school, around the age of 12, pupils begin secondary school. From the third year, several orientations are possible:

  • Prepare for university-level studies in the transition sections
  • Learn a trade in the qualification sections
  • Receive more hands-on training, partly in the classroom and partly in a business or industrial setting.

  • Note: when you choose an option in secondary school, it is important to think about the job or career your child would like to pursue in the future. Make sure that the option you choose will allow your child to prepare for that job or career. 

Do not hesitate to ask your child’s teachers, the school administration or the school’s PMS center [?] for advice. They can help you choose the right orientation in secondary school.

When your child successfully completes secondary school, he or she will receive a diploma. With this diploma, your child can register at a university or other institution of higher learning, or look for a job (see “Jobs” chapter).

Does my three-year-old son have to go to school?

Before primary school, there is pre-school, which can accept children who are at least 30 months old.

At pre-school, your child will learn about the school environment and interact with other children. At this age, young children learn very fast. This also helps them to learn French easily, which they will need when primary school begins. 

  • We strongly recommend that you send your child to pre-school at least by the age of 3. Even though this is not mandatory, it will be very useful for his or her education later on.

How is school organized in Belgium?

School is divided into three levels: 

  • Pre-school: for children between the ages of two and a half and five 
  • Primary school: for children starting at the age of 6
  • Secondary school: for children older 

Emergency 
telephone numbers?

  • 
Emergency medical assistance, 
ambulance and fire: 100 or 112
  • Police: 101
  • Poison Response Center: 070/245.245
  • Write these emergency numbers on a card, and keep it in your home. 

What are the important documents for my health?

Carte SISSIS card: Social identity card. This card contains all of your data which may be of use to Social Security institutions. You must show it at the pharmacy, hospital or “mutuelle”. You must request it from your “mutuelle”.

Vignette :  Document that contains your information for the “mutuelle”. You should put this vignette on the documents you send to the “mutuelle” (physician’s certificates, prescriptions).

You should ask the “mutuelle” for these vignettes.

Prescription: Document on which the physician writes the list of medications and treatments that you need. You must show this document at the pharmacy where you purchase your medication. You will pay less than the full price, because your “mutuelle” will pay part of the cost directly to the pharmacist.

Physician’s certificate: This is the certificate your physician will give you after an exam. You must submit it to your “mutuelle” so that you can be reimbursed for a portion of the costs for the consultation.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC): For EU citizens or for citizens of countries that have signed international health insurance agreements.

I am disabled. Where can I 
find assistance for my family and myself?

If you are disabled, you might have trouble getting around, finding a job, establishing relations or staying independent. There are organizations that help disabled persons and offer them advice. They can assist you and your family.  

For more information :

  • In Brussels: Phare (Autonomy for the Disabled) : www.phare.irisnet.be
  • In Wallonia: AWIPH (Walloon Agency for the Integration of Disabled People) : www.awiph.be

I have trouble sleeping, 
I’m anxious, I’m depressed. Who should I see?

Sometimes, it helps to talk with a health care professional specializing in sleep problems, anxiety attacks, homesickness, loneliness, post-traumatic stress disorders… In Belgium, general practitioners will often refer you to a professional in such cases. Psychological aid might also be of use to your children if, for example, they have problems at school or if their behaviour suddenly changes.

 You can find out about the services available near you, e.g. mental health centers. You can also talk to your general practitioner.

Where can I obtain help for problems related to reproduction and sexuality?

At the family planning center, you can see a physician at an affordable price and receive advice from specialists about contraception, sexuality, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases or domestic violence. Specialists must respect doctor-patient confidentiality, including for minors. 

www.loveattitude.be

In Belgium, a woman has the right to decide whether or not to have children, and to use contraception.

When a woman has an unwanted pregnancy, she may decide to end the pregnancy before the end of the 12th week.

Are there other places 
where I can be treated?

You can also be treated at the medical center near you. At the medical center, you can see general practitioners, social workers, psychologists, dentists, gynecologists and pediatricians.

www.maisonmedicale.org

Most of the “mutuelles” also manage clinics where you can see specialists, general practitioners, dentists, gynecologists and pediatricians.

For more information, contact your “mutuelle”.

What if I become ill at night or on the weekend?

If you become ill in the evening, at night or on the weekend, you can go to see an on-call physician or ask for him or her to come to your home if you are not able to move about. 

To find an on-call physician near you, telephone your regular physician (an answering service will give you the telephone number for the on-call physician).

The on-call physician will determine whether your case is a serious emergency, and if so, will refer you to a hospital’s emergency service. 

In Brussels, you may also contact SOS Médecins: 02/513.02.02 www.sosmedecins.be

When should I go to 
the hospital?

When your general practitioner thinks you need to consult a specialist, he or she may refer you to a hospital. Many hospitals have an outpatient clinic where you can see a specialist. Hospitals can organize consultations with dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, etc. These consultations are at certain hours or more often on an appointment basis. They are therefore not available on an emergency basis.

Who should I contact if 
I have a health problem 
or if I don’t feel well?

First, you should see your general practitioner. He or she will refer you to a specialist or to a hospital, if necessary.

If you do not know where to find a general practitioner, you can get rmation at a pharmacy near you.

You should not go to a hospital emergency room for your general health problems, except in the case of emergency. The general practitioner you visit can give you advice on how you should proceed.

  • It is preferable to stay with the same general practitioner. He or she knows you well. You will build a trust-based relationship with your general practitioner, and he or she will update your health records.

What are my rights 
as a patient?

  • You can choose your physician and change whenever you like.
  • You have the right to be rmed of your health condition, possible treatments and risks. Before starting a treatment, the physician must ask you if you agree to it.
  • 
You may ask to read your medical records.
  • You have the right to doctor-patient confidentiality.
  • If you have problems speaking or understanding the language, you may ask for the services of a translator/interpreter. Talk about this with your health care provider (hospital, medical center, etc.).

How does the reimbursement system work?

certificate to your mutuelle, it will reimburse you for some or all of the visit. Generally, part of your health care costs will be covered by the “mutuelle”, and the other part will be paid by you. For medication, the same applies, but reimbursement covers only some types of medication. This is reflected at the pharmacy by a reduction in the price of the medication. 

What “mutuelle” should I choose? How much will it cost? How do I join?

There are several “mutuelles.” All of them offer more or less the same services. In the general system, there are no premiums to pay. The premium is withheld from your monthly salary (Social Security contributions) or via agreements with other agencies. 

“Mutuelles” also offer complementary health insurance to cover some expenses that are not reimbursed by the basic coverage. This complementary insurance requires you to pay a premium, and it is mandatory.

 To find an office near you, consult their websites:

Do I have to sign up for 
a “mutuelle”? What purpose does it serve?

A “mutuelle” is a private insurer that reimburses you, in full or in part, for your health care costs. It pays you an allowance if you are physically unable to work, gives you rmation, and answers any health-related questions you may have.

If you meet the conditions, you must sign up with a “mutuelle”. 

  • If you cannot be covered by the “mutuelle”, there is a system, via CPAS, to cover your health care costs. 
  • If you are undocumented, you have the right to emergency medical aid” [?] 

I live in Belgium. Do I have a right to health care?

In Belgium, everyone has a right to health care. A portion of health care expenses are covered by a “mutuelle” health insurance fund. People who do not have a “mutuelle” have a right to CPAS medical aid or emergency medical aid [?]

  • Note:people with a tourist visa or temporary work visa are not part of this category. They must pay for their health care costs out of their own pocket.

Where do I go for advice?

There are tenants’ associations that can provide you with support and advice about your rights as a tenant. Many municipalities also have a housing information and advice office. 

For more information, you can contact your municipality.

How do I find a flat or house to rent?

To find a private flat or house to rent, consult newspapers such as Le Vlan, free estate agent brochures and websites (e.g. www.immoweb.be or www.vlan.be). Walk around: “A Louer” (to rent) signs are displayed on units available to rent.

  • You can register, free of charge, with one or more housing agencies, both private and social. To find the nearest Social Housing Society, contact your municipality. Associations or CPAS may provide support. You may also contact
  • In Brussels, Housing Society of the Brussels-Capital Region: www.slrb.be
  • In Wallonia, Housing Society of the Walloon Region : www.swl.be

What should be done in case of conflict between the landlord and tenant?

In case of a problem, always try to resolve it directly with the landlord. Confirm the content of the agreement or dispute by registered letter[?].

In case of significant dispute, it must be referred to a justice of the peace, who will issue a ruling on the matter. You may seek the advice of a lawyer (see “Information & Advice” chapter, “Legal Aid”). 

What are my obligations 
as a tenant?

Pay your monthly rent and utilities on time each month.

Pay your monthly rent and utilities on time each month. Your rent is specified in the lease, throughout its duration. The landlord has the right to increase the rent once a year in order to adjust for inflation[?] (indexation).

  • Do not hesitate to check that the new monthly rent complies with the law. 

Provide a security deposit [?], if the landlord requires it. 

When you move into a flat or house, the landlord may ask you to provide a security deposit. It may not exceed two months of rent (three months if you pay in instalments). The security deposit is in principle paid to an escrow account [?].

  • If possible, do not pay the security deposit in cash. 

Keep the flat or house in good condition; in other words, perform regular upkeep work to ensure the home does not deteriorate, and keep it in its initial condition. 

The tenant must ensure the “routine” upkeep of the private parts of the home (maintain the boiler, unplug the sink, protect pipes against frost, etc.) and repair any damage caused by the tenant (broken windows, holes in the walls, sealing problems with sinks, etc.). 

Alert the landlord quickly when you observe problems with the flat or house (by registered letter).[?]

  • Important. The landlord is responsible for repairs and renovations resulting from normal wear and tear (e.g. replacing the carpet after nine years) or poor condition (e.g. replacing an old boiler). The landlord must perform major repairs (unstable staircase, defective or hazardous electrical installation, etc.), except if these repairs are due to lack of proper upkeep by the tenant. 
  • If the landlord refuses to perform this work, make sure that you have communicated the situation to him or her in writing (by registered letter).

Alert the landlord when you want to move out of the flat or house (“give notice”). 

The conditions and notice periods to move out of a home depend on the type of lease that you have signed with the landlord. 

Find out what the exact conditions of your lease are. In general, a long-term lease (nine years) offers better protection for the tenant. Often, the written notice period is at least three months prior to moving out.

Do not perform any renovation work or repairs without the landlord’s authorization. 

Maintain the landing (and the sidewalk if you live on the ground floor), and comply with the rules about disposing of trash (sorting and disposal conditions). 

Note: the law prohibits the disposal of trash in non-authorized locations. Throwing trash or other waste in the street or in nature is prohibited, even if other trash is already present. Fines for littering can be high. 

For more information about trash collection rules:

  • In Brussels:
    www.bruxelles-proprete.be
  • In Wallonia: most municipalities distribute trash collection calendars and rmation brochures. Contact your municipality.

For more information about renting: a guide to good landlord-tenant relations can be downloaded on the Internet:http://uperieurlogement.be

What are my rights 
as a tenant?

To live in a home that is in good condition, safe and sound.

A home must be safe and comply with certain conditions of comfort. The law defines precise rules in terms of safety, health, minimum household equipment and fire prevention. 

  • Landlords do not always comply with these rules. In such cases, they may be fined. For this, you must file a complaint.

The landlord may not decide unilaterally to evict a tenant.

In case of dispute, only a justice of the peace may order an eviction. In certain cases, the landlord may terminate the lease if the landlord or a member of his/her family wants to inhabit the flat or house. However, legally prescribed notice periods must be complied with. 

Right to privacy: the landlord may not enter a home without the tenant’s permission. 

What important documents concern housing?

A written agreement must be prepared and signed by the landlord and the tenant: this is the lease. This lease specifies the duration, the monthly rent, and any special conditions. It must also include legally-required attachments. 

  • Be careful of fraud: 
read the lease carefully, and find out what you will have to pay or do. In case of doubt, do not sign anything, and seek out advice as needed.
  • Pay attention to utilities [?]. Check whether these are included in the monthly rent or not.
  • Carefully read and understand the conditions for terminating the lease.
  • Note: he owner must have the lease officially recorded. In case of doubt, you can carry out this procedure yourself. Seek out advice as needed.

We recommend that you conduct a walk-through [?] with your landlord in order to identify any issues or defects in the flat or house

What types of housing exist?

There are two sorts of flats and houses for rent: private housing and social (or public) housing.

In social housing, rent [?] is calculated according to renters’ income. Social housing is run by government authorities. Flats are assigned based on social and economic criteria. Generally, waiting lists are long, and there is a procedure that must be followed. 

Most rental units (flats or houses) are privately owned, and the landlord can set the rent with no restrictions.
In most cases, the first flat or house that you rent upon arriving in Belgium will be privately owned.

How do I increase 
my chances of finding a job?

Employers almost always require some qualifications, as proven by a diploma or certificate. If you have a diploma (original copy) from your country, you can go to an agency to determine its equivalency [?] under certain conditions.

The associations cited in the information & Advice chapter can help you.

For some jobs, you can have your skills recognized (validated) officially and for no charge. 

For more information:www.cvdc.be

If you do not have a diploma or if it is not recognized, you can choose to enhance your job opportunities by undertaking training courses in order to obtain a certificate that will prove your aptitude.

  • Speaking French well (and Dutch, particularly in Brussels) and improving your qualifications with training will help you find a job. 

Beaucoup de formations professionnelles pour adultes existent : cours de langue, formations professionnelles diplômantes ou qualifiantes.

 You can consult a training advisor at one of the following agencies: 

  • Public training services ACTIRIS, FOREM, VDAB and ADG.
  • In Brussels, Bruxelles-Formation or a local mission: www.mission-locale.be
  • In Wallonia: FOREM or a regional employment mission:www.mirec.net/mires.html
  • Educational and Professional 
Information Service (SIEP) : 
www.siep.be

What is undeclared work?

We talk about undeclared work when the employer does not officially register the employee and does not declare his or her hiring to the Social Security administration, in order to avoid paying Social Security contributions and income taxes.

Undeclared work is not legal.

It weakens the mechanism of general solidarity, because the money that should go to Social Security and income taxes does not. Both the employer and the employee risk large fines. Also, in case of illness or accident, undeclared employees are not protected. They have no right to unemployment insurance or a pension. They have no guarantee that they are being paid a fair salary. They are not protected against unfair dismissal, and they can be let go at a moment’s notice.

And unemployment insurance?

If you lose your job, for example, the Social Security system enables you, under certain conditions, to receive unemployment insurance (“the dole”). These payments may be made to you via a public agency (Caisse Auxiliaire de Paiement des Allocations de Chômage, or CAPAC) or by one of the three trade unions mentioned above. 

 To learn more, contact your trade union or CAPAC: www.capac.fgov.be

Gross salary and net salary: what are they?

The salary indicated in your work contract is the gross salary. Net salary is your take-home pay: the amount you receive directly from your employer. When you work, part of your salary is not paid to you.

It goes into Social Security contributions and income taxes. Social Security contributions go towards a fund (Social Security) that is used to pay health care costs, sick leave, lost-time injury leave, unemployment insurance, pension contributions and family allowances. Taxes pay for the public services that you enjoy as a citizen or resident alien (school, police, etc.). This mechanism of solidarity also enables the social aid system (CPAS) to function.

Where can I find 
job offers?

You will find job offers at ACTIRIS, FOREM, VDAB and ADG, in newspapers and on job sites on the Internet. 

In Brussels, you can also contact a local agency:www.mission-locale.be

You can register with private employment agencies as well.

  • You can also get support for your job search.

Please contact ACTIRISFOREMVDAB or ADG

I have a work permit, 
and I am looking for a job. Where do I start?

First of all, you must register as a job-seeker with your region’s Employment Office.

What is a trade union?

A trade union represents company employees and defends their interests. The trade union intervenes between employer and employees when there is a dispute concerning the enforcement of regulations and agreements, whether these involve individual or group working conditions. A trade union can defend your rights as regards employment and unemployment. 

To be defended by a trade union, you must be a member and pay your dues. There are a number of different trade unions. 

 To find a trade union office near you, please consult their websites: 

What are my rights and duties as an employee?

As a worker, you have the right to: 

  • receive the salary indicated in your work contract and in line with your employer’s sector of activity 
  • be protected as stipulated by law and in contracts
  • join a trade union
  • have a safe and healthy work environment
  • Your employer must provide you with several documents: work contract, workplace regulations, and documents specifying your compensation and the duties you must perform. Note: if your employer does not give you these documents, it is possible that you are being employed illegally. 

As a worker, you have a duty to:

  • comply with work rules and regulations, such as your work schedule
  • perform your work properly and in good faith

Employee or freelance?

If you have a work permit, and depending on its exact nature, you can work either as an employee or freelancer.

When you find a job as an employee, your employer must have you sign a written work contract specifying your work hours, salary, any benefits, pay days, contract duration and type, etc. 

A freelancer is not under the authority of an employer. He or she has a special status, notably as concerns Social Security. Freelancers can work in retail, markets, the liberal professions (lawyers, architects, pharmacists, physicians, etc.), trades, farming, etc. Special conditions may apply to some professions.

 For advice and support:  http://www.ucm.be 

In principle, any foreigner who wants to work freelance must obtain a professional card. 

For more information: http://economie.fgov.be/fr/

Do I have the right 
to work?

Both men and women have the right to work and to freely choose their job activity. However, some people who are not Belgian nationals must first obtain a work permit in order to work legally.

Please contact your municipality to find out if, in addition to your residence card, you need to obtain a work permit. There are several types, and each permit comes with specific conditions. 

For more information:

All jobs must be properly declared and comply with labour law. 

If you do not have a residence card, you are not allowed to work. 

And what if I don’t agree 
with a decision the government makes?

There are often possibilities for appeal in administrative proceedings. These possibilities are specified in the letters rming you of the decisions (on the back). 

There are also mediation [?] services in many municipalities and government agencies. 

For more information:  
http://www.ombudsman.be

What important documents am I going to need?

In Belgium, there are many administrative documents. Some are mandatory, while others are necessary for access to certain services or actions.

  • We recommend that you keep your original documents and make photocopies of them: identification documents, residence card, family status certificates, contracts, letters, invoices and receipts relating to work, health care, housing, etc. 
Document Where can you obtain them? 
Identity card Municipal government
Birth certificate Municipal government of the town or city where you were born
Passport Embassy or Consulate of your country of origin 
Certificat de bonne vie et mœurs – copy of criminal record (as requested in particular for a job)  Municipal government
Household composition (as requested in particular for school registration) Municipal government
Carte SIS (social identity card) “Mutuelle” health insurance fund (of the user’s choice), see Health Care chapter
Work permit Regional government (Brussels or Wallonia), see “jobs” chapter

Are administrative formalities really so important?

You must respond to summons, letters and/or calls from government agencies and public authorities.

The final date by which you must complete a formality will be indicated. You must comply with this date and attend in person if you are summoned to an agency. If you do not do this, you may be penalized. You may also be struck off [?] from the municipal registers, and lose your residence card or even your right to remain in the country. 

It is recommended that you send important documents by registered letter 

  • A category of letters sent by the Post Office in which you receive a receipt that proves 
that you sent the letter and that the recipient has received it. Sending a registered letter costs more. However, this receipt is legally valid as proof that you sent the letter.

Do I also have to register 
with the municipality?

Yes, in all cases, as soon as you have taken up residence, you must go to your municipal government to register.

This must be done no later than eight days after your arrival in the country.

Once your request for registration has been entered, a neighbourhood officer will stop by to check that you actually live at the address you have given.

Most municipalities have a website that provides useful rmation. You may also telephone the municipality to verify practical rmation and possibly give some rmation before attending in person.

Who will decide whether to issue me a residence card or not?

In most cases, it’s the Office des Etrangers (which is part of the Service Public Fédéral Intérieur, or Federal Interior Ministry) that will make the decision authorizing you to stay in Belgium or not. Sometimes, the Municipality will be your primary contact, and you will have to deal with them when you request a residence card. Other times, your request will be submitted directly to the Office des Etrangers.

In all cases (except as defined otherwise by the law), you will have to present documents proving who you are (identity card, passport or other). 

How long is a residence card valid? When do I have 
to renew it?

If you are authorized to stay in Belgium, the card you receive will usually be for a limited period of time (with possibility of renewal). 

  • Important!  Contact your Municipality to renew your residence card at least 45 days before its expiry date. 
  • Note : In most cases, the first documents that will be issued to you do not give you the right to travel outside of Belgium. A valid passport will be necessary for any travel outside Belgium’s borders. Please remember to obtain further rmation before travelling. 

Jobs and training

Jobs and training

Working allows you to provide for yourself and your family, to help you integrate into society and to meet other people.

Where can we get help if our baby is ill?

If your child is ill, you should go to a physician

See the “Health” chapter.

All citizens are equal in rights and in dignity

Summary (pdf)

I have just arrived in Belgium. What do I have to do first?

The most important thing is to understand what your status in Belgium is and to determine if you can get a residence card and under what conditions.

The most important thing is to understand what your status in Belgium is and to determine if you can get a residence card and under what conditions.
Each situation is unique, and procedures can be complicated.

  • Get advice as quickly as possible by explaining your situation to a new immigrants’ support service  (see Information & Advice chapter).

Belgium is a law-based state and a democracy, which guarantees human rights and civil rights for all

Introduction

Adapting to a new society and finding your place can be challenging. Upon arrival, you will be faced with many changes, and you will probably experience many things you have never encountered before.

Finding your place in Belgium can take time, especially if you do not have the right information and if you do not know your rights, your obligations and the procedures you have to follow.

With this guide, “Living in Belgium”, we want to provide you with basic information about how our society functions and make your first steps easier. This guide will also tell you where you can find useful information and further support.

We know that it will not answer all of your questions, but we are convinced that this guide will clarify how Belgian society works and hope that it will help you take your first steps in getting settled here.

We hope you will enjoy reading this information.

  • Fadila LAANAN

    Minister of Culture, Audiovisual Affairs,Health and Equal Rights,Wallonia-Brussels Federation

  • Eliane TILLIEUX

    Walloon Minister for Social Action,Public Health and Equal Rights

  • Rudi VERVOORT

    Minister, Member of the Board of theFrench Community Commission (Cocof),responsible for Social Cohesion