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


You can choose the school freely.

[do action=”tips”]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. [/do]

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


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 

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. 

[do action=”tips”]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.[/do]

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.

[do action=”warning”]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][do action=”more”] 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.[/do]

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).

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.

[do action=”tips”]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. [/do]

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.

[do action=”sans-papier”]Children with no residence card or visa must also sign up for school and attend regularly. [/do][do action=”warning”]Note! things are a bit different for the first year of secondary school.  [/do][do action=”more”]  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:[/do]

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

You can choose the school freely.

[do action=”tips”]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. [/do]

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


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 [do action=”tooltips”]The French Community Commission is the entity in charge of cultural, social, health and education issues for French-speaking institutions in Brussels.[/do], 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).

[do action=”tips”]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. [/do]

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. 

[do action=”more”]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.[/do]

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. 

[do action=”tips”]If the school asks for money to sign up your child, you have the right to refuse.[/do][do action=”tips”]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.[/do][do action=”tips”]Financial aid does exist for secondary school pupils (scholarships).[/do][do action=”more”] You can find out more at your child’s school.[/do]

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.).

[do action=”more”]You can find out more at your child’s school.[/do][do action=”tips”]Prices vary from one activity to another and from one association to another. [/do][do action=”more”]During school holidays, you can sign your child up for a holiday camp, a recreation class or a day-care center.[/do][do action=”more”] You can find out more at your child’s school, your municipality or ONE (Birth and Childhood Office)[/do][do action=”tips”]Some “mutuelles” provide financial aid.[/do]

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 [do action=”tooltips”]A notebook or agenda that allows pupils to write down class times and homework (exercises and lessons). It also enables parents and teachers to communicate with each other in writing. We recommend that you read and sign your child’s class planner every day.[/do]

[do action=”tips”]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. [/do][do action=”tips”]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.[/do][do action=”tips”]Some schools have tutoring programmes as well as French language classes for newcomers to Belgium: in particular, “bridging” classes.[/do][do action=”tips”]There are also tutoring possibilities outside the school itself (for example, homework schools). [/do][do action=”more”] For more information:[/do]

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

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

[do action=”tips”]You can ask to meet with your child’s teachers to find out what can be done to help your child.[/do]

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 [do action=”tooltips”]Psychological-medical-social center; each school is associated with a PMS center. The PMS team includes psychologists, social workers, physicians and nurses. They listen to pupils and their families and find solutions for their problems. They can help guide your child in his or her school choices and help with learning difficulties or with problems of fitting in or getting along with others.[/do], 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.

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.

[do action=”more”]A lot of rmation can be found on the Wallonia-Brussels Federation website: [/do]