More and more Belgians are moving abroad: “But the countries we dream of when we’re young are also the least accessible”

Belgian expatriates will no longer be at risk of having their account closed in Belgium

1. More numerous every year

The numbers are clear: the number of Belgian expatriates is increasing every year. Today, 550,000 of them are considered by the French-speaking Union of Belgians Abroad (UFBE) to be “expatriates” – that is, they are no longer registered in Belgium, but in a foreign embassy. “But this number is greatly underestimated. There are undoubtedly several hundred thousand Belgians who live regularly abroad but do not register at the embassy, ​​and in particular many aid workers in some countries – for example the DRC – who have to stay in Belgium.points out Diego Angelini, expatriation advisor at UFBE.

How to explain this trend? According to many elements. First, socio-economic, geopolitical, even climatic parameters: “Europe is a continent that sometimes feels old; economically it does not experience the same growth as some particularly dynamic countries; must invest very heavily to achieve climate goals. Added to this are the “Belgian ills”: too many taxes, too many people, no open space, weather, language quarrels…” believes Diego Angelini, who also points to more “generational” parameters: “The new generation was nourished by Erasmus programs or the possibility to take a working holiday (Working Holiday Program) in a foreign country – namely Australia. Young people therefore liked expatriation more than the generation before them. And the democratization of air tickets has also helped ease the traffic.”

This phenomenon also increased post-Covid with the development of teleworking – many Belgians work remotely, sometimes for several months a year, from abroad – and appeared digital nomads – often young entrepreneurs who have created their own company and can manage it from anywhere in the world.

Two Brabants, home to thousands of emigrants

2. Where are they going?

The European Union and especially countries neighboring or close to Belgium welcome the largest contingents of Belgian expatriates. With France largely leading the way – more than a third of Belgian expat retirees have settled there, but for the vast majority it is Belgians still working who have chosen this destination. Despite Brexit, the United Kingdom maintains a high rating. “Many Belgians who did not necessarily apply for a visa because they did not need one, now need a visa, a passport to return (in the United Kingdom, editor’s note), so of course the numbers are growing explains the UFBE advisor. There are also Belgian-British dual nationals who also did not apply to live in England and are now doing so. And perhaps the UK also represents a bit of an antechamber of young people’s dream countries, imagine Mr. Angelini. Because the countries that young people dream of first are Canada, the United States of America and Australia, in that order.”


“These countries we dream of when we’re young are also the hardest to reach.”

However, with a paradox: “These countries that we dream of when we are young are also the hardest to reach. Visas are not easy to obtain, social security costs are often very high, and the three countries apply their chosen immigration policies to one degree or another depending on the specific needs they encounter. For example, Canada will open its doors to 500 foreign hairdressers one year and 500 engineers the following year. But it closes the floodgates just as quickly.’ Other countries also operate in waves: “China and other Asian countries at one time welcomed a lot of Belgian pilots, for example.”

Top 30 countries where foreigners live
Top 30 countries where Belgian expatriates reside. © IPM Graphics

However, some territories remain privileged destinations over time, such as Dubai, the Emirates, Qatar, where a large number of Belgians, engineers, construction experts, managers in finance or telecommunications have worked for a long time…

3. Obstacles, difficulties

“The two topics that systematically appear on the lips of those who want to emigrate are taxes and social security, points out Diego Angelini. They were interested in what would happen in the area of ​​mutual insurance, health care, taxes… All this will be easier to manage if the expatriation takes place in Europe.” However, other problems may arise:One of the problems that has come up more and more in recent years is that of the banks: Belgian banks are closing many accounts of Belgians who are foreigners outside the EU because they apply the legislation on suspected money laundering too blindly. Which means these Belgians cannot have a bank account in Belgium. Generally speaking, we see that Belgian exiles do not benefit from a very favorable regulatory regime, unlike, for example, French expatriates, who are treated much better by their country.”

Top 30 countries where retirees live
The country that hosts the largest number of Belgian pensioners. © IPM Graphics

4. Leave, come back?

The question remains: will Belgians living abroad ever return to Belgium? “One of the problems when you have an international career and want to return to Belgium is that you will find few responsible positions comparable to the one you held abroad. This is why many Belgians return to Europe, choose Paris or London, explains the sales manager who recently returned to the country after working in the Antipodes. This makes the return ticket very complicated. The quality of education can also be an issue when you have had access to the most renowned international schools abroad. But it is true that many emigrants feel the need to return mainly for family reasons: because they want their children to have access to the network they knew when they were young, because their parents are getting old, etc.

And homesickness? “A Belgian is unique in that he always maintains a strong connection with his country and returns there one day, to celebrate Christmas, to see his family again… But when you are an emigrant, you often stay there for the rest of your life, at least until the end of his professional activity “. concludes Diego Angelini.

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