Belgium, situated in the heart of the European Union, is a kingdom known for its charming castles and picturesque streets. It appeals to expats seeking a tranquil lifestyle and economic stability. To reside in the country for over three months, foreigners must apply for a temporary residence permit, and for those looking to make Belgium their permanent home, a permanent residence permit is necessary. In this guide, we outline the various types of Belgian residence cards available and the steps to apply for the one that suits your needs.
Peculiarities of Getting Permanent Residency in Belgium
For foreigners to legally reside in Belgium for more than 90 days, a temporary residence permit is required. This document is commonly known as an electronic card, as it contains a small chip known as eID, which is affixed to the expat's passport. While it's possible to apply for a residence permit after entering the country, it's advisable to do so before arrival, as the latter option is primarily intended for emergency situations, according to the Migration Department's recommendation.
After residing in the country for five years, you have the option to exchange your temporary permit for a permanent one. This grants the holder nearly the same rights as those enjoyed by the country's citizens. Blue Card holders can expedite their permanent residence application, as their time spent in other EU countries is also considered in the assessment.
Individuals with permanent residence status in Belgium have the following privileges:
- The ability to seek higher-paying employment within the country.
- The freedom to travel unrestrictedly within EU countries.
- The opportunity to purchase real estate without limitations.
- Eligibility to receive social assistance from the state.
The complete expat path to Belgian citizenship spans a period of 10 years. Spouses, other relatives of Belgians, and foreigners with valid repatriation reasons can expedite their journey to obtaining the country's passport. In this article, we will primarily focus on the most common route to relocating to Belgium, which is naturalisation, and discuss the various types of residence cards that foreigners can obtain through this process.
Bruges. Photo: Despina Galani (Unsplash)
Belgian Resident Cards
In Belgium, there are seven primary residence permits, with some granting the holder the right to permanent residency in the country. The national authorities have established distinct residence permits for citizens of EU/EFTA states and citizens of third countries.
Temporary Residence Permit
In Belgium, obtaining a permanent residence permit is conditional upon having a temporary one, known as the D visa. You can acquire this visa through several avenues, including:
- Employment with a Belgian company (including the EU Blue Card).
- Family reunification.
- Marriage to a Belgian citizen.
- Pursuing education in the country.
In each of these scenarios, the applicant for a D visa (or their sponsor) must substantiate their financial stability and self-sufficiency with appropriate documentation. This should demonstrate their lack of need for financial assistance from Belgian authorities, compliance with the law, possession of health insurance, and valid grounds for residing in the country.
The government typically grants a one-year D visa and renews it based on the same criteria upon which it was initially obtained. Holders of this residence permit are issued a temporary certificate known as card A.
Permanent Residence Permit
After residing in Belgium for five years on a temporary residence permit, you become eligible to apply for a permanent one. While it does not require formal renewal, the cards issued may have a validity period of either five or 10 years.
Type B Card
The Type B card is designed for third-country nationals who are family members of Belgian and EU citizens. It grants the right to indefinite residence after five years of legal residency in Belgium under the terms of the D visa.
In 2020, the government implemented a restriction for foreigners with a work visa: permanent residence permits of Type B are now exclusively available to specialists employed by Belgian companies. Expats working in international organisations within the country are eligible only for temporary visas.
Holders of a Type B card are registered in a dedicated foreign citizens' registry. With this permit type, extended travel outside of Belgium for more than one year is not allowed. Failure to comply may result in the cancellation of permanent residence for non-EU/EFTA citizens.
Type K Card
The Type K permit grants long-term residence in Belgium following a legal stay of five years in the country, similar to the Type B card. However, it comes with additional benefits, such as eligibility for certain forms of social assistance, inclusion in the local residents' register, and nearly equivalent rights to those of the country's citizens. It's worth noting that only holders of a B card can obtain a K card.
Antwerp. Photo: Thomas Konings (Unsplash)
Type L Card
The Type L e-card serves as an extended residence permit for third-country expats. A notable advantage of this card is its validity in other EU states. For instance, the L card permits you to initiate the process of obtaining a residence permit in other EU countries without the need to first secure a temporary visa.
Furthermore, those with L-card status can depart Belgium for up to 12 consecutive months without forfeiting their right of residence in the country, and they are entitled to reside within the EU for up to six years. Expats holding an L permit are registered in a unified local population register. However, they must meet heightened monthly income criteria, which stipulate a minimum of €883 for themselves and €264 for each dependent individual.
In some regions, foreigners seeking K and L cards must meet additional criteria, such as demonstrating proficiency in the local commune's language, which could be Dutch, German, or French.
Type F, EU+, and H Cards
These permit types are intended for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens, as well as their family members. The fundamental prerequisite of uninterrupted residence in Belgium for a duration of five years applies to them. Most EU expats receive the EU+ visa, while highly skilled specialists holding a Blue Card are granted the Type H card. Family members of EU citizens are eligible for permanent residence status under category F.
How to Obtain a Permanent Residence Permit in Belgium
Applications for permanent residence are submitted through the municipal government. While some municipalities permit the upload of scanned document copies on their websites, others require applicants to submit documents in person. Each municipality establishes its specific regulations for permanent residence issuance, with the ultimate decision resting with the migration department.
To apply for permanent residence, you will need to gather the following documents:
- Your identity card (passport).
- Two recent photos.
- A valid residence permit.
- Certificates verifying stable income (such as a bank statement or employer's certificate).
- A valid medical insurance policy.
- Proof of residence (e.g., a lease agreement or utility bill).
Depending on the purpose of your stay in Belgium, you may also require an employment contract, a university certificate, authorization for a professional card, and other documents. It's important to consult with the experts at the foreign affairs department in your specific commune to ascertain the exact list of necessary documents in advance. Additionally, keep in mind that aside from documents, authorities may request evidence of integration into Belgian society, such as language course certificates or certificates of participation in local social initiatives.
A Step-by-Step Guide of Getting Permanent Residency in Belgium
Once you have gathered all the necessary documents, you can proceed with the process of obtaining permanent residence, which involves several steps:
- Scheduling an appointment with the municipality or utilising the online application option if available.
- Receiving a registration number, which serves as confirmation that the permanent residence application process has been initiated.
- Undergoing a home visit by a police representative to verify the accuracy of the provided information.
- Receiving an invitation from the municipality. Upon approval of your application, the authorities will send you an activation code to obtain an electronic permanent residence card.
The process of acquiring permanent residence typically takes anywhere from two to five months, depending on the circumstances. Document processing and card issuance are subject to fees, with the specific amount contingent on the card type and the municipality where you submit your application. These costs can vary, ranging from €35 to €55.
What Is the Validity Period of a Belgian Resident Card?
While permanent residence status is granted indefinitely, the cards themselves have limited validity. Most are issued with a five-year validity period, while Types K, L, and EU+ permanent residence permits are valid for 10 years. Upon reaching the expiration date, they must be renewed. After maintaining permanent residence for five years, an expat becomes eligible to apply for citizenship.
Brussels. Photo: Thomas Konings (Unsplash)
Can I Get Permanent Residency in Belgium by Investment?
There isn't a dedicated program for acquiring permanent residence or Belgian citizenship through investment. Nonetheless, an investor can apply for a one-year temporary residence permit that may be renewed. It's important to note that real estate and securities are not considered eligible investments. The only acceptable investment is either establishing your own new business or investing in an existing one in Belgium.
While there is no specific minimum investment requirement for acquiring a Golden Visa, prevailing practices indicate that you will typically need to invest approximately €200,000 in your project during the initial year. Additionally, a mandatory prerequisite is the employment of a manager who holds EU residency. After five years of residing in the country, the investor becomes eligible to apply for permanent residence.
In a Nutshell
Belgian authorities offer foreigners the opportunity to relocate to their country for various purposes, including work, family reunification, or investment. There are seven primary types of temporary and permanent residence permits, some of which are exclusively accessible to citizens of EU or EEA countries. To obtain permanent residency, a foreigner must reside in Belgium legally for a minimum of five years. Following an additional five years as a permanent resident, an expatriate becomes eligible to apply for Belgian citizenship.
Cover photo: Brugge, Libby Penner (Unsplash)