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Thinking of moving to Belgium for work or study? Whether you’re staying a few months or moving there permanently, one of the first things you’ll need is a Belgian bank account.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about opening a bank account in Belgium as a UK expat or student. This includes the documents you’ll need, an overview of Belgian banks and whether there are any fees.
Make Wise your travel companion. Open a Wise multi-currency account and you’ll be able to manage your money in 40 currencies, including GBP and EUR.
But more on this later. For now, let’s focus on how to open a bank account in Belgium, starting with the paperwork.
The good news is that generally speaking, you shouldn’t need a pile of paperwork in order to open a bank account in Belgium.
The specific documents you’ll need will vary from bank to bank. But in general, here’s what you should have ready¹:
- A valid passport or national identity card
- Proof of address (a utility bill or rental contract usually works).
Just in case you’re asked for it, you might also want to have proof of income to hand.
If you’re opening an account in person, you’ll need to make an appointment and take your documents along with you on the day.
Thanks to its rather lenient eligibility requirements and modern banking system, it is also possible to open a bank account online in Belgium. This could be more convenient than making an in-person appointment.
You’ll need to firstly check whether the bank in question offers the option to open an account online. If it does, you’ll need to follow these steps¹:
- Choose the account type you’d like to open
- Complete the online application form, filling in all your personal details where requested
- Upload copies of your ID and other documents. Some banks may also use a video verification process to confirm your identity.
- Once completed, your application will be processed and you’ll receive your debit card, PIN and other documents through the post.
The good news if you’re hoping to open an account before you arrive is that many banks allow you to do it online.
Many Belgian banks accommodate accounts for non-residents too. However, in most cases you’ll be asked to provide proof of Belgian residency once you arrive. Certain banks may allow proof of residency from your home country, but you’ll need to ask your specific bank for details².
Another option that many UK expats choose is to apply with an international bank, one with a presence in both the UK and Belgium (such as HSBC or Santander). Even if they can’t offer you an account in both countries, they may be able to use their local connections to help you get started with opening your Belgian bank account.
But if all this sounds like a bit of a hassle, you’ll be pleased to know that there is an easier way.
Although not a bank, Wise is an e-money service provider that lets you send money worldwide for low transparent fees and the mid-market exchange rate with its multi-currency account. This is done at a fair rate without the mark-up that banks tend to add on top.
You can open a Wise international account online while still in the UK, in just a few easy steps. And you can start using it even before you set foot in Belgium. It’s really handy for covering those early moving costs, such as paying the deposit on your Belgian rental apartment.
And you can start spending in EUR as soon as you land, using your Wise multi-currency debit card.
So if you’re waiting until you arrive to open a Belgian bank account, Wise gives you a convenient way to manage your money in the meantime.
Eligibility is subject to verification of customers identity
Before you start researching Belgian banks, it’s useful to know a little about the account types available. This includes accounts for residents and non-residents, savings accounts and dedicated accounts for students.
While many Belgian banks accept online applications for their standard current accounts, others may require you to be resident in the country when you apply.
However, some banks such as ING and KBC offer non-resident accounts and dedicated expat services³. This could be very useful if you’ve not yet moved to Belgium, but want to get started on setting up an account - or if you don’t plan to be in the country very much.
You’ll need to get in touch with the bank’s dedicated non-resident or expat team to access these services. It’s likely that you’ll need to attend at least one appointment in person at a branch, bringing your ID and proof of foreign address along with you³.
Most of the major Belgian banks such as ING, KBC and BNP Paribas Fortis offer dedicated accounts for students and young people. The common feature of these accounts is that they’re free of charge, and many are linked to convenient mobile banking apps.
- The ING Lion Account for 18-25 year olds
- Hello4You with BNP Paribas Fortis, a package featuring a bank card, one year’s free credit card and a free current account up to the age of 28⁴
- The KBC Brussels Plus Account, for young people aged 10 to 24.
As a Belgian resident, you’ll have access to a full range of current accounts. There are a number of different types to choose from, starting with basic accounts for spending and receiving money.
There are also premium current accounts, which offer additional services in exchange for a monthly fee. And then there are bundled or packaged accounts, which come with extras such as insurance or credit cards for an increased monthly fee.
If you’re staying in Belgium for a while, you might want to look into opening a savings account - especially if you’re working and earning money.
Just like in the UK, savings accounts in Belgium come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and offer interest on your money. This includes both instant access and fixed accounts, where you’ll get a higher interest rate if you lock your money away for longer.
Due to the large expat presence in Belgium, you’ll find many banks with international capabilities and English-speaking services. The largest banks in Belgium are Belfius, BNP Paribas, ING Bank and KBC Bank (known as CBC in French).
In addition to local banks, Belgium also has a number of international banks. These include:
- Banca Monte Paschi
- BNP Paribas
As a foreigner, you’ll probably want to know what you can get with each bank. And crucially, which are the most expat-friendly. To help you decide which is best for you, let’s run through what each of the big Belgian banks have to offer:
Headquartered in Brussels and owned by the state, the bank offers around 530 local branches⁵. It offers:
- Beats New and Beats Star current (payment) accounts with monthly fees from €5.50 to €7.50 a month⁶. Students and young people under 25 get the Beats New account for free, and the Beats Star account for just €2 a month. Beats accounts even come with varying levels of insurance cover.
- A choice of Mastercard credit cards from €1.25 a month⁷.
- A number of savings accounts and investment options.
If eligible, you can even apply for an open a Belfius Beats account using your smartphone.
It’s worth noting though that the Belfius website isn’t available in English, only French and Dutch.
BNP Paribas Fortis is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, a major banking brand you’ve probably heard of. It has around 400 branches across Belgium⁸, and offers:
- A range of current account bundles, including a free Hello Pack. There’s also a Comfort Pack for €3.50 a month, and a Premium Pack for €7.50 a month. Each paid account offers an increasing number of perks, from credit cards to additional accounts and bonuses⁹.
- A free Hello4You student account for people aged 18 to 28, with a free credit card for the first year
- Standalone credit cards (not included in an account bundle) from €2.25 a month¹⁰.
- Dedicated packages and support for expats.
ING Bank Belgium is part of the global banking group ING, and offers a full range of retail and commercial banking services. It has over 400 branches across Belgium¹¹, and offers:
- A choice of current and savings accounts, including the ING Lion Account from €1.90 a month and the ING Green Account from €4.50 a month¹².
- The free ING Lion Account for 18 to 25 year olds¹².
- A range of credit cards from €27 a year (€10 a year for students)¹³.
- Dedicated expat and non-resident services.
As you’d expect given the name, KBC Brussels is a bank based in the country’s capital city. However, it also has a network of over 700 branches¹⁴ across Belgium, including some dedicated expat branches. The bank offers:
- A choice of current and savings accounts, including the KBC Brussels Plus Account from €3.25 a month.¹⁵
- A dedicated student account, packed full of benefits and free of charge for people aged 10-24 years old.¹⁶
- Silver, Gold and Platinum Mastercard credit cards, starting from €4.25 a month.¹⁷
- Dedicated expat services.
Belgium is one of the financial centres of the EU, so it has a modern and sophisticated banking system. The country is also a pioneer of digital banking, so you’ll be able to use online and mobile banking with most banks.
You’ll have a large number of banks to choose from, including those we’ve looked at above. Many Belgian banks do offer expat banking services in English, although you may need to shop around for the most foreigner-friendly service.
Belgian banks tend to be open between 9am and 5.30pm, similar to the UK. However, some may close for an hour for lunch¹⁸.
If you need to send money from your Belgian bank account, you should find it pretty fast and easy to do. The country is a forerunner in mobile payments and digital wallets, ideal for near-instant payments. And you’ll also be able to send local and international transfers through your bank, although these can be slower.
Need a faster, more convenient way to make an international payment? Consider using Wise. You can send money worldwide, in just a few clicks or taps - and it’s all done online. Wise only charges low fees and you’ll always get a fair exchange rate, so it could even save you money compared to using a bank.
Now, how much does it cost to bank in Belgium? Most current accounts come with a monthly fee of around €2 to €5, although some basic bank accounts are available for free. And of course, student accounts are free of charge.
Some accounts come with a credit card, although you can get one separately for a monthly charge of around €2 to €4 a month.
There may also be other fees to pay for certain services, such as withdrawing cash, using a credit card or making payments - especially outside of Belgium.
If you do want to make payments or spend internationally, Wise could be a cheaper alternative. For a one-time fee of just £7, you’ll get an international card for use in 160 countries including the UK and Belgium. You can also send money overseas at the mid-market exchange rate, with fees starting from just 0.41%
If you want to use your Belgian bank account to send money internationally (such as back to the UK), there will be fees involved. These can vary from bank to bank.
But to give you an idea of the cost, let’s compare the fees and exchange rate on offer with ING Belgium with another provider like Wise. Let’s imagine you want to send €100 in EUR to the UK (GBP). Here’s a rundown of the fees involved¹⁹:
|0.887950 - the mid-market rate
Transfer & Exchange Rate correct as of 20-Feb-2023
- N26 - How to open a bank account in Belgium
- Expatica - Opening a bank account in Belgium
- ING - Non resident
- BNP Paribas Fortis - Hello4You
- Belfius - Who we are - Facts and figures
- Belfius - Beats payment accounts
- Belfius - Credit cards, prepaid and Mastercard Debit
- Brussels Times - BNP Paribas Fortis to close branches by end of 2021
- BNP Paribas Fortis - Current accounts
- BNP Paribas Fortis - Credit cards
- ING Belgium - Branches
- ING - Compare bank accounts
- ING - Compare credit cards
- KBC Brussels - About KBC Brussels
- KBC Brussels - KBC Brussels Plus Account
- KBC Brussels - Young person’s account
- KBC Brussels - Credit cards
- Expatica - Banking in Belgium
- Wise - Send money
Sources last checked on date: 20-Feb-2023
This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.
We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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