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Belgium is a popular expat destination, and home to foreigners from around the world. If you’re going to become a US expat in Belgium, you’re probably wondering what you need to know to set up your own bank account once you’ve arrived.
This guide walks through all you need to learn - and as a bonus we’ll also touch on Wise, a non-bank provider with a multi-currency digital account you can use to receive, hold, send, spend and exchange euros alongside USD and 40+ other currencies. More on that later.
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, non-residents often won’t be able to open the cheapest or most comprehensive account packages as these need either an Itsme account or a local ID document.
Another option that many expats choose is to keep their international bank account and check if there are any Belgian branches. If your local bank doesn’t have branches in Belgium, it may have partnerships with banks that do. Partnerships give you the added benefit of lower fees or completely free ATM transactions in addition to other benefits.
If these options don’t suit you - or if you simply want to make sure you have all your bases covered - you can also get a Wise account to hold and exchange euros conveniently with just your phone.
Many Belgian banks allow you to open an account very easily online if you have Itsme¹ - a digital ID and verification tool. If you don’t have this you might be able to open some accounts online still by uploading documents - or in other cases you’ll need to visit a branch in person.
The documents you need are usually pretty straightforward. They’ll vary from bank to bank but usually you’ll be asked for:
- A valid passport or Belgian ID card
- Proof of residence (a utility bill or rental contract usually works)
Due to the large expat presence in Belgium, you’ll tend to find banks have international capabilities and English-speaking services. In addition to their local banks, Belgium also has a number of international banks, and representatives of major global banking groups.
Which bank and account is best for you is likely to simply come down to your personal preferences and situation.
To decide which is best for you, check out the basics of what these expat-friendly Belgian banks have to offer:
As you may guess, BNP Paribas Fortis² is a subsidiary of banking group BNP Paribas®. They’ve got an extensive network of branches and ATMs throughout Belgium and beyond.
Much like BNP above, ING Bank Belgium³ is a subsidiary of the ING group, offering all retail and commercial banking services, with a good range of branches around Belgium.
Hello Bank⁴ is a good option if you want a digital-only bank. It’s backed and owned by BNP Paribas, with a decent range of products and services and an intuitive user interface.
It’s possible to open a Belgian bank account as a non-resident - but you won’t necessarily be eligible for all the account types any given bank can offer.
Usually basic bank accounts, or packages which include lots of services for one simple, low fee, are reserved for resident customers in the first instance.
As an alternative, to an account you can use to hold euros even before you get to Belgium, check out Wise.
You’ll be able to manage your money across EUR, USD and 40+ other currencies easily, and get a Wise debit card for convenient spending in 150+ countries.
Send payments to 160+ countries, and access the mid-market exchange rate with low fees from 0.43%⁵ every time you need to switch from one currency to another. You’ll also get local bank details to have people send you USD, EUR and several other major global currencies conveniently, direct to your Wise account.
Wise isn’t a bank - but it’s a registered Money Service Business in the US and regulated wherever services are offered around the world. That means it’s safe to use, and could save you money too.
When you choose which bank to use, you’ll need to know what fees will be applied to the transactions you make.
Be sure to read the account fee schedule carefully before you start to transact. Even when transaction and service fees look pretty small, they can add up quickly. Here are a few to consider.
ATMs are located in most banks, as well as in various storefronts and high-traffic areas. If you’re using a machine outside of your bank network, however, you’ll likely be subject to ATM fees. The good news is that most ATMs will accept your card, even if it’s international.
Just remember that when using your Belgian card abroad, or you choose to use your home bank card in Belgium, you might run into excess charges applied due to dynamic currency conversion (DCC). You can read more about DCC - and how to avoid it, here.
You may find that the cheapest account packages available from your preferred bank aren’t available to non-resident customers. If you’re moving to Belgium and can wait until you have all your local paperwork sorted out that’s not a problem - but if you’re trying to get everything set up in advance you may need to pay some extra fees and charges.
It’s common to find banks offer packages which include an everyday account and some free transactions, and which may also offer ways to have other fees waived. For example you might find that if you deposit your salary in your account every month, the maintenance fees are lower, or your annual credit card fee is waived.
As an expat, you might need to transfer money to your Belgian bank account from abroad - or vice versa.
Most banks offer international money transfers, but costs vary widely. EU transfers tend to be on the cheaper side, while global transfers may use exchange rates which include a fee added onto the mid-market rate, with extra service fees to consider as well.
You might find that you can get a cheaper international money transfer by using a non-bank third party service like Wise. Unlike many banks, Wise uses only the mid-market rate for international transfers, with just a small, transparent fee. Find out more about the mid-market rate, to help you check and compare the fees for your payment.
Finding a bank in Belgium isn’t going to be hard. However, if you want to open your account before you move to Belgium you might need to compromise and choose an account which has a higher fee than a resident account would usually have.
As an alternative, you could choose Wise to get your euro account set up with no monthly fees to pay, so you can just get on with enjoying your new life in Belgium.
- BNP Paribas Fortis
- ING Bank Belgium
- Hello bank!
Sources checked on 09.12.2023
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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