Expats looking for accommodation in Brussels shouldn’t have too many problems finding a place to live. As a city of neighbourhoods, the Belgian capital has a wide selection of options when it comes to areas and suburbs.
Generally speaking, expats will choose between living in one of the city’s districts or an outlying suburb. The advantage of living in the city is that expats will usually be close to their place of work and have easy access to public transport. That said, most international schools are outside the city, and accommodation is generally more expensive.
On the other hand, expats who choose to live outside of the city will be closer to international schools and will usually be able to rent or buy more extensive properties at a lower price than they would in the city. This does mean longer commutes and, in some cases, the public transport system in Brussels will be less accessible.
Areas and suburbs in Brussels
Brussels is a city of diverse neighbourhoods called communes, each with its own local government authorities. Choosing where to live in the city depends on an individual's work, study and family needs, with 19 distinct communes providing a variety of options. The registration of expats' arrival, establishment of residencies and addressing work permits are handled by these local government officials, making the choice of commune essential.
Brussels City, known for its historical architecture and vibrant nightlife, appeals to downtown workers and students, although traffic congestion and scarce parking can be a challenge. Etterbeek, home to the European district and various shopping areas, offers affordability and good public transport access. Ixelles, with its theatres, shops and restaurants, is popular among singles, couples, and young families, but parking can be difficult.
On the residential side, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre offers an abundance of green spaces and diverse housing options with good transport links. The commune is welcoming to foreigners and new arrivals. Finally, Watermael-Boitsfort, to the south of Brussels, is an increasingly sought-after residential area due to its easy access to the city and charming semi-rural housing amidst large portions of green spaces.
Read more about Areas and Suburbs in Brussels.
Types of accommodation in Brussels
Expats in Brussels usually opt to rent properties, with furnished apartments being a rarity and often expensive. Most rental properties are unfurnished, requiring tenants to add essential items ranging from kitchen appliances to bedroom wardrobes and even light fittings. This can be initially inconvenient and costly but offers the chance for personalising the space. In contrast, furnished accommodations carry a higher price tag but offer the ease of a ready-to-live-in home, the choice of which largely depends on an expat's budget, duration of stay, and preference for personalisation.
Serviced apartments are more common in Brussels than in some other cities. They come fully furnished and include services such as cleaning, maintenance and sometimes even meal preparation. They are a convenient, though often more expensive, option for short-term stays.
Finding accommodation in Brussels
Renting in Brussels is complicated because of strict legal requirements by landlords. It would be wise for expats to consult a professional to help them with the process, including the house hunt. Any relocation firm will do this, or an estate agency can be approached directly. Estate agents can be especially helpful for expats who don't speak any of the local languages. In Belgium, landlords are responsible for paying agency fees,
Otherwise, property in Brussels can be found on bulletin boards, in local newspapers or listed on online property portals. It shouldn’t take an expat house hunter too long to find a suitable place to stay.
Renting accommodation in Brussels
Making an application
Applying to rent a property in Brussels requires potential tenants to provide several documents such as proof of income, a copy of their passport and sometimes a reference from a past landlord or employer. Expats may be asked for a Belgian guarantor – however, alternatives like a higher deposit can often be negotiated. The rental market in Brussels can be competitive, so swift application submissions are crucial.
Leases, costs and fees
A standard residential lease in Belgium is a 'long-term lease' for nine years, also known as a '3-6-9 lease.' This lease can be broken with a three-month notice, and penalties apply only in the first three years. Short-term leases are also available for three years but cannot be broken early without the tenant being responsible for the remaining rent. The financial aspects of renting in Brussels involve paying the first month's rent upfront, a deposit of two or three months' rent and utilities, as these are generally not included in rental prices. The maximum legal deposit is three months' rent, refundable at the end of the lease if the property is undamaged.
See Accommodation in Belgium for more details about the rental process in Belgium.
Utilities in Brussels
When moving into a new home in Brussels, expats will need to take care of a few essential utilities such as electricity, gas, water, waste disposal and telecommunications. Getting these set up can be straightforward, especially if one is familiar with the providers and the procedures.
Electricity and gas in Brussels are deregulated, meaning residents can choose their providers. Providers such as Engie, Lampiris and Luminus offer a range of plans to suit various consumption levels and energy preferences. It's worth comparing the rates and services of different providers to find the best fit.
Water in Brussels is provided by Vivaqua. After moving into a new home, expats should inform Vivaqua to establish a water account in their name. We recommend keeping an eye on usage, as water can be relatively expensive in Brussels compared to other European cities.
Waste disposal is a local government responsibility in Brussels. The city is divided into several zones, each with a specific collection schedule. ARP-GAN offers comprehensive guides to waste sorting and disposal. Recyclable materials such as paper, glass and plastics are collected separately, and adhering to the local waste disposal guidelines is essential.
Finally, telecommunications, including internet and telephone services, are crucial for most expats. Brussels has a number of major telecom providers that offer a variety of packages. To better understand the options available, visit Keeping in Touch in Belgium.
It's worth noting that for most utilities, expats will need a Belgian bank account to set up automatic payments. This is a crucial factor for expats to consider in their moving plans.
For more information on finding and securing accommodation in the country, refer to Accommodation in Belgium.