So, you want to move to Belgium. Congratulations and good luck! Seriously, good luck, because it is CONFUSING.
Although every application and every process is completely different, I am (hopefully) here to make it a little less confusing.
This page will direct you to: helpful sites for visas to Belgium, my own blog posts on our immigration journey and helpful tips to survive the process.
My information comes from the Canadian consulate in Belgium, the Belgian consulate in Canada and various resources and people (most of which will be referenced or linked throughout this page.)
** Disclaimer: Nothing on this page is to be construed as legal fact. I am not an immigration professional. All of this information has been researched by myself, my boyfriend or given to us by professionals. Travel Pray Love can not be held responsible for each individuals immigration journey, because as I said; every process is different.
I am, however, here to give you advice and guide you through the confusing process as best as I can; because I know how frustrating and crazy it can get.
MY IMMIGRATION STORY:
Beginning in 2013; I moved to Belgium on a HOLIDAY WORKING VISA (see description HERE).
THE HOLIDAY-WORKING VISA;
- This visa allows you to work for a period of months (most of the time, no more then 3) and the rest of your time (9 months) is to be spent “holiday-ing” in Belgium.
- This visa is relatively easy to obtain, and for more information you can contact the BELGIAN Consulate in your own country (example: Canada’s Belgian Consulate closest to me was located in Montreal, Quebec.)
- This visa is valid for one year and often is available for people living in the following countries; Australia, New Zealand, Canada and some parts of America.
You can find the beginning story of my immigration, and more information about the holiday working visa below:
Our Immigration Process (Part One)
After completing 10 months of my one year stay, I ran out of money (the struggle is real, am I right!?)
So, I knew my visa was expiring in a few months and was eager to either begin working in Belgium again (after having worked legally for the three allowed months as soon as I arrived in Belgium.) OR, reluctantly move back to Canada and work there for a while to build up my savings again.
Asking around (at the Canadian consulate in Belgium as well as at our local city hall in Antwerp), I was told that I had two options. A student visa seemed out of the question because I neither wanted to be in school nor had the finances for it (even with Belgium’s relatively inexpensive schooling). The other option was a common law/cohabitation visa.
NOW – this is where it gets confusing, and where I get really, really angry. This is also a BIG part of the reason why this page exists; because I really would like people to know their actual options!
We were quickly told we were ineligable for this visa, due to my boyfriend being a full time student. One of the “requirements” of this common-law visa was that the Belgian (in this case, my boyfriend K) needed to be working for an access of at least 3 months, and provide proof of income. This is, reasonably, to show that he is able to support his “foreign” partner. This is most likely to avoid people entering Belgium and immediately hopping on their welfare system, which I totally understand.
So that was that, and I packed my things and moved away from my boyfriend after 10 months together. Obviously it devastated us, but I knew I needed to earn an income anyways, and I did have a spot in the family business waiting for me back home.
9 months of living back in Canada would have been easy, considering the 2 years we had spent doing long distance before. It WOULD have been easy, if I didn’t find out a month after moving back that we WERE eligible for the common law visa and were given the wrong information.
See, it is a “requirement” of the visa application for the Belgian to prove he is able to provide for the “foreign” partner…however, no one mentioned to us that a savings account would work in place of an income if said account was full enough to provide for both spouses.
Knowing he could show proof of this kind of savings made the next 8 months unbearable, because I could have stayed if someone would have given us the right information.
THE COMMON LAW OR COHABITATION VISA:
- This visa is often for those who are romantically involved, and can provide proof of their relationship.
- Most often, the proof required will be in forms of photos with dates, travel itineraries, reservations, social media history and/or email history.
- Both parties should expect to be interviewed (both separately and apart) when applying for this visa.
- There will also most likely be police checking up on your home, to ensure you live with your alleged spouse.
- This visa will most likely require a marriage search for both parties. Neither party can be legally married in either/any country prior to this application.
- This common law visa actually required that you sign a legal common law document. Making you officially partners in the eyes of the government.
- Signing these common law papers changes a few things for you both; for example, now you would most likely file your taxes together instead of separately.
- While you’re waiting for the review period of this application (most of the time, 6 months date to date), you will/should be granted an ‘orange card’ or temp visa. This visa often allows you to work within Belgium and should look like this;
- Once you’re approved for this visa, you will be granted a BELGIAN ID CARD, and congratulations, you can stay as long as you and your partner are living together! This ID card is to be renewed (easily like any other Belgian ID card) every 5 years.
- During the wait period (review period is usually 6 months to the date of application submission), you may not be able to leave Belgium. Ask about this if you have plans to visit other countries during that time.
FAQ’s for the Common Law Visa in Belgium:
- How do I begin my common law visa application?
— You start the application once you’ve landed in Belgium, at the city hall of the place of your residence. For example, if you’re planning to live in Antwerp, you would visit the Antwerp city hall to begin.
- What do I need to bring with me to apply?
— You will most likely not be able to prepare everything you need, as every situation and process differs. However, most likely you will need the following; a marriage search for both parties, a criminal record(s) search for both parties, proof of relationship (correspondence over a 2 year period of a period of 1 year living together), birth certificates for both parties, passports for both parties, proof of Belgian partners’ income OR proof that they can financially support the other person.
- Do I need to be IN Belgium for this application?
— Yes, most of the time you do need to be in Belgium to begin the process, and once the process has started, you are to remain in Belgium until your case is approved or denied.
- What do I do if my visa application is denied?
— In most cases, if your 90 day stay in the Schengen region (see below) is used up, you have 30 days to vacate the country and/or re-apply.
- What do I say when I go to city hall to apply?
— You will need to ask for the “attest van legale samenwoonst” (visa for legally living together).
- What documents will I need for this visa application?
— While this varies from country to country, most of the time you will need a passport, birth certificate, criminal record check, marriage search and proof of your relationship. You may be asked for medical history/clearance as well.
- How long is the review period?
— Most of the time, the review period for your application is 6 months to the date of your submission. How it works? The various branches of government that your application goes through, any one of them has a right to call something about your application into question up until 6 months. For instance, K and I submitted our application on May 9th, 2015. We received our approval on October 10th, 2015. Basically, no news is good news in the case of your application (so don’t be worried if no one is calling you about it!)
A LITTLE ABOUT STUDENT VISAS IN BELGIUM:
Although I have never had one, I did ask a lot of questions about one when I got a few minutes with my immigration worker.
- How do I apply for a student visa if I am already in Belgium on a separate visa?
— If you obtain an admission or enrollment to university (or “hoge school”/”haute école”: studies on university level) prior to the date of expiry of your residence permit, you will not need a student visa but you will have to go to the city hall and request a change of status (WHP vs. student) and renew your residence permit; in theory you will not need to re-do the whole procedure but still need a sponsor (who has to sign the “bijlage 32”/“annexe32”= pledge of support for students – see HERE for more info)
- Would I be able to work part time while I’m in school?
— As long as you are still under the WHP, you may work half-time and study (once again: no more than 3 months)
- Do I need to enroll in the program BEFORE applying for a student visa?
— Yes, because the proof of admission or enrollment will be one of the basic document requirements if you need to file for the visa.
Types of Visas in Belgium
Belgium Cohabitation Visa
Consulates of the World in Belgium
Working-Holiday Program in Belgium
The Schengen Region – What is it?
The Visa Information System (Belgium)
All About Belgian Visas
Belgian Visa Application(s) Requirements
TIPS, TRICKS (AND HOW NOT TO LOSE YOUR MIND) WHEN APPLYING FOR A BELGIAN VISA:
- It is possible for some people to stay in the Schengen Region (which includes Belgium) for 90 days without a visa, so research that and keep track of your days! Getting booted from the country for accidentally over-staying your “welcome” doesn’t really look great on future visa applications.
- Seek your answers in more then one place, preferably getting most of your information from your consulate.
- Most of the time, you’re assigned a “case worker” or someone specifically deals with people immigrating to Belgium from your specific country. Find this person’s information online and keep an ongoing email conversation with them – it can be very helpful!
- Do your own research! A lot of government workers, as sad as it sounds, will jump at the chance to pass you off to someone else or to give you really quick answers to get you out of their hair. Don’t allow that! Obviously don’t be rude, because you need them to like you, but be persistent.
- Be patient. Yes, it will take a while. Yes, you will be told no (most likely several times, and more likely in several languages); but it will happen at some point!
- Be kind. You never know how far kindness can go (even when you’re dying to tell someone how you really feel), be friendly and polite with everyone, because you never know who will be a deciding factor in your immigration case.
- Over prep and/or over-share, if you can. If you’re asked to hand over information about yourself, hold nothing back. Over share, because it’s better then having them send your application back because they didn’t have enough information. (We were asked to hand in proof of our relationship, and we went as far as printing off our social media history, our Skype history, our hotel reservations, our flight confirmations and our passport stamps!)
- The first “NO” isn’t always a firm “NO”. Don’t get discouraged if you get a negative response from someone, because it might not true.
- Be honest. If you have things that could be potential barriers to you obtaining a visa, share these concerns with your consulate or immigration worker and ask about options. It’s best if they know you’re honestly just trying to immigrate to their country because you like it here.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to a lawyer. Lawyers always sound so intense and scary, but we briefly spoke with one when we were lost and had no idea what answers were accurate and what we should do. We were kindly pointed in the right direction and with that information, were confident enough to push for our case a little bit.
- Know what you might need, and that it might get personal. (Example, for a lot of visas, there will be a criminal records check and/or you will need a marriage search. They may even need to check your medical history, which can be slightly invasive.)
- If you’re denied, don’t panic! It could be that you just missed some documentation. Contact your city hall or consulate and see what you need to do.
- This will cost money. Getting your documents, translating the ones that need translating and you can’t forget those actual visa application fees. It can get costly.
- You will most likely at some point need to send your passport away in the mail to get a VISA PAGE put into it. Don’t panic, you’ll get it back!
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN MOVING TO A NEW COUNTRY:
- Your drivers’ license may or may not be valid in this new country. Check it out to be sure. Often (like in my case) licenses can be easily transferred and no road tests are needed.
- Things will be different, so brace yourself for some culture shocks!
- Learning the language (or getting a head start on it before you move) is a great idea.
- Often times, you will be legally mandated to take an “integration” course in order to stay in Belgium. This course is fairly easy and just teaches you about how to navigate through Belgium, how to find work and a little about Belgium’s history.
- See if your education transfers over! For instance, my high school diploma was easily transferred to the equivalent here in Belgium, however, my college degree was not.
- Once you’ve begun the application process, sometimes you won’t be allowed to leave the country without jeopardizing that application. Make sure you know what you can and can’t do!
HELPFUL TRAVEL PRAY LOVE POSTS ABOUT IMMIGRATION:
Also see How I Moved My Cat to Belgium!
GOOD LUCK on your immigration process!
Use this contact box below to ask questions, leave comments and/or leave a rage rant about how stressful it is.
I’m here to help!