Going native


Many expatriates come to Belgium on short-term contracts, yet a large number of them end up staying here for good. Emma Portier Davis reviews a book with their interests at heart

A group of six retirees, who dub themselves The Brats (Brussels Retired Expats), has penned the ultimate guide for anyone planning to spend their twilight years in Belgium. Retiring in BelgiumA Guide for Expats doesn’t provide all the answers but it poses questions on all aspects of retirement.

This is not just a guide to managing one’s finances, information that ultimately has to be sought out, as the authors urge, from a specialist who will provide advice tailored to your circumstances. The authors ask how you plan to spend your retirement, and even how you feel about dying in Belgium.


“Who knew the Belgian state could tax you on 100 percent of a deceased spouse’s wealth if you didn’t have the foresight to draw up a marriage contract?”

It’s also relevant for younger adults as the looming pensions crisis is already prompting governments to tighten their belts and postpone state payouts to a later age. The authors caution that it’s never too early to plan ahead – maybe you are planning to bring over Mum and Dad.

We’re told by the pro-EU lobby we can live, earn and retire where we like and still claim a pension in this single market. But it’s not as easy as all that, as the book explains. Who pays your state pension? Depends on where you have lived. Will your private pension be subject to taxation? Yes, possibly.

A question universal to pensioners is how to spend their time. The authors give some useful suggestions for places to study, volunteering opportunities and social activities in Belgium as well as tips on semi-retirement and the tax implications.

Large sections of the book are devoted to questions of estate planning and a summary of the tax traps for expats. Who knew the Belgian state could tax you on 100 percent of a deceased spouse’s wealth if you didn’t have the foresight, as almost all Belgians do, to draw up a marriage contract?


The authors give a potted guide to healthcare in Belgium, pointing out some of the peculiarities of the system here, such as the law permitting euthanasia – how will you feel about that if you end up terminally ill here?

Parts of the book seem to be more a passion of the authors and peripheral to the specifics of retirement. Witness the entire chapter on how to become more technology-savvy: clearly a benefit for any retiree but perhaps not worthy of such lengthy treatment.

This and the authors’ summary of where to live in Belgium could have been flagged within other chapters as topics for further reading. Notwithstanding, this is a must-read starting point for anyone, of any age, who is contemplating going native.

Retiring in Belgium – A Guide for Expats: 15Euro (all proceeds to charity) is available from Community Help Service Belgium (www.chsbelgium.org) and the British Charitable Foundation (www.bcfund.be)