Post-COVID-19 changes in Belgium

woman wearing mask
Updated 2020-07-17 09:54

Even though things seem to have gone back to normal in Belgium, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about a lot of changes. If you're looking to relocate there once border restrictions have been lifted, here is what you should expect in terms of entry and visa requirements, employment, property, the cost of living, etc.

What are the current conditions for travelling to Belgium?

To date, only citizens of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway are allowed to enter Belgium freely. Regarding the nationals of third countries, their entry will be subject to strict control in order to limit non-essential travel. Travellers are required to submit a Public Health Passenger Local Form at border control. It is recommended that you self-isolate at home for consecutive 14 days following your arrival. You can find more information on the Belgian government website. However, these travel restrictions do not apply to family members of EU nationals and those of the Schengen Member States, provided that they have all the documents required for entry and that they are able to justify their family ties, as well as to third-country nationals holding a residence card or a D visa. Find out more on the Belgian immigration website.

Have there been any visa changes recently?

Given the reopening of the Belgian borders to certain nationalities, new measures have been introduced. For example, family reunification visas will not be issued until further notice. On the other hand, international students from third countries and wishing to enrol in a Belgian university can apply for a visa. Highly-skilled professionals whose skills are essential for the Belgian economy and whose mission cannot be postponed or performed from abroad can also travel to Belgium. Regarding family members of EU countries and the Schengen Member States, D visa applications can be filed once again, but no visa will be issued until further notice.

Will it be easy to find a job in Belgium after the crisis?

The Belgian labour market looks gloomier than ever, which suggests that it will be challenging to find a job there at the end of the crisis. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, hiring intentions for the third quarter of 2020 are at their lowest since the past seventeen years. The number of companies planning to recruit staff in the coming months went down by 5%. While 11% of them are still unsure, 16% are looking to reduce their workforce before the end of 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has also compelled many companies, mainly small businesses, to cease their activities. However, a slight recovery is expected in the 12 coming months. For now, most sectors of the Belgian economy are affected, although construction, transport and logistics, as well as the manufacturing industry, look slightly more promising compared to the rest. Also, since April 2020, employers are able to make their permanent workers available to other companies involved in critical sectors provided that they have been hired before April 10, 2020. Regarding student part-timers, the number of hours worked during the 2nd quarter of 2020 will not be taken into account in the quota of 475 hours per year for their social contribution.

How has the Belgian healthcare system performed during the crisis?

With more than a thousand deaths due to COVID-19, Belgium is one of the most severely affected European countries. Nevertheless, Belgium has a very developed health system that was supported by Médecins Sans Frontières during the crisis. Also, the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance readjusted some of its regulations so that everyone can benefit from adequate health care in a secure framework. It's also worth noting that the Antwerp University Hospital used a robot in the management of this crisis! This robot, which speaks more than thirty languages, is capable of detecting temperature rises in the human body and people who are not wearing a mask. The aim was not only to guarantee the safety of patients but also to reduce the waiting time. This robot is also available for rental at 1,000 euros per month.

Has anything changed regarding universities and schools?

All schools, including nurseries, have reopened since June 2, 2020. Even though social distancing is no longer also respected, teachers are encouraged to wear a mask. Besides, education has been made compulsory for all children from the age of 5 years as from September 2020. This measure aims at reducing school failure at the primary education level. Thus, all children who have reached the age of 5 must join the 3rd year of kindergarten. Regarding higher education, physical classes are being held in compliance with health regulations and social distancing since July 1st. Belgian universities are starting to organise events, although these are being assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, exams will be held remotely until further notice.

What was the impact of the crisis on the Belgian real estate market?

The Belgian real estate market experienced a slowdown in the second quarter of 2020. Real estate transactions have also dropped by 15.9% compared to the same period in 2019. However, the impact varies from region to region. The number of real estate transactions has decreased the most in the north, the south and the capital. In Brussels, a 17.2% drop was recorded. However, the property market is starting to recover, with rising prices in certain regions. According to a study by Fednot, there was a 1.9% rise in prices compared to 2019, coupled with a 0.3 rise in the inflation rate. The average price of a house in Belgium is now around 267,040 euros.

Has the cost of living in Belgium changed?

The inflation rate, which is today at its lowest level since 2015, has largely contributed to the price drops in Belgium. In fact, electricity, natural gas, fuels, liquid fuels, as well as telecommunications services, are now cheaper in Belgium. On the other hand, the prices of fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), meat, fish and seafood, alcoholic drinks, cleaning and maintenance products, as well as rent, is rising. Also, the price of tobacco increased by 2.7% compared to 2019.

How about lifestyle? Have there been major changes in habits following the sanitary crisis?

Life is getting back to normal in Belgium, and people are paying less attention to social distancing. However, social life is limited to gatherings of up to 15 people for now. Belgians consider themselves sufficiently informed about the coronavirus and preventive measures. As of July 1st, theatres, concert halls, cinema, event halls, as well as wellness centres and amusement parks, have reopened. Dance halls, nightclubs and major events such as festivals will reopen on September 1st, 2020. On the other hand, the financial situation of many families has deteriorated, taking into account the rising unemployment rate, especially regarding temporary lay-offs. At the same time, companies keep on encouraging their staff to work from home.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.