After a few manufacturing challenges and a short delay, those who applied for their new M residence card earlier this year have now started receiving invitations from their local municipality to pick it up.
Many have also successfully exchanged their UK driving licence for a Belgian one, and for those who have yet to secure rights in Belgium, we’re going to discuss what actions you need to take and how.
You can find further information about these topics and more in the Living in Belgium Guide.
If you were resident in Belgium before 1st January 2021, you need to apply for a new residence status via your local municipality to secure your rights to live in Belgium. You have until 31st December 2021 to do this.
The first thing to do is to get in touch with them to check what the process is locally. Some local municipalities may ask you to book an appointment whereas others may request that you just drop in. This was explained in a letter sent out at the end of last year, but if you didn’t receive it, you can contact your local municipality.
The big question is often “what documents to do I need to provide?”. Well, if you already have a residence card, such as an E or E+, and you came to Belgium in your own right, then you just need to submit a recent criminal record extract with your M card application. You can get this from the UK, Belgium or another country where you lived prior to Belgium. The UK extract can be issued by either DBS or ACRO. A Belgian extract (‘extrait de casier judiciaire’/’uittreksel uit het strafregister’) can be obtained from your local municipality.
The next step is for the local municipality to issue you a certificate of application (“annexe/bijlage 56”) which you should keep alongside your previous residence card while you wait for your new M card. Remember that you maintain the same access to live, work, healthcare etc. during this application period.
A few UK nationals may be in the situation where they came to Belgium with their EU family, for example as the spouse or dependent of a Spanish, Belgian or French national. If this is you and you have an E or E+ card, you may need to present additional supporting documents as part of your application for the M card. It could include showing you have health insurance and can support yourself financially (e.g. job contract, pension, or sufficient personal savings). No need to worry, it’s just to check you meet free movement criteria in your own right. Alternatively, you would also be eligible for the F card, the Belgian residence permit for non-EU family members of EU nationals, but this card is not specifically linked to the Withdrawal Agreement. If you have any doubts or questions, you should talk through the different options with your local municipality directly. It is up to you which card you want to apply for, but you should be given the choice.
The Belgian Office for Foreigners’ website is back up and running, so check the Belgian official guidance for additional information. Take a look at the FAQ section, there is always a gem of an answer there!
M card and nationality
The Belgian Council of Ministers have just approved the proposed draft Royal Decree amendment to include the M card as proof of lawful residence for the purposes of applying for Belgian nationality.
We understand from the Office for Foreigners that you continue to accumulate time spent in Belgium with your new M card so you do not lose any time accrued on your previous residency card (E/E+/F/F+).
Do not delay your M card application!
UK nationals will need a European driving licence if they have been resident in Belgium for more than 185 days. You should exchange your UK licence for a Belgian one as soon as possible, if you haven’t done so already. It’ll be back to the local municipality for that! It's straightforward, with no need to re-sit any theory exams or practical tests if your UK licence is valid, but it may take slightly longer now the UK is no longer a member of the EU.
Worried about healthcare? No need - you will have likely registered with a Belgian health insurance fund (mutuelle/ziekenfonds) to access healthcare in Belgium when you first arrived. If you did so before the end of 2020, your existing arrangements continue to apply and you do not need to take any additional action. If you haven’t got insurance yet, now is the time to set it up.
Want to vote in Belgium? You can vote in local elections, if you have been resident in Belgium for more than 5 years.
Keep up to speed by staying in touch with the British Embassy. They continue to host monthly Q&A sessions on the Embassy Facebook page, and they have also started producing a monthly newsletter in January to cover helpful tips about the Withdrawal Agreement. You can sign up to this by sending a blank email to Newsletter.UKinBelgium@fcdo.gov.uk.