For English speakers, particularly the British, the question of becoming a Belgian citizen has gained new importance – indeed urgency – since the referendum in 2016 on EU membership and the appearance of Brexit, which becomes a fact at the end of this month.
As the future status of British citizens in Belgium remains unclear, many are deciding not to wait, and to obtain Belgian nationality in order to be certain of being able to stay here when the terms of the relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU become clear.
So that explains why British people might choose to become Belgian (they do of course remain British as well), what reason might other nationalities have for taking up citizenship?
If you’re an EU national, the advantages are few. You’ll be able to apply for certain government jobs. On the other hand, you’ll be obliged to vote in elections, and even in some cases to turn up to supervise at polling stations on election days, on pain of a fine.
Otherwise, you are entitled to precisely the same treatment in other matters as a Belgian citizen or as an EU citizen.
How to go about it
Having decided to apply for Belgian nationality, how do you go about it? We’ll leave aside the procedures for minors for the sake of this discussion, although full coverage of those matters and more is available (in French or Dutch only) from the website of the organisation Objecti(e)f.
For adults, there are various procedures for those born here, married to a Belgian, parent of a minor or handicapped, invalid or retired. But the two most common conditions relate to residence: having been resident here legally and uninterrupted for a period of either five or ten years.
In the case of five years residence, the following conditions all have to be met:
Be aged 18 or over;
Be in possession of an unlimited residence permit;
Have had a fixed residence in Belgium without interruption for a period of five years;
Show knowledge of one of the three national languages;
Prove a degree of social integration;
Prove a level of economic participation – i.e. have a job or be self-employed.
The documents required to prove the various conditions:
Birth certificate, translated or not according to your country of origin and the commune you intend to reside in;
Proof of residence for five years uninterrupted;
A photocopy of the identity card or passport from your homeland. The Belgian permis de séjour issued to foreigners is not an identity card despite routinely being described as such;
Proof of social integration, the most complicated of all the conditions. This can mean a certificate of education in one of the three national languages to at least upper secondary level; or a professional qualification obtained after a minimum of 400 hours training; or the completion of an integration course organised by your local authority as well as proof of A2 level competence in one of the languages; or proof of having worked uninterrupted for five years as an employee or self-employed. The final condition is taken as proof simultaneously of language competence, social integration and economic participation.
Proof of economic participation is shown by a record of at least 468 working days. For the self-employed, proof of payment of six trimesters of social security contributions.
For the case of uninterrupted residence for ten years, the conditions are the same, other than the fact that proof of social integration is replaced by language competence to level A2, while proof of economic participation is replaced by proof of participation in the life of the community. That, in turn, can be anything from proof of working history, education or studies, an organised integration course, proof of volunteer work or club membership, membership of a cultural association, a voting card for communal elections or proof of being registered to vote, or testimonials from Belgian friends, neighbours and colleagues.
Objecti(e)f has a guide on sale for €10 which also provides a handy flow-chart to help guide you through the morass of regulations.
The procedures described cost €50 per application and €150 registration fee, and the procedure can take four to eight months.