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Welcome to Brexit Brief! In this newsletter for UK citizens living in Brussels or thinking of moving here, we will explore some of the more complicated aspects of life after Brexit. Each edition will start from a puzzling everyday question, using it as a chance to explore the rules that UK citizens should know about.
Whether for practical reasons or questions of identity, many UK citizens living in Brussels are keen to acquire Belgian nationality. Becoming Belgian can solve many of the challenges UK citizens face after Brexit, allowing you to participate fully in Belgian society. Compared to many European countries, Belgium has relatively simple criteria and procedures for nationality applications. However, once you have that Belgian ID card, what comes next? In this edition of the Brexit Brief we explore the consequences of acquiring Belgian nationality.
In general, once they acquire Belgian nationality, UK citizens will have the same rights and obligations that apply to all Belgian nationals. Having Belgian nationality affects your own residence status in Belgium and can have consequences for the residence status of your family members or the possibility for future family reunification as well. One major advantage of becoming Belgian is that you will regain EU citizenship and benefit from associated rights such as the right of free movement within all member states of the European Union. This makes it very easy to move to another EU country for work, studies, retirement, etc.
The topic raises several questions which we will address in turn:
Acquiring Belgian nationality can also have an impact on issues such as succession rights or inheritance, which we do not cover in detail here. We recommend seeking specialised advice before applying for Belgian nationality or when confronted with these issues.
Once you acquire Belgian nationality, you will be issued a Belgian ID card, different from your residence card. The Belgian ID card will replace your residence permit in Belgium. Since you are now a Belgian citizen, you are no longer considered a foreign national and will therefore no longer need a residence permit in Belgium.
You will no longer be eligible for a Special ID Card (D, C, P or S-card) if you have Belgian nationality. It is important to keep in mind that this change of status may have consequences on certain tax and social security privileges linked to the Special ID Cards, so we recommend that holders of these cards seek specialised advice before applying for the nationality.
As a Belgian national you always have the right to stay on the Belgian territory unless you are deprived of your nationality. This is possible in case of fraud during the application for nationality or prior residence permits (e.g. identity fraud, sham marriages, etc.) or after being convicted for certain very serious crimes (e.g. terrorism, human trafficking, etc.).
Being absent from Belgium generally does not result in the loss of your nationality, with one very specific exception. Belgians who were born outside of Belgium and who are living abroad from (at least) the age of 18 until the age of 28 will lose their Belgian nationality unless they express their wish to keep their nationality before their 28th birthday. This would affect, for example, UK citizens who become Belgian as children and who then leave Belgium for a long time. Requesting a Belgian passport or ID card during the period between your 18th and 28th birthdays, including a renewal of lost/expired documents, is considered as an expression of the wish to maintain Belgian nationality.
Applying and acquiring Belgian nationality does not impact your UK citizenship as both the UK and Belgium allow dual citizenship/nationality. This means it is possible to hold British and Belgian nationality simultaneously.
To be able to prove your citizenship, it is recommended to always have a valid passport or ID card of both countries at home, and to renew documents that are about to expire.
If you want to travel outside of the Schengen area you can choose to use your Belgian or UK passport. It is important to check the visa requirements of your country of destination, which can be different for Belgian or UK citizens. However, you do need proof of your Belgian identity (preferably your passport) to be able to re-enter Belgian territory upon your return. If you choose to travel solely on your Belgian passport, we recommend to bring at least a digital copy of your British passport in case you need to prove your citizenship for consular support.
Your minor children will automatically acquire the Belgian nationality if they are living in Belgium at the time you are granted Belgian nationality and as long as you hold parental authority. The town hall should deliver their Belgian ID card on its own initiative. All other family members (such your spouse, adult children, stepchildren, minor children who are not living in Belgium, etc.) will not receive Belgian nationality automatically and will have to apply themselves if and when they are eligible.
Your spouse will be able to benefit from more favourable conditions for acquiring Belgian nationality. They will not have to prove ‘economic participation’ (i.e. having worked for at least 468 days in the past 5 years) if you have lived together in Belgium for at least three years. If they have a minor Belgian child, they do not have to prove ‘economic participation’ regardless of how long they have been living with this child. The five-year residence requirement to be able to start an application however still applies in both scenarios.
Your family members who are UK citizens holding an M-card may continue to live and work in Belgium on this permit. Once eligible, they can also apply for Belgian nationality as M-Card holders.
Any family members holding an A-card may apply to switch to the residence status for family members of a Belgian national (F-card). The advantage of switching to the F-card is that it is valid for 5 years as opposed to one year for the A-card. It is also slightly more difficult (but not impossible) for the Immigration Office to revoke this residence permit. Once eligible, family members can apply for Belgian nationality as F-card holders. This is not immediately possible for A-card holders who would first need to upgrade their status to a residence permit of unlimited duration.
The family members that can apply for family reunification with a Belgian national are:
Other family members, such as parents, do not qualify for family reunification with a Belgian national and will need to rely on other types of residence procedures if they wish to move to Belgium.
If you currently reside in Belgium on the basis of an M-card, your parents may under certain conditions still be allowed to join you in Belgium as an M-card holder, despite the general application deadline having already passed. The Belgian Immigration Office has confirmed that family members of UK nationals protected under the Withdrawal Agreement can continue to rely on the more favorable rules even after the family member sponsor acquires Belgian nationality. However, to avoid any issues, it is recommended that M-card holders finalise these applications for family reunification before applying for Belgian nationality. These questions will be further explored in our June newsletter, dedicated to family reunification.
As a Belgian national you are also considered an EU citizen. This means you benefit from the freedom of movement.
You can travel freelyYou can travel freely inside the European Union and stay for a maximum of three months without any other formalities than having a valid (Belgian) ID card or passport.
You may move to another EU member state to work, study, retire or even to look for a job, so long as you can prove sufficient financial means to support yourself. This is typically the case when you are working as an employee or self-employed person but can also be proven in various other ways (for example through pension payments or by proving that you have a good chance of finding a job soon). In general, you will have to register with the local authorities if you want to stay longer than three months.
If you decide to relocate to another EU country, you will have the same social rights as the citizens of that country. You should for example benefit from the same social security and healthcare entitlements as the country’s own nationals.
Every Belgian citizen is obliged to vote in local, regional, federal and European elections (except for local elections in the Flanders region). You will receive a voting letter at your residence address, and not voting can result in fines. Apart from voting, you are also eligible to be called in as a polling station attendant to oversee the fairness of the votes.
Other obligations as a Belgian citizen include the possibility of having to serve jury duty (if you are between 28 and 65 years old).
Welcome to the Brexit Brief! In this newsletter for UK citizens living in Brussels or thinking of moving here, we explore some of the more complicated aspects of life after Brexit. Each edition starts from a puzzling everyday question, using it as a chance to present the rules that UK citizens should know about. Some newsletters are relevant for M-Card holders, some for those arriving after Brexit, and some for all UK citizens. This newsletter is part of a project funded by the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve, in which we are also developing a series of webinars and an online Brexit Helpdesk. To receive this monthly newsletter straight to your inbox, sign up today!
These pages, webinars and newsletters have been developed in a project funded by the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve.