Belgium has proven to be a great country to work in. In 2016, the country even topped the Universum Global Workforce Happiness Index ranking. This list of common myths about working in Belgium will help you prepare for your career in the land of chocolate, beer and waffles
Myth #1: in Belgium, social security is the same as health insurance
We’ve noticed that people sometimes confuse social security contributions with health insurance. Let’s take a closer look at these two concepts. Belgian workers pay for social security, which is managed by the National Social Security Office, commonly known as ‘RSZ’ in Dutch or ‘ONSS’ in French. The contribution amounts to 13.07% of the employee’s gross salary and is used by the government to finance unemployment, sick leave, child benefit and pensions. Health insurance, on the other hand, provides for the reimbursement of medical expenses. Every employee in Belgium is obliged to register for health insurance and pay contributions for it.
Myth #2: overtime is paid at 150%
Although you are certainly eligible for an addition of 50% or 100% to your wages for certain overtime, this is not the case for all the extra hours you work. The rules vary from sector to sector, so be sure to check with your employer to find out what the situation is for your company.
Myth #3: weekly contracts do not guarantee any rights
When you get help from an employment agency, there is a chance you will be working according to weekly contracts, which can grant rights just like fixed contracts. Weekly contracts allow you to build up seniority, which entitles you to sick leave, holiday pay, an end-of-year bonus, pension, unemployment benefits, child benefits and more. Do not reject a weekly contract straight away: it’s often a stepping stone to a fixed contract.
Myth #4: if you don’t use the leave days you’re entitled to, you have to reimburse the holiday pay
Surprisingly, many expats ask this question. Fortunately, the answer is ‘no’. Holiday pay is a right to which every worker is entitled, so you don’t have to repay anything if you don’t make full use of that right. However, if you get leave days, you might as well use them. Take a day off once in a while and enjoy the beauty that Belgium has to offer.
Myth #5: businesses in Belgium are moving away from hierarchy
Self-managing teams are becoming more common in Belgian companies. However, employees still need structure and are not simply left to their own devices. It is true, however, that employees in Belgium are gaining more and more autonomy, which positively impacts their commitment to the organisation.
Myth #6: the Belgian commute is a long one
We have to admit that there is some truth to this myth. Belgians are pure-bred commuters who travel an average of 43 km to and from work per day. Almost a quarter of Belgians travel more than an hour and a half every day. However, this is not a requirement. You can live close to your workplace and stay blissfully asleep for a couple of extra minutes.
Myth #7: the Belgian labour market is already full
Calling the Belgian labour market overcrowded is certainly an overstatement. On average, there are 140,000 vacant jobs at any moment in Belgium. The country is also attractive to foreign investors, which create over 5,000 jobs each year. Of course, it remains to be seen how the COVID-19 crisis will impact the Belgian labour market.
Myth #8: the retirement age in Belgium is higher than in other European countries
In Belgium, the age at which you can retire depends on how many years you have worked. For example, if you have worked for 43 years, you can retire at 61 and if you have worked for 44 years, 60 is the minimum age. Currently, Belgian employees can apply for full retirement at the age of 65. As of 2025, the legal retirement age in Belgium will be 66, and as of 2030, 67. To many, this seems like a long time to work, but Belgium is by no means the only European country where the retirement age is greater than 65. In Iceland, Norway, Italy and Portugal people work until the age of 66 or 67 as well.
Myth #9: the Belgian minimum wage is lower than that of other European countries
Belgium ranks 11th in the list of top 20 European nations when it comes to minimum wage. It is no surprise that the minimum wage is much higher in Scandinavian countries, with Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden in the top 3. The Belgian minimum wage is EUR 1,501.82 (gross) monthly for workers over 21 years of age and thus scores moderately in the European ranking.
Myth #10: Belgian employers are not committed to job satisfaction
Another myth we can disprove. Employee happiness is one of the main priorities of Belgian employers, which pays off: in 2016, Belgian employees were the happiest in the world. This happiness is also noticeable at the level of society: in the 2020 World Happiness Report, Belgium lands in the top 20 for the mental well-being of its citizens.
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