Expats in Belgium: The growing popularity of Flanders
Like other Western European countries and international cities, Belgium has a considerable number of expatriates and expat communities. Most of these foreign workers live in Brussels, although more and more are finding their way to Flanders.
Belgium is the second most cosmopolitan place in the world and the number one expat destination in Europe. There are about 220,000 expatriates in the country, a number that has doubled since the beginning of the millennium. Belgium is located in the heart of Europe and is not only home to international institutions such as the EU and NATO. It is also ideally situated, with major international cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, London and Paris accessible by road, rail or air.
The country hosts some large foreign communities. According to 2018 statistics, the French community is the largest, with about 165,486 people claiming to be ethnically French. With 156,063 people, the Italian community is the second largest, followed by the Dutch community with 155,239 people living in Belgium.
The country also has a significant Romanian (87,616), Moroccan (81,215) and Polish (71,537) community, as well as a Spanish (64,049), Portuguese (46,611), German (39,469) and Turkish (36,233) community. Most expats in Belgium live in Brussels, although more and more are finding their way to other parts of the country.
A striking trend in 2021 was that more foreigners moved to Flanders than moved to Brussels and Wallonia, the southern French-speaking part of the country. Last year, about 30,000 foreigners relocated to the northern Dutch-speaking part of the country, while 15,000 people from Brussels and Wallonia moved to Flanders.
At the beginning of 2021, more than 6,019,000 people with Belgian nationality and almost 634,000 people with a foreign nationality lived in Flanders. The share of foreigners thus amounted to 9.5 percent of the total population. In 2000, this was still 4.9 percent of the population. About six out of ten foreigners have the nationality of one of the 27 member states of the European Union.
The proportion of people with foreign nationality is highest in the outskirts of Brussels, in the large cities of Antwerp and Ghent and in the border region with the Netherlands in the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg. Centre cities such as Bruges, Genk, Hasselt, Leuven, Mechelen and Ostend also score relatively high.
The nationality of foreigners differs from region to region. At the border with the Netherlands, they are mainly Dutch, in the outskirts around Brussels they are EU citizens. People with a non-EU nationality mainly live in Antwerp, Ghent and the central cities.
Nevertheless, the share of people with a foreign nationality is higher in the Brussels Capital Region (35 percent) and the Walloon Region (10 percent) than in the Flemish Region (9.5 percent). In Belgium as a whole, about 13 percent of the total population has a foreign nationality. In the entire European Union, 8 percent of the population had foreign nationality in 2020.
© AFP PHOTO KENZO TRIBOUILLARD - A cycling fan with a Flemish flag painted in his face an d wearing cycling-themed glasses watches the men's elite cycling road race, 268,3km from Antwerp to Leuven, on the eighth day of the Flanders 2021 UCI Road World Championships, on September 26, 2021, in Leuven.