Red tape… Sticky, red tape.

So, we knew about the Belgian bureaucracy before we got over here, and we thought we had braced ourselves for it. Most of what we learned came from this little video. There are a bunch of small things like strange little card readers that you need to have to access your bank account online, visits from the police department at your home after you move to make sure that you really live where you tell them you live. Ok, its a new country, there are going to be a few things that are different, but J being an EU national we were thinking that we would breeze through certain things that other ex-pats had warned us about. No. Not at all. There is no hiding from it, there is no avoiding it, there are no shortcuts, and there is apparently, no end to it. We’re into our third month here in Brussels and haven’t even finished registering (ie, telling them we’re here). Here’s a little synopsis of how all this goes down:

Brussels Commune Office

1 – AWESOME! We landed! We pass through customs and, as expected, the customs agent tells A she has 10 days to notify the commune that she’s here. We got this.

2 – We open a bank account. Hand them our passports, give them our address, easy. What are all these other ex-pats complaining about? Right next door at the mutuelle (sort of like health insurance provider) we sign up J with his employer’s info, and they say A needs to be registered at the commune before she can be registered. Ok, no big deal, we’re only at number 2, and registration, you will soon find, is only down at number 4. Almost there!

3 – Rent an apartment. And we found the one we loved on our second visit! We’re pretty much experts at this ex-pat thing.

4 – Now that we’ve got our Belgian address, time to go register at the commune. We wake up early to make sure that we’re one of the first ones there and head over to register J first; J’s a Belgian, it’ll be easy. Here’s J’s Belgian passport, a letter from the Belgian Consulate in the US, our rental agreement to show where we live, even J’s employment contract to show that we’ve got a way to pay for things. Then, the questions: “Why do you have a Belgian passport but no national ID number? Why haven’t you ever lived here?” Oh man. So then it turns out we need his birth certificate for some reason (which, J needed a birth certificate to get the passport in the first place). Aaaand it needs to be legalized. In California. Oh, and translated by an official translator. Ugh.

5 – Well, we’re already at the commune, might as well start the process with A. So we go to the next office for foreigners, show them each of our passports, and we’re done. WAIT WHAT! That’s it? A’s not even a citizen how can it possibly be that easy? The woman tells us that a police officer will stop by our home in a few weeks to make sure that we actually live where we told them we do (sounds strange, yes, but we were warned about this process pretty early on).

6 – The policeman comes. Nice guy, and leaves us a piece of paper with an appointment time to finish A’s registration at the commune with a list of things to bring… Some of the normal, expected things, passport, pics, proof of income… A registered rental agreement? What does that even mean? Proof of insurance? Ummm, you mean the insurance that we were informed earlier that we couldn’t get until A was registered? How does that even make any sense?!

7 – The gathering stage. We’ve got our new list of things that we need to get. Mail J’s birth certificate off to California for the Secretary of State to legalize it, get some stuff translated (luckily, there’s a translation office at J’s work), and then head down to some other government office to register our rental agreement. Get a ticket to wait in line and head up to the desk once they call us… Oh, the landlord normally registers the lease, but fret not, just head upstairs and that office can look it up for you! Well that wasn’t so hard. Until you get upstairs and the guy tells you that they can’t look up leases that are less than a year old, you need to go back downstairs, they’ve got them there. Ugh. Ok, back downstairs, get a ticket, wait in line. Oh, you didn’t tell me it was less than a year old, well, in that case call your landlord, he can give it to you. So, we call the landlord to find out that he sent it to be registered, and it will take at least 5-6 weeks. No, that’s ridiculous. So we go back to the desk (it’s been at least an hour and a half since we’ve been here), explain that it was sent, and then: VICTORY! The woman at the counter either feels sorry for us or starts to think that we’re not going anywhere until she stamps our lease. So we get our stamp. We’re official.

8 – The debit card mysteriously stops working. Everywhere. Not at ATMs (ATMs 1, 2, 3 and 4 don’t work for us, so something’s up), not at stores. So we stop in at the bank. Oh, as an American you need to be registered at the commune to have an account. WHAT. You have to be kidding. This is one of those things that you should maybe tell people when they first come to set up their account. We load up on cash since there’s no telling when we’re actually going to be able to use our account like normal.

9 – The future. Futures are bright, right? They hold promise… Let’s hope. Our confidence at this point is gone and we admit defeat to the Belgian bureaucracy (please consider this our apology for thinking that we could match you). We have the things that we think we’re required to have with us to register, and we’ll try again. Wish us luck everyone.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Red tape… Sticky, red tape.

  1. I can certainly sympathize with you as we have been going through a similar process to get settled in Paris though the French bureaucracy doesn’t go as far as getting a policeman (or woman) to visit you at your apartment. Here the magic bullet is your utility bill – we carry it everywhere now as we had to even show it to a rental car company before they would give us the car we had rented. You have to build a file for about everything you want to do – rent an apartment, get all of your visas stuff as well as exchange your driver license for a French one and all of these files require similar document with slight variations and 4 pictures. I have never had my picture taken so many times!

    Good luck with the rest of the process!

  2. I think it’s pretty much the same story everywhere in continental Europe (it certainly was like that for me when I moved to Milan). Fortunately, I’ve found London to be much easier 🙂

  3. J is a Belgian citizen? How cool! Also, why sending to California? How odd! I love reading all your adventures:) Good luck!

    • Yep! Honestly, I’m convinced that he wanted to make this and our legal wedding process as difficult as possible! He was born in Cali, so we had to get the (practically) scanned in b&w copy of his birth cert from there, compared to my LA frame-worthy, embossed, color seal of birth…trump 😉

  4. Hahaha. 🙂 We do have frame-worthy ones!

  5. Deacon TIm

    OMG – I hope I don’t have to face that sort of bureaucracy when we retire to Costa Rica!

  6. It is very similar in Italy. We had a policeman come to check that we did live in the house.

  7. Oh this story has brought back so many memories. I’m American and have lived in Belgium for nine years and the process still doesn’t get any clearer. I moved within the same commune about 6 months ago and am still waiting for the official “clear” that my change of address has been registered! The key is indeed being patient – and at least you have each other to get through it!

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