B as Belgium, B as Business: French expatriates 101

It’s not easy to move to a new country. In the case of Belgium, even if you come from a neighboring country like The Netherlands or France it is still not easy. New habits and culture, different mentalities and senses of humor, the list goes on. France has been providing expatriates to Belgium for 200 years.  The first famous expatriate was Louise-Marie Thérèse Charlotte Isabelle of Orléans, the French princess who became the first Queen of the Belgians as the second wife of King Leopold I. Louise and Leopold had four children, including the famous Leopold II of Belgium, who decided to pay tribute to his mother by building an impressive Avenue. The Avenue Louise.

Louise of Orléans, the first Queen of the Belgians

According to the Brussels Institut for Statistics and Analysis, Brussels has a combination of 179 different nationalities. 414,139 expatriates out of a total population of 1,191,604 people. In the capital,  more than one inhabitant in three is not Belgian. Another relevant fact is that among the 414,139 foreigners, 275,167 are from the EU27.

The leading community is France. In 2017, French represent 15,2% of expatriates in Brussels.

MAP Expat 2017
Sources: BISA, Statbel (National Register)
1 People of foreign nationality who do not simultaneously own the Belgian nationality

The French community is the most active in the country by bringing together major economic players such as BNP Paribas Fortis, Orange or Carrefour. “France is the 6th provider to Belgium – which represents 8% of exports. We are also the second client for Belgium” explained Renaud Bentégeat, President of the Chamber of Commerce France-Belgium during the B as Belgium, B as Business welcoming session to new French expatriates in town.

This Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in guiding new French expats in order to ensure their efficient business in Belgium, thanks to the support of well established French companies such as BNP Paribas Fortis.

“CCI France-Belgium – is a private entity even if we provide a public service. In 2018, we gather 310 active members, which is growing on a daily basis, to our business center, said Anne-Christine Genouville, Director of the CCI France-Belgium. “It is very important to ask for help. I remember when I arrived in Brussels I didn’t know anyone and made a lot of mistakes because I ignored the Belgium reality. It’s very important to ask for help in order to be efficient” she concluded.

Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis, adviced the audience to lobby every chance they have. “I have been living in Belgium for 10 years. One thing I know for sure is that lobbying is crucial. I would divide lobbying into three pillars. The first one is to share your passion, to capture the attention of your interlocutor while listening to him. The second one: be flexible, adapt to the environment where you are. Last but not least, mingle, meet. You don’t need to only attend high-level events to lobby. As an example,  you can conduct an excellent lobbying action by meeting interesting prospects at the Luxembourg square on Thursdays”. 

Episode 1: Place du Luxembourg

Brussels Express starts today a cycle of 1 minute videos. We want you to discover or rediscover Brussels through the eyes of our expatriates. We will guide you to squares, markets, museums, monuments, restaurants, bars, etcetera etcetera. Today we follow the German expat Frank Schwalba-Hoth to the Luxembourg square. If you have a brilliant idea for an episode don't hesitate to contact us! You can be the next one!

Publié par Brussels Express sur samedi 28 octobre 2017

Le compromis à la Belge

Efficient and pragmatic. Two words that were often used by Mr. Bentégeat in what he called “Le compromis à la Belge”. “You need to understand that Belgium is not much bigger than a french region but is extremely complex in its administration. However, in terms of business, Belgians are way more pragmatic than the French. We, in France, brainstorm, write a dissertation about the strategy…we are more philosophers”.

It’s not only France who is investing in Belgium, the relationship is reciprocal. Some facts: Belgium is the 5th investor in France. 3 700 Belgian companies are present in France. Belgian is the 30th world economy.

Still, one of the challenges of an expatriate is to understand how the fiscal system works in Belgium. “BNP Paribas Fortis often organise seminars on the Belgium fiscal regime which of course has an impact on French expats residing in Belgium who will now pay their taxes here” explained Mr. Orlando.

Another example of Belgium specificity is the matrimonial regime.“ There are important differences with France and it is important to adapt your marriage contract when you arrive in Belgium” warned Salvatore Orlando.

About the Chamber of Commerce France-Belgium