“Brussels offers everything you want as a place to live” says Salvatore Orlando

Moving to another country can be disorienting, especially if you have to re-manage and re-arrange your finances. Whether you’re opening a bank account or taking out insurance, knowing where to turn to for expert advice can make life a whole lot simpler and easier for expats. And that’s where the Expatriates Department of BNP Paribas Fortis comes in. Brussels Express spoke with the department’s head, Salvatore Orlando, to get his thoughts on life as an expat in Brussels, taking care of expats’ banking needs, and the communal elections this year.

The Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis released in February a study which states Brussels has 179 different nationalities and 415,000 out of 1,191,000 inhabitants are expatriates. Are you surprised with these figures?

Brussels is a continuously important international city. Commerce, business and politics are always being conducted. The growing expansion and innovating of these sectors are being fed by our new global and highly mobile society. I’m not surprised Brussels has increasingly grown and I don’t expect for the growth to cease anytime soon.

Salvatore Orlando Aris
Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates for BNP Paribas Fortis © Aris Setya

How will having more expatriates affect your role as Head of Expatriates within BNP Paribas Fortis?

There will likely be more people wanting to use our banking and insurance services and we will take the necessary steps to support this. The growing expat community is always a priority for us and so we will be here to provide them with help before their arrival, during their stay and even when they’re leaving.

I know that being an expat in a new country can be difficult – I have experienced it myself – and so, that’s why I proposed to create this specific type of banking services with the aim to make expats’ life easier. We provide our customers with the best of the expertise, advice, offers, and services tailored to their individual situations.

Nowadays, the three main Belgian banks all have expatriate departments. It must be a challenge to convince someone to choose your bank over another one?

Usually, expats are highly mobile people and to every 3 or 4 years they change country (diplomats, corporate managers, international students). You may also have expats who settle down in Brussels for very long-term or even forever (for instance EU civil servants or what I call “lifestyle” people like retirees) and they keep links with their home country (family house, investments, etc.). In both cases, as expats in Belgium/ Brussels, for all their banking and insurance matters they can rely on BNP Paribas Fortis as part of the group BNP Paribas present in 75 countries worldwide.

Our advantage is to be the most international bank in Europe and the bank number 1 in Belgium, which allows us to combine the strength of a leading international bank with our important local footprint in Belgium. Quality of our services, expertise, innovation combined with personal approach are key elements for us.

Finally, we have the only specifically dedicated expat daily banking offer in the Belgium market.

You are Italian and based now in Brussels for six years. Are you among the 96% of young expatriates who enjoy living in Brussels?

I’ve made Brussels my new home for now and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s not the first time I was in the city, as I came here to study once before, but coming back I have learned to appreciate a lot of what Brussels really offers for international people.

It is a vastly cosmopolitan city where you can be among thousands of other expats like yourself, so you are never left feeling like a foreigner. This multiculturalism is reflected in everyday life; whether it be the Italian restaurants you go to for lunch, a cultural event going on at a Portuguese bookshop or something completely new.

I think Belgium and, in particular, Brussels offers everything you want as a place to live. It offers great career opportunities in different fields and gives a dynamic surplus of really talented people to create synergies with. Besides all that, I think there is a very good quality of life here, more “human-sized” when compared to other capitals. Good schools, good healthcare the houses are cheaper, the city of Brussels provides a lot of cultural happenings and if you get the urge to go to the «big» city, its just a two-hour train and you are right in the centre of Paris or London.

The only thing I have to complain about is the weather; a typical story for expats moving to Belgium. But no one moves to Brussels for its climate. However, when the sun is out, Brussels is extremely enjoyable with all its wide open spaces, parks, and all the cultural events they have going on at this time.

2018 is an intensive year in terms of elections. Did you vote in the Italian elections? How did you get information in Brussels?

I got the information because I am registered at AIRE, and so received a letter from the Italian Consulate. Although I’m now living in Brussels, I still kept myself up to date by daily following Italian news. But I also read international and local expat newspapers and magazines. It gave me a perspective on how people abroad are seeing Italy’s situation and helped me view it from different angles.

Still about elections. Next October 14, we will have the communal elections. Expatriates have the possibility to vote, however the participation is extremely low. You deal with expatriates every day, how can you explain this lack of interest?

It is important to have expats committed on local elections because it is where they live and spend their daily life. They can influence things thanks to their vote. The lack of interest can be explained with two factors: local politicians should make more efforts in their communication campaign towards local expat communities (even using English when required). In Belgium, once you vote then you have the obligation to vote for the next elections, this may also worry expats to do the first steps.

Nevertheless, nowadays we can see a rise of interest with, for instance, some expats even being candidates for local elections.