Expats in Belgium share their retirement planning stories

Three expats in Belgium tell us how they’re getting ready for retirement and what they plan to do

Rex Parker: This British retiree has settled in Wallonia

“I came to Belgium in 1977. I worked for a multinational company both in Belgium and on assignment abroad. I retired seven years ago and we now live in the Walloon countryside.

Because I’ve lived more of my life outside the UK than in it, and having spent all that time in an international community, the UK needed to offer me a lot to make it an attractive option for retirement. That said, we did consider the UK on a few occasions and assessed a few areas. Two major factors came into play in deciding not to go down that route – the vast superiority of the health system in Belgium versus the NHS, and the English attitude to Europe and Brexit, which I find incomprehensible. So it wasn’t a difficult decision. Quality of life is also better here than in much of the UK.

Having been a Belgium-based employee for many years, I found the issues around pension and healthcare were quite straightforward. My financial planning was helped by advice from experts such as The Fry Group and Deutsche Bank. Although taxation in Belgium is high, when one is retired and depending on circumstances, it can become more attractive.

I would recommend talking to as many people as possible to get input, from official opinions to informal input from friends and acquaintances. It’s important to listen to why they made their choices and then make up your own mind about what you think will suit you. We are very happy with our choice of Belgium, but will it be a final choice for ever? Who knows.”

Colin Moors: This Briton is close to retirement and has bought a property in the south of France

“I’ve been here around 18 years, working in tech mostly for the EU institutions. I’ll probably retire within the next three years, mostly for the weather – the south of France is ideal for that. The people in the town we’ve chosen to live in are also genuinely welcoming and friendly. The healthcare is, of course, the stuff of legend. On the positive side for Belgium, I love it and always have. I think the thing I won’t miss is paying an eye-watering amount of tax.

As regards planning: medical stuff will be taken care of due to my EU residency. Financially, we already have a mortgage on a house in France, which we are currently doing up. I would recommend setting up a year or two in advance, as once one has a presence in France, things seem to be easier.

If you can handle the red tape in Belgium, you’ll find it the same, perhaps easier, in France. We used a firm of English solicitors to review the compromis/acte de vente as neither of our French will stretch to legalese.

I would recommend that anyone who’s unsure does that, as it did make the process a bit easier. Knowing exactly what to do and when is a very important part of the process. Other than that, make friends with the locals and, most of all, integrate and learn French. Yes, you can survive easily without ever speaking a word but then why are you retiring to France?”

Eddy Geerkens: This finance and human resources expert is planning on retiring in Belgium and buying a holiday home in Austria

“I work at Cabinet DN in Brussels and I’ve been in the business for more than 30 years, advising on pension schemes. In Belgium the first pillar of pensions is statutory – the government pension. The second is the company’s contribution. When people retire, their income drops enormously; the maximum government pension is €1,500 net per month.

Tax bands in Belgium are very high, so instead of increasing their salary, people can contribute to a pension scheme and use the increase in this way. For the big bonuses that people get, I encourage them to put it towards their pension.

A lot of people don’t understand retirement planning. People can get into big problems, left with a basic amount to live on. Their kids may have to help them if they are on their own, or still renting. If they have their own property, they can survive, and they may get €3,000 per month as a couple if both have worked. Around 80% of white-collar workers will get a second pillar pension, whereas only 20% of bluecollar workers will.

I’m 55. I’ll retire probably in ten years. I have a lump sum put away in different pension schemes. I’m looking to buy something in Austria for holidays – I love the mountains – but I’ll stay in Belgium because we have three kids and I want to be around for the grandkids.”

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