Why Belgium is a great place for millennials

Belgium is the fifth smallest European Union country, yet it attracts an impressive number of millennial students and professionals to study, work and live there. Why? Here’s a look at a new study that reveals why Belgium attracts the millennial generation.

vintage 1920s map with a red pushpin in Brussels

What makes Europe as a whole such an exciting place to live? The freedom to move within the European Union has been an integral part of the social, cultural, political and economic growth of the continent. That freedom of movement, along with the freedom to live, learn and work in different European countries is what has made it such a stimulating melting pot of possibilities and opportunities for young people.
Five people standing in computer room smiling

“Millennials are the driving force behind this contemporary intra-European mobility, with more and more young expats in Europe seeking new academic and professional experiences elsewhere,” says Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis.

Right at the heart of this driving force in the European Union is Belgium, a country that’s home to millennials of many nationalities, with French, Italian, Dutch, Moroccan and Polish nationals the five most common non-Belgian nationalities, according to official information from

Definition of a millennial isTo investigate what drives millennials to migrate to Belgium, and what barriers they face when they get there, BNP Paribas Fortis and ThinkYoung (the first not-for-profit think tank dedicated to young people) surveyed students, graduates and professionals, aged between 18 and 28 years, for their overseas-living opinions and experiences. (You can read the results of the Belgium survey at BNP Paribas Fortis Focus Expats.)

The participants were asked what their expectations were about Belgium before leaving their home country, and how those expectations measured up to the reality of being an expat there.

Friends in a cafe taking picture all together

Why did students want to come to Belgium?

The four major reasons students left their home country and headed to Belgium were:

1. The university or school in their home country provided an opportunity to study in Belgium (53%)
2. They wanted to experience another culture (39%)
3. They wanted to learn another language or improve their language skills (39%)
4. They had a desire to improve their CVs and hoped to maximize their career opportunities (37%)

Multiracial business people working together looking at a laptop

What attracted young professionals to Belgium?

Significantly, 80 percent of the young expatriate professionals polled in the survey moved to Belgium because of the career opportunities available to them. Half of the Belgian cohort moved for personal development; learning another language, the high standard of living, and the quality of life were given as other significant reasons.

Money, however, was not what attracted the professionals. Contrary to what one might have expected, less than 10 percent decided to relocate for financial reasons.

And it seems young professionals’ expectations that the move will not bring them financial rewards is born out in their experience: only 26 percent said that living costs in Belgium were more affordable than at home and only 17 percent had an increase in financial savings. However, 28 percent of the survey’s participants in Belgium had a monthly disposable income of €400 or more, and 16 percent had a monthly disposable income of at least €1,000.

Andrea Gerosa, founder of ThinkYoung, says of millennials’ desire to relocate to Belgium: “It’s a meaningful move, driven not by the desire to have fun, but by the willingness to learn more, improve skills, and enhance career opportunities”.

The students experience

Almost half (49%) of the student cohort praised the quality of education in Belgium, and more than half said their social life there was an improvement on their life back home.

Two young contemporary businessmen working outdoor sitting in a barThe professionals experience

An impressive 82 percent of young professionals in Belgium said they had been able to advance their careers because of their move there. About 43 percent said that they had a more developed social life, while 42 percent had an increase in personal spending and disposable income. Some 36 percent of the millennial expat professionals in Belgium stated that their quality of life had improved because of their move to Belgium.

Concerns and challenges

There are many “push-pull” factors for a young person to consider when choosing an overseas destination. Understanding the financial outgoings (particularly rent, accommodation, and food costs) and living conditions are two key concerns for millennials. In Belgium, knowledge of the host country’s living costs was the biggest financial challenge.

Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis, points out that though financial motives are the least important ones for expats to move to another country, it is, however, vital to organise banking services correctly in order to feel in control and settled in a new country.

Having a current account to pay for everyday services and needs is, of course, vital. The Young Expat survey showed that 30 percent of the expats surveyed in Belgium have a current account in in the country of origin and the country of residence. The majority also have a debit card in both countries, while just 17 percent had applied for a Belgium-based credit card.
Man holding out a credit card at cafe

“Once relocated to another country, language barriers, cultural trends, and a variety of institutional peculiarities can have an impact on how quickly expats settle into everyday life. Moreover, this can have an effect on how easily expats undertake some of the most fundamental aspects of life abroad, including organising their banking and finance needs in their country of relocation,” adds Orlando.

Most of the respondents to the survey found it ‘easy’ to open a bank account in Belgium. The language barrier was experienced by just 14 percent of respondents, which falls well below the international analysis for all seven countries in the survey, at 26 percent. The main difficulty experienced in Belgium was the amount of documentation and paperwork needed to open an account. BNP Paribas Fortis is the only bank in Belgium to provide an online account application in English that can be completed before moving to Belgium, and only requires proof of residence and identity.

Millennial generation friends in a cafe

Were the young migrants happy with their new expat life?

The Netherlands and Belgium had the highest percentage of new expats who were “very satisfied” with their expatriate life (on a scale from “not at all satisfied” to “extremely satisfied”). Fully 96 percent of young expats who work or study in Belgium are satisfied with their expatriate life. And more than 8 out of 10 stated that their decision to relocate to Belgium had a positive impact on their careers.

“Driven by the wish to experience new cultures, to move to a different climate, to improve language skills, or to gain a better education or a more improved career pathway, intra-European mobility is becoming both more commonplace and diverse. Moreover, our study shows that young people are adapting to life abroad, making use of financial services that are accessible and easy to use in order to adapt to their new surroundings, lifestyle and living costs,” says Andrea Gerosa, Founder of ThinkYoung.

Grote Markt, Brussels in the early evening

Brussels is where many young expats begin their overseas living experience in Belgium. To help newly arrived expats get to know and appreciate their new home, here’s a tour of 10 reasons that will make you realise what an awesome city Brussels is!

This article is sponsored by BNP Paribas Fortis.