How many Belgians are living abroad?
Published on 22 March 2021
Almost half a million Belgians live beyond our borders. At least, this is the number of registered Belgians that Foreign Affairs has sight of.
According to the most recent data from our FPS, no fewer than 492,147 (registered) Belgians are currently living abroad. This is slightly less than the number of residents in the city of Antwerp (527,763). We note a slight upward trend. In 2019, there were only 476,653 compatriots living in a foreign country.
France and Europe most popular
France is by far the most popular country (139,962), followed at a distance by the Netherlands (40,480), the United Kingdom (32,227), Spain (31,796) and Germany (29,027). The US managed to attract 28,234 compatriots, Canada 15,983. Luxembourg (24,275) and Switzerland (23,569) are also among the top performers.
Over 72% of the Belgians living abroad live in Europe. The other continents lag far behind: Asia (7.9%), Africa (5.1%), South America (3.2%) and Oceania (1.6%). North and Central America reach 9.9%; there, the majority of Belgians are living in the US and Canada.
In Africa, Belgians are mainly to be found in South Africa (7,814), Morocco (4,618) and DR Congo (2,746). Another fairly popular spot is Australia (6,126). There are 1,288 compatriots in New Zealand. In South America, Belgians are mainly living in Argentina (5,497), Bolivia (3,942) and Brazil (1,826).
And yes, there are also some countries with a single Belgian resident. These are Lesotho, Turkmenistan, the Solomon Islands and the Marshall Islands.
By no means all the Belgians abroad have effectively left our country. These are often people born in another country who are Belgian because one or both of their parents have Belgian nationality. Often, they also have another nationality.
Yet there are certainly a great many Belgians who settle elsewhere, whether or not temporarily, for work, love, climate, etc. It is striking that more and more Belgians are preferring to spend their retirement abroad. According to the Federal Pensions Service, 56,377 people of Belgian nationality had their pension paid abroad on 1 January 2020. Of these, 81% have stayed in the European Union, with France (22,760), Spain (7,883) and the Netherlands (4,089) as the top destinations.
Please note that the figures quoted above may be an underestimate. They only show Belgians who have registered with a Belgian consulate. As an aside, we strongly recommend registering, if you have not already done so. After all, administrative assistance, as with that offered by the municipalities in Belgium, is only provided to Belgians who are registered in the consular population register. This includes the issue of an identity card, a travel passport and all kinds of certificates, as well as participation in elections. Registered Belgians can also count on more efficient consular assistance in the event of emergencies. All necessary information to register can be found on our website.