Living in Flanders, the heart of Europe

Flanders is a region in Belgium, located in the center of Europe. Belgium has a population of 10 million people. There are three official languages (Dutch, French and German). However, English is widely spoken all over the country.

Geography: in the heart of Europe

Flanders is the northern part of Belgium. The region borders on the North Sea, with 65 km of beach. Flanders covers 44,8% of the country’s surface and accounts for some 60% of the total population.
Due to its central location in Europe, many major European cities, like Paris, London, Amsterdam, are only a short distance away and can be easily visited on a day-trip from Belgium.
The location of Flanders and its major cities in Belgium

State structure and languages

Belgium is a federal state, with 4 relatively autonomous regions and governments: Flanders in the north, where the language is Dutch ("Flemish"), Wallonia in the south, where the language is French, the East Cantons where the language is German, and the centrally located Brussels, which is officially bilingual (French and Dutch). The Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium and the standard language with influences from these dialects, are often referred to as Flemish.

Belgium's rich history

Belgium's rich history has left impressive churches, town halls, castles and works of art, dating back to the early Middle Ages, spread around the cities and country-side (see below). Major industries today include automobile assembly, biotechnology, chemicals, diamond cutting, food and beverages, glass, steel, transportation and high value-added manufacturing.

An export-oriented economy

The region provides 60% of the national GDP. Flanders' economy is strongly export-oriented. The main export products are automobiles, food (chocolates & beers !), iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics and petroleum products.

Quality of life

Belgium is considered to have a high "quality of life", as testified by its excellent food, housing, health care, education and infrastructure.

Science and technology: focus on bio and nano

Science and technology is well developed thanks to the presence of several universities and major research institutes in the region. Biotechnology & nanotechnology are 2 of the 10 core focus areas of Flanders’ Science Policy.
Our cuisine is related to the French cuisine, but offers some very distinctive touches. A well-known culinary specialty is Belgian chocolates. And then there is the national dish, "French" Fries ("frites"), which, according to the legend, were invented in Belgium, not France. Beer is another national specialty: there are hundreds of different types with distinctive tastes, all served in their own specially made glasses.
-surface area: 13 522 km2 (Belgium 30 528 km2)
-inhabitants: 5.940 million (Belgium 10.239 million)
-population density/km2: 439 (Belgium 335)
-maritime climate
-infrastructure: highly urbanized and flat area with a dense public network system of railways, buses, motorways and roads; trams and underground in major towns
-more information on Flanders can be found here.

Major cities: Brussels, Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent

Brussels is the bilingual capital of the kingdom of Belgium. The city, is also the capital of the Europe Union, is home to the European Commission and to the Council of ministers of the European Parliament. Brussels is a cosmopolitan city where many different cultures live together and where different languages can be heard on each street. This liveliness and international flair is, of course, intimately related to its role as a crossroads for all of Europe.
 Grand Place Brussels - Copyright VIB
The heart of Brussels is the Grand Place (Grote Markt). This historic market square with its splendid guild houses and the impressive gothic beauty of the Town Hall, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe. Brussels hosts the University called the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Leuven is situated about 20 Km east of Brussels. With a total population of about 90.000 inhabitants, it could have been an inauspicious little provincial town, were it not that Leuven is renowned all over the world for its University (the KULeuven = Katholieke Universiteit Leuven -Catholic University of Leuven), one of the oldest still existing catholic universities in the world, founded in 1425. Leuven has a lively atmosphere because of the many students from all over the world. Especially in the evening, and certainly at night, the many bars and student cafés, spread all over the town, guarantee that there is always something happening. Very popular is the area around the 'Oude Markt - Old Market', located close to the magnificent 15th century medieval town hall.
Ladeuzeplein Leuven - Copyright VIB
Ghent, the capital of East Flanders combines an impressive past with a vivid present. The historic heart of the city offers a lot of places of interest. From St Michael's bridge there is a wonderful view on the skyline of Ghent with the three impressive towers of St Nicholas' Church, the Belfry with its bell tower and St Bavo's cathedral with the world famous painting "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" by Jan van Eyck. Traces of the Middle Ages are preserved at a lot of places. The old port with its guild halls on the Graslei and Korenlei is merely one example of the beautiful views this town has to offer. Not far from the Graslei arises the Castle of the Counts, once the medieval fortress of the Count of Flanders.
Graslei Ghent - Copyright VIB
Not only art lovers but everyone can find something here to suit his taste. Ghent offers a lot of shops, restaurants and an exciting nightlife. Ghent hosts Ghent University.
Antwerp, is the second largest city of Belgium. It is also the second largest harbor of Europe. Antwerp is a splendid city with numerous architectural highlights, most of which date from the 16th (the golden era of Antwerp) and the 17th century. The past is also represented by the numerous paintings of Peter Paul Rubens who lived in the Antwerp of the early 17th century.
Skyline Antwerp - Copyright VIB
Antwerp is the diamond center of the World and has earned a place among the fashion cities of the world thanks to the efforts of numerous young Flemish fashion designers (e.g.: Walter Van Beirendonck, Nadine Wynants, Ann De Meulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs, Kaat Tilley and others). Antwerp hosts the University of Antwerp.

Practical aspects of living in Flanders

Several websites (Expatica, Expat Interviews,…) offer practical information about traveling to and living in Belgium. Some general information is provided below.

Visa requirements

Unless you are a national of one of the member states of the European Union or a few other selected countries, you will need to obtain a visa to reside in Belgium during your period of study. Visa requirements also apply to family members who may accompany you during your stay. Candidates will receive more information regarding Visa requirements from VIB’s Human resources department after the selection for the VIB International Ph.D.program.
General information is available here.

Traveling to Belgium and Flanders

Brussels Airport is the major airport. It is connected with frequent trains to Brussels and the rest of Belgium.
Belgium has a dense network of highways. Driving times between all major cities are 1-2 hours. More info
The Belgian National Railways operate the densest rail network in the world and the majority of the international lines pass through Brussels, the center of this network. There is a frequent efficient train service from Brussels to almost all parts of the country.

Other useful information

Time zone: GMT + 1 hour.

Electricity: Current is A.C. 220 volts 50 cycles
Postal service: Hours: 9 AM to 12 AM and 2 PM to 5 PM
Currency: The official currency is the EURO (€).
Bank service: Monday through Friday 9 AM to 3 PM (some closing for an hour at lunch time)
Public Holidays:
New Year (January 1)
Easter Monday
Labor Day (May 1)
Ascension Day
Whit Monday
National Day (July 21)
Assumption Day (August 15)
All Saints' Day (November 1)
Armistice Day (November 11)
Christmas Day (December 25)
Religious Services: Practically every religion is represented in the main towns in Belgium
Tips, VAT, Taxes: Belgium prices are quoted "all inclusive". No additional tipping necessary
Telephones: The main international operators (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) have free call-in numbers in Belgium.
Weather: more info
Hotels: more info
Have a look at the map of Belgium
The location of Belgium in Europe