Belgian bureaucracy? Completed it mate!

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At the 10 week mark, with 3 weeks left until I’m home for Christmas, I finally mastered Belgian bureaucracy. Belgium is notorious for its excessively complicated administrative procedures, something I was unaware of until arriving here in September. You might be wondering why I chose to write a whole article on this?

Firstly, I truly think I need to vent about my battle with the paperwork. Second, it might actually be useful. Thirdly, I have far too many anecdotes about my personal struggle with administration to pass up the opportunity to poke fun at my incompetency.

There is a very specific order to the registration procedures, so without the previous step you can’t ‘level up’. It’s absolute murder and trying to complete them all in the exact order needed has been a headache from start to finish. Here are all the things you need to do upon arrival in Belgium, which I have only just managed to complete:

A compulsory enrolment session which left me traumatised

At Durham University, registration is online and relatively simple. There is the opportunity to take a photo and order your campus card to be ready upon arrival. In Belgium they like to do things a little differently… We attended a lecture which ended with half of the lecture hall  queuing to use a single printer to photocopy their documentation, while the other half queued to hand in their documents and have a photo taken for their campus card. I stood there for about two hours as one of the lucky bunch who had brought a photocopy of their ID and admission letter with them.

The printer broke. Anarchy ensued. I was still waiting for a photo to be taken. The printer was fixed. More queuing. I finally reached the front. In a second the whole traumatic experience was over. A sigh of relief.

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Then I was told I would have to wait a week to collect my campus card and bus pass from the university hall in the centre of town, and I decided I needed a cup of tea and a nap to recover.

Picking up your student packet

This is pretty self-explanatory. It contains your campus card and other documents which have vital information needed for your registration at the town hall, which will affect your ability to open a Belgian bank account…

Pick it up a week or so after the registration procedure. Apply for modules, complete your learning agreement, set up your own timetable and choose exam slots for the whole year. It’s a lot of trial and error, and going back and forth between your home university and KU Leuven. Proceed to next steps.

Running across town to register at Leuven City Hall

For this you need to have accommodation and proof of a rental contract, documents of registration, a passport photo, a letter of admission, etc. Prior to this, I made many failed attempts at opening a bank account, which I will elaborate on in the next saga. For now, just know that you need an appointment and you must be there within 15 minutes of the beginning of the appointment.

I accidentally went to the wrong City Hall. Leuven has two – and despite being warned multiple times not to go to the Old City Hall in the city centre… I went to the Old City Hall in the city centre. Needless to say, I was not amused when I found out my appointment was in the new City Hall of Leuven, which was now a 20 minute walk away.

I had an appointment to open a bank account the next day and was all too aware that I needed to have a specific form from the registration procedure at City Hall, so I power walked to my appointment, arrived there with a few seconds to spare and collapsed in a chair in the waiting room. The lady who greeted me there was lovely, and stopped me from falling into complete and utter despair at the whole ordeal. I was finally registered as a resident of Leuven, and just had to wait for a Belgian police officer to check that I lived at my address. (Yes, it really is as weird as it sounds.)

Belgian banking: a three-part saga

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A bank account can only be opened after your arrival in Belgium. This means that the appointments for setting up bank accounts are in high demand during the first months at KU, and once I’d managed to get round to it I was the last in line and there were only appointments for a month’s time available in the branches in Leuven. Not wanting to wait around, and thinking I was being very clever, I booked an appointment in Brussels and headed there one morning during orientation week, having been far too optimistic about when I was going to be an awake and functioning human-being after going to a Law Faculty social. I arrived at the bank and was told I was only able to open a bank account in the town or city where I studied. I returned to Leuven and tried again…

My second attempt at opening a bank account was more than a month after my first attempt. I had booked an appointment and patiently waited for it to come around. I brought every possible piece of documentation I thought I might need, but alas… it was not enough. I was told that I need proof of residence (apparently not the same as a tenancy agreement) which was only provided by the above registration procedure at City Hall. Needless to say, the appointment was not successful and I returned home to despair a little more.

Finally, after (running to) and registering at City Hall I managed to book an appointment at a bank in Leuven. You need all of your documents, even your National Insurance number… It was a short process and I was just very relieved that I wasn’t told I needed another mythical document to open the account. I had finally found my way out of the Belgian bureaucratic maze.

In conclusion, start everything as soon as you get there and plan your appointments in advance. Do it in the right order and don’t try to get creative with opening a bank account. I’m finally settled in here, an official resident of Leuven and student of the Law Faculty. If I can do it, anyone can!

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