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The Money Hazards of Living in Belgium

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): The Money Hazards of Living in Belgium

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Money Hazards of Living in Belgium

On the one hand, Belgium is a land of rules that don't get followed.  Why?  Look at all the different rulers they have had through the years....all with their own set of rules and laws...constantly changing.  They've had Austrians, the Spanish, Germans, the Dutch and the list goes on.  It's no wonder that not until 1967 did you need a driver's license to drive here or that a Belgian official will tell you "it's not possible" and the next day it is.  Today I'd like to talk about how to save yourself thousands of Euros or from making a dumb mistake.

For one thing, Belgium and the US have a different Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement with Belgium than we do with Germany.  Germany is very generous when it comes to exempting us from sales tax, other taxes and giving us certain privileges.  In Germany, you can buy a stack of VAT forms and use them for ANY purchases, which pays off on total purchases over 50 euro.  I used to love getting that tax back in cold hard cash at the Real (like a Super Walmart) customer service counter.  Not so in Belgium.  Remember, Belgium didn't lose like Germany did, so of course they didn't have to give a lot of concessions.  I will touch on a few ways that have lost people money.

As a sidenote, these rules do not apply to all Americans in Belgium or expats.  These rules only apply to American (possibly NATO) military personnel or civilian personnel assigned to NATO or American Forces in Belgium.

For example, only certain items are sales tax exempt, such as furniture.  The process is also a little more complicated, at least on SHAPE, where you have to get a receipt or bill of lading of the item/items you are buying, then take that to the VAT office, and the Community Services Center on SHAPE.  Many stores, like IKEA, don't give you the money back right away, but request that you fill out some paperwork, including providing your local bank account number, and then a few months later, you'll see the amount show up in your bank account.  As in typical Belgian fashion, you may see one person asking for the VAT from the VAT office get tax relief, whereas another person wanting to purchase the same item, does not get it.  I don't have an answer for that one.  I've just seen it happen.  Read here for my step-by-step process of getting your VAT back.

Also, be careful how you register your vehicles!  You have one vehicle that is exempt from Belgian road taxes...only one.  Road taxes can be expensive, depending on how large the engine is in your vehicle.  This is why you should register the vehicle with the largest engine first.  Vehicles with larger engines can run you over 1,000 euro a year.  Vehicles like my husband's little diesel that gets 50 MPG only costs just under 200 euro a year, so you can see the big savings.  We registered our minivan first.  I talked to one person who, while waiting for their vehicle to ship from the States, bought a second vehicle, which they registered first.  Now they are faced with owing roadtax on their larger vehicle that has not yet arrived.  I don't know if they worked it out or not, but I just caution you to check it out.  We received our roadtax bill, through my husband's work address about two months after he purchased the vehicle.  You can then pay the bill at your local Belgian post office or through your local bank account.  I will talk later about recommendations on getting a bank account over here, as most of your bills and purchases will be in Euros and not Dollars.

Be careful about buying a vehicle from a non-Shapian (a person without a SHAPE ID card).  You will end up paying sales tax.  Again, I overheard a person in the inprocessing building lamenting that he had to pay a few thousand euro tax on a vehicle he purchased for 10,000 euro.  He said if he had known this ahead of time, he would've never done it!  I'm guessing that's why you don't see all the car lots around post like you do at any German US Army base or post.

My point with this post is to advise you to be careful and research things thoroughly before you do them....the consequences can be costly!  Please also do not take my advice as the Gospel.  Some of what I have written may be inaccurate, as I have not checked the laws and regulations myself, and like I said, sometimes it is not crystal clear what the law even is.  I am only speaking from my own experience and the experiences of the people around me.  Take it for what it's worth to you!  Do you have any Belgian experiences that are related to this post?



Blogger Kat said...

Very interesting to hear! We will be coming to SHAPE in July and are very excited/nervous about the opportunity.. Any advice for first time overseas PCS? I have a 1 year old son so Im excited for him to grow up overseas and get to possibly learn the language there.

April 1, 2011 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

Congrats! You may want to read some of my posts about PCSing to Germany...they should be a big help! There are also quite a few playgroups on SHAPE that would be perfect for your little one. Be sure to request to join the Facebook Group "SHAPE Families"...lots of interaction on there too.

April 1, 2011 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Thanks! I requested!

April 2, 2011 at 12:38 AM  
Anonymous Melanie said...


My name is Melanie & we are headed to Shape in December. :)

May 31, 2011 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger CaliGirlinBE said...

Another costly expense, for those moving to Belgium, is bringing your pets through customs, if they are being shipped on a separate commercial flight. There is no public information put out on this subject, that I have come across.
When flying overseas (or entering Belgium without an EU pet passport) your pet MUST be on the exact flight as you. I had to pay the 500 euro fee (that is per pet) and also know of many others who have as well. The ONLY way to avoid this fee is to be on the same flight with your pet/s.

July 24, 2011 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

I have heard this more than a few times now. I have had others recommend Amsterdam or airports in Germany because of this. This fee only comes into effect if you ship your pet alone. It may even be cheaper to buy a ticket for a relative or friend to bring your pet over!

July 24, 2011 at 8:44 PM  

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