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Registering in Gent as an American

The following information describes the registering process to live in Ghent if you’re from the US. The requirements can vary from person to person depending on what type of visa you have, what your job is, how long you are staying, etc. I will give you a little preview of the experience and the requirements that we had to fulfill but just be aware that yours could be a little different.

Within eight days of arriving, you need to visit the commune (aka gemeentehuis, aka town hall/aka municipal administration office) to register. Now if you are here in the first place, you must have gone through the process of obtaining your Belgian Visa. This is a joy in and of itself, requiring many documents and visits to random government offices. You got the medical certificate, the birth and marriage certificates and apostilles (a certificate attached to your document that verifies its authenticity), the FBI background check. Great, keep all of that on hand for your visit to the commune because you never know exactly what they might ask you for. 

We arrived here with D visas. That meant my husband had proof of employment from the company that hired him, in our case a Belgian employer. My son and I are considered his dependents and temporary residents under the family reunification path. It was important to me to get the registration process going right away because I wanted to make sure we had health insurance (which if you are getting Belgian insurance is not possible without registering and having a Belgian id number.) So, we went to the commune the day after arriving, jet lag and all.

What will you need to register?

I suggest you bring anything you could think they might possibly want, in other words any official type documents you have. You should have many after applying for the visa. Some of these will be required at the first visit, some for later visits, but best to have it all with you at each visit to avoid having to return 15 times. I would also recommend you ask as many specific questions as you can because the commune is not particularly forthcoming about details – for example, I needed different documents than my husband but was not told that until the second time I returned to the office, thinking I was all set.

You will need:

  • Your passport with the Belgian Visa
  • Proof of employment – your contract or an official letter from your employer
  • Proof of health insurance or a letter from your employer stating you (and your family) will be covered by a mutuality upon the start of employment.
  • 3 passport photos in which you are not smiling (yes seriously, mine were rejected because I showed a little tooth). You can get these taken at a booth at the Administrative Center Zuid for 5 euros. You can also get them at a photographer for about 10 euros. We thought we were being proactive by getting them in the US, but it was not worth it as the requirements for the U.S. Passport photos and the Belgian ID photos are different.
  • Your rental contract or something that shows where you are living. In our case, we were in temporary housing so had a “contract” from the B&B owner. This is the address that the police will come to so make sure it is one you will be living at.
  • Marriage certificate with an apostille (if applicable), translated into Dutch or French
  • Birth certificates with apostille (if applicable)
  • 25 euros per person (cash or Bancontact)

What is the process like?

All family members must be present at the town hall (including children) when you are applying and when you pick up the id cards so they can check the photos with the real person.

After your first application, if you have all the necessary components, you will receive a Bijlage 3 (Annex 3) which is valid for 90 days. In order for the process to continue, a police officer must come to your residence and confirm that you live there and that you have space to sleep, eat, etc. This may happen in a week but can take much longer. When we arrived, after a few weeks the police did not come and when we contacted them we found out that the officer who does the checks was on vacation for a month. Nobody else was taking care of this particular duty in his absence. On their website, they say within 5 weeks someone will come. Be prepared to show the officer your documents when he/she arrives.

If approved by the officer, you will get a call or letter telling you to return to the commune. Make sure you bring all your documents again, including the Annex 3 which they will keep. You will then receive a Bijlage 15 (annex 15) which is valid for another 45 days. They will send your application to the Office of Foreign Affairs in Brussels to approve your request. Hopefully, within a few weeks you will get a letter or call from the commune inviting you to return with your photos and money to have your identity cards made. They will also take your fingerprints at this time. Then within another two weeks, you will receive a letter with your PIN/PUC codes, stating you can pick up your card. Make sure you bring the codes with you because you can’t get your id without them!

Then you will be done…. Until you need to renew! Another adventure….

Registering children

Children under 12 can (but it is not mandatory) get a paper “name card”.  This card does not have the chip with information like the adult version nor does it have their id number on it but it does include parent names, address, date of birth, nationality and a photo of the child.  The card is free, but you will need to get a photo that meets the same requirements as the adult photos for their card. It is recommended to have one for travel within the Schengen. You can renew this along with the adult id cards.

Renewing your identity card

You can start the renewal process 45 days before the expiration of your card, I suggest you go as early as possible as the process can take a long time for a family. Depending on the circumstances, your information will need to go to the Foreign Office in Brussels for approval, adding to the wait. Again, this is just what we needed, everyone’s situation is different and may require different documents.

What you may need – the list:

  • Photo
  • Proof of employment for primary family member
  • 25 euros per person
  • Rental contract
  • Attestation from OCMW stating you do not get financial assistance
  • Attestation from your mutuality stating you have health coverage

I found the renewal process more frustrating than the registration process – here is how it went for me:

  • On our first visit to the commune, we brought a statement from my husband’s employer saying he continued to be an employee. They told us this had to be sent to the Foreign Office in Brussels and we would heare from them when they had more information.
  • They called within a couple of weeks and said to return with a passport photo and 25 euros. We all got our photos taken and went back. They took my husband’s fingerprints and told him he would get the letter in the mail when his id was ready for pick up. However, when we presented the photos for myself and my son they told us that I needed additional documents to get my id renewed. A rental contract, proof of health insurance, an attestation from OCMW. When I asked for more information ( I had no idea what OCMW was) I was handed a small piece of paper in Dutch, with the list of necessary items. Turned out the OCMW requirement was a document stating I do not get financial assistance from them.   
  • I returned and waited for an hour to talk to someone. I gave her my documents. She told me they were not all the correct ones and I needed the entire rental contract – 30 odd pages. I had only copied a few of the signature pages, thinking they would not need the whole thing. I also needed a more recently dated letter from the mutuality.
  • Once I’d got these, I went back again. Finally all was in order, however my documents had to go to Brussels for approval. They would call me when I should come back with my photos and money.
  • By the time they called again, it was the day my id expired. They took my old id away from me and gave me a paper sheet with my information on it. About 2 weeks later my letter came in the mail with my pin/puc code.
  • I took my son with me and went to pick up my card. Then I was asked if I had applied for an extension. I had no idea I needed to do that! Maybe they had mercy on me because they gave me the ids anyway but the moral of the story is – go early and specifically ask what each person needs!

Note: the information on this page is based on the information found on official government and local websites, and on the experience of the authors. While we have done our best to make sure it is accurate, rules and regulations change and each individual situation might be different, so it is always a good idea to check with appropriate authorities for the latest information. Consequently, the authors do not assume any responsibility or liability for any issues or damages stemming from the use of the information found on this website.

 

Dena Mehalakes
Dena is a former science teacher who used to spend her summer vacations satisfying her travel bug. Now that she travels with a five year old, there are far less museum visits and far more playground visits. She enjoys reading a good book, drinking a tasty Belgian beer and a wandering in the woods. She is working hard to improve her Nederlands and to take advantage of every moment in the beautiful city of Gent.

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