Introduction to Brussels
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that there’s more to Belgium than mussels, chips and mayonnaise, and, of course, The Adventures of Tintin. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, acts as headquarters to the European Union and hence as unofficial capital of Europe. A city with a noteworthy past, it is also a city carving out a bright future.
Whilst Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German, Brussels has only two: Dutch and French. Flemish is the term used for the various dialects of Dutch spoken in Belgium.
In recent years, previously run-down parts of the centre have become a magnet for the young professional with major renovations and industrial spaces coming up for rent or buy. This reflects the fast-changing scene within a city keen to shed its former reputation as an historic centre and not much more.
The Legal Market
The legal market in Brussels comprises all the Magic Circle firms, a large number of top-tier City firms, together with an ever-increasing number of US firms. Whilst there are a number of large local firms, the bulk of the activity on an international level takes place with the UK and US firms.
A number of firms operate full-service offices to a greater or lesser degree, however most activity takes place in the EU/Competition arena. This specialism typically comprises the bulk of work carried out by most offices. Lawyers may be admitted in the US, UK, other European jurisdictions or other common law jurisdictions; for most positions, perfect written and spoken English language skills are essential.
Of course, firms’ staffing needs vary over time, however the firms that recruit internationally are usually consistent in their requirement for candidates with top class academics: this typically translates to a First Class Degree (UK) or very high 2:1, or equivalent; LLM in a relevant area; and also a Stage at the European Commission.
Common to most western European jurisdictions, rates of pay in Brussels tend to be a little lower than in London. However, this reflects the comparatively lower cost of living in Europe: in particular, savings are typically made (as against London) on travel time and cost, housing (which tends to be of an improved quality and better located) and food and drink. A recent cost-of-living survey has established Brussels as one of the most affordable capitals in the world.
That said, the highest income tax rate for resident individuals is 50%. Resident individuals are subject to individual income tax on their worldwide income which, in principle, is computed by aggregating all items of income such as business and employment income, real property income, income from movable property and miscellaneous income. Having said this, it is usual for lawyers to be paid on a self-employed basis (see below), which requires submission of monthly invoices to the office in question, and foreign lawyers will often incorporate their services so as to take advantage of a lower corporate tax rate.
EU nationals do not need a work permit to work in Belgium – a valid identity card or passport is sufficient to enable entry, residence and employment in Belgium.
Non-EU nationals wishing to remain in Belgium for over three months are subject to a visa requirement. In this case, prior to entering the country, a temporary entry visa must be obtained from the Belgian diplomatic or consular authorities in the relevant country of residence.
Self-employed individuals (which will include most lawyers) wishing to work in Belgium must apply for a professional card at the Belgian embassy (or consulate) in their country of residence, or (where the person is already residing in Belgium) at the municipality.
Brussels is a cosmopolitan city, with fantastic architectural styles ranging from Gothic cathedrals and churches to the many art nouveau and art deco houses. The heart of Brussels and the place to start getting to know the city is the Grand’Place. This historic square, lined with exuberantly ornate guild houses and focused on the Gothic heights of the Hotel de Ville, is widely held to be one of Europe’s finest.
Central Brussels boasts two main shopping districts.
The uptown Avenue Louise/Boulevard de Waterloo area is home to chic international boutiques like Chanel, Gucci and Hermes, along with Belgian designers. On a rainy day, you can window-shop for hours in the maze of passageways that connect Avenue Louise, Place Louise, Chaussee d’Ixelles and Avenue de la Tolson d’Or. For casual shopping at more modest prices, Brussels has its downtown City 2/Rue Neuve shopping district.
Dining out is a national past-time. Moules-frites – mussels and chips – is the classic dish and can be found in nearly all Belgian restaurants. The Sablon is part of the city renowned for its delicious food. It boasts many antique shops as well as its numerous café’s, taverns, wine bars and chic restaurants.
And of course, Belgium is world famous for it’s beer and visits to one of the beautiful cafes and bars is a must to sample the local beers of Brussels Gueuze or fruit beer (cherry, raspberry and peach) or the famous Trappist beer, made in one of the Abbeys of Belgium (be careful when drinking Trappist beers as they are extremely potent – between 8 and 11% alcohol!).
For more information, please contact your advising consultant at Garfield Robbins International on +44 (0)845 671 0199.
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