Applying for Belgian Citizenship – Eventually

By - November 16, 2012 (Updated: January 8, 2016)

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Belgian Citizenship.
Belgian Naturalisation

Paperwork… was this five page application form even necessary?

Andrew and I just dove headlong back into the Kafkaesque world of Belgian bureaucracy. We are applying for Belgian citizenship. Eventually, we may even succeed, but not today.

It’s been a few years since Andrew and I have had to deal with Belgian paperwork. I’m told mothers quickly forget the pain of childbirth. I’m convinced expats have similar amnesia when it comes to bureaucracy.

In fact, as long-term expats, we can easily spot newcomers. They’re the ones railing on about inefficiencies in the Belgian system and ranting about how this would never happen in their home country. Complaining about things like how complicated the tax forms are compared to back home.

They can’t understand why those of us here for more than a few years just shrug nonchalantly and say, “That’s Belgium.” We know there’s no use getting worked up, expecting things to make sense, or assuming the requirements will not vary from day to day, commune to commune. We know that eventually, the planets will align, sacrifices will have been made to the appropriate deities and the last piece of the puzzle will fall into place. Eventually.

We often joke that a visit to a Belgian commune is like a scavenger hunt. You are only ever given one clue at a time. Bit by bit, you follow the trail of breadcrumbs, completing tasks, as they are set before you, to achieve your goal. Eventually.

The few friends we’ve told, about our plan to become citizens, all respond with the same question– Why?

There are many reasons for embarking on this journey, not the least of which being we actually love it here. As much as we long to travel the world, we want the freedom to return here whenever we like, without being tied to a particular job or company. We will, of course, maintain our Canadian citizenship, but with Belgian nationality, we will be free to travel throughout Europe without restrictions, an appealing prospect to the travel-obsessed.

So, with paperwork in hand, we headed off to the commune, for our first clue. We gladly bypassed the endless line at the office of ‘étrangers,’ and headed to the office of ‘births, deaths, divorces and nationality.’

“Ah,” said the young woman behind the counter. “First you must go to another office and have your Identity Card verified. Then you can either return here and we can submit the paperwork, for €7.50, or you can take it to the Citizenship office yourself.”

Being the economical folk we are, we told her we could take it there ourselves. After all, it was just across the street. But first, we had to verify our ID cards.

The process was surprisingly quick (after a brief stop at the wrong window) and €30 later we were clutching notarized copies of our ID cards and proof of residency. We now had every item listed in our carefully filled out application for Belgian nationality.

We walked down the street and into one of the imposing Belgian parliament buildings. As we stepped inside, we spotted a sign. What’s this? An arrow clearly pointing the way for ‘Nationality?’ A clue!

We have two fat files… filled with paperwork from our lives in Belgium

We took a number and shortly thereafter found ourselves in front of our third Belgian government worker of the day. He carefully paged through our documents. Stopping at Andrew’s birth certificate, he frowned. “This needs to be translated by an official translator,” he said. It was the same one we used to gain residence to the country, but no matter. We expected some setbacks.

My birth certificate, from my bi-lingual home province, was acceptable. “I can start processing your application right away, Madame.” Perfect! We were most concerned about my application anyway. New laws will come into effect next year, making it more difficult for trailing spouses to gain nationality. No one yet knows exactly what this will mean, but we wanted to avoid any more hurdles than necessary.

While my mental celebration was taking place, he continued “So the process takes anywhere from two to four years, but these days it’s taking closer to four.”

Hang on a second did he just say years?! We were told the process should take a few months.

Andrew very politely, but with the slightest tremor of panic leaking into his voice, stated we had lived here seven years already.

“Oh, well then, you should apply through your commune. The process there takes only four months. It’s much better for you,” he smiled.

“Yes well, you see,” replied Andrew, “they sent us here.”

“Well now, why would they do that?” he asked. Why indeed?

And so, fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves back at square one, explaining to the first young woman, that we had in fact lived in Belgium for seven years and would like to apply for citizenship the short way.

She took our ID cards and headed over to her computer, where she clacked away for several minutes. Then she frowned. More clacking and frowning occurred until she headed over to speak with one of her colleagues. We recognised the signs. This wasn’t going to be good. She headed back over to us.

“First we will discuss, Monsieur,” she said. “Everything is ok, except there is a month when you did not have a residence card. They can refuse nationality for this.”

“Ah but there is an explanation for that,” Andrew said confidently. “You see, we were on vacation in Canada for a month. Before we left, I went to my commune to have my card renewed and they said I had to wait until it expired. So I renewed it when we came back.”

“Yes I see,” she said. “But even so, they can still refuse it.” Then she turned to me. “And for you, there is no pause, but you didn’t have your residence card until 2006, so you can’t apply until next year.”

My exterior remained calm but my internal monologue was screaming “Um, I’m sorry what?! I’ve been here as long as he has. And if I wait until next year…”

“And actually if you wait until next year,” she continued my thought process, “it may be more difficult because there are new rules. But none of us know for sure what they will be.”

“You may have to be here ten years instead of seven,” her colleague jumped into the fray to assist.

I tossed an ‘I told you so’ look in my eternally optimistic husband’s direction. He wasn’t looking so optimistic now.

“Well we can start the process anyway,” the young woman said helpfully, as she took our notarised ID card copies. Then she picked up our birth certificates and frowned.

“These are from 2005,” she stated.

“Yes, we needed them when we first moved here,” Andrew replied calmly.

“They are far too old. You need new copies. Translated. And notarised.”

Of course we do.

And so, we returned home, with all of the paperwork we had carefully gathered over the past few weeks: the five page application we had filled out in French, which was unnecessary to apply for citizenship through the commune, the too old birth certificates and our newly certified ID card copies. At least we completed one step in the process.

Belgian Naturalisation

Well, at least we got one piece of paperwork completed…

The saga will continue – eventually. Over the coming months (or possibly years) we’ll update you on our process.

Belgian officials, if you’re reading this: we really love it here and we’d like to become citizens. Could you please give us the next clue?

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

Read more from this series...

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 4 hours ago


  1. Comment by Unexpected Traveller

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Unexpected Traveller November 16, 2012 at 09:28

    Goodness, these kind of offices are the same in every country aren’t they?

    Best of luck with the whole process … Hopefully it will be worth it in the end!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 14:10

      I’ll let you know in a year or two 😉

  2. Comment by Mary Newman

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Mary Newman November 16, 2012 at 14:10

    I am naturalized in the USA and although didn’t have the run around quite like that, understand the pain of collecting all required paperwork. Your story was entertaining though! haha!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 14:26

      I’ve heard from friends that both the US and Canadian processes are pretty brutal. As of yet, we still haven’t submitted anything in Belgium but we’ve both ordered extra copies of our birth certificates in French. Le sigh.

  3. Comment by Lia

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Lia November 16, 2012 at 14:34

    Good Luck Alison! I went through far worse experience in italy to get my citizenship back! The commune I was registered in italy(an island of only 3000 people) said all my data was lost and I had to do all my process took hundreds of dollars and lots of running back and forth with the Italian Consulate. ( To think my mother had registered every birth she had overseas as soon as she could) I was relieved after I was able to apply for a passport and all…but once you have it you are free to go back and forth so you have all my sympathy!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 14:45

      Oh Lia, that sounds terrible! We’re lucky we can keep our Canadian citizenship so hopefully once (if) we have both life will be easier. Until tax time anyway 😛

      • Comment by Anita Herway

        Alison Cornford-Matheson

        Anita Herway January 24, 2013 at 21:42

        So do you become subject to Belgian taxes as well when you become a Belgian citizen?
        We are US and have lived here for 24 years. We also would like to become Belgian citizens for the travel aspect, but we are not interested in being subject to their taxes. We already pay taxes in the US. Do you know the rule on that?

        • Comment by Alison

          Alison Cornford-Matheson

          Alison January 25, 2013 at 09:08

          Hi Anita. Yes, just as all Americans are required to submit tax forms in the US, all Belgians are required to submit tax forms in Belgium.

  4. Comment by Marc Poelmans

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Marc Poelmans November 16, 2012 at 14:42

    Why in the world can a birth certificate be “too old”? It’s still the SAME certificate!!! That is just creating paper for NO good reason… Sorry it’s such a hurdle, best of luck to both of you!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 14:46

      Marc, you’re the Belgian… we hoped you could explain the ‘logic’ to us 🙂 We actually think it’s a big conspiracy by all the national governments so they can continue to make money on documents that should be a one time deal.

      • Comment by Christopher

        Alison Cornford-Matheson

        Christopher December 15, 2012 at 10:52

        I went through the same process of having to get a new birth certificate in 2009 – however by the time one had been sent over from Australia, and it had been translated, and it had been resubmitted to the commune, it was ‘discovered’ that it had not been legalized before it was translated, so it was legalized, and then, it was already six months “old” which implied it was no longer a legal document. Madness for the sake of madness! 😀

        • Comment by Alison

          Alison Cornford-Matheson

          Alison December 15, 2012 at 12:50

          Oh wow, that’s another surreal one Christopher!

  5. Comment by whyiamnotskinny

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    whyiamnotskinny November 16, 2012 at 14:51

    OMG… I giggled so much reading this (while at the office) that my colleagues had to come over to check that I was actually ok! It gave me flashbacks to when I first arrived in Brussels and not knowing a single thing – presented myself to the Police … who sent me to the commune… who sent me to the foreigners office… who then asked if I had an appointment!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 15:02

      Lol, yes we have similar stories from 7 years ago… oh gosh, the Kortenberg commune. Shudder.

  6. Comment by Alvar

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alvar November 16, 2012 at 17:12

    imagine how it could be for someone coming from a developing country… Even after having an EU citizenship granted, I went to the Commune because we wanted to get married and it happened the same to me with the birth certificate with the ‘apostil’ … It was too old! Even though birth certificates do not expire and apostils either (I checked the Treaty).

    1- OMG!! Why????
    2- a big good good luck!
    3- It’s Belgium!!
    : ))

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 16, 2012 at 18:17

      You are so right Alvar. We know we are fortunate that moving to Belgium was a choice for us, not something we were forced to do for safety or economic reasons. And, at least now that we live in Brussels, rather than Flanders where we started out, we speak the language. I can’t imagine coming here as a refugee, not speaking either language and not having any kind of support network. It would be truly terrifying and the same whether it was Belgium, Canada or any other country. That’s why this was all kind of tongue in cheek and I know eventually it will work out, and even if it doesn’t, for us, it’s not the end of the world. Thanks for the luck! Looks like we’ll need it 🙂

  7. Comment by Nicky

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Nicky November 16, 2012 at 18:37

    Haha, I totally recognise your aches and pains with the bureaucrats from… Bermuda and the US and Holland, my own home country. I am not even talking nationality, but just work permits in the US and in Bermuda…

    I do think these types of offices are the same in every single country. I am sorry to hear that Europe is doing this to you. Then again… when I came back to the Netherlands, my home country, after a two year stay in Australia, all of my citizen privileges had been revoked because I was not in the country paying the taxes. Makes sense in a way, but does not make me all warm and tingly inside for coming back home. So I guess the main thing required here and in all countries that you cannot call home: put on a kind smile, be subservient and exaggeratedly grateful for *all* they do for you and take extra double super dosages of patience. And hope for the best. And send up prayers… 😉

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 19, 2012 at 11:25

      Haha, so true Nicky! I think anyone who works in immigration in ANY country should have to go through the process themselves first.

  8. Comment by Amy

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Amy November 17, 2012 at 16:38

    Just think of all the blog material you will generate throughout this process! It’s a goldmine! Seriously though, just take it one step at a time and don’t think too much about whether any of it makes sense. It will be so worth it in the end! Bon courage! 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 19, 2012 at 11:27

      Yes, it is a blog goldmine, that’s for sure 🙂 Honestly we’re not stressing about it like we did when we first moved here. We expected it would be a long process so we just made sure to stock up on wine 🙂

  9. Comment by elena

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    elena November 17, 2012 at 22:45

    Buraucracy is difficult to cope with all around the world!! it took me three visits to the consulate to get me and my daughter inscribed as italians living abroad.
    first time, in spite of bringing along all the documents listed on their website, I was told it was not enaugh;
    second time I brought all the requested extra paperload but nobody asked me those documents (autocertification! I was told. why not valid during my first visit??). furthermore, in spite of being a consulate in a french speaking country they did not accept the french version of the kid birth certificate but they wanted the multilingual, implying a third visit. But at least I managed to inscribe myself.
    third time: bingo!! also my daugther was registered.
    prior to these three visits, I have to say that I visited twice my hometown townhall offices to know how to register as an italian living abroad and to get info on the fiscal consequences of properties after the registration. the answer was : don’t know!!!
    I have to say that in IT we normally undergo to a very strong “bureaucratic training”, a sort of vaccination :). Afterwards all the other systems seem sooooo modern and efficient :-).

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 19, 2012 at 11:23

      Yes, I’ve heard similar stories everywhere. I’m glad it finally worked out for you Elena! Perseverance pays off in the end 🙂

  10. Comment by Jessica

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Jessica November 18, 2012 at 04:25

    Oh *sigh*, I feel your pain. We are slowly rolling up our sleeves for a similar pile of paper that will face us after our wedding. I’m amazed your commune hasn’t yet required that you have your Canadian Birth Certificate notarized by the Belgian consulate in Canada…. mine has made this an item on every major “scavenger hunt”, requiring me to fly home and deal with an entirely separate but equally “Belgian” scavenger hunt in Toronto. Good luck to you both!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 19, 2012 at 11:21

      Oh they do Jessica. We just knew that was coming. Our birth certificates were notarised when we first applied for residency. But now that we need new ones we have to do that all again… good times 🙂

  11. Comment by Adriano Marques

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Adriano Marques November 20, 2012 at 00:15

    Everything sounds very familiar 🙂 Wish you luck guys! My file is sitting there in the 4-year queue. Hoping for a decision at least before the break up of Belgium (or the EU).

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 20, 2012 at 12:00

      Thanks Adriano! Fingers crossed for both of us 🙂

  12. Comment by Michelle

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Michelle November 20, 2012 at 17:40

    Oh my goodness, I’m sorry for all the hassle. It reminds me of our process to get to Italy (though that was elective residency, not citizenship), which involved one failed visa application, to a three-step successful one. Then to get our residency once we were here involved all sorts of bureaucratic tomfoolery (luckily, our police officer was impressed with the stamp on our children’s birth certificates or they wouldn’t have residency cards right now). I think I assumed this sort of thing was less common in the north. I wish, for your sake, that I had been right. “Piano, piano” as they say here. Just one step at a time. Pastries take the edge of the irritation. Wine helps, too. That’s my two cents.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 20, 2012 at 19:55

      Wine is essential for any commune visit in Belgium 🙂 We had similar hurtles when we first arrived here. Like childbirth, the memory of the pain subsided 😉 We’re much less stressed this time around. We get there at some point.

  13. Comment by Sue

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Sue November 23, 2012 at 02:06

    Does this mean you will have to come to Ottawa soon to notarize??? I am crossing my fingers..

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison November 23, 2012 at 10:38

      Sadly no. All of our stuff is notarized in Quebec (because it needs to be done in French) and hopefully is there right now.

  14. Comment by Mike Owens

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Mike Owens December 4, 2012 at 10:49

    Hi Alison, what commune are you trying to apply in, may I ask? I’m attempting the same process at the moment and struggling with Ixelles!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison December 4, 2012 at 11:37

      Hi Mike, We’re in St. Josse. They’ve actually been very pleasant and helpful… but they remain slaves to the bureaucracy that’s in place in the system. Hang in there!

  15. Comment by Babs

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Babs December 7, 2012 at 16:17

    You really hit the nail on the head! As an expat I had very little to do with the local authorities but on the few occasions that I did like property tax or ID cards, it was a disaster. To put it simply – the right hand does not know what the left is doing. Actually, it’s kind of scary to see how a country is so poorly organized and dysfunctional on so many levels. For me it was like a Wild West! Perhaps you should really re-think acquiring Belgian nationality and just keep what you have. With a Canadian passport I doubt very much you can encounter any problems traveling. With a Belgian resident ID card you have every right that a Belgian national possesses including the right to vote in certain communes. If you came from a country that required visas to travel through Europe I could perfectly understand applying for European nationality but that’s not the case for you. Save yourself the headaches and mental pain and anguish and just sack this project from the get-go. You will have no regrets having done so. If you do decide to continue well good luck because you’re going to need it – Unless you get a lucky break somewhere?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison December 7, 2012 at 16:49

      While we don’t have any issues traveling on our Canadian passports we also don’t have the same flexibility that an EU passport holder has. Gaining Belgian citizenship would give us the flexibility of having both options and that’s what we’re looking for right now. We’ll just wait and see how it goes.

  16. Comment by expatraveler

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    expatraveler December 29, 2012 at 22:49

    Alison I was thinking the same thing. I remember clearly having the same issues in France trying to just get my local papers for my residency card. Translation of birth certificates, up to date information, notarization, etc. etc.. I must say though besides the waiting time, Canada seemed very easy.. Or was it that I already forgot how painful it was?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison January 3, 2013 at 22:46

      Glad Canada was easy for you (or that the pain faded away quickly!) 🙂

      • Comment by Dipyaman

        Alison Cornford-Matheson

        Dipyaman March 12, 2013 at 17:21

        Hi Alison,
        Nice to read your experience over the Citizenship issue here in Belgium. I am looking for some relevant document as per the new rule to become Belgian Citizen. I am working here in Belgium for last 4 years and having Expatriate executive status. My grilfriend(Belgian) and I would like to settle by next year. My question is whether I am allowed to apply for the citizenship in a normal integration process(inspite of having expat status) and get belgian passport. I hope with your past experiences you can help me a bit on that.

        • Comment by Alison

          Alison Cornford-Matheson

          Alison March 13, 2013 at 09:40

          Hi Dipyaman. My understanding is as long as you’ve had uninterrupted residence here you should be able to apply. However, as you can probably tell fro our post, we are far from experts on this issue. As it varies from commune to commune, it’s best to ask at your local town hall.

  17. Comment by Nisha

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Nisha March 18, 2013 at 19:06

    oh my, sounds so familiar! 😀

    first came to Belgium in 2007 to do an MBA, and had to through the tedious process of getting/renewing my residence card every year! Have been married to a Belgian citizen since 2010, but we’ve never lived in Belgium together (expatriated to UK, Germany and other countries).
    Having no clue about the recent change to naturalisation laws, we did a quick Google search now that we’re about to hit 3-year milestone. And, bam! Doesn’t seem particularly encouraging to start the process…what with the new language requirements, i’m even less keen to try!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison March 19, 2013 at 10:12

      It’s definitely a painful process, but as with all things in Belgium, eventually it all works out. Hang in there 🙂

  18. Comment by Shanaz

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Shanaz July 2, 2014 at 11:54

    Reading about the birth certificate expiring bought a smile to my face. I remember that! But other than that I remember the process being fast and efficient. I often complain that they should make the process more difficult or at least get us to do a test to check knowledge of the country, language, etc! Perhaps it helped that I am married to a Belgian. All I do know for sure is that I had to spend lot more time and money to get my Sri Lankan citizenship back after becoming a Belgian!

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