Getting Belgian Nationality – the Continuing Saga

By - June 14, 2013 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Belgian Citizenship.

Will we be rejected by Belgium forever?

You may remember, late last year, Andrew and I applied for Belgian citizenship. It has been a Kafkaesque saga. Today we update you on where we stand, seven months after we submitted our paperwork.

When last we left our paperwork saga, we had just been informed our birth certificates, which we had newly notarized when we first arrived in Belgium, were “too old,” and we would need new notarized copies. Rather than debating how the information on even an “old” birth certificate could change, we dutifully went through the process of getting new ones.

As any expat who’s been part of the paper-chase knows, this is a complicated and expensive process. We each applied on-line for new copies from our home provinces in Canada and had them mailed to Andrew’s super-star sister, in Halifax. She in turn, packaged them up and mailed them to be notarized and then shipped them back to us.

The whole process took several weeks, bringing us ever closer to our Christmas holiday departure date. We were desperate to submit our applications before the new year, in case the laws changed, requiring an even longer wait before becoming citizens.

Luckily they arrived, days before we were set to be on a plane to Canada. We rushed to the commune and, after once again being warned that we would probably be rejected, submitted our applications for Belgian citizenship.

And then we waited.

And waited.

And fielded many questions about how our application for citizenship was coming along, with shrugs.

Two days before we were set to leave on our Hong Kong trip, a letter from the commune arrived for Andrew. It was thin and didn’t look very promising.

He opened it, before we even got upstairs.

“Well, I’ve been rejected; Time for the next attempt.”

It certainly wasn’t a surprise. We had been told time and time again we would likely be rejected, so we had already researched the next step.

More paperwork

More paperwork… does it ever end?

Andrew drafted a letter of appeal which he dutifully submitted to the commune as soon as we returned from Hong Kong. There was still no word at all on my application.

“Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if my application was accepted,” I joked. “Here you have been a contributing member of Belgian society for 8 years, and I’ve just been a trailing spouse writing a blog.”

“They should give you honorary citizenship anyway,” he replied, “for all the promotion of Belgium you do for them.”

It would be too much to hope that someone at my commune is a CheeseWeb fan.

A few weeks later, a letter finally arrived for me. It was one page, simply stating my nationality status had changed. I would be contacted soon with details of how to get my Belgian ID card.

I reread the French several times to make sure I had it right. Silently, I handed the letter to Andrew.

The ultimate irony.

In theory, I was officially half Belgian, but until I had the ID card to show for it, I wasn’t ready to accept it. So I continued to wait.

On the 16th of May, we were leaving our flat to meet videographer extraordinaire, Jon, for lunch. Andrew happened to glance through the stack of mail by the door, as we were leaving.

“There’s a letter from the commune for you.”

I said, essentially, ‘to obtain your Belgian ID card, your must present yourself at the commune with a photo and 20€ within three days. The office is open until 12:30.’

Within three days?! But we’re leaving for Italy tomorrow! What is it with these letters arriving just as we are leaving the country?!

It was almost 12. I had half an hour to meet Jon and get to the commune. Luckily we had some spare ID photos and cash on hand.

We practically ran to Arts-Loi, where we grabbed Jon and hustled him onto the metro. We breathlessly explained the saga and appologised for dragging him along.

I arrived at the Nationality window, gasping for breath, with minutes to spare.

The woman behind the glass pleasantly took my money and photo and told me the card would be ready in 15 days. I would receive a letter to come and pick it up.

Um, that’s it? Why did I need to be here within three days…?

On June 3rd, I returned to the same window, where the same woman unceremoniously handed me my new Belgian ID.

It was finally official. I have Belgian nationality. I am a citizen of the EU. This is a big freaking deal.

Belgian Nationality

Hurrah I’m CanadiBelgian… Belgo-Canadian… Belgadian?

But wait… Where were the balloons? The fireworks? Nobody played the national anthem. Hell, no one at the commune even congratulated me. Shouldn’t the king himself come and shake my hand? Didn’t they know what I had been through to get this little piece of plastic?

As we walked home, the jokes started. Andrew dutifully informed me I would now be required to cut in front of people in line and drive like a maniac. He complained about my country’s weather and political system.

“You know you’re going to have to be very nice to me now,” I said to Andrew. “After all, you’re an immigrant in my country.”

Will Andrew ever get to join me in my half Belgian-ness? Stay tuned for the continuing saga…

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
- 17 hours ago


  1. Comment by Jose

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Jose June 14, 2013 at 11:30

    I like your style very much; as an expat, I live the same experiences with the Belgian Administrations…..
    thank you for your blog

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 11:32

      Thank you for reading Jose!

  2. Comment by Ashley

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Ashley June 14, 2013 at 11:55

    Actually, now he’s entitled to have Belgian citizenship because he’s married to a Belgian!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 12:52

      Yes, that’s our thinking too Ashley. A whole other process!

  3. Comment by Kim

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Kim June 14, 2013 at 11:58

    I really enjoy your blog. I’m an expat who is a serial nomad and somewhere between a foreigner and EU resident which is always very confusing for immigration and administration officials. I’ve just got through the hurdle of getting my Belgian visa for a year where, despite holding Spanish residence for 5 years, living in Europe for 4 years I had still had to prove I wasn’t a tuburculosis carrying criminal in the country of my passport and in Spain (and technically I should have also proved I wasn’t one for the 6 month stint in Mexico, but somehow I managed to get away without it.) Let’s see what the commune registration process can throw at me and if they can match the delight of the Belgian Embassy.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 12:53

      Thanks Kim! My only advice is just be patient. Try not to expect too much from your first view visits to the commune and have lots of beer and/or wine handy!

  4. Comment by Michelle

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Michelle June 14, 2013 at 12:36

    Congratulations! You should throw a party for yourself to celebrate then you can do it all again when Andrew becomes half Belgian too!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 12:53

      Sounds like a great excuse to eat Belgian chocolate to me!

  5. Comment by GKA

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    GKA June 14, 2013 at 12:59

    Haha, congratulations on being Belgian. I’m from India and I’m moving to Belgium in less than a week for work and your blog has been my source of knowing about what happens with all the paperwork in this cute little country. Thank you!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 13:49

      Thanks! I’m so glad you’re finding CheeseWeb useful. Best of luck with your move!

  6. Comment by Megan

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Megan June 14, 2013 at 14:14

    As a relatively recent new dual citizen myself: congratulations! 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 14:27

      Thanks Meg!

  7. Comment by Judy

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Judy June 14, 2013 at 14:28

    Congratulations – gefeliciteerd : Judy the Canbel

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 14:29

      Thanks Judy! Glad there are a few of us here 🙂

  8. Comment by Amy

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Amy June 14, 2013 at 14:32

    Congratulations! I’m so happy that it worked out for you. I can’t believe there wasn’t any sort of ceremony or anything…wait, yes I can. It’s Belgium. Ha! Still great news though!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 14:37

      Thanks Amy! We’ll just have to have our own celebration. I guess I should listen to the national anthem or something…

  9. Comment by Shweta

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Shweta June 14, 2013 at 14:37

    This is hilarious! However, congratulations to you Alison. Andrew, hang in there! 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:57

      Thanks Shweta! Belgium always gives us something to laugh and write about!

  10. Comment by nika

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    nika June 14, 2013 at 14:50

    congrats to a new Belgian, good luck to the future new Belgian

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:57

      Thanks Nika!

  11. Comment by Nicole Basaraba

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Nicole Basaraba June 14, 2013 at 16:07

    CONGRATULATIONS Alison! As a fellow Canadian and former Belgian expat I know EXACTLY how big of a deal this is!!!! You need to throw some sort of party/celebration! I was thinking about staying in Belgium for another 6 months so I could be eligible to apply, but surely with my lack of French skills I would not have passed. Enjoy standing in the EU lines at the airports!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:56

      Thanks Nicole! I can’t wait to fly somewhere so I can use that line!

  12. Comment by Patricia

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Patricia June 14, 2013 at 16:12

    I had the opposite experience on a trip to the commune, i nearly became half-Belgian without even being aware!! I went to update my residency card which was in effect a piece of A4 paper to the plastic ID card. Upon reaching the front of the queue i explained i wanted the card and she said “oh no thats not possible today we dont have time” “you will have to come back another time to do that BUT if you see my colleague today and fill out the papers we will tell you in a couple months if you are succesful and then you can come collect the card” Only after did i realise the option was come back or be served today but become a Belgian!!! As it is the commune is soo rubbish at communcating amongst each other that i managed to get my ID card that day without having to become Belgian after all. I cant find anything on the net explaining the pro’s and con’s of Belgian citizenship, Im a brit by the way. Congratulations to you though!!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:55

      That’s too funny Patricia! As an EU citizen there probably isn’t a huge benefit to you. For us, now having EU citizenship means we can go/work anywhere which is a huge bonus.

  13. Comment by Susan

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Susan June 14, 2013 at 16:39

    When I was also unceremoniously handed my Belgian ID card – proof of my new Belgian-ness – I asked the administrator where was the red carpet? The trumpets? The hand written vellum scroll that I could frame? He looked me in the eye, and with all seriousness said: “we ran out of that budget last month, sorry.”

    That priceless, straight-faced response merely re-affirms all the reasons why I love Belgium!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:54

      I LOVE that story Susan! So very Belgian 🙂

  14. Comment by Kay

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Kay June 14, 2013 at 16:47

    Congrats Alison – and hopefully to Andrew also in the event he’s able to secure his citizenship through you!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:53

      Thanks Kay! Fingers crossed!

  15. Comment by Marion Gevers

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Marion Gevers June 14, 2013 at 17:29

    Congratulations, Alison, this is quite an achievement! I have a Belgian friend who was deprived of his Belgian citizenship because he took up US citizenship and it took him an incredible number of years to regain it. I am a Belgian citizen who’s been living in Australia for 27 years. I had to wait 22 years until the Belgian law changed and I wasn’t going to lose my Belgian citizenship when applying for the Australian one. As soon as this happened, I did, and now I’m the proud owner of a dual citizenship. My kids on the other hand, who only spent one year in Belgium in their entire life of 25 years, have had Belgian citizenship right from the start, by the fact of being born from a Belgian mother (and Australian father). It also took 16 years for Belgian expatriates to obtain the right to vote, despite the fact that voting is compulsory for Belgian citizens! The country of surrealism. 🙂 Wishing Andrew the best of luck to obtain the precious bit of plastic.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison June 14, 2013 at 17:56

      Thanks Marion! It is the country of surrealism indeed and that’s one of the reasons we love it so much!

  16. Comment by Bridget

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Bridget June 14, 2013 at 18:22

    Congratulations Alison!! I’m sure if you posted a date and location for your Belgian Citizenship party and all your readers will come with the balloons (or at least buy you drinks). 😉

  17. Comment by Eliane Delporte

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Eliane Delporte June 14, 2013 at 20:29

    Félicitations !
    Les expats, dans un premier temps, n aiment pas la Belgique.
    Puis ils l adorent et veulent être Belges…
    Ok, pas facile, mais aux States non plus, ni au Canada ….!!!
    Mon mari Belge qui a fait sa carrière comme expat toute sa vie aux States, en Allemagne, à Londres, et voyagé partout dans le monde est aussi revenu en Belgique…
    Expat : pas facile … Mais un choix, intéressant pour la carrière …. et € , non, :):) ? Sans parler de la qualité de la vie en Belgique :):) et en Europe, en général ..
    . On doit gagner son paradis !!! :):)
    Quoique, comme Bourguigogne, je peux dire que la France : pas mal non plus …:)!

  18. Comment by someone

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    someone June 15, 2013 at 07:51

    Congratulations !

    I sincerely hope you are preparing for the upcoming ice age as well.

    With all this “weather” we’ve been having I doubt our little country will have heated up enough by winter to make snow turn into the always present sludge like it usually is.

    Like any Belgian you will now be required to know everything in detail about the political system and all it implies as well. Coalition government. A myriad of political parties (hats and cake not included) 3 communities 3 official languages 5 types of garbage , running around town with empty jars and bottles until you find a glass container with some room left . The uprising of NVA , Filip De Winter going on holiday to Syria , Belgian youths going to Syria to fight.. All kinds of things other countries can only dream of.

    You should write a few articles about the weird situations which arise due to our country being the way it is… Kafka’s fever dreams are no match for the reality we live in sometimes.

    Friendly Regards.

    PS: Keep both nationalities for a while longer , you never know ..LOL

  19. Comment by Sion @ paris (im)perfect

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Sion @ paris (im)perfect June 17, 2013 at 09:44

    Congratulations, Alison! You’re right – a big freaking deal! Hopefully Andrew gets to join you in glorious EU citizenship soon, too.

  20. Comment by someone

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    someone June 19, 2013 at 11:26

    Yesterday was the 5th (Yes , I am counting them) day of palatable weather since January .. I had hoped the weather was finally turning .. Alas , today it’s raining again.

    I think Belgium is welcoming you as it’s newest citizen in it’s own special “make no illusions” way.

    DESPAIR ! :

  21. Comment by Hamid

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Hamid August 5, 2013 at 13:36

    Hi Alison and congratulations for this good news. Even though I haven’t been on your blog before but it seems to me interesting. I’ll visit it now and then. I know how it feels having a new nationality. Last week I have got mine too, the same as you but I have not suffered that much as you have :). Anyways, best of luck and welcome to Belgium!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison August 5, 2013 at 13:48

      Thanks Hamid and congratulations on your own nationality!

  22. Comment by Nicole

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Nicole September 7, 2013 at 22:51

    Alison, My husband and I are American, but my husband just received his Belgian Nationality/Passport. We love it here and I would love to get mine as well. But when I inquired about it at our local commune, they told me that I can’t request for it until 2017!

  23. Comment by Franck

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Franck September 11, 2013 at 23:40

    Congratulations, very inspiring. My wife was informed yesterday that she is loosing hers because she did not sign a declaration when she turned 28. The funny thing is that she contacted them on her 27th birthday and they told her she does not have to because they couldn’t take it as she was not a citizen of another country. The person we spoke to even acknowledge this info and said it is on file. But since my wife became a citizen later that year, they are saying she should have still filed it and they said the staff at that time informed us wrongly. The new person in charge went 2years back and now we are facing this situation. We are now fighting to keep it. Hopefully a trip to the embassy next week will solve this issue. If not we will have to move to Belgium for 12 months. Any advice will be helpful.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 12, 2013 at 10:01

      Yikes, what a hassle. I hope you guys get it worked out quickly!

  24. Comment by Phil

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Phil September 13, 2013 at 03:54

    Alison, did you apply for citizenship by naturalisation or by nationality declaration? How does Belgium define ‘legal residence’?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 13, 2013 at 09:49

      Hi Phil, we went via the longer commune-based route (which I believe is naturalisation). For legal residence you must hold a residence card for the designated time period (I believe it is now 10 years). If there is any gap (ie if your residence permit expires before you are able to renew it) you have to restart the count. (This was Andrew’s issue.)

  25. Comment by Phil

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Phil September 13, 2013 at 17:37

    Hi Alison, many thanks for your quick response. Does legal residence on the basis of successive temporary residence permits (I’m an academic and don’t need a work permit) suffice for the purpose of nationality declaration (it is 5 years now, down from 7, if economic, social and linguistic integration is met)? I think if you and Andrew waited for 7 years it was nationality declaration route; naturalisation needed 3 years then. I am a bit confused about how Belgium defines legal residence… does it have to be permanent resident status from the beginning?

    I hope you and Andrew enjoyed Hong Kong by the way (I’m from there)!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 14, 2013 at 11:45

      For us it wasn’t permanent resident status. For our first few years our residence was only year to year based on Andrew’s work status. I believe after three years we had permanent residence. Again, we are definitely not experts on this topic so it would be best to clarify with your commune.

      We loved Hong Kong and hope to visit again soon. It was wonderful!

  26. Comment by PHIL

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    PHIL September 16, 2013 at 00:19

    Thanks again Alison for sharing; it’s definitely very encouraging. I want my birthright EU citizenship restored (amazing that Belgium serves the best route)!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison Cornford-Matheson

      Alison September 16, 2013 at 15:00

      Good luck Phil and keep us posted!

  27. Comment by Pope

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Pope October 7, 2013 at 19:42

    Congrats Alison on your new Belgian status. I am happy for you

  28. Comment by mr. es

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    mr. es October 20, 2013 at 22:35


    You’ve written a rally interesting blog on nationality, and I’m so pleased and happy you got it!

    I read though this blog ( Part 1 ) where you wrote “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.” Well, my wife and I have been in and out of Belgium for the past 13 years – My wife is Belgian and so is my son, and really we both harp on non-stop about Belgium inefficiencies. In fact, lots of our Belgian friends do, and this usually disdain towards government, corruption, Sunday shopping hours and last century designed web sites 😀 I’ve found it’s the expats that have been here for so long who stop complaining and just accept! he he.

    On an interesting note, I’ve considered taking Belgian nationality for years now, but I’ve thought I’d have a second class Belgian nationality because the government could take this away from me, whilst she could not strip this from my wife nor son, so I wonder why I should get it?! ^^ Luckily new rules and regs stopped me dead in my tracks, because my French and Dutch lie outside of the fluent category ( mijn is tussenliggende mais pas couramment ), and although having been married to a Belgium for at least a decade, and having our family home in Belgium, I’ve often worked abroad within the EU( with residency in those places).

    In the past I thought I should be able to equate marriage with residency, but I think this has changed, and wikipedia is rather out of date: Does anyone know?

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