Belgium has a lot to offer, from some of the world’s most delicious food and drink to a fascinatingly diverse culture. As the seat of the European Union, Brussels is grand and multicultural, while smaller towns like Bruges are known for their traditional charm and beauty. Meanwhile, cities like Antwerp and Ghent are buzzing student hubs, keeping them fun and exciting year-round.
Belgium offers some incredible internship opportunities with industry leaders. The people are welcoming, the cities are pleasant, and the beer is world-class -- what more could you want? As it turns out, the country’s central location also makes it extremely easy for you to discover other areas of Europe -- a couple of hours on a train can get you to Paris, Amsterdam, and even across the channel to London.
Belgium is a European center of commerce and politics, with several exciting opportunities in large industries.
Brussels is the seat of the European Union, and there are various organizations you can intern with if you're interested in a career in international relations. The European Commission has several internships, but you can also find placements with the EU Council, Parliament, and others.
These internships tend to be very competitive and will often prioritize EU citizens. French is likely to be needed, as it is one of the main working languages of the European Union.
Food and Beverage
Belgium is known worldwide for its contributions to food and drink: beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries are all specialties throughout the country. There are some big employers in these fields, notably in the beer and confectionery markets. Belgium is a great place to intern if you are looking to build a career in these areas, as the prestige of these national industries can really boost your resume.
Belgium has a large engineering sector, with industrial, civil, and chemical engineering being particularly well-represented. There are several Belgian companies in these areas, as well as many multinationals with offices in Belgium. As an international intern, your best chance would be with the latter, as they are more likely to offer English-speaking placements.
Planning Your Internship
There are many internships available in Belgium, including some very prestigious ones. However, there is no regulation surrounding the payment of interns in Belgium, meaning it is difficult to find a paid internship.
Best Time to Get an Internship in Belgium
The best time to get an internship is during the summer. Many companies run internship schemes during this time specifically to appeal to students, as well as to cover for employees taking time off for summer vacation. There are internships available at other times of the year, though they are less common.
Rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Brussels costs about 1,500 EUR, with similar flats in Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent costing closer to 1,000 EUR. Sharing a flat with other people is often the most affordable solution, and there are various websites dedicated to finding flatmates, such as Just Landed.
Since most of Belgium’s major towns are big student hubs, it’s quite easy to find other young, international people to live with.
Cost Of Living
Belgium is not cheap, but it is not as expensive as other West European countries. Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp are the most expensive cities, but they are cheaper than London or Paris. Living in smaller towns will be significantly cheaper, although there are far fewer internship opportunities outside of the big cities. One option is to find somewhere to stay in the suburbs, but this can get boring.
Public transport is usually efficient and affordable, with monthly passes costing about 35-50 EUR and covering all forms of transport within the city. You can save a lot of money on food by cooking your own meals at home, but there are plenty of cheap eats to be found in major cities if you want to enjoy Belgium’s famously great food.
Since most internships are unpaid -- or paid only a stipend -- it is unlikely that you would be able to live in Belgium off your internship earnings alone. You would have to either find a part-time job (which would depend on your visa and schedule) or save up money for your everyday costs.
While US citizens do not need a visa to visit Belgium for up to 90 days, you will need one for an internship. You will most likely need a Belgian Type C or Type B work permit -- your employer should be able to guide you.
Belgium has three major languages: Flemish (a local variety of Dutch), French, and German. Flemish is the most widely spoken and German the least, and the main language spoken varies geographically. For example, Brussels speaks mostly French while Antwerp is majorly Flemish.
Generally speaking, most Belgians speak some English, so you should not struggle to communicate at work and in your daily life. However, picking up a few basic words of your city’s major language can help you feel more at home.
At work, Belgians tend to have a respect for authority and hierarchy, and managers may not expect to be questioned or challenged. That said, they are also a practical, level-headed, and generally friendly people, so you should not struggle on an interpersonal level at work. Punctuality is valued, and business wear is usually the norm.
Health & Safety
The standard of healthcare in Belgium is very high, and staff will almost always speak English. You should make sure you have adequate health insurance before starting your internship, as doctor and hospital fees can be expensive. If you are a citizen of the European Economic Area, you may be able to get free healthcare with your European Health Insurance Card.
There are no major safety concerns to be worried about. As always, stay aware of your possessions in crowded areas of major cities, as pickpocketing can happen.