Registering with the authorities in Belgium
Everyone living in Belgium, nationals and foreigners alike, must register with the local commune. Locals do not have to pay to register. They just turn up at the commune offices, show their papers and that's it. EU laws say that, if the locals do not pay to register, then other EU citizens do not have to pay either. That doesn't stop most communes from charging a registration fee for all foreigners, EU nationals or not. Of course, that is against the law and every now and then somebody takes one commune to court over this but the courts only ever consider the case of one person and so the rulings are always that that one person should get their money back and the practice just continues. Not every commune does that. When I was a resident of Woluwe St.Lambert, I was not asked to pay to register. Most of my ex-pat friends in other parts of Brussels and it's environs were.

The actual process of registering is pretty easy even if they do make you pay. To find out where you need to go, just ask a neighbour or a colleague from work. Turn up early in the morning with your passport, a letter confirming your employment and your apartment rental contract and that should be all. When I have been to register in Brussels, I found that the usual technique of turning up five minutes before the office was due to open generally seemed to avoid queues.

Avoiding registration is not easy and certainly not recommended. The communes employ officers whose job is wander around the streets with a list of who is registered where. They look at the doorbells and letterboxes in the apartment buildings and compare the names that they see with the names on the list of registered residents.

It doesn't end there. Each apartment has an anticipated number of residents. Suppose that you have a four roomed apartment and sub let two rooms to a couple of friends who do not register. You will show up on the commune's records as having a suspiciously low number of people living in the apartment. The authorities may then go and ask your neighbours how many folks are living in your apartment. They may post somebody outside to watch. (Even if you live in a large building, the observer will have photos of all registered residents and will be looking for other faces that stay the night.) Finally, you may be subject to what is euphemisticly called a "social audit." That is when the police kick the door down at two in the morning, conduct a headcount and administer a few random beatings. I'm not kidding on that one by the way.

Even though that last treatment is normally reserved for folks from Africa, not registering is a bad idea

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