We’ve created this guide to help you get closer to your Belgian customers. A web presence that is in tune with Belgium’s culture will make your customers feel well disposed to you, and give them confidence in doing business with you. Get the little details right, and you'll be in a good position right from the start in your new market.
2 Main Language
Dutch, and French are the official languages of Belgium. Even though it is a multilingual country, most customers would expect communications to be in Dutch. Most Belgians can speak English, and the majority of business communications would expected to be carried out in English.
Three distinct cultures exist in parallel in Belgium. These are Flanders with a mainly Dutch-influenced populace, Wallonia with a mainly French-influenced populace, and the North East which has a mainly German-influenced population.
It is therefore important to address people in their preferred language. If you are in any doubt, address people in English.
In the capital Brussels there are two official languages: Dutch and French.
Should you be formal or informal when addressing your customers?
Because Flemish is a naturally down to earth, plain-speaking language, people expect to be communicated to in a straightforward way.
With the exception of professors and lawyers, you shouldn’t address people by their titles. This is looked at as being too formal.
When first doing business with people, avoid addressing them by their first name until you have a firm relationship with them.
If you choose to address your customers in French, use the more formal term of “vous” instead of “tu.”
Writing about your company or your product in too exuberant a manner will flag you up as not being in tune with Belgian locals.
If you have a financial product, a legal service, or are talking about money, you should adopt a more formal tone and style.
4 Numbering systems and formats
This is a comma (,),
e.g. 1,5 hours.
This is a full stop (.),
e.g. 1.524 people.
The country code is 32.
International calls have a 00 prefix.
All domestic calls have a 0 prefix.
Telephone numbers don’t have one set format and can vary between nine or ten numbers. The area code is separated from the main number by a dash (-).
Good to know
Belgians write out numerals from one to twenty and use numerals for numbers above twenty,
e.g two, six,
e.g. 22, 57.
5 Currency format
The Belgians trade in Euros. This is represented by the euro symbol € and its trading three letter code is EUR. The € is placed after the figure. The coin denomination is the cent represented by a c.
The note denominations are 500 € 200 € 100 € 50 € 20 € 10 €.
The coin denominations are 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c.
When writing a financial amount in a contract it is compulsory to write the amount in the format 200 EUR e.g. “pay the amount 200 EUR.”
6 Dates and times
Date and time formats
In Belgium the date format is DD/MM/YYYY,
When writing the date in full, use a full point after the day. So in English it is: "Sat.9 Sep 2017".
7 Hour formats
The 24-hour clock is used in Belgium.
When writing, time is expressed in the 24-hour format using a colon to separate hours and minutes,
e.g. 20:00 in Belgian English.
- Belgian English: 20:00
- Belgian Dutch: 20u00
- Belgian French: 20h00
The 24-hour format is favoured on digital devices like PCs, phones, tablets, etc. and is the standard format on Android where the separator is a colon,
8 Working days
Standard working days in Belgium are Monday to Friday.
9 Things to avoid in the Belgian market
Every culture has different superstitions and traditions which are always worth noting, especially when entering a new market.
The Belgians consider the number 13 to be unlucky.
10 Important rules
We’ve found the top translation rules to follow in a new market. Take a look, and you will sound like a local in no time.
Try not to stay too close to the English source when you choose your words and word order, as this will result in a literal, unnatural sounding translation
Be wary of using old-fashioned terms e.g. 'koppeling' instead of 'link'
Be careful not to use too many English terms that have perfectly fine Dutch translations
Stay clear of colloquialisms and expressions used in your language, as they may not translate in your Belgian market. For example local slang
Take account of cultural differences so you don’t confuse or offend your Belgian audience. For example, avoid mentioning Boxing Day as this is purely a British tradition
Be careful with tone. English source texts can be overly enthusiastic or overly apologetic. The Dutch language is more down to earth and straightforward