Paying your bills in Belgium

By cash:
Cash dispensers are anywhere where there is a bank, and take Bancontact cards — issued by your local bank.  But beware, you might have to wander around to find one that takes your Visa or MasterCard or other major credit and debit cards.

This is done by means of a direct transfer or more quickly, by directly using the cash dispenser keypad of the ATM, at your branch.  All you need are the bank details of the payee (you can find all these details on the transfer form usually attached to your bills).  You can also make the transfer by telephone — an ideal formula for those bills, which do not come up regularly.

Using the transfer form:
The most common means of payment is via a bank transfer ( overschrijving ).  This is the orange and white payment slip to be found at the bottom of almost all Belgian bills.  This has to be filled in, signed and handed in at your bank.

By cheque:
Cheques, while still available when you open an account, are fading fast.

By automatic direct debit:
This practice, known as ‘domiciliëring’, is the most efficient way to pay bills to known entities, for it precludes the problem of forgetting to pay them.  Since late payment incurs a small penalty charge added to the next bill, this form of payment is common for utility companies.  With this very convenient method of payment you authorise a regular supplier (for example the utility companies) to send their “bills” by computer to the bank which then debits your account.  A duplicate of the bill is sent to you, prior to the actual payment.  All you need to do is fill out a debit order form at your bank and provide them with the details of your supplier.  These automatic debits can be cancelled at any time, upon your request.

By standing order:
This is called ‘bestendige opdracht’ and can be set up for regular payments of a fixed amount.  You can also use it as a way of saving a fixed amount regularly, by automatic transfer from your current account to savings accounts.  This is done by providing a one-time instruction to the bank to set up a standing order, authorising the bank to pay a certain sum to the same beneficiary on a regular basis (e.g. monthly, quarterly).  Standing orders can be cancelled at any time by informing the bank in advance.  This is the most common and useful process for rental payments.

With your cards:
There are two types of cards used in Belgium: direct debit cards (cash cards) and credit cards (Visa, MasterCard etc).

Direct debit cards:
With the Bancontact/Mister Cash card (known as Switch in the UK) purchases can be paid for instantly by keying in a PIN code on the keypad of terminals, which are installed at supermarkets, petrol stations and also in most shops in Belgium.  The amount is automatically debited from your account.
The card can also be used as an electronic purse, by using the Proton feature.  Proton is a rechargeable electronic purse invented by Banksys and marketed by the Belgian banks.  This service, which needs to be activated at any Bancontact/Mister Cash ATM, allows you to load the card up to an amount of €125 and is ideal to pay for any small purchases.  The card can be recharged at ATMs and public telephone booths (Belgacom), displaying the Proton logo, in Belgium.

Credit cards:
(Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, Eurocard)  Payments made with these cards are shown on a monthly statement sent to the customer, having been automatically converted into euro.  The period which elapses before the account is debited is free of debit interest.  Visa cards and Mastercards can also be used to withdraw cash at ATMs in Belgium and abroad, but a fee is then charged.

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