(Updated 12/2018) If your fellowship is over, but your Ph.D. is not, you can ask for unemployment benefit in Belgium. Your are not required to be Belgian for this. It is enough that you worked XXX days in the last years in Belgium (should be 2 full years). Another important requirement is that you payed the relative taxes within your fellowship, and this is usually the case. Probably you did not notice it because it was done directly by ULB.
There are several entities involved in the unemployment benefit. The first, and probably the most important for you, is the ONEM. They are the ones who actually have the money. You will seldom deal with them though.
The people that will pay you will be either a trade union (CSC, FGTB or CGSLB) or the public agency, the CAPAC. The advantage of a trade union is that usually the inscription process is faster, but you will probably have to pay a fee each month. The CAPAC is free of charges, but waiting in their offices can be really painful. In the following, I will refer for simplicity only to the CAPAC.
Then, there is ACTIRIS. This is an organisation that helps you looking for jobs. You MUST inscribe to it to obtain the unemployment benefit. Inscribe to the ACTIRIS website immediately after your contract ends (e.g. the first unpayed day), and then inscribe to the CAPAC.
Finally, we have your Commune. You have to go there twice a month (3rd and 26th of each month) and stamp a card you will be given by CAPAC.
IMPORTANT: go as soon as possible to the CAPAC, also if you do not have all the documents yet. The first "stamp" day is the 3rd. If you go later, you will have to use one or more of your "holidays", and you can use only 24 days each year!
Here is the checklist of what you should do:
- Start planning some weeks before the end of your contract, the earlier you apply, the earlier you'll get the money.
- Contact the Human Resource Office of ULB, "Service Paiements des Personnels Enseignant et Scientifique". You can write directly to Mme Meys, the person that, at the time of writing, will fill for you the "Certificat de Chomage", a.k.a. C4. You can then ask for it to be mailed to your home, or you can go and pick it up at her office in building S (best option, as bpost can be randomly slow).
- Inscribe to ACTIRIS.
- Go to the CAPAC (or to a trade union) with the C4, the proof of inscription to ACTIRIS, you bank account number and your Belgian ID card (eID). It's possible to book an appointment on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, do that if you can (you can't go on Fridays, and on Monday and Thursday you'll wait for hours). Book an appointment some weeks in advance, as the available slots can get booked rather quickly. Try to get an appointment few days after the end of your contract.
- At the CAPAC, you'll get inscribed in their registers, and you'll receive some blue cards, one per month. On these blue cards you'll have to mark which days you're sick, on holiday, working, or unavailable for any other reason. It will take more or less four weeks for your application to be processed, then, fingers crossed, you'll receive a letter telling you how much you'll get. At that point, you can bring the first blue card to the CAPAC and, some days later, you'll receive your first allocation de chomage. For this you don't need to book an appointment or wait for hours, you can go there and leave it in the big box at the entrance. If you want to be sure that everything is ok, you can queue for the reception desk, they'll check your card and tell you to put it in the box.
- For the following months, you can bring the blue card at the end of each month, or download and use the ONEM app (more on this below).
- At a certain point you'll receive a letter+mail+text from ACTIRIS, calling you for a first meeting (more on this below).
Addresses, opening times, and telephone numbers can be found on the web sites of the organisations.
The blue cards Every blue card covers one month. For each day for the month there is a box, you'll leave it empty if nothing special happens on that day, you'll have to mark it with a M if you're sick, a V if you're on holiday, A means you're unavailable for any other reason, and you'll black it if you're working (payed). This is important because the CAPAC will pay you the normal days, but, for example, the sickness days will be covered by the mutuelle, and you'll need to specify you're on vacation if ACTIRIS calls you for a meeting but you cannot go.
The ONEM app This app replaces the blue cards, so you can avoid going to the CAPAC to deposit them (you'll still have to go for the first one, anyway). The app is called eC3, and is available on the Belgian version of the Android/iOS app stores (check your settings, you won't find it otherwise). You'll also need the itsme app to log in (you might have to use an eID card reader to install it), but if you're using e.g. the ING app you probably already have it.
Your online CAPAC file You can check your CAPAC dossier in the CAPAC website (French, Flemish, German, forget about English). It's very useful to track your payments, and your 'daily activity' (what you marked on the blue cards / in the ONEM app). To login, you need an eID card reader that you can buy for ca. 20€. If everything goes fine, during your PhD you won't need one, but at this point you better buy one, or have one readily available. Most likely, this is also the first time you need the PIN code that was given to you by the commune when you first registered as resident in Belgium, good luck finding that paper.
If you get sick Don't. Please don't, it's a pain in the ass. But if you really cannot avoid it, and have to call a doctor, you'll have to ask for a certificate of inability to work, to be brought to the mutuelle in at most 2 working days. Every day covered by the certificate will have to be marked with a M on the blue card, because it will be payed by the mutuelle and not by the CAPAC; if you're actually sick but don't want to call a doctor and get a certificate, then don't mark anything on the card. Every time you go to the mutuelle, explicitely ask what are the following steps you need to take.
When you get the money Double check that you got what you expected, taking into account the automatic reductions of the due amount (after the first three months, etc). Pay extra attention in case other entities are involved. For example, the communications between the mutuelle and the CAPAC is transparent to you, meaning that they spare you the major pain in the ass of going back and forth and wasting long hours queuing at their offices, but also that you are not in control of what happens. Thus, if you received less money than expected, go and ask for information at the mutuelle first (usually easier and quicker than to go to the CAPAC), it might be that they messed something up, and they might require you to fix it up.
Meeting with ACTIRIS After some time, you'll be notified by ACTIRIS that you have to go to their offices for a first information session about the job search process. In this meeting they'll explain you the whole process with ACTIRIS, and they'll assign you to a tutor that will assist you in the job search. This first meeting used to happen months after your first inscription to the CAPAC, but it now happens in the second month of your unemployment. Presence is mandatory. If you cannot go, you'll have to contact them, tell them you'll be on holiday, and they will call you for the following week. Spoiler: it's a wasted hour, they could have sent you a flyer at home, but you have to go anyway. Cheers.