Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 06/13/11
Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No - Abuja, Nigeria
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Minnesota - 8 hours
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government - NATO
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
They vary widely from near the Grand Place to out in the boonies - urban to suburban - you name it, we got it. Commute all depends on where you work and where you live - I chose a longer commute for more convenience when I'm not at work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are more expensive, but it's easier to buy small quantities here. Many people (especially with families) shop at the Chievres commissary every weekend (which is an hour outside Brussels) as it has US brands and US prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I'd ship portable air conditioners - when it gets hot, it's horrible. And I wouldn't ship my car.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
A number of places: Subway, McDonald's, Quick, many doner kebab places, waffle trucks, and of course, frites stands!Prices are more expensive than the US, but you get used to it
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There is more and more available for all of these. It seems to have gotten easier to find. I've seen many gluten-free products, and organic produce.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I've had a few problems with insects here, due to the fact that there is no air conditioning, and not screens on the windows. I've woken up with itchy bug bites because of sleeping with my window open.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO - It's fairly quick
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
NATO has a full array of facilities. Many people use USAG's facilities as well
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Many places don't take US- style credit cards - but almost all will take debit cards from a European bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It helps to know French, but it's not truly necessary.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Uneven sidewalks, public transportation difficulties, very few shops are accessible to those in wheelchairs
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All of these are safe. Trains and buses, as well as the metro, are efficient, easy to use, and fairly cheap. Taxis are expensive, more so than other European cities.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Easiest to bring a small car, unless you aren't going to be driving in the city, then a bigger car is okay. But the price of gas is outrageous if you don't have a tax-free gas card.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - It's pretty quick - I think I spend about 50 euro/month for one of the higher speeds.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use Mobistar - it's pretty quick and painless.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business, business casual - people dress up here more than the states, even going out to the park. And everyone seems to have a pair of boots.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No more than any big city
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Good medical care - no health concerns
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
moderate - when it rains, it helps clear all the stuff out of the air; I know many with allergies have problems when it DOESN'T rain
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Unpredictable - one winter it snowed a lot and was quite cold, which is unusual. It's generally not too hot nor too cold, but there are usually exceptions for a few weeks out of the year in each season. The one thing I really miss is thunderstorms - they don't really have them here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Varies - most people are happy to leave Brussels, the city, the rain, the difficulties of Belgium, they all get you down.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
It really depends - you can go out and party every night if you want to, but it gets old after awhile because you end up going the same places again and again.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's an okay city for all of them - but not a great city for any of them. There is no sense of community - perhaps due to the large size. Everyone goes their own way at the end of the day and it's hard to find good friends.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems fine - I've been out with friends to a few gay bars and it seems like it's a hopping scene
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't noticed any - I think there's more of a problem between French and Flemish speakers than along other lines.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
traveling OUT of Brussels - Football games at expat bars
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel, check out festivals, go shopping
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
chocolates, fries, lace, and beer!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
great travel opportunities throughout Europe - and great public transportation within the city
11. Can you save money?
Not easily, but it's possible
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I would - it's been an experience, but I wouldn't come back for a second tour.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
notions of what fries are supposed to taste like
3. But don't forget your:
umbrella, coat, sunglasses, and your boots!