Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 06/14/11
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- lived in Scandinavia, Africa, Latin America, and the Balkans
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?
London - an easy 2 hours by eurostar 5 times a day.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Some lovely new apartments in the centre (Chatelain/Ixelles), converted old houses in the Merode/Etterbeek area,modern houses in the suburbs such as the 'woluwe's- some with good metro connections-other larger properties tend to be MUCH further out in eg Tervuren or Overijse where getting home after 11 I'm told is really hard!
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available - but expensive, comparing with UK/FRance/Germany.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Household cleaning products - very expensive here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
MacDonald's, KFC in the city centre. Pizza Hut and Quick (Belgian Hamburger joint) everywhere. Too many decent restaurants to mention - not cheap though - you could spend a lot of mooney eating out here. Belgians love their food and are prepared to pay for 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?
Lots of health food/organic shops around with good ranges. Many middle class Belgians will only shop in local (farmers) markets or organic shops, eschewing the supermarkets altogether as they doubt the quality and prefer organic.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
By diplomatic bag.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There's an established network, and its best to find someone by word of mouth. About â‚¬10 per hour, though.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
Maestro and Visa are used everywhere without any problems. But some smaller places only accept the Belgian 'bancontact' debit system, which is linked to Belgian accounts.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes - all.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes - US/UK available daily for â‚¬5 each. Cable TV has UK programmes, and you can get Sky/Freesat too.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It helps to speak french to get by in the market, but it's not essential.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Lots of cobblestones everywhere, and the trams must be a nightmare to get on or off, with their very narrow doors and steps up.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport - yes. Taxis - yes, in the city. But to go out of town (beyond the ring road) - taxis are very expensive.
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?
Whatever suits you and your family. But remember that only large houses far out will have a good-sized garage. I cant get my tiny car in mine!!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - â‚¬35 per month including phone
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Buy a 'pay as you go' card here - they are cheap, easy to use, and have instructions/voice mail in english.
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)?
Yes - Excellent - Belgians particularly love their dogs and take them everywhere - into restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, etc!
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?
Not onless you (a) speak fluent French and Flemish or (b) can get a job with EU or NATO or an embassy.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work - very corporate; socially/in public - anything goes, but Belgian women are usually very tidily dressed.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nil - I feel very safe here tho belgian friends are always warning me against using public transport in the evening.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. There is a very good, but complex, healthcare system.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very changeable in any one day, with a tendency to a lot of rain, and rather grey skies in winter.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several British primary schools with good reputations; only one british secondary. Several American schools; several European schools linked to the EU
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
They are very accommodating and have specially-trained teachers
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?
I hear its good, but expensive
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes - but usually connected with schools
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
HUGE and widely spread out
2. Morale among expats:
Very variable. Working hours in the two main international instituions (EU & NATO) are very long, which influences life in a big way. But Singles seem to like it. Long termers moan, but stay for the money; those here for 3 - 5 years are often counting down the time to leave.
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?
Cinema: most are in english with french subtitles, except children's films, which are generally dubbed. Also: theatre, opera, etc. Lots of dinners at folks' homes.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Like most places, I guess it depends what you're looking for. Families seem to have an active social life revolving aroundyoung children, and thenon working partner net. Young singles like to party, and there's a lively club scene, with lots of people with disposable cash from the EU/NATO communities. If you're in between like me (a 30 something single mum), you'll find it hard going to make friends, but when you do, you'll find Belgians very loyal and happy to show you 'their' corner of the city - it just takes a few years to get them to 'thaw'!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Eating out in some wonderful restaurants
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Museums, art galleries, restaurants, cafes.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wine, chocolate, food....
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Close to the UK, and the food/restaurant scene is great!
11. Can you save money?
Not if you like to go out to eat.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No - its just too boring.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
sense of adventure
3. But don't forget your:
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you have any other comments?
An easy, safe, but rather dull posting.