Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 11/25/11
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?
Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Chicago, Washington, Santiago, Barbados, Bergen, Abidjan
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?
Toronto, 7 hours, through Montreal
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?
Mostly apartment in the center, houses in the close and outlying suburbs. Commute by metro 15-25 minutes, trams, buses; if you can choose the time at which to drive into the office, car commute will be 15-20 minutes; if not, it can take 40 minutes plus.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Extensive. Belgians like quality and will pay for it. Expect to shell out 20-30% more than back home but you'll get quality
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
peanut butter, maple syrup, molasses, baking powder,spice/cake mixes,personal care products (much more expensive here)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pizza Hut, McDonald, Domino's Pizza, but why bother when so many thousands of good restaurants exist?
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
All available; more and more home delivery services available for these services as well
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 Belgian mail
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
cleaning lady available for 7.5 euros /hour through local agencies, at 10-12 euros an hour through word of mouth in Embassy
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
yes but 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?
ATMs are extensively used.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Lots of English language programming is available if you subscribe to Flemish cable
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
There is a very large English speaking community in Brussels, so you can live in your bubble if you wish.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Tough to walk, lots of cobblestones, and few amenities for disabled access.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
yes and yes
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?
Don't bring a new car or a larger than average car; you'll get nothing but dings, due to the very narrow parking spaces everywhere. Anything larger than a VW Golf is considered large locally and will have some trouble parking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, through various venders, often in packs (fixed tel line, cell line, internet and cable); check what you need carefully before committing to service
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
everyone has one
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?
Smart business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing capital of Western Europe
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Very good health care quality, except for dentists. No dental hygienists available (work is done, brutally, by dentists).
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 to poor in Brussels, where most cars burn diesel, and where there is a high level or particulate matter: asthma, colds, allergies are common
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Poor summers, with long, pleasant springs and falls. Winters vary from no snow to 2-3 weeks of snow. The problem is that few drivers have winter tires, and fewer still know how to maneuver on snow.
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:
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all
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?
There is a growing prejudice towards North Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Frequent forays to auctions (salles de vente) some of the best in Western Europe
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Museums, theatre, music venues.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Excellent food, chocolate, beer; high end culture, central location to most of Central/Western Europe
11. Can you save money?
Some, if you don't partake in the cultural life
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?