Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 01/22/12

Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium 01/22/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Seventh

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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?

Washington, direct is about 8 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing varies from townhouses and single homes out by the schools outside of town to nice apartments downtown. I think the housing is consistently good throughout the pool. They actually give you a choice of two housing options that correspond to your housing questionnaire reply.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We buy all of our fresh fruits and vegetables at the local market (there is one in a different section of the city every day of the week).It's a bit more expensive than the U.S., but the quality is also higher. For meats, household items, etc., we have access to Chievres Commissary which is 45 minutes away. It's just like any large supermarket in middle America with prices that are much cheaper than the local supermarkets or even the east and west coasts of America. It really allows you to stretch your money.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Bikes! This isn't as much of a biking town as Amsterdam, but there are still a lot of bike paths throughout the city. As far as food, everything you need you can get at the Commissary or locally.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All of them. The Shawarma places that are all over the city are a real gem for a cheap lunch. The Belgians don't each much processed food, which is fantastic.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

It seems like everything in the local markets is organic. There is surprisingly (pleasantly) processed foods here.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

The DPO service is excellent.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

About 12 Euros per hour for a house cleaning services.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are a range of options. An adequate gym near my apartment downtown offers memberships for 15 Euros per month.

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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?

Easy to use. However, for normal bills (phone, cell phones, cable, gyms, etc.) you will need a local bank account.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable TV, internet, phone bundles are available at about 100 Euros per month.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It's nice to have some french, but, as this is the capital of the EU, most people speak english to varying degrees.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes. Although the Belgians constantly complain about the service, the public transportation system is surprisingly good.

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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?

Small! Parking in the various apartment buildings throughout the city is very tight. Many people can't fit their cars into the parking areas and have to park it on the street.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

See above. Internet connectivity is great.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy supplies all staff with phones. Family members usually use the TMA located at the Embassy for family member subscriptions. A BlackBerry account runs about 45 Euros per month.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

There are quite a few jobs available in the Tri-Mission

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suit and tie at work. Belgians dress well.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really any more than any other major city. The usual pick pockets in touristy areas.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Great hospitals and an embassy Health Unit committed to helping you. No problems here. Doctor visits are surprisingly affordable. Dentists are more expensive than the U.S.

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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?

The air quality is OK.It's all relative to where you lived. After living in mega-metropolitan Asian cities, this is a breeze..Lots of green parks in this city.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cold, damp and rainy all the time. Also, very dark during the summer months with sunrise past 8:00 a.m. and dark again before 5:00 p.m.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The schools are excellent. There are three options with a good split among the three.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The Int.'l School of Brussels has more special needs curriculum that any other international school I have seen in the Foreign Service.

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes!I SB even offers an American Football program!

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

This is a town full of expats given Brussels' position as the EU capital.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

All good. However, the fact that the town (and country) literally shuts down on Saturday night and doesn't open until Monday morning took some getting used to.

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3. Morale among expats:

Good. I would say the most challenging aspect of this post is the locally engaged staff. Belgian law is very much slanted toward the workers. Belgians don't feel the need to work very hard, and can call in sick for long periods of time with no consequences---and they do!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Sure. It's Europe.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Of course, there is the French vs. Flemish hostilities. The Belgians aren't very happy about the saturation of Moroccans, Africans, and Romanians flowing in, but they keep their prejudices fairly discreet.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The outdoor markets, day trips to Luxembourg, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, etc. A three day trip down Germany's Romantic Road.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

You can get anywhere in Europe by train, car, or budget airline. Also, I had low expectations about the city of Brussels and Belgium, but it has pleasantly surprised me. It's a easy place to live and the Belgians are fairly polite in public. The food is excellent.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Travel, travel, and more travel.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Touring the neighboring countries:Drive times include Cologne at 1 3/4 hrs., Amsterdam 2 1/4, Wurzburg 5 1/2, Austrian border 7 hrs., Luxembourg 2 1/4, Paris 3 hrs., the Champagne region 3 hrs., Dusseldorf 1 3/4 hrs...Trains are also easy with constant specials running to all Europe destinations. The food is surprisingly good here, albeit expensive. The outdoor markets (a different area of the city each day) have top-quality fruits and vegetables of higher quality than the U.S.Same for cheeses, cold cuts and desserts.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really, but no one comes here to save money. Everyone spends their money traveling throughout Europe.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. Some people complain about Brussels, but it's an easy place to live.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Any idea of european efficiency. This is not Germany. Everything you do requires more time than the U.S.

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3. But don't forget your:

Good umbrellas, bikes.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Brussels, Belgium, and the Tri-Mission get a bum rap. This is a busy post, and hard work is demanded from the officers. There is the added pressure on officers due to the lack of productivity of the LES staff. However, if you can get over the weather, it's an easy place to live for families, couples and singles.

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