Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 10/03/12
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?
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?
Arizona, USA. Phoenix to Washington, D.C. to Brussels. 13 hours air time.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor was affiliatd with the U.S. Embassy and lived in Brussels from July of 2010 through June of 2012, a first expat experiene.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Embassy housing is good and ranges from in-city apartments to free-standing houses in the communes. Often the houses are plain with not a lot of character on the inside, but functional and clean. If you are are a senior employee or have a large family, then the housing is really quit nice. Commute time is 45 minutes to an hour if you live outside the city center.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. I shopped exclusively at the US Base, otherwise it would have been a very expensive tour for a first-tour employee. Bakeries abound and are very good. Stores are closed on Sundays.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Sun lamp, airline tickets to Potugal or Spain for a sun fix, rain boots and umbrellas.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Quick Burger (not so good), Burger King at the U.S. Base, 1 or 2 McDonald's, Pizza Hut. Not a lot of fast food in Belgium. Lots of restaurants, though, but they are expensive for the most part.
5. 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?
Used U.S. APO
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?
Yes, although expensive and primarily indoors due to the weather.
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?
Common practice, although I rarely did it, but preferred to operate in cash to avoid the finance fees.
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?
You can get by without any, but at times you will have to move on to someone that speaks your language to get your answer. It would really help to know French or Dutch (Flemish). Belgians are not particularly friendly or service-conscious.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are very bumpy, often with coblestones or uneven concrete. The Metro system does have systems in place, but there are very few elevators, making it almost impossible for wheelchairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, although pick pockets abound on the metro, so take little with you and be ever vigilant.
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. We had a four-door sedan with a long wheel base, and although we managed, it was hard to make some turns and get down the narrow streets. Gasoline is expensive...about $7 gal.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, about 60-70 euro a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Mobistar is good.
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?
Yes, but a work permit can be a lengthy wait (2-4 mos).
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
European, but not as formal as Paris. It is rare to see someone in sweats or shorts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, but as the EU and NATO are based there, the security detail is more evident than in some other places.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No health concerns. Hospitals are good, but bedside manner is poor, and not a lot of time is spent with treatment. The hospitals don't look as shiny and new as those in U.S. I recommend the Dutch-speaking hospitals (Leuven) over those in Brussels.
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?
Good to moderate...wet.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rain, drizzle, rain, sometimes snow (mild). Warm weather about 5-10 days a year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The DoD school was small in number of students, but it worked well for our highschooler. He enjoyed the small class size and the opportunity for all to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. There are several other int'l schools in Brussels, and they all seem to have good reputations, but it can be hard to get in if your lead time is short.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Brussels American School (DoD) had 2+ teachers dedicated to teaching kids with special needs. The program worked well for our child, but may not be "enough" for others.
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. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Lots...usual big city things.
3. Morale among expats:
Varies. It is a good post to be annoynomous in. Because there are so many expats and so many outside things to do, community members don't necessarily need each other, so they tend to go their separate ways. We met some wonderful people, and as it always is, it is the people that made this a good tour for us!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
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?
Not that I came into contact with, although the French and Dutch speakers have a long-standing disagreement about language.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling in Europe was the highlight.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Trapist Monk monestaries for beer, chocolate shops, lace shops, frites, waffles, walking in the rain. Leaving the city and seeing Europe.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Belgian lace, chocolates, beer.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Touring is the #1 advantage. Being in the heart of Western Europe, you can travel easily, although not inexpensively. We went to 13 countries in 2 years! Weather was the biggest disadvantage for me. If you do not like rain and grey skies, do not go. As a Westerner, I found the weather very depressing. Of course, the chocolate makes up for it at first (and the beer if you are a beer drinker), but the bad weather is a constant topic of conversation and a real bummer.
11. Can you save money?
If you travel, probably not.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. I would not go again because I now know how much the weather effects me. If you are someone from a rainy place (Portland, Seattle, etc.) then Brussels will be like that...on steroids!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
shorts and swimsuit.
3. But don't forget your:
umbrella, rain slicker and boots.