Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 01/04/14
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?
Two direct flights to and from D.C. per 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?
Most of the embassy community lives South and East of the city center. Generally speaking, the closer to downtown you live, the smaller your housing and the lower your chance of having a small yard will be. The downtown embassy housing is often spacious apartments; a little further out you are typically in row houses with multiple stories. Most are happy with embassy housing.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are expensive. American diplomats can use Chievres Air Base Commissary though to offset that somewhat.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Very few American style chains exist here. There's Pizza Hut, and a couple of others, but not all over. Food is quite expensive. The few exceptions are wine, beer, bread, and cheese.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few, even with windows open most of the year.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of people have cleaners, many are Filipino. Cleaning fees are comparable to D.C. Prices.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the Tri-mission has a very small one. Gyms here are expensive with terrible hours.
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?
Don't expect to use credit cards too often. A European Bancontact/Maestro debit card with a chip is a must or use cash at most places.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
St. Anthony's in Kraainem is a nice English speaking Roman Catholic Church.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Lots of people speak English in Brussels. It is full of diplomats and other Europeans. But, some French is quite helpful, particularly for things like local preschools, dealing with the phone company, stuff with your commune, etc.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, Belgium and Europe are obviously old with lots of cobblestone and lacking in elevators and other accessibility.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transportation is very good. Living near a metro station is very convenient. There are also trams and safe city buses. Trains around Belgium are also easy and cheap.
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?
A smaller car is best. American SUVs are difficult to park and drive on the narrow streets.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's decent and comparable price to D.C. You will need a VPN to stream things like NETFLIX, ESPN, etc.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked smartphone. They're very expensive. Data plans aren't too bad though and seem comparable to the U.S.
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?
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 on the local economy, and work permits seem difficult.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as U.S. but people don't go out in yoga pants and casual workout type clothes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, not really.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Socialized medicine here seems quite good and very cheap for most routine things.
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?
Chilly, dark, and rainy much of the year- the one downside to living here. No air conditioners are needed because summers are cool. The summers can give you a spectacular month or so and have long days. On the flip side, the winter days are quite short.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most seem to use ISB, but some use St. John's or local schools.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ISB seems to do a good job, I'm not sure about other schools.
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?
Yes, French and Dutch speaking local schools start at 2.5 years and are basically free, including for diplomats.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there are lots of sports opportunities for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large expat community with high morale.
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?
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for families, good for couples, but singles think it's a little sleepy.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Seeing most of Europe.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There's soooo much to do and see and you can do it by car, train, or plane.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Loads of delicious, unique beer and chocolate and Christmas markets.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
10. Can you save money?
This isn't the place to save money. The travel opportunities are too fantastic plus the cost of living is high.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I knew about the weather and darkness but a second challenge is the hours of stores. Things are closed at night and on Sundays making errands and shopping difficult if you work.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Large summer wardrobe and sunglasses.
4. But don't forget your:
Raincoats, rain boots, and sweaters.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
is the closest thing.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?