Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 02/27/19
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, our sixth post. We’ve lived everywhere from Baku to Brazil to Moscow and more.
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?
USA. Can get a direct flight to VA, takes about eight and a half hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission, working for US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in an apartment. Housing is not typically huge but our apartment is a decent four bedroom, three and a half bath. Most people live in townhouses or apartments.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything can be found here if you know where to look. We have access to the military base an hour away where you can pretty much get anything you may be longing for from home. Be prepared to pay a fortune for groceries here though as nothing seems cheap. A bag of groceries that may cost you $50 in the US will easily cost minimum $100 here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing really. You can get it all here with having access to the base.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most food can be delivered but be prepared for 45-75 minute wait time. They have local US chains, Pizza Hut, Domino's, McDonald’s and Burger King, but be forewarned, all are expensive. A Big Mac meal will cost you $11. my family of 4 can’t get out of McDonald’s for fewer than $35-40.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None, except bees in the spring. They were really bad this past year and almost none of the housing have screens on the window. None have air conditioning so opening the windows is a must!!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and regular pouch. You can also order from local vendors (Amazon.be) and have delivered to either your home or the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a housekeeper once a week and pay 12 euro an hour. Typical rate is 10-12 euro per hour
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Embassy has a very tiny gym. Some higher end expensive gyms around but Basic Fit is a big chain hat you can have membership for about $25 a month. They pretty much everything you need, but they don’t tend to open early (8am during the week and 9am on weekends).
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?
Yes, they are everywhere.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We absolutely love our church, Red Rocks. They are a non-denominational English speaking church that is one of 7 church plants with a home base in Denver, Colorado. There are also Protestant, catholic and vineyard churches that I am aware of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. If you try to speak in French, the locals get a bit irritated and switch immediately to English. The Dutch Belgians are much more friendly then the French Belgians.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes and no. Sidewalks aren’t the best in some areas but every metro has an elevator and the buses are low enough that a wheelchair could roll right in.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Totally safe and everywhere but not super cheap. We buy a yearly pass since we use it almost every day for work and the yearly pass runs about 600 euro a person. There is no parking at the embassy except for maybe 5 diplomatic spots so your only option is to get to work by 7am or take the bus/metro.
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?
We have an SUV which is fine, but can be tight at times. A smaller vehicle is probably better but we have enjoyed our large car for road trips.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and you can typically have it ready to go before you arrive. Cost about $85 a month
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use Viking mobile and have been very happy. The US Embassy will promote Orange but he warned, many people have been ripped off by them (myself included) for bills that exceeded $300 in one month. The embassy uses Proximus for their employees so not sure why Orange is who the TMA store promotes but I’d be leary of them.
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?
Yes, many vets everywhere and kennels/ dog walkers. Even home vet services. No quarantine needed to enter 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?
Very hard to get permit to work locally. Most people I know who have tried have taken minimum six months. Not worth it to try to work on the local economy as Belgians pay almost 50% of their checks in taxes.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business- business casual
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really. The typical pick pockets and purse swipes. Just be aware of surroundings as there have been terrorist bombings in the past.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No you can pretty much get treated here for whatever. Expensive, but insurance will reimburse.
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?
We get weekly air quality alerts from the CLO, but I’ve never really noticed it as an issue. People with allergies have some issues in the spring during pollen season but nothing too major.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring you me allergy meds for springtime!
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
SAD can be an issue especially with the amount of rain we get. Last December we had a total of eight hours of sunshine for the whole month of December!!! Bring vitamin D and soak up the sun when you can!!!
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rains ALL the time!!!! Summer is really the only break from it. A little snowfall in the winter but never sticks for more than a day. Weather usually is mild in spring and fall and beautiful when the sun is out.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several good international schools. We chose St. John’s in Waterloo and are so glad we did. Academics are amazing and the school has a very family friendly welcoming atmosphere. Your kids won’t get lost and aren’t just a number. The teachers truly care and want them to excel. There is also the international school which most embassy families use. Also a British school and a DOD school.
2. 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, but not sure the cost.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, both at schools and the local community.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and nobody really hangs out. With so much traveling to do everyone is always off on a trip somewhere.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all. There is something for everyone here.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No idea, but they have a gay pride parade every year so probably.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
No. Very closed off and not an overly friendly city.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Haven’t noticed a ton but have seen some prejudice towards people of color.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling!!!! Leuven is a great little town about 25 minutes away and Aachen Germany is about 1 1/2 hrs away and has a TKMaxx.
The Chunnel is super easy to take you to London. Munich is a six hour train ride and is AMAZING!!!
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Wallibi is a decent amusement park that used to be owned by Six Flags. My kids also love Center Parks. You can find them all over Europe and are a nice break especially in the winter. They are basically fancy camping parks except instead of campers you stay in concrete little bungalows. There is a huge indoor waterpark that is included in the price and then there are a ton of extras from paintball to water skiing to a sailing.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Tapestry is their big ticket item here. Things are pretty expensive here from food to items. You have to look hard but you can find some decent deals at flea markets and garage sales. Belgians LOVE their garage sales and have them weekly.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traveling is very easy. The waffles and chocolate.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How expensive everything is and how aggressive and rude some locals seem to be. The Flemish/Dutch Belgians are very nice so we tend to frequent the communes that are Flemish.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. The best thing about living here is the ease of travel. However, there seems to be a lot of aggression towards us from other drivers (our plates make us stand out). They will cut you off left and right when driving as if to prove a point. Very frustrating. Never seen such aggression and we were posted in the Middle East.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectation of friendliness and plans for weight loss.
4. But don't forget your:
Vitamin D and portable air conditioner!! It can get hot in the summer for about a month and none of the houses have air conditioning. Last year we had a heat wave where it was in the 90s and the city ran out of portable ac units in the stores. Since most homes are either townhouse or apartment, you will get hot in the upper floors.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
There are some about Bruge and Gent but I have not seen them.
6. Do you have any other comments?
On the whole this does not seem to be a friendly city. Travel is very good and this is an easy post to do a lot of traveling.