Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 09/16/20
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, this was our fourth tour. We previously lived in Sarajevo, Jerusalem, and Tirana.
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?
Chicago is the closest airport and there were direct flights from Brussels or from Amsterdam. It is good to look around before purchasing tickets from Brussels as usually more expensive than just driving to Germany where flying out is more affordable. Remember brussels has no R&R so you are out of pocket if you want to go back to US.
3. How long have you lived here?
Five years. Four year tour plus one year safe haven.
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?
Housing is excellent in Brussels; one of the best we experienced. We lived in one of the popular communes called Woluwe St Pierre near excellent farmers' market and close proximity to public transportation.
The housing pool is huge with 300+ houses and many are embassy-owned. Locals are very conscious about cost of electricity, water. All houses are equipped with solar panels and some have water cistern underneath so your toilets will flush with rain water etc. All and all, it has great housing.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Excellent! You can get just about everything. Mission personnel have access to the base where you can buy the typical US brands you would in the States.
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?
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I am not aware of any problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We used the DPO at the embassy or APO at NATO. I also used the local post office if we ordered things from the internet. Amazon.de works great. Other online stores deliver within the EU.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There a service provider called Sodexo and all houshold help can be hired through them. You pay 9 EUR / hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I worked at NATO so I simply used the staff center there that was fairly affordable. There are great facilities all over the city though with or without pools.
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 and yes. Very easy and it always worked. We did open a local bank account to pay local bills that was recommended by the embassy staff.
We also openned back accounts for our daughters age 12-14, who really enjoyed using their bank card at malls and stores vs cash. It is safe and it was a great experience for our kids.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are many available just have to look them up on the internet.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everybody speaks English here so you can easily get by with little or no French/dutch. It is harder to get by outside of Brussels, but not impossible. Learning the local language is very easy. There are any studios offering classes. Some Dutch speaking communes offer free language classes to help integrate into the life. It was hard to practice my French because everybody speaks English and they want to practice.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No, I don't think so.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Absolutely safe and affordable. Students have yearly cards that cost 50 EUR / year and includes all transportation. The monthly cost of public transport is about 50 eur for adults.
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?
Any car would work but I would not recommend very large SUVs.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Embassy housing comes with internet set up. Otherwise it takes a day or two to set it up. Service could be better.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I there several service providers in towns and one of the most know is Proximus. We had our cable TV through Proximus and had my cell phone subscription as well. Our kids had mobile viking with pay as you go cards. I would recommend using local providers.
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?
We had no pets but there good reliable service providers available.
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?
It is hard to compete with locals in Brussels who speak at least three languages. EFMs usually work within the Tri-mission or in the international schools. If you are desperate to work you will find a job.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Locals dress up nicely even for a run to the grocery stores.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There some parts of Brussels that is limited for embassy community but otherwise it is safe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is great and is often cheaper than in US. Most doctors speak English.
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. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It could get dark and rainy in Brussels just about anytime of the year. The locals say that when the weather is sunny you must go outside and enjoy since you don't how long the sunshine will last. Makes sure to get outside when the sun is shining!
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Brussels have a fairly warm climate. Winters are pretty mild and summers are not too bad. There a few days weeks when it gets pretty hot especially without A/C in the houses.
Embassy only provides fans but not A/C in the housing. I hated the wind the most especially during winter and when it rained.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There many options available. Schools are very competitive. We picked the British School of Brussels but most of the embassy kids attend ISB. We absolutely loved our school. It was academically challenging and logistically was very accessible from our house in Woluwe St Pierre. Our kids took the public transport home after school activities.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
All schools have special needs programs. Some are better about it than 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?
Our kids were much older and we did not need after school care.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there many activities available in the local language. During the breaks they are being advertise as "stage". The price is similar to the ones in US.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge community between NATO and EU headquarters.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is good for families and for singles.
3. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Locals are friendly and polite.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Loved the short day trips and proximity to other countries.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many... Bruge, Gent, the Hague ...
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Central ocation in Europe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. But don't forget your: