Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 01/12/22
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?
While this was our first time living in Europe, it was not our first expat experience.
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?
There are lots of good flights to NYC and Washington, but we're West Coast California so that always makes for a layover.
3. What years did you live here?
We lived there from 2015-2018.
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
We absolutely loved our home. We decided to live beyond the Ring Road in Sterrebeek and had a beautiful new triplex with a large yard, close proximity to a trolley line, and lots and lots of fields. While some people couldn't understand why we didn't live closer, at least in Krainem, we were happy with our choice. I usually biked downtown and the kids took the way-too-long bus ride to ISB, but they never complained about it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Once you figure things out, you can find anything. We ended up being fans of Colruyt, though probably did most of our shopping at Carrefour.
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?
While we were never fans of Belgian cuisine (nice in the winter, but not regularly), we found restaurants we loved. Most were Western or European, not so much on the Asian side. We ate at home a lot. One of our complaints, though, would be restaurants demanding reservations. Even if we wanted to drop in for a quick appetizer and drink, and the restaurant was completely empty, it would be booked for the evening. They didn't seem understand this particularly American practice.
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?
DPO and Belgian post was good for European delivery as well.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We had someone who came once a week to help with cleaning, and the cost was around 10 euros an hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Not as many as in the US but I'm sure they're fine.
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?
You'll need to get a Belgian bank account and local debit card.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a number of expat churches with services in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can get by fine with just English. We found that the Dutch-speaking communities never had trouble with this, but in French-speaking communities, even my less-than-perfect French got scowls.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Like in many European cities, the cobblestone streets and sidewalks are beautiful, but would be difficult for people with mobility issues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe and affordable. If you live in the city, you could get by without a car, except for the weekend excursions. The metro system is very safe and even our children took it on their own.
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 were worried about our SUV, but it ended up being fine, though ended with a few parking lot bumps and scrapes. Small cars would be easiest especially for city parking.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local phones are easy to set up.
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. We found that all the vets were excellent. We never needed to use kenneling service, so not sure about that. Entry for pets was very easy.
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?
US expat spouses often worked at one of the three embassies. Some worked at international schools, others in the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of charitable organizations working with immigrant communities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It's pretty much like Washington, DC. Belgians, in general, dress less casually than Americans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
While there were security concerns while we were there, like in much of Europe, it was a safe city. That said, we did have things taken out of our car several times, though partly our fault for not locking it. Some areas of Brussels are less safe than others.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. Excellent health care.
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?
I thought it was great, though outside of the city some people complained about pollen.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen maybe, but I'm not sure.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Lots of people complain about Belgian weather but we loved it. Rainy and grey sometimes, yes, but really didn't mind it.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ISB was our children's favorite school. We miss it.
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?
I know that people had trouble finding good preschools, since there is often a wait list. However, I'm not sure about the general availability.
3. 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?
It's pretty big, since there are a gazillion diplomats in the city. For the most part, though, it's not tightly knit. We ended up with friends outside of our work community, some of whom were Belgian, and some of whom were long-term diplomats.
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?
Like in many places, schools tend to be the places where people first connect.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I heard single people complain that it was a little boring, but for us, a family of six, we loved it.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
We found it easy, though not so much with neighbors. They were pleasant, but more "nods on the street" rather than conversations and invitations.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I never saw this as a problem for my LGBT colleagues.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. There are issues of prejudice against Belgians of African ancestry and immigrants. This is a deep-seated problem in Belgian culture, as it is in many places.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Driving to the Netherlands and Germany is super easy; we loved doing that, even spontaneously on the weekend. High-speed rail to Paris! We found that Brussels was a great place to live, as in easy and comfortable and yes a little boring, but it's such a great place for Western European exploring.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beer, chocolate, waffles.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
We didn't find anything particularly unique.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Transportation, beer, chocolate, waffles and biking.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It met our expectations.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, we would move back.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sunglasses (okay, you'll need them a couple of times).
4. But don't forget your: