Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 03/28/10
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, I have lived overseas for over 10 years.
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?
Washington, 6 hours direct flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
Over 2 years.
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 ranges from nice apartments or townhouses downtown, to small or large houses FAR out in the suburbs. Despite being given 3 choices by the housing board, many folks are unhappy with housing since it seems the board has made random decisions. This is a serious source of bad morale - out of the four officers in our section, two have appealed (one successfully, one not) and the other two are also unhappy - with good reason. Because of the three US missions here, commuting times vary from 15 min walking from apartments downtown, to 45-60 min driving from houses FAR in the burbs - dont believe what the Embassy tells you (they said 15-20 min, ours is regularly 45).Housing board is getting better, and a recent OIG visit helped address some of the issues.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cost depends on where you shop - there are great markets, also some discount groceries. And of course, other great groceries that are more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing, all is available on the market and we can also shop at a base 1 hr away.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Yes, from McDs to local stuff. Cost about 1.5x price in US.
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?
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?
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?
Not as prevalent as in the US, but still lots.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, a bit more expensive than in the US.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks some English, particularly the Flemish. Francophones usually speak less English so some French helps and is appreciated.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, available and affordable. However, if you live far out in the suburbs, commuting by public transport can be an adventure - bus, then tram, then metro - 1.5 hrs.
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 European cars obviously easier to park, and to fix.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it is VERY fast and about 60 eruo.mo.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No, great service.
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, especially if you speak French.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as in Washington, but a bit more formal in summer.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Same as any big city - petty theft, pickpocketing, and there have been some burglaries.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Care is great - many doctors practice out of their homes so they are close and hours are early/late. It is less expensive than the US, and more holistic - a real argument for social healthcare!
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?
Air quality is fine.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rain, and more rain. Sunny days do exist, and are gorgeous. But the rain soon returns and can be very wearing.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Schools have excellent reputations, and there is a good choice between international schools because of the huge expat community.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Daycare is available, however beware that most nannies and housekeepers tend to live in the South of the city and will have to commute so if you live in the burbs it can be hard to find someone willing to spend an hour on public transport. It took us 8 months of looking, and struggling, to find someone. We were lucky that preschools and daycare centers are excellent and plenty - but they close by 5 or 6.Nannies are about 8 euro/hr, and the daycare is 450 euro/month.
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?
HUGE - over 30,000 diplomats alone.
2. Morale among expats:
Varying - housing is a key issue, and some jobs demand 10-12 hour days which is wearing.
3. 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 of things to do here - anything you can imagine and more.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, great city for all.
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?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Brussels is an easy city to live in - fantastic restaurants, good museums, and everything you want is available, though can be expensive.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Sightsee, eat, go to museums, travel.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
In the heart of Western Europe - close to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, London.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, but temptations lie everywhere.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, it is a great place to live. Only cautions are the housing, and the traffic.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your: