Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 06/27/10

Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium 06/27/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have lived in Madrid, Kabul, Guangzhou, Taipei, and Beijing.

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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, DC and Portland, Oregon. The flight is eight hours direct on UA to DC.The flight to the West Coast can take 15-20 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Anywhere from central urban apartments to town-homes with yards. Commutes can very from a twenty-minute walk to an hour by car or bus. Traffic is rough.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I spend about EUR 80 a week for groceries and supplies.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I buy most personal-care products through U.S. mail.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

McDonald's and Quick are fast-food joints, and a meal is probably EUR 6. Belgian and international restaurants are everywhere, and go from EUR 15 to EUR 80 a person.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the embassy.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

EUR 8-12/hour + transport costs for a Filipina.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are, from medium priced EUR 65/mo up to EUR 120/mo.

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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?

ATMs are everywhere, but you must pretty much open a local account. Credit cards are not accepted in many bars and restaurants.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yep.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The IHT, FT, Wall Street Journal Europe are all a few Euros an issue. The Economist is probably more like EUR 5 or 7.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Not much, though some French helps.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It is relatively well adapted to meet needs.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All are safe and reasonably priced. A ten-ride metro/bus card is EUR 12.30. A weekend round trip to Antwerp is EUR 8.

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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 I would think. I don't have one.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, and I'd say EUR 40-50/mo is normal.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

Nope.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yep.

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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?

Yep.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

European business attire, and anywhere from dressy to casual on weekends.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are parts of the city that are very unsafe, but you are unlikely to go there. Beatings and violent robberies occur occasionally. Petty crime and property crime are common. In the summer, watch out for packs of young boys with nothing to do.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical-care quality is high and not very expensive.

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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?

Good.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Grey and wet for nine months of the year and a cool-to-warm summer. It is somewhat like the Pacific Northwest, but without the three months of sun guarantee.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

They exist. I have no kids.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large, very large. This is the capital of Europe, and the Belgians are often more "European" than Belgian.

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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?

All the socializing you want to do, though you'll get to know the venues pretty fast.

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3. Morale among expats:

Moderate. The weather can take it's toll, but life is comfy and can be interesting. But excitement is rare.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Couples and single men seem happier than single women. Like in many places, there is a surfeit of young twenty-somethings and over-40s. The 30-something gap is large. They must all be home in relationships.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

It is a good, comfy location. It is smaller and friendlier than DC, though with a similar government-style demographic because of the EU.The gays are very much into the scene and do not leave their neighborhood or explore non-gay travel easily.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There are problems between the majority and the second and third generation Moroccan community, and sometimes vs Muslims in general. The problem is centered in Brussels.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling to the Flemish cities and seeing how they are unique and different.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Food, beer, chocolate, museums, clubs, bars, parks. Short train rides to Antwerp, Gent, Leuven or Brugges.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Beer, chocolate. . . .

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's comfy and a place to chill for a while.

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11. Can you save money?

If you don't pay for housing, sure, and even more if you can limit your travel out of Belgium to get sun or adventure.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Sure.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

hiking boots ... unless you fly.

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3. But don't forget your:

European travel guides.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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