Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium 02/27/19

Background:

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.

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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?

USA. Can get a direct flight to VA, takes about eight and a half 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.)?

Diplomatic mission, working for US 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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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Daily Life:

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.

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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

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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).

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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?

Yes, they are everywhere.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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.

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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?

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.

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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 you can typically have it ready to go before you arrive. Cost about $85 a month

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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?

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.

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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?

Yes, many vets everywhere and kennels/ dog walkers. Even home vet services. No quarantine needed to enter country.

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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?

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.

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

Business- business casual

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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.

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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?

No you can pretty much get treated here for whatever. Expensive, but insurance will reimburse.

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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?

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.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Bring you me allergy meds for springtime!

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Yes, both at schools and the local community.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!

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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.

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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.

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

Traveling is very easy. The waffles and chocolate.

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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.

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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.

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

Expectation of friendliness and plans for weight loss.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Brussels, Belgium 02/13/19

Background:

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

No. I have spent most of my life overseas.

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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?

Falls Church. Dulles to Brussels: the city pair flight included a stopover in either Philadelphia or London (Heathrow). We took the former. Don't remember how much time it took, but there are direct flights contracted now.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two and a half years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We have a four-story townhouse on the eastern edge of the city. People live all over the place. Downtown apartments tend to be smaller than places in the suburbs. Our townhouse has a small yard and a garage.

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

Groceries tend to be a little more expensive than in the Washington, DC, area, but some things are cheaper. If you are on the Diplomatic list, you get a gas card which eliminates the tax surcharge, and gas will be a lot less expensive.

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

Maybe more Chinese items and some paper goods, especially since we have a lot of storage space. We order things online, so it is mostly liquids you need to make sure you have enough of: shampoo, caffeine-free soda, etc.

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

We don't order much food here, but I know you can order pizza, sushi, kebab, etc. There is the full gamut of fast food available here.

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

I don't know what experiences others have had, but our townhouse is in Woluwe Park, so we get a lot of mosquitoes, flies, spiders, lacewings, and ladybugs. We have also have had problems with mice. The embassy has tried to help with the mice, but no solution has proved effective. As for the bugs, we have not received assistance. I've purchased screening material locally and tried to craft screening. Unfortunately, our French windows make a permanent screen impossible, and all the windows are non-standard sizes. It gets hot in the summer and since there is no air conditioning, one must leave windows open. Bugs are unavoidable.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the DPO and pouch.

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

There is a very intricate and bureaucratic process to hire household help. Frankly, we haven't, but many do. I can't say how much it costs, but this IS Western Europe, so it's not inexpensive.

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

There are local gyms. Many people use the facilities at the embassy.

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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?

Yes. You get a Bancontact card at a local bank when you arrive and you can use it to extract money and to pay bills. Credit cards are accepted most everywhere.

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

No idea.

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

I thought my French would improve here, but actually it's fallen further into disuse. It is not only possible to get by in English it is sometimes necessary. In Dutch-speaking parts of the country people prefer to speak English than French with you.

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

Yes and no. The Metro is NOT handicap-friendly. There are also parts of the city that are old: narrow, cobblestone streets, staircases, etc. It is probably navigable for the most part, but one would have to plan ahead.

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Transportation:

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

Local transportation networks are generally efficient and ubiquitous. Brussels is generally safe, with the same sorts of petty crime one finds in any city this size.

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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?

Our first car was a Toyota Sienna minivan. It was generally too large for the typically narrow parking spaces here, but we made do. After our car was destroyed in a crash, we bought a Mercedes sedan, which, truth be told, is far more practical. You can bring a larger SUV or minivan, but there are tradeoffs.

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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?

High-speed internet is widely available and, aside from the occasional hiccup, is pretty much problem-free. Installation is almost instantaneous.

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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?

We got a local plan with the cell phone we brought with us. There are many plans to choose from. They are not particularly expensive, but may be a little more than similar US plans.

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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?

We have no pets.

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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?

There are MANY family member positions at the mission. I don't know more than that.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I don't know.

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

Shirt and tie for men. Business dress.

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Health & Safety:

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

We had a terrible terrorist attack in March 2016. There are unsavory elements here still, so one needs to practice personal security and remain vigilant. Furthermore, I've heard there have been residential break-ins in mission housing and the occasional petty theft.

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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 is excellent, but there ARE some differences one encounters. When we needed to schedule an MRI, for instance, we learned there are only 13 MRI machines in the entire country. Fortunately, they were able to work us in, but the waiting list was long and we were initially looking at a three or four month wait; this was unacceptable in our opinion.

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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?

Air quality is not bad, but it can be a little smoggy, especially in winter. Still, it is not even close to, much less above, the recommended limits.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

We have neither, but I don't think environmental issues are bad enough to rate, and there are increasingly more and more gluten-free options available at supermarkets.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

It can be a long, gloomy winter. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder might have an issue here. Last December we had only 13 hours of sunlight the entire month. That said, people get out of town and fly to the sun.

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

Belgium's weather is notoriously gray and rainy, but we are experiencing the effects of global climate change just like the rest of the planet, so we have had a remarkable rain-free fall and winter. It has also been warmer and sunnier. Still, we take our umbrellas with us when we go.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are two main schools attended by the official American community: Brussels American School (BAS) and the International School of Brussels (ISB). Most of the military, including NATO, send their kids to the former. Embassy folk tend to send their kids to ISB. We have really liked ISB (our daughter attended 3rd through 5th grade there). Like any school, it has some issues, but the administrators have been terrific, and the teachers are mostly Canadian and American.

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

No idea, but I know some of the students have special needs.

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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?

Yes, but I have no experience with them so I can shed no light.

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

Yes. ISB has myriad after-school activities to choose from. Each commune has its own programs, as well. And, of course, there is a vast private community of resources. For instance, our daughter takes once-weekly tap dance lessons. These are given by a local British woman. We also found a piano teacher locally.

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Expat Life:

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

As you can imagine, the expat community is very large here. Morale is pretty much the same as it is in any large European city. That is, it is what you make it. There is literally no end of things to do, excursions to make, sights to see. Paris is an hour and 20 minutes by high-speed train. Amsterdam and London about two hours. Bonn is a two-and-a-half hour drive. Luxembourg is next door. In Belgium itself there are Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Liege, Dinant, Durbuy, monasteries and abbeys, many of them breweries, castles, etc. Furthermore, Brussels has oodles of events all year long. It is almost impossible to be bored.

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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?

We have an active social life, between our neighbors and the school, and the occasional embassy friend. There are as many social opportunities as your imagination permits.

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

Brussels would be a great town for singles, I think. I think LGBTQ folk would be comfortable here. I am married and I believe it's terrific for families, too. As I said, it's really what you make it.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Belgians are less reserved than their French cousins, so yes, I would say it's easier to make friends here. I don't believe there are any overt prejudices, but Belgium DOES have a pretty sad colonialist history that they are still trying to come to grips with.

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

Yes. See above. I haven't investigated it, but I am sure there is a robust scene here for LGBTQ folk. There is an annual gay pride parade.

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

None that I am aware of.

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

So many. Every two years, Brussels hosts a flower carpet in its Grand Place. It is stunning. The bluebells at Hallerbos and the Tulips at Keukenhof, in The Netherlands, are both memorable experiences. The castles in Belgium and Luxembourg are incredible. Walking the canals in Bruges. The Festival of Lights in Antwerp's zoo. Seeing concerts at the Ancienne Belgique. Getting chocolates at the Neuhaus chocolate outlet. The lights of the Grand Place at night. Watching the Kirov Ballet. The Christmas Market in front of St. Katherine's Church. The Belgian waffles at Stockel Market. So many memories.

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

See above

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

Not that I'm aware of.

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

Brussels is a small town compared to, say Paris, or even Antwerp. But you have most of the advantages of those more cosmopolitan places with few of the concomitant headaches. There is bad traffic here, but nothing like Paris' horrendous traffic. Brussels has friendly people, good food, and all the amenities, and it's fairly easy to get around. Housing is good, and you can find what you need on the local economy, for the most part. Its great location means it's possible to see places.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Nothing.

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

Absolutely. I've come to love Brussels and Belgium.

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

Stereotypical ideas of Belgians and pickup trucks.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and rain boots.

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

Belgians have a special place in their hearts for Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, and the Smurfs. I personally think King Leopold's Ghost is a must-read, but as with any former colonial power, Belgium's relationship with its own colonialist past is complicated and nuanced.

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Brussels, Belgium 05/22/18

Background:

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

Five posts on three other continents.

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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?

The United States. It's about an 8-hour direct flight from D.C.

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3. How long have you lived here?

About one year.

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

Diplomatic Mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Fair, but surprisingly far from the best in my career. A leased property that hasn't been kept up as well as it should have been and some basic infrastructure issues causes repeated problems (satellite/cable wiring problems, electrical issues, limited Internet options, etc.). And weird local laws, like quiet hours; yes, your neighbors WILL complain if you dare mow your lawn on a public holiday.

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

While arguably comparable to D.C. prices, in general, groceries are much more expensive than many other parts of the world (including other parts of Europe), but you can pretty much get anything you want. There is also the commissary at Chièvres AFB, which is notably cheaper than the local economy, and only 45 minutes away.

Do be ready for nearly everything to be closed on Sundays, and by 7-8pm other days. If you work late, Saturday shopping might be your only option!

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

Nothing. With access to the commissary at Chièvres (45 minutes away), there's a "U.S. store" nearby.

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

Pretty much any type you want, but nothing is fast (don't go out to eat if you want to be in and out in an hour), or cheap (30 euros/$40 for three people at McDonald's is easily a low-ball estimate; easily $100 for a family of three at a local "pub"). Also, for the most part, "customer service" isn't really a thing here.

Oh, and ALWAYS make a reservation! It's hard to just walk in and get a table, so a last-minute "Let's eat out!" idea won't always work. Even if a place looks empty, they'll ask if you have a reservation.

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

Window screens are basically non-existent (same with A/C), so be ready for bugs in the house if you want fresh air or cool air during the warmer days. Really, though, there aren't too many bugs, as this isn't Africa! :)

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Daily Life:

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

DPO is pretty fast (one week?) back and forth to the U.S.

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

Not cheap, but doable for a one-day/week type of cleaning (usually about 10 Euro/hour).

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

Small gym at the Embassy and access to USAG facilities. Lots of local gyms around, too, varying from less expensive YMCA-type local clubs to proper "gyms."

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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?

Yes, though occasionally the U.S. cards don't work here. Most people need a local account for paying local items (like phone bills, school bills, etc.) via bank transfer and that local account card comes in very handy for the times the U.S. debit/credit card won't work.

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

A few options due to the large expat community.

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

English will get you by in most situations, though some basic French definitely comes in handy.

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

Like any European city, probably. Cobblestones, few ramps, etc.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. An extensive public transportation network. Taxis and Uber are generally available, too.

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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?

Some garages (houses, not public garages) are too small for mini-vans and SUVs, though such cars are generally fine most places (and pretty much all public parking garages).

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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?

It's usually already active upon moving in, and either bundled with phone or separate. Roughly 70 euros/month. Be prepared for weird housing infrastructure limiting router placement to one location option in the house, and cement constructing meaning you can't get a wifi signal in most of the house without signal boosters everywhere.

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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?

Local provider, swapping the chip. About 30-40 USD per phone per month for a decent data plan.

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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?

Lots of vets around, and quite a few boarding/pet sitting options. Vet prices are generally a bit cheaper than the U.S.; boarding, etc. is comparably priced.

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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?

They require local permits to work, so very few jobs for spouses outside of the embassy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many to be found for those who want to volunteer.

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

Generally business formal, though certain offices will lean toward business casual depending on the work and level of outside interaction.

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Health & Safety:

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

Like any big city in the 21st century. There have been well-publicized terrorist issues in the past, but normal, everyday life is primarily about being smart re: pick-pockets and smash-and-grab car thefts. The latter happens frequently to those who leave tempting things in plain site.

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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 is first world. Winters are long and gray, so watch out for SAD. Lots of pollen in spring.

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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. Again, lots of pollen in spring.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Pollen in spring.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Yes, SAD can be an issues. The sun might not break through the clouds for weeks in the winter. And the daylight hours are fairly short. Commuting both ways in the dark is normal in December/January.

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

Cool and drizzly, but not particularly cold.

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Schools & Children:

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

A few school options exist. ISB is one of the better international schools you will find anywhere!

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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?

Yes. All sorts.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is huge (especially with the E.U. and NATO here, as well). Morale? It's fine. Not great, but OK. I think that often expectations of Brussels are too high. There really are some frustrating elements of living in Belgium that people don't expect. It's surprising how many people say "Oh, my God! You too?" when you complain about living here (poor customer service everywhere, less-than-driven local colleagues, laziness and entitlement, etc.). There isn't much to hate, but it's hard to love even if you really want to.

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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?

Weekend trips to other places including in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Belgians go outside in nice weather to the parks, "the forest," etc.

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

Big enough that there's something for everyone, I think.

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

I think so.

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

Locals will complain about "immigrants" in general, sometimes, but not too bad compared to other places.

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

Many short drives (by American standards; 1-2 hours) to see many places. A great place to catch up with friends passing through because it's so central, too.

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

If you like antiques/flea markets, there are "brocantes" all over the place! And they're a good excuse to explore the area. If you're into WWI and WWII history, there are loads of museums, battlefields, etc.

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

Not so much. Many of the best "Belgian" things are consumable e.g., beer, chocolate, and fries!

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

Easy to get around. Centrally located.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Mostly, the frustrations noted earlier.

Not the best housing/poor infrastructure (e.g. Internet).
Bad customer service, in general. Not "rude" like stereotypical French, but generally seems apathetic.
Everything is closed on Sundays.
Generally seem to have a poor work ethic. Belgians have a 38-hour work week and generally go home early one day/week and seem to use that as an excuse to say 'no' to things.
How expensive it can be. Eating out and just grabbing in the store without checking prices first can empty your wallet pretty quickly.

Those things can eat at you, especially if you didn't expect them coming in. But, realistically... First World Problems!

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

Probably, but with more realistic expectations of the annoying things.

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

Expectations of customer service, sun screen, and your air conditioner.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience, sweater, umbrella, and workout gear (to work off the beer, chocolate and fries!).

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Brussels, Belgium 01/18/18

Background:

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

First time living abroad.

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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?

Home is the western US. Brussels has flights to all the big East Coast airports, plus it's easy to connect through Amsterdam (or Paris) to get back to the US. For US government employees, United once again has the contract to DC with a non-stop.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost a year.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

I live in a row house about 6 miles from downtown. It takes me 20 minutes to get to work by foot and metro. A lot of other embassy people without families live closer and have smaller places, but I have over 1000 square feet and a garage. Commuting by metro, tram and bus is easy and cheap (€1.40 per ride with 10-ride tickets or €499 unlimited for the year). The embassy is centrally located, so most commuting-related problems seem to involve the schools, which are not in the center.

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

A lot of people complain that groceries are expensive here. If you don't have a car and shop at the neighborhood shops and markets in Ixelles/Elsene or the Woluwes, groceries can be painfully expensive (and don't get me started on the prices at Rob). If you shop at the hypermarkets (Hyper Carrefour, Cora) or discounters (Colruyt, Aldi, Lidl), groceries aren't that much more expensive than in the DC area. Same goes for the street markets--a kilo of the exact same olives costs over twice as much at the Stokkel market (an expensive area) as at the market in Anderlecht (a working-class area with a large North African population).



The one thing that's consistently more expensive is meat, especially beef, but you can buy American beef at American prices at Chièvres.



Availability is generally pretty good--you can get 98% of the same sorts of things here. Brussels has a couple large Asian grocery stores, and if you really get in a bind you can shop at the commissary at Chièvres.

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

Nothing. It might've been easier to have shipped a huge stash of Mexican groceries and peanut butter, but I can get whatever I need here.

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

The usual range of restaurants is available here--local food, French, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, burgers, etc etc. There aren't a lot of "fast casual" restaurants here, so there's not a lot between a kebab shop or "frituur" and a regular sit-down restaurant. Prices are similar enough to the US when you remember that tax is included and service is generally included here (and when it's not, it's usually 12% and it's clearly mentioned on the menu).

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

Nope. Most windows don't have screens and most people still don't get eaten by mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO for mail and packages from the US. It takes about an extra week vs. getting mail to a 'real' US address. The local postal service isn't perfect, but it's perfectly adequate (no worse than USPS). Packages don't get left on your doorstep, no matter how safe it looks--some delivery companies will try to deliver to the neighbors. The postal service leaves a note in the letterbox and you pick it up at the post office.



Both Amazon.de and Amazon.fr deliver free to Belgium if you buy over €29 worth of stuff.

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

There's a local program called dienstencheques/titres-services where you can hire household help on an hourly basis at a pretty good rate. Live-in help is virtually unheard of, both because few people have the extra space and because wages are quite high here.

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

The embassy has a small gym and the Army garrison has a bigger gym, both of which are free to use. Not sure about price of local gyms.

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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?

Most places do take credit cards, though some smaller shops are cash only and a few shops including the Colruyt discount grocery chain only take the local Bancontact debit cards. American cards without PINs work in 99% of places where you're interacting with a human, but they don't work in most unattended kiosks (train tickets, parking meters, etc). ATMs are everywhere and don't charge fees. Local cards are almost all contactless, which means that Android Pay and Apple Pay are widely accepted. I tend to use my American cards whenever possible because I want my airline miles.

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

You can get by with literally zero. Brussels is full of people from the British Isles and Eastern Europeans whose second language is English. A lot of local companies' websites are in Dutch, French, and English. That said, your life is significantly easier if you can speak some basic French (in Brussels) or Dutch (in the Flemish outer suburbs like Tervuren).



When travelling around the country, you can get by with English nearly anywhere; you have to get pretty far off the usual tourist path in Wallonia to find somewhere that no one speaks English. In Flanders I'm not sure it's possible at all.



Local language classes are offered by the government in addition to private organizations. Through the government, French classes cost around €150 per semester and Dutch classes are free. It's also easy to take Spanish and German classes if you're so inclined.

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

Like any old city in Europe, there are lots of stairs and uneven pavements. Buses are wheelchair accessible, but many trams are not and only some metro stations have elevators.

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Transportation:

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

Public transit is safe, reliable, and cheap. Taxis are safe but they're very expensive.

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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?

Parking spaces and garages tend to be small, so skip the Suburban. Some people have American minivans with no trouble, though. The entire Brussels region is now a low-emission zone, but gas-powered cars from 1997 or later won't be affected until 2025 at the earliest. If you have (or plan to buy) a diesel-powered car more than a few years old, check first.



A lot of people--especially those without kids--don't have cars. Public transit is pretty good, and although the intercity trains occasionally live up to their reputation for being late, they will get you where you're going. There are car-sharing services (Zipcar, etc) that some people use for the occasional IKEA run.



It's Europe, so there are more European and fewer American and Asian cars here. The only parts issue is that there are some Japanese-brand cars that are completely different vehicles in the US and Europe (Honda Accord, for example), so you might have to order some parts from the US or buy them via the Exchange at Chièvres. Same for American cars that aren't sold here.

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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?

The embassy leaves the internet access in housing pool houses active between occupants, so it's ready on move-in. High-speed internet, cable TV, and phone cost about €70/month.

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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?

Local providers are cheaper. The best deal varies based on your needs, but I pay €15/mo for 4gb data with Mobile Vikings.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

The usual suspects of big-city volunteer work with the homeless, refugees, language learners, animal shelters, etc. It helps a lot to speak Dutch and/or French.

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

Not that different from DC--lots of suits, some 'business casual', more black and other dark colors here. I've never needed anything more formal than a business suit.

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Health & Safety:

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

Violent crime is relatively rare here, but property crime is sadly not. Lock your house, don't leave stuff visible in your car, take the usual anti-pickpocket precautions.

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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 is good and English-speaking medical staff aren't difficult to find.

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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?

Decent. It's a big city, so it has its dirty air days, especially in the summer, but nothing like some of the cities in the developing world. It rains pretty regularly and the land is flat, so pollution washes or blows away pretty quickly most of the time.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

It's damp here. Constantly. Allergies to mold and mildew could be an issue.



Food allergens are always called out on packaging and there aren't too many surprise ingredients at restaurants--one exception is that fried food is sometimes fried in tallow... but on the flipside, it's rarely fried in peanut oil.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Not only is Brussels at 50°N with short winter days, it's also cloudy. Last month, I think we got somewhere around 20 hours of sunshine. In a whole month. A lot of people have sun lamps in the office, and a plane ticket to Spain, Portugal, or Italy can often be had for less than €100.

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

The climate is somewhat similar to the coastal parts of the Pacific Northwest. It's rarely over 30°C and rarely more than a couple degrees below freezing. Snow happens but not that often and it doesn't stick around. It rains often, especially in the winter. Summers are beautiful--sure, it rains sometimes but it's really hard to argue with 25°C and 18 hours of daylight. Winters are not beautiful (see "mental health" section).

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Expat Life:

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

Brussels is full of expats thanks to the EU. Morale varies a lot--some people love it here and some can't wait to leave.

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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?

Meetup groups, volunteering, groups based on hobbies, etc.

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

I think there's something for everyone here. Single people and couples have plenty of "adult" activities (and for single people, a lot of other single English-speaking people who don't work with you), and there's also no shortage of kid-friendly activities. Exploring the country and the rest of Europe are fun no matter what your family looks like.

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

Definitely. While there's still some prejudice here and there, the vast majority of the population is accepting of LGBT people--probably more so than the US. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal.

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

Brussels has a large underemployed immigrant population, mostly of North African and Turkish origin and concentrated in a few neighborhoods on the west side of the city. There is definitely some tension between that community and the city at large, but it rarely leads to violence and it's not something that would affect expats.

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

The other cities and small towns of Belgium are fun to explore, and the cheap flights to the rest of Europe are great.

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

Not many gems stay hidden in the internet age. Visiting other cities in the area, eating food, drinking beer, etc. are all great things to do.

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

Not really... most of the goods on offer in European stores aren't all that different from those in North American stores. The chocolate lives up to its reputation, though!

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

Safe, never too hot or too cold (but often too rainy!), easy to get around and easy to get out of when you want to explore Europe.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It's not for no reason that there was a Politico article last year entitled "Belgium is a failed state". While that may be putting it a bit harshly, the bureaucracy goes way above and beyond what one would expect from Northern Europe, and the wheels of government turn very slowly and may not ever reach the intended destination. The number of different levels of government with different responsibilities is surprising even to Americans that are used to the federal/state divide. The "language war" has done a great job of fracturing the government institutions :(

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

Yes. Not that I had a choice. ;)

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

Air conditioner and hot weather clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, reading material for train delays, exercise program to work off all that extra chocolate and beer

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Brussels and Belgium are good places in their own right, but one of the things that makes Brussels a particularly interesting place to be is that it's full of people from all over the place. It's rare that a day goes by where I don't hear at least 5 different languages I recognize and a couple that I don't. It also makes it an interesting place to work--while you may be thinking of doing something a particular "Belgian" way instead of doing it like you'd do in the US, your counterpart might turn out to be Portuguese or Estonian.

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Brussels, Belgium 02/15/17

Background:

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

Yes, this was my first post and my first time overseas.

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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?

We came from Washington, DC. When we arrived to post we were able to take a direct flight. However, upon departure, the rules had changed and we had to stop in London.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We lived in Brussels for two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We lived in an apartment near the Montgomery metro stop. We were fortunate and had ample built in storage but our kitchen was rather small with European-sized appliances. Regular cookie sheets would not fit into the oven.

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

You can pretty much find anything you need with few exceptions. For example, it is very difficult to find American style peanut butter or things like hot dogs. You can always make periodic trips to the military commissary if you are in need of those items. Otherwise the grocery stores have good selections of meats, cheeses, produce and wonderful french wine. Cost depends on where you shop. Rob the Gourmet is higher end and comparable to Whole Foods. Fresh Med is a gem for produce and is very low cost.

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

Coconut oil, deodorant/antiperspirant, and Marsala cooking wine. Also, makeup and nail polish cost a fortune so ship what you need in HHE!

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

Anything you want you can find from pizza to Thai to sushi...its endless. Most communes have neighborhood restaurants within walking distance. When ordering takeout, we found the website pizza.be to be the most helpful. Don't let the name fool you, it's not just pizza. They even send you email updates when a new restaurant joins their site.

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

Brussels felt virtually bug free. We left windows wide open and they don't even have screens. It was incredible.

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Daily Life:

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

Yes, we used the mail service at the Embassy (DPO) but were also given privileges to use the mailroom at the USAG base in Brussels.

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

It can be expensive. Many families have weekly or bi-weekly help with cleaning and make contacts through families that are getting ready to leave. We had someone come three hours a week and her rate was 10 euro per hour plus 5 euro for metro.

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

There's a broad range. You can join Basic Fit for very low cost, but there are also high end clubs. If you are into CrossFit there are boxes all over the city.

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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?

Credit cards are widely accepted but must have a chip. ATMs are available but most can only be accessed during bank hours. We generally took out cash at the Embassy. You do need a local bank account to pay bills and get gas. Diplomats can get a special gas card that links to your local account and waives the VAT.

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

You really can get by with no French at all. Learning pleasantries is always nice but most locals speak English. The few times I found myself with total language barriers I was lucky enough to have passersby stop to assist.

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

Yes. Again, very few metro stops have elevators.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation isn't inexpensive but parking your car downtown is sometimes a nightmare. It can be worth it. Safety depends on where you are, what time it is, and whether or not you are alone. The RSO gives a good briefing when you arrive at post.

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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?

Something small! And keep your car empty - don't leave money, bags or your GPS in view.

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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?

We arranged through the Embassy and used Belgacom. It was installed shortly after we arrived and we had very few problems with it.

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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?

We used a local provider. The TMA store at the Embassy helped to set up, and then later discontinue, our plans.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

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

The style in Brussels is generally very casual. There are definitely some restaurants that have dress codes and we always dressed in business casual at the very least when going to the Embassy. You will see a lot of jeans, scarves, and trainers.

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Health & Safety:

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

Be aware of pick pockets for sure. Don't go through your purse while on the metro platform, and keep your purse on the floor while driving! I was told that in some areas, your window could get smashed if stopped in traffic with your bag on the passenger seat.

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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 is great! There are many English speaking providers as well. We loved our pediatrician and my OB/GYN was fantastic. I delivered my youngest in Belgium and was very happy with the care. Speaking to pregnancy, toxoplasmosis is an issue. You shouldn't eat anything raw unless you've properly cleaned it yourself. Periodic blood tests are required during pregnancy. The tap water is safe to drink but doesn't taste very good. Culligan home water delivery was a must for us. Our kids also needed to take Vitamin D supplements because of the weather.

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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?

Allergies can be pretty nasty but the air is fresh!!

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Make friends with your local pharmacist. Pharmacists here are generally solo business owners but are magical apothecaries and can heal almost anthing that ails you.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is definitely a concern. There are far more grey and rainy days than there are sunny days. I found it helped to get outside everyday, regardless of the weather. Having fresh flowers and plants indoors was also helpful.

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

The overall climate is mild. It does get cold for a bit in the winter and each summer we had a week or two of really hot weather. Aside from that it was fall/spring temps most of the time.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a large expat community and not cohesive at all. There is so much to do that outside of work people more or less do their own thing.

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

It is a difficult city for families of little ones. Restaurants are not particularly excited to see small children who (gasp) make noise. It was more uncomfortable than it was worth. There are places like cook & book that are less formal but it truly depends on the kids. I had two tiny boys who were not quiet or reserved. In addition, Brussels is completely stroller UN-friendly. Very few metro stops have elevators so you have to use the escalators ... when they are in service. Otherwise you have to carry the strollers up and down stairs.

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

The parks were amazing and the city is just beautiful! If you like chocolate you are in for a treat.

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

Avenue Louise has amazing shopping with everything from Zara to Chanel, Tiffany's and Louis Vuitton.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It was a good place to live temporarily but I'm in no rush to go back.

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2. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, nail polish, and thick skin - the locals aren't the friendliest lot.

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Brussels, Belgium 12/29/16

Background:

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

This is a third tour after Arabia and South Central Asia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a townhome leased by the USG. Homes are generously sized and typically finished with "Ikea-style" kitchens. Even though we are quite a way from downtown, there are numerous transportation options that will all get us to the city within 50 minutes. Bus & tram are both walking distance (+/-10 minutes) which will take you to the metro.

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

There are 2 grocery stores, 3 bakeries and numerous restaurants within walking distance. We find the cost of groceries on the local economy to be reasonable.There's nothing we need to buy at the U.S. base and have only been there once when our sponsor took us. You can find fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, specialty meats and fish from the local farmer's market which is held two days per week.

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

There are too many to list! Again, our home is in the suburbs, but even so there are Belgian, Chinese, Thai, and Italian restaurants we can walk to that do a brisk business with both eat-in and carry-out food. I imagine the selection is even more plentiful if you live closer to town. You will not find "fast food" per se and NO drive-through anything.

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

No insect problems at ALL!! We leave windows open in the summer all day and night (There is NO A/C in most housing)and have never had any unwanted critters. With as wet as it can be here, I thoroughly expected more mosquitoes and have been pleasantly surprised at their lack.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO & diplomatic pouch. We have used the local post for ordering through Amazon in the UK and Germany on occasion. It is fast and reasonable.

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

Belgium has severe restrictions and virtually no visas are being approved for domestic/childcare help. It is unlikely that your domestic employee will be granted a visa, so be prepared to find domestic help or childcare locally using Belgian resources.



Belgian resources available for domestic help include Sodexo and its service-checks, also known as "titres-services." You can use them for a variety of services, such as cleaning, cooking and other household tasks (excluding childcare). You pay for services with "checks". The number of checks purchased per calendar year is limited to 500. The first 400 checks cost 9 euro, the next 100 checks cost 10 euro each. One check normally equates to one hour of work. The website provides more information, but unfortunately the information is only provided in the three official languages spoken in Belgium (Dutch, French and German): http://www.titresservices.brussels/.



To register for the service, you will have to provide Sodexo with a completed registration form, copy of your Belgian ID card and an official Belgian document listing the members of your household called a "composition de menage".

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

Most communes have their own sports facility or fitness center. They typically include pool, tennis, racquetball and have space for classes such as gymnastics or dance. You can use any facility, but the prices for the one in your OWN commune will be less. You can pay per use or buy cards for multi-use. There are also MANY gyms. The most plentiful one is Basic Fit - www.basic-fit.com. There is also a small (free) gym on the Embassy compound, a large one at NATO and another at USAG.

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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?

We use credit cards almost exclusively and have never had an issue. You WILL need to get a local bank account, however, for some things. Your gas will be debited directly from your LOCAL account only. You will pay for your internet bill, phone bill, local doctors bills online with your LOCAL bank too. You will find a few (very few) stores only accept local bank cards - not Visa or MC.

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

Catholic, Baptist, Protestant, Jewish, Mormon, Lutheran, Anglican, interdenominational... You can definitely find an English-speaking service to suit you!

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

If you do not want to learn another language, you can get by with English here. That said, if you want to learn and practice French, you have ample opportunity! Tutors are widely available.

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

With all of the cobblestones and crazy traffic I imagine it's terrible for those with visual or physical challenges. Heck, it's hard to even wear heels here!

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Transportation:

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

Absolutely! And with the hellish traffic and strange driving laws, we prefer public transport. It is +/-1.40 Euro for a trip. A trip can include bus, tram and metro as long as you check in to the next transport mode within an hour of the last one. The bus system in Belgium is amazing. You can go to literally anywhere, no matter how small the village, on a bus. Plus you are only 1-2 hours away from Paris, Amsterdam, and Germany by train.

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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?

Parking garages and spaces are made for European-sized cars (read: SMALL). Don't bring an enormous SUV or truck!

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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?

If you work with GSO Housing, they will assist you to pre-register and you can have internet within a day or two after arrival! It is high-speed, reliable and +/-60 Euro per month.

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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?

The local employee association can help you get a SIM card on the local market through a plan called "Orange."

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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?

Belgium is a VERY dog-friendly place. Pets are welcomed on public transportation, stores, malls, restaurants... You will see furry friends accompanying their owners everywhere. There are many good vets, kennels, dog-walkers and other animal-care professionals who speak English.



You are allowed to bring up to five pets (dogs, cats, and other small domestic animals) to Belgium. The process for bringing a pet to Belgium can take up to three months depending where the pet was living previously. There are very specific importation rules in Belgium and they change often. The following website is also helpful:
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/regulations/vs/iregs/animals/animal_belgium.shtml

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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?

There are +/-50 EFM positions available within the Tri-Missions. Working on the local economy requires a work permit or a professional card for free-lancers. The MFA will not accept a work permit request prior to arrival at post and the process may take up to 2 months. It is permissible to actively seek employment and interview for positions while waiting for the permit but work on the local economy cannot begin without this document.

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

Business attire at work. Suits/ties and dresses/blouses/skirts in professional settings. Otherwise, formal attire is almost never needed. Bring something for the Marine Ball though!

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Health & Safety:

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

There have been terrorist attacks in Belgium and Europe - and the pace and pressure you feel is increasing. The police continue to make arrests of terrorists in certain Brussels neighborhoods. You will become used to seeing armed soldiers in public places, metro stations, etc. Additionally, there are many many beggars on the streets and public places. Some are more desperate than others. You must keep up your situational awareness and avoid crowds.

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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?

No health concerns here. Water and air are clean. Medical care is easily accessible and affordable. You can have the "Service de Guarde" send a doctor right to your home if you wish! It's +/-60 Euro for a doctor visit. Doctors here do it ALL. Meaning, set the appointment, treat you and take your money for the bill.

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3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is an issue here. It can be grey and/or drizzly/rainy for weeks at a time. Be prepared - bring your Vitamin D and your S.A.D. lamp. Be sure to have bright lightbulbs in your home. Any time there is a spot of sunlight, Belgians do NOT take it for granted - even if it is cold out they will be out with their faces to the sun.

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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?

When the sun shines, it is brilliant. It makes you understand where all the "Dutch Masters" got the ideas for their beautiful light. That said, there are also lots of gray and rainy days. Winters have a bit of snow now and then, along some icy and foggy days.

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Schools & Children:

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

Children of Tri-Mission personnel usually attend one of three English-language American-curriculum schools: the Brussels American School, the International School of Brussels and St. John's International School. Most U.S. DOD families send their children to Brussels American School.

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Expat Life:

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

Overall, morale seems to be quite high. Some folks at the NATO mission tend to be a bit more stressed, but it is due to the heavy workload and long hours. Brussels is an easy place to live and a good "hub" for traveling around Europe. There are MANY things to do.

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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?

Expatclub.org is an EXCELLENT way to get plugged in right away. They offer bus trips to many places within a day's drive. There's also the American Club of Brussels.

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

Good for ALL. This town has everything to offer!

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

Brussels is very LGBT friendly. There is a whole quarter of downtown that caters to the LGBT community.

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

The castles, parks, WWII history, festivals, museums, beer, chocolate, waffles, bike trails, forests, warm wonderful Belgian people, ease of travel, I could go on and on...

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

The big things in Belgium are the tapestries, lace and chocolate.

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

EVERYTHING!!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

ABSOLUTELY!!!

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2. But don't forget your:

Rain coat and boots, umbrella.

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

Battle of the Bulge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWatKEGgS5o This is an awesome documentary with interviews of remaining living soldiers wo fought in this battle. Also watch Wereth 11; War Horse; In Bruges; Waterloo; The Kid With A Bike; L'Enfant; The Broken Circle Breakdown

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Brussels, Belgium 08/18/14

Background:

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

No. Athens, Greece; Colombia (various cities); Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Frankfurt, Germany

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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?

Mesa, Arizona - ranges from 17 - 22 hours depending on connections. Brussels to Heathrow is shortest but government fare requires we fly US Code so we connect in New York, Chicago etc.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 years - from August 2008 until September 2014.

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

U.S. Government.

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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 building owned by the U.S. government with underground parking, located on a metro line. Other expats live in houses outside of Brussels and drive into town. My husband's commute on the metro to the Embassy is about 25 minutes. When he was assigned to U.S. NATO it took him between 45 and 60 minutes each way via metro, train, and/or bus.

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

You can find anything you want if you are not particular about a specific brand. Meat is quite expensive but seasonal fruits and vegetables are fresh, plentiful, and reasonably priced. I do most of my shopping at the commissary (an hour away) and supplement my fresh foods on the economy. Great yogurt, cheese, chocolate etc.

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

Yes. Very expensive to eat out.

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

No insect problems other than flies and some mosquitoes since we have no screens or A/C and must leave windows open in the summer.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch.

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

Very available but costly.

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

There are some available. I only use the one at the military garrison - which is free and quite well developed.

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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?

We have a local account and use that bank card to pay. It is a debit type card - not a credit card. We have a U.S. credit card for travel and U.S. military installation shopping.

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

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has two congregations that are bi-lingual English/French. There are English Catholic services and a non-denominational protestant church available in English as well. I know there is Seventh Day Adventist group but I think it might be bi-lingual as well. There are Jewish synagogues but I do not know if they have services in English. There are many mosques but I doubt those provide English services.

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

In Brussels, we use French every day. Some of the communes that are Flemish have more English speakers.

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

There are some accommodations made but the cobblestones and traffic make it hard to navigate on foot for those with visual or physical challenges.

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Transportation:

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

Yes.

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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 cars are best because parking and driving is the single most stressful part of living here. However, a small car with some undercarriage clearance would be best because the roads are generally in atrocious condition - lots of potholes etc. Very hard on the shocks.

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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. We pay the equivalent of about US$60 per month.

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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?

We use the embassy cell phone plan and it is dirt cheap.

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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?

Some but it requires a ream of paperwork.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Volunteerism is not very common among locals because they have a government cradle to grave system in place. However, there is an organization run by expats called "Serve the City" that organizes service projects once per month for the whole community. There are also some soup kitchens etc that welcome help. I have done most of my volunteering at the school, my church, and in Boy Scouts.

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

I am not employed but my husband wears a tie to work each day. In public, just about anything goes.

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Health & Safety:

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

Crime has gone up during our six years here due to the economic challenges Europe, East Europe, and Africa are experiencing. People come here from all over the world looking for work and there is none so they turn to crime to get by. Beggars on the streets and metros have also increased. However, in most neighborhoods, I feel very safe to walk alone.

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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?

Quality medical care is readily available but hospital/nursing care is less than stellar.

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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 air quality.

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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?

Lots of gray and rainy days but when the sun shines, it is brilliant (and very appreciated). Winters have some snow but seldom interferes with daily life. Some icy and foggy days as well.

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Schools & Children:

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

Several great international schools. Our sons attended the International School of Brussels for middle school and high school. We loved it and they received a top notch education. They also had the opportunity to participate in different sports, theater, choir, scouts, International Award etc. It provides options of IB or AP.

Other schools include St. John's in Waterloo, British School in Tervuren, and Brussels American School in Sterrebeek (primarily used by military families).

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

International School of Brussels has one of the best programs for special needs kids in Europe. It has programs for kids on both ends of the spectrum.

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

Lots through the international schools and through the English speaking Brussels Sports Association.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large and morale seems to be high for most of the people with whom we associate. There are some who complain about everything but I think they bring their own baggage with them.

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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?

Sightseeing, movies, theaters, cultural events, restaurant hopping, involvement in the local schools etc.

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

All.

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

There is a growing animosity toward immigrants, and particularly toward Moroccan and other Islamic immigrants.

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

Sightseeing around Brussels and Europe.

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

Too many to count - museums, beach, historical sites (like Waterloo, Brugges, etc.) forests, river rafting with in reasonable distance, etc etc etc.

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

Chocolate, tapestries, handmade lace, waffles.

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

Great launching place for exploring Europe. Lots of local culture and green spaces (a forest just a ten minute walk from our house) etc.

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9. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heart beat! That is why we have done two back to back tours here (with one SMA while husband was in Iraq in between).

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

Idea that living here is like living in the U.S. Very different world view and standards for behavior.

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3. But don't forget your:

Curiosity and willingness to explore and learn from your new neighbors.

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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. Do you have any other comments?

Like I said before, driving here is challenging with narrow streets, an insane law about always yielding to the right even when you are on a major road, no parking, potholes, confusing intersections etc. Other than that, it is great!

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Brussels, Belgium 07/17/14

Background:

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

No it's our 6th. Haiti, Oman, Mongolia, Zambia, New Zealand were our previous postings.

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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?

Home base for us is Oklahoma. But to get to DC from here it's only about 8 hours (which beats the heck out of the 18 hour flights to China and the 24+ hours it takes to get home from NZ.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

U.S. Embassy/Tri-mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

There is a whole range of housing from apartments to stand-alone houses. And they are spread out to all 19 communes of Brussels and some surrounding suburbs. Do your homework and be very specific on your housing survey. We live in a townhouse in a commune on the edge of the city limits, at the end of the metro line and it's perfect for us. 15 to 20 minute commute via the metro to the Embassy complex, about 45-minute bus ride in the morning to the International School (ISB). Access to buses and trams as well, so if you don't want to drive someplace, you don't have to.

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

Just about everything you could possibly want can be found here between the well-stocked local supermarkets and specialty stores and the commissary at the base. Prices on the local economy can be pretty pricey, so try to keep an eye on the sale ads and buy when things are on sale. I stock up on meat, canned goods, sodas and baking supplies at the base. Veggies, fruit, milk and eggs I buy on the local economy.

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

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

McDonalds - value meal is around 7 euros give or take a few. Pizza Hut - with coupons, 3 pizzas cost about 18 euros. There is also Quick - the European fast food chain. We like it, but we've lived in countries where the fast food is pretty nasty. Just don't eat the churros - they apparently have no idea what churros are supposed to taste like. There is Subway here too. There is a Burger King at the base. KFC can be found in the Netherlands and just about every country surrounding us. In fact they have a lot more fast food restaurants in the all the other countries than are found here in Belgium. It's weird.

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

There seems to be a incredible number of spiders here. But the mosquitos aren't too bad. I am very grateful for this, as there are no screens on the windows in housing here.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch. I did order a prom dress from the UK, but paid customs fees on it.

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

Those who use domestic help pay around 10 euros an hour. There is some sort of service you can sign up for in your commune where you can hire someone for around 7 or so euros and hour.

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

There are a ton of gyms here, but I do find the membership fees to be pretty expensive. The Army Garrison located in one of the eastern communes has a gym, however, that is free to use for those who have access (most Tri-mission personnel and their families). I go there for yoga and my daughter uses the cardio machines. There are other classes as well, and just about every sort of gym equipment you would want to use.

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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?

Most places take credit cards and ATMs are everywhere. Just check to make sure a restaurant takes cards, as there are some that don't even take the local bank cards - just cash.

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

There are a lot of options for English speakers for just about every denomination.

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

My husband and I have some French already, but he rarely uses his. It's useful for reading menus and labels, but not totally necessary. Farther north, they speak mainly Dutch and I have no Dutch whatsoever. But we make a game out of trying to read menus - kind of like Russian roulette with food, lol. Sooo many people speak English, it's actually difficult to practice your French or Dutch.

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

There are lots of accommodations made for those with physical disabilities in Brussels.

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Transportation:

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

Tons of options available. Very safe. Taxis might be on the expensive side and trains can be if travelling last minute (book 3 months or more in advance to get the better rates)

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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?

Larger SUVs are hard to park here. Not all garages are big enough for them. And some houses don't have garages or parking places (be sure to specify if these things are important to you). Little, compact cars are easiest to drive on the narrow streets here and way easier if you need to parallel park (and those parking garages are tight!). We have a big Volvo car that is not so little, but has been handy for hauling visiting family members around.

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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! Again, lots of options. We got a package deal - phone/unlimited internet/cable for about 74 euros a month. Turns out our previous occupants had the free British TV, so we mainly watch that and have given up Belgian cable.

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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?

Lots of different companies and plans available. The Tri-Mission association has a deal with one of the companies and a lot of us use them.

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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?

No quarantine. Lots of great vets and kennels. Belgians love their animals and dogs can often be seen in restaurants and stores.

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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?

Possibly. For the more professional types probably. For those who are multilingual, most definitely. For regular joes like me with no professional leanings and no desire to work at the embassy, not really.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots - just have to look and decide where you want to put your energy.

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

Business attire mostly at work. Whatever you want in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpockets seem to be the worst problem. Don't put your bags on the ground while out and about or eating at restaurants. And there have been a couple of reports of car windows getting smashed so that they can steal bags left on the seats (sometimes while at a traffic light even!).

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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?

No health concerns. Great medical care.

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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?

It's fine. The Belgians will try to tell you that the air quality is poor and that Brussels is polluted, but apparently they haven't lived where I've lived.

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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?

Every one will tell you that it always rains in Brussels and that the weather is horrible. So far, for us, this hasn't been the case. It has rained a bit, but a whole lot less than Seattle and TONS less than Wellington, NZ (on average it rains 16 inches more per year in Wellington than in Brussels) and it's a whole lot less windy here than in Wellington. I always have a rain coat with me of some kind though, just in case it decides to sprinkle. Our winter this year was very mild, but I know that they had quite a bit of snow the year before, so we'll have to wait and see what this next winter brings us.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several options. We use ISB and our daughter LOVES it there. Of course it's the biggest school she's attended and offers more activities than our other schools have in the past. They offer both the IB and AP classes and it's as challenging academically as you want it to be. There is also St. John's international school in Waterloo that some mission kids attend. They seem to be happy with it as well. There is also the DOD school that is a good option for those that are used to the US style curriculum (Brussels American School).

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

ISB has a great program for special needs kids. I don't know about the other schools.

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

All the schools have great sports programs and there are lots of clubs on the local economy that our kids can join as well.

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Expat Life:

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

The expat community is HUGE. I think morale varies a great deal. For those who need more support, it's hard to find, as everyone is kind of doing their own thing. You have to really go out and be proactive if you want to meet people. But there are quite a few different American clubs and other English speaking clubs if you are inclined to do so.

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

It's a good city for everyone.

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

It is a wonderful city for LGTB expats. We just attended the biggest Pride celebration I have ever been to (well, I'm not from NY or LA, so I can't compare it to those places) and there is a lot of support and opportunity for the community.

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

People seem to blame everything on the Moroccans, but I've not seem anything too blatant regarding prejudices.

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

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

See my entry above on "advantages of living here" - Bouillon, Ghent, Dinant, Maasmechlen, Bruges, Abbaye d'Villers, Oostende, Namur, Liege, Tongeren - the list just goes on...

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

Chocolate, beer, lace, tapestries, pastries - trips to seriously cool places.

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

There are so many it's difficult to remember all of them. First of all, location. Belgium is centrally located, so it's easy to travel to so many countries throughout western and eastern Europe. And there are always cheap airfares to countries farther afield, so travel opportunities out of the region abound. BUT Belgium itself is full of historical sites as well as hiking/boating/biking opportunities. You could easily spend all your weekends exploring Belgian cities (at least I could) with it's cathedrals, castles, museums and old ruins. I just found out that there are TONS of music festivals held all over the country with top artists playing (very much wish I'd found out about that before my college student got here). Then there are festivals, cultural events, art exhibits, concerts, ballets, plays, operas, tours, clubs of all kinds, sporting events - you name it. The food is excellent, especially the chocolate, the pastries, the beer, and the waffles. For those of us who are part of the Tri-mission there is also the US military base with a PX and a full commissary (just like a US grocery store but cheaper!) about an hour's drive away (I've spent more time in traffic in half the countries I've lived in). This totally helps with the cost of food on the local economy.

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9. Can you save money?

Not really. But if you shop at the base for groceries you can mitigate the sting of the cost of living.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

YES! I'm trying to figure out how to stay here without sending the officer away to a war zone!

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

Diets - it's a lost cause here. And preconceived notions of how things are supposed to work in developed countries.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of adventure.

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4. Do you have any other comments?

The only big knock I have on Belgium is that the shopping in general kind of sucks and stuff is a lot more expensive than in the surrounding countries. I suggest going to Koln, Germany or Lille, France for bigger and better selections of clothing, as well as much better prices. Even hopping across to the UK is better for clothing purchases.

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Brussels, Belgium 04/28/14

Background:

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

This is the second. Previously in Moscow.

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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?

DC is home base. Easy trip from Brussels to DC at just over 8 hrs; DC to Brussels can be really fast at 6.5 hrs. Direct flight on United.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 3 years out of a 4-year tour.

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

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is typically good and fairly central but spread out all across the city. Commutes can range anywhere from a 10-minute walk (city apartment living) to a 30-40-minute commute on the bus/metro.

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

For a family of 4, we easily spend 120-150 Euros per week on groceries.

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

Everything can be purchased locally or later through Amazon or other online retailers. Kids' toys tend to be on the expensive side so perhaps think ahead if you need something.

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

McDonald's, of course. There is also Subway and now we have a few Starbucks in the area. Sandwiches are fairly common for lunch and can range from 3-5 Euros each. Decent restaurants are not cheap and a dinner for two can easily run 100 Euros.

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

We seem to be the only people with this problem but because our home has a fairly good size garden, we have tons of mosquitoes. Also, lots of snails around!

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and pouch. DPO is really fast here - can take as little as 1 week to receive something from Amazon. Pouch can take about 3 weeks.

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

Domestic help is certainly available but not cheap. Typical cost is 10 Euros per hour but household help needs to be sponsored by the employee. Otherwise, you can use the local "titre-services" system and go through a local agency. Cost for 2014 is 9 Euros per hour but unless you know someone who works with a particular agency already or is willing to sign up, the agency will send you a person you don't know. This is the Belgian government system for making domestic workers legal. You pay 9 Euros per hour but the government subsidizes and the employee makes a lot more than 9 Euros plus they get benefits.

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

Yes, lots of options ranging anywhere from 70 Euros per month and up to 150 Euros for a fancy tennis club with pool.

I understand NATO has good facilities but those are not accessible to all USG employees.

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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?

Plenty of ATMs and credit cards are widely used. However, some retailers will only take a debit card to a local account. Also, because not all U.S. cards have chips; they may not be accepted.

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

Probably.

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

It is helpful but you can survive without it. Once in a while you will find someone who speaks no English (like the mechanic for your car!).

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

Yes, not all metros are wheelchair accessible. Not all streets have curb cuts, lots of cobble stones and narrow door entries.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, all safe and relatively affordable. However, a taxi from the airport to town is pricey - over 50 Euros each way.

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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?

Any car will do but parking can be tight in some streets so it's probably easier to have a smaller car.

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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, high-speed available. We pay about 85 Euros per month for internet that includes TV basic cable and telephone.

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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?

Cell phones can be obtained through the Tri-Mission association at an affordable cost.

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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?

Pet care good, no quarantine.

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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?

There are a few people I know who have been able to find work locally but not too many. Most jobs require not only English and French but also Dutch.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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

Just like being in DC. . .

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Health & Safety:

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

Not in particular but there have been a few major demonstrations from local unions, fire service, etc that have turned a bit violent.

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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?

Generally good medical care although we know a few people with poor experiences. Belgian doctors have a different way of "doing medicine" and I have the impression that it is more of a wait and see approach.

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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, with a few days during the summer at what is considered "unhealthy" but this is rare.

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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?

Not too hot in the summer with the exception of a week or two and not too cold in the winter (last winter didn't really get below 10C). Weather tends to be a bit on the dreary side, lots of drizzle and clouds. But, sometimes we get lucky and have a period of several weeks of sunshine!

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Schools & Children:

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

Tons of school options and I think most people are very happy with whatever they selected. ISB has a very good reputation. There is also the French Lycee, British School, a DOD school and many local options.

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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?

It is very common for Belgian children to start daycare ("Creche") from 4 months and attend through 2.5yrs. Typical cost ranges from 550 Euros per month all the way up to 950 Euros for a creche that caters to expats.

By age 3, children are in school which is, for the most part, free. Early years are called "maternelle" but parents interested in this option need to put their children on the wait list in advance or face the possibility of not having a spot in school.

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

Yes, tons of options. When kids have school vacations, there are lots of options for "camps" or "stages" as they are called - anything from rock climbing to theatre to tennis, etc. Prices are typically from 135 Euros - 200 Euros for the week, depending on the camp.

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Expat Life:

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

This is a tri-Mission (NATO, USEU and the bi-lat) so huge government expat community plus plenty of expats working for U.S. companies and others.

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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?

Same as anywhere!

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

Yes, great for families. Lots of parks and indoor play centers (since it often rains!).

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

Not sure but I imagine yes.

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

Have not heard of any Embassy employees being targeted.

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

Travel outside of Brussels.

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

Hard to say - there are lots of fun things to do but while Brussels is a relatively nice place to live; this isn't Paris or London!

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

Beer, chocolate, tapestry, lace

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

Great food, easy to get around, most people in the city speak English, good travel opportunities within Europe.

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10. Can you save money?

Only if you are very frugal.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

While this is Western Europe, there are still plenty of things that surprise me like the absolutely terrible customer service.

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

Yes.

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

Any thoughts you may have about saving money unless you don't plan to do any travelling.

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4. But don't forget your:

Weight scale - you will need it to measure all those pounds you are gaining after you start eating the fabulous chocolate, french fries, waffles and drinking all that beer.

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Brussels, Belgium 01/19/14

Background:

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

Nope. I've lived in several European, Middle East and African cities.

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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?

Multiple direct choices per day to major cities along the East Coast of the U.S.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two and a half years.

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

Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Mission to NATO.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most State Department housing is located in the Central or Eastern parts of the cities or the suburbs. Singles are in apartments. Families are in some of the nicest, sizable homes I've seen in developed world posts. The U.S. Embassy and Mission to the EU are easily reached via public transport. I would advise a car for anyone working at NATO. Brussels drivers are the worst I've seen in Western Europe. Morning traffic is awful if you leave after 8:00am. Commutes from downtown to NATO at this hour might be 30-45 minutes.

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

Costs are high as in other Western European cities. U.S. government employees can access a commissary at an airbase one hour south of Brussels. It's just like shopping at a U.S. grocery store with dollar prices equivalent to those you'd find in the U.S. suburbs. This is a great savings for those with families.

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

Maybe boutique liquors and food items from back home. Everything is available and almost anything can be shipped via APO.

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

Quick is the Belgian version of McDonalds. Lots of frites shops as well as Turkish snack shops. Brussels is an international city and almost every cuisine imaginable is available. I think restaurant costs are rather high compared to neighboring countries.

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

None really. Some mosquitos during warmer months.

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Daily Life:

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

APO and DPO is available. Bringing in items with lithium batteries has been a problem.

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

Costs average 10 euro/hour. You can lower your costs by using a "titre de service" agency. About 20% of the cost is subsidized by the government to encourage use of this option which keeps workers in the official market.

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

Local gyms are available but I've never used them. NATO employees have access to good facilities at the Staff Centre. U.S. government employees can access a great gym at the local Army facility. There are a range of good, low-cost indoor pools throughout the city.

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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. Be cautious. Attempts to steal PINs and then nick cards are high. Reporting theft means going to a local police station to file a report before the bank will begin an investigation.

Local banks offer a Maestro "bank contact" card that is widely accepted throughout Belgium. I find myself needing to rely on my U.S. Visa card when visiting other countries.

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

Available, but I'm unsure of the specifics.

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

English is widely spoken but knowledge of a local language will help you navigate Belgium's horrendous bureaucracy and lack of a customer service culture. French is the local lingua franca but Dutch is spoken in Brussels and the Flanders region.

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

Most older buildings and areas of the city are not easily accessible to those with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

Local public transport is largely cheap and safe. Taxis are expensive and the drivers often navigate traffic like maniacs at high speeds.

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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 cars are recommended but many expats survive with small SUVs. Diplomats are eligible for tax-free gas, which is quite a savings. Parts for European and Japanese cars are readily available. All cars must be outfitted with fog lights.

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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?

We have a landline, cable and high-speed Internet with unlimited downloads through Belgacom that costs about 100 euro/month.

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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?

U.S. Tri-Mission employees can obtain SIMs for phones and tables from the Tri-Mission Association store. This is a great help as they often will act as the middle-man with the phone company, which means avoiding poor Belgian customer service.

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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?

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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?

Both French and Dutch are often needed to obtain work on the local market, but U.S. government family members have lots of options at the Tri-Missions.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Some available.

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

Typical business wear at work. Casual in pubic.

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Health & Safety:

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

Some on the Western side of the city but most expats live in the Central or Eastern communes.

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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?

High quality medical care is available but either French or Dutch is helpful to navigate effectively.

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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?

Moderate. Some smoggy days but my allergy problems have not been bad compared to past expat experiences.

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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?

Cool most of the year with lots of intermittent light rainfall. Very occasional, very short periods of hot weather and snowfall.

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Schools & Children:

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

No experience with schools, but the International School of Brussels is supposed to be one of the best in Europe. Many FSOs try to get jobs here for that reason alone. Most U.S. Department of Defense families are required to send their children to Brussels American School.

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

Lots of special accommodations available though I'm unsure of specifics.

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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?

Good paid daycare options for babies. At age two and a half, all children are eligible to attend local public French or Flemish pre-schools free of charge as long as they are potty-trained.

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

Multiple.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large and and very international. Most people are pretty happy to be here, but the cloudy winters can get you down.

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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?

We work long hours at NATO so most people are ready to go home at the end of the day. Many delegations host events (e.g. national days) during business hours in the NATO cafeteria.

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

Great for everyone.

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

Yes.

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

Some local prejudice against newer communities of Turkish and Moroccan descent.

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

Good food, great chocolate, unique beer locally. Interesting cities to visit include Bruges, Antwerp, Leuven, Lieges. Exploring the Ardennes and learning about Belgium's experience in the two World Wars.

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

Sampling the various types of chocolate, beer and gin throughout the country. Hikes in the Ardennes. Looking for interesting antiques.

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

Chocolate, beer, lace, antiques, artwork.

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

Easy connections to other parts of Europe. You can get to London, Paris or Frankfurt quickly by air or high speed rail. Direct air connections to other parts of Europe are abound.

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10. Can you save money?

Sure, if you buy all your food at the commissary, don't eat out and go home every night, but who wants to do that?

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

The incredible lack of a customer service culture. Even Paris is better.

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

Of course. Brussels may not be the most exciting city in the world but you're at the heart of Western Europe.

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

Suntan lotion.

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4. But don't forget your:

Rain gear.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:


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6. Do you have any other comments?

Belgians can be grumpy on the surface. (Who wouldn't be if you had to live through the local weather?) But, they can be incredibly kind and welcoming if you take the time to get to know them.

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Brussels, Belgium 01/04/14

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

Two direct flights to and from D.C. per day.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 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?

Most of the embassy community lives South and East of the city center. Generally speaking, the closer to downtown you live, the smaller your housing and the lower your chance of having a small yard will be. The downtown embassy housing is often spacious apartments; a little further out you are typically in row houses with multiple stories. Most are happy with embassy housing.

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

Groceries and household supplies are expensive. American diplomats can use Chievres Air Base Commissary though to offset that somewhat.

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

Patio furniture.

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

Very few American style chains exist here. There's Pizza Hut, and a couple of others, but not all over. Food is quite expensive. The few exceptions are wine, beer, bread, and cheese.

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

Very few, even with windows open most of the year.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO .

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

Lots of people have cleaners, many are Filipino. Cleaning fees are comparable to D.C. Prices.

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

Yes, the Tri-mission has a very small one. Gyms here are expensive with terrible hours.

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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?

Don't expect to use credit cards too often. A European Bancontact/Maestro debit card with a chip is a must or use cash at most places.

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

St. Anthony's in Kraainem is a nice English speaking Roman Catholic Church.

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

Lots of people speak English in Brussels. It is full of diplomats and other Europeans. But, some French is quite helpful, particularly for things like local preschools, dealing with the phone company, stuff with your commune, etc.

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

Yes, Belgium and Europe are obviously old with lots of cobblestone and lacking in elevators and other accessibility.

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Transportation:

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

Public transportation is very good. Living near a metro station is very convenient. There are also trams and safe city buses. Trains around Belgium are also easy and cheap.

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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?

A smaller car is best. American SUVs are difficult to park and drive on the narrow streets.

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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, it's decent and comparable price to D.C. You will need a VPN to stream things like NETFLIX, ESPN, etc.

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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?

Bring an unlocked smartphone. They're very expensive. Data plans aren't too bad though and seem comparable to the U.S.

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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?

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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?

Not on the local economy, and work permits seem difficult.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Tons.

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

Same as U.S. but people don't go out in yoga pants and casual workout type clothes.

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Health & Safety:

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

No, not really.

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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?

Socialized medicine here seems quite good and very cheap for most routine things.

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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?

Chilly, dark, and rainy much of the year- the one downside to living here. No air conditioners are needed because summers are cool. The summers can give you a spectacular month or so and have long days. On the flip side, the winter days are quite short.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most seem to use ISB, but some use St. John's or local schools.

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

ISB seems to do a good job, I'm not sure about other schools.

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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?

Yes, French and Dutch speaking local schools start at 2.5 years and are basically free, including for diplomats.

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

Yes, there are lots of sports opportunities 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 expat community with high morale.

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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?

Travel.

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

Great for families, good for couples, but singles think it's a little sleepy.

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

Probably.

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

No.

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

Seeing most of Europe.

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

There's soooo much to do and see and you can do it by car, train, or plane.

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

Loads of delicious, unique beer and chocolate and Christmas markets.

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

Amazing travel.

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10. Can you save money?

This isn't the place to save money. The travel opportunities are too fantastic plus the cost of living is high.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I knew about the weather and darkness but a second challenge is the hours of stores. Things are closed at night and on Sundays making errands and shopping difficult if you work.

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

Absolutely!

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

Large summer wardrobe and sunglasses.

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4. But don't forget your:

Raincoats, rain boots, and sweaters.

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

Not sure.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:


is the closest thing.

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Brussels, Belgium 10/03/12

Background:

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

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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?

Arizona, USA. Phoenix to Washington, D.C. to Brussels. 13 hours air time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

(The contributor was affiliatd with the U.S. Embassy and lived in Brussels from July of 2010 through June of 2012, a first expat experiene.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

U.S. Embassy housing is good and ranges from in-city apartments to free-standing houses in the communes. Often the houses are plain with not a lot of character on the inside, but functional and clean. If you are are a senior employee or have a large family, then the housing is really quit nice. Commute time is 45 minutes to an hour if you live outside the city center.

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

Expensive. I shopped exclusively at the US Base, otherwise it would have been a very expensive tour for a first-tour employee. Bakeries abound and are very good. Stores are closed on Sundays.

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

Sun lamp, airline tickets to Potugal or Spain for a sun fix, rain boots and umbrellas.

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

Quick Burger (not so good), Burger King at the U.S. Base, 1 or 2 McDonald's, Pizza Hut. Not a lot of fast food in Belgium. Lots of restaurants, though, but they are expensive for the most part.

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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?

Used U.S. APO

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

N/A

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

Yes, although expensive and primarily indoors due to the weather.

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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?

Common practice, although I rarely did it, but preferred to operate in cash to avoid the finance fees.

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

Yes, all.

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

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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?

You can get by without any, but at times you will have to move on to someone that speaks your language to get your answer. It would really help to know French or Dutch (Flemish). Belgians are not particularly friendly or service-conscious.

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

Sidewalks are very bumpy, often with coblestones or uneven concrete. The Metro system does have systems in place, but there are very few elevators, making it almost impossible for wheelchairs.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, although pick pockets abound on the metro, so take little with you and be ever vigilant.

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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. We had a four-door sedan with a long wheel base, and although we managed, it was hard to make some turns and get down the narrow streets. Gasoline is expensive...about $7 gal.

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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, about 60-70 euro a month.

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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?

Mobistar is good.

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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?

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

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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?

Yes, but a work permit can be a lengthy wait (2-4 mos).

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

European, but not as formal as Paris. It is rare to see someone in sweats or shorts.

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Health & Safety:

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

No, but as the EU and NATO are based there, the security detail is more evident than in some other places.

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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?

No health concerns. Hospitals are good, but bedside manner is poor, and not a lot of time is spent with treatment. The hospitals don't look as shiny and new as those in U.S. I recommend the Dutch-speaking hospitals (Leuven) over those in Brussels.

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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 to moderate...wet.

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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?

Rain, drizzle, rain, sometimes snow (mild). Warm weather about 5-10 days a year.

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Schools & Children:

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

The DoD school was small in number of students, but it worked well for our highschooler. He enjoyed the small class size and the opportunity for all to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. There are several other int'l schools in Brussels, and they all seem to have good reputations, but it can be hard to get in if your lead time is short.

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

Brussels American School (DoD) had 2+ teachers dedicated to teaching kids with special needs. The program worked well for our child, but may not be "enough" for others.

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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

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies. It is a good post to be annoynomous in. Because there are so many expats and so many outside things to do, community members don't necessarily need each other, so they tend to go their separate ways. We met some wonderful people, and as it always is, it is the people that made this a good tour for us!

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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...usual big city things.

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

Yes.

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

Yes.

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

Not that I came into contact with, although the French and Dutch speakers have a long-standing disagreement about language.

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

Traveling in Europe was the highlight.

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

Trapist Monk monestaries for beer, chocolate shops, lace shops, frites, waffles, walking in the rain. Leaving the city and seeing Europe.

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

Belgian lace, chocolates, beer.

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

Touring is the #1 advantage. Being in the heart of Western Europe, you can travel easily, although not inexpensively. We went to 13 countries in 2 years! Weather was the biggest disadvantage for me. If you do not like rain and grey skies, do not go. As a Westerner, I found the weather very depressing. Of course, the chocolate makes up for it at first (and the beer if you are a beer drinker), but the bad weather is a constant topic of conversation and a real bummer.

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11. Can you save money?

If you travel, probably not.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. I would not go again because I now know how much the weather effects me. If you are someone from a rainy place (Portland, Seattle, etc.) then Brussels will be like that...on steroids!

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

shorts and swimsuit.

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella, rain slicker and boots.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 05/16/12

Background:

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

A fourth expat experience, after New York, Sydney and Cologne.

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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?

London, two hours by Eurostar!

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years, 2007-2009.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

A great selection of old-style apartments in the city centre and Ixelles. Those with families often go for houses on the periphery- Tervuren is very popular with British expats.

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

Everything available, cost is normal.

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

You can buy it all here, more or less.

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

Everything from McDonald's to Michelin-starred restaurants, with prices for every budget. Maybe a shortage of places which do takeout or deliver to your place... you have to wait a while for your Chinese/Indian/Pizza.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Great selection.

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6. 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?

Belgian postal service works fine.

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

Easy to get, cheap compared with Britain.

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

Yes, loads of gyms. Sad lack of an outdoor swimming pool, but there are lots of reasonably-priced indoor pools.

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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?

No problem.

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

Yes, Catholic, Protestant at least.

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

Yes, English-language newspapers available at Waterstones in the city centre. You can get BBC and English-language news stations with your standard TV package.

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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?

People can live fine doing everything in English. Generally if you call up a service provider and choose the 'Dutch' option, the person will speak English. The Flemish community runs subsidized, super-cheap Dutch classes... take a few of those and you'll probably be able to converse in Dutch on a par with snotty shop assistants and commune officials.

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

Some. There are a lot of cobblestones and small streets which could present difficulties for wheelchair users. Venues can be less wheelchair friendly than in N. America or Britain.

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Transportation:

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

Trains, buses, metro, trams are all safe, cheap, reliable with easily -- there are route planners and timetables online. Taxis are a bit expensive, actually, and bring your A-Z as they often don't know where they are going (no "The Knowledge" test here).

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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?

Driving in Brussels is hard; parking is harder. Something small and nippy would be good -- but you don't need a car at all!

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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.

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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?

Nope.

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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?

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

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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?

Totally. Lots of international organisations, business, NGOs, lobby groups, thinktanks if you have skills. If you are unskilled, pretty hard,as for retail/clerical jobs you'll often need French and Dutch, if not also English.

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

Standard, western. Female friends of mine from the US/Britain found they got hassles/taunts in the city centre from (mostly immigrant) men if they dressed up at night in the same way they would at home (short skirts, tank tops etc). So prepare to wear jeans and a scarf on your Saturday night out...

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Health & Safety:

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

Some pickpocketing, muggings, smash and grabs. Caution needed in areas like Molenbeek and St Josse after dark.

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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?

No health concerns, I found the quality of care excellent. Going to Casualty was a dream compared with the experience in Britain. I bought Belgian health insurance and found it very affordable.

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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?

Moderate, I think.

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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?

Weather is a bit grim. Lots of rain, overcast a lot. Summers can be muggy, winters grey.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

Yup.

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Expat Life:

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

Massive!

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2. Morale among expats:

Ok. Lots of younger people complain that it is boring. Folks with kids appreciate the quality of life and ease of living.

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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 great restaurants and cozy little bars and cafés. No closing time, but the selection of nightclubs aren't great.

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

Good for all, I'd say. Perhaps a little dull for singles in their early 20s.

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

While a very tolerant country, the gay scene in Brussels isn't very big (or good), and the lesbian scene almost negligible. While native Belgians are generally not homophobic, there have been a number of attacks on gay men/venues by immigrant youths.

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

No. The big prejudices are Flemish vs. Francophone...

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

Amazing food, cycling across Flanders beside canals and windmills, some great nights out in Antwerp and Ghent. Brussels is so compact and public transport so good that extensive planning is not necessary and it is easy to meet up with friends on the spur of the moment for dinner or drinks.

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

Beautiful cycling trips through Flanders, weekends in the Ardennes hills, shopping in Antwerp.

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

Chocolate, beer, amazing patisserie.

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

The cost of housing is so much lower than in most capitals in Western Europe. You can get amazing art-deco apartments in the centre, or houses further out. You are so close to so many great cities/regions... Cologne, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Normandy are all within a few hours. Lots of great, cheap (subsidized) culture (theater, art, opera, dance).

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, it is so much cheaper than London, I saved a packet.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. It is a very comfortable and affordable place to be, but a little dull if you are single and in your 20s. The lack of customer service can be frustrating also.

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

Sunscreen.

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3. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, raincoat, and a good book to pass the time during all those queues at the local commune, the supermarket etc.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

What people complain most about here is the customer service. I think it is getting better, but service from utility companies, shops and restaurants can be dreadful, if not plain rude at times. Nightclubs, bars and restaurants can sometimes be very frustrating places as staff work slowly and/or with inefficient systems, chat with their friends, or simply ignore you. A particularly annoying system is that at some venues one must queue twice -- once to buy a drink voucher, and then to exchange that voucher for a drink.

Landlords also gouge international tenants and it pays to bring a Belgian with you when inspecting a flat/entering into a rental contract. There is a lot of (seemingly) unnecessary and unhelpful bureaucracy, which coupled with unhelpful and surly commune officials, can make for a frustrating time. Officials will insist on only communicating in Dutch or French (the official languages). When registering or doing something at the commune, it often pays to bring a French or a Dutch speaker with you -- you'll be spared the Francophone officials' sighs and eyerolls at the standard of your French!

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Brussels, Belgium 01/22/12

Background:

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

Seventh

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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, direct is about 8 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing varies from townhouses and single homes out by the schools outside of town to nice apartments downtown. I think the housing is consistently good throughout the pool. They actually give you a choice of two housing options that correspond to your housing questionnaire reply.

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

We buy all of our fresh fruits and vegetables at the local market (there is one in a different section of the city every day of the week).It's a bit more expensive than the U.S., but the quality is also higher. For meats, household items, etc., we have access to Chievres Commissary which is 45 minutes away. It's just like any large supermarket in middle America with prices that are much cheaper than the local supermarkets or even the east and west coasts of America. It really allows you to stretch your money.

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

Bikes! This isn't as much of a biking town as Amsterdam, but there are still a lot of bike paths throughout the city. As far as food, everything you need you can get at the Commissary or locally.

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

All of them. The Shawarma places that are all over the city are a real gem for a cheap lunch. The Belgians don't each much processed food, which is fantastic.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

It seems like everything in the local markets is organic. There is surprisingly (pleasantly) processed foods here.

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6. 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?

The DPO service is excellent.

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

About 12 Euros per hour for a house cleaning services.

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

There are a range of options. An adequate gym near my apartment downtown offers memberships for 15 Euros per month.

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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?

Easy to use. However, for normal bills (phone, cell phones, cable, gyms, etc.) you will need a local bank account.

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

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

Cable TV, internet, phone bundles are available at about 100 Euros per month.

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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?

It's nice to have some french, but, as this is the capital of the EU, most people speak english to varying degrees.

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

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Although the Belgians constantly complain about the service, the public transportation system is surprisingly good.

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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! Parking in the various apartment buildings throughout the city is very tight. Many people can't fit their cars into the parking areas and have to park it on the street.

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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?

See above. Internet connectivity is great.

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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?

The embassy supplies all staff with phones. Family members usually use the TMA located at the Embassy for family member subscriptions. A BlackBerry account runs about 45 Euros per month.

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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?

No.

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

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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?

There are quite a few jobs available in the Tri-Mission

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

Suit and tie at work. Belgians dress well.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really any more than any other major city. The usual pick pockets in touristy areas.

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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?

Great hospitals and an embassy Health Unit committed to helping you. No problems here. Doctor visits are surprisingly affordable. Dentists are more expensive than the U.S.

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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?

The air quality is OK.It's all relative to where you lived. After living in mega-metropolitan Asian cities, this is a breeze..Lots of green parks in this city.

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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?

Cold, damp and rainy all the time. Also, very dark during the summer months with sunrise past 8:00 a.m. and dark again before 5:00 p.m.

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Schools & Children:

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

The schools are excellent. There are three options with a good split among the three.

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

The Int.'l School of Brussels has more special needs curriculum that any other international school I have seen in the Foreign Service.

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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?

Yes!I SB even offers an American Football program!

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Expat Life:

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

This is a town full of expats given Brussels' position as the EU capital.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. I would say the most challenging aspect of this post is the locally engaged staff. Belgian law is very much slanted toward the workers. Belgians don't feel the need to work very hard, and can call in sick for long periods of time with no consequences---and they do!

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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?

All good. However, the fact that the town (and country) literally shuts down on Saturday night and doesn't open until Monday morning took some getting used to.

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

Good for all.

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

Sure. It's Europe.

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

Of course, there is the French vs. Flemish hostilities. The Belgians aren't very happy about the saturation of Moroccans, Africans, and Romanians flowing in, but they keep their prejudices fairly discreet.

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

The outdoor markets, day trips to Luxembourg, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, etc. A three day trip down Germany's Romantic Road.

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

You can get anywhere in Europe by train, car, or budget airline. Also, I had low expectations about the city of Brussels and Belgium, but it has pleasantly surprised me. It's a easy place to live and the Belgians are fairly polite in public. The food is excellent.

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

Travel, travel, and more travel.

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

Touring the neighboring countries:Drive times include Cologne at 1 3/4 hrs., Amsterdam 2 1/4, Wurzburg 5 1/2, Austrian border 7 hrs., Luxembourg 2 1/4, Paris 3 hrs., the Champagne region 3 hrs., Dusseldorf 1 3/4 hrs...Trains are also easy with constant specials running to all Europe destinations. The food is surprisingly good here, albeit expensive. The outdoor markets (a different area of the city each day) have top-quality fruits and vegetables of higher quality than the U.S.Same for cheeses, cold cuts and desserts.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really, but no one comes here to save money. Everyone spends their money traveling throughout Europe.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Some people complain about Brussels, but it's an easy place to live.

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

Any idea of european efficiency. This is not Germany. Everything you do requires more time than the U.S.

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3. But don't forget your:

Good umbrellas, bikes.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Brussels, Belgium, and the Tri-Mission get a bum rap. This is a busy post, and hard work is demanded from the officers. There is the added pressure on officers due to the lack of productivity of the LES staff. However, if you can get over the weather, it's an easy place to live for families, couples and singles.

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Brussels, Belgium 11/25/11

Background:

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

Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Chicago, Washington, Santiago, Barbados, Bergen, Abidjan

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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?

Toronto, 7 hours, through Montreal

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3. How long have you lived here?

4.5 years

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

government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mostly apartment in the center, houses in the close and outlying suburbs. Commute by metro 15-25 minutes, trams, buses; if you can choose the time at which to drive into the office, car commute will be 15-20 minutes; if not, it can take 40 minutes plus.

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

Extensive. Belgians like quality and will pay for it. Expect to shell out 20-30% more than back home but you'll get quality

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

peanut butter, maple syrup, molasses, baking powder,spice/cake mixes,personal care products (much more expensive here)

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

Pizza Hut, McDonald, Domino's Pizza, but why bother when so many thousands of good restaurants exist?

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

All available; more and more home delivery services available for these services as well

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

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Daily Life:

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

by Belgian mail

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

cleaning lady available for 7.5 euros /hour through local agencies, at 10-12 euros an hour through word of mouth in Embassy

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

yes but expensive

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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 extensively used.

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

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

Lots of English language programming is available if you subscribe to Flemish cable

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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?

There is a very large English speaking community in Brussels, so you can live in your bubble if you wish.

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

Tough to walk, lots of cobblestones, and few amenities for disabled access.

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Transportation:

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

yes and yes

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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?

Don't bring a new car or a larger than average car; you'll get nothing but dings, due to the very narrow parking spaces everywhere. Anything larger than a VW Golf is considered large locally and will have some trouble parking.

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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, through various venders, often in packs (fixed tel line, cell line, internet and cable); check what you need carefully before committing to service

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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?

everyone has one

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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?

View All Answers


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

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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?

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

Smart business attire.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpocketing capital of Western Europe

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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?

Very good health care quality, except for dentists. No dental hygienists available (work is done, brutally, by dentists).

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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?

Moderate to poor in Brussels, where most cars burn diesel, and where there is a high level or particulate matter: asthma, colds, allergies are common

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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?

Poor summers, with long, pleasant springs and falls. Winters vary from no snow to 2-3 weeks of snow. The problem is that few drivers have winter tires, and fewer still know how to maneuver on snow.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

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2. Morale among expats:

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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?

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

Yes for all

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

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

There is a growing prejudice towards North Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants.

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

Frequent forays to auctions (salles de vente) some of the best in Western Europe

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

Museums, theatre, music venues.

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

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

Excellent food, chocolate, beer; high end culture, central location to most of Central/Western Europe

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11. Can you save money?

Some, if you don't partake in the cultural life

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably not.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 08/22/11

Background:

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

I've also served in Nairobi, Bonn, Paris, Ankara.

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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?

It's about a 8 hour flight from Washington, DC.

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3. How long have you lived here?

I've been here 2 years.

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

I'm affiliated with the US 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?

If you're unfortunate enough to be part of the US Government's tri-mission housing pool, housing is a serious morale issue here. It varies greatly, there are some very nice places, but there are some real dumps also and the housing office seems to have little or no interest in accommodating people's personal needs or preferences. If housing is important to you be prepared to fight a long hard battle to get what you want. On the other hand, my friends who are expats not associated with the US Government, all found very nice places quickly and easily. There is a ton of great housing available - houses in the suburbs if that's what you prefer or very nice townhouses and apartments in the city.

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

Many people shop regularly at the commissary in Chievres, which is about 45 minutes from Brussels. But you can also find anything and everything on the local market. Prices in the grocery stores and some of the local markets are higher than the US, but if you look around you can find good deals in some of the outdoor markets and less expensive stores.

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

Nothing - you can get anything you want here.

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

If you like to dine out, Brussels is a great city for that as there are tons and tons of excellent restaurants. Be prepared to pay more than you'd pay in Washington, however. But the quality makes it worth it.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

It's easy to find organic foods here as at least in our neighborhood there seems to be an organic store on every other corner.

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

Very little.

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Daily Life:

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

We get most of our mail by DPO. Some of my expat friends have reported problems getting packages via the local post office.

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

We hire maids through a local system that is government supported to help people find jobs. The cost is 7.50 euros per hour.

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

The embassy has a workout facility. There are also numerous gyms throughout the Brussels area, though I'm told they can be expensive.

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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?

I have had no problems using either credit cards or ATMs here at all. The Belgian banking system is much more advanced than the US and many vendors expect to be paid by either credit card or electronic funds transfer.

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

It's no problem to find whatever type of religious service you want.

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

There are several english language newspapers available, the IHT, WSJ, all the British papers.

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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?

Language is a very interesting issue here as just about every political and social issue comes down to the divide between the French speakers and Dutch speakers. In fact, you are much better off speaking English to a Belgian than speaking the "wrong" local language.

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

Like many european cities, getting around Brussels would be difficult for people with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

You can get just about anywhere by public transportation at very reasonable prices. You can also venture further out by train to just about anywhere in Europe.

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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?

You'll see just about every type of vehicle here, though I would hesitate to bring a big SUV, or other large vehicle just because it's so difficult to find a place to park.

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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?

Belgium is behind some of its neighbors in offering low cost alternatives for cable TV, internet and phone, but it's slowly catching up. We have a package of internet, phone, and cable TV through the local phone company and pay about 90 euros a month. We could find cheaper now, but to change would take a few weeks, most likely longer, and we dont' want to be without in the interim.

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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?

Everybody has cell phones here.

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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?

No.

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

The vets here are excellent.

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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?

Yes, if you speak French and Dutch.

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

At work, it's basically like DC.In public, people aren't quite as casual as they are in the states.

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Health & Safety:

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

Brussels is a typical big city. There is a great deal of petty crime - pickpocketing, etc. But in general I feel very safe walking around the city.

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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 is excellent. Both my wife and I have been unfortunate enough to experience lots of it, and we've been very impressed. Our doctors here are much better than most of the doctors we saw in the US.And they charge much less. Medicine is also cheaper here. For one of the meds I take regularly, the total cost in Brussels is less than my copay in the States.

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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?

The air quality is fine.

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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?

Be prepared for rain, lots of rain.

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Schools & Children:

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

We don't have kids, but my colleagues who do seem very pleased with the schools here.

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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?

Huge, too big. I sometimes think there are more expats than Belgians in Brussels.

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2. Morale among expats:

In general, it's not bad. I think people like living here OK, but working here is another story...

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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?

Given the size how dispersed the US Government community is here, there isn't the cohesion you find in smaller places. Everybody pretty much does there own thing. There are lots of international organization to join and it's very easy to meet other expats.

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

It's a very good city for families with children. Singles and couples will find it less so, unless they get out of the city.

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

I believe so.

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

I've seen very little prejudice expressed by Belgians - except for the French/Flemish divide of course. On the other hand, the Americans in the USG tri-missions demonstrate real and significant prejudice against foreign born spouses. If you have a foreign born spouse, especially if he/she wants to work in the tri-missions, I would consider very carefully if you really want to come to Brussels.

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

In two years here, I've only spent perhaps 30 percent of the weekends in Brussels. There is just so little to do here, and so many interesting places close by. We've spent numerous weekends in France, Germany, The Netherlands, etc.

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

As mentioned above, the best thing to do in Brussels is to go somewhere else.

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

Belgian lace, antiques, beer.....

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

If you're coming from West Africa or a war zone, Brussels will seem great by comparison. But if you've ever lived in a major Western European capital such as London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Madrid, etc., you'll find that Brussels has very little of the charm or the cultural opportunities that those cities have. In fact, Brussels itself is BORING, BORING, BORING.After a few months you'll have seen everything there is to see. But the big advantage of living here is that you easily travel to more interesting places. Paris is one hour and twenty minutes away by train. Amsterdam is about 2 hours by train or car. There is the Eurostar high speed train to London. If you crave sunshine, and after a couple of months here you will, Brussels Airlines and Easy Jet both offer several flights per day to Nice and other sunny spots at very good prices.

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11. Can you save money?

No, but why would you come to Europe to save money?Go out and see what there is to see and when you're in Brussels, get out of your house live like a European. It's a great lifestyle.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not sure. If nothing else in Western Europe were available, maybe.

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

Sun tan lotion, warm weather clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Umbrellas and rain coats. And your credit cards - life here is expensive.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 07/21/11

Background:

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

Have lived in Canada, England, Italy, Denmark, Korea, Hong Kong, China, and Turkey for almost 20 years of experience outside the US.

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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?

My home base is Washington DC. Flights from Brussels to DC are around 9 hours. There are not many direct connections from what I understand (I have never flown to DC from here), but from London, or Paris, or Amsterdam that is a different story. And those cities are easily accessible from Brussels by high speed Thalys or Eurostar trains.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Almost 2 years. From Sept 2009-July 2011

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

Trailing spouse of a US Foreign Service Officer working at NATO.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All sorts. Apartments and row houses downtown and in the inner suburbs, many of which are small towns. And detached homes further out. Stokkel is a popular location to live in as there is an establish town there as well as a Metro. Closer in, around Montgomery Circle is an ideal place to live with huge apartments and large row houses near a Metro. 15 minute tops by Metro downtown. People who work downtown can get there in 5 minutes on public transit, and people who work at NATO can either catch the NATO shuttle at Montgomery or take the 5-10 minute drive. The Place Chatelain area is probably the BEST place to live, but without a Metro it can be isolating for some.

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

If you shop at the local markets you can save a bundle on produce. Supermarket chains here are Delhaize and GB/Carefour. Delhaize in belgian and can be higher end. GB/Carefour is French is and is more mid range. Meat can be expensive. If you are with the US embassy you have access to Chievre air base about 45 minutes away with a full commissary and PX which can save you money, but limits your local exposure. The markets are fun to shop at, especially Gare Midi or Watermael-Boisfort on Sunday, Stokkel or Flagey on Saturday. And Place Chatelain on Wednesday night. Every day there is a market somewhere in the city ... except Thursday I think. Which is when everyone seems to go to Place Luxembourg and Par-Tay!!!

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

You can buy most things you need on the local economy, but they are expensive. But embassy folks always have the PX at the base. I guess my answer would be nothing really. You can get almost everything you want on the local economy. And more.

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

Going out for food is expensive here. But there are places, generally immigrant run swarma, pita, pizza, places that will not break the bank. As low as 5 euro a person. There's also Pizza Hut, Mcdonalds and other chains. But why even go there? Restaurants abound. But many can cost upwards of 30 euro a person without drinks.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are a number of different stores. Google them. And there is a food delivery service direct from local, organic farms to you. Forgot the name. People love it. Something like Glad to B Organic. Feel bad I do not remember.

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6. 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?

APO for embassy folks. Regular mail for the rest. Regular mail can be expensive.

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

We pay 10 euro an hour. Which seems to be about the going rate. Do not know about bringing in a nanny. But know people who have had difficulty if they are not diplomats.

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

The embassy has a very small gym. USAG-Brussels to which embassy folks can get a badge has an excellent gym. Otherwise there are tons of different gyms all over the city.

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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?

I use mine everywhere. No worries at all.

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

All sorts. Know there are many different demoninations. Not sure where. And do know there is an active English speaking synagogue. Remember, this is an expat city.

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

There are a number of English language periodicals. Before you do anything subscribe to receive the pdf version of the Flanders Today delivered to your inbox. A great weekly news source that is more than just about Flanders. The Brussels Unlimited and The Bulletin just merged into a bo-weekly affair. You have to pay for those, but they were good in their previous incarnations. If you work for the US missions to Belgium, NATO, and EU and are a member of the US military stationed in Belgium contact BrusselsWeekly@state.gov to be put on the mailing list to receive the US embassy news weekly. If you work at other embassies in Brussels (UK, Canada, etc), at one of the Int'l schools, International organizations, contact the editor. Many exceptions are made for officials from other countries. And the Brussels Weekly is an amazing source of local information. If I do say so myself.=) Oh and local cable companies usually have BBC and other English language channels.

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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?

if you live outside Brussels Flemish (a derivative of Dutch) is spoken. In Brussels both Flemish and French are spoken though French takes preceedence. But in general, as a rule, everyone speaks a little English. If you do not want to learn either Flemish or French you will not have to. But it would be polite if you picked up the basic greeting rituals.

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

There would definitely be some concern. They would not be able to do everything. Sidewalks are generally not set up to accommodate PD folks. Neither is public transit except for the metro. It is difficult to put myself in that situation so do not want to categorically come down on one side or the other.

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Transportation:

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

The local trains are relatively inexpensive. Not cheap. But definitely affordable. And worth it. I mentioned the Eurostar/high speed trains earlier. AMAZING. Do not ever think of driving to Paris, London or Amsterdam. Just hop on the train. But it will cost. At it will be worth it for the reduced hassle. All of this is totally safe. Buses, trams and metro in the city are totally safe. Though, at night around in the Gare Midi it supposedly gets dodgy. That's where the immigrant neighborhoods start. Public transit is afforable as well. At least compared to London.1 euro 20 cents per trip when you buy a 10 voyage ticket. 1 euro 80 cents for individual tickets. Monthly passes are also available.

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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 streets, small parking spots. Leave your wide bodied SUVs at home. But if you have a family bring something you can use to drive all over the place. When you are not taking the train of course.

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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?

A number of different companies. each has their own territory. Organized competition. We have Belgacom. It is more than fast enough. Streaming video soccer games and movies no problem. Cost is steep. About 100 euro a month. But worth it

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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?

I would recommend just buying a pay as you go plan. Add money as you need it.

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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?

No but they do need a European chip and passport.

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

Vets are everywhere and they are excellent. Just go to the one closest to you. Am almost sure they speak English. Most professionals do. Have heard of 2-3 kennels that people are happy with. If you are US embassy, the CLO has all that info about kennels. Or should.

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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?

Unless you are multi-lingual or incredibly experienced, Brussels is stuffed with high-educated, very international, multi-lingual folks. However, there are Volunteer opportunities with Relay for Life, Girl Scouts, at the Int'l Schools, at refugee centers, with Serve the City and many other NGOs abound. But paying work is hard to come by as it is VERY competitive.

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

They are rather formal here. You need to dress well even for a casual dinner invitation. Folks do wear shorts in public, but it seems to be frowned on. But it all depends you age. In general though, Americans need to be conscious of how much they tend to dress down. Walking around in shorts and a t-shirt is not going to cut it here if you want to be accepted as anything other than a clueless country bumpkin.

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Health & Safety:

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

The city is incredibly safe. Violent crime is negligible. Petty crime, such as pick pockets do exist, but you can protect against that. No city is 100% safe, and there are certain immigrant neighborhoods across the canal where you would not want to go at night, but as with most European cities, the threat of violent crime is incredibly low in comparison to cities in the US.

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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?

The quality of the health care here is amazing. And inexpensive. Had three friends give birth. One a premie. All raved about their care. I had minor surgery on my toe, which would have cost close to $1,000 in the US. It cost less than $100 here. Dental care can be expensive though if you do not have local insurance.

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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?

Air quality is good. Pollen can be a problem for allergy sufferers during the season, but other than than not much pollution. Part of the reason for that is the excellent public transit and the extensive bike paths. Make sure you live near a Metro though as the traffic can get clogged. And visit ProVelo on Rue Londre when you arrive to pick up an essential bike map of the city.

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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?

Summer is only really hot, in the 90s, maybe three weeks. Winter is only really cold maybe the same amount of time. It is rather mild here. The winters can be rather gray. And there is seemingly a constant threat of drizzle, but everyone learns to live with it. The sun comes out more than the city's reputation claims. Unless you are a serious SAD sufferer, you will have no problems with Belgian weather.

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Schools & Children:

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

I do not have school aged children, but working in the CLO office I have heard that ISB is an excellent school. Their academics, after school activities, and sports make for a well rounded eduation. And their campus, in Watermael-Boisfort) is amazing. St Johns has a reputation as being better academically but it is also further out of the city. The American School of Brussels is probably equivalent to an American public school, while the other two are definitely private school material.

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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?

No experience, but I have friends who have young children and they find the day care/preschool services in the local communes to be excellent. And inexpensive.

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

Sports programs for kids galore at the schools, at USAG, and with each commune. If you mean organized sports for high school aged kids, then ISB is the route to go. They even have a US football team.

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Expat Life:

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

GI-NORMOUS. Absolutely immense. Larger even, it seems, than Hong Kong. With the Eu Parliament here, all the ancillary agencies and NGOs, the embassies to the EU, and the embassies to Belgium and NATO you are awash in expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

The overall expat community has a high morale, people love it here. There are lots of clubs and activities. Some members of the US embassy, however, miss being in a tight knit smaller post. There really is no need for the US embassy bubble here, but folks who have become dependent on it, without even realizing they have, miss it while here. You have to make your own community in brussels. It will not be sitting there for you on a platter. But making your own community is EASY. Find something you like doing and do it and you will tons of people to do it with. And it will generally be more than an embassy community. Gave a going away party for a friend, whose husband is with the US embassy, but we were the only embassy folk at the party. There was a German, a Kiwi, someone from Ireland and an American from the general expat community. Brussels is a truly international city. An amazing place to live. Expat heaven.

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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?

See above. Lots to see and do. Make your own community. From all over the expat world.

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

This is a great city for EVERYONE. There is always something to do for families, what with cultural festivals, music festivals, the beach nearby, amusements parks around, etc. The list would be voluminous. For singles ... ooh la la ... there is a cornucopia of available expat young professionals in Brussels what with the EU here, all the lobbying groups for the EU, the NGOs, all the embassies to Belgium, all the embassies to the EU, all the embassies to NATO. Brussels is expat central. If you cannot meet someone interesting here ...For couples, there are tons of activities such as restaurants, bars, clubs, other expats, festivals, events, traveling to London, Paris, Amsterdam, and all over Belgium and the rest of Europe, etc etc.

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

As I said earlier, this is a GREAT city for gays. I say this even though I am not gay. But having lived in Dupont Circle in DC for 20 some years, I can say that Brussels has an equally well developed gay neighborhood down just off the Grand Place (gays always seem to pick the best neighborhoods), and the Gay Pride Parade is a blast. There was a recent incident of a gay tourist and his lover getting attacked. Maybe because the lunkheads who did it saw them offering each other a little too much PDA. But that is the exception. The rule is Brussels is a great place to be, gay or straight.

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

Nothing to speak of. Belgium just passed their Burqa law so maybe there will be some repercussions with that. But otherwise, everyone seems to get along here. Though as I said, I would not venture into some immigrant (read Muslim) neighborhoods at night.

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

Highlights include the amazing variety of super high quality chocolate for everyday prices; street festivals almost year round; music festivals the same (rock, pop, and TONS of classical); high quality museum exhibits; an incredible array of children's and family activities all over the country. This city and country and GREAT places to live. Quirky whimsical, fun, just a little odd at times, and ever so interesting.

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

Way too many to enumerate. Seriously. There is something happening at least every weekend in Brussels and Beyond. You will NEVER be bored here. Ever.

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

Chocolate. Waffles. Beer. Frittes. Antiques (Waterloo Market Sundays, Tongeron Market Sundays)Lace (all over), Pottery (Delft), Bande Dessine (Graphic novels - Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke)

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

You will LOVE living in Brussels. There is so much to see and do. There are festivals galore in the city and all around Belgium that every weekend there is something culturally interesting to do. But one amazing advantage to living in Brussels is that it is only 1hr 15min to Paris by TGV, 2hrs to London, and 2hrs 15min to Amsterdam. Then there is Bruge, Ghent, Amsterdam, and Namur to visit in Belgium. You will never be bored here. Ever. And then there is the food. Belgium is known for its chocolate, frittes (fries), waffles, and beer as well as other culinary delights. In Brussels alone there are over 1,000 artisan chocolate stores. In every supermarket is an entire aisle filled with all sorts of different chocolate. And In Belgium there are over 300 different beers. You will eat and drink very well while here. As the editor of the Brussels Weekly, the embassy news weekly, I can say without any reservations that if you come to Brussels you will LOVE it. Families will love all the great activities. Singletons will love that this is the expat center of Europe filled with tens of thousands of young expats. Gays will love it as the community here is well developed with an amazingly fun gay pride day (and I'm not gay). There is literally something for everyone here. AND MORE.

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11. Can you save money?

Probably not unless you lived like a hermit. But why would you? You are in the heart of Europe, just begging you to explore. Come here for the experience of a lifetime. Forget about saving money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not only would I still go, but I could easily settle here. This city is made for expats.

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

Hershey bars. You will become a chocolate connoisseur while here.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure, and appreciation of the whimsical and wacky.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

In Bruge - disturbing, non-politically correct, but it definitely gives you a flavor for how odd this place can be at times.

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

A Throne in Brussels - to help you understand how this wacky country was formed. Secret Brussels - All those places off the beaten path101 Things to Do in Brussels & Beyond (The expats guide to having fun while living in Belgium) - am in the midst of writing it. Be on the lookout starting in the summer of 2012. Needs a catchier title I know.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If I have not made it clear ... YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT IN BRUSSELS.And I almost forgot ... ART NOUVEAU. This art and architecture form started here courtesy of Victor Horta. You will seem many buildings with this influence. They are beautiful. But then there is the Horta Museum, his old residence. Without a doubt the most amazing private home I have ever encountered. Everything in it is a work of art. Take walking tours of Art Nouveau here. Another fun thing to do. Hmmm ... must remember to put that in my book.=)

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Brussels, Belgium 06/14/11

Background:

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

No- lived in Scandinavia, Africa, Latin America, and the Balkans

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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?

London - an easy 2 hours by eurostar 5 times a day.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years

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

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Some lovely new apartments in the centre (Chatelain/Ixelles), converted old houses in the Merode/Etterbeek area,modern houses in the suburbs such as the 'woluwe's- some with good metro connections-other larger properties tend to be MUCH further out in eg Tervuren or Overijse where getting home after 11 I'm told is really hard!

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

Everything is available - but expensive, comparing with UK/FRance/Germany.

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

Household cleaning products - very expensive here.

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

MacDonald's, KFC in the city centre. Pizza Hut and Quick (Belgian Hamburger joint) everywhere. Too many decent restaurants to mention - not cheap though - you could spend a lot of mooney eating out here. Belgians love their food and are prepared to pay for it.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Lots of health food/organic shops around with good ranges. Many middle class Belgians will only shop in local (farmers) markets or organic shops, eschewing the supermarkets altogether as they doubt the quality and prefer organic.

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

Nil

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Daily Life:

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

By diplomatic bag.

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

There's an established network, and its best to find someone by word of mouth. About €10 per hour, though.

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

Yes

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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?

Maestro and Visa are used everywhere without any problems. But some smaller places only accept the Belgian 'bancontact' debit system, which is linked to Belgian accounts.

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

Yes - all.

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

Yes - US/UK available daily for €5 each. Cable TV has UK programmes, and you can get Sky/Freesat too.

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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?

It helps to speak french to get by in the market, but it's not essential.

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

Lots of cobblestones everywhere, and the trams must be a nightmare to get on or off, with their very narrow doors and steps up.

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Transportation:

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

Public transport - yes. Taxis - yes, in the city. But to go out of town (beyond the ring road) - taxis are very expensive.

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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?

Whatever suits you and your family. But remember that only large houses far out will have a good-sized garage. I cant get my tiny car in mine!!

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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 - €35 per month including phone

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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?

Buy a 'pay as you go' card here - they are cheap, easy to use, and have instructions/voice mail in english.

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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?

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

Yes - Excellent - Belgians particularly love their dogs and take them everywhere - into restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, etc!

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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?

Not onless you (a) speak fluent French and Flemish or (b) can get a job with EU or NATO or an embassy.

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

Work - very corporate; socially/in public - anything goes, but Belgian women are usually very tidily dressed.

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Health & Safety:

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

Nil - I feel very safe here tho belgian friends are always warning me against using public transport in the evening.

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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?

None. There is a very good, but complex, healthcare system.

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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?

Moderate

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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?

Very changeable in any one day, with a tendency to a lot of rain, and rather grey skies in winter.

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Schools & Children:

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

Several British primary schools with good reputations; only one british secondary. Several American schools; several European schools linked to the EU

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

They are very accommodating and have specially-trained teachers

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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?

I hear its good, but expensive

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

Yes - but usually connected with schools

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Expat Life:

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

HUGE and widely spread out

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2. Morale among expats:

Very variable. Working hours in the two main international instituions (EU & NATO) are very long, which influences life in a big way. But Singles seem to like it. Long termers moan, but stay for the money; those here for 3 - 5 years are often counting down the time to leave.

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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?

Cinema: most are in english with french subtitles, except children's films, which are generally dubbed. Also: theatre, opera, etc. Lots of dinners at folks' homes.

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

Like most places, I guess it depends what you're looking for. Families seem to have an active social life revolving aroundyoung children, and thenon working partner net. Young singles like to party, and there's a lively club scene, with lots of people with disposable cash from the EU/NATO communities. If you're in between like me (a 30 something single mum), you'll find it hard going to make friends, but when you do, you'll find Belgians very loyal and happy to show you 'their' corner of the city - it just takes a few years to get them to 'thaw'!

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

Yes

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

No

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

Eating out in some wonderful restaurants

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

Museums, art galleries, restaurants, cafes.

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

Wine, chocolate, food....

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

Close to the UK, and the food/restaurant scene is great!

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11. Can you save money?

Not if you like to go out to eat.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No - its just too boring.

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

sense of adventure

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

In Bruges

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

Tintin?

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6. Do you have any other comments?

An easy, safe, but rather dull posting.

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Brussels, Belgium 06/13/11

Background:

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

No - Abuja, Nigeria

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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?

Minnesota - 8 hours

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

Government - NATO

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

They vary widely from near the Grand Place to out in the boonies - urban to suburban - you name it, we got it. Commute all depends on where you work and where you live - I chose a longer commute for more convenience when I'm not at work.

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

Groceries are more expensive, but it's easier to buy small quantities here. Many people (especially with families) shop at the Chievres commissary every weekend (which is an hour outside Brussels) as it has US brands and US prices.

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

I'd ship portable air conditioners - when it gets hot, it's horrible. And I wouldn't ship my car.

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

A number of places: Subway, McDonald's, Quick, many doner kebab places, waffle trucks, and of course, frites stands!Prices are more expensive than the US, but you get used to it

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There is more and more available for all of these. It seems to have gotten easier to find. I've seen many gluten-free products, and organic produce.

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

I've had a few problems with insects here, due to the fact that there is no air conditioning, and not screens on the windows. I've woken up with itchy bug bites because of sleeping with my window open.

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Daily Life:

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

APO - It's fairly quick

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

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

NATO has a full array of facilities. Many people use USAG's facilities as well

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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?

Many places don't take US- style credit cards - but almost all will take debit cards from a European bank.

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

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

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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?

It helps to know French, but it's not truly necessary.

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

Uneven sidewalks, public transportation difficulties, very few shops are accessible to those in wheelchairs

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Transportation:

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

All of these are safe. Trains and buses, as well as the metro, are efficient, easy to use, and fairly cheap. Taxis are expensive, more so than other European cities.

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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?

Easiest to bring a small car, unless you aren't going to be driving in the city, then a bigger car is okay. But the price of gas is outrageous if you don't have a tax-free gas card.

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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 - It's pretty quick - I think I spend about 50 euro/month for one of the higher speeds.

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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?

I use Mobistar - it's pretty quick and painless.

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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?

View All Answers


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

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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?

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

Business, business casual - people dress up here more than the states, even going out to the park. And everyone seems to have a pair of boots.

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Health & Safety:

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

No more than any big city

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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?

Good medical care - no health concerns

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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?

moderate - when it rains, it helps clear all the stuff out of the air; I know many with allergies have problems when it DOESN'T rain

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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?

Unpredictable - one winter it snowed a lot and was quite cold, which is unusual. It's generally not too hot nor too cold, but there are usually exceptions for a few weeks out of the year in each season. The one thing I really miss is thunderstorms - they don't really have them here.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

HUGE

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies - most people are happy to leave Brussels, the city, the rain, the difficulties of Belgium, they all get you down.

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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?

It really depends - you can go out and party every night if you want to, but it gets old after awhile because you end up going the same places again and again.

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

I think it's an okay city for all of them - but not a great city for any of them. There is no sense of community - perhaps due to the large size. Everyone goes their own way at the end of the day and it's hard to find good friends.

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

It seems fine - I've been out with friends to a few gay bars and it seems like it's a hopping scene

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

I haven't noticed any - I think there's more of a problem between French and Flemish speakers than along other lines.

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

traveling OUT of Brussels - Football games at expat bars

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

Travel, check out festivals, go shopping

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

chocolates, fries, lace, and beer!

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

great travel opportunities throughout Europe - and great public transportation within the city

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11. Can you save money?

Not easily, but it's possible

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I would - it's been an experience, but I wouldn't come back for a second tour.

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

notions of what fries are supposed to taste like

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella, coat, sunglasses, and your boots!

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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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?

View All Answers


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. 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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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?

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

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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. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 06/20/10

Background:

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

No. Ottawa, Mexico City, Canberra, Bogota, and Belgrade.

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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. About 6-9 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is very variable - size and location depends on family size, and the commute depends on the mission for which you work. Suburbs are FAR from all missions, and the commute from there regularly takes 45-60 minutes each way.

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

Everything is available, though a bit more expensive than in the U.S.

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

Nothing.

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

Enough fast food that you won't miss McDonald's! Cost is about the same as in the U.S.

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

None really. Mosquitoes in summer.

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Daily Life:

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

APO, DPO. Usually takes 1 week.

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

About 10-12 euro/hour.

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

Yes.

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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?

Very available, and safe outside of main tourist areas.

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

Yes.

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

Yes, premium paid.

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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?

French helps in Francophone areas. Everyone in the Flemish areas speaks English.

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

Not a lot is set up for people with physical disabilities - lots of cobblestones, no ramps, etc.

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Transportation:

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

Yes.

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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 European cars are best.

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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 it is VERY fast. About 60 euro/mo for internet/satellite tv package.

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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?

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

Yes.

View All Answers


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.

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

Business at work, casual in public (but no shorts/sneakers - that marks you as American).

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Health & Safety:

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

Pickpockets.

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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?

Excellent care here - and socialized, so it's holistic.

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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?

Weather is variable, often in one day. Summers have been beautiful, winters cold and rainy, even a bit of snow.

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Schools & Children:

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

Excellent.

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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?

Very good - private and public. We pay about $500/mo. per kid for day care, plus about $1000/mo for the nanny on top of that!

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

HUGE.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally pretty good, though at some missions the work hours are very long.

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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?

Singles live downtown and generally hang out together. Families live in the 'burbs' and have to hang out together because they are so far out of town!

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

Yes, for all.

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

Don't know, but would expect so.

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

Not really.

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

Travel.

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

Tourism, art, movies. So much to do.

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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, lace.

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

Close to Western Europe, easy to travel to France, UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, etc. Culture abounds here, and within a short drive/train ride.

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11. Can you save money?

Not if you like travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

beer and chocolate.

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3. But don't forget your:

sense of humor. Belgium can get a bit dreary, and the traffic will drive you insane.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 03/28/10

Background:

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.

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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, 6 hours direct flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Over 2 years.

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

US Government.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

APO.

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

See above.

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

Yes.

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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?

Not as prevalent as in the US, but still lots.

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

Yes. All.

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

Yes, a bit more expensive than in the US.

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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?

Everyone speaks some English, particularly the Flemish. Francophones usually speak less English so some French helps and is appreciated.

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

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Transportation:

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.

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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 European cars obviously easier to park, and to fix.

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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, it is VERY fast and about 60 eruo.mo.

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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?

No, great service.

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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?

View All Answers


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

yes

View All Answers


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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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!

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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?

Air quality is fine.

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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?

Rain, and more rain. Sunny days do exist, and are gorgeous. But the rain soon returns and can be very wearing.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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?

HUGE - over 30,000 diplomats alone.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varying - housing is a key issue, and some jobs demand 10-12 hour days which is wearing.

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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.

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

Yes, great city for all.

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

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

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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.

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

Sightsee, eat, go to museums, travel.

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

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

In the heart of Western Europe - close to Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, London.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but temptations lie everywhere.

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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.

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

Chocolate!

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Brussels, Belgium 07/25/09

Background:

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

Waegwan, South Korea. Libreville, Gabon. Pretoria, South Africa. Kabul, Afghanistan.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Over one year.

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

Diplomat.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

8 hours direct from DC, Philly, or NY to Brussels.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing varies depending on location. Small apartments in the city and large houses in the country.

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

It is very expensive here but you can get everything.

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

Nothing. They have everything here.

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

The usual American fast food like McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, and one Starbucks at the airport.

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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?

APO and Diplomatic Pouch. I have used the local post office to send packages to the US and it is very reasonable. It is quicker than the USPS !

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

There seems to be a shortage of qualified help in Brussels. It is the most expensive place for domestic help I have ever seen!

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

Yes.

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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?

Credit cards & ATMs are used more often than cash in Europe.

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

Yes. Many different churches offer english-language services. The US military installations offer services.

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

USA Today, International Herald Tribune, NY Times & Washington Post International Editions, and of course the Wall Street Journal. Two to five euros depending on the shop.

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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?

None. Everyone speaks english in Brussels.

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

The laws are on the books here but the implementation is spotty at best.

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Transportation:

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

Very safe and more affordable than the US.

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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?

I have seen everything from Hummers to ATV's on the roads in Brussels and throughout Belgium. I would check your parking situation before shipping a large car. Smaller cars are recommended for their ease of use and parking in populated areas.

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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. Very cheap. I pay 25 euros a month for broadband service.

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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?

Cell phones must sold un-locked in Belgium. Cell phone services are generally cheaper than in the US. Pay-as-you go is good if you do not get a cell phone & service via the American Embassy Employee Association.

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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?

No.

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

Yes.

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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?

Yes. There are many international companies and organizations that hire expats.

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

Coat & tie at work and casual (but not too casual) after work.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Excellent everywhere except downtown Brussels because of the cars.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Same as the US.

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

No. Belgium is very safe.

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

Outstanding medical care. I know from personal experience. Healthcare is very affordable here in Belgium.

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

Moderate temperatures year round. Does not rain as much as it is cloudy.

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Schools & Children:

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

I do not have any direction expereince with the schools. My colleagues love the schools.

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

The same as the US.

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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?

Yes. At NATO HQ there is on-site day care.

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

One of the largest expat communities in the world.

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2. Morale among expats:

Excellent.

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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?

A very large number of very expensive restuarants. Many clubs and pubs of every flavor. Lots of activities for all ages.

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

This is a great city for everyone.

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

Yes.

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

No.

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

Museums, battlefields, shopping, biking, hiking, and the list goes on. If you are bored here then you are not trying.

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

Chocolate, diamonds, tapestries, lace, and antiques.

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9. Can you save money?

No. But who cares when you are having this much fun.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes...but I would work at the American Embassy instead of NATO. I would not wish the NATO experience on my worst enemy !

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

sunscreen and your diet...(the chocolate..oh my, the chocolate!)

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella and your willingness to see a bright lining in those ever-present clouds.

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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:

In Brugges will' give you a good view of one Belgiums most famous cities.

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Don't let the weather get you down. Enjoy Belgium. When you get bored, just visit one of its neighbors. All of Europe is close-by when you are in Belgium.

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