Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 07/25/09

Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium

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

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6. 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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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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