Brussels, Belgium Report of what it's like to live there - 06/20/10
Personal Experiences from Brussels, Belgium
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Ottawa, Mexico City, Canberra, Bogota, and Belgrade.
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.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing 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.
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.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Enough fast food that you won't miss McDonald's! Cost is about the same as in the U.S.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None really. Mosquitoes in summer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO, DPO. Usually takes 1 week.
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.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Very available, and safe outside of main tourist areas.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, premium paid.
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.
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.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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.
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.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
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).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
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.
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?
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.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
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!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally pretty good, though at some missions the work hours are very long.
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!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for all.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Don't know, but would expect so.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
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.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Beer, chocolate, lace.
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.
11. Can you save money?
Not if you like travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
beer and chocolate.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of humor. Belgium can get a bit dreary, and the traffic will drive you insane.