What is expat life like in Brussels?
Hosting the headquarters of the main EU institutions Brussels is a very international city and a popular expat destination. But what is it like to move to Brussels and build a new life here?
In this Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips for anyone thinking about moving abroad and information about what to see and do in the city, town or country the expat lives in.
Expat life in Brussels, Belgium
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Name: Lucrecia Gomez
Home town: Buenos Aires, Argentina
“I am born and raised in Buenos Aires and used to love my life there, It wasn’t entirely by choice that I left my home town to study in the USA. But I did, and I have lived abroad ever since. And here I am, 18 years after, living in Brussels, Belgium, as an expat. I must admit, I am grateful to have been immersed in this adventure, although it was a way of living I never thought I would choose.”
“Me and my family moved to Brussels because of a job offer. It was our opportunity to spend time in Europe, grow our work experience and add a new chapter to our living abroad experiences. I have been living in Brussels for 8 years now, after moving around the USA for 10 years, living in Boston, New York City, Tampa and Milwaukee.”
What do you like about living in Brussels?
“I would say living in a small city with the spirit of a big one. And I also love being so close to other countries, making international travel and short getaways so easy.
Feeling like an insider instead of an outsider is the best thing that can happen to an expat living abroad. And that is how I feel living in Brussels. I feel part of this city and community. A rich community with more than 100 languages spoken and which is home to more than 180 nationalities.”
What do you dislike about living in Brussels?
“Oh my G..! Definitely the amount of rain and the number of gray days!!!! It is extremely hard to cope with this. So, do not expect to see lots of sunrises or sunsets here and plan to buy tons of vitamin D. 😉 Proper rain attire is definitely a must and be prepared for long winters.”
What is your favorite thing to do in Brussels?
“Walking around the city while eating the famous Belgian fries, sold at street stands throughout the city. My favorite stands are the ones in the “Barriere” area, and at Place Flagey. There also is the famous Maison Antoine at Place Jourdan but although famous it’s not my favorite. And no, it’s not the healthiest food of course, but I love it!”
What is your favorite place to hang out (restaurant, bar, etc) in Brussels?
“Aperos or Aperitifs (after work drinks) are almost a tradition here. Belgian Beer or wine bars are packed starting at 5:30/6 pm. My favorite bars are located around Place Chatelain in the Ixelles Commune. Just to mention some: Tarzan, Pepete et RonRon, El Vasco and the famous Chatelain local market on Wednesdays. Also worth mentioning are Ultime Atome at Place Boniface and Cafe Belga at Place Flagey. Or check out Place Van Meenem’s new trendy bars in the Saint Gilles commune. The good thing about these places is that people my age don’t feel excluded when you want to hang out with friends.
Expats working for the European Commission or parliament often go to bars at Place Luxembourg. And Place Catherine is another option.”
What is the expat community like in Brussels?
“As I mentioned before, Brussels is home to more than 180 nationalities. From foreign journalists, art critics, writers, students, diplomats, lobbyists, to any other profession or educational background, EU or non-EU. This makes Brussels one of the best places for anyone who likes cultural diversity. Plus it feels like everybody is in the same boat here, struggling with the complexities of being away from home. And at the same time this makes it easier for new friends to become like family. A family of good hearted people with a mix of cultures, maybe with different objectives in life, but all part of this unique melting pot. And we are thankful to the Belgians in Brussels, for their acceptance and for allowing us to participate and integrate. It is so cool when they mix with this melting pot as well!”
Any tips for moving to / living in Brussels?
“If your new job allows you to use a relocation service when you are moving here, then definitely take advantage of this and accept any advice they may give you. And even if you are not offered this service, you might want to consider paying for it to get some help.
French and Flemish are the official languages in Brussels, and you will have to deal with a home lease contract in French or Flemish, your registration at the assigned Town Hall, work permits, driver license transfers, school or university registrations for the kids, etc. And although many Belgians do speak English they prefer to speak French or Flemish. And some others do not speak English at all. In order to ease your move it will definitely help to get some advice from someone who has lived in Brussels, be it a local or an expat.
Bureaucracy and things taking longer than you expect can be a hassle when moving to Brussels.
Try to find out the real costs of moving and settling in before you move to Brussels to avoid surprises. There could be some extras you are not aware of such as home inspections or home insurance costs when renting. Overall, Brussels is an expensive city to live in.
Plan to learn French and consider it an asset, no matter how long you plan to stay. Belgians really appreciate your efforts to communicate in French.”
Any resources you found useful during the process of moving to and/or building a new life in Brussels?
“There are several useful websites to check before moving to Brussels. Although not always accurate, IMMOWEB.be is the main website used to find rental properties in Brussels. Some other useful sites: www.immovlan.be, belgium.be, xpats.com and visit.brussels.”
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in Brussels?
“Brussels is not the most popular nor the most exciting city to visit when traveling to Europe. Still, it is charming and has its personality. It is an example of a city with impressively diverse architecture. From Art Nouveau and Art Deco to modernist architecture. So plan a walking tour. This is also an opportunity to get to know non-touristy areas close to the city center, which you might want to live in if you choose expat life in Brussels. If you plan to visit the city during an even year, in the month of August, you must check out the impressive flower carpet that is created at the Grand Place (Grote Markt). After 8 years, I still enjoy the different designs and patterns of this superb event.
Lastly, Bois de la Cambre and Tenbosch are my favorite parks where I often go to with my sons.”
About Lucrecia – an expat in Brussels
Lucrecia was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she studied Human Resources Management. She moved to Boston, USA in 2001 where she got her Certificate in Management at Harvard Extension School. Since then, she has lived in New York City, Tampa and Milwaukee. She finally moved to Brussels, Belgium in 2010.
Lucrecia is now a freelance consultant in Relocation Services for TailorGo and helps future expats in and around Brussels to navigate the complexities of relocating.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and as headquarters of many European institutions, it is also often called the capital of the European Union. Being at the crossroads of cultures (the Germanic in the North and the Romance in the South) and playing an important role in Europe, Brussels fits the definition of melting pot, but still retains its own unique character.
Apart from its famous chocolates, waffles and beers, there are almost 90 museums, beautiful parks and impressive architecture. In the 19th century however, when Brussels became the capital city of a new country, many buildings in the old town were destroyed to make way for brand new ministries, palaces, schools, army barracks and office blocks constructed between 1880 and 1980. The historic Flemish town centers are better preserved in other cities such as Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent.
Traveling in Europe
If you are looking to travel around Europe by train, check out Rail Europe. To find the cheapest flights I almost always use Skyscanner. Or check out my article 10 Tips on How to Find The Cheapest Flights.
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