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Moving to Brussels

Those who plan on moving to Brussels can look forward to living in a beautiful cosmopolitan city at the heart of the European Union. Belgium’s capital has become a popular expat destination thanks to its high quality of life, mild climate and its central location in Europe. Since it is effectively the capital of NATO and the EU, the city has a dynamic, international atmosphere fuelled by expats and diplomats from all over the continent.

Living in Brussels as an expat

Brussels houses countless multinational companies and hosts many business conferences on an annual basis, which makes it a city popular with professional expats looking to work abroad. Although the city has felt the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, a mood of optimism is returning and it continues to attract highly skilled expats to its substantial services sector.

Expats will also get to enjoy living in Brussels and the lifestyle it offers residents. The wealth of cultural and historical attractions, top-class eateries and fantastic shopping afford it a unique atmosphere that is rich with history and youthful energy. The modern, well-organised and affordable public transport system in Brussels consists of a metro as well as trams and buses, making it easy for anyone to navigate the city.

Expat families and children

Expats can also rest assured that their families will be taken care of. The city offers world-class healthcare facilities as well as a wide selection of high-quality local and international schools. There are also many child-friendly attractions and activities in Brussels for expat families to enjoy in their free time. 

From apartments in the European Quarter to more spacious housing on the city’s fringes, expats should have few problems finding accommodation in Brussels. The traffic in Brussels is notorious for being congested so it's best to find accommodation close to work if possible.

Cost of living in Brussels

As is the case with many European capitals, the cost of living in Brussels is steep. The city's fascinating culture, beautiful architecture and, most of all, its ample business opportunities mean that Brussels is in high demand. Belgium's heavy tax requirements can take up a significant proportion of one's income, though this is somewhat offset by its excellent social-security offerings.

Climate in Brussels

Brussels weather is mild, tending towards grey skies and light showers year round. Even sunny days can become overcast quickly, bringing unexpected rainfall. Expats should do as locals do and get into the habit of carrying something waterproof with them in case of rain.

Overall, expats in Brussels will find that life in this European city is full of new experiences and adventures. Those with an open mind and willingness to adapt to the local language and culture should have very little difficulty settling down in their new home. 

Weather in Brussels

Brussels features a maritime climate with four distinct seasons. Average temperatures are relatively mild throughout the year. The average low during winter is around 34°F (1°C) and only 74°F (23°C) in summer. 

Expats planning on staying a while should invest in a good umbrella, as rainfall is very common in the city. Expats can expect rainfall to be similar to London and Amsterdam. Overcast skies are typical for most of the year.

 

 

Pros and cons of moving to Brussels

Located in the centre of Europe, Brussels is the heart of the European Union and is a popular destination among expats, who generally move to the city for its high quality of life and abundant job opportunities.

We’ve made a list of pros and cons about life in the city to prepare those thinking about taking the plunge for what to expect upon arrival.


Accommodation in Brussels

+ PRO: Wide range of housing options and styles

Although many people who work in Brussels tend to live in an outlying suburb or neighbouring town, expats who do live in the city will have plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation. They can live in Brussels-style town houses, spacious loft conversions or even Art Deco homes.

- CON: Buying and renting is extremely expensive

Accommodation prices are high throughout Belgium. Although living outside of the city will save expats some money, they should expect to pay dearly no matter where they choose to live. This can make picking a neighbourhood difficult. While living in the city centre comes with convenience, it is expensive, and living further afield is cheaper but means expats will be further from large supermarkets, transport stops and workplaces.


Working in Brussels

+ PRO: Plenty of career opportunities in Brussels

As the capital of the EU, Brussels attracts expats from all over the continent, and the world, creating a unique international atmosphere. It is also home to many multinational companies and hosts more than 1,000 business conferences annually. With a high job vacancy rate, skills are always in demand. That’s why expats with the right skills looking for business opportunities abroad should look no further than Brussels.

+ PRO: High salaries

Brussels enjoys some of the highest salaries in Europe. While expats working in the corporate world can expect to earn extremely well, even those working for minimum wage will find their earnings to be higher than the majority of their counterparts in the rest of Europe.

- CON: High taxes

Unfortunately, although the salaries in Brussels are high, so are the taxes. High-earning expats can expect to pay more than half of their salary towards tax. That said, this goes into healthcare, education and social security, providing excellent social services to the country's residents and making world-class healthcare and education accessible to all.


Getting around in Brussels

+ PRO: Comprehensive public transport network

With so many options available to them, including trains, trams, metros, buses and even waterbuses, expats will be able to get anywhere in the city using public transport. In fact, one could travel anywhere in the country via some of these transport networks.

- CON: Public transport has a reputation for being dirty

Although there are so many transport options available, many still prefer to drive due to the lack of cleanliness on many of these networks. Metro and train stations are notorious for this. This is certainly not ideal as the metro is the fastest and most effective way to get around the city.

- CON: Traffic is a nightmare in the city

Owing to the fact that many people prefer to drive over utilising the public transport in the city, traffic in Brussels is all too common and stressful to navigate. The layout of the city means local and long-distance drivers have to use the same roads and highways. Collisions are common and the resulting traffic jams are headache inducing. On top of this, parking is extremely limited in the city centre.


Restaurants and food in Brussels

+ PRO: Endless variety of places to eat out 

Brussels has a fantastic and underrated food culture. While their classic dish of mussels and chips can be found at almost every restaurant, there are so many other types of cuisine to sample in the city, such as French, Italian and Thai. Expats should also be sure to try the famous Belgian waffles, Belgian beer and of course Belgian chocolate.

+ PRO: Belgian, French and German supermarkets

Expats will be able to find a huge range of produce between all the Belgian, French and German supermarkets in Brussels. This also means that residents are able to get their hands on French and German goods for a decent price. That said, the Belgian supermarket chains, Delhaize and Colruyt, tend to have a bigger range of products and more competitive prices, making them the favourites among the locals.


Lifestyle in Brussels

+ PRO: Lively nightlife scene

Brussels comes alive at night. The area surrounding the Grand Palace is packed with bars and pubs offering food, drinks and great music. This is certainly the place to be in Brussels for expats looking to have a night out on the town. The city is also home to countless breweries, a few of which brew some of Belgium’s most famous beers, while others brew a range of new and exciting craft beers. 

+ PRO: Lots of green spaces

Brussels in home to more than 15 parks, some bigger than others but all incredibly beautiful. With so many parks at their disposal, Brussels residents will easily be able to leave the concrete of the city centre behind them and breath in some fresh air. These green areas are just perfect for a walk, a family picnic in the sun or a sports game. A few of the parks cater for a number of sports and are also a great place for expats to meet fellow sport enthusiasts.

+ PRO: Well-situated for travel in Europe

While there is much to explore in the city itself, the location of Brussels and the extensive transport routes makes travelling to the rest of the country easy. Not only that but the location of Belgium makes travelling to the rest of Europe extremely quick and easy too. London and Paris, among others, can be reached by train from Brussels in a matter of hours. Budget airlines are also available and, in some cases, may even be the cheaper option. A weekend trip to Greece, Spain or the Netherlands has never been easier.

+ PRO: Most Belgians are bilingual and speak at least some English

Expats who don’t speak French will discover quickly that the language barrier in Brussels is the least of their worries. Almost all Belgians speak two or three languages at least, with French, Dutch and German being high on the list. The majority of locals speak at least some English, if they aren’t completely proficient in it. Learning one of the country's languages is advisable, however, as it is appreciated by the locals and will lead to greater immersion in the local culture.

- CON: Winters are long, dark and gloomy

Although there are many things that expats can do to brighten up their winter days, they should be prepared for the season. It lasts many months, the sun sets early and rises late, it’s relatively cold and extremely rainy. Having the appropriate clothing will certainly help – a decent rain jacket, some waterproof shoes and an umbrella are a must. That said, summers bring lovely, warm days that can be enjoyed in the city's many parks.

Working in Brussels

Expats tend to live in Brussels briefly to further their careers and to gain professional experience. It follows that expats working in Brussels are often job-driven, highly paid and young. For this reason, the city can be quite transient and work-orientated. Despite its size, the international community isn't tight-knit.


Job market in Brussels

Home to the headquarters of the EU and NATO, many expats move to Brussels to pursue positions with these institutions and related companies. There are countless local, regional and national branches of these bodies that attract Europeans and other expats. There are also opportunities with NGOs, consultancy and communication companies, as well as translation and recruitment organisations.


Finding a job in Brussels

Expats should try to secure a job before moving to Belgium. Most expats from an EU or EEA country will not need to apply for a work permit. Expats who do require a work permit will benefit from applying for a job before arriving in the country, as many employers will help their employees with this process. Work permits in Brussels are usually renewed every year. 

Non-EU nationals may struggle to find work in Brussels due to the bureaucratic requirements which Belgian companies are expected to meet before hiring expats from outside of Europe.


Work culture in Brussels

Expats taking a job in the city will be relieved to find that doing business in Brussels is relatively laid-back, even with the general differences between the Fleming and Belgian-French business environments. Most businesspeople in Belgium speak the local languages and English, so expats shouldn't have to overcome too much of a language barrier.

The city is small enough to get around easily and everyone loves a business lunch meeting. Belgians aren't always averse to a midday glass of wine or two, although this does differ between businesses. Employees in Brussels are entitled to more legal protection and social benefits than in many other countries, and workers can be granted as much as five to six weeks of leave each year.

Expats need to remember that Brussels has a multicultural and bilingual work environment, despite its reliance on English. The French side of business tends to be more formal and the Dutch side more informal, and these languages play a significant role in Belgian business. It would be a good idea for expats to learn one of these languages to help them transition smoothly into life in Belgium.

Cost of Living in Brussels

In the 2020 Mercer Cost of Living survey, Brussels was ranked 78th out of 209 cities in the world. This puts Brussels as less expensive than other European cities such as Copenhagen and Dublin, but more expensive than cities like Barcelona and Stockholm.

Things such as housing and electricity are especially expensive, but expats will be able to save a significant amount on food and public transport, and the cost of eating out in Brussels is lower than many other major cities. 


Cost of accommodation in Brussels

Housing is usually the largest expense for expats in Brussels. Those moving to the city will find that some landlords are willing to negotiate lease prices. Prospective tenants should ask how long a property has been vacant, and may have some leverage if the figure is above six months.

The cost of apartments and houses in Brussels varies dramatically and depends on size, quality and the proximity to the city centre. Utilities such as heating and electricity are generally expensive and are an additional expense.

Certain neighbourhoods are more expensive than others. Ixelles, Uccle and Woluwe St Pierre are among the most expensive in the city. There is a large variety of choice when it comes to finding a place to live in Brussels, and there is something for every budget. Further outside of the city in areas such as Waterloo, Tervuren and Overijse, expats can expect to find more family-friendly homes with large gardens, garages and sometimes pools.


Cost of eating out in Brussels

Some of the best bargains in Brussels are inspired by food, and good restaurants are abundant. The snack stands around town sell local specialities such as the famous Belgian frites in heaped quantities for a few euros. Waffles are best bought from the trucks set up in tourist locations and in the main squares.

For high-end fare, many of the finer restaurants around the city offer a great chance to try the food at a fraction of the cost of the dinner menu on the prix fixe lunch menu. Dining in Brussels is a pleasure that will not disappoint any taste or budget. 


Cost of public transport in Brussels

Lots of people drive in Brussels, and depending on where an expat lives, this might be a requirement. If someone works and lives in the city centre, however, public transport is affordable with metro, bus and tram connections.

Using public transport in Brussels is less of a headache than driving since it prevents one from having to deal with expensive and limited parking or parking fines. Expats who will regularly be using public transportation can also save money by buying multiple-ride cards.


Cost of groceries in Brussels

There are dozens of speciality stores in Brussels. The main supermarket chains are Delhaize and Carrefour. These both offer everything from meat and fish to laundry detergent and cat food. In general, items are similarly priced to those in the US and other EU countries. Fresh produce can be expensive in the winter, but prices are better in season.


Cost of living in Brussels

Prices vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Brussels in May 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

 One-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 900

 One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 700

 Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 1,500

 Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 1,200

Groceries

 Dozen eggs

 EUR 2.80

 Milk (1 litre)

 EUR 1

 Loaf of bread (white)

 EUR 1.60

 Chicken breasts (1kg)

 EUR 9

 Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

 EUR 6.80

Utilities/household

 Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

 EUR 0.22

 Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 EUR 45

 Electricity, heating, water (average per month for a standard household)

 EUR 130

Eating out and entertainment

 Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

 EUR 60

 Big Mac Meal

 EUR 9

 Cappuccino

 EUR 3.20

 Coca-Cola (330ml)

 EUR 2.30

 Local beer (500ml)

 EUR 4

Transportation

 Taxi (rate per km)

 EUR 2

 City centre public transport

 EUR 2.40

 Petrol (per litre)

 EUR 1.40

Accommodation in Brussels

Expats looking for accommodation in Brussels shouldn’t have too many problems with finding a place to live. As a city of neighbourhoods, the Belgian capital has a wide selection of options when it comes to areas and suburbs.

Generally speaking, expats will choose between living in one of the city’s districts or in an outlying suburb. The advantage of living in the city is that expats will usually be close to their place of work and have easy access to public transport. That said, most international schools are located outside of the city and accommodation is generally more expensive. 

On the other hand, expats who choose to live outside of the city will be closer to international schools and will usually be able to rent or buy bigger properties at a lower price than they would in the city. This does mean longer commutes and, in some cases, the public transport system in Brussels will be less accessible.


Types of accommodation in Brussels

Most expats choose to rent property, at least at first, and especially if they only intend to stay for a limited time.

In many countries, light fixtures, kitchens and window coverings are already in houses or apartments. This is often not the case when renting in Brussels. Built-in closets are also rare, so purchasing a wardrobe is the norm. Most rental properties in Brussels are let unfurnished, which means tenants must provide their own furniture, including appliances, kitchen cupboards and even ceiling lamps. 

It's rare to find a furnished apartment in Brussels except for short-term stays, and these are often pricey. Generally speaking, houses are more expensive to rent than apartments.


Finding accommodation in Brussels

Renting in Brussels is complicated because of strict legal requirements by landlords. It would be wise for expats to consult with a professional to help them with the process, including the house hunt. Any relocation firm will do this, or the estate agency renting the apartment can be spoken to directly. Otherwise, property in Brussels can be found on bulletin boards, in local newspapers or listed on online property portals. It shouldn’t take an expat house hunter too long to find a suitable place to stay. Estate agents can be especially helpful for expats who don't speak any of the local languages.


Renting accommodation in Brussels

Leases

A typical Belgian residential lease is for nine years, known as a 'long-term lease'. A tenant can break the lease with three months' notice at any time. If the tenant breaks the lease in the first, second or third year, they will have to pay a penalty of one, two or three months' rent respectively. Breaking the lease early after three years incurs no penalty. This type of lease is often referred to as a '3-6-9 lease' because the lease and its components can be revisited every three years.

There are also short-term leases available for a period of three years rather than nine. During a three-year lease, it is not possible to break the lease before the completion of the term. This means that tenants are responsible for paying the rent for the full duration of the contract, regardless of circumstances.

Deposits

The maximum deposit on a rental home is three months' worth of rent. This is returned in full to the tenant at the end of the lease as long as the property is returned without damages.

Utilities

Rental prices generally don’t include utilities such as electricity, water and internet. Expats need to ask about this before signing a lease as it will usually be an extra cost on top of rent.

Areas and suburbs in Brussels

The best places to live in Brussels

A little-known fact among new arrivals is that the Belgian capital is 'a city of neighbourhoods'. To best get a feel for the city and to choose a place to live in one of the areas and suburbs in Brussels, expats need to understand its mosaic of streets and squares. 

Each district of Brussels (or commune as the Belgians refer to them) is represented by local government officials. This is the first authority to which all citizens and expats in Brussels turn when it comes to civil issues and local policies. This includes registering an expat's arrival, establishing residency, obtaining a driver’s license and addressing work permit-related questions.

Certain communes are more desirable than others. Choosing a particular location depends on where a person will work, study, and whether they have a family. There is really something for everyone in each of the 19 distinct communities in Brussels.

The following are some of the best and most popular choices for expats.


Popular expat areas in Brussels

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Brussels City

This area lies between the boulevards that surround the historic city centre. It's generally the place where visitors are taken to show off the best of Brussels. As a result of major renovation works, the downtown area has increasingly regained its charm for residents.

The Brussels city centre is marked by historic architecture such as the Grand Place, the Royal Palace, museums, charming squares and nightlife venues that surround the Brussels Stock Exchange. 

Traffic is a problem during peak times, lunch hour and weekend nights. Parking is also a concern for residents with a car as garages and parking spaces are rare. This is the area for expat urbanites working downtown or looking for a place to stay while studying in Brussels for a while. 

Etterbeek

Etterbeek incorporates the European district and the Jubelpark complex. This commune also includes the shopping districts of La Chasse, Tongerenstraat, Chez Antoine and Jourdanplein, with its renowned market and famous French fry shack. 

It's also more affordable than other communes in Brussels and offers easy access to public transport. For expats working in the European Quarter who want to walk or take a short metro ride, Etterbeek is ideal. However, commuting to the international schools on the city's outskirts will require a car.

Ixelles

With a multitude of theatres, cinemas, restaurants and shops, Ixelles is the place to be in uptown Brussels. It's made up of a mix of different neighbourhoods, offering a variety of choice for potential residents.

Expats will be able to choose between charming upscale neighbourhoods around Place Brugmann and Place du Chatelain, the student area around the university, as well as art-deco homes around the ponds of Ixelles. Ixelles is also home to Place Eugene Flagey, with its famous cafes and buzzing sidewalk scene, and the chic shopping street, Avenue Louise. The Abbey de la Cambre is also found here. 

Parking is always a challenge as most of these neighbourhoods are popular shopping, dining and market destinations. Some apartments provide parking, and it's sometimes possible to park on the street during off-peak hours. 

Many expat families live in these areas. It’s not uncommon to see strollers parked outside of the neighbourhood restaurants. Central to downtown and the European Quarter, Ixelles is great for couples, singles or young families. The commute to international schools requires a car.

Woluwe-Saint-Pierre

A mainly residential, cosmopolitan commune, large amounts of green space are found in its parks and forests. The Parc de Woluwe, the Mellaerts Ponds and the Zoniënwoud are wonderful places for relaxing outdoors. Housing here is a mix of apartments, townhouses and large homes, many with private gardens. 

The Avenue de Tervueren is one of the main arteries in and out of Brussels and dissects the commune. Surrounding streets hide beautiful homes and commercial centres where shops, restaurants, hairdressers and a popular weekly market are frequented by families and young people alike. The metro and tram also stop here, making it easily accessible to the rest of the city.

The commune authority itself is also well organised and accommodating to foreigners and new arrivals in Brussels. 

Watermael-Boitsfort

Watermael-Boitsfort is in the south of Brussels and borders Ixelles. With easy access to the city, it has gradually become a highly sought-after residential area. More than half of the commune's territory is covered by the Zoniënwoud, while clusters of semi-rural housing, village houses and large villas give the commune a quaint charm. There's also easy access to the highway. 

Healthcare in Brussels

By law, all employees and self-employed people must contribute to an insurance fund for their healthcare in Brussels as part of the normal social security enrolment process.

There are also special health insurance plans which have been designed specifically for expats and are valid in several countries. New arrivals should investigate whether they qualify for non-resident tax status. If this is the case, they may not be required to contribute to national social security, in which case they will probably be covered by their employer’s healthcare plan.

EU citizens can use their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access state healthcare during a short-term visit. UK citizens can make use of their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaced the EHIC for UK citizens post-Brexit. Ambulances are not part of the national healthcare plan but may be covered by private insurance for those who have it.

Below is a list of some of the most popular hospitals in Brussels for expats.


Hospitals in Brussels

Cliniques de l'Europe St Michel

Website: www.europehospitals.be
Address: Rue de Linthoutstraat 150, 1040 Etterbeek 

Hôpital Erasme

Website: www.erasme.ulb.ac.be
Address: Route de Lennik 808, 1070 Bruxelles

Saint-Pierre University Hospital

Website: www.stpierre-bru.be
Address: Rue Haute 322, 1000 Bruxelles

UZ Brussels Hospital

Website: www.uzbrussel.be
Address: Laarbeeklaan 101, 1090 Jette

Education and Schools in Brussels

Under the Belgian education system, expat children will be able to attend many different types of schools in Brussels. Most expat parents will either enrol their children in a public school or one of several international schools in the city. The quality of education in Belgium, be it private or public, is generally excellent.

Children generally start school at age two and a half, although it isn't mandatory until age six. Before this age, most neighbourhoods offer daycare solutions for working parents. Compulsory schooling ends at age 18.


Public schools in Brussels

Public education in Brussels is known to be of an excellent standard. Expats will be able to find schools that offer tuition in French or Dutch. Public schools are an excellent option for expat families who already speak a local language or are looking to immerse their younger children in the local language and culture. That said, most expats who are planning to live in Brussels for a shorter period and can't speak the local language will opt to send their children to one of the city’s many excellent international schools.


Private schools in Brussels

There are several private schools in Brussels. These are generally religious institutions that are subsidised to some degree by the Belgian government or schools with alternative curricula such as the Montessori curriculum. 

The city’s private schools are usually slightly more affordable than its international schools. These schools also offer a wider selection of extra-curricular activities and school outings than public schools. 


International schools in Brussels

Brussels is a nucleus of international activity and expat families will find themselves with a healthy choice of international school options. Some international schools teach an English curriculum, while others follow the national curricula of countries such as France, the Netherlands or Germany.

With a large expat community in Brussels, space at international schools can be difficult to secure. Parents should, therefore, apply far in advance to place their child at their preferred school. It's also worth mentioning that international school fees are typically high, so it's important to ensure there is adequate budget for not only tuition but also extras such as uniforms, textbooks, school lunches and extra-curriculars.


Special-needs education in Brussels

Special-needs education in Belgium focuses on inclusion and equality. The government is committed to ensuring each child exercises their right to education. Each language community has a respective Ministry of Education.

The ministry will first attempt to immerse a child into a mainstream school. If this is not possible or suitable, children would then be enrolled in a specialist school. There are various categories of specialist schools in Belgium. Some schools are focused on physical disabilities and others will focus on learning or behavioural difficulties.


Tutors in Brussels

Whether parents are looking to improve their child's language skills, boost their grades in a problem subject or get assistance in preparing for a big exam, expat families can make good use of the many high-quality tutors in Brussels. There are numerous large and small companies, as well as independent tutors, who can be hired to help. It can be particularly useful to ask fellow expats and the child's school for recommendations.

International Schools in Brussels

As one of the major capitals of the European Union, Brussels hosts a dynamic international community which is reflected in the number of international schools in the city. 

Many expats move to Brussels to occupy positions at one of the numerous global organisations headquartered in Belgium. As these positions tend to be transient in nature, international schools remain the most obvious choice for expat parents who want their children to continue with their home country's curriculum during their limited time abroad. 

It follows that more than just a handful of these schools have sprung up in and around the city, offering expats a variety of options to choose from. 


International schools in Brussels

Ecole Internationale Montgomery

Ecole Internationale Montgomery aims to promote international understanding through a bilingual programme and cultural diversity, as well as academic achievement and social maturity. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 5 to 18

Bogaerts International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.bischool.com

British School of Brussels

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE, A-Levels and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 1 to 18
Website: www.britishschool.be

Internationale Deutsche Schule Brüssel

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: German
Ages: 3 months to 18 years
Website: www.idsb.eu

Lycée Français Jean Monnet

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.lyceefrancais-jmonnet.be

St John's International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.stjohns.be

European School of Brussels

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: European Baccalaureate
Ages: 4 to 18
Website: www.eursc.eu

Lifestyle in Brussels

A wonderfully cosmopolitan and culturally fascinating city, the lifestyle in Brussels is vibrant and exciting. As the headquarters of organisations such as NATO and the EU, the city gives a sense of being at the centre of an integral cog in the wheel of European society.

While Brussels is best known for its cultural and architectural attractions, expats will also be able to enjoy world-class sports facilities as well as natural beauty. There's also an abundance of options when it comes to restaurants, entertainment venues and shopping in Brussels. 


Shopping in Brussels

For designer clothing and boutiques, expats can peruse the aisles in the Boulevard de Waterloo and Avenue Louise where famous luxury brand names adorn the shop windows.

The Rue Neuve is one of the longest streets in Brussels. It's famous for being a pedestrian-only shopping heaven. Chain stores also abound, while independent stores can be found between the Grand Place and the Rue Lemonnier.

Most shops in Brussels open from 9am and close at 6pm, providing plenty of hours for consumers to shop.


Nightlife in Brussels

Brussels nightlife may not rival that of its European neighbours, but it still provides a wonderful selection of pubs, overflowing with Belgium’s best beers as well as trendy clubs, pubs and live music venues.

Most residents prefer to go down to their local pub for a few pints of their favourite brew before heading out for dinner and a night out on the town. Happy hour is a jovial affair, especially at the Place de Brouckère, where there are many after-work drinking holes.

For those in search of pulsating basslines at high volumes, bars and clubs light up the strip on Rue du Marché au Charbon. The young, wealthy and trendy, on the other hand, prefer to be seen at clubs and bars of Upper Town in the city centre. 


Outdoor activities and sports in Brussels

Expats are often surprised to find out about the abundance of green space in Brussels, which boasts parks, woodlands and sports facilities. There are several parks in the city centre, including the Botanical Garden and Leopold Park.

The Sonian Forest is the most impressive of these outdoor attractions. Known as la Forêt de Soignes in French and Zoniënwoud in Dutch, the forest can be found at the southeastern edge of the city and extends over three Belgian regions. The Sonian is famous for being one of the most beautiful beech forests in Europe and is home to wild boar, bats and deer.

For expats who prefer their outdoor adventures a bit tamer, the south of the city has a multitude of green spaces that are popular with joggers, cyclists and picnickers.

Active expats will also have access to countless health clubs, gyms and sports clubs in the city. The most prominent sports venue in Brussels is undoubtedly the King Baudouin Stadium which hosts matches for national football and rugby teams.

Sport and fitness in Brussels

Brussels is one of the greenest of Europe’s capitals, making the city a great place to walk, cycle or run. The heavy rainfall in the city can be a deterrent, though. Luckily, the capital has made the most of the fitness craze with an abundance of both indoor and outdoor health clubs and spas to make days a little less grey.


Recommended fitness facilities in Brussels

Aspria

Aspria has a few locations in Brussels, and all are equipped with fitness studios with the latest modern equipment. These clubs also offer top-notch classes that range from pilates to bodybuilding, spinning, aqua classes and step.

These clubs are beautifully maintained and offer a tranquil atmosphere. A membership is needed to take advantage of the fitness facilities or classes. There are often specials on membership fees, especially in the quieter months.

David Lloyd Leisure

Another upmarket club popular with expats is David Lloyd in Uccle. Located in the majestic, leafy setting of a château in the south of Brussels, the club allows members to devote their time to wellbeing and leisure.

The grand setting includes a gym, studios for group sessions, tennis courts, leisure facilities, a crèche, a lounge restaurant and bar, a beauty and hair salon and indoor parking.

Corpus Studios

Corpus Studios in Ixelles is focused on pilates, with communal classes and private instruction available seven days a week in a number of languages. Full memberships are available but classes can also be paid for individually or can be purchased in a bundle of five classes.

Kids and Family in Brussels

Expats in Brussels will be in the centre for a number of international businesses and organisations. This means that expat children and families living in the Belgian capital won't have any problem finding playmates who speak their home language.

Parks, playgrounds and forests abound for strolling, cycling and picnicking. Most playgrounds are never too far from a cafe, and for a family on the move, waffles, ice cream and French-fry vans line the most populated streets.

All in all, the possibilities for education and outings available to families living in Brussels are endless, making the city exciting and child-friendly.


Outdoor activities in Brussels

The many castles in and around Brussels are worth a visit. The Royal Palace and the stroll leading up to it through the Parc de Bruxelles are enchanting. The palace is an official residence of the royal family and is only open to the public for a few days a year, usually in the summer.

Another royal residence, just outside the city, is the Château Royal de Laeken. Visitors aren't allowed in the residence but are welcome to enjoy the royal greenhouses. 

A brief drive south of Brussels brings families to La Hulpe. This town is famous for its castle. The grounds and surrounding forest are worth whiling away many a weekend afternoon. Stables, ponds and pathways invite visitors to explore, play on the grass or simply sit down with a picnic. If it starts raining, step inside La Fondation Folon, a gallery of one of Belgium's most appreciated artists.

The Sonian Forest is the forest bordering Brussels. It offers another delightful location to walk, hike, bicycle, ride horses, picnic, relax in one of the cafes or climb on the playgrounds dispersed throughout the wooded area.


Arts and entertainment in Brussels

Expat children and parents will be able to discover the history of comic strips at Le Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée and gain an appreciation for the creator of Tintin at Le Musée Hergé, which is located just a short drive south of the city.

Children will enjoy Le Musée du Jouet and Le Musée des Enfants. In the first toy museum, patrons discover and play with toys from the past, while the second offers hands-on creative activities based on a yearly theme. The children's museum also has an enclosed playground with structures to climb on and animals to pet.

Although the above-mentioned museums are particularly child-minded, the Fine Arts Museums also often offer activities for children. In the Musical Instrument Museum, patrons can wear headphones to hear the sounds of numerous instruments showcased in the beautiful Art Nouveau building.


Child-friendly dining in Brussels

Brussels isn't lacking in family-friendly restaurants. The brasseries seem to be the best place for families. They're usually quite big, noisy, and always have fries on the menu, among other good, traditional Belgian fare such as mussels, steak and sausage. Most eateries will have a suggested children's meal and highchairs if needed. Being the international city it is, world cuisine is also easily found in Brussels.

See and Do in Brussels

With a wide variety of exciting activities and attractions in Brussels, expats are bound to discover something new to explore and enjoy every day. New arrivals wanting to get a feel for the city and its attractions should purchase the Brussels Card, which grants entrance to most of the city’s museums and transport on buses, trams and metros. 

It's also a great way to get familiarised with the public transport system. On the other hand, hop-on-hop-off buses are great for those wishing to observe their new home from a good vantage point while going from place to place. 


Recommended sightseeing in Brussels

Belgian Comic Strip Center

The Belgian Comic Strip Center is one of the city's most popular attractions, where off-beat humour, vivid colours and fabulous illustrations abound. Visitors can enjoy an extensive collection of comic-strip art, with particular attention paid to Belgian native Hergé's Tintin.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Brussels is home to Europe’s very first shopping arcade, completed in 1847. This noteworthy attraction isn't to be missed. If the impressive and aesthetic architecture isn’t enough to dazzle, peruse the shops, make a few purchases, and watch the world go by over a cup of coffee from one of the quaint arcade cafes.

Grand Place

The Grand Place is frequented by locals and tourists alike, and is indeed well worth a visit. Spend the afternoon admiring the wonderful architecture that surrounds the square, peruse the stalls that line it, or enjoy a cup of coffee at one of its pavement cafes.

Brussels Town Hall

Architecturally speaking, Brussels Town Hall is one of the finest buildings in Brussels. It survived some of the worst bombings during World War II when nearly every other building on the Grand Place was destroyed. Take a tour of this magnificent building and discover the art, architecture, tapestries and history that lie inside.

Manneken Pis

One of the city's most noted attractions is the small Manneken Pis statue which stands proudly relieving himself atop a fountain basin. The statue represents the 'zwanze' or good sense of humour of Brussels residents. There is a decades-long tradition of putting the statue in costume, with costume changes occurring every few days – so regardless of what time of year the urinating urchin is visited, he will be dressed in the season’s best.

Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate

Anyone with a sweet tooth should head directly to the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate for a decadent day of fine Belgian chocolate. The museum is a tasteful tribute to the country’s famed love of chocolate. Visitors can even see the master chocolatiers at work and sample their wares.

Palais Royal

The original official residence of the Belgian Royal family, the Palais Royal stands as magnificently as ever in front of Brussels Park and is used for official functions and ceremonies. Tours take place during the summer months, allowing visitors to enjoy the palace’s art and historical artefacts.

Royal Museums of Fine Arts

No resident of Brussels is a true resident until they’ve visited the Museum of Ancient Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Expats who make the journey will have the opportunity to view one of the finest collections of Fleming art in the world by artists such as Ruben and Van Dyck.

What's On in Brussels

The multitude of annual events in Brussels reflects the Belgian capital’s multicultural diversity and ranges from flower festivals to marathons and everything in between. There is something for everyone with more than enough events and attractions to keep the city's residents occupied and entertained.


Annual events in Brussels

Art Brussels (April)

A huge event on the city’s social and cultural calendar, Art Brussels sees tens of thousands of art lovers flock to the city each year to enjoy its premier art festival. There are more than 150 galleries throughout the city, all of which exhibit art from all over the world every April.

Flower Carpet (August)

Every two years the Grand Place plaza is transformed into an elaborate carpet of begonias by horticulturists. The best view of the carpet is from the town hall’s balcony, but viewing it up close also gives a unique sense of its scale. Visitors can watch as the carpet is constructed and there are evening shows accompanied by lights and music.

Brussels Marathon (October)

Serious runners and casual enthusiasts alike come together to take part in the city’s annual marathon. The event offers the options of a full marathon course, a shorter half-marathon, a mini-marathon and a children's run. Participants can enjoy the sights of the city along the way, while onlookers get to enjoy cheering runners on in a festive atmosphere.

Winter Wonders (December)

Held at the Grand Place, the Winter Wonders event is a sure way to get into the Christmas spirit. The Christmas market has more than 200 chalets selling all manner of food, drink and gifts, with other highlights including ice skating, carnival rides, a light-and-sound show and, of course, a giant Christmas tree.

Frequently Asked Questions about Brussels

Expats moving to Brussels are likely to have some questions about life in the city. Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about life in the Belgian capital.

Do I need to learn a language before I move to Brussels?

Brussels is bilingual, with most citizens speaking French. English is widely spoken, so learning a language if in the centre of Brussels is unnecessary. However, speaking a local language is a good way to gain favour with locals.

What is the weather like in Brussels?

Brussels has a maritime temperate climate, characterised by warm summers and mild winters. The city has a high average annual rainfall, and visitors can expect a shower any time of the year. Snow is possible, but not frequent in winter.

Are weekend getaways from Brussels possible?

The historic tourist city of Bruges is extremely close by, which makes for an incredible getaway. Alternatively, with plenty of options for easy transport access, neighbouring European countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland are right on Belgium's doorstep.

Getting Around in Brussels

A modern city with good infrastructure, Brussels is relatively easy to navigate. Expats have various options when it comes to travelling in the city, with good public transport and road networks. 


Public transport in Brussels

The comprehensive public transport system in Brussels can be a bit overwhelming at first. Almost all public transport within the city is run by state company STIB-MVIB. Tickets allow passengers to use a combination of the metro, trams or buses to get to their destination.

Tickets can be bought online, at vending machines and kiosks in metro stations, as well as at shops around the city. It's possible to buy tickets onboard but these are more expensive.

Buses

Buses in Brussels are orange and silver in colour and are assigned a number and a colour on transport maps and signposts. Routes and timetables are on the STIB-MVIB website.

Metro 

The Brussels Metro is fairly simple, with only six overlapping lines. The metro service is reliable and journey times are fairly short, although some routes get crowded during rush hour. Most trains have a display and announcements in multiple languages, telling commuters the stop as well as giving a map of the line they are on.

Trams 

Trams are mostly above ground, making them useful for seeing the city and gaining a sense of direction. Some trams also go to metro stations and run underground in places. As with the metro, most trams have a display to indicate their next stop and destination. 


Taxis in Brussels

There are many different taxi companies in Brussels. Taxis differ in appearance, but almost all have a sign on the roof. Taxis in Brussels operate in different zones, with different rates depending on the location and the time of day. As taxis can use bus lanes, they tend to be a bit faster than private vehicles. 

Ride-sharing services and applications are also widely available in the city, although often made unnecessary by its excellent public transport network. 


Cycling in Brussels

Cycling in Brussels is a good way to get around and see the city. However, riders will need to be moderately fit to cope with its many hills. There's an extensive network of cycle routes that are easy to navigate. It's reasonably safe to ride around the city, though it's better to use cycle routes to avoid the busiest traffic. There are also several cycle-hire schemes in Brussels for commuters who don't have their own bikes.


Driving in Brussels

The road network in Brussels is generally good, although there are a few junctions and areas where road surfaces could be better. A ring of freeways circle the city, several parts of which go all the way into the city centre.

Expats should also be aware that the city's known for having some of the worst traffic in Europe. Drivers in Brussels also have a reputation for impatience. This can make for an interesting combination and can take some getting used to.


Walking in Brussels

The centre of Brussels is relatively small and the majority of its attractions and amenities are within easy walking distance of each other. The European Quarter, which houses the EU buildings and the major banking and insurance companies, is some distance from the tourist sights though.

While there are areas that should perhaps be avoided after dark, walking in Brussels is generally safe. The biggest issues during the daytime are likely to be crossing the road. Trams always have right of way. Expats should also be aware that some cycle paths share the pavements, which can be hazardous if pedestrians are not aware of their surroundings.