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Moving to Brussels

Those who plan on moving to Brussels will find a beautiful cosmopolitan city at the heart of the European Union. Belgium’s capital has become a popular expatriate destination due to the high quality of life it inspires, its mild climate and its position in relation to the rest of Europe. Since it is effectively the capital of NATO and the EU, the city has a dynamic, international atmosphere fuelled by expatriates and diplomats from all over the continent.

Brussels houses countless multinational companies and hosts more than 1,000 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 economic downturn, a mood of optimism is returning and it continues to attract highly skilled expatriates 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 around the city.

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 also have few problems finding accommodation in Brussels. The traffic in Brussels is notorious for being congested. It's therefore advised to find accommodation close to work to avoid costly commuting fees.

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. The weather in Brussels is temperate, and the city has 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.

 

 

Working in Brussels

Expats working in Brussels will find themselves in a fast-paced, demanding and aggressive business environment.


Job market 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.

Foreigners make up three-quarters of the city's population, many of whom have permanent residence. As much as ten percent of the population consists of highly-skilled expats working in EU institutions or similar entities.


Finding a job 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 as well as other expats. There are also opportunities with NGOs, consultancy and communication companies, as well as translation and recruitment organisations.

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 2019 Mercer Cost of Living survey, Brussels was ranked 77th out of 209 cities in the world. This puts Brussels as less expensive than other European cities like Amsterdam and Frankfurt. However, the city is much more expensive to live in than cities like Barcelona and Lyon.

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


Cost of housing 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 more than six months.

The cost of apartments and houses in Brussels varies dramatically and depends on size, quality, and the proximity to the city centre and the European quarter. 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 like Waterloo, Tervuren and Overijse, expats can expect to find more family-friendly homes with large gardens, garages and sometimes pools.


Cost of communications in Brussels

Expats can get a phone line with various plans that include television, internet and mobile phone services. Mobile phone charges in Belgium are some of the most expensive in Europe.

When choosing a plan, it is important to ask about contract terms. Sometimes a contract renews every time a new feature is added. Expats should plan and ask questions ahead, and sign up for what they need all at once. 


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 like 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 or the European quarter, however, public transport is affordable and well connected via the metro, bus and tram lines.

Using public transport in Brussels is also less of a headache since it prevents 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.

Unfortunately, public transport services to the airport are not very effective. If an expat plans to take public transport to Zaventem Airport, they should give themselves plenty of time to get there from anywhere in the city.


Cost of groceries in Brussels

There are dozens of specialty 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 March 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

 One-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 840

 One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 690

 Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

 EUR 1,440

 Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

 EUR 1,150

Groceries

 Dozen eggs

 EUR 2.80

 Milk (1 litre)

 EUR 1

 Loaf of bread (white)

 EUR 1.70

 Chicken breasts (1kg)

 EUR 9.40

 Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

 EUR 6.70

Utilities/household

 Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

 EUR 0.25

 Internet (uncapped ADSL or Cable – average per month)

 EUR 45

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

 EUR 125

Eating out and entertainment

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

 EUR 60

 Big Mac Meal

 EUR 8

 Cappuccino

 EUR 3.20

 Coca-Cola (330ml)

 EUR 2.50

 Local beer (500ml)

 EUR 4

Transportation

 Taxi (rate per km)

 EUR 2

 City centre public transport

 EUR 2.10

 Petrol (per litre)

 EUR 1.45

Accommodation in Brussels

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

Generally speaking, expats will choose between living in one of the city’s districts, known as communes, 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. However, 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, however, mean longer commutes and, in some cases, the public transport system in Brussels will be less accessible.


Renting property in Brussels

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

Leases in Belgium usually run for three to nine years. Either the landlord or the tenant can break the lease, but this normally requires written notice of at least three months and may incur a penalty of several months’ rent in the first two years that the tenant lives in the apartment. 

There are strict laws around real estate in Belgium that aim to protect tenants as well as landlords. To receive the full protection of the law, however, expats are advised to follow all the proper processes, which can be obtained from the government’s official information and services website.


Finding property in Brussels

Property in Brussels can be found on bulletin boards, through estate agents and on internet real estate portals. It shouldn’t take an expat house hunter too long to find a suitable place to stay.

Areas and suburbs 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. The district is also known as Parc du Cinquantenaire. 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 most diverse commune in the city and 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 the African Quarter Matonge, the student area around the university, charming upscale neighbourhoods around Place Brugmann and Place du Chatelaine, as well as art deco homes around the ponds of Ixelles. Ixelles is also home to Place Eugene Flagey, with its famous cafés 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 la Woluwe, the Mellaerts Ponds and the Zoniënwoud are wonderful places for relaxing outdoors. It's also a favourite of embassies. Housing here is a mix of apartments, townhouses and large homes, many with private gardens. 

Parking is also a non-issue most of the time. 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.

Woluwe-Saint-Pierre also has a wonderful sports centre with a pool, tennis courts and soccer pitch which is open to residents for a small fee. It's ideal for access to the highway, airport and downtown, although it's expensive. 

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. 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. The International School of Brussels (ISB) is located here. There's also easy access to the highway. 

Renting property in Brussels

A general rule when it comes to renting a property in Brussels is that the farther out from the city centre someone searches for accommodation, the more space they will get for a lower price. For this reason, many expats choose to live on the periphery of the city in nearby communities like Tervuren, Overijse and Hoeilaart.

Most expats prefer to rent accommodation in the Belgian capital because property is expensive, they don’t want to invest in real estate, or they don’t plan on staying long. 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. Any relocation firm will do this, or the estate agency renting the apartment can be spoken to directly. 


Important facts about renting in Brussels

Unfurnished accommodation in Brussels

In Brussels, when an apartment is "unfurnished", it really is stripped bare. In many countries, light fixtures, kitchens and window coverings are already in the house or apartment. This is often not the case when renting in Brussels. Built-in closets are also rare, so purchasing a wardrobe is the norm.

Expats should keep this in mind when budgeting. Window treatments alone can run into the thousands depending on what a person is looking for. Large chain stores are a good option for light bulbs, kitchens, window shades and wardrobes.

Sometimes landlords will buy items from the tenant when they move out, although it’s always best to ask in advance. Otherwise, the tenant will be able to take everything with them when they leave, but if custom-fitted it might not be reusable.

Utilities in Brussels

Rental prices generally don’t include utilities such as electricity, water and internet. Expats need to ask about this before signing a lease. 


Signing a lease in Brussels

Most landlords require a standing order to be set up with the tenant's bank for monthly payments. An inventory and condition report should also be completed and signed alongside the lease when moving into a new property.

Duration of a lease in Belgium

A Belgian residential lease is usually assumed to be for nine years. However, tenants are only financially obliged for the first three years, after which they won’t have to pay any penalties for early cancellation. This type of lease is common and is often referred to as a “3-6-9 lease” because the lease and its components can be revisited every three years.

Terminating a lease

Tenants have to give three months written notice to terminate a lease. At the end of the nine years, a new period of three years is automatically agreed upon without notification if nobody has terminated the lease. Expats will have to be aware of their lease dates and plan accordingly.

If a lease is broken within the first year, a penalty of three months’ rent must be paid. If it's broken during the second year, two months’ rent is due. One months’ rent must be paid if termination occurs during the third year.

Landlords can't terminate a lease within the first three years. At the end of each three-year period, the landlord may terminate the lease if they or a close family member need the property. In all cases, the landlord must give six months’ notice.

If the landlord breaks the lease after the first three-year period, the penalty is equal to nine months' rent. Six months' rent is due if the termination of the lease occurs after six years. If proper notice isn’t given, a penalty of 18 months’ rent is due.


Tenant responsibilities in Brussels

In addition to the basics, leases in Belgium will usually include very detailed assignments of responsibility for appliances, the garden, rain gutters, and any other item that directly impacts the state of the house or apartment. This is completely different from leases in many other countries, so expats should know what they're getting into upfront.

In general, it’s safe to assume that tenants are responsible for everything they use on a daily basis, such as repairing appliances, carpet cleaning and clearing out rain gutters. The owner is usually responsible for electrical systems, roof, plumbing and heating systems.

Insurance

The tenant is required by law to have a comprehensive household insurance certificate. Proof of insurance must be shown to the landlord at the signing of the lease and may be requested each time the lease is renewed.

Garden

Some landlords include garden maintenance in the rent, but the majority won't. This is also something expats should consider when budgeting or negotiating the lease. The cost of maintaining a large garden, which is usually a requirement, can cost thousands of euros per year. 


Rental deposits in Brussels

Most landlords require a security deposit. A deposit may not exceed the equivalent of three months' rent. This amount is placed in an interest-bearing bank account in the tenant's name. It is put in a blocked account and requires authorization from both the landlord and the tenant before the money can be released.

At the end of every lease in Brussels, an Etat des Lieux is scheduled. This is the final meeting between an independent contractor, picked by the landlord, and the tenant, to review the state of the property and determine how much of the deposit will be returned. The general rule is the house must be left in the same state it was received in.

Expat tenants should keep a file of every purchase, upgrade and change. This will serve them better at the end of the lease, though it’s still no guarantee they won’t lose most of their deposit. 


Rent increases in Brussels

It's only possible to change the base price of rent in Brussels every three years. During the lease, however, rent follows a yearly cost of living index, which is different from increases in the base rent. As such, rent can also be increased based on this index.

Every year, the landlord can increase the rent based on a cost of living index that's determined at a federal level. The landlord must notify the tenant on the anniversary of the date the lease was signed and has a right to raise the rent by this index as well as collect money for the three months before the adjustment was made.

If a landlord neglects to index their tenant, they can't ask for any retroactive sum in the following year.

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.

Most dentists do not accept state insurance, though some accept fractional payments from the state for dental care.

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) also entitles European citizens working in foreign countries to the same treatment at the same cost as a national of that country. However, a card cannot be used within Belgium unless it has been issued elsewhere in the European Union. 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

Saint-Pierre University Hospital

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

UZ Brussels Hospital

Website: www.uzbrussel.be
Address: Campus Jette, 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 Brussels. The quality of education in Belgium, be it private or public, is very high.

Children generally start school at age two and a half, although it isn't required until age six. Before this age, most neighbourhoods offer daycare solutions for working parents. Parents are expected to be active participants in their students' work and check that homework is neat and correctly done.

Most neighbourhoods in Brussels also offer extra-curricular activities and day camps during weekends and school holidays. Notices are usually posted around schools and businesses. Lists are usually also available from the city hall, the commune or the gemeentehuis.


Public schools in Brussels

Public education in Brussels is known to be of an excellent standard. Expats will be able to find schools which offer tuition in French or Dutch, with weekly foreign language classes in English or German. 

Public schools are an excellent option for expat families who already speak a local language or are looking for an immersive experience for their younger children. However, 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 subsidized 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 are bilingual and follow the national curriculums of 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.

International Schools in Brussels

As one of the major capitals of the European Union (EU), 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

Montgomery International School of Brussels

The Montgomery International School of Brussels 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
Website: www.ecole-montgomery.be

BEPS International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum
Ages: 2.5 to 15
Website: www.beps.com

Bogaerts International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2.5 to 18
Website: www.bischool.com

British International School of Brussels

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Ages: 3 to 11
Website: www.bisb.org

British Junior Academy of Brussels

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Ages: 3 to 11
Website: www.bjab.org

The British School of Brussels

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

Brussels American School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)
Ages: 5 to 18
Website: www.dodea.edu

Brussels International Catholic School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Belgian and Cambridge IGCSE
Ages: 2.5 to 16
Website: www.bicschool.be

International School of Belgium

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Early Years Curriculum, International Primary Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE, International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.isbedu.be

Internationale Deutsche Schule Brüssel

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

International School of Brussels

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.isb.be

ISF Tervuren International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, International Primary Curriculum
Ages: 3 to 12
Website: www.isftervuren.org

ISF Waterloo International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Primary Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE
Ages: 2.5 to 18 years
Website: www.isfwaterloo.org

Lycée Français Jean Monnet

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge IGCSE
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.lyceefrancais-jmonnet.be

St John's International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.stjohns.be

Schola Europaea

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

Lifestyle in Brussels

A wonderfully cosmopolitan and culturally fascinating city, residents are known to enjoy a balanced, enjoyable lifestyle in Brussels. 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.

Many of the city's wealthier residents spend time and money competing for the best buys and the latest designer goods. Expats will have 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 area and Avenue Louise where famous luxury brand names adorn the shop windows.

The Rue Neuve is the longest street 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. However, it still provides a wonderful selection of pubs, overflowing with Belgium’s best beers as well as trendy clubs, discos and live music bars.

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 Broucker, 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, Royal Park 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 and thus a great place to walk, cycle or run. The heavy rainfall in the city can be a deterrent for the lazy exerciser. Luckily, the capital has made the most of the fitness craze with an abundance of both indoors and outdoors health clubs and spas to make days a little less grey. Depending on what one is looking for, there's something to meet any expectation and budget.


Recommended fitness facilities in Brussels

Aspria clubs

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. On top of a yearly membership fee, there's also a once-off joining fee that is non-refundable. The prices change with the economy and there are often packages for families and even a corporate option for a capped number of visits per year.

Expats should check back throughout the year for specials, especially during the holidays and summer, when a lot of people leave Brussels temporarily.

David Lloyd Leisure

The other 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.

This club offers different levels of membership, allowing a member to come in off-peak hours, which is often what most expats opt for. Prices vary throughout the year.

Corpus Studios

Corpus Studios in Ixelles is focused on pilates, with communal classes and private instruction available seven days a week. Instruction is given in English, French, Spanish and Italian if need be. Payment can either be done after each session or a sign up for a series of classes for a better rate.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance hotel near Place Luxembourg offers outsiders the chance to use their fitness facilities at affordable rates if using it during off-peak times, and the bonus here is parking and public transport.

European Fitness Club

European Fitness in Stockel is a real neighbourhood gym. No fuss, no frills, but well-equipped enough to ensure a good workout is had. There are a dozen treadmills, two studios, and changing rooms with showers.

It is connected to the tram and metro, in the centre of a commercial area with restaurants and shops, which makes it very convenient as well.

Kids and Family in Brussels

Expats in Brussels will find that this city is the centre for a number of international businesses and organisations. 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 café, 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 is enchanting. The palace is an official residence of the royal family and is only open to the public for a few days a year, generally 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 meandering 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 cafés 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, never underestimate the Royal Museums of Fine Arts or the Musical Instrument Museum, both located at Place Royale. The Fine Arts Museums 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, amongst other good, traditional Belgian fare like 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 will 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 as well as 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

The Atomium

The Atomium was built for the 1958 World Fair and is modelled on the intricate structure of the iron atom. Featuring nine spheres with constantly changing exhibitions, visitors can travel from sphere to sphere using an escalator.

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. 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 cafés.

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, perusing the stalls that line it, or enjoying a cup of coffee at one of its pavement cafés.

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, the small Manneken-pis statue is thought to represent the 'irreverent spirit' of Brussels. 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 on occasion.

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. There is something for everyone with more than enough events and attractions to keep the city's populace occupied and entertained.

Some of the most popular annual events in Brussels are listed below.

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.

Brussels Film Festival (June)

This festival is a celebration of Belgian cinema featuring both French and Flemish films, among others. Attendees get to see the year’s best offerings on the silver screen and meet the stars behind the scenes. It also provides insights into the local culture.

Brussels Beach (July)

A makeshift beach set up on the side of a canal which is lined with palm trees, deck chairs and umbrellas. The event features sports, food stalls and two stages showcasing some of Belgium’s top music acts, making this a great day out for the whole family.

Flower Carpet (August)

Every two years the Grand Place plaza is transformed into an elaborate carpet of begonias by horticulturalists. 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.

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. If looking to find work outside of Brussels, one may find it necessary to learn Flemish. Alternatively, in the east, there's a small German-speaking community. 

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 downpour any time of the year. Temperatures range from highs of around 80°F (27°C) in summer to 45°F (7°C) during the middle of winter. Snow is possible, but not frequent in winter. 

Are the locals friendly to expats?

Belgians are by nature a very friendly people. Making friends is usually an easy process. 

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, the neighbouring European countries, such as Germany, France and Switzerland, are right on Belgium's doorstep. One can even pop across the Channel to the English countryside. 

Where can I meet other expats?

Most expats working in and around Brussels tend to socialise with their colleagues. However, there are expat clubs online who meet at certain restaurants and bars weekly and organise group activities for expats living in Brussels.

Getting Around in Brussels

A modern city with good infrastructure, getting around in Brussels is relatively easy. 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 the state company, known as STIB-MVIB. Tickets allow passengers to use a combination of the Metro, trams or buses to get to their destination.

Tickets are available at kiosks in Metro stations and from machines at public transport stops around the city, and if bought from drivers are generally more expensive. 

Buses

Buses in Brussels are grey and metallic orange in colour and are assigned a number and a colour on transport maps and signposts. Routes and timetables are on the STIB-MVIB website, and maps and timetables which detail bus routes are usually available at stops.

Ticket machines are the same on buses, trams and the Metro and there's often more than one on each bus. There are also displays and announcements inside the bus telling passengers which stops are coming up. Passengers should get on at the front and move towards the back of the bus as it gets nearer to their stop, exiting from one of the rear or middle doors.

There are also other bus companies which operate in Brussels. These serve the regions to the south and north of the city, rather than within the city itself.

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.

Metro lines are easy to see on network maps. Passengers need to identify where the train they want is heading, in order to get on the platform to go in the correct direction.

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.

Due to the lack of elevators, most of the metro stations in Brussels are not accessible for those with physical disabilities.

Trams 

Like buses, trams in Brussels are identified by numbers and colours on network maps. Signposts display the letter “T” and the number of the relevant line. 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 and ride-sharing services 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 which 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.

These bicycle hire schemes have racks all over the city and are constantly expanding. Bicycles can be hired from automatic racks or a longer subscription online. The first 30 minutes are sometimes free and bikes can generally be picked up and dropped off as often as commuters like throughout the day. While the automated machines can take a bit of getting used to, they work in multiple languages and mostly work as advertised.  


Driving in Brussels

The road network in Brussels is generally very 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.

One unusual feature is the network of tunnels in Brussels, which allows for getting in and out of the city centre quite quickly. In some places, these go right under the city's famous landmarks and parks. 

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.


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, however, a distance from the tourist sights.

While there are areas which 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, even over pedestrians, so it doesn't pay to get in front of one. Expats should also be aware that some cycle paths share the pavements, which can be hazardous if pedestrians are not aware of their surroundings.