Brussels has never been one for love at first sight. With its fair share of rainy days and traffic jams, it might even make fresh-off-the-boat expats feel like they’ve made a mistake in the beginning. But then, slowly but surely, the heart of Europe starts to reveal its secrets and you find yourself falling in love with its hidden green gems, its rich cultural scene and its melting-pot ways. Here are a few tips for starting your relationship with the Belgian capital off on the right foot.
A great online resource for expats who don’t have the time or opportunity to physically make their way to Brussels beforehand to find a place to live, Spotahome lists over a thousand properties in the capital at any given time. Similar to Airbnb, the service acts as an intermediary between you and your landlord, except it is geared specifically towards expats and people looking for mid to long-term housing. Professional photographs are available for all the properties (mostly apartments) and Spotahome specifically signals which have been verified in person by the organization. Practical information such as the inclusion of a washing machine, furniture and whether or not you’re allowed to bring your beloved pet are all listed in a handy format. Expats in Brussels has provided a useful list that highlights all you need to take into consideration when looking for accommodation in Brussels.
Of course before you actually settle down in Brussels you’ll have to obtain the right papers and those differ depending on your country of origin. While expats from other continents will have to apply for a work permit, citizens of EU-members, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein are all exempt from this. To get started you might want to check out the Belgian section of workpermit.com. At the Brussels InterNations site you’ll find a warm community of fellow expats (perhaps from your home country) who have gone through the process and are happy to assist you by providing answers to specific questions.
Leaving behind the family and friends that you love can prove rough in the beginning, especially when you don’t know anyone in Brussels. The good news is that the tens of thousands of internationals who have settled in the heart of Europe before you have already founded numerous clubs to ease the transition and help you make fellow expat buddies. The capital is bursting with not just traditional societies such as the American Club of Brussels but equally with hobby clubs such as singing choirs, theater troupes and photography enthusiasts that welcome all expats with a passion. The ‘Expat Club’ is especially great for those who want to get to know wider Belgium through frequent guided tours and company visits in both Flanders and Wallonia. They also organize popular trips to the wonderful Christmas markets in both the country and abroad (this year Cologne, Dusseldorf and Maastricht are coming up). Find an overview of ten excellent expat clubs here.
Belgian bureaucracy can get scary with three official languages in effect but before you have a minor freak-out at the prospect of having to master them all, know that German is the first language of only 1 percent of the population and that many Belgians are proficient in English. And while bilingual Brussels is technically supposed to be split evenly between Dutch and French-speakers, the lingua franca has been French for decades now (a continuous source of irritation for political opponents of the so-called ‘Francization’ of the capital). This means that, to get by in Brussels, a little knowledge of French can go a long way. The Alliance Française offers both private and group classes that allow you to pick your own rhythm, from a gentle-paced evening course to an intensive month-long language session.
Just as with with clubs and societies, you can lean on the ones who have come before you in discovering delightful secrets the Belgian capital is reluctant to give up to newbies. The minds behind some of Brussels’ greatest blogs such as S Marks The Spot and The Brusselsprouts are expats themselves who have hung around and penned down all the reasons why they ended up falling in love with this quirky city. Your evenings are sure to fill up rapidly with the concerts, exhibitions and new hotspots proposed by original culture guides I’m Not On The Guest List, See You There and Newplacestobe.