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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.
►Moving to Brussels will provide more information about life in the city.
►See Lifestyle in Brussels for tips on what expats can do in their spare time.
"Public transport is overall very good. There are trains, trams and underground system, buses and taxis. You don’t need a car in Brussels itself, and in fact it could be a liability in some neighbourhoods; it is slower than public transport at busy times and parking can be very difficult." Read David's interview to see what else he has to say about life in Brussels.
Are you an expat living in Brussels?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Brussels. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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