Brussels has it all: Love, friends and Italian food

  • Living in Brussels
Published 2017-02-16 13:00

Charlotte comes from London. Her partner's posting brought her to Belgium in January 2016. Since then, every day is an adventure. She shares her time between work and fun wanders among the cobbled streets of Brussels where there's always a new bar or restaurant waiting to be discovered. She shares with her life in what she describes as being a very European city with a laidback lifestyle.

Hi, Charlotte, where are you from and what brought you to Belgium?

I’m a Londoner. Before moving to Brussels in January 2016, I was working in London. I don’t think it’s easy for everyone to leave London but as a Londoner, it’s nice to have a break from the big bustling city. I could never live in the countryside, but a smaller European city is perfect, for now.

There wasn’t much choice. My partner has been living abroad with his business, and they proposed another European move. We debated some other European cities. However, Brussels appealed to us as it is full of expats, businesses, and institutions from all over the world. We thought it would be easier for me to find a job. It was.

What is the process for an English expat to move to Belgium? 

My top tips are to make sure you complete all the relevant procedural steps before leaving, such as ending your phone contract, any standing orders and informing the HMRC of your move. Once you have secured your accommodation in Belgium, you need to register as a citizen at your local commune. It is an administration burden, so make sure you take everything they advise you need, copies, cash, and passport-size photographs. Once you’ve taken the first steps, you can open a bank account, get a mobile contract, and work in Belgium. After that, the police will visit you for an interview, or you may have to go to the police — it depends on how busy they are.

What is your favourite thing about Brussels?

Brussels isn’t as exciting as Paris, Rome, or Vienna. However, if you know where to look, there are plenty of gems. I have discovered some of the city's gems and have fallen for its charm. In truth, I can see myself living here for a long time — but who knows what the future has in store.

If you are visiting Brussels over a weekend, there is the obligatory walk around Grand Place and viewing of Mannekin Pis. You should get yourself a bowl of moules frites. Other activities include a tour of a brewery, the Comics Art Museum, a walk around the Royal Parks, a visit to the local market at Flagey, Italian food in Chatelai, and shopping at Avenue Louise.

What has surprised you the most about Belgium?

Most of my friends are expats. It’s just the way it worked out.

Living in Brussels

What type of accommodation is available for expats?

There are plenty of flats, rooms, and houses to rent in the city centre. We had an estate agent showing us around 20 flats within our price range.

What are the local labour market's features?

It’s not super easy to find a job in Brussels. Lots of people from all over the world want to work in Brussels. Therefore, there is a lot of competition. As an expat, you may find an English speaking role in a major international business or a law firm.

How do you find the lifestyle in Belgium?

For me, Belgians are laid back. They have a relaxed routine with a healthy work-play balance. Brussels isn’t as fancy as other cities, which means you will find lots of people in sneakers and jeans in the bars and restaurants. Also, they like food — a principle that is paramount to me.

How is everyday life for you in Brussels?

Just as for most people, I wake up, head to work, work, go home, eat, sleep and repeat. But my top things that jazz up my everyday life in Brussels are: freshly baked pastries en-route to work, cycling lanes, food markets — especially the Wednesday Chatelain market for wine tasting and dinner, the tram, the architecture, the cobbled streets, and the folk street bands.

Could you share your most memorable experience in Belgium?

Only about an hour away from Brussels, and you can be on the sandy beach of De Haan soaking in the sun, or in the Ardennes hiking through the woodlands. Belgium has a lot to offer, including the canal cities of Bruges and Gent. It’s a great place to live, and you are a stone's throw away from many other European destinations.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Brussels?

While it is cheaper than London, especially the rent, I have noticed that groceries in the local shops and supermarkets are rather pricey here. Hence I often visit the local markets for better prices and fresher fruit and veg.

Is it easy for an expat to live in Brussels?

I think the hardest thing for any expat is missing home and making your new city feel like home. In my opinion, it depends on you, not the city. If language is your concern, don’t fret, pretty much everyone speaks English in Brussels.

How do you spend your free time?

I like discovering new restaurants and cooking at home, socialising with friends in the local bars, restaurants, and markets. I also like travelling to other European cities like Amsterdam and Vienna and exploring the Belgian coast and hills.

Living in Brussels

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

I don’t eat Belgian dishes that often, and I wouldn’t class them among my favourite meals. I recently had a semi-typical Belgian dish — meatballs with Belgian fries, and it was truly delicious. The Belgian fries is, of course, a classic and well worth picking up when touring around Brussels, especially after too much beer.

I am a huge fan of Italian food, the ever so simple and scrumptious dishes — pasta and pizza. There are plenty of amazing Italian restaurants in Brussels. I learnt that many Italians immigrated to Belgium for work in the mines. In fact, I recently read there are more Italians in Belgium than any other nationality (other than Belgians, obviously). So don’t feel bad if you find yourself in an Italian restaurant in Brussels, really, it’s pretty much a local restaurant.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Good teabags and marmite.

What has motivated you to write your blog La Petite Rose à Bruxelles?

I decided to start my blog after arriving in Brussels as a way of keeping in touch with my family and friends at home. As my followers have grown, I’ve enjoyed recording and sharing my experiences. I’m an over-sharer anyway and feel like the world is my friend. So come join in.

Could you give us some tips that soon-to-be-expatriates in Belgium will benefit from?

The move will probably be an organising challenge and keep you very busy but make sure you make lots of time for hanging out with family and friends — they are important and will support you when you miss home. Organise your Skype/Facetime/WhatsApp apps to keep in touch with home. Most of all, have fun, it’s an adventure — whether it works out or doesn’t, you made it!