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living in belgium

After Uni I spent almost two years in Belgium, living in a small town in Wallonia first, and then in Brussels (Read more about my experience in this article).
Belgium, and Brussels in particular, is a multicultural country and an international hub of young professionals, many of which move here to work within the EU Institutions.
But, talking about my experience living in Belgium, I’ve realized how little people know about this Country.
So, I have asked Federica by Instantanee di Viaggio, who has been living in Belgium for a few years, to tell me about her experience as an expat there.

Hi, I’m Federica, I’m 30 years old and about a year ago I’ve come back to live in Belgium.
That’s not my first time in the country, indeed, I had lived here before from 2013 to 2017, when I decided to drop everything and move to Australia.
That’s when I quitted my job and an apparently happy life moved by an inner feeling that took me to the other side of the world.
Following my instinct was one of the best choices of my life. The year I spent in Melbourne was simply incredible, and when my working holiday visa expired I decided to travel for an unforgettable 2 month trip in South-East Asia before coming back to Italy.

After almost one year since I had come back to Italy, I got the opportunity to come back to Belgium despite that was not part of my plans, but sometimes life has better programs for our future that we then discover to be the right ones!
I am now happily living in Belgium and I would love to share my experience with you about this Country.

expat belgium (1)

BELGIUM LANGUAGES

Despite its relatively small size, Belgium boasts a rich history and offers lots of things to do.
The Country is divided into 3 regions, Flandres, Wallonia, and the Brussels Region, where 3 different languages are spoken (French, Flemish – that is the Belgian Dutch, and a little German).

I live in Leuven, a small university town in the Flandres region where Dutch is the main language, however almost anyone speaks also French, and, being a university town, most inhabitants speak English too.
Despite English is widely spoken in Belgium, I think that to be better integrated it is advisable to learn at least one of the main languages, be French if you are living in Wallonia or Dutch if you are staying in the Flandres.
I know it may sound difficult to learn a new language, I personally had a difficult time with Dutch in the beginning. I felt frustrated, I didn’t like this language that to me appeared difficult and ugly, so I found it even more difficult to stick it into my mind 😊Since I’ve come back, I must say I have had a different approach, probably thanks to my new goals and motivation, but I’ve ended up liking it and now I’m super fluent 😉

In Belgium, you can find various language schools that offer language classes, the most popular ones are CVO and CLT. Rates can vary between 80 and 120 euro for each “level”.
Here in Leuven for example there are also some free Dutch classes to introduce foreigners to the local language.

WEATHER IN BELGIUM

As you may already know, Belgium is not popular for its tropical weather.
Let’s say that the weather here is simply unpredictable. Sometimes you can experience the four seasons in the same day or a drastic drop in temperature from one day to the other.

I must say that at first, being a moody person, I was kind of depressed, especially in those periods of the year when the sky is grey and it rains non-stop.
Locals themselves struggle to deal with this weather so you can imagine for a person who is not used to it, it can be quite a shock.
We all know that the weather can affect people’s mood, that’s why as soon as Belgians see a sunbeam, they go out in search for a spot in the sun like lizards do.
Don’t get me wrong, the weather in Belgium is not always so bad, we get some beautiful sunny days too 😊Like those we have had during the coronavirus lockdown, of course. Isn’t it funny? Beautiful sunshine right when we couldn’t leave our home.

Anyway, today I feel like a local, do you know why?
Not because I can speak the language, but because I’ve learnt to cope with this weather and when it turns crap and starts to drizzle, instead of getting angry and ask myself “why on hell did I choose to live in Belgium?”, I smile and take my umbrella out. The umbrella is now my best friend, and it will be yours to if you intend to move to Belgium, so remember to always take one with you 😉

PROS OF LIVING IN BELGIUM

What do I like about living in Belgium? Above all the waffles! Ahah I’m kidding, although I find them delicious.
I love the multicultural atmosphere and people’s kindness. Leuven in particular being a university town welcomes each year hundreds of students from all over the world!
Such a cultural mix makes people less suspicious and you can breathe a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. That’s the perfect environment for those like me who love travelling and meeting new people and cultures. Language schools, in particular, is where I could meet beautiful people and I feel very lucky.

Architecture is another of my favourites about this Country. Each town is unique and I am sure will conquer your heart with its tall and tight brick buildings, historic centre featuring paved lanes, ancient shops, and canals, or, a balanced coexistence of past and future.

The central location of Belgium is by far the strongest point for me of this Country. In fact, in just a few hours you can easily reach France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and even the UK. You definitely have lots of options to spend your free days here.

belgium architecture

DOWNSIDES OF LIVING IN BELGIUM

Besides the weather, another thing that I am not very fond of is the closing time for shops and cafés at 6pm!
I find it way too early, especially during the summer months. If you are working until 5-6 pm you basically have no time at all to do your shopping or even relax drinking a coffee, that’s a pity.

Another downside is the pretty high life cost. House rentals in particular are super expensive, both in the centre and in the nearby neighborhoods. Same for the sky-high prices of the restaurants. If I think how much you eat for a typical 30 euro menu in Emilia Romagna where I am from in Italy, I will never get used to the idea that for the same price here you can get just a dish of pasta and a drink. The average price for a bottle of water at the restaurant is around 8 euro, better to opt for the beer instead.

MOVING TO BELGIUM

If you are considering living in Belgium keep in mind that moving here for European citizens is pretty easy.
Indeed, being part of Europe you simply need an ID and if you intend to stay more than 3 months you can request a resident card at the local council where you are registered. Since the day of your registration, you will have 3 months to find a job and, in the meantime, you can also register at the Inburgering, where you can attend free language classes, and at the Vdab, a sort of job recruiting agency.

I hope I have answered some of your curiosities and doubts about living in Belgium. Here life runs smoothly, people are super kind and there are plenty of gorgeous places to explore. That’s my Belgium, the Country I have learnt to love and I hope you will love it too.

 

Federica

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