Living and working in Brussels - experiences. | EU Training

Living and working in Brussels - experiences.

robert.polak_135827 Sat, 06/04/2022 - 14:17

Hi everyone. Since most of us are here in hope to get a position with EU insituition and most of them are in Brussels, Itought that maybe someone who is already there may share some experiences of living and working in  Brussels (I know there arer blogs on net but still we can share here).

Maybe someone could share how it is social life and how easy/difficult is to create a social circle. Who are you hannging out the most, locals or expats. What is the general quality of life? I assume that if someone is working for EU institution for some time, the salary is not an issue at this point. Also, since I am in my mid 30 I am looking to settle down some time soon so I would be also interested to know to who are you connecting the most (other expats or?).

In general, is your quality of life better or worse now and what are biggest positives and negatives.

My situation is that I currently live in Copenhagen for last 4 years and although the city is beatiful and the standard is very high, I find it difficult to fit in with Danish people. Most of my social circle are expats and there are not many of them here (except students).

Hello Robert,

PigPenny Thu, 07/21/2022 - 15:30

Hello Robert,

I have been living in Brussels some months now and I enjoy it very much.  Of course I miss my place of origin with family, friends, etc. but this is a so nice city, with an intense social life and plenty of things to do.

I find it a perfect mix of a big city but easy to live in. 

I mostly go out with expats, but many of them have been living here long.  And I noticed that making connections is easier than in many places, due to the fact that many people are expats.

Cost of living is high but EU salary you can afford it - and I do not thing Copenhagen is a cheap city as far as I know.

Best wishes for your next moving

Hello Robert,

Somedudereplyingtoquestions Thu, 08/04/2022 - 13:45

Hello Robert,

I think you raise an interesting question – because most EU jobs are after all located in Brussels, yet many or some may not put too much consideration into what it means to live in Brussels – including me when I moved to Belgium some years ago. So, here are my personal thoughts on living in Brussels that may be of use or interest to some on this forum.

Firstly, on social life. Social life in Brussels or more precisely in the EU bubble comes with some peculiarities.

1) It’s pretty easy to meet new people in the EU bubble full of expats. This is especially true when you are in your 20s, early 30s. It may start to get a bit more difficult with age. However, I have had the impression that you need to make a deliberate effort, if you want to take a step outside the expat bubble to meet locals. It may be easier, if you decide to join some club/association, e.g. sports, common hobby or religious community.

2) It’s a constant “come and go”. There are many people who come to Brussels to work in an EU related job for a limited duration – to work at their Member States’ Permanent Representation, at the European Parliament for a politician, as a contract agent in an EU institution or in the private sector for a few years. Consequently, if you are one of those that “stay behind” in Brussels, it is sometimes or perhaps even often difficult to see friends go.

3) Another peculiarity of the EU bubble is that relationships sometimes turn out to be a bit “transactional”. Depending on which field you work in, you have different kinds of acquaintances, colleagues and friends. Of course, this is true for any job and independent of your location. Yet, this transactional element of relationships seems to be quite prevalent in the EU bubble. I have to admit that I was disappointed to see how quickly some people lose touch with you, when you work in a different field (where there may be less relevance for them professionally). Yet, the moment you are or can be of use to them (again), they are very quick and eager in wanting to catch up with you. I may sound a bit resentful here – but it’s just something I noticed.   

Secondly, on quality of life. Quality of life is a tricky topic in Brussels or Belgium in general and a very subjective and personal issue. There is a lot of Brussels’ bashing – sometimes perhaps exaggerated, but not fully unjustified. Personally, I do not think that Brussels offers an amazing quality of life. I come from another country/city that I think offers a significantly better quality of life, better infrastructure, better public transport, better weather, better food. Hence, I do feel having moved to Brussels entailed a drop in my quality of life. I would not have stayed here, if it hadn’t been for a relatively good job and salary as well as my spouse. However, I am not excluding the option to move back home or somewhere else. But of course, it’s not all doom and gloom in Brussels. Some aspects:

1) Housing – In comparison to many other European cities, housing is relatively affordable (renting or buying). Prices are constantly rising though. Maintaining your place is tricky due to a shortage of availability of contractors.  

2) Weather – Brussels has the reputation to be a very rainy city. There is some rain, maybe not as bad as people claim. But I have had the impression the bigger issue is the grey sky and lack of sunlight – especially in autumn and winter. It does not get extremely cold though.

3) Healthcare – I know some people who are dissatisfied with the local healthcare sector. Personally, I have had the impression it’s relatively easy to get appointments. Quality is ok. There are good and bad doctors – just as in my home country and other countries I used to live in or stay for a while.

4) Public transport – I don’t think public transport works well here. Frequency of public transport, the network and cleanliness are an issue. Being able to walk by foot to work will definitely save you time and hassle. In many cases, it will take you for example 25 minutes to walk to a place, while public transport will take 20+ minutes, as public transport is not well connected across some parts of the city. Public transport outside Brussels (SNCB for trains, Flemish DeLijn, Walloon TEC) is rather unreliable and even makes Brussels’ public transport look decent.

5) Infrastructure – The city is not well planned. Some neighbourhoods are lacking a decent infrastructure with supermarkets, day care centres for children, gyms, etc. It is striking how even more recently built neighbourhoods with apartments are lacking such infrastructure – because the city of Brussels or the respective “communes” do not set such urban planning policy measures. The EU neighbourhood is a prime example of poor urban planning in the past.

6) Safety – That’s a touchy subject. There are issues similar to other larger (Western) European cities.

7) Public administration – Depending on your “commune”, there are some that seem to function better and others less. Generally, I have had the impression that public administration is a bit less responsive than what I am used to from my home country. But there have been some significant improvements in the past years in terms of “customer service” for residents here.

8) Mentality – Personally, there is one thing that I found rather pleasing about Belgians. They do not tend to intrude in your life and are pretty tolerant. Depending on where you are from in Europe that may be nothing new to you. In some other countries it’s a bit different.

9) Social cohesion – I recall an interesting comment by a Belgian sociologist, something along the lines that you can tell immediately a lot about a resident in Brussels depending on what they say about the city. And indeed, it seems to me there are very different kinds of Brussels, depending on which bubble you live in. Something that is very striking to me is how Brussels is divided into some socio-economically weaker neighbourhoods versus more affluent ones. Of course, this is not unique to Brussels. However, I have the impression the gap and geographical division here is quite striking.

That’s my two very subjective cents on social life and quality of life in Brussels. I probably sound a bit more negative. There are of course plenty of people that enjoy living in Brussels and like the city. It’s ok being here, but I would personally prefer living somewhere else.  


Dreamact Tue, 08/30/2022 - 17:48

Somedudereplyingtoquestions, that's the best and the most truthful answer I have ever seen. I have exactly the same impression of Brussels too, which I have learned by visiting the city during work related trips. I do not live in Brussels, but due to the reasons which you well described I have dropped an idea of moving there, even though it would be useful for my career. Previously, when I did not know Brussels, I dreamed of living there :) Now, I really value the quality of life, which is not that good in Brussels.