Moving to Brussels
Are you moving to Brussels? Brussels is officially known as the Brussels-Capital Region comprising 19 municipalities, more commonly known as communes. This includes the City of Brussels, known as the de jure capital of Belgium and of the Flemish Community and the French Community of Belgium. Its population of 1.139 million makes the Brussels metropole the largest in the country. Officially a bilingual region, both French and Flemish are the official languages, but with its multi-cultural society many others are spoken. Having a number of international organisations and an abundance of international schools makes Brussels ideal for business and for families to settle.
Our free, in-depth Moving to Brussels report includes info on:
• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city
Putting Brussels on the Map
The Brussels-Capital Region is located in the Valley of the Senne, and it is landlocked in the centre of the country.
Brussels Airport is 6,5 miles north of the city with great transport links. The airport train station has 6 trains per hour, going to destinations such as Brussels North, Central, and Brussels midi-stations. There is a bus station, all the rental car agencies have a presence, taxis and limousine services.
The city boasts an efficient and reasonably priced public transport system, ensuring fast and safe transportation. The inner-city transport offers a combined ticketing system, useable on the bus, metro, train or trams, or a combination of them all, so a car is not a necessity.
The fastest and most convenient way to travel is by the Metro, or underground train, with 4 lines and 2 tram lines servicing the city centre. Trains run every 3 minutes during peak hours, every 10 minutes after 8pm and at 5 minute intervals at weekends.
Bus timetables are available at the bus stops or online. They run less frequently than the metro.
The slightly slower trams run more regularly than the buses, with convenient street maps and timetables at each stop.
The intercity train network is very accommodating for travelling to other major cities in the region. Running frequently, at least one train every hour, tickets have open times so they can be used any time in the day.
Cycling in the city is challenging at first. Some streets are more bicycle-friendly than others but you need to know the rules. Check them out by downloading the cycling map or asking fellow bikers. Bikes are allowed in both directions, even on one-way streets, unless signposted otherwise, and you cannot cycle on the pavements. Cyclists are obliged to use the designated cycle paths, although pedestrians have the right of way on shared tracks. All a bit confusing at first. But you should know that cycle theft is rife so it’s best to invest in a good lock.
Each of the 19 communes is run by government officials, much like mayors or city halls. Registering with these representatives is mandatory. All areas are covered by them, including your arrival, confirming residency, dealing with work-permit issues, and driving licences. Choosing your area would depend on whether you have school-going children and your business address, and although certain communes are more popular than others, transport options should figure into the equation.
Also known as The Pentagon, the area is bordered by the streets and boulevards surrounding the city centre, affectionately called the Little Ring by local residents. As always accommodation is more costly in major city centres, and this area is mainly apartment living, so excellent for couples and students. Major renovations have taken place and recently downtown has become more sought after as a residential area. This is the area where tourists stream to visit the famous historic buildings and vibrant nightlife and is home to the Brussels Stock exchange, nicknamed The Bourse.
Traffic is a problem at peak hours, lunch times and weekend evenings. Parking is a rarity, so be warned.
Included in this commune are the shopping areas of Chez Antoine, La Chasse, Tongerenstraat, and Jourdanplein – the latter laying claim to the famous Friterie Antoine – always so popular for its chips – plus a popular Sunday market. This is a lively neighbourhood with shops, restaurants, cafes, and fast food joints, but can get a tad noisy at times. Public transport is convenient, a metro station is just a 6-minute walk and there are plenty of bus routes. The green areas include Parc Leopold and the larger Parc du Cinquantenaire, giving access to space and trees and perfect for a morning jog. Slightly more affordable than communes further away from the city, the area is inhabited by scores of international business people as it is right on the doorstep of the European Parliament and other large organisations. However, it is quite a commute to the international schools.
The most diverse commune in Brussels, with a multitude of shops, restaurants, cinemas and theatres this is the place to be for young families or couples, with many expats living here. It is central to the European Quarter and the city, with good public transport. However, it is quite a distance from the international schools. The area shows great examples of Belgium architecture in a variety of styles. The Place Eugene Flagey, with a chic shopping area, cafes, and buzzing pavement activity, is a major draw to residents. You are spoilt for choice in the potential neighbourhoods, the university area with its mix of student accommodation, the African quarter – Matonge – pulses with activity, the upscale suburbs of Place du Chatelaine and Place Brugman, and art deco residences surrounding the Ixelles Ponds. The Abbey de la Cambre is in the Maelbeek valley between the Bois de la Cambre and the Ixelles Ponds.
Mainly a residential area, with a mix of townhouses, apartments, and large homes – some with gardens – and a mass of parks and forests offering large green spaces, this popular family commune is on the metro and tram lines offering easy access to the rest of the city. Dissecting the commune, the picturesque Avenue de Tervueren, with a fountain at one end, is a main arterial to Brussels. A favorite for embassies, with beautiful houses and shopping centres and a popular market, many young families frequent the district. Another feature drawing people to the area is a phenomenal sporting centre, with a soccer pitch, swimming pool, and tennis courts for which one pays a small fee. Although it is expensive to live here, after weighing up the features and benefits, it is surely worth it.
Home to two international schools, the British and the Montessori, and not far from the German school it’s not surprising that this is an expensive commune. Along with its satellites, Moorsel, Duisburg, and Vossem, this area is the top choice for expat families. A charming town, its central square hosts a weekly market and is surrounded by cafes, shops, and restaurants. With quick 20-minute links to the city by tram, train or bus this area is extremely popular. It features mainly small terraced houses in the centre, with larger detached houses with gardens further out. In terms of green spaces, Tervuren’s park is legendary. Walking, cycling, running and horse riding take place on the leafy paths, but it’s best known for getting back to nature and the stunning views. Located on the eastern edge of the green belt, it includes the Arboretum and the Sonian Forest.
The second most populous commune after the City, the various neighbourhoods are highly diverse, making this a vibrant, buzzing place to live. Classic Belgian architecture is mixed with beautiful art nouveau and art deco buildings and a mingling of cultures, food, businesses, and parks. Josaphat is considered one of the best parks in Brussels, with 20 hectares of woodland, ponds, and grassland. Classic statues, all beautifully restored are dotted around, with plenty of amenities for children. It’s just a short trip by tram or train to the city, making it ideal for commuters.
Peaceful and beautiful, this is probably the greenest suburb, due to its proximity to the Forest of Soignes. Huges house, upmarket apartments and the added convenience of international schools and shops, while retaining a village feel, invite expat families indroves. Trains, trams, and the metro make travelling to the city quick and easy.
Who lives and works in Brussels
This is an important city in Europe and is home to, amongst others, the European Union, the European Parliament, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, The World Customs Organization and Eurocontrol, and many large corporations. It ranks third worldwide in terms of hosting conferences and is close to being the largest convention centre. The international population is around 70,000 people.
There are over 200 embassies and consulates, mainly within the city centre, concentrated along Avenue Louise and Rue de la Loi.
Brussels is a melting pot of different cultures, and 62% of the population is of foreign origin. In terms of the national average, economic equality is wider, and the general population is younger.
Brussels is a service economy, with a massive 88% of jobs being in the services sector. The growth in this area is partly due to it being both the capital of Belgium and the self-proclaimed capital of Europe. The Belgians have a strong history of expertise in beer, chocolates, pharmaceuticals, and banking, and is home to international companies Banksys, Swift, and Euroclear.
The qualifications requirement is higher than in the rest of the country, with in excess of 52% of positions held by qualified personnel. The unemployment rate is 18.8%.
The Best Bits
Brussels has a rich culture dating back centuries.
The Grand Place is a cobblestone square which was constructed on the site of the original marketplace in the old Lower Town, with gothic guild and ornate baroque houses. It is UNESCO-listed.
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium is arguably the best-stocked art gallery in Europe with a prestigious collection of 20,000 works of art from the 15th through to the 20th century. It is nowhere near the only museum or gallery in Brussels, there are 31 others to visit.
During December, the Grand Place gets all dressed up for Christmas. With a massive Christmas tree and sound and light shows, it becomes a veritable winter wonderland. The European Christmas Market village resides on Place Sainte Catherine, offering handicrafts, food, and novelties, from little wooden cottage shops.
A Brussels phenomena known as the Graffiti Pencils pop up all over the city – more than 70 of them. Lovers of graffiti will have a field day, so keep your eyes peeled and peek into corners and up high. Some artworks are cute, many are odd, and quite a few are just plain raunchy.
There are cool and trendy cafés all over the city. The Arcadi Café, popular with tourists, has paper money plastered all over the walls. Apparently, its quiches and cakes are the best in the city.
The Ommegang Festival, usually in July, at the Grand Place, transports you back to 1549 paying tribute to Emperor Charles V. The festival dates back to 1359.
The Brussels Flower Carpet happens every second year at the Grand Place. With over 600,000 flowers, it takes 100 volunteers 4 hours to assemble.
Street parades and marching bands, with band members sporting unbelievable moustaches, happen all the time between April and September. And you’re likely to stumble across one in any of the central Brussels streets.
Bringing the kids
Your first decision would be whether to integrate your children into the local schools or send them to one of the international schools.
There are 25 international schools in the region, so if that is the route you are going to take it is advisable that you find the right school for your children before renting or buying a house. Commuting between suburbs is not ideal, unless you have a car and enjoy heavy traffic.
The international schools include the British International School of Brussels, British Junior Academy of Brussels, the British School of Brussels, Brussels American School, Brussels International Catholic School, and the International School of Brussels. These schools charge quite substantial fees, whereas state schools do not charge.
Two universities offer courses in English at graduate level, Vrije Universiteit and Université Libre de Bruxelles. The first is mainly French-speaking, the other is Dutch-speaking. There are various other universities teaching only in the local languages.
1.8% of the local population attend university.
Relocating to Brussels
Brussels is a beautiful city with many historical sites and spacious parks. Although traffic and parking is a nightmare where ever you live or work, public transport is available and is much faster than battling through grid-locked streets. It has a reasonably high cost of living, but with many areas in which to settle your family, the choice is yours as to the costs. The architecture is mainly Belgium, with terraced and free-standing homes. There is a large apartment culture, with high-rise flats and converted warehouse lofts. Central to travel in Europe, Brussels satisfies wanderlust with a stable base on which to ground yourself. The school system is complicated, as is navigating your way through real estate, so consider using the services of a relocation agent to smooth the way.
Average Monthly Rents - Brussels
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||€810|
|Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre||€694|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre||€1,365|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre||€1,134|