Expats moving to Belgium have a lot to look forward to, but settling in after a recent move can be challenging. In addition to cultural differences, you may face visa issues, experience language barriers, or having difficulty making new friends and connections at first. Thankfully, these five tidbits about living as an expat in Belgium are here to help:
- Understand Language Divisions
It is necessary to note that Belgium is not like other European countries, many of which united by a main ethnic group or common language. Belgium is clearly divided into different language groups, and it can be easy to mildly offend someone simply by speaking the wrong language! Depending on where you will be living, you may want to focus on learning some of either French, Dutch (Flemish), or German. Immersing yourself in a local language will help you settle in much more quickly. This is the case even if you are living in an international area where English is the primary language spoken, such as major portions of Brussels. English is a neutral language in most of the country, but making an effort to learn bits of the native language will help show locals you care and want to belong.
- Resist Stereotypes
You may have heard that the locals in Belgium are cold, or that the customer service is rude. While walking down the street in Brussels will not be like passing a fellow farmer in a small American Midwestern community, keep in mind that what you see of Belgians at first is merely their exterior shell. In reality, most natives are extremely loyal, dependable, and generous. With time, you will make numerous personal connections with both locals and fellow international expats.
- Embrace Public Transportation
Belgium’s train system is extensive and extremely affordable, making it your best option for getting around your local city or the rest of the country. City traffic, such as in Brussels, is often congested and erratic, which can lead to problems for expats simply hoping to get around. Instead of worrying about buying, maintaining, and driving a vehicle of your own, do as much travel as possible via the available public transportation. You won’t regret it!
- Avoid Red Tape
Just kidding: unfortunately, Belgium is known for its bureaucratic horror stories. Expats should organize and triple-check their personal documents, and then expect a bit of a run-around to gather more paperwork, signatures, and official stamps. Still, the country’s structure allows its residents excellent educational opportunities and public facilities, in addition to outstanding health care and insurance.
- Explore Your Cultural Surroundings
Belgium has a rich history, and this is reflected in its architecture, cuisine, and artwork. The country is full of potential day trips and weekend outings, and cities often celebrate cultural activities on the local level. In fact, you likely be unable to walk down the street without coming face-to-face with an overly decorated storefront window, decked out in honor of any festival or holiday. If you are interested in learning more, the Expat Club’s numerous events will help you explore the very best Belgium has to offer, from local traditions to historic landmarks.