First week at the Commission

EC Traineeship – Claiming the travel expenses



Claiming the travel expenses is a serious thing that all trainees should settle with the Traineeship Office once they’re in Brussels. It’s money that you spent on travelling to come to Brussels (either by plane, train, car or anything else) and which you are entitled to get back (if not entirely, at least partially).



I noticed that in the past the Traineeship Office amended a few times the rules about the reimbursement of the travel expenses, probably in an attempt to show a bit more flexibility towards a generation that is constantly travelling abroad for studies, internships, finding a new meaning of life, etc.


So, before you book your plane/train ticket to Brussels, make sure you have read the rules on claiming the travel expenses, make sure you understand them and if not contact your File Manager for further guidance. These rules come with the placement offer.


However, there’s a few basic rules that each of you should know before even starting to calculate how much you’re entitled to be reimbursed for the travel expenses.


1. You can claim the travel expenses even if you come to Brussels from a different location than what you declared on your online application form.
» For example, you will still be reimbursed if you declared your home town is Lisbon, but you actually come to Brussels from London  because you did your Master’s in London.


2. There are deadlines set by the Traineeship Office for claiming the travel expenses. If you don’t claim them within the deadlines, you will not be reimbursed.
» Make sure you put a reminder in your calendar! The sooner you hand out your claim papers, the smaller the risk to misplace any important piece in the puzzle.


3. There are ceilings applied to each and every trainee, which are calculated based on the distance to Brussels from the place they come from.
» Calculating the ceiling is the trickiest of things. You can do that yourselves, but if you have any doubts at all contact your File Manager.


4. Bear in mind that sometimes, for various reasons, the price of a plane ticket may be higher than the ceiling. Because you have no choice but to buy the ticket, you’ll only be reimbursed the ceiling and not the entire amount you spent on it.


5. You need to show proof for the amounts you spent on your travelling (e.g. flight reservation or e-ticket or the ticket itself or a bank statement, etc.).
» So, make sure you don’t misplace anything. If you do misplace, you can contact the airline by e-mail and ask them to confirm in written that you were aboard a specific flight on a given date.


6. Plan ahead and try to buy your plane ticket in advance so that you can get a good deal and avoid extra costs that you might not be reimbursed (see the ceiling issue).
» Only economy tickets are reimbursed. NO business and NO first class.


7. If you decide to come to Brussels by car, be aware that the rules for reimbursement are somewhat different.


8. Train tickets or bus tickets from Brussels or Charleroi airports into the city of Brussels are also reimbursed. Keep them together with the other proof! Don’t throw them away in the nearest trash bin.


9. Check with your File Manager to see when you will actually be reimbursed. There will be a separate payment from the monthly allowance on your bank account.
» In the past the reimbursement of travel expenses was done towards the end of the traineeship, but now with all the changes, it may be different.


10. If at any time you realise there has been a mistake in calculating your entitlement for the travel expenses, contact immediately your File Manager.


Although I mainly referred to plane tickets above, the same thing applies to any type of tickets, whether train or coach or bus, you name it.


Also, although I mainly referred to trainees coming to Brussels, the same rules apply to the trainees going to Luxembourg or any other city where the European Commission has representations or delegations. When reading the text above, simply replace Brussels with the name of the city you’ll be in.


Well, this is all I could think of for the time being, but I hope it’s been helpful either way.


EC Traineeship – Who’s Who




Everyone is familiar with this term and the trainees even produce a Who’s Who themselves at the end of the stage, but I am writing this post mainly to clarify who are the people who play the most important roles in your life as a trainee at the European Commission (family and friends not included). It kind of looks like a pyramid. I’ll start explaining from the top and go towards the bottom.


Traineeship Office: Is a team of EC staff running the traineeship programme. I don’t know exactly how many they are, maybe 10-12… From what I could understand, each of them is responsible of a specific nationality, so make sure you know who is the person responsible of your nationality. This way, you know whom to call when your grant hasn’t been paid (hope it won’t be the case). Not only that they are responsible of your files, but also of your well-being. If you have questions (about the grant, travel expenses, insurance, etc.) call them or write them. And if you’re not a trainee, but still have questions related to your application, you can also contact them through the contact form on the website.


Stage coordinator: There is one in each DG. You will meet them during your first day in your DG. They are responsible of the trainees in the DG, they make sure you have a desk with chair, a phone, a computer and they make sure you have encoded your absences correctly. Of course, they are also there to help you. They know the protocols in the DG, so if you are in a fix, but don’t know how to sort things out, just make a simple call or see them.


Adviser: The person in your unit responsible mainly of your work, but also of you and integrating you within the team. They are supposed to give you work to do, to guide you and advise you. Be sure to cultivate a nice relationship. 😉


Stage Committee: It’s a body of elected trainees (no more than 4 or 5), who are in charge of planning your social agenda (not everything is about work and being locked in your office!). Yes, they are elected from among the trainees. If you are hyper active, full of ideas and love to plan events or parties, you may consider running for a position with the Stage Committee. Bear in mind that being a member of the Stage Committee does not exempt you from working as a trainee in your DG and your unit. The Stage Committee does voluntary work every evening.


The Stage Committee is NOT the Traineeship Office. The Stage Committee is there to entertain you: sell you tickets for parties, advertise jobs and accommodation, send you weekly newsletters and so on.


Does all this make sense? I certainly hope so. 😉


EC Traineeship – The first day in your DG


After all the buzz and fuss of the administrative welcome and the conference, you may proceed to take a deep plunge into work.


Well, not before you are given yet another info session about all the dos and don’ts in your DG… Patience is a virtue, they say. Now you will get to know even better the other trainees in your DG, you’ll become a solid group, decide to have lunch together, organize parties together, elect your spokesperson and do other elating things as such (not necessarily in this order).


The info session over, the friendships “cemented”, time to finally meet your advisor, your team, taking your office, your computer and your phone, set your Outlook contact list and breathe in and out in between.


To be frank with you, by the time I met my advisor and co-workers I felt already tired and had to put some effort into remembering their names. Then, when I had the talk with my advisor about my job description and tasks, I was relieved to actually start doing some work. That’s what I was there for after all.


So, have the talk with your advisor about your job description. It’s essential to know where you start, where you’re heading and what path you ought to follow. Discuss in detail each task, make sure everything is clear and well understood (if not, simply ask more questions!). Show you’re willing to do the job, show initiative, don’t be too pushy, but don’t be shy either.


And although some may argue that work comes first, showing social skills and being part of the team are equally important.


Have fun! 😉


EC Traineeship – the days after the first (at the Commission)


If you think that your first day at the Commission was not as exciting, hopefully the days to follow will get better.  You will have the chance to share your opinions later on (you’ll see).


In fact, you may have heard from other ex stagiaires that after your first day at the Commission, you will have to attend a “welcome” conference in Flagey Centre (not a Commission building though).


For two days, you will find yourself in a room full with a few hundred trainees. There will be two busy days with many speeches on different topics, from introducing the other EU Institutions to presenting different policies of the European Commission.


Two days where you can actually interact with the speakers, asking them questions related to the subjects they presented.


Two days where you can actually learn new things, despite the fact that you may think you know everything about the EU Institutions.


Two days that may turn out to be a positive experience (don’t let yourself drawn too much by other trainees’ views, have your own!).


UPDATE! As published on the website from the Traineeship Office and also confirmed to me by friends who were recruited for the stage, the welcome conference will take only day instead of two days. This is good news. Your waiting to take office is now shortened. 😉


Of course, the views on the conference many vary from one person to the other, I personally enjoyed it and I even found myself taking notes at times (of things I deemed interesting). Not all the topics were relevant to me, but I still tried to pay attention and grasp concepts I was not familiar with.


Yet, not everything is about speeches and speakers. I think the fun part of it is asking a difficult question to the speaker, going on coffee breaks with the other trainees, sharing a joke and some frites for lunch, taking a photo with few hundred other people next to you, enjoying the welcome drink (given by the Traineeship Office). It is also deciding what party you want to go to, what trip, what committee to be part of, extending your group of friends and having a good time being yourself and with yourself, being there.


All in all, two days that can be intense and exhausting altogether… and it all happens here…


EC Traineeship – your first day at the Commission


The whole first week at the Commission will probably look like this…



No exaggeration! But let’s just  start with the first day at the Commission. If you thought that you’d start work immediately, forget  it! As eager as you may be, it’s simply not going to happen. First day it’s all about paper work.


On the first day, you will attend an introductory session in Madou Tower, a 32-story blue building. The first traineeship day at the Commission is always either the first Monday of March/October or the Tuesday after. It depends on which of the groups you were assigned. Make sure you have the following with you:

» Passport or national ID card

» Original diplomas (if not originals, then certified copies)

» Other forms (emergency contact details, request for reimbursement of travel expenses, etc.)


When you arrive at Madou (by metro, bus, foot), don’t get intimidated by the height of the building (sure, it’s not New York, but tall enough for Brussels’ standards). Don’t take the main entrance to the building either. Go to the street behind the building, which is called Léopold Leinders (… I think).


You will have to show your passport and you will be given a badge for the everyday access in the buildings of the Commission (and some discounts in the canteen). You will then attend a presentation by a member of the Traineeship Office about practical things at the Commission and life in Brussels.

At the end of the presentation you will meet your file manager. That’s when you have to show your original diplomas and whatever forms they mentioned in the offer e-mail. I noticed the staff from the Traineeship Office is not so happy if you show up completely disorganized. If you don’t have original diplomas, you can present certified copies (by a notary public, lawyer, university, etc.). Also, if your diplomas are written in a language that is not one of the 23 official EU languages, then make sure you have copies translated into one of the 23 official languages.


NEW!!! Some changes took place this past October during the trainee administrative welcome. It seems that you no longer need to show your original diplomas. Just have your passport or ID with you. It’s getting easier and easier. :-)


Your file manager will give you more info about the grant, the insurance and other things they deem important, which obviously are, but you’ll forget in the next 5 seconds, because it’s just too much, your head will explode or you just happened to notice this interesting guy or girl at a nearby desk. Anyway, even if you forget, you can always contact your file manager.


If you happen not to have all/any documents with you on the first day, you will still have 10 days to provide them. So, for example, if you haven’t opened a bank account in euros, you have 10 days to do it. If not, you won’t be paid on time and that will hurt because life in Brussels tends to be fairly expensive. Also, if you haven’t put in your request for reimbursement of the travel expenses within 10 days, you will not be reimbursed at all. One tip about the travel expenses: keep your plane/train/ferry/etc. tickets because you will have to hand them over in order to be reimbursed.


This whole thing will probably take 2 hours or more if you decide to pass by the desk of the Stage Committee to get a welcome pack with gadgets and the social agenda for the first week. They organize lots of parties and other social events.


When you’re done, go pluxing with the new friends you’ve just made (trans. go for a drink in Place Lux(embourg)).