Living in Brussels

Accommodation in Brussels

 

Finding accommodation in Brussels may be difficult, but not impossible. Just don’t expect the Commission to provide you with accommodation, because it won’t. Not because the Commission is selfish, but because there are simply too many people coming in at once and no available buildings to accommodate them. The Commission is not a university and it doesn’t have a campus either.

 

Depending on each case, and I mean your case, you might want to consider one of the following (and not necessarily in this order) options: be on your own, rely on a friend who already lives in Brussels or is coming to Brussels to do the stage with you, or use a hostel.

 

If you’re on your own, then you should start with practical information link from the placement offer e-mail you received. The link is at the bottom of the e-mail, click on it, then browse along and you will find loads of valuable pieces of information to read, including an example of lease contract in both English and French. It will lead you to the website from the Stage Committee (a body of a few trainees representing all the EC trainees based in Brussels). Although I’m not a great fan of their website (too chaotic for my tastes), they do have a section where they post accommodation (or housing) ads. It can be anything from a room (or kot) to a studio or an apartment. In addition, their website has links to online real estate agencies in Brussels. Look on the ads, make some calls, write some e-mails to landlords and try to settle things before arriving to Brussels. At least, this is what I did and it took me over a month. At the time, I didn’t really have friends in Brussels.

 

Also, if your budget allows it, you can even make a trip to Brussels to visit apartments. Another option would be to walk around neighbourhoods and look at the yellow/orange A LOUER/TE HUUR (to rent/to let) ads in the windows of available properties.

 

Having friends in Brussels is the ideal solution, in my opinion. They could lend you a hand to find a place to live and, if they are generous enough, they can offer to host you till you find something. Even if you stay temporarily at a friend’s place, you could still try to find accommodation through one of the ways mentioned above.

 

A third option would be staying in a hostel. Although I’m no fan of hostels (been to one once and wouldn’t repeat the experience), I know that there are people who love the idea, so check again the practical info link where you’ll find the websites to quite a few hostels in Brussels.

 

I’m not sure if you are aware, but the Traineeship Office provides two computers with access to internet, as well as two telephones, in their headquarters at Madou Tower. You could make use of them if you come to Brussels and have no internet connection and no phone (though you might consider buying a SIM card). It’s all for free and all meant to help the future trainees find accommodation.

 

If you are more of the traditional type, you could find ads in the local press: Le Soir, Le Vlan or The Bulletin (issued in English).

 

I would like to remind you that paying rent or guarantee in cash or by Western Union, MoneyGram, etc. is NEVER recommended. There are plenty of stories of trainees who naively lost their money. Don’t help increasing their number!

 

And if you don’t have enough money with you when you arrive in Brussels, have no shame to ask for a loan to the Stage Committee (aka Liaison Committee).

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Moving and living in Brussels

 

 

All right, so you blissfully hit the roof when you got the e-mail and you printed everything and signed and sent back… You can go on a holiday now to celebrate! And I can think of some destinations, but even to go on a holiday you need some planning, just like coming to Brussels and living here for at least 5 months requires some planning too.

 

 

You will often hear or read that Brussels is not London or Paris and, in some respects, it indeed isn’t, but it still is a capital, if not the (un)crowned capital of Europe. What you will not read or hear so often is that finding a place to live in Brussels is very difficult. Here is one reason why: compared to London or Paris, as international as it may be, Brussels is rather small, which means the offer cannot meet the demand. When you have an intake of 600 trainees coming at once (almost) overlapping with a wave of few thousands of students, and some other professionals settling in, then the issue can become serious. On top of it all, prices are kind of high for the products/services the real estate market has to offer in Brussels. Then landlords tend to be somewhat inflexible and not too keen on signing short term lease contracts for which they ask you to pay guarantee. On some occasions, you might even want to make use of your rusty French or Dutch. Overall, moving to Brussels is not a thing you want to leave to the last minute, unless Serendipity is your middle name.

 

Nevertheless, there are options. When looking for a place to live in Brussels, you might first think of your budget. In the beginning, it has to cover all sorts of foreseen and unforeseen expenses, so make sure you have enough money with you during your first month. The first grant will only be paid at the end of the first month of traineeship. Get ready to pay at least 400 euros monthly for the rent, to which you should add a deposit (usually two month rent) or guarantee. In practice, you will open a joint bank account (on your name and your landlord’s) where you block this guarantee. Don’t worry, you pay it only once when you sign the contract and you will get back when you leave (provided you didn’t damage any of the goods, otherwise you’ll be charged from the guarantee). Always ask for the details about the rent and the guarantee and never pay any money in cash or by Western Union. Some Belgian landlords can be very sneaky!

 

After the budget comes the location. Brussels is divided into 19 communes (just like London into boroughs and Paris in arrondissements), where price of rent varies from one area to the other. Living in the proximity of your DG might be ideal, but also costly as rent in the areas close to the Commission buildings tends to be higher. On the bright side, living closer means no extra money spent on the monthly Stib abonnement (which is 45 euros), it means no delays, no traffic jams or strikes (which, luckily, are not as frequent as in France). In any case, farther hoods should equally be considered as they could be cheaper and the public transport network covers all areas and is fairly efficient.

 

On the other hand, you should know that some specific areas need be avoided (not made for living there): some parts of Schaerbeek, St. Josse or even Ixelles (much overrated for its multiculturalism), Molenbeek – BIG fat NO, and don’t get too close to any of the main stations (Central, Midi, North). And why shouldn’t you live there? Reported break-ins, thefts, mugging, pickpocketing… You don’t want any of this to happen to you in a city and country where police is notorious for its sloppiness and lack of cooperation.

 

And if you don’t have a place to live yet and you don’t know where or how to find it, I’ll give you more ideas in my next post.

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