Belgium admits failure to integrate new expat arrivals

Published:  24 Aug at 6 PM
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Tagged: Moving, Germany, Euro
Belgium’s traditional culture and its friendly but closed off mentality are two reasons why expats find integrating a challenge.

Reports by leading Brussels lawmakers admit Belgium is less than straightforward as regards settling down for new expat arrivals, with a German think tank putting it bluntly by saying the country has failed to integrate its foreign residents due to its contradictory attitude towards incomers. Whilst the comments referred mostly to immigrants and refugees, a number of expatriates would agree that settling in is tough, especially when dealing with the country’s obsessive bureaucracy.

According to long-stay expatriates living and working in Brussels, it’s the international community which welcomes new arrivals. Language makes its own difficulties, as many Belgian nationals refuse to speak English to foreigners, even if they have a command of the language, but are happy to speak French. One expatriate eight-year resident in Brussels says she feels as if she’s a European amongst Europeans rather than a European amongst Belgians.

Another survey of over 9,000 EU expatriates in Brussels represented the community as being estranged and largely excluded from life in the international city. Many, especially those who’ve lived in Brussels for less than two years, feel they live in a strange foreign bubble disconnected from real life. Admittedly, the international community in this geopolitical hub does tend to live in its own world, but is this by choice or by necessity as there’s no other alternative. A further survey by the city fathers revealed very few of those who’d arrived less than two years ago had any Belgian friends, nor any chance of finding some.

Younger EU professionals who’d relocated to the city for work reasons weren’t keen on mixing with local people, perhaps because they believe they’ll be moving on again within a relatively short period of time. In addition, many of those surveyed saw Brussels as plagued with poverty, grubby and unappealing as well as possibly unsafe due to a rash of petty crime in many areas.

For expats with no option but to spend a year or two in Brussels, there are compensations, including a better quality of life than in many other major EU capitals. Housing is cheaper, cultural events are first-class, healthcare is high-standard and Brussels is known for its gastronomic delights. However, for women it’s a slightly different story, as shopping for the latest fashions often disappoints. For environmentally-minded expats, getting around is by bicycle, with 11 per cent using this green means of transport even although it’s relatively unsafe.
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