Moving to Brussels in September 2013 with kids

(61 Posts)
cecilem Wed 24-Apr-13 19:26:21

Hello All:

I recently found this site, and I was hoping to get some advise and opinions.

My husband and I along with our three children, aged 18, and twins, boy and girl, age 9, will be moving to Brussels from the US for a several year stay in September 2013. The oldest speaks fluent french, so she will be applying to a university, but the 9 year olds only know a few words.

We will be renting a house in the 1500 - 2000 range and are currently focusing on uccle and forest, but we are interested in your observations for the best location, etc. What are the best and the worse places (to avoid) to live in the Brussels area, which are french speaking? (crime, etc).

We are not sure of what to expect as far as the schools are concerned. We can not afford private (5,000+/child), so were planning to look at the public/religious french schools. What's the best stragedy for getting them into a school at this late date? What should we do? Where are the chances the best? We know it will be late in the school year but we were told that the commune where we live has to offer a school, is this correct?

And what's your experience regarding 9 year olds starting a new language? We are concerned that they won't be able to pick it up. Begining in 5th year, is it likely that they will be held back if they don't learn french quickly? Thanks.

moveornottomove Wed 24-Apr-13 20:03:03

I wanted to say hello! I don't think I'm much help with your questions.
However, we live in Uccle; we like it here. It's calm (ish) if you ignore the hideous traffic. However, Uccle is a huge area.
I'm afraid I can't help with schools as kids are younger and at a faith school. I would suggest getting a move on with the schools as they get notoriously full.
I can't comment on the quality of the schools, but we know people with children at schools on dieweg & messidor. (Uccle) They are happy with the schools. (Sorry I don't know the names of the schools)
Good luck

Portofino Wed 24-Apr-13 20:48:56

9 yos will be in the 3rd/4th year, depending on when their birthdays are. I understand from Natation (our local expert) that schools are highly over subscribed in that area. They are not obliged to give you a place, you will need to search over Brussels to find a school with spaces as inscription has already been done this year. East Brussels tends to be better for English speakers if you want to have a social life. Woluwe St Pierre, Auderghem. Kraainem. I think Brussels schools are used to foreign students and there will be classes in the commune etc, but if you have6 months I would be working really strongly on their language skills. 3rd/4th primaire is very full on with a lot of home work, and a lot of memorising stuff IMHO.

Portofino Thu 25-Apr-13 08:47:42

Sorry - to clarify. If they were born in 2004 they would be 4th Primary in September. If born in 2003 they would be 5th year.

marchmad Thu 25-Apr-13 15:30:38

Try Watermael-Boitsfort commune, hard to find a bad school there, usually places except at the most popular of the 7 schools, the north of the commune is connected to the metro, the south of the commune has tram 94 running though it which goes up to Av Louise and into the city centre. The 4 communal schools are more likely to have places than the 3 Catholic ones. Quite a few expats at Les Cedres out of the communal schools, there is usually space there.

cecilem Sat 27-Apr-13 01:50:38

Thanks for your comments. Our current status is that we are waiting for a response for our long stay visa application. We filed in mid January, so we are hoping to hear any time, sooner the better. Unlike most of you, we are outside the EU, so we have to ask for permission to come aboard.

We visited Brussels for a three weeks last June. We stayed in Forest, and we came to like that area and neighboring Uccle, especially the area next to the La Cambre park, which we fell in love with. During our stay, our two 9 year olds spent two days at the Ecole de Coleurs, and they had a great time. Son, Jared, is very outgoing, so by the end of the day, he was coming out of the school with a french girl holding his right hand and a dutch girl holding his left. He was in heaven. Arianne is a little more reserved, so it might take her longer to get comfortable. We put our names down on the waiting list, but we have not heard from them for September. We sent them an email last week, but no response.

Is it possible to contact schools from the US seeking spots for September?

Is it your experience that they can pick up french, even at 9? As I said, their big sister Camile speaks fluent french, so we are having her give them daily lessons. Hope it will help.

Camile wants to atttend University this coming year. If she attends in Brussels the cost will be from 1% to 10% of the cost in the US where it is now getting astronomical. We are looking forward to coming to Brussels. I'm not sure what we are going to wind up doing about primaire. We'll have to hope that we get lucky.


marchmad Sat 27-Apr-13 06:48:42

You need to think practically.
Did you see any other area in Brussels?
Yes you can enrol from abroad but enrolments started last September for many schools so you are months late for most schools, to get 2 places now in a school would require much luck for Forest/Uccle, much persistence BY PHONE not email, or otherwise go look at areas with less population growth and more places, which is why I suggested Watermael-Boitsfort. Whatever you do, don't think about housing until you have 2 school places and are comfortable with you school places. You'd of course have to formally enrol once here but many schools would be happy to have documents by email initially, supplying proof of registration and affiliation to a mutuelle or private health insurance once you have this proof.
How easy is it for the oldest to get to university from Forest/Uccle? That area is not well regarded for public transport connections.
Uccle is a vast commune, built up and very busy in the north, rolling hills and millionaires villas in the south, pockets of poorer areas in the west.
Forest only has 4 schools which are very well regarded, one of which is Nos Enfants - 25 kids max per year, low turnover. The chances of 1 place there is very slim, 2 places even slimmer. I know one person with children there, she was on time applying, it took her 2 years to get in, so many places go to siblings already in the school and it's a very small school. By the time you get places there, your children might be secondary school age.
There are about 300 primaires in Brussels. Try concentrating in areas accessible to university where the population has not increased at such a high rate.
You also need to think about housing budget. You said you liked the Bois de la Cambre area, but some of the most expensive properties are in that area, you won't get much more than a small apartment in that area, I'd expect the left side of the bois de la Cambre to be cheaper and in fact Watermael-Boitsfort is that side.

cecilem Sat 27-Apr-13 16:35:22

I appreciate your thoughts. During our visit we looked at houses in WSP and Scharbeek. WSP near the Chant de Oieseau was nice - nice park too. One problem that we have is that the visa has not been acted on yet, so until then we can't get registered. We will have private health care, so that is no issue. So it's hard to identify a date of arrival until we get the visa sorted out.

Additionally our review of the rental houses on offer suggests that at any one time there are only 5-7 houses that might be of interest thru-out the different communes of Brussels, and finding one exactly where and when you want it is a difficult task.

So is it correct that if we get there in September with two primaire aged children, that we may find that there is no school to place them in? If so, that would be a problem.

So do all of you feel that a 9 year old can adapt and learn a new language, french, without too much difficulty? Is it likely that they could be held back for language issues?

We remain optimistic. What are your thoughts?


irishmumonthemove Sun 28-Apr-13 11:02:45

I can't comment on the accommodation issues as we live in the Netherlands. Regarding your 9 year olds picking up French, I would say yes, it's perfectly possible if they are eager to learn and have a good attitude to school. We moved here last summer when my eldest was 9.5 and middle child was almost 8. They both began in local Dutch school without a word of Dutch and the first week was daunting for them. After that they quickly became comfortable in the classroom, particularly the older boy who is very outgoing. It took my second boy, who is more reserved, a little longer. Their classmates were so friendly so that helped hugely of course. Language wise, within 2 months the 9 year old was speaking to friends and teachers and every day since has improved. I am amazed when I hear him talking with ease now in cafes, to friends, their parents, on the street playing outside. My 8 year old took longer, was very happy in school but didn't speak English or Dutch for 6 months. After Xmas, he gained some confidence to speak out loud and when he did, he had a lot of knowledge stored up and ready to go. His 'voice' is getting louder and this week, finally he is speaking Dutch as clearly as English and understands so much. They both had 6 hours of group language class provided by the gemeente during school hours since November and this helped hugely. My American friends, two families, moved with same age kids and they enrolled their children in an immersion school for a year first and now the kids are practically fluent. I hope this has given you some idea of how it might go. Its a great journey. Best of luck to you all.

irishmumonthemove Sun 28-Apr-13 11:04:43

I forgot to say that Dutch kids don't get homework till Group 7/8 so we and my kids didn't have that to contend with luckily. it will be different for you in Brussels.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 15:32:30

I fear you might have to compromise on housing or schooling. Here are some figures on rentals in communes I'd recommend looking at, plus populations (to give you an idea of quantity of rental of housing per population) and number of schools.

On the subject of housing, this is the number of adverts on immoweb at the moment for 3 bed properties :

1150 WSP population 40,000, 10 schools
- 39 houses between €1295 and €2000
- 129 apartments between and €2000

1170 Watermael population 25,000, 7 schools
- 15 houses between €1450 and €2000
- 26 apartments between €900 and €2000

1200 WSL population 52,000, 16 schools
- 17 houses between €990 and €2000
- 94 apartments between €825 and €2000

1160 Auderghem population 32,000, 7 schools
- 12 houses between €1030 and €2000
- 67 apartments between €1000 and €2000

1040 Etterbeek population 46,000, 9 schools
- 11 houses between €1350 and €2000
- 107 apartments between €850 and €2000

1060 St Gilles population 50,000, 10 schools
- 0 houses under €2000
- 18 apartments between €700 and €2000

where you'd like to look
1180 Uccle population 80,000, 26 schools
- 86 houses between €890 and €2000
- 159 apartments between €800 and €2000

1190 Forest population 53,000, 16 schools
- 3 houses between €1200 and €2000
- 16 apartments between €900 and €2000

Do study these stats. I'd personally cross off Forest and St Gilles immediately, just not enough rentals under €2000 with 3+ beds. As for the others, well you can see that overall WSP and Uccle have a very high amount of rentals of 3+ beds in your price range, when compared against their populations. WSL has quite a limited supply of houses in the price range but plenty of apartments, same with Etterbeek. Watermael is ok for housing and apartments, but as so many of the Auderghem apartments, a good supply, are actually near to 2 good Watermael schools, if it's apartments you're happy with the "Pecheries" area of Auderghem/Watermael is an excellent place to look, as well as being and area with a reasonable amount of houses.

Your problem with Uccle is that the chances of a school place there is far lower than in Watermael, Auderghem, WSL, WSP, Etterbeek, but at least if you manage 2 places, you shouldn't have to worry about finding somewhere to live nearby.

WSP is frankly hard to beat for a combination of school places and housing.

Watermael is good for schooling, if happy with an apartment, wouldn't worry about housing, if you want only a house, I'd probably not want the children to start school there without a house.

You really shouldn't be fussy about housing, unless you want to make your situation even harder. Ideally you should be flexible about size and quality and features. 3 bathrooms are not essential, only 1 is. A garden is not essential, think of it as a luxury. Parking is not essential and in Brussels you can live without a car. 5 beds for guests is not essential. A power shower is not essential. Fitting all your furniture is not essential. Living close to school IS ESSENTIAL to getting a decent secondaire place. Do not sign any housing contract without firm school places and moreover without checking the order of primaire with reference to your new home or order of preferred primaire with reference to your new home. Ignore this advice at your peril. I know 2 families who did this year. 1 has been exceptionally lucky to get a place at a super school which was their nearest but they wanted instead their child to go to the most highly regarded secondaire and didn't get the place and sensibly accept their fantastic 2nd choice (so do half Brussels' parents and therein lies the problem of living more than 400m from this school, non priority children stand no chance of a place).

There is nothing to lose in enrolling for school places now and really I would have done it months ago. It doesn't matter if you don't know the exact date of arrival, the schools won't know that, the worst that could happen if you couldn't start when you want your children to start is that the places are kept a few weeks for you, or you have to look elsewhere. The longer you delay looking, the harder it will get. Your only other strategy is to hope luck is on your side and you get a last minute vacancy at the end of August/beginning of September. Once they start P5, they cannot be held back a year due to lack of French and they cannot change school either until the end of P6. Finally if you think you cannot enrol without being registered, as said before, you do not even need to be in the country, never mind registered, you just need to arrive on the first day for school with your passports and visas and then come back ASAP with registration papers.

Portofino Sun 28-Apr-13 16:49:15

They will be P4 though if they are 2004 born? So they could in theory change after one year.

Portofino Sun 28-Apr-13 16:55:09

Marchmad's advice is spot on though. I myself will look to move from a large house in outskirts of Brussels to a much smaller one or apartment in probably Kraainem, Wezembeek Oppem or wSP in order to secure a good secondary place. My dd is 9 and currently in P3.

cecilem Sun 28-Apr-13 17:07:10

Thanks for your responses. I hope I did not give the impression that we were limiting ourselves to Forest or Uccle, because we are not. But we do want a house, 3 - 4 beds, and preferably 4. We really want a garden or small yard, and a garage, if possible.

On immoweb we are focused on 1500 - 2000 euros rental. Unfortunately, the offerings in April may not be what is offered in July or August. So we may have a completely different picture.
Of course, a lease is for a minimum or 3 years or more likely 9 years, and we don't want to keep moving. So the idea is to find a house where we will be happy for many years to come, as we may not go back to the US following our move. So it will be a balance between area, schools and house, the best combination of each.

So you are saying that we should start calling or (emailing?) schools in different areas, Uccle, WSP, etc., try to get places and then see where we can get a house later on? Are the religious schools more or less likely to have openings? As we are now in May is it already too late to be searching for a school? Although we have a list of schools, we know nothing about them, which are the best, good or not. Also can I assume that if there is no indication of fees on a school's website, that there is no fees?

Thanks for the support concerning a nine year old's ability to learn a new language. I think dutch is more difficult than french, but it's a matter of opinion. You say that they can not be held back for weakness in french ability. Are students routinely held back, and if so, on what basis? I would mention that the french ability of myself and my husband is elementary at best, though as I have said before our 18 year old daughter is fluent.


cecilem Sun 28-Apr-13 17:12:16

I would add that the 9 year olds were born in October 2003, and they began school early. They are now in the 4th grade and expecting to be entering 5th next September. Age wise they could remain in 4th in Brussels and be amonst children of their same age range. We could consider that if that was advisable.


Portofino Sun 28-Apr-13 17:39:31

Yes, children can be asked to repeat the year if they don't pass the end of year exams. It is very common. I can see an advantage in starting at P4 in that yours would be amongst the youngest in the year group and then you could still change schools for P5 if you don't get a place at your nearest/preferred school. It is done in 2 year cycles here, where you keep the same teacher, 12,34,56 etc And you are not allowed to transfer within Brussels during the cycle. So you could change schools for P5, but not P6, if you se what I mean.

Portofino Sun 28-Apr-13 17:45:18

Sorry, in P5 they would be amongst the youngest. In P4 they would be just a couple of months older than the year group but there is likely to be a couple at least doing the year again, in my experience.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 17:56:10

There is no advantage to starting down a year, other than it happens to be P4 where they could change after a year, if you've chosen badly. If they're above average achieving at the moment, they might find Maths too easy, once they've mastered enough language. If they are emotionally average, they might suffer slightly from being older than most of the class by staying back a year. Most children who double, do so in secondaire. The biggest reason for going into P4 instead of P5 would be if you found a school you really liked and it only had P4 places and not P5 places.

I'd drop the garage, you will seriously limit search if you want one. In the inner city, a garage is often half height and you cannot fit a car in it anyway. I'd rather have a "cave" than a garage.

I wouldn't touch a 3 year contract (normally no way of getting out unless you manage to convince a landlord to insert a diplomatic clause which is highly unlikely), I'd go for a 9 year contract, but landlords might want to offer you a 1 year contract initially, without a previous record of renting in Belgium, so I would consider 1 year with the option of changing to a 9 year contract at the end of the year.

Many apartments are ground floor, many apartments have shared gardens. There are tons of playgrounds around, 9 year olds have less need for a garden than 3 year olds, so if you want to increase your housing search, don't rule out apartments. Most duplexes are listed under apartments on immoweb.

I'd consider 7 out of 7 Watermael schools. I'd consider 8 out of 10 WSP schools. I'd consider 4 out of 7 Auderghem schools. I'd consider maybe 13 out of 16 WSL schools. I'd consider 6 out of 9 Etterbeek schools. I can't help you with Uccle schools.

The religious and non religious schools, as a general rule are more popular than the communal ones, with a few notable exceptions, the least desirable are the French Community "Athénée Royal" schools. But there are some Catholic schools I'd not be happy with and some communal schools I'd be more happy with, you really can't rely solely on the 4 types as an indicator of the best schools.

There are 9 public schools in Brussels which have fees of between 1k and 2k per year, in these you'll also find things like school trips, extra-curriculars are also more expensive, so I'd budget 2k minimum extra per year. No they don't list their fees on any of their websites. They are also mega hard to get places at, eg En Couleurs!! These schools attract the motivated type of parent (mind you so do many of the majority no fees public schools). They also keep poor children excluded from them.

You will of course have to pay fees for school lunches, swimming, school day and overnight trips, extra-curricular courses. Oh and expect a list of materials containing at least 30 items to buy, first year is always most expensive as you have to buy dictionaries, grammar books, felt-tips, pens and pencils.

I would have been calling the schools from September 2012. Few schools reply initially to emails. It sometimes takes several "no" calls to schools before they take you seriously and allow your names on a waiting list which I'd want confirmed by email. Yes most schools will now be waiting list only by this stage, but don't let that put you off, you lose nothing by trying and it will only get harder by leaving it even longer.

I'd not say Dutch is harder or easier than French, they are both Indo-European languages, though Dutch is in the same sub-group as English and French is in the Romance sub-group, but it's very personal.

You're held back if you don't come up to the minimum standard the class teacher expects, you can only be forced to double in P2 and and P4 in primaire, all other years are at the choice of parents. It does work the other way, I know a child who was moved up a year and was top of the class despite being 1 month to 2 years younger than the rest of the class.

If you cannot find the property you feel is right for you but find the school, then rent a serviced apartment till you find the right place, even if it is initially a bit of a trek to school. If you choose a school in an area with plenty of rental possibilities, you'll find something eventually.

High season for adverts on immoweb is May to July.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 18:04:28

Just to clarify, your child can only be forced to double P2 and P4, but might be recommended to double the other school years. You'd normally only double P6 if you've failed the CEB exam and then you have the choice to double P6 or continue into S1 in a special class where all the children re-take the CEB and most fail again - the former would be better for children who've failed the CEB due to lack of language skills rather than intelligence.

It's pretty common for children who double voluntarily after P1, P3 and P5 to move sideways to another school at that point, even if it is mid cycle and they normally cannot move, schools seem happy to sign away pupils like this whose parents want to try a different school for the doubled year and it's allowed as a reason for changing mid cycle. Children who are forced doublers at the end of P2 and P4 often also move schools, rather than face staying in the same school and seeing their friends rise up a year and they are stuck with children younger than them.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 18:17:15

Just as an example, this house is Av Léopold Wiener 213, Watermael-Boitsfort. A short walk to the sports centre and the shops.

The nearest Catholic school will surely by full, la Sainte Famille, most sought after school in the commune and only 1 class per year. 2nd nearest however is Ste-Therese de l'Assomption, almost definitely will have places, has undergone renovations recently and numbers growing rapidly especially at maternelle level, primaire not so full. 2nd nearest is good for secondaire. Then the 2 nearest Catholic secondaires, Assomption then St Hubert are really sought after, apply for these with this address and attending Ste Therese and you should get a place.

This is the school's website, something wrong with it at the moment, but usually full of details, even in English.

The 2nd nearest communal is Les Cedres and there are quite a few English speaking families there and usually places, the nearest communal is le Karrenberg, know little about there other than good reputation locally.

cecilem Sun 28-Apr-13 18:32:57

I failed to mention something that may limit our chances further to find a rental. We have a dog. A medium size German Shephard. That's one of the main reasons why we want a yard as well as a house. Is this going to be a big problem for us? We also think a yard will give us a nice retreat from the noise of the city. In the US where there is little negotiation and landlords make the terms - almost all houses are "no pets allowed."

So are you saying that we should just identify 3-5 schools in two or three or more areas and start calling. As I said our older daughter speaks good french, so we might want to enlist her in the calling to improve communication. Assuming that many of the administrators may not speak good english or may not prefer to.

Our 18 year old is very artistic and wants to study clothing design. She wants to apply to La Cambre, which is center city, amonst other schools. We will have to seek an equivalency certification within a few months.

These initial months will be hectic and complicated.


marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 18:38:37

Here is another house / school combination. Rue Kelle 122, 1150 Woluwe-St-Pierre, it's a short walk to Musée du Tram stop where you can catch trams 39/44/94 and buses 36/42, you have a fantastic old railway line path behind the house which leads to loads of playgrounds, even more playgrounds from the front of the house, a football club, tennis club on your doorstep.

The nearest school in Jean 23 Parmentier and probably full, again 1 class entry. But 2nd nearest is Jean 23 Woluwe and it has many non francophones and even prides itself on helping them, take a look at the school website, then 3rd nearest is Providence, don't know much except it's well enough regarded, maybe less international families there.

The nearest secondaire in Jean 23 and it has currently quite a few children who joined as teenagers with no French at all. It was full this year for the first time, increasingly popular secondaire.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 18:54:00

Yes your dog will limit your rental possibilities. It's not something I would not initially mention and you'll have to have it negotiated into the contract. I would think seriously about bringing a dog with you and you will find serviced apartments a non starter with a dog, so it would have to be a reccie trip and lots of planning. Whatever you do, do your own planning, don't employ a relocation agent, it will be a waste of money.

There IS no noise in Watermael or Woluwe-St-Pierre (except around Montgomery). I think you need to adjust to this being Brussels. Thousands of children live with small gardens or none at all

Yes narrow your search down to smaller areas. Look at ways to la Cambre - most of Forest would have been out immediately for there except for the streets near tram line 3 (links with tram 7) and much of Uccle is a huge trek, only northern Uccle any good on line 7 and part of line 4. Anywhere linking with trams 7 or 94 is good, don't have to be directly on the line, just linking with them.

There is no aversion to speaking English amongst the French schools, unlike the Flemish ones which are mainly banned from communication in English, but you cannot expect the secretaries and heads to speak to you in English, French is quite a dominant language like English where speakers don't learn other languages easily as they don't need to.

marchmad Sun 28-Apr-13 19:11:11

Oh I must just link to the blog for Jean 23 Woluwe. It happens to be the twin school of our children's school, heard nice things about the school. It's very active Christian in ethos, rather than church service oriented ethos. Take a look at the little story of the girl on this blog who came from Cameroun for an operation at nearby St Luc - famous for its paediatrics and doing operations on foreigners here for medical help. I guess her foster parents might have some connection with the school, she is due to go back home once better.

cecilem Mon 29-Apr-13 02:39:49

It's interesting that you suggest Jean 23 as someone else had suggested that school to us last year and we made arrangements to view the school in June 2012. Unfortunately, we weren't able to make the appointment. We will definitely check it out. Do you have any recommendations in Uccle? Also what do you think of Etterbeek for housing and schools?


marchmad Mon 29-Apr-13 15:09:35

Uccle anywhere along the number 4 tram route and some of number 7 route, some of 38 and 60 bus routes, some of the TEC/de Lijn bus routes which go down the west side of the bois de la cambre.
no 4/7
En Couleurs
38 and 60 routes
Notre Dame des Champs
St Job
Note Dame (St Job)
TEC/de Lijn routes
St Joseph

En Couleurs, Hamaide and Décroly are exceptionally popular and also have top-up fees, the are likely to be non starters.

St Joseph and Notre Dame des Champs are also exceptionally popular.

Hamaide and Décoly and St Joseph are in areas probably out of your budget., maybe Notre Dame and St job too. Your best bet of places are the 3 schools in the north along the number 4/7, En Couleurs being the 4th on that route is least likely.

Etterbeek will be very hard to find a house in budget - only 9 actual houses currently 3+ beds in budget, many more apartments but few are 4 beds, most are 3 beds. It's real inner city, you'd have to be happy with the noise and the different socio-economic intake of the schools - Paradis des Enfants and St Michel will be most affluent as in the east of the commune near Chant d'Oiseau area of WSP.

Watermael-Boitsfort - all of the schools

WSL - all of the schools except AR WSL, Parc Schuman, Prince Baudouin

WSP - all of the schools except AR WSP, Centre

Etterbeek - all of the schools except Claire-Joie, Ste Genevieve and Al-Ghazali (actually I'd say yes to this one if you are observant Muslim, if not, would be rather hard to fit in)

cecilem Tue 30-Apr-13 00:23:43

Would it be fair to say that I do not recommend Jette, Laeken, Molenbee, Koekelberg and Schaerbeek? These are some communes that I have sometimes seen interesting houses in. I am not sure if they would really be great places to live in though. By the way, we are Christians, so a Catholic school is OK.


marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 07:06:28

1 You could take the easy option and look FIRST for schools and then for houses later.

2 You could take the easy option by choosing areas to look for schools with a high possibility of suitable housing.

3 You could take the easy option by choosing areas to look for schools and live nearby which are a 30 minute or less commute to La Cambre.

4 You could take the easy option by choosing areas where schools are not so oversubscribed.

So Jette fails on all 4 of these.

Laeken fails on all 4 of these.

Schaerbeek fails on all 4 of these in from Parc Josaphat northwards, it only passes in the area south of Parc Josaphat close to the 7 tram lineon number 3 and possibly number 2.

Watermael-Boitsfort passes on all 4. To a lesser extent so does WSP and WSL.

marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 07:08:53

PS please don't look in Laeken and Jette and you'd be silly to consider all but the most southern area of Schaerbeek. I also forgot point no 5.

5 You could take the easy option by choosing schools with a good mix on international children, including some English speakers, so schools are used to children arriving in primaire without French and so that the children will be able to make friends amongst the anglophones and so the adults could make friends with some of the parents for a social life.

Again Laeken and Jette fail on this point. Watermael scores again.

marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 07:10:21

Oops forgot Molenbeek and Koelkelberg. Same as Jette and Laeken.

I have helped you as much as possible. Ignore at your peril. You mustn't have ever been to the areas you have just named.

marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 08:43:10

Sorry if the above seems a bit rude, I'm not meaning to be, it's just the best options for housing/schools/facilities have been suggested.

I'd say you should look at how to get to La Cambre as one of the priorities when considering where to live / look for primaires and secondaires. Here is the link on how to find the travel times and routes. The nearest stops are
7 and 94 tram stop is CAMBRE-ETOILE
60 and 38 bus stop is VAN EYCK
TEC/deLijn bus stop is PATTON
The 7 and 94 in particular link with other fast routes such as metro lines 1 and 5, tram lines 39/44/4. You really don't want to be doing more than 1 change of transport and preferably the fast routes, such as the ones named.
If you put these stops into the link and choose stops near schools, you'll be able to see how long it would take your elder child to university.

cecilem Tue 30-Apr-13 14:01:49

Thanks again, and especial thanks to Marchmad for you help. At this point we are trying to make sure that we have as full of an understanding of our options or possibilities as we can. The communes that I asked about we gleaned from the ads, as they raised an interest because we occasionally saw an interesting house there. We will use this information as a guide, and the easy option will be at the top of the list.
Obviously, we will need as much help as we can get. Here children are normally accommodated in their local school, but a different system exists in Brussels which we will have to adapt to. Thanks again,


marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 18:31:59

One last thing, as you said your children are here long term, I cannot emphasize enough you must verify the order of primaires and secondaires to a possible house before signing any contract. You need to be aware if you accept a house where your chosen primaire is 6th nearest or further even, you significantly lower chances of a chance at a decent secondaire. You see this is where choosing Watermael or similar would be an easy place to look, 2 excellent Catholic secondaires in the commune, nearly every street in the commune you'd have these secondaires as 1st and/or 2nd nearest, if you chose your 1st or 2nd nearest communal or Catholic primaire which is easy to do, you stand a very high chance of places in these 2 Catholic secondaires. The French community secondaire almost closed this year, its numbers halved and went under the minimum numbers requires,this in a time of other schools being massively over-subscribed, it has been taken over by the next nearest school as an annex. A Parents' group is after the building as a potential secondaire they want to set up, so could get interesting what happens to the school. I bet it didn't make even the 50% mark during the recent 1st secondaire enrolments.

marchmad Tue 30-Apr-13 18:50:11

Here is the link for checking which primaires and secondaires are near to a particular address.

cecilem Thu 02-May-13 21:45:45

I have found two schools of interest: La Futaie and La Sapiniere in Watermeil-Boitsfort. Any thoughts or comments?

marchmad Thu 02-May-13 22:26:57

Any school in Watermael-Boitsfort is fine. None of them are huge, ie 3 or more classes per year, some are really small, 1/2 class or 1 class per year. I think la Sapiniere and la Futaie are both 2 classes per year. La Futaie will have a slightly lower socio-economic mix, it's just south of poorer Ixelles, excellent situation for La Cambre on the 94 tram route, la Sapieniere is almost in the foret de Soignes, a bit off of the 94 tram route, would expect it harder to get a place here, lots more children travelling from Flanders Dutch communes here to be in French - nearest French school to Hoeilaart. If you choose either, don't forget to live nearby and ensure it's 1st or 2nd nearest communal to home.

cecilem Fri 03-May-13 14:48:59

I think, based on what you said, that I will focus on la Sapiniere. Now if the children attend this school we are not required to live in Watermael, we could live in WSP or another commune, this is correct? And if we lived in another commune would attending la Sapiniere for primarie be a problem if we then wanted to select or apply to a secondaire in a commune other than Watermael, probably the commune we were living in? Finally, I think you said that no transfers are generally permitted beginning the 6th year, so if we went to la Sapiniere for 5th we would have to remain thru the 6th? Thanks again.


Longtime Fri 03-May-13 18:39:22

For anyone coming long-term with children given the current inscription rules, I would strongly advise finding a primary AND a secondary near to one another that you are happy with and then consider housing ONLY in that area. I know it sounds restrictive and that's because it is. You used to be able to pretty much pick which school you wanted (unless they decided your child was not academically suited to the school) and whilst you can still do this to a certain extent for primary (restriction is the amount of places), that is NOT the case for secondary. I have heard stories of people ending up with their child a long way away in secondary with none of their friends. Not nice for a 12 year old to have to deal with.

Subscription is done on a points basis and you should aim for as many points as possible to be top of the list. Points are given for proximity of house to secondary school but also proximity of primary school to secondary school. Belgians know this. Your dcs would get themselves some nice friends in primary only to be taken away from them for secondary. I know they make new friends but my dd is in second year secondary and has an amazing group of friends, with many being her primary school friends. It also gave her confidence when moving, knowing that these friends would be there.

Marchmad is truly the school and location expert. We have a lovely group of mumsnetters here in Belgium and they cannot praise her highly enough for her help. I think she has given you some excellent advice - advice I wish I had had access to when ds1 started school here.

I actually can't understand why you wouldn't consider Watermael-Boitsfort to live. I live in the next commune in Auderghem and love W-B. It's quiet and in some places quite villagey in feel. However, you are very close to metro into town.

Longtime Fri 03-May-13 18:41:27

Do you have any friends in the UK? You could ask them about getting a school place there. You have to be in the catchment area of the school to get a place. Housing is nearly always considered around the schooling and not the other way round. They may be able to give you advice re this sort of system.

Portofino Fri 03-May-13 20:52:11

I totally agree with what Longtime says re. Choosing an area with good schools for primary and secondary. Marchmad is indeed the expert here, and after living here for 7 years and knowing the system, I am relying on her advice as we plan to move to a smaller place back in Brussels from the suburbs In order to secure a good secondary place for my dd who is 9. You HAVE to live near the schools to guarantee a place in the good ones. We will probably get a 2 bed apartment vs a 4 bed house to ensure this. You really need to take this on board. Pressure on school places in Brussels increases year on year.

cecilem Fri 03-May-13 21:11:46

We appreciate all the advice given. We understand that school subscription is on a first come first serve basis. We won't be arriving until just before the school year starts, so we don't have much to chose from in terms of primary schools. We are coming from the US, not the UK, so our experience is a little different. Essentially, W-B may be fine, and we are open to it for a house and school. However, our preference is to live in the city, not the suburbs. W-B is quiet, we want to be close to the activity, but not necessarily right in the middle of it. We have friends in Forest and we have friends in Uccle. Our preference for a place to live is Uccle. It is simply our choice. The map shows that there are areas in Uccle where we would like to be which are only 2 - 5 k from W-B. So no problem in taking the kids to W-B in the AM and picking them up in the PM. In fact it might be easier than going beteen certain locations within Uccle. So we can see that we could have our cake so to speak. Obviously, there are probably many children in Uccle schools who don't reside there and this causes a shortage of spots for those who do, etc. It is the system. Anyway, it sounds like you are sayihg that for secondaire that if we are living in Uccle that we will lose points based on the fact that the kids went to W-B for primary, is this correct? So even if a secondaire which we were OK with was near to our house in Uccle that we might not be able to attend, becasue the kids went to W-B for primary?


Portofino Fri 03-May-13 21:34:18

That is exactly it. I face the same problem. I need to move house AND change my dd's school in order to not get the worst possible secondary school.

marchmad Fri 03-May-13 22:07:40

Uccle is as much a suburb as Watermael is. In fact some bits of Uccle are far more suburban than Watermael.

It doesn't matter that some of Uccle seems like only 2km from the nearest part of Watermael. Firstly you have a forest between the two, secondly that forest is the worst bottleneck in traffic in inside Brussels, thirdly if you decide to choose a Watermael school and live in Uccle, it means that in reality you won't get a decent school place and might be offered one of the worst schools in Brussels at secondaire. You might not think it's a problem but it will be. Think also about the fact that the vast majority of children school in Watermael also live within walking distance of their schools, those who don't tend to live in Hoeilaart and you can't walk to to a French school from there. Their friendship groups are going to be mainly neighbours. By 10 years old, many children are already taking themselves to school, your children won't be able to do that if you live so far away and in an area not connected by public transport - there is a single bus which crosses the bottom of the bois de la cambre from Uccle to Watermael. If your children live in a different area, they are going to miss out, they won't be able to walk themselves to school or take the tram. Think also about the fact that you'd have to drive your children to school, pick them up again, you are you going to spend long periods in the car in traffic jams in that area. There are so many reasons why living in Uccle and schooling the children elsewhere is just not a good idea.

No there are not that many children schooled in Uccle who live elsewhere, Uccle has a rapidly expanding population and is struggling to provide places for its residents, that's why they give priority in the communal schools to residents first.

If you wish to live in Uccle because of having friends there (can you not make friends in another area too? ), then please please please do not look for any schools which are anything other than 1st or 2nd nearest primaire, if you wish your children to have a decent secondaire place. If you're on the edge of Uccle, then it could even be an Ixelles, St Gilles, Forest, Brussels 1000 school.

One final thing, don't underestimate the advantage of having other English speakers in the same school of the same age. In Uccle, there are not many English speaking children, at least not compared to east Brussels. That's why you don't find much after school in English there and why there is loads going on in East Brussels and Vlaams Brabant. You really should think of the children's ability to adjust, that may be more important that choosing an area because you have friends there.

Portofino Fri 03-May-13 22:49:19

I really would listen to marchmad. Plus traffic in central Brussels is not like the us. There are frequent strikes on public transport. There are accidents in the tunnels and delays most nights. I work in the city centre, and cannot count the number of times I have got my dh to drive INTO Brussels to collect my dd from school as I am stuck on the bus 2kms away.

marchmad Fri 03-May-13 23:42:55

I listed 10 primaires in Uccle above which you should concentrate on due to the connections in the area with la Cambre. If you won't consider any other commune, then don't consider any other schools than these 10. Phone them at least once a week. Email them, saying you've phoned. I listed already which ones of these 10 are least likely to ever have 2 places and which are most likely. They are all not far from the 3-4 secondaires I'd consider in Uccle and these secondaires are likely to be 1st/2nd nearest to home if the primaire you theoretically attend is also 1st/2nd nearest to home.

I'd still say Uccle is a very hard commune to find school places, ideally you should have enrolled over 6 months ago for some of the primaires. We enrolled from abroad, know loads and loads of people who did the same, then arrived in the month before school started.

Saltedcaramellavacake Sat 04-May-13 02:27:48

I'm not in Belgium (I'm in Singapore!) but just wanted to say that the quality and detail of the advice on this thread is amazing. Great job Marchmad, Portofino and Longtime for taking the time and sharing all you've learnt.
Bowing out now, feeling just a bit glad that I don't have to find school places in Brussels...

cecilem Sat 04-May-13 04:17:17

La Sapinere has reserved two places for us. We contacted St. Pierre; Longchamp and Messidor - all full. We have emailed St. Job, Montjoie and Homborch - no response yet. We also plan to contact Verrewinkel and Eglantiers. So we'll see next week, what response if any.

You are all right, it would have been best if we made arrangements 6 months ago. But we did not even apply for the visa until January, and to date we have not received a decision. As we are Americans we have to get a visa to go forward, someone from the UK just decides and moves. So we are putting our best foot forward and trying to be confident of the future.


marchmad Sat 04-May-13 07:01:19

College St Pierre - I do feel a school with 900 children and few English speakers is highly inappropriate a choice for 2 9 year olds with no French. Please think of your children and how they will cope in that environment. You should stick to schools with a higher number of foreigners and English speakers and also a smaller size school, 2 classes per year max I'd say, not the 4 classes per year at College St Pierre and similar.

I have said several times that email is ineffective as an initial means of contract, useful later, but you should phone the schools and phone them several times, don't get disheartened with claims they are full. Please listen to the advice to phone.

I don't quite understand why you wrote Watermael is not preferable for you because it is too suburban and quiet, preferring Uccle which you wrongly believe is the city when only a small part of it is city-like. Verrewinkel and Eglantiers and Homborch are far more suburban than la Sapiniere in Watermael!!!! They are also a terrible long way from la Cambre, why put your elder child through such a journey. And there is only one secondaire (not counting Ganenou) in southern Uccle, so your 9 year olds would also have a trek to secondaire. That area is the desert to me, few shops, tennis clubs but precious little else in terms of sports, no entertainments.

As someone who knows loads of people who've applied and got into schools from abroad, including several Americans with no visas, I cannot see why there is an issue with no visa, it shouldn't stop you from applying for schools. It doesn't seem to stop other visa nationals.

cecilem Sat 04-May-13 16:41:24

Thanks you your points are well taken. After reviewing further, I will not pursue Verrewinkel, Eglantiers and Homborch. Thank you again. You continue to recommend Longchamp, Messidor, St. Job and Montjoie? I will call them as well as email. I problem for us is the time difference as it is 6 hours later in Belgium, so at 3 - 4 pm in Belgium, it's 9 - 10 am here. My french is very weak, my husband's is a little better an my older daughter is fluent. But during those hours I am the only one home. When I called Longchamp the woman didn't speak any english, and all I understood was compleat (full). So we will have to come up with a solution for this, possibly my daughter can stay home for a few hours in the morning and make a few calls. If the school has already told us full what do we say on the second and subsequent calls. "Just checking?" We are definitely open to living in W-B, but would like to consider parts of Uccle also.


irishmumonthemove Sat 04-May-13 23:32:08

Cecile, is it possible one of you could go to Brussels and visit the schools? I understand about being hesitant to speak on the phone, it can be daunting. If you visited for say a week, ( and I don't say this lightly as it's expensive and inconvenient obviously to travel ) then you could visit a number of schools and maybe view houses too? It was only when my husband visited schools in Amsterdam that he got definitive answers about school places. They were quite cagey on the phone. Emails were unanswered in the beginning so I just went straight to phone calls. It's so hard trying to make decisions about the quality and friendliness of the schools from afar never mind trying to deal with location and transport issues. A quick trip might give you many answers.

cecilem Thu 09-May-13 17:43:04

We plan to go to Brussels for a visit in July, primarily to look for housing, but we might also try to contact some schools. This visit assumes that we have received a positive visa decision by then. Being American's it's a little different for us, than for English or other eu citizens. We can go for a brief visa anytime, but a move has to have the bureaucracy's stamp of approval Plus, it's a cher to fly there including the accommodations, and doing so before we had the visa would be a little risky and reckless. We want to be confident that everything will work out, but we don't want to be overconfident. Thanks.


Portofino Fri 10-May-13 19:59:25

The schools will closed in July. Most of them have a late summer window for late applications, but each school will be different. You need to contact them before 29th June when the holidays start.

marchmad Fri 10-May-13 22:13:49

Completely pointless looking for housing without securing a few school places. You need to get school places now OR you need to wait until the end of August and just hope luck is on your side and look for schools/housing at the same time.

cecilem Sat 11-May-13 01:49:39

I was under the impression that most schools would be open until about mid July. But you say that's wrong. When is it likely that they would all be open, but before the school year starts. Our plans are not fixed.

marchmad Sat 11-May-13 06:28:25

Last day of school is 28th June. First day of school is 2nd September.

Most heads / secretaries will be in school still the following week, but not all hours, some will have heads which stay a further few days. You cannot rely on anyone actually answering the phone or be willing to show you around an empty school in July or August. Some schools do publish the presence of heads / secretaries in the first week of July and last week of August. It really is though NOT the best time to see a school with no teachers and no children.

It's equally not a good idea to do tours of schools in the last 2 weeks of June. 2nd last week is CEB week, then last week will be full of end of term celebrations. The time to visit schools is mid May to mid June.

Portofino Sat 11-May-13 08:53:15

As I said, each school will be different as to when someone will be there over the summer. You need to contact them NOW! Marchmad has given you Stirling advice already. There isn't much anyone can add really.

superfluouscurves Sat 11-May-13 14:32:16

Yes, would definitely urge you to visit well before end of June. When you are in another country it's hard to appreciate how "seasonal" Belgium is - everything closes down for July and August. Brussels is particularly quiet during those months - it is a totally different city during term times!

I think you may be confused with many UK schools who start their summer holidays in mid-July (and French schools stagger the starting dates according to region). But all 'native' Belgian schools always finish their academic year on the last day of June and re-open on the first of September without exception.

Good luck!

cecilem Sat 11-May-13 23:53:55

I contacted one school in Uccle. They asked about our twins french language abilities. I advised that they are now getting tutoring from their sister and it would continue over the summer. They responded that they had some places and they would reserve them. They asked that we meet with them and tour the school during the last week of August. We also have places reserved in a school in W-B. So I guess that going in late August may become my plan. The only problem I forsee is that rental houses may not be available when we want them. What is normal in terms of rental offerings in August and September?

marchmad Sun 12-May-13 10:06:41

Now you have school places in 2 areas, you ideally need a couple more school places in those 2 areas but not immediately near the schools where you already have places. This is the maximise the chances of housing which would place one of the school places as nearest or 2nd nearest primaire to home and also a decent secondaire in the same category.

If you cannot sign a contract for housing because you don't have visas, then you have no choice but to wait till you have your visas. I would however want to see potential schools whilst they are still open. Can not one of you come over to look for 3 or 4 days in the next 4 weeks? You might absolutely hate the schools you've chosen from afar, you might find you don't like the area they are in. For the cost of a plane ticket, I think doing this research is worth it.

By August, there will be less rentals available, peak time is the next couple of months for moving in August. The upside is that you will have more negotiating power for the remaining housing, to lower rents, because if landlords don't manage to rent in the +1500 euro category which is high end of Brussels rents and rarely affordable to the majority of Bruxellois, then there is a good chance their properties will remain empty until the following Summer when expats come to look again the higher numbers.

cecilem Sun 12-May-13 19:51:13

Sure I would like to go to Brussels in June, but it is a 9 hour flight and 4-5 days would cost about $3 - 4,000, a lot unless there is a significant benefit. Also we can't be 100% certain that the visa will be approved or completely approved or what if it is not approved until November. We don't want to act too impulsively. We filed in January, so we believe that we will know something by the end of June, but that's a guess. I would mention that on different occasions the embassy has told us the visa could take 6, 8 months or a year to decide.

As I said, the twins are now getting tutoring from their sister and it would continue over the summer. So we want them to have some foundation, although they certainly won't be fluent. Thanks to all of you for your help.


marchmad Sun 12-May-13 20:33:52

I can see flights to near Brussels from NYC for €800 and you can get a room in private accommodation for less than €40 a night, so you can do a whole trip for less than €1000.

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