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One more moving to Brussels :)

(463 Posts)
ShutterNutter Mon 13-Dec-10 21:51:14

Hi everyone! Found this site a few days ago and I see that some of you live in Belgium :-)

My husband has been transferred to Brussels for 3 years, which is great and we are looking to move early next year. We have 2 little girls 5 & 6 .
We have been in Brussels for 8 days now school & house hunting. I tell you it has not been easy. We just can't decide were to live. After looking at quite a few houses we have come down to two.

The first house we are deciding on is in Ixelles near all the shops, it has no garden (not even a little patch) and no parking which is a bit of a pain driving round and round trying to find one after a long day of work. On the plus side the house is near Tenbosch Park and another big play ground that I can easily walk the girls to, also all the restaurants and shops.

House number 2 is in Watermal-Boitsfort, it is bigger and newly renovated, plenty of parking but the nearest shop (which is 2 supermarkets) is 1.5km away. Not crazy far, but far enough not to make the area very exciting or have anything fun to walk to.
One of the things that appeal to me coming to Europe is the fact that you don't have to get into your car just to get milk. I really enjoy walking and was looking forward to be able to walk to the corner store to get milk or whatever. Also living in a quaint, pretty european style street is very appealing.
DH understandably wants it to be an easy commute to work (Auderghem) and back and to the girl's school (we are deciding between BEPS and ISB) and the Watermal house would certainly provide that. It also has a garden for the girls. The downside is that this house is just surrounded by big offices and buildings and some embassies.

So, after all that rambling ... having lived in Brussels for a while, would you go for the more lively location and walkable locations, but smaller house and no garden, or the bigger house with a garden but not very exciting surroundings but closer to work and schools?

I probably won't have car for the first 6 moths or so but will probably get one later. DH will have car and will be traveling quite a bit with his job. I'll be a stay-at-home mom.

Thanks for any input!!

Signed, indecisive Crazy Rambler ;-)

natation Fri 01-Mar-13 19:35:49

you already know me but I'll respond here too!

you don't know me yet.

You're both welcome to join our private mumsnetter group and / or facebook group. Longtimeinbrussels keeps the spreadsheet and can also add you to facebook, so can I, or portofino would do it too.

What I'm going to write might sound a little depressing to you both, but here are a few points you must bear in mind when looking for places in schools is Brussels, specifically the French system

- The earlier you start looking, the better. School enrolments can start up to a year in advance, especially for the more sought after schools, a few even allow you to put your name on a provisional list at birth. By March, nearly all of the most sought after schools have completed enrolments, some will by this time refuse to even allow you to put names on the waiting list.

- Brussels does not have enough French schools, especially maternelle places, to cope with demand.

- If your children are arriving with no / limited French and the parents too, if you choose to concentrate your search on schools where there is a small amount of non Belgian children in them, you might find it hard both communicating with the school, less tolerance from the school for your child's language skills at the begging, hard for arranging play dates, being accepted by Belgian parents even to talk to at the school gate. There are also schools with high concentrations of ethnic minorities (who are Belgian) where the school has a problem getting these children to communicate in French, it sounds quite a racist thing to write, but you might find this is best of environments if a school has competing languagese in the playground.

- It's up to you to choose, but from the feedback from parents, the easiest environment for a non Belgian family arriving without much French is a school with a sizable minority of children who are multi-lingual and a nice mix of nationalities/languages. It's not unusual to find maternelles with 30+ nationalities and 20+ languages and still have a majority of French mother tongue speakers, so that the children together speak French and don't divide themselves into language groupings in the playground. You might wish to concentrate your search to schools like this. You will find schools like this particularly in the following communes : WSP, WSL, Kraainem, Wezembeek, Auderghem, Watermael-Boitsfort, Etterbeek, some of Schaerbeek and Bruxelles which form the EU district, to a lesser extent Ixelles, northern Uccle, Forest.

- Out of those communes mentioned above, some parts of Schaerbeek and Bruxelles with for the EU district, Ixelles, northern Uccle and Forest have a much smaller expat type population in schools than the eastern and central communes of WSP, WSL, Kraainem, Wezembeek, Watermael-Boitsfort, Auderghem, Etterbeek which have much higher expat populations which get bigger the further east you go. This has consequences for the number of vacancies which might come up, particularly in the later years of maternelle and primaire. The higher the expat population of a popular school, the more movement there is in both places and waiting lists. Many expats don't tell schools their children are leaving until later on in the school year. It means 5th place on a waiting list of a school in WSL might be more hopeful in March 2013 for a place in September 2013 than 1st place on a waiting list of a school in Uccle. If you're going to base a move to a particular area based on a waiting list place, you would be taking a far higher risk in Uccle than in WSL.

- EEBs are very oversubscribed in the English sections. I can ask my current contacts at EEB1 if they know any children who've successfully managed a place without sibling / teacher priority, especially arriving in later years. Last year, every child I know who applied for EEBs without sibling / teacher priority was offered Laeken. I do have a lesser number of EEB contacts than local school contacts though. Always have a plan B if counting on a particular EEB and don't go ahead with renting until you know which school. Some lovely places to live around Laeken.

- Giving yourself large search areas means giving yourselves a far harder school search.

- Do look at the availability of housing in search areas. It would be pointless accepting a school place if you cannot find anywhere to live near the school in your price range. I'd recommend find out the population of each commune, then doing an immoweb search per commune of your price range / housing type. Divide population by search result and compare communes. You might find you will immediately cross certain communes / areas off your search.

- Don't judge a commute to work from the area you hope to live in on geographical proximity, some areas further away, especially with metro connections, are quicker to travel from than areas closer to work. If using public transport, use the STIB website to check for routes to work and find out the average travel time AND frequency. If bus or tram (except 39/44/3/4/7), don't forget that in reality times can be much slower.If using a car (really really really not recommended in the centre of Brussels, often slower than public transport), then use google maps to find out average travel time. I cannot stress enough that the southern communes suffer far more traffic congestion than the eastern communes.

Pilotis and Oldwoman4

no7 and no8 are completely separate and right next door, due to the fact one used to be girls and the other boys. They are a 30-45 minute commute to gare du Midi or gare Centrale (walk from Parc tram stop). It's a reasonably pleasant area, it depends on what type of housing you're after but you might struggle a bit there for a house, 2 bed apartment much easier to find, area known as Cimetiere/ULB. I've never had a contact go to either school, though I have one whose daughter will do one term at one of them before going to St André in September (took 2 years to get older child in and they've Belgian!!!). I would therefore count on there being very few English speaking children there and less expat families than in other areas of Brussels.

Of the schools you listed, only Montjoie is not greatly sought after so best to start looking at that one, 2 schools in fact.

What I'm trying to say that, since you're already several months late in looking for schools, you may have to compromise something. If you chose out east, you'd make your lives so so much easier, as that's where there are more expats and more expats leaving and also less overpopulated communes than say Ixelles or northern Uccle where even long term established Belgian residents/nationals have a struggle to get places in their local schools.

Oldwoman, I'd personally be looking at south Uccle and Watermael-Boitsfort. There is even a STIB bus which goes really near Les Cedres/la Roseraie or La Futuaie/les Coccinelles or ecoles no7 and 8 or Ste Therese de l'Assomption (bet there are places there).

natation Fri 01-Mar-13 19:53:47

PS oldwoman4, have you considered perhaps no3 going to a local maternelle too, if they don't get offered Uccle? 4 is very young and still an ideal age to go through the pain of immersion in French and that way you'd have 2 able to speak French.

pilotis Fri 01-Mar-13 20:08:58

Hi natation, I do know you smile

You are incredibly helpful, as always. Thank you so much.

I am sending you an email...

TwoNewGirls Sat 02-Mar-13 17:08:40

The issue of registering with the commune was raised earlier in this thread (Thank you natation for warning against Bxl 1000, we will definitely keep that in mind and only look at surrounding communes for housing). To follow up on this - does anyone happen to know if children (in our case 3 y old) also need to register. It looks like we would need to legalize and translate the birth certificate and so on. But maybe it is not necessary at all? Many thanks in advance for the reply.

natation Sat 02-Mar-13 17:16:01

I wouldn't say don't look at 1000 postcode housing but if you are in the position of choosing between a 1000 and say 1200 apartment, this factor might be highly influential in your decision.

Yes by law everyone, no matter of age, who is staying more than 90 days in Belgium must register here. If you didn't register your children, you'd not be able to benefit from child benefit here or tax reductions.

It depends on the commune officials if you need to legalize and / or translate any birth certificates, in any case it's usual that birth certificates issued more than 6 months ago are not acceptable. We live in WSP where officials are far more accommodating, where, so long as readable, documents can be in foreign languages, I dare say Gujurati or Chines script might be beyond the capabilities of officials though. We didn't need any birth certificates, only passports, marriage certificate, proof of rental, proof of income in the form of an employment contract.

worldita Wed 06-Mar-13 17:58:38

Hi everyone, New girl here smile.

We (family of 6) are planning to move to Brussels mid-june. I have been reading a lot of your messages and would like to thank you all for the great insight that has provided me. I also saw on other websites that from Etterbeek to the east of brussels I could find a more international communities which is what we are seaching for. I am happy to see that this is also what you ladies seem to think. smile

Anyway back to my questions nowsmile I wanted something with good public transports but having young kids(1yo, 4yo and 6 yo) I was also searching for greener environment. I haven't had the chance to visit Brussels yet so for now I am just looking at maps and google map. It seems Etterbeek is very good but very city like. I was interested by WSP and WSL but I am unsure about the schools. I keep seeing on immoweb properties to let near shaerbeek or laeken but i wondered what you thought about this area? Is it safe? is it similar to WSP ? or more city like Etterbeek? are they french areas? If you could give me some insights on these areas that would be great (Especially re transport and greener)

As for my plan of action, I was thinking of targeting a few areas, putting my kids on school lists (if i can as some refused to do it by distance) and then finding a property in the areas close to the school if i manage to secure a place. However I was wondering how long before my arrival do i need to go to visit/secure houses? what would you advise should i go asap or just wait till june? feeling a bit overwhelmed here!

also was wondering how you identify good schools?
For now I have just done Etterbeek area and out of 5 public schools 2 told us to come on the day to register the kids (can't do a return trip just for that), 1 said it was full and 2 other accepted my registration by email (for now). Does anyone know about Claire de joie and Colombe de la paix?

Finally is a car a necessity? I mean can i not survive ok with public transports and shopping delivery (do they do that over there?)?

Thank you so much for your time in responding to my questions

middleagemovingmun Wed 06-Mar-13 18:18:38

I am another trying to move to Brussels! Have twins teenagers boys( 16 y) and we are very worried with the London Lifestyle for teens.They are very outgoing and we are finding difficulty to make they focus on school. Have been to Belgian many times and like the pace, more calm and family oriented. I thinking to look at Dilbeek and Sint Pieters Leeuw areas. Any information about state school, or Colleges ( like Btec courses in UK). Very happy about the opinions about the move, as my main concern is the boys adaptation as the just speak English.

natation Wed 06-Mar-13 18:56:48

Hi there Worldita, welcome to the wonderful Benelux mumsnetters.

Do please read the long post I wrote on 1st March listing the communes where there are more schools with a good mix of expats. It's not just Etterbeek which has schools with a decent mix of expats, the further east and south-east you go, the more schools with this mix you'll find and also more places too, due to the turnover of expats and also the fact the east isn't suffering from overpopulation / lack of school places like other areas of Brussels region and Vlaams Brabant.

The whole of Brussels region has good public transport, but it depends on where you want to get to and what speed. The communes connected by metro have the fastest connections. There are a few tram lines with higher frequencies / dedicated lines on part of their routes : 3,4,7,25,39,44 are faster than other tram routes. Hope I haven't missed any.

Where is work, as that might have a major bearing on where you choose to live? Down to exact address would help with suggestions, plus the maximum commuting time you'd like.

If you want to see how green a commune is, 2 ways of looking. 1) wikipedia entry usually lists population density. 2) google maps, type in commune name and google will show you the limits of the commune and you can see how much of that map is green. As you can see, Etterbeek is densely populated and very little green, although on the edge of the Cinquantenaire park.

You can live without a car in Brussels region, but much is down to attitude. I don't own a car and never have done. I get use of a car approximately 3 days a month. I don't miss not having a car at all in the region. We live next to the tram line and near to all the children's activities and school for the good reason, those over 10 years old can be very independent and we don't spend our afternoons in traffic jams and don't spend much time travelling at all. I miss the car when I need to get the children to far away activities where the public transport can take 3 hours instead of 1 hour in a car. There is a car rental system called CAMBIO, I'm too coward to use it as I've never driven with a left hand wheel, well almost never. But if you think you might need a car occasionally, consider CAMBIO.

Shopping delivery, well not much of that, I use the tram and bag on wheels or a bike and bike trailer.

When looking for schools, do consider all types and there are 4 of them, unless you really want to make your school search hard. Very few Catholic schools are very Catholic at all, the Jewish and Muslim schools indeed would be hard to attend if you weren't of that faith, but these make up only 5 out of around 300 schools in Brussels region at maternelle / primaire level. So look at Communal, French Community controlled, Catholic/religious controlled, non religious controlled (only 8 of them with extra fees of 1-1.5k per year).

If your children are likely to be heading to EEB, then don't hold on them getting into any other school if English other than Laeken. The travel times there from areas like Chant d'Oiseau area of WSP are 30 minutes ish, so not as bad as expected.

Properties start coming onto immoweb around 3 months or less to being available. Do NOT rent until you're settled on a single area and 1 or 2 school places in that area. If you're unsure, then choose some areas where there are 1 or 2 school places AND also enough rental properties you are likely to find somewhere to live near school closer to the time you move. We had a year to plan our move. In the Autumn I visited the areas I'd chosen and narrowed it down to a 1.5km radius and schools in that radius. I did visits to some of them, immediately ruling some in and out (in the days you didn't need to enrol almost a year in advance like now for many schools). In the March, we returned and enrolled in a single school, after 2nd visits. By April, I'd spotted an advert for a house 300m from school and took it, signing 3 months in advance of moving. I would not advise doing this unless you're 99% certain of the school and house and have a plan B if school goes horribly wrong.

natation Wed 06-Mar-13 19:01:03

Any reason for Dilbeek or Sint Pieters Leeuw? Relatives or friends?

I think if I were a teenager speaking only English, I'd absolutely hate to live in those areas without knowing lots of people.

Language of school?

BTEC? No there isn't quite the same system, I think you'd need to be looking at a technical / professional school.

State boarding schools in the UK perhaps?

Sorry for being brutally honest.

natation Wed 06-Mar-13 19:53:48

If you are really serious about putting 16 year olds into a local school, then look towards the Flemish system which at least has classes for non Dutch speaking children.

Here is a map of all the schools with these classes.

There is Sint-Guido in Anderlecht (split side school, the special classes are in the 12-16 year old buildings, the 16-18 year olds in another) but I'd look into where the children at this school are from. Anderlecht has a few more Dutch speakers than other parts of Brussels region at least, but it's generally a quite poor area.

I'd look towards Leuven, to Sint-Albertus Haasrode, but your sons might find it too academically inclined, it's and ASO school (general academic), however maybe they could then move to another school from here.

Technical (TSO) and professional (BSO) in the Flemish system can vary enormously, you need to look at the options at each of school.

worldita Wed 06-Mar-13 21:35:30

Hi Natation,

thank you so much for your very detailed and in lightning email smile
what does EEB mean please keep seeing in posts but no idea.
we are looking of public schools as no funds for it.
Based on what you said I guess WSP or WSL seems a good option.
thanks again for help

Portofino Thu 07-Mar-13 08:39:21

Natation is the expert on schools. Agree though that WSL/WSP is a good place to base yourself. If you want to join the Brussels MNetters FB group or mailing list, send me a PM and we can add you to the ever growing number....

Longtime Thu 07-Mar-13 16:20:58

EEB = école européenne Bruxelles so European Schools - you'll only get a place if you or your partner have a job at one of the European Institutions and even then it's not guaranteed.

My 3 children were born here. My eldest went to a French-speaking school from the age of 3 to 16 when we moved him to the British School because he was so unhappy and that is a child who speaks fluent French. I would absolutely NOT move two 16 year olds who are a critical time in their education to a school in another language!! Like Natation, sorry to be so brutally honest. The school system is much more stringent than the British system (which is maybe what you're looking for) but if a child doesn't get 60% in his report at the end of the year s/he fails and has to repeat. I think your children would be miserable to be honest. Of course you could put them in the technical or professional schools but a lot of those will have the same issues as those schools you are talking about in London (I have some friends with children in them because they couldn't cope with the more academic schools). It is very elitist system here - my dd is in an academic school but not by any means one of the top ones and she choose not to do Latin in her second year. The comments she got - even from some of her friends - were surprising to say the least.

My advice - don't do it.

carre Fri 08-Mar-13 17:35:38

It could be a great idea to broaden the outlook for your kids. If they've finished their uk schooling with exams done then why not go to belgium and get language skills and a different perspective on life. Kids pick up language fast and going into a french or flemish school in year 5 and 6 will be hard to start getting the language will go fast with activities. If they like sport them perfect. There are technical training courses and a huge choice of things that aren't academic. If you want the academic route then perhaps it would take 3yrs instead of 2 but many kids redo a year there so it's not a problem. You'd have french or femish universities open to you then which cost much less than the uk system.

natation Fri 08-Mar-13 18:40:46

Carre, have you experience of any Belgian secondary schools? There are few secondaries I'd consider for 16 year olds here with no French or Dutch and I'd certainly not consider any for children who are already lacking in focus. No school will be happy with a 16 year old on a technical or professional course with no French or Dutch. It would take even the most dedicated 16 year old a very minimum of a year of intensive French or Dutch to be capable of an attempt at following regular school. I know 1 very intelligent 11 year old who is doing well now in secondary and another 10 year old who arrived with no language skills who is just about getting through. The biggest issue in our son's case (he was also quite old when he moved here) has not actually been the language but the attitude of the school system.

Paris3 Mon 11-Mar-13 21:43:59

My husband and I are moving this summer to Brussels with our 3 children from Paris - 5, 10 and 13 for the next school year. French is the children's dominant language so the state system is an option for us. We loved Ixelles and are flat searching around Place Chatelain. We have just spent the last few days knocking in the doors of local schools ( st andre, st bonniface, tenbosch, ma campagne.....) and have not even been admitted on to a waiting list (with the exception of ma campagne... We are returning tomorrow with our fingers crossed). The lycee francais is a very expensive option (with 3 children) and not close by but we shall try there as well.
Does anyone out there have any advice / recommendations ... Apart from checking the schools close to where we hope to live, I have no idea where to start... I knocked on the doors of the schools which appeared most recommended, but any other suggestions would be very welcome !
Many thanks !

natation Mon 11-Mar-13 22:16:37

Ixelles Chatelain area is one of the very worst areas you could look with families if wanting a local school. First negative is cost of housing is higher here than other areas. Second negative is parking. Third negative is the sports facilities are not that near to here. Fourth and most important negative is that there are not enough school places for existing population, never mind those wanting to move there. Just forget St André and Tenbosch completely, even St Boniface, why give yourself a hard time when you can give yourself a much easier time by looking for school places where there are some.

Start with where work is and a good commute. Choose urban or suburban. Look at public transport routes to work. Find school places in realistic areas - you're 6 months late looking for schools, with the exception of the 13 year old and even then you need to forget certain schools which simply won't even consider waiting lists (for 13 year olds, enrolments normallly not until mid June for those changing schools).

Ixelles, especially Chatelain, Uccle, Forest = hard time, school places for 3 would require a miracle. I know over a dozen children living right next door to Tenbosch, Catteau-Aurore, St André, only one single family has managed a place, this is the experience of families who already live here and applied several months ago.

Look further east = easier time.

I must have written to half a dozen families this week alone about the hard time they are giving themselves by all looking in Ixelles and Uccle. They are all coming back and agreeing with me, after futile searches for schools.

natation Mon 18-Mar-13 09:53:14

Schools which should have places left for primaire :
ecole Les Cedres/La Roseraie in Watermael-Boitsfort - know a family about to enrol there and 3 other English speaking famlies there

ecole Joli-Bois maternelle and primaire separate - don't have any current contacts there, but know a family enrolled there for next year, the primaire is expanding to 3 form entry, currently P1 and P2 are 3 forn, P3-P6 are 2 form. Should have no problem getting places.

GrandeRoyale Tue 06-Aug-13 22:32:56

Hi All

Just wanted to thank you for your amazing contribution , info,advices ect...You did a brilliant job and giving so much support is really really appreciated

Thanks to you , future exapats like me are very well prepared and reassured in this daunting process


HomeBru Mon 26-Aug-13 02:26:45

A quick question (I hope) about the system for calculating priority for secondary schools. We are looking for a primary school for my son. The closest would be one of the French facility schools in Wezembeek-Oppem (WO); however, I am wondering how this affects selecting a secondary school in Brussels (well - there are no French secondaries in WO).

Am I right in saying going to the closest primary would help maximize the score for a school in Brussels (i.e., score a "1.5"), even if the primary is not in Brussels? Or does it have to be the closest primary in Brussels. That wasn't clear from the post above.

Also, I would appreciate any recommendations on primaries in or around WO. Are there any "league table" web-sites?

Thanks in advance for any replies.

Portofino Mon 26-Aug-13 06:47:48

My understanding is that the French facilities schools don't count AT ALL. For points you should should go for one of the schools in WSP.

runningmad Mon 26-Aug-13 07:45:56

If you choose a facility French school, you get no points at all, each year all the children from these schools get given the average points of all children. I can tell you to get into the 2 nearest secondaires to Wezembeek which are always full, College Don Bosco and Mater Dei, you must have points above 4.5 and I believe that means the average points (which you can guess at but never know until all applications are in) are not enough to get in to these schools as a non priority child, it might get you near to the top of the waiting lists but might not get you in.

You'd get your children into Athénée Royal Crommelynck as it does not fill up and is an ok school. I know children from la Fermette who've managed places at Jean 23, but this year they wouldn't have got in, and further away at l'Assomption in Watermael-Boitsfort, but again I don't think they would have got in this year. La Providence hasn't filled up this year, so that's where I'd choose if I had a non priority child in a facility primaire such as La Fermette this year.

If you want a place in Mater Dei or College Don Bosco, choose your nearest primaire which gives you points, most likely the Stockel schools or perhaps Chapelle-aux-Champs if you're in the north of Kraainem.

BTW 1.5 is the lowest score you can get, 5.94 is the highest.

There are no league tables. Rest assured nearly all schools in the east of the region are fine, plus the facility primaires. I wouldn't let the current points system put you off placing a child in a facility primaire, if in P1-P4, but I'd not do it at all for P5 or P6 as you really should go further into Brussels to get points from a school there. Once in P5, you cannot shift school.

Lucy012 Mon 26-Aug-13 10:21:30

Hi there,

Thank you all for your amazing contributions. This thread is really helpful!

I hope that you can help me with a few more specific questions. We are looking for a house in east of Brussels region (WSP, Kraainem, Wezembeek...) and have a girl who will enrol next year in maternelle.

Given the house prices in WSP, we are thinking to move into one of the facility communes. I understand that the facility French maternelles/primaries there are good, but it will be more difficult to get into French secondaries later on.

My questions are:

- can one live in one of the facility communes and send the children to Brussels (to Stockel, for instance)? Is it easy to get a place?

- all considered, do you think it'd be wiser to settle for a smaller place and live in Brussels instead?

- is it likely that they will change the point system in the next few years?

I'd really appreciate your help!

Portofino Mon 26-Aug-13 10:30:44

Yes - you can enrol in any school that has places. The only rule is for the facility schools where you need to live in one of them. It should not be that hard to find a place - identify some schools and make sure you follow the enrollment process promptly. When will your dd start?

Are you thinking of renting or buying?

Lucy012 Mon 26-Aug-13 10:41:15

She is 19 months now - it should be 2014 for classe d'accueil or 2015 for first maternelle. I know it's soon, but as we're thinking of buying we have to think ahead. Thanks!

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