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Potential Brussels move... help with schools, areas to live etc... PLEASE!

(107 Posts)
lozzyblue Tue 17-May-11 09:19:24

Hi there,

my husband is expecting to receive an exciting job offer this week which would involve us and our young family relocating to Brussels.

Although excited by this, I'm also extremely nervous. I have 2 young children with my third due in 4 weeks so I have my hands full without organising an International move so any help you can give me is really appreciated and might just save my sanity!

My DD is 3, 4 in August (and so due to start school here in September). My DS is 2. I have been looking into schools but feel completely lost and out of my depth. From what I understand it can be really difficult to even get a place in a good school in Brussels as they are subscribed to super early grin(

My daughter is somewhat a creature of habit and I'm really nervous about throwing her into a completely foreign language school with no friends etc and no way of communicating. I have also read that the local schools can be inflexible and unhelpful in settling a new child when they do not speak the language? For this reason I have been looking at a blilingual education - we do not know how long this move will be for... I would guess a minimum of 2 years however I don't see it as somewhere we will stay forever.

The school which has caught my eye so far is Ecole Internationale Verseau? Does anyone know the school? the area? how likely it is we could get a place? The timing of our potential move is also stressing me out as we are fast approaching the Summer holidays I fear it will make our plans even harder.

My husbands potential employer is not actually in the centre of Brussels - it's in Ixelles I believe. Are there any areas you could recommend for us to look at property which would suit a reasonalbe commute for him (within 30 mins ideally) and in close proximity to a good school? We would be looking for a 4 (ideally 5) bedroom house with a garden. I would quite like an English speaking community close by and parks, amenities would be a bonus too!

I know I'm asking a lot and I'm aware I've rambled but my head is at bursting point with so many questions and fears about how I'll cope rattling around!

Thanks in advance for anyone who bothers to read or can help point me in the right direction!


Portofino Thu 19-May-11 09:40:04

I think it is great for kids here. Lots of parks, brilliant playgrounds, swimming pools (cheap), all the provincial domains. There is no end of weekend and holiday activities laid on.

I remember being back where you are now though. I hated having my life in someone else's hands. I had many a sleepless night before we left, especially as I had to resign from a very good job, and had no clue how easy it would be to get another one. We haven't looked back though. My dd is now 7, and totally bilingual. She has Belgian friends and expat friends and goes to Brownies/dancing/swimming etc.

natation Thu 19-May-11 10:26:03

I have only ever visited Waterloo, never lived there. Those I know who live in Waterloo don't tend to venture outside. Housing is only slightly cheaper there, due to the presence of St John's school, expats keep the rents at the higher end of the market high. I don't know anyone who commutes to Brussels for work from Waterloo, they all work in the area, only now those who live in Brussels and commute to Waterloo. Waterloo is a self-contained small town, everything you would need is there apart from night-llife which I am guessing with 3 children will not be high on your priority list. When looking at houses, I really would advise if you are using a relocation agent to do your own homework too, heard too many stories about people in inapprioriate properties and locations because they have been fobbed off by relocation agents trying to "dispose" of hard to rent housing. Prices you see on Immoweb also are negotiable, knock at least 10% off the prices you see. Are you paying your own rent though? It makes a difference to what housing you look at. Finally, unless coming form Waterloo by train, there is no way you can commute in under 30 minutes, count on a minimum of an hour at peak times. Tervuren for me would be a better option than Waterloo, but then for French schools you would have to commute into Brussels, 6km minimum to the nearest French school.

As for cost of living, some things are more expensive but you can often source these more expensive things in the UK, some cheaper. Child care is loads cheaper and much more varied. Child benefit for 3 children will bring in over 500 euro per month, double what you would get in the UK. 3 children are also very beneficial for tax purposes.

Our children's maternelle would have space for your 2 year old probably, the 4 year old would be on a waiting list. The next school to us, a non Catholic communal one, may have space. The Catholic schools in our area are far more popular than the non Catholic ones, but not necessarily the case everywhere, in central Brussels the non Catholic ones are more popular for example. Only 2 schools in our commune, out of 11 maternelles, always seems to have places. 5 out of 6 Catholic ones are normally waiting lists, the stand alone maternelle is full, the other 4 non Catholic communal ones are 50/50 for a place.

lozzyblue Thu 19-May-11 14:28:56

Yes I think we will be avoiding the relocation agent where property is concerned as we were messed around by them on a move to Canada a few years back - which as a result we ended up pulling out of - we were much more niave and considered they should have been the experts!

The only real reason for considering Waterloo is not to save money but to get more space and land for the money. It appears from Immoweb that the houses are larger with more land in Waterloo, however I'm aware how little I can learn from a website before actually visiting the area!

My husband currently commutes into London for work and does approx 1h20 journey each way on trains. Obviously this is something we want to cut substancially but we're still pretty flexible if it means getting the right school/property/area for us.

Does anyone know much about income tax there? I'm sure dh's company will go through it if he accepts the role but I understand it's around 50%?

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 14:40:00

Yes - about 50%. I nearly had a fit! However if this is a short term contract and eg you keep your house in the UK it is possible to get an Expat tax rate, and pay vastly less. He should ask about this! My dh does this, even though we sold up and have nothing other than pensions and family in the UK. Childcare and activities, out side of school hours, are tax deductible and the school and any clubs/holiday schemes give you a statement each year.

So for example, dd goes to after school garderie, stays for school lunches, does a dance class and does holiday club, trips away etc. All this is tax deductible. As Natation said, child benefit is higher, and your tax code takes into account your married status, whether or not you work, and how many dependants you have. Plus if you pay a cleaner through the Titres Services set up, you can also deduct that I believe. So in reality you could pay much less than 50%

Health insurance is another biggie. He should ensure that his employer covers the family with a policy.

natation Thu 19-May-11 14:40:06

You MAY get a bit more room for your money, but when I last looked at houses where I am compared to Waterloo, the difference was not significant. If you have a budget of between 1.5k and 2.5k, you can easily find a house even in an expensive area of Brussels with 4 beds and a decent garden. Brussels is quite green in the south and east. A house listed upwards of 150m2 living space is more than adequate for 2 adults and 3 children. A garden ideally of more than 100m2 too, garden space is not always listed in adverts.

Tax depends on family circumstances and income. With 3 children plus non working wife, tax will be less than 50%, thats a figuere often quoted but only relevant if a single person. I pay NO tax with 4 kids and I think I can earn around 20k per annum before paying tax. You can claim child care, home improvements, all sorts of things against tax to reduced the bill, most people overpay tax and received several k refunds a year later. Tax is only one financial factor to consider. Cheap child care, expensive food, rent, expensive utilities. Your husband will probably get paid partly in food / sports / eco vouchers, get free or heavily subsidised public transport and / or a company car. You have to factor all this in as well.

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 14:43:16

Tax info

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 14:48:09

natation, yes they do like a non-taxable benefit here! I get my bus pass paid, meal vouchers, subsidised holidays and eco vouchers. Dh has a company car and a fuel card (so free petrol).

Also the wages are calculated on a 13.85 month year. So when they quote you a monthly salary, you get that x 12, plus a 13th month in November/December, plus 0.85 of a month "double" holiday pay in April/May. Many companies pay an annual bonus on top of that.

lozzyblue Thu 19-May-11 14:49:20

Wow - and this is why this forum is proving so helpful because on the surface 50% seems so much but hearing all you have to say makes it far easier to swallow!

Well, I've just heard from hubby and he's booked in for his call later today so I hope we have much more info to be working with shortly! It's so hard doing all this leg work blind!

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 14:51:22

Also holidays - 20 days plus public holidays in the legal minimum. The BH's sometimes fall on the weekend, so these get added on to the total. Many big companies offer much more "extra-legal" leave, or compensation leave for working longer hours. I got 38 days this year! So that is nearly 2 weeks more than I had in the Uk.

lozzyblue Thu 19-May-11 15:07:02

fab! any more thoughts along these lines is great as I'm sure we'll have some negotiating to do even if it's just these little things.

it's a completely new role rather than a transfer or secondment but the organisation has assured us a full relocation package so we're hopeful it will be comprehensive.

natation Thu 19-May-11 15:43:43

Tax calculator

natation Thu 19-May-11 19:47:11

Just been comparing houses between east Brussels communes and Waterloo. What is evident is that at the higher end of the market where you find many expats and few Belgians (75% of Belgians own their own home and often rent more, so they tend not to rent high value houses, if they can afford the rents, they usually buy instead), you are looking at rents above 1.5k for a 4 bed house, and in Waterloo, these houses tend to be detached houses, in east Brussels there are far less detached houses and more semis or very Belgian "bel-étage" type terraces, that a house on 3 or floors, gorund floor with garage and office / laundry, first floor with living room and kitchen, top 2 floors with bedrooms.

If considering Waterloo, think about :

Waterloo is not on the train lines which pass very near your husband's work. Delta and Etterbeek stations are within walking distance of his work. Etterbeek trains go to Hoeilart, Genval, Rixensart which are places you'll get bigger houses for your money. These little towns have a fiar number of expats, ideal if you really are looking for more country and less city. Delta trains connect with south Uccle, Beersel, again somewhere houses are bigger, but Uccle can be mighty expensive.

Waterloo is connected to Brussels by the ring road R0 and then E411. Expect 60 minutes in rush hour minimum, only at the quietest times oculd you make it in 30 minutes. The commute by car will cost quite alot, compared to public transport travel from one part of Brussels to another.

Ixelles (1050), Auderghem (1160), Watermael-Boitsfort (1170), WSP (1150) will mean a public transport commute of between 5 and 30 minutes. I don't think you will find many people saying the recommend driving into Ixelles over taking public transport at rush hour. You can find very green streets only a few minutes cycle ride from your husband's work.

lozzyblue Thu 19-May-11 21:16:40

I really appreciate you putting your time into helping me. Everyone here has really gone above and beyond and I'm extremely grateful to you all.

DH got the job offer but we won't see specifics until tomorrow morning so likely another sleepless night for me lol! wink

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 21:20:03

Good luck! And of course we are all here and actually go out from time to time. So when you get here there is already a potential MN welcoming committee wink

Portofino Thu 19-May-11 21:23:55

And natation, I never DID thank you for your kind offer of spine protecting clothing! I think I was a bit in denial wink But anyway, dd had a lovely week, but has shown absolutely no inclination to continue her riding career! She wants to do Karate now, so i have enrolled her in a Toboggan stage in the summer. Whats the betting it's 10 boys and her.....?

lozzyblue Thu 19-May-11 21:24:21

Fab! And I'll have popped out this baby by then so could even indulge in a glass of wine!

lozzyblue Fri 20-May-11 21:02:02

Good evening ladies, me again...! What would be your thoughts/opinions on bringing our car over? Is it worth it or better to sell up and buy when we get over?

TIA smile

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 21:22:26

You need to import it to get insurance - not sure how much that costs, but quite a bit of hassle. We kept our British car for a year and I managed to find a company in the UK to give me a green card. We then bought a belgian one. I guess it depends on your car and how long you plan to stay. Car insurance is quite expensive. Leasing a car is very common here.

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 21:26:23

As an example, I have donkey's years no-claims bonus and my insurance in the UK 5 years ago was about £30 a month. They recognised a certain amount of my no-claims - bonus malus it's called here - and my policy was nearer 100 euros per month. 4 years on, and no-claims, it is about 70 euros, but that is for a new car.

natation Fri 20-May-11 21:28:37

How old is your car? People with cars over 5 years old rarely insure fully comp here, but fully comp is very expensive. IF you have an older car, might be more worth bringing if you insure the Belgian way.

What type of car is it? Worth comparing prices of buying a new one of the same make here, cars can be very expensive to buy here.

What size is your engine and type of fuel? Annual car tax varies between 71 euro and 1825 euro, so if you have a big engine, taxing your car might be prohibitive here.

We brought our car and re-registered it. The most expensive thing was changing the lights, sourced from ebay. Some new cars have a switch to switch the headlights so no need to change. We paid about 300 euro to re-register for everything.

lozzyblue Fri 20-May-11 21:37:07

It's a Volvo XC90 (4x4 2.5L Diesel)

I think it's 6 years old but still worth in excess of 15k I would think. Is there an equivalent of Auto trader there? Might give me an idea of what we'd be looking at to replace it.

We have a choice of taking a company car but our first instinct was that taking the car allowance would be better. Would you agree?

natation Fri 20-May-11 21:46:50

Car tax for 2.5L is 544.50 per year, that's quite a bit more than what you will be paying in the UK I think. To give you an idea of tax, we have a 5 year old small MPV, we pay 1000euro for fully comp (hubby refuses 3rd party like the Belgians would do) which is twice what we paid in the UK. Our car tax is just about the same price as in the UK as it has a 1.9D engine. I would have thought you are looking at up to 2000 euro per year for your car fully comp. You can do online quotes, Ethias for example.

My gut instinct reading what you have written is to sell your car and take the company car. Company cars do not tend to be luxurious here, certainly one that does not cost alot to insure or tax. Expect something like a VW Passat estate or perhaps a small MPV like a Renault Scenic, Citroen C4. 4X4 are not common here.

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 21:55:07

natation, I never cease to be amazed at your detailed knowledge of everything grin In my experience, you pay a small amount of extra tax for a company car, which does not compare with the cost of buying one, taxing and insuring it. In this high tax environment, company cars are really common.

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 21:56:19

And if the car allowance is added the wages it will be taxed!

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 22:00:59

DH got to spend about 30000 euros on a company car. I was expecting a nice BIG family car with any number of seats and a huge boot. He came back with a VW passat with suede heated seats (only 4 of them mind) and all manner of flash accoutrements.

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