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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!


natation Fri 20-May-11 22:02:56

LOL I only know about cars as we received a 50 euro fine for not re-taxing ours, despite the working, being paid from, and sometimes living in the UK, and the car going constantly between the 2 companies, well we decided to conform and the moral is, do not think about keeping your car on British plates for too long. So we had to quickly become versed in Belgian insurance, whether to sell and buy here etc, in the end for our car, it was better to re-plate.

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 22:08:20

I did the eye-rolling, shouldn't you have got at least an estate car thing at the time. I will get my own back when we go on holiday and dd throws up on the suede seats.... grin

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 22:10:27

pale beige suede seats no less! I have a Seat Ibiza that is filled with sweet wrappers and crap. DH has been living in a dream world.....

lozzyblue Fri 20-May-11 22:58:33

And still researching... do you ladies know anything about Uccle? Nice area? Schools? International community? Facilities etc?

Hope you don't mind me bombarding you with questions?!

Portofino Fri 20-May-11 23:12:14

Uccle - yes nice area. Lots of expats certainly. Can't comment on the schools. Expensive probably!

natation Sat 21-May-11 07:33:13

Uccle is lovely, but it is quite varied in that the north is very city like and the south is very suburban, huge houses, but farther from any facilities such as sports centre which is situated in the north of the commune.

If your husband is working in the VUB (Flemish uni) area of Ixelles and living in Uccle, their is the Bois de la Cambre between the 2 areas - part of the larger forest Forest de la Soignes. It's not easy to cross the Bois de la Cambre, it's a major major car jam spot, the very worst place to commute through in the city. So the option is public transport and there are really only 2 routes to consider from Uccle to Ixelles if you are looking for a 30 minute max commute. There are 2 train stations in the south called Vivier d'oie and St Job which take you quickly to Delta train station. But it's an area with not so many schools to choose from either, if interested in that area, I would definitely secure a school place before looking for a house. It is really beautiful down there, very expensive, the most expensive area of Brussels. Route 2 is tram no7 which goes along Ave Churchill in the north of the commune, to me that is a better choice as loads more schools, near more shops and sports facilities, 2 parks. It's another area very popular with expats there.

A disadvantage of Uccle is that there is no metro access to the city centre. The metro is not slowed down by car traffic, unlike the trams and buses which run through Uccle to the city centre. Trams 3,4 and 7 which run through Uccle are at least the modern ones which are better for puschair access.

Take a look at the public transport map to see the routes. your husband's work is nearest to a bus stop callled "fraiteur" just off the VUB "shield". Nearby you'll find Delta metro/train stop and Etterbeek train stop. Look at the connections to Uccle, in Ixelles itself, Watermael-Boitsfort, Auderghem, WSP. You can also do a point-to-point research of commutes using this website.

natation Sat 21-May-11 07:41:33

And yes good schools, all of south and east Brussels has good schools. If you stay in Brussels, nearly every commune has a swimming pool (Auderghem is an exception, but one in W-B nearby), every single commune has at least one sports centre, supermarkets you might be disappointed about, at least the east side of Brussels has a Cora, largest supermarket in Brussels I reckon, plus 2 Carrefours, Uccle on the south side has a Carrefour too. Big shopping centres are also non existent here - biggest in Brussels are Woluwe shopping in WSL, next to Roodebeek metro, Westland shopping in Anderlecht (most expats would never have even heard or visited that one), City 2 in the city centre. There is nothing like Bluewater, Westfield, Trafford Centre.

scaryteacher Sat 21-May-11 18:19:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

natation Sat 21-May-11 19:00:30

Excellent point. Even if you only bring your car over for a short time, not expecting to re-plate, just in case you do change your mind and re-plate, getting a certificate of EU conformity is much easier from the UK than getting it here in Belgium. Hubby knew this before we moved and simply phoned up VW UK and got a free certificate through the post. So it might be worth phoning up Volvo UK and ask for one now.

Re-plating requires getting insurance, plenty of English speaking brokers, standing a a few queues, going for a Belgian MOT - done at central points, not by a garage and there are webcams so you can see before you leave if there are queues, hubby drove there, went through the queue, back in less than an hour. The queue at the Customs office took longer. Just don't go on a wednesday when schools are out - my friend stood 5 hours recently getting plates for her husband's new motorbike!

lozzyblue Sat 21-May-11 21:27:58

Sounds like a bloody nightmare! I think we've now decided that we'll sell the car grin and will probably take the company car - but we have time to make that decision so not stressing about it.

Natation - that transport map gave me a headache lol! Will keep looking and trying to make some sense of it! But on a serious note, thank you. I'm sure it will make much more sense once we have been out and get a feel for the place.

Something else I've been considering is with rental properties... Should we expect appliances (washing machine, dryer, dishwasher etc) to be in the property or not? Or does it differ with each property?

Also, will all of our electrical items transfer problem free (tvs, hairdryers, games consoles etc)?

lozzyblue Sat 21-May-11 21:57:37

Natation, I noticed you offer to point out a few key areas to SalM on her thread... could I be so rude as to ask you to do the same for me... I know you have suggested lots of areas already but I'm thinking if you could give me an opinion on what areas might fit for us best according to your list we could try to focus our short recce trip (hopefully end of next week btw!)

maximum price 2000 euro
number of bedrooms 4 minimum
city, suburban, country city/suburban
new house or period house we do like modern tbh, but not a dealbreaker
new town or period town no preference
maximum commute time to work less than 30 mins ideally - up to 45
near public transport for work / pleasure public transport links for work - avenue arnaud fraiteur, ixelles
near sports facilities ideally
near parks ideally
language of locality french
language of schooling french
number of expats and whether you prefer Brits / want to avoid them!!! expat community would be nice I think!
want to walk to school or happy to drive and how far walk would be FAB

I hope you don't think I'm being cheeky but I really dont want to have to rely too much on relocation agents! We also really need to leave with a good idea of preferred area to be able to make contact with schools before summer hols.


natation Sat 21-May-11 21:58:43

kitchens vary, but nearly always contain appliances. Our current home came with cooker, fridge, dishwasher, microwave. We had the option of buying the last family's washing machine and tumble dryer but opted to bring our own with us. Our new place comes again with fridge, cooker and dishwasher.

That brings me onto the subject of contracts. Landlords may talk expats into fixed 1/2/3 year contracts AVOID THESE contracts. They are fixed length, if for some reasono you have to leave, you are liable for all the remaining months. There is also NO WEAR AND TEAR. You give the place back in exactly the same condition you took it over (impossible of course) and the landlords screw you for the deposit which is by law 2 months rent, plus they try and screw you for even more. Belgians apparently get around this by not paying the last 2 months rent! Go instead for a 3/6/9 contract. In the first year, if you break the contract, 3 months rent as penalty plus more if you have given less than 3 months notice. In the 2nd year, 2 months rent as penalty, in the 3rd year, 1 months rent as penalty, finally in the 4th year, no penalty. In this contract, there is an element of wear and tear, but still not in the British rental market sense. In all types of contract, there is normally and entry and exit inspection, cost shared between landlord and rentees. It's essential you read the initial entry report, you have a month to contest and add to it - turn on the central heating even in Summer just to check it works as an example, you only have this month to check for any defects in a property and ask the landlord to acknowledge and try and correct. If you miss a defect, you might end up paying to fix it yourself. This is where relocation agents can come in handy in explaining Belgian contracts.

No problem for electrical items, you can just change the plugs. We have just put travel adaptors on small items, though for home insurance, this might be a bit of grey area.

Try this map which will show you where all 19 Brussels communes are. I have a wonderful street map which is falling apart and cannot find a replacement of anywhere. It shows all the public transport routes on their actual street routes, it has every commune in a different colour so you can see where the boundaries are, it has many of the schools marked, all the sports centres and swimming pools. We chose our current location using this map. Unfortunately I have never found an online map as good as my paper street map.

natation Sat 21-May-11 22:23:46

If you run a search using Immoweb, max 2200 euro per month, 4 beds, in 1150, 1160, 1170, 1180 post codes, it comes up with 142 houses from 1200 euro per month. You can knock down the prices by 10% as a rough guide, which is why putting the maximum at 2200 is realistic.

Here's a house 2 minutes from Place Dumon, near where I live, for 2000 euro per month, 5 beds, quiet street. You are less than 5 minutes walk to Stockel tram / metro / bus stop, it would be about 30 minutes commute by metro or tram to Ixelles. You have 2 schools (Stockel and SC de Stockel), a cinema, supermarket, shops, friterie (very very very important - that's a chip shop), late opening convenience store, bakery, playground, all 5 minutes walk on foot. Only the sports centre / swimming pool is further, that's 5 minutes by tram or car. I am only pulling this house out because I recognise it!

Here's another house which caught my eye in Auderghem. It's 5 minutes walk from Herman-Debroux metro, 2 schools (Blankedelle and St Hubert), the sports centre, not far to Carrefour supermarket either, very near the forest, walking distance to Rouge Cloitre adverture playground. It's about 15 minutes by metro to Delta and Ixelles. If you are paying your own rent, this is a great price.

lozzyblue Sun 22-May-11 06:48:16

Great - actually I think as part of our deal the relocation agents will do entry/exit inspection which from what you have said sounds extremely important!

So, one final question (I think)... will it make any difference if we do our recce visit over a weekend or during the week? I'm thinking in terms of seeing property etc. We were thinking of doing a Sunday/Monday but obviously pointless if everything closed on a Sunday.

natation Sun 22-May-11 08:03:06

Estate agents are not open on Sundays but many are on Saturdays, nearly everything is closed on Sundays in Brussels. You would really need 2 week days and that's just for housing and area choice. It's hard knowing what should come first though, schools or house.

If it were me, I would concentrate on housing particularly along metro line 1 from Stockel to Mérode (Stockel is the longest commute at around 30 minutes) and metro line 5 from Herman-Debroux to Mérode, tram line 94 from Tram Museum to ULB stops, bus line 95 from Wiener to Thys stops. That's 4 efficiently fast and relatively direct transport routes. If you have a fold-out map or look on google maps, all these public transport routes are found within the following roads and all this area gives you a maximum 30 minutes commute on public transport.......Ave de Wezembeek-becomes Ave Vandervelde-becomes Ave Paul Hymans-becomes Ave de Broqueville, Boul St Michel-becomes Boul Louis Schmidt - becomes Boul Général Jacques, Ave F Roosevelt, Chaussée de la Hulpe - becomes Ave Delleur - becomes Boul du Souverain (plus few roads to east in area called Blankedelle), Ave de Tervuren, RO, back to Ave de Wezembeek. This is Auderghem (1160), Watermael-Boitsfort (1170), WSP (1150), southern part of WSL (1200), southern part of Ixelles (1050).

The best areas of WSP to look at for a quick commute is "Chant d'Oiseau" as near to Pétillon metro as possible, "Stockel" as near to Stockel metro. In W-B the area along bus route 95, "Place Keym" I think it is and down towards the sports centre is particularly close to work, or even down into the south of the commune to"Place Wiener". In Auderghem and W-B too, the roads as near to Beaulieu, Demey and Herman-Debroux metro stations.

You could still look at Uccle, but I am sure you will find all you are looking for in the above area.

It will take quite alot of research, unless you can persuade a relocation agent to stick to the instructions to look where you want, not anywhere else. Most Immoweb adverts do not list the address, estate agents do not like giving addresses out before securing appointments!!! There is an option on Immoweb to request the address at least.

Portofino Sun 22-May-11 10:05:10

The entry/exit survey is done by a nominated surveyor in my experience - and you have to pay for it. It is VERY thorough - for example we had to pay for a bulb that had gone in the bathroom.

Both places we have rented have come with a fully fitted kitchen but we had to buy a washing machine/tumble dryer. The tv's worked. and will deliver.

Most of the houses come with a cable connection, but to get the BBC channels you normally need to upgrade to digital tv these days. Belgacom and Voo are the main ones in Brussels. You can get packages for TV/Phone/Internet.

TV from Home can set you up with a satellite dish and freeview box. It is common not to be allowed to put a satellite dish on the front of a house so it depends which way the house is facing. We got caught out with this when we moved. Our satellite dish is languishing in the garage, whilst next doors in on a 10 ft pole at the end of the garden.

lozzyblue Sun 22-May-11 12:45:50

So would you recommend making contact with schools in preferential areas as a first port of call? Maybe ask re availability and be put on waiting lists as this could guide our decision? Or will they not really entertain us until we are there properly?

natation Sun 22-May-11 13:08:01

I would recommend if possible finding out about vacancies in schools BEFORE looking at areas. You might find some areas have no vacancies at all in schools, so just pointless looking at houses nearby, unless you are prepared to travel. Communal schools officially are not allowed to keep waiting lists. Many were built with extra classrooms to allow for expansion, unfortunately even our local communal for example has now no space left and now turns children away. The Catholic schools in all the areas listed are more popular and also tend not to have extra classrooms, so less likely to have space.

lozzyblue Sun 22-May-11 13:24:25

Would you recommend calling or emailing? My French is rusty to say the least! Is there likely to be an English speaker in the school offices??

natation Sun 22-May-11 13:37:30

Call AND email too. You may or may not get an English speaker in the office.

Portofino Sun 22-May-11 15:11:41

Another thought I had - we opened an account with ING and they gave us an "account" for the rental deposit. Basically they guarantee that amount, and we pay an annual fee for the priviledge - about 50 euros per year. It means we never needed to tie up several thousand euros. Definitely worth asking about.

Portofino Sun 22-May-11 15:13:32

Happy to help with email enquiries if you know what schools / areas you wish to try.

lozzyblue Sun 22-May-11 16:43:17

Thank you Portofino - that's so kind of you. I have actually sent a few emails already this afternoon but in English... will it be frowned upon? blush

Portofino Sun 22-May-11 18:51:16

I have not heard anyone speaking English ever at dd's school. That doesn't mean they can't of course - would be odd amongst educated people...See if you get a response.....

Superspudable Sun 22-May-11 21:25:39

I know exactly where that Auderghem house - I walk past it almost every day - it is a absolute steal in that area for that price.... in a great location, near public transport and excellent schools...

I probably put in my PM, but one of the secretary's at our school definitely speaks good english, but if you need any help contacting them (and if you want to!), please let me know.

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