August 06 2006
-Where were you born?
New Brunswick, Canada
-In which country and city are you living now?
Everberg, Belgium (right between Brussels and Leuven)
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband, Andrew and four very spoiled house cats.
-How long have you been living in Belgium?
We arrived in Everberg at the end of June 2005 after three months in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
-What is your age?
Months away from the big Three-Oh!
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belgium?
Several years ago, Andrew's company in Nova Scotia, Canada asked if we would be willing to move to the Netherlands for three months. We did, and we absolutely loved it. We really enjoyed the European lifestyle and the ability to travel to different countries so easily. (From our home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it's a day's drive to a major city like Montreal.) About a year after our time in Amsterdam, Andrew's company was purchased by an American firm. We were asked if we would like to move back to Europe so that Andrew could help grow the European side of the company. Despite only ever being in Brussels for three days before, we decided to go for it. So, we sold our house, car and most of our belongings and headed back across the Atlantic.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It wasn't too hard for Andrew to get a work permit and visa because his company was sponsoring him. It did take some time to actually finish the paperwork because they had never done an overseas transfer and had no idea what it involved (neither did we). Belgium is known for its love of red tape and paperwork so there were many (many) trips to our town hall and documents being sent back and forth from Canada, to the US, to Brussels. Once Andrew's paperwork was finalised I just needed to prove that we were married and I was able to get my residence card. I am not yet allowed to work in Belgium, however, as a trailing spouse.
-How do you make your living in Belgium? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am not able to work in the traditional sense in Belgium. However, I am a photographer and am able to market and sell my photos on-line through agencies in other countries. I work full-time from home either editing my photos on my computer or making images around Belgium and wherever we happen to travel in Europe.
-Do you speak the Belgian language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Language is a huge issue in Belgium. In a country the size of Nova Scotia, there are three official languages -- as well as English, which is often the language of business here. I do speak French so that has been very helpful in Brussels. We live, however, in a very Flemish neighbourhood. Although Andrew and I have both tried to learn Dutch, we aren't doing very well. We can perform basic transactions at the shops but our level of conversation is about equal to that of a three-year-old. I do think it is important to at least make an effort to speak the local language. It is amazing the difference that this simple courtesy can make when you are interacting with people.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I definitely miss my friends and family at home but luckily I am able to talk to them often on Skype. I honestly don't think I could survive expat life without the Internet. I love to travel and experience new places, and living here in Belgium has really opened up a whole world of adventures I never could have had otherwise. It has also allowed me to focus on writing and photography in a way that I never could at home with a 'regular' job.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Our life is so unpredictable right now that it's often difficult to plan what I'm doing after lunch, let alone a few months down the road. Hopefully though, it will involve more travel.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We rent a three-level, three-bedroom house. Housing is definitely cheaper outside the city than right in Brussels. The cost of housing ranges hugely depending on what commune you live in -- anywhere from 800 to 3000+ euros.
-What is the cost of living in Belgium?
Compared to Canada it is similar. Basically, a $30-meal at home would cost 30 euros here.
-What do you think about the Belgians?
We've had very good luck with the people we've met here. We have fantastic Belgian neighbours who are very warm and friendly. We've also made some great expat friends as well. Like anywhere else in the world there are kind people and there are jerks… basically though, people tend to treat you with the same amount of respect that you give them.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belgium?
On the upside, Belgium is a beautiful country and it is right in the heart of Europe so it makes travel fantastically easy. Brussels is also wonderfully multicultural, so you don't even have to travel to experience different cultures.
The downside: red tape, red tape and more red tape. The amount of trees killed for paperwork in this country could re-forest Brazil.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belgium?
*Try to learn at least one of the languages or a little of both. People will be much nicer to you.
*Take advantage of all of the affordable opportunities to see neighbouring countries.
*Get out and explore the countryside. Belgium has some beautiful spots but Belgians don't hype their own country very much.
*Enjoy the fantastic fresh food here.
*Have a bottle of wine waiting for you when you return from yet another town hall visit.
-Do you have any favourite Web sites or blogs about Belgium?
I tell stories about my life and travels in Belgium and abroad on my own blog, CheeseWeb.
I also write a blog for Expatica Belgium, and they are a fantastic resource.
The Bulletin is a fantastic English weekly magazine about life in Belgium.