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What is it really like to live in Belgium? Things to Know Before Moving

Have you ever wondered WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE TO LIVE IN BELGIUM? Are you looking for some INSIDER’S TIPS? What are the THINGS YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW BEFORE MOVING to this country?

I am a Filipina living in Belgium for more than 20 years now. And in this post, I’m gonna share with you some INSIGHT into WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN BELGIUM. I have compiled my list of 7 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE I MOVED to this small but beautiful country that I call now HOME.

INTRODUCTION

MOVING to a new place or location can bring a mix of intense emotions for many. Some become too excited just by the thought of moving to a new house, a new neighborhood, or even to a new country. But as much as it sounds exciting, it can also have an emotional effect on some.

Many experts believe that moving to another place or country can have a negative effect not only on adults but also on kids. And usually, it is because of the FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN that causes a lot of stress.

So before you move to a new location, it is very important to do thorough research on your future destination to be able to lessen the emotional stress it could bring.

I learned it the hard way. Let me explain.

WHAT I WISH I KNEW TWENTY YEARS AGO

Back in 2002, when I was about to migrate to Belgium, internet access is still very limited. No YouTube yet, nor any social media. So doing research for me at that time is almost impossible.

How I wish I could have had access to the internet at that time to find a few tips before moving to Belgium. If I do, I would spend a few hours every day browsing the internet and reading any travel blogs I could find about Belgium.

Or maybe, if I only knew that travel guide books exist such as Lonely Planet, Michelin, or the DK Eyewitness, I would definitely purchase one from Amazon. But sadly no.

Back then, I was young and just very excited about the idea that soon I will have the opportunity to live overseas. At that time, it doesn’t really matter to me whether I knew anything about Belgium.

To be honest, I didn’t even hear about Belgium until I met my husband, who told me that his father lives in Belgium. What a shame!

THE DAY FINALLY CAME!

It was the summer of 2002, the day I left the Philippines. I left my country without hesitation and I was clueless about what to expect here. To be honest, I don’t even remember worrying about what would be my life here.

At that time, all I have is the excitement that finally I will be joining my husband and that we will never be separated again. What a dream come true!

Just a few months later, my excitement turned into disappointment. Day after day, I started to realize how different life here in Europe compared to what I am used to in Asia.

Everything is new for me, and as I discover how different life is here, I realized that PLANNING AHEAD and acquiring as much INFORMATION as possible is really ESSENTIAL to make the transition smooth.

I really wish I had received some tips on WHAT IS IT LIKE TO LIVE IN BELGIUM that could help me with the transition.

That’s why I want to share with you some insight into What Is It REALLY Like To Live in Belgium.

Whether you are traveling here for work, migrating here to join your family, or just visiting here for a few days as a tourist. I’m sure, you will find this information useful (especially for Asians like me).

This post can really help you to prepare yourself and be ready for your trip to this beautiful country that I call now HOME.

Here are the 7 things I wish I knew before I moved to Belgium and why I wish I knew them before…

1. THEY DON’T EAT RICE EVERYDAY

WHY IT MATTERS:

Asians love rice, a lot! And as a Filipino, I grew up eating rice 3 times a day. Yes, Filipinos loved rice so much that we include it in every meal – from breakfast to dinner.

Sometimes if there are leftovers, we also eat them for snacks.

A Filipino meal is incomplete without rice

The majority of Filipinos thought that if we don’t eat rice in each meal, we will never satisfy our hunger.

We believe too that starting our day with a heavy breakfast, like this one below, will help us accomplish our work, especially for those working manual labor.

Sample of a Filipino Breakfast
Dried Fish & Squid
Dried Fish & Squid

So having this background, it’s only logical for me to believe that eating rice every day is normal for everyone. Call me crazy or stupid haha!

So can you imagine how shocked I was when I realized that it’s not common to eat rice here?

THE CHALLENGE:

Of course, while at home I am ok since we live in Brussels and there are some Asian shops nearby so we can always buy a sack of rice.

But the real challenge is when we are invited to eat by some of our Belgian friends (or other nationals) in their homes. They usually prepare meals that are typical here or typical to their country of origin.

Can you imagine me going home at night still feeling hungry and unsatisfied because there’s no rice for dinner?

THE REALITY:

It’s just in our head… REALLY!

To my surprise, I realized that our body is really capable of adjusting to a new way of eating. After a few years of living here, I finally adapted to their way of eating.

I now enjoy a meal even if it’s just a small sandwich or just a pack of Belgian fries. Each week we have pasta, potatoes, and bread as a substitute for rice and we never felt hungry!

WHAT I WISHED:

If I have only known this before coming here, I should have at least tried eating less rice while I was still in the Philippines. Or maybe I could have at least prepared my mind, that eating rice will be limited once I’m in Belgium.

And definitely, I could have avoided being IGNORANT when it comes to thinking that everyone eats rice, haha! How I wish I have received a few tips like this one before moving to Belgium!

If you are from Asia, have you already adjusted to not eating rice every day? How was your experience? Please share your experience with us by sharing your comments below.

2. YOU CAN’T EASILY FIND A CAKE WITH ICING HERE

WHY IT MATTERS:

I love sweets. And in the Philippines, it is very easy to find a wide variety of cakes covered with flavourful buttercream icing. Like this one…

Ube-flavored Cake

THE CHALLENGE:

Having a sweet tooth, I was thinking that once I’m here, I can enjoy more cakes. Since my husband said that Belgium has the best chocolates in the world! (I totally agree with that!)

So I thought, wow, they must have delicious cakes here such as chocolate fudge, chocolate-coated buttercream, and with better flavors too!

But to my big surprise and disappointment, I can’t really find cakes with buttercream frosting here! Instead, what you could find here are the different kinds of fresh fruit tarts and pies like this one…

Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie

THE REALITY:

My taste buds had a hard time adapting to the cakes available here. Partly because most of the fruits they use here for their tarts and pies are not common to us back home.

And they use fresh fruits such as pears, apples, strawberries, lemons, cherries, and even plums. So the taste of the fruit is very dominant in the tarts and pies.

So instead of satisfying my sweet tooth with each bite, I end up having a sour after-taste! What a disappointment! Of course, in time I got used to it.

Happily now, there are a few Filipinos here who are offering their services to bake cakes typical from home, like Ube-Pandan, Ube-Macapuno, and Braso-de-Mercedes to name a few. Thanks to them, homesickness becomes less!

WHAT I WISHED:

If I had only known it before coming here, I should have at least tried to learn how to bake good cakes and make some buttercream icings. How I wish my husband gave me a heads-up about desserts before I moved here!

3. ALWAYS BRING AN UMBRELLA OR RAINCOAT WITH YOU

WHY IT MATTERS:

Well, for one thing, Belgium is known for being a greyish and drizzly country. According to statistics, it usually rains for at least 200 days each year. So you can expect some rainy days even during summer.

THE CHALLENGE:

Coming from a tropical country, I know what it means to be in the rainy season. In the Philippines, rain is usually a downpour and heavy and lasts for a couple of hours only.

But rainfall here tends to come in showers and sometimes even without prior notice, especially during spring. So carrying a folded umbrella or a raincoat is always a good idea especially if you will be outside for a longer period.

Always bring an umbrella or raincoat

FUN FACT: They say that you can experience 4 seasons in 1 day in Belgium. And if you want to try to speak to a complete stranger, just start by saying something about the weather and surely you will engage someone in a conversation.

Another challenge here is when it drizzles all day long. It’s not really raining but it feels like a constant mist being sprayed into your face.

Misty Day Outside
A Misty Day (when it drizzles all day)

THE REALITY:

If you are out on a drizzly day, you don’t know if you will open your umbrella or not. So having a hoody can be handy during this time.

And here we learned the importance of looking at the weather forecast each morning before choosing what to wear.

WHAT I WISHED:

How I wish I knew how crazy the weather could be in Belgium, if I did, I could have at least avoided having recurrent colds and getting sick often.

PRO TIP: Buy a good quality umbrella because cheap ones can easily get broken from the strong winds.

4. SPRINGTIME CAN MEAN RUNNY NOSE, SNEEZING, AND ITCHY EYES

WHY IT MATTERS:

Springtime is really gorgeous and brings warmth and brightness after the harsh and dark winter. The trees are in full bloom and so as the many varieties of flowers. You can smell the crispy scent of nature including pollen.

meadows

Pollen is a tiny particle that is produced by trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds. When the wind blows, pollen flies in the air to fertilize other plants of the same species.

Pollen is necessary for trees and plants to thrive during spring and summer, but many people have an adverse reaction to them, including me!

Dandelions
Dandelions can cause an allergic reaction in some people

THE CHALLENGE:

Having an allergic reaction to pollen, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, is a condition that can affect anyone, both young and old and it can occur each year.

THE REALITY:

Although there are so many allergy medications on the market, having a pollen allergy can have a big impact on your life.

For example, it interferes with my enjoyment of activities outside. I can’t stay too long outside without having to deal with my symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sometimes even wheezing.

WHAT I WISHED:

Prior to coming here, I knew nothing about pollen allergy. How I wish I should have known about pollen allergy before moving to Belgium

If I only known that I will have an allergic reaction, I should have not smelled that fresh lavender flower I saw while walking along the street with a friend. I believe it all started that day.

How about you? Do you have pollen allergies too? What was it like for you? How do you manage it? Please share your experience with us…

5. LACK OF SUNLIGHT CAN REALLY AFFECT US

WHY IT MATTERS:

The winter months in Europe are from December-February. But as early as mid-October brightness starts to decrease every day. By the month of December, the light comes up only after 8am and it gets darker again from 5pm.

My first winter experience here is depressing. I literally cried on my way back home, while walking with my 2 1/2-year-old son in my arms.

THE CHALLENGE:

Although Belgium has 4 seasons each year, it’s very common to have cloudy days at any season. Meaning it can go on for days, even for one whole week or more, without seeing the sun shines. Imagine yourself being home all day and with lights on! Cloudy and sad.

Cinquantenaire Park on a cloudy day
A gloomy day like this can go on for a week or more
A gloomy day like this can go on for a week or even more.

THE REALITY:

Not having enough sunlight for a long period of time can have a negative impact on our bodies. It makes us feel sluggish, weary, and even sad. Many people tend to get depressed too when there’s a lack of sunlight for a long period of time. But when the sun is out, we quickly feel good and energized.

So to compensate, we really need to take an extra dose of vitamin D to avoid deficiency. Although it does help, there’s no better way to receive our daily dose of vitamin D than by being outside when the morning sun is up.

PRO TIP: Start taking an extra dose of vitamin D even before you arrive in Belgium to avoid deficiency.

6. NOT EVERYONE CAN SPEAK NOR UNDERSTAND ENGLISH HERE

WHY IT MATTERS:

The Philippines is a multilingual country, having approximately 120 languages and English is widely spoken there. On the other hand, Belgium has 3 official languages – Dutch, French, and German.

THE REALITY:

Before coming here, it never occurred to my mind that English is NOT a common language spoken here.

Although in some parts of Belgium like in Flanders, they do speak some English. But here in Brussels, the majority speaks French.

THE CHALLENGE:

I still remember the feeling I had that one particular afternoon when I picked up my son from daycare.

The teacher is trying to explain to me what happened to my son that afternoon but I just couldn’t understand what she was saying. In the end, she got frustrated. And I got frustrated too!

And from that day on, I realized that I need to learn at least one of the languages spoken here in order to understand and be understood by others. I realized that if I want to live here, I need to integrate as soon as possible.

PRO TIP: Get at least a short language course while still in your home country. And when you arrive, try your best to integrate as soon as possible. It will really make your life so much easier!

WHAT I WISHED:

Learning French is not easy, especially for a Filipino like me. French grammar is not easy to master. Plus pronouncing French words can be a tongue-twister too!

How I wish I did learn basic French while I am still in the Philippines or at least bought some books and dictionaries to get familiar with the French vocabulary.

How about you? Did you have to learn a new language? How was your experience? Please share your experience with us…

7. YOU NEED TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FIRST BEFORE VISITING FRIENDS AND RELATIVES

WHY IT MATTERS:

Filipinos are known for being warm and hospitable people. We welcome everyone to our home. In the Philippines, you can just go and visit a friend or a relative even without prior notice.

But you can not do that here in Belgium, even in the Filipino household.

THE CHALLENGE:

Life here is so different compared to what I was used to back home. Being homesick is very common too. To combat homesickness, of course, you want to see other people as much as possible. And if you have found new friends or if you have relatives here, all you want is to go and spend time with them as often as you want.

THE REALITY:

But here is different, everyone is busy and has their own life. So if you want to visit a friend or relative, you need to call them first and ask when can you come to visit them. In other words, you need to have an appointment before you can see them.

Yes, because it is considered rude or impolite if you will just knock or ring on their bell without asking permission first. Unlike in the Philippines, life is so calm and slow-paced, you are always surrounded by friends and families.

Calling for an appointment
Call first before you visit a friend or relative

WHAT I WISHED:

There is something BIG that I wish I knew before I moved here. Privacy here is very important too. Everyone here is expected to respect your privacy and keep your private life PRIVATE. Which is a real contrast from the Filipino culture I was used to. We are very open to each other, especially to close friends and family. It was difficult to adjust at first, but I got used to it, and I actually liked it.

IN CONCLUSION

Having the chance to move to Belgium (or any country in the world) is something to be thankful for. Whether it is just for a temporary or long-term stay.

Living in another country has its perks and charm. But definitely, it can also mean a big adjustment for you. So you need to prepare and plan ahead. Knowing as much as possible about the country you are going to will really help you to adjust quickly and can lessen the stress level and the feeling of homesickness.

Do not be afraid of CHANGE, instead, embrace the cultural differences and try to INTEGRATE as quickly as possible. You might be surprised by the outcome. Maybe you will find yourself loving your new country and soon will be calling it your second home.

I hope you enjoyed this post. And I hope you learned something from it. If you know someone who can benefit from it, please SHARE this with them too.

Remember: SHARING IS CARING.

If you are already abroad, is there something that you wish you knew before moving? Please feel free to share your tips with us. Who knows you might help someone in need too!

Until next time…

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8 thoughts on “What is it really like to live in Belgium? Things to Know Before Moving”

  1. This article was so interesting to read! I learned a lot about the Belgian and Filipino cultures, so thank you for comparing and contrasting them.

  2. Hooray to mktravelblogs, this article is very useful, helpful to those who are planning for a change of location, either because of work, retirement, immigrate and not to mention
    ” vacation grande “. Been in Belgium and I actually found it Fascinating, French Language is something that I could called classy and “sexy”. Foods are so pleasant to my pallette and woman’s best friends “The Diamonds.” Needless to say.. Can’t wait for this pandemic to be over and Belgium here I come…

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Charmend. I am so happy that you enjoyed your stay in Belgium and looking forward to your next trip here! Watch out for my next post because diamonds will be showcased too.

  3. Thank you for this useful guide that you have written. It’s really nice that these days we have access to all this information and videos for each country and the opportunity to travel wherever we want. Belgium is one of the countries I will probably visit in the next few years.

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