Moving to Brussels
Moving to a new country can be both exciting and frustrating. Everything is fascinating and at the same time it can be confusing to find your way around a new city, a culture and possibly a new language. The objective of this page is to provide some information for newcomers to IRIDIA, such as Ph.D. students, and Brussels in general in order to make the initial couple of weeks a bit easier. The information contained in this document has been collected by people who have been through the process. If you have any questions, suggestions, additions or such, please make them.
Check the following sites for maps:
- Maporama - an international site with lots of cities and options. Includes a route planner as well. The most accurate so far.
- Mappy - a Belgian run site - type in an address or district and you get a zoomable map.
- Via Michelin a nice route planer and map finder. Not as many Brussels addresses are available as Mappy, but produces nice maps for print outs.
Getting around Brussels by the public transport system is easy: The city sports a decent system of metros, busses and trams. The first thing to do when you arrive in Brussels is to get a map of the busses, trams and metros. You can get that in many places, e.g. at the Central Station, get one - it will be your best friend in the beginning.
If you want to go straight to UniversitÃ© Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) from the Central Station you should take bus 71 (when you exit the Central Station the stop for 71 is just 40m up the street alongside a number of other stops). It runs fairly frequently - every 20 mins or so - from early morning to midnight.
In busses and trams you can buy a one-trip ticket for 1.40 euro from the driver. They will allow you to take any means of urban, public transport for one hour. In metro stations you can also by 5 and 10 trip tickets in machines, which work in the exact same way, but are cheaper. The tickets are called "Jump tickets". Once you have a ticket, it needs to be stamped by one of the orange machines located in every tram and bus. If you use the metro, remember to stamp the ticket BEFORE entering the metro train (sometimes they have raids where tickets are checked and the cops doing that do not look friendly!)
- STIB - The site of the company responsible for urban transport in Brussels. It contains time tables for busses trams and metros. The site is only in French and Dutch. Time table is "Horaires" in French and "Dienstregeling" in Dutch.
- Transport En Commun (TEC) - Regional bus company. Their site is available in English.
- SNCB - Regional train company.
There are several options for getting a mobile phone and/or a SIM card. There are three companies operating in Belgium:
You can buy either a subscription where you pay a monthly fee and they'll send you a bill sized in accordance with your use. Alternatively, you can go for a prepaid card deal, where calls are usually a bit more expensive, but you do not have to lock yourself into a long-term contract. Moreover, you can walk straight into a store and five minutes later you got your own phone number. The prepaid cards can be recharged in tobacco shops and in any of the operator's braches.
Getting a mobile phone number right away is a GOOD IDEA. It is especially useful for finding accommodation. The rumor has it that Base has the less expensive deals at the moment.
Make sure that your phone is not SIM-locked and that it works with the new card before leaving the store.
For short-term accommodation (that is a place to sleep for the first couple of weeks you are in Brussels) a bed and breakfast is a convenient option. Depending on your budget and confidence in finding more long-term accommodation quickly there is a number of different options to choose from:
- Centre Sportif de la Foret de Soignes is a sports facility in the outskirts of Brussels. It is quite cheap for longer stays at ~230 euro/month or ~16 euros/day for shorter stays. There is easy access to the university: Bus number 72 runs directly between ULB and the center (also known as A.D.E.P.S.) and the ride is 15 to 20 mins. And that is about all the good things that there are to say about the place. Breakfast is not included, the rooms are very basic, the reception closes at 23h00 on weekdays, 22h00 on Saturdays and at 20h00 on Sundays. You either have to be there before closing time or you'll have to arranged with the Security staff or the reception, that you will come at a later hour. Being so far out is by no means an ideal way to get acquainted with the city. However, if you intend to stay in short-term for a whole month Centre Sportif de la Foret de Soignes might be the least expensive option. If you want to book a room there you have to do it through IRIDIA.
- Bed & Brussels manages rooms in more than 100 guesthouses. Have a look and contact them if you are interested. If you book a room make sure that it is close to the university (Ixelles 1050 or Uccle 1180). Hint: Go to Maporama and punch in the address of the guest house to see how far it is from ULB.
- The guest house at Square Robert Goldschmidt, 50 - B-1050 Brussels, Belgium should be quite good, inexpensive and very close to the university. They only have few rooms.
In case you do not already live in Brussels, one of the first and most important things to do obviously is to find an apartment. One option is to buy the magazine "Vlan" where you have lots of ads for flats and etc. You can as well visit the Vlan website, which is very good and publishes the announcements shortly after they are published in the magazine. You can try out IMMOWEB.be on which apartments are also advertised. Another great website full of ads for apartments and furniture is Expats in Brussel.
An alternative method is to simply walk around in the neighborhood you are interested in living in as the landlords hang out easy identifiable announcements. As this might not be a usual way to find accommodation in other countries it works in Belgium. There are a lot of signs put up and sometimes this is the only way in which apartments are advertised. Walking around is probably a bit more time consuming than finding a flat through the Vlan, but on the other side you get to know the area, and you are likely to find one of the apartments close to the University not advertised on the web. The signs read "A Louer" or "Te Huur", which translates to "for rent". There are lots of rooms and apartments for rent. They vary a lot in terms of quality and price, so you might have to spend some time to find something that suites your budget and your style.
Most other students at IRIDIA live quite close to the university; choosing a place in the neighborhood is likely to improve your social life.
In case you don't speak any French it is recommendable to ask a French speaker (e.g. at IRIDIA) to check the contract. Even though the probability is low that some landlord wants to cheat, it is always better to know what exactly is written in the contract!
Getting a bank account is straight-forward. Simply choose a bank and set up an interview. Mrs. Laurence Schor (email: first name . second name @ing.be, phone number 02 639 65 46) is an excellent English speaker and very helpful. Make an appointment with her. She works for ING, which is one of the large banks in Belgium and they have a branch only ~400m from the university (Av. de l'Universite 11, 1050 Brussels).
Usually, banks can also help out with matters related to insurance of property etc.
If you move into an unfurnished apartment, IKEA is a good option. They have two branches in Brussels, the one in Zaventem is close to the airport. You can even rent a truck there to take your new furniture to your place (and it is not expensive).
Another option is second-hand furniture. Brussels houses lots of expats coming and going, so often you can find good deals for second-hand items ranging from apartments, furniture and cars. XPATS.com - a site for expatriates in Brussels and the surrounding area. Go to the Classified section and choose the http://www.xpats.com/clads/clads_display.php?Action=view&categorie=12 For sale section]. There is usually heaps of stuff for sale and many new ads are added daily.
Registering at the local commune
At some point you have to register at the local commune to get a residence permit. Officially you have to do it within 8 days of arrival in case you are from an EU member state and within 3 days if not. However, it might make sense to wait until you have found yourself some long-term accommodation before registering.
If you live in the commune of Ixelles you have to call the following number: 02 5156627 between 8 and 10 am to schedule an appointment.
You will usually get a residence permit valid for one year at the time, thus you might have to renew your permit every year.
In order to enroll in a health care plan you need contact a mutualitÃ© for instance Euromut. Fill out the web form and they will send you the necessary documents.
It take a while before you can become a member of a mutualitÃ©. However, once you are inscribed you can get any medical expenses reimbursed from the date on which you started at the university. Hence, in case something happens in between arrival and becoming a member of Euromut you are still covered.
Expatriate web sites
These websites have various sections, communities and information related to being a foreigner in Belgium and Brussels in particular. Some have sections ranging from buy and sell to expat dating. Definitely worth checking out: