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Welcome to Belgium

Welcome to Belgium, a land of Tintin, chocolate, and beer.
With three languages and seven parliaments, the country might seem baffling to newcomers, but most expatriates soon feel at home here.

Expat heaven
Belgium has welcomed expatriates for more than five centuries.  Its traditions of hospitality and tolerance date back to the middle ages, when the Flemish city of Brugge (Bruges) was home to a large community of foreign merchants, trading with countries as far off as Portugal and the Baltic states.

The expatriate population is now concentrated in Brussels and Antwerp.The country's deep-rooted foreign community offers newcomers a vast network of information and services. There are almost a dozen theatre groups and choral societies to join, along with hill-walking groups, art appreciation societies, social clubs and sport clubs.

Going places

The Belgian government continues to invest massively in its communications infrastructure, ensuring the country is supremely well connected with the rest of Europe by motorways, high-speed trains and airlines. A major government investment has turned Brussels into a major European high-speed rail hub, providing residents with fast connections to London, Paris and Cologne for business meetings and stylish weekend breaks. Brussels airport has also benefited from a major upgrade, and was voted best airport in Europe in a 2005 international survey.

Europe's capital

The EU institutions currently contribute almost 13 percent of gross domestic product of the Brussels Region and provide some 92,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to a recent report by the Brussels Free University (ULB). Some 55 percent of hotel nights in the capital are due to its role as capital of Europe and 63 percent of tourist expenditure is linked to the EU, the report says. The Brussels Region is now working on a major plan to redevelop the European Quarter and improve the Schuman public transport interchange.

Good on lifestyle

Brussels consistently scores high on quality of life, ranking 14th-best city in the world in a 2007 survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, ahead of Toronto, Stockholm and San Francisco.

Cheap capital

The cost of living in Brussels and its suburbs is considerably lower than most other EU capitals. An average family house in Brussels costs about €164,000 in 2005, compared to €389,000 in London. Rents in Brussels are also much lower than other international capitals, according to figures compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit Worldwide Cost of Living Survey. The report gives the price of a mid-priced one-bed furnished apartment in Brussels as €870, compared to €2,000 in Paris, £1,520 (€2,270) in London and $5,500 (€4,120) in New York. Eating out is also cheaper in Brussels, according to The Economist. You can expect to pay €370-670 for dinner for four at a top Brussels restaurant, compared to €1,000-1,200 in Paris. Culture is another area in which Brussels keeps prices down, with four best seats for the theatre or opera costing €180-€420 in Brussels, compared to €440-€640 in Paris and £160-€560 (€240-€840) in London. The Economist doesn't mention that seats at the Monnaie opera in Brussels can be had for as little as €8.

 
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