Thursday, January 20, 2011

Expat Experiences: Belgium - Alison Cornford-Matheson, Brussels

Who are you?

I’m a Canadian expat living in the centre of Brussels, Belgium. I’m a photographer, artist and writer and I run a blog for expats in Belgium and abroad called

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My very first ‘expat’ experience was back in 2004. My husband was transferred to the Netherlands for 3 months to help start up an office there. We lived in Amsterdam and I fell in love with the city and knew I wanted to move back.

The following year Andrew’s company was acquired by an American firm. They offered to let us move to Europe more permanently, with one catch – We had to move to Belgium rather than the Netherlands.

So, a year to the day after we left Amsterdam, we were moving back, to live there until our paperwork for Belgium was sorted out. Three months later we moved to a small village near Brussels and 3 years after that, we moved to the city centre (we seem to have a thing about threes).

What challenges did you face during the move?

Well, I’m considering writing a book on how NOT to move to Belgium... The biggest challenge was dealing with all of the paperwork. As any expat (or local for that matter) here will tell you, Belgium runs on paperwork. It took over a year to get everything sorted out and we had no help from Andrew’s company, which was frustrating. We were sending papers back and forth to Canada for legalisation and it was impossible to get a clear answer from anyone on what exactly we needed.

The other huge challenge in Belgium is language. Although French, Flemish (Dutch) and German are all official, with many people speaking English, the town hall can only legally speak to you in the official language of the area you are in. Although we both speak French, we rented our first place in a Flemish speaking area. Antics ensued.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We were still living in Amsterdam when we had to look for a place to live in Belgium. We only had one weekend to do it, so we hired a relocation agent to help us out. We looked at about six properties and settled on the last one we saw. We didn’t know anything about the area (hence moving to the Flemish side rather than the French) but it worked out ok in the end.

Renting here is a bit intimidating at first because you...

Read more about Alison's life in Brussels

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