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Beautiful little Belgium is located in Western Europe squashed between France, The Netherlands and Germany. It may be small compared to its neighbours but it sure packs a punch and is known for its quaint medieval towns, amazing architecture and canals.
With some of the most delicious chocolate, captivating castles and crazy carnivals, it’s no wonder so many expats are heading to this low-lying country.
Belgium’s climate is very much influenced by the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The summers are usually fairly cool and winters are chilly but moderate. Rainfall is consistent throughout the year with no month that gets significantly more than others although February is often a drier month.
Due to the country’s size, there’s not much variation in climate from region to region. However, coastal influences are fewer the further inland you venture.
Autumn and winter can bring wind and sometimes uncomfortable weather – temperatures can fall well below zero.
There’s not one specific national identity in Belgium. Belgian’s generally make their own cultural choices based on the community or area they come from. However, hard work and an appreciation for culture are values that are important to all Belgians.
Family is something else that is a critical part of Belgians’ lives. Making time for family is a priority for most and people typically stay close to the town they grew up in, meaning they are never too far away from family members.
Cuisine is also a vital part of Belgian culture. Of course, there are certain foods that are particularly associated with Belgium; waffles, chocolate and fries being the most well-known. Moules-Frites is said to be the national dish of the country with many tourists opting for the dish when visiting.
Beer is the national beverage of Belgium, so if you’re a beer lover you’ll have no problem immersing yourself in the Belgian culture. The country itself produces over 1,132 different varieties of beer and there are various beer festivals throughout the year. In addition to this, the country has over 2,000 chocolatiers, many of which offer tasters when you visit.
Men and women stand equal in Belgian society and the country’s wage gap between the genders is one of the lowest in the EU.
Let’s not forget the considerable importance that Art has in Belgium’s culture. The country has a long history of art that goes back to the middle ages.
Belgium has three official languages – Dutch, French and German. Dutch is the most popular language and is spoken by about 60% of the population. French is also spoken by a large section of the population, whereas German is only spoken by about 1% of people living in the country.
Dutch is the official language of the Flemish Community and the main dialects include Brabantian, West Flemish, East Flemish and Limburgish, the same that are spoken by Belgium’s close neighbour, The Netherlands.
Belgium has an excellent integrated public transport system that allows you to travel easily and cheaply around the country. Both national and international transport links are good, with all modes of transport easily accessible and efficient.
The best part about Belgium’s public transport is the integrated train, tram, metro and bus system, which makes connections super easy.
Children under six years old travel free on all public transport and adults can purchase a MOBIB-card at any local railway station and can instantly load on any kind of ticket or season pass. Belgium is home to the world’s longest tram route that operates along the coast from the French to Dutch borders.
The healthcare system in Belgium is hands down one of the best in Europe but you must have state or private health insurance to be able to access it.
The healthcare system is divided into two sectors – state and private. Fees are applicable to both and health insurance is mandatory. However, this means that patients have more freedom when it comes to their healthcare and can choose their own medical professionals and where they are treated.
Treatment fees are usually paid upfront but when on a state healthcare plan, a proportion is usually refunded to the patient from their health insurance fund. If on a private healthcare plan a patient will get a complete refund of all medical costs.
It’s compulsory for all employees and self-employed persons to make a contribution of 7.35% of their gross salary to a health insurance fund to ensure that they are covered for any type of medical treatment, this includes doctors, dentists, hospitals, pharmacies and any other medical specialist.
The Belgian Healthcare system has been applauded for having the best accessibility and fastest access to healthcare services than anywhere else in Europe.
As one of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium was one of the first countries to adopt the euro back in 1999. The country doesn’t accept any other currency but it does accept international credit and debit cards. In fact, this is the most common way of paying in Belgium. If you prefer to pay in cash, there are plenty of ATM’s in towns and cities and if you need to change currency, you can do so in banks and currency exchanges.
There are lots of major banks in Belgium many of which are international branches. The National Bank of Belgium, Bpost Bank and ING Belgium are three of the largest. If you’re planning on moving out to Belgium it’s worth checking to see whether your home bank has an international branch or partner out there, as the country is known for having a broad selection of international banks including HSBC.
To anyone outside of Belgium, the school system can seem quite complicated as there are so many options for childcare and education. Despite the complexity of it, it’s well developed for international and working families.
In Belgium you can choose from a range of education types so it won’t be hard to find one to suit yours and your children’s needs:
It’s compulsory for children to attend school from the ages of six to 18 but if they are developing quickly, they can start from the age of five. Pre-school is available to babies and children until they are two and a half, after that they progress onto kindergarten until they are ready to start school. The structure then follows this:
As already established, Belgium is most famous for its chocolate, waffles, fries and beer and moules-frites is often regarded as it’s national dish. As well as the favourites, Belgium also embraces internationally popular foods – spaghetti bolognese is particularly popular.
Traditional Belgian dishes contain ingredients such as potatoes, grey shrimp, asparagus and leeks and if you want to sample some classic Belgian dishes order:
Belgium is a very safe country and has an overall low crime rate. Some cities are known for being a little dangerous but the police force is very efficient and it’s just a case of being aware.
It’s been ranked as the 45th safest country in the world with the overall risk marked as medium. The highest risk is pickpocketing, which is a popular crime in Belgium due to the number of tourists. Be careful when in busy areas, cities, tourist sights, train stations and subways. As the capital, Brussels is the highest risk for any types of warnings and dangers such as muggings, scams and terrorism.
It may be a small country, but Belgium has a plethora of intriguing destinations to discover with a huge amount of attractions that are not to be missed. Here are just five places that should be added to your list when exploring this fascinating country:
Brussels is Belgium’s enchanting capital. It’s full of culture, institutions, chocolate and beer, but also has so much more to offer. There’s almost 90 museums and beautiful parks, plus stunning architecture to marvel at and plenty of bars and restaurants. Exploring this city is a must.
Canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings are what you’ll find in Bruges, one of Belgium’s most famous cities. Visit Market Square and you can marvel at the panoramic views from a 13th-century belfry tower and take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city.
Take a trip to this historic port city and find century-old Diamond District houses, Flemish Renaissance architecture, and a busy riverside promenade, best explored by foot or bicycle.
This buzzing city is a university town and cultural hub with a pedestrianised centre, bursting with medieval architecture, museums, cosy bars and cafes and, of course, lots of chocolate shops for all you chocoholics.
Liege is a slightly lesser-known city of Belgium but by no means of less importance. It lines the Meuse River and is full of medieval landmarks and treasures waiting to be discovered.
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