I first wrote this post back in 2006 and things have changed quite a bit since then. I still get emails from readers asking what they should bring when they move to Belgium, so I thought I’d give you an update on things to consider. Please find my updated comments added in italics to the original post below.
From time to time I get e-mails from people who are about to become expats in Belgium, looking for advice. They have tons of questions about where to live; what housing prices they should expect; what paperwork they require and more. But the one question that has been common to every e-mail is “What should I bring from home?”
Thinking back on our own trans-Atlantic move, there are things I wish I had brought and others I wish I had left behind. There are also things I inevitably stock up on when I go home to visit.
Of course, what’s important to each individual will vary and there will be special mementos you just don’t want to leave home without. Photos and keepsakes are nice to have with you wherever you roam in the world.
A big factor in what to bring is who is paying for the move. If your company has offered to pack up all of your belongings and ship them to Belgium for you, by all means take advantage of this (although I would use the opportunity to weed out those things that you really don’t need any more).
But if, like Andrew and I, you are shelling out your hard earned cash, you may want to think twice about bringing your 800 piece rock collection from grade school.
It also depends where you are moving from. If you can rent a truck and drive to Belgium it’s obviously more affordable then shipping goods overseas.
Keeping these factors in mind, here is a list of common things people ask me if they should pack or pitch…
The Belgian health-care system is one of the best in the world. Obviously if you take prescription drugs, it’s a good idea to stock up before you leave home so you have enough to last while you get settled in Belgium and find a new doctor. Don’t forget to get copies of your prescriptions and medical records from your doctor. You should have no trouble getting your medication here but the brand or dosage could be different. If you are partial to certain brand-name over the counter meds, you should bring those with you as well.
In Belgium, all medications must be sold in their original packaging and generic versions are normally used. Your Belgian doctor and pharmacist will have a big reference book to help find the generic that corresponds to your prescription. My medication in Belgium is MUCH more affordable than it was in Canada.
One thing that does seem to be expensive here are vitamins. If you take these regularly you may want to bring a good supply until you can find a good source in Belgium.
I found that many of the clothes I brought from home I no longer wear and I wish that I had left more of them behind. Some are unsuitable for the weather here but mostly, I’ve found my style has changed since being in Europe. Things that I wore in Canada no longer suit the European me.
My comment from 2006 still holds true, however there are a few clothing items I do still shop for back in Canada. For whatever reason jeans are very expensive in Belgium and throughout Europe. There is not as much selection of styles and sizes either. The same goes for warm weather gear. If you plan to partake in any winter sports such as skiing, you may want to consider buying your outwear elsewhere.
Books and Movies
While English language books and movies are readily available here, they are imports and therefore more expensive. Also, if you enjoy foreign language films, you will be hard pressed to find them with English subtitles. These are two things I always stock up on when I’m in Canada.
These days we no longer buy movies as there are many on-line alternatives. However, if you still prefer DVDs you may want to consider buying them elsewhere (just be sure your player can handle playing different regions).
I’ve written a full post about where to buy English books in Brussels. I still buy second hand English books in Canada but I find myself ordering more and more from Amazon.co.uk. They offer free shipping to Belgium on orders over 25£ and delivery is always speedy.
There are many wonderful foods to explore in Belgium but sometimes you just want some comfort food from home. There are many food import stores in Belgium but again, the prices will be high. If you just can’t live without Skippy peanut butter, Vegemite or Coco Puffs, stock up and bring them with you.
Nowadays there aren’t too many foods I miss from home enough to bring back to Belgium with me, but my old comments still hold true. If you really love a particular brand that isn’t global, bring it with you. My friends with children have found this particularly helpful to ease the transition from home.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring electronics or appliances from overseas. The voltages are different, as are the plugs. While things like laptops can often handle different voltages, smaller items like toasters and hair dryers often can’t. Unless you are going to buy converters for everything you’re better off getting the Belgian version.
Electronics are significantly more expensive in Belgium than North America. Things like laptops and camera equipment are worth bringing from Canada or the US. As I stated above, there really is not point bringing small appliances as the voltages are different and there is a wide variety available here.
Whether you are moving to Belgium for the first time or just going home to stock up, it’s always a good idea to check out expat forums for the availability of specific items before you pay (either in cash or in luggage space) to have them shipped over.
Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.