Visitors standing in front of a Christmas tree watch the sound and light show Winter Wonder and Christmas Market 2023 as buildings around the Grand Place square are illuminated in Brussels, Belgium, 25 November 2023. EPA-EFE/FREDERIC SIERAKOWSKI


Expats falling out of love with Brussels

Brussels has a growing number of problems and is less and less popular among expats, according to surveys


Brussels is falling out of favour among expats. In a city ranking by consultants, the EU capital has dropped eight places, out of the top 30.

Brussels came in 36th, down on its pre-COVID 28th place of 2019. A total of 241 cities were ranked by consultancy Mercer.

Expats take issue with the many traffic jams and complain about the city’s low “internal stability”, referring to political and administrative governance, or lack thereof.

Brussels, seat of the major EU institutions, now ranks just above San Francisco, criticised by visitors and residents over the marked presence of human faeces in the streets.

On the upside are a high standard of medical and hospital services and the quality of consumer goods.

Austria’s capital Vienna topped the list as the expats’ favourite. “Known for its rich history, stunning architecture and vibrant cultural scene, Vienna offers its residents a high standard of living in various aspects,” the report’s authors wrote.

Vienna is followed by Switzerland’s Zurich and Aukland in New Zealand, while Danish capital Copenhagen secures the fourth slot.

The Quality of Living statistics examine the realities of daily life for expatriate personnel and their families in assignment areas all over the world.

A total of 39 criteria including healthcare, transport, recreation, education and housing were evaluated.

Expat site InterNations’ Best & Worst Cities for Expats in 2023 also gave Brussels a rather low ranking: 31 out of 39.

Housing Anywhere, one of Europe’s largest housing renting platforms, notes that Brussels is very diverse, having over 180 nationalities and people from many ethnicities and religions.

It is also one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world, at least according to the Wellbeing Index by Currys PC World and Fitbit. On the negative side, it can be challenging to find an English-speaking job, whereas knowledge of Dutch or French are often required. Complaints included bureaucracy and the cost of living. Relocation specialists Globex has similar observations and adds bad weather.

Brussels has suffered from some high-profile bad publicity.

In 2016, when Donald Trump was a presidential candidate, he told Fox TV:  “I was in Brussels a long time ago, 20 years ago, so beautiful, everything is so beautiful – it’s like living in a hellhole right now.”

In July, a video of a family left stranded at one of the capital’s major train stations went viral. It showed them witnessing attacks, robberies and a stabbing.

The city has also struggled with increasing drug use and homelessness. Extreme street violence is a growing concern. In October, an Islamist terrorist murdered two people.

Earlier this month, a terrorism expert warned would-be visitors not to celebrate Christmas or New Year in Brussels, as he said he believed new violent attacks were imminent.