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PCSing (Moving) to Belgium

It’s that time again…the military is moving us again after two years….this time to SHAPE (near Mons), Belgium. My first impressions are that this is certainly not Germany…..In fact, coming from Germany, you expect everything to be just like Germany! If Flanders and Wallonia (the French speaking Southern part) were to split into two separate countries, Wallonia would be the second poorest European country just ahead of Albania! But with that being said and after meeting some of the friendliest people I’ve EVER met in Europe, here are some tips to make your move more successful.

This was one of the rarest moves for us, moving from one overseas location to another with a vehicle rather than flying. We made the mistake of piling up things throughout our home, here….and there…and saying, “oh, it’ll fit in the van”. In the end, it did not all fit in the van, necessitating another trip down to Germany to pick up the rest of our junk at a later date. It didn’t help that we also had an extra large dogcrate for our behemoth of a canine. Be sure to set aside ALL your items that will go in your car in one place, and make sure it all fits in your vehicle BEFORE the movers leave.

If you are coming from Germany, add a small fire extinguisher to your vehicle. It is required by Belgium law in addition to your first aid kit, warning triangle and the orange safety vest. Make sure you bring a vehicle in good working order, as the roads are just…bad…here…and rough…many, the size of goatpaths with tons of potholes and black ice in the winter rather than loads of snow. Keep this in mind when thinking about bringing a super-nice vehicle! Come prepared! Also, vehicles must have rear fog lights and all vehicles under 5 years old must have an official yearly inspection that is no joke! It is very thorough, so let me recommend you get it pre-inspected before going to the official inspection station. The autoshop on SHAPE can do that for you and that along with a foglight installation will set you back just over 100 euros.

Be sure to get your vehicle inspected at the official CT inspection station in Braine-le-Comte, about 20 minutes from SHAPE. This is my own recommendation….there are many other inspection stations as well, but I found this one was not as heavily frequented.  Go right after lunch, midweek, and you’ll have a much shorter wait than at the one in Mons. We were in and out of there in 30 minutes. You’ll also find some of their technicians speaking English and the experience costs just over 50 euros. After speaking to the technician, he said most Americans who fail the inspection fail because of misaligned headlights and improperly installed foglights.

Av. Du Marouset 103
7090 Braine-le-Comte

You can also make an appointment at this particular station, and here are the other stations in Belgium in case you decide to check out another one.

Other quick tips that come to mind:

  • If you are staying at the lodge on Chievres Air Base, try to get a suite, which will have a kitchenette with a microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher and hotplates. Don’t bother bringing a toaster or crockpot, as they are not allowed. There are toasters down in the lobby in the breakfast area for your use.
  • If you want to stay off post, you can only do that if you get a statement of non-availability from the lodge, meaning they have no more rooms left. There are other hotels closer to SHAPE (Chievres is a 30 minute drive away by car or you can use the shuttle). If you are coming in the summertime, in 2010, we had a HUGE heatwave and you won’t find AC in off-post hotels.
  • If you have a pet, make a reservation as EARLY as you can at the lodge, as they only have seven pet rooms and only a few are designated for long-term stays. There is a kennel on Chievres a few hundred meters from the lodge, but availability is limited, so make reservations EARLY. Also be mindful of your arrival time and opening/closing hours of the kennel or you could be stuck with closed doors and no place for your pet.
  • Breakfast is included in your room charge at the lodge. It is a simple breakfast of various cereals, yogurts, fruitcups, hardboiled eggs, bagels with jellies and cream cheese, orange and apple juice and a coffee machine that puts out a variety of different cups of coffees and hot chocolates. One of the local churches was also nice enough to have a barbecue once a month for hotel guests during the summer.
  • Near the lodge and all within walking distance, you’ll find the PX with a food court, the PXtra (like a large shopette), a library, commissary and a gym. The PX and commissary are closed on Mondays, so you do have to prepare ahead of time for your food options that day.
  • There are car rental agencies outside SHAPE and one on Chievres. Some people do take the shuttle from Brussels Airport to Chievres Lodge. Do remember that the military does not reimburse you for care rental charges, so ship your car EARLY and rent a vehicle in the States, where it is much cheaper. We saw some folks who had their cars three and four days after arrival due to shipping vehicles early.
  • Expect to be in the lodge or hotel from one to three months. The housing shuffle here is more stressful than anywhere I have been so far. Most people are not authorized on post housing or the waits are long, so you will be competing for housing off post. I will write more about the housing dance, which reminded me of the NBA draft, at a later date. I will leave you with this thought, if you can rent the home of your predecessor who works here and is PCSing out, that is ideal and much less stressful. Many offices and sections keep homes out of the housing roulette game and into the hands of their incoming personnel by doing this. It is allowed, and you are not required to only rent houses that are advertised by either the American or International SHAPE housing offices.
  • If you are so inclined and you can trust your hubby to pick a nice house for you (he can always email you pics), I would stay in the States rather than dragging kids out of school and pets along to spend months in a hotel in a foreign country….just my opinion!
  • If you are bringing children and plan to register them in school on SHAPE, you can print out all the forms online. Be sure to also have an updated shot record for your child, sealed records from their previous school and a current school physical. I made sure we did brand new physicals before leaving Germany, so we didn’t have to stress out about waiting on appointments or the designated physical exam days at the clinic here. Bring another copy if you want to register your kids at Youth Services. Almost all sports programs are run through them (rather than the schools) and your local Belgian communes where you live also have programs. Some parents enroll their children in local Belgian schools or one of the other SHAPE schools, such as with the Canadians, Germans or British to name a few. I believe there is a school for each NATO country here on SHAPE, all located together around a central shared area. Here, eighth graders are part of the high school rather than the elementary school for administrative ease.

We are looking forward to this assignment and have already visited some of the beautiful chateaus, parks and museums in our local area! The Mons area used to be one of the richest areas of Belgium due to its coal mining industry that no longer exists. The beautiful rolling hills and mounds full of trees and greenery were once piled up black “trash” from the coal mines. You would never know it now…just beautiful!  This area also has a rich Italian history with all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who emigrated here during the coal boom. I’ve found some awesome stone oven baked pizzas already! If you speak Italian, you’ll also be that much ahead as many in this area do speak the language! How great is that? All in all, we are centrally located to visit all over Europe and quick access to Belgium’s awesome train transit network. By car it’s also only about two hours to Paris and many Shapians, as they are called, travel to Paris for the day…hey, the schools even take field trips to the Louvre and the Cathedral in Cologne! If you have any tips to share on moving to Belgium, please post them below!

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29 Responses to “PCSing (Moving) to Belgium”

  1. tootie says:

    Congrats on the new assignment! Hope everything is going smoothly!

  2. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    Thanks! Good to see you're still out there!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for all your tips! You are better than a sponsor! Please continue blogging about the housing search. Also, any advice on the SHAPE International School would be a big help.

  4. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    Okay, I will continue to try! We found a medium size flea market today and my husband was thrilled with his 1 and 2 euro beer trays he found (such single-mindedness!). The beer here has just been awesome (the book on Belgian Beers by Michael Jackson, the other one, is fantastic he says.).

    I know very little about the schools. I signed up our 6th grader with the American ES on Shape and our 8th grader with the HS there (yes, 8th falls under HS here but with not all the privileges…I think). I've heard of Americans using the Belgian school system (I know many little children in Belgian ESs and one American who is homeschooled but then was enrolled at a Belgian prep school). Americans also like to try to get into the Shape Canadian school cause they do instruction in French and English. Once I find out more, I'll have to blog about it….looks like I am going the easy route, and what I feel is best for my two kids.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Do tell where you found the good pizza!
    Attended a homeschool meeting today. Great group of ladies :)
    Keep up your blogging – it helps!

  6. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    Best pizza…on the main drag in Ghlin before you get to the canal…awesome stuff!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Chievres also has a laundry room on each floor (free of charge). Just remember to buy detergent. Or you can go to the laundromat that's located near the Pxtra.

  8. Judy says:

    Greetings,

    We're moving to the SHAPE area in February. We have four daughters that will attend school. Any thoughts/advice on choosing a school? Their ages are: 2.5, 7, 10, and 11.

    I've enjoyed reading your blog. Very helpful indeed, thanks :)

  9. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    We've personally been very happy with the American section, which also has a large percentage of internationals attending. I know many Americans who choose either the Canadian section on SHAPE or the Belgian section. The Belgian section for sure tends to have different holidays, and their children get out at noon every Wed, so you have to be prepared for that…plus they just don't keep parents as well informed as they would like.

    Also, I know quite a few w/younger children who are attending their local Belgian kindergarten for their little ones. The younger ones tend to adapt quicker to a foreign language….of course the parent needs to learn French as all the materials that are sent home are in French as well.

    I do know one family that last year had children in a local Belgian high school…it is very, very different than what we are used to, but the kids were brainiacs and adapted well. They were homeschooled before.

  10. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    Oh, and almost forgot, thanks for the compliment as well! I enjoy writing:-)

  11. Anonymous says:

    I have an important question to ask. We can be stationed in SAHPE, Belgium or in Stuggart, Germany. Which one is better? We have younger children ages 7 and 9.
    We love to travel and that is the main reason for taking orders overseas. My kids love to play sports. Any adivce will be helpful!!! Thank you–Scared!!

  12. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    Congrats to you both! Considering we moved from Stuttgart to SHAPE, Belgium, I can tell you that I like both places…but my opinion will be biased because my family on my mom's side is from the Stuttgart area! I love Stuttgart cause it is centrally located and a large city with most things you need…the American community is fairly large and gives many Americans a nice safety net.

    Belgium was a culture shock to me coming from Germany. Things go MUCH slower here, rules are just guidelines and they can change without notice. Life is also slower paced here. If your husband has a NATO job like most here, that will be a whole new experience.

    I love where I live in Belgium, love the international flair and discovering new destinations that are farther North than I normally would go being in Stuttgart…Ireland, UK…I've driven all over France when before my France visits were limited to the Alsace region and around Paris and Normandy…so just different.

    Our kids are happy in both places but I do like that we have so many new international connections..they can speak phrases and understand in a few different NATO languages and are taking French where before they took German. I'm happy to have friends all over Europe now, who I can visit, and who I hope can visit us in the US.

    Oh, and sports..the sports programs in Belgium are much smaller than Stuttgart…BUT, the older kids travel all over to play…to UK and all over Germany…all the major sports…kids in your kids' age range will play the few teams they can scratch together at SHAPE..sometimes may only be two or four teams.

    Don't be scared….turn it into excitement and keep reading here…my visitors also give some great advice!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so so much. Today I am not having panic attacks. I heard DOD schools in Stuggart seem very full, I don't know if I could do it but many say that home schooling is the way to go. Also I am concerned about the healthcare as well. What do you know to calm my fears? I am a nurse practitioner here in the states any hopes of possibly working part time? Ho wmuch furniture do we bring? I know will have to sell our king bedroom set but we live in a 2800 sq ft house now. Again, thank you for calming my fears!!

  14. ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** says:

    That's good news then! I know there are plans to build a new HS for the Stuttgart community…across the street from Panzer Barracks. The ES/MS are at high capacities, but somehow, every year, it seems to work itself out where the classrooms aren't over capacity…just close to it.

    As far as working…as a nurse…read my blogpost on finding a job
    http://lifelessonsmilitarywife.blogspot.com/2011/04/ask-vmw-is-it-easy-to-get-job-overseas.html

    We left a room's worth of furniture behind and our yard stuff cause we knew we would have onpost housing.

    Most housing has at least a room whether it's in the basement or attic where you can store stuff, so it won't be as limiting as you think. Just stay within your weight limits, and if you're like me, get rid of some furniture, especially if it's not very nice…I did this strictly to leave room for the antique furniture I bought over here:-)

  15. ShiningLily says:

    This is such a late comment and I doubt it’ll be noticed but just in case someone happens to come along and read this…my hubby and I just moved to the area. I was prepared for having to stay quite a while in the lodge (we had a suite booked for us) but it turned out that my hubby’s sponsor got us a Housing appointment a couple of days after we got to the lodge. Within a couple of weeks of staying, we had our housing. This was great due to the fact we have a two year old (that is a total handful) and it is really due to the sponsor jumping through hoops instead of us doing it. Remember ladies, talk to your guys about their sponsors and what they are doing to help. Pressure them to talk to their sponsors about housing if it hasn’t come up, it might save some agita in the long run.

  16. Declan says:

    So,

    Ladies, I ran into this blog because I am coming here as a single civilian contractor puke. How do you guys feel it is for a single person and it looks like since I will only need one bedroom, the housing off-post won’t be an issue. Once I know how much I’ll be getting for housing, it may make me happier.

    Is there such thing as any kind of life in downtown Mons. Is activity limited to only near/on base? People integrate with the community well? I spent 6 months in Saudi, so I figure I won’t have issues here. Ryanair and the airport is a 30 minute train ride away.

  17. admin says:

    No you won’t have issues. Sounds like you have a good attitude. Single friends of mine all lived in downtown Mons or as close as they could get to it. Nightlife there is extremely limited….Mons is a provincial city with not much activity. The bar/club on Shape had some activity. Lots of international interaction cause milfolks from other countries there. Quite a few civilian homesteaders. American guys told me other than the single ladies who work on post, hard to get a good date…..especially if you are not willing to be brave. I remember a friend lamenting none of the girls spoke English and the Belgian body style was a turn off for him…..his words…mostly dumpy women! I’m not gonna comment on that. A lot traveled by train to Brussels. Paris is 2-1/2 hours away by car. I enjoyed all the history of Belgium….learned so much at all the battle sites….fascinating! You’ll make it work….watch the drinking though. Excellent Belgian beer, higher alcohol content. I knew quite a few guys who were good candidates for AA not long after arrival. The no sun can also make you depressed, and you have to recognize that. I didn’t realize at one point that’s what was making me sad. Good luck!

  18. Jodi says:

    This blog is so helpful! My hubby just got his orders for belgium for this summer and I am clueless! Reading through all your posts and taking notes! Thanks for the video clips as well – so nice to be able to see some of where we will be!

  19. Ciara says:

    Hello – this is a long shot, I know – but I wondered whether the anonymous poster from July 15th, 2011 was still around and/or you had any contact info – we are PCSing to Belgium in June and I have been trying to get information regarding jobs – I am a nurse practitioner as well and the job prospects are looking very dim.

  20. admin says:

    I am no expert, but it is slim pickings for nurses! There are limited jobs at the clinic on post, and Europe has different certifications and such off post, so your licenses are no good here. Now I know some who do things like physicals for American insurance companies, school nurses, WIC nurse….and there may be a few more positions. Check with the job folks at Army Community Service (ACS). They usually have a good bead on local jobs.

  21. tbird says:

    I am beside myself having to leave the country with our 16 yr old and with only 2 yrs of high school left prom, senior activities, baseball, rotc and things of that sought are important to him. Are these things that he will still have the chance to do?

    Thanks.

  22. admin says:

    Believe it or not, if you will be stationed at SHAPE, you will have all those things…just on a much smaller scale. They have Junior Air Force ROTC and the kids in that are very active. Nowhere else are you going to have such an international community. Your son is going to have kids in his school from many different nations. We loved that part of it! The high school sports teams travel all over Europe to play..mostly Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. What an experience for them! The only thing he may be disappointed in is prom. The international kids just don’t get it! Yes, there will be one….many times at a local castle (they are all over the countryside), and it will be a beautiful affair….but that is really the only thing that will be very different from stateside.
    No he won’t be able to drive (but neither do any of the other kids). They learn to use the bus system and cajole their parents (so I’d find something close to Shape or even forgo a larger house and be ON Shape if you can if the waiting list isn’t too long). There will be many opportunities to visit other countries on school teams and such. I would’ve never gone to Russia if my kids hadn’t been in a club that sponsored a trip there (yes, I went too).
    The positives will outweigh the benefits although initially, your son will probably be VERY upset and miss the US…just keep throwing opportunities at him! He’ll grow to really enjoy it, and it’ll make him such a more worldly person. Both of our kids are better for the experience. Our oldest is now at an International School in Germany and the time he spent at Shape prepared him for that. He LOVES his school…and boys don’t normally say that!
    Be sure you get on the SHAPE Families Facebook page to connect with others already there…also a great place to ask those specific questions. I’d ask about baseball and then share that with your son:-) Safe travels!

  23. Marina says:

    Hello,
    At first I want to thank you for what you do, it really helps a lot, and I’m sure that many families are feeling less stressful when PCSing!
    Seems like I found answers to almost all of my questions, however I still have one. We are in Germany right now and our little one (soon to be 3) attending German kindergarten and we love it! They provide an EXCELLENT (!) care and it’s very cheap to compare to CYS rates! My question is do you know approximately how much is for Belgian kindergarten, and how hard to get a spot? Thank you!

  24. admin says:

    I remember Belgian Kindergarten slots being free and easy to get…never heard of anyone having a problem with anything but the language barrier. I don’t know if I would’ve been ready for little ones to go on all day field trips (without parents) and I’ve heard of miscommunication with parents (they are more hands off than American teachers)….so that would take some getting used it. But MUCH easier to get your kids in here than in Germany!

  25. Marina says:

    Thank you so much! This helps a lot!

  26. Jason says:

    Hey folks. I’ve enjoyed reading about everyone’s experience. I have a different question, however, and am desperate for some help.

    I’m currently debating taking up a NATO civilian position in Mons. I’d be different from most everyone in this forum in that I would not be under the DoD umbrella. I’d be paid in Euro and would not be subject to the banking and military privileges that I’ve heard about from military personnel at other posts.

    Does anybody know of anyone or know of how to FIND any Americans who work for NATO as a civil servant? I could really, really, really use a good contact or two.

  27. admin says:

    I knew tons of NATO civilians there. Find Shape Families on Facebook and join and ask there for advice…you’ll get lots of it from people who are there now. I remember you have to negotiate a package that will include your housing costs and schooling if you have kids…not just base pay. Others on that page can share the pitfalls. Civilians used a lot of the same resources we did FYI.

  28. Laura says:

    Hi! There is a slot open for Tsgt. position at Cheivres Air base that we applied for. After reading some of these posts, it makes me kind of nervous! lol I have never been overseas, EVER! We have three kids, 5,6 and 7. We probably wont get it, but just incase, I was wondering, is there an american school on base that my kids would attend?

  29. admin says:

    It’ll probably be the best experience of your life moving to Belgium! I in particular did not like living there, but I thought it was great being able to stay in Europe…my mistake was comparing everything to Germany. Since you won’t have that handicap, you’ll do fine. If you read my blogposts you’ll be familiar with the most quirks and challenges you’ll face. There is a DODEA school on SHAPE which is 30 minutes from Chievres….most folks with kids try to find something in between, as services you need just in general will be on both bases. Good luck!

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