A simple, three steps to success?

The application process to work in Belgium consists of a work authorisation, residence permit and then the visa.

The permit processes must be completed one after the other, and where you need to apply will vary depending on where you specifically plan to work. The three main Belgian regions of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels all have their own distinct systems for completing these steps.

Once you have completed and received a positive result for the work authorisation and residence permit, you may then approach the local Belgian embassy to apply for your visa to come.

This sounds fairly simply and, aside from some form filling and documentation, it is… on paper.

The realities of the process

The biggest challenge facing people who wish to come to Belgium to work is wait times.

For over 2 years, the process of permits and visas has been so long winded and uncertain, that applicants are terminating their contract before ever starting work.

The wait time for a work permit is somewhere between 7 and 11 weeks from application. If that is successful, then the residency permit suffers similar delays, with, again, 7 to 11 weeks being standard. If you wait those out and are successful, you then need to visit your local Belgian embassy… maybe.

Many embassies have outsourced their visa application processes to external organisations to handle the volume. In some countries this can take 3 months to get an appointment. In others, Turkey for example, the outsourced company has stopped taking applications all together.

All in all, this means you are likely looking at somewhere around 4 to 6 months before you’re likely to be ready to start your new role.

What can you do to improve your process?

This all sounds pretty dire and depressing. When you’ve just landed that dream job in another country, the last thing you want to do is wait and wait based on bureaucracy.

So, what can you do to improve the experience?

First, unfortunately, we’d recommend that you prepare yourself for the wait. There is going to be a noticeable time to wait before you can move, so we suggest that you plan for the longer wait and hope for a quicker turn around.

Second, get things right first time, and respond quickly. With such a duration to wait, the last thing you need is to be rejected or have questions asked because you missed a document or incorrectly answered a question.

Third, make sure you know what you can and cannot apply for. For example, if you plan to bring family with you including children over 18, they can’t join your application as a dependent.

Our final suggestion, which will certainly help with the last two points, is to speak to one of our members and get their professional help with your application. Having someone who understands the system, understands the nuances of the process, and knows what to look out for will be invaluable to a speedy and successful application. They will also be able to proactively follow up and move on your application, ensuring that any delay which can be removed is removed.

Is it worth it?

The reality is that Belgium has need of a great number of workers across a huge number of careers in our country. The work is here for those who want it and can wait on the long-winded process to get their visa.

As a country, Belgium offers some uniquely diverse and beautiful places to live in the midst of a vibrant and exciting country. Call us biased, but we think it’s worth the wait.

That said, we do agree that the wait times are currently unreasonable and actually miss the Government’s stated objective timelines. That’s why ABRA continues to advocate for a more streamlined, efficient and effective solution to the visa delay issue for both our members, and people like you.




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2023 was a year where there is no denying that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still very much impacting our business. Where 2022 brought a boom – with moves delayed by the pandemic finally being completed – business this year has been significantly slower.

To a great extent, this may be down to the lack of a normal pipeline of migrations. The complete shutdown of planning during 2020 and 2021, economic impact and changes to personal and business priorities have all had a part to play in this. Companies have been focusing on getting back to work and are only now beginning to consider their international hiring processes again.

We have also seen new challenges within the practicalities of relocating employees. The Belgian housing market has been experiencing an unprecedented shortage of affordable and/or city centre accommodation. This trend, however, is not unique to Belgium: the lack of affordable properties is a global one, as highlighted during EuRA’s 2023 Global Mobility Conference in Dublin.

This means that finding a home for expats is a longer process than it was even a year ago. Then, when an apartment or house is found, prices are higher and landlords are more selective, often choosing locals over expats.

These changes are seeing expats choosing accommodation away from the usual expat-friendly cities and towns. Instead, many choose to commute to the suburbs and beyond, prioritising rental prices and a broader choice of home.

We’re also seeing a change to the way companies are bringing in international talent. Many simply leave the process of finding accommodation and settling into Belgium to the assignee, rather than employing a relocation agent. Though, as the NetExpat and EY survey recently showed, this will need to change if employers want to meet the expectations of the new generation of expats and their families. A trend we welcome in 2024.

ABRA is very much aware of the evolution in the industry and will be looking at ways in which we can support our members in the coming year. We will continue with our industry updates, thank you all for your positive response to the ones we’ve released so far. The board is considering methods to actively support member outreach and sales activities. Look out for more information on these initiatives in the coming months.

As always, we will have our quarterly meetings, currently scheduled for March, May, September and December. These will include guest speakers, so please look forward to updates on these events on LinkedIn, our website and on your email.

In 2024, we will be focusing more on the impact of ABRA as an organisation. In line with EuRA guidelines, we will begin the consultation process of implementing an  Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. When complete, we will be using our experiences to create resources for members who wish to implement an ESG programme of their own. If you would like to be involved in the ABRA ESG programme, then please contact us.

Finally, I would like to thank Anita Meyer for her hard work as she stands down from the board of ABRA. Anita was a founding member of ABRA and has been a dedicated advocate for the relocation industry in Belgium. Without her, ABRA would not be the success that it is today. Her input and advice will be sorely missed by us all.

And of course, I wish you and your families an enjoyable and relaxing end of 2023. Whichever holidays, if any, you celebrate, I hope you have fun and look forward to seeing you all in 2024.

Eric Klitsch
ABRA President

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The Power of Empathy

Last year, ABRA keynote speaker Bart De Leeuw of The Oval Office introduced us to the Empathy Value Index. The first of its kind, their evidence-based research tool proved a direct link between empathy and key performance indicators for brands. To put it simply, brands need to mean what they say, understand their customers needs, ensure the customers feel they are empathic to these needs, and follow through on promises made.

When brands get this heady mix right, good things happen. The higher a brand scores on the Empathy Value Index, or EVI, the more likely consumers are to identify with it. Four times more likely in fact. This positive identification in turn is reflected in how likely consumers are to consider the brand (x2.7), buy it (x2.8) and become loyal (x3.4) to the brand. And with 81% of brands easily replaced in customers’ hearts and minds, the race is on to join the 19% of meaningful businesses. So does the same hold true for employer-employee relations?

Empathy as Foundational Value

It most certainly does. Businessolver’s 2022 State of the Workplace Empathy Study reports that including empathy as a foundational value is fast becoming of vital importance in the post-COVID world. Not only do 72% of employees believe that empathy drives employee motivation, 84% of CEOs believe that empathy drives better business outcomes. From investing in mental wellbeing to embracing diversity, leading with empathy pays.

The Oval Office’s 2022 Empathy Value Index Employer Edition echoes these findings. Expectations have changed and no longer do we work to survive (as our grandparents did), or to guarantee a certain standard of living (like our parents); instead we work to ensure our quality of life. And it’s not just a Gen Z thing either: Gartner reports the pandemic has caused nearly seven in 10 employees to rethink the role of work in their lives so time to sit up and take note.

Empathy has an undeniable impact on the recruitment, retention, and motivation of your employees, also in the event of changes.

Opportunity for Leadership

Employees that work for an empathic employer experience 3.1 times more overall job satisfaction and are 2.6 times more receptive to change according to The Oval Office. What’s more, employees who see their employer as empathic are 1.6 times more likely to stay with the company and are 4.4 times more prepared to recommend their employer to others.

Opportunities for growth (+350%), additional training (+300%) and a supportive work environment (+270%), are all key drivers for job satisfaction. In today’s ongoing war for talent, these numbers create serious food for thought for employers and their HR departments. So what makes for an empathic employer?

5 Pillars of Empathy

Expectations are high when it comes to empathy in the workplace. The fact that we all want to feel heard, understood, and valued is a given. We all have a unique personality, our own way of working and private lives that come with challenges, and we value an employer who understands this and genuinely cares about our wellbeing. In other words, they GET ME.

Whether it’s equal career opportunities and remuneration, or gender, religion, sexual orientation, colour, or any other human parameter, we want our employers to be FAIR TO ME. No less than 53% of people with a different ethnic background reported having left a previous employer because they felt not everyone was given the same opportunities.

Of course, communication is a two-way street, but an employer who COMMUNICATES WITH ME creates loyalty and commitment. Employees who feel ‘part of the family’ are prepared to go to greater lengths to achieve great things for the team, so fostering openness and transparency really does matter.

Additionally, being able to be our authentic self goes a long way towards creating an environment where colleagues form a genuine team. A healthy and inspiring work environment is a place where no one takes a job well done for granted. Appreciation is employees’ number one priority, and a good employer SHOWS ME they really do care.

Finally, an empathic employer EMPOWERS ME. I feel valued and appreciated and am trusted to determine my own work-life balance. Similarly, I’m stimulated to continue developing professionally. Almost 1 in 4 employees state developing skills is one of their top 5 most important requirements.

Empathy in Mobility

As mobility professionals, we’re well-versed with the trials and tribulations of our expats and their employers. Empathy is high when it comes to adapting to cultural change and the massive emotional and practical impact of an international move. But do we afford our own teams the same level of empathy? Are we managing to attract and retain the talent we need? Just like any other industry, we’re feeling the pressure, so it’s high time to be honest with ourselves.

From the 85% of people who worry about losing their jobs and paying the bills to the 57% who experience racism and prejudice, we all need a little more love and understanding. The good news is 40% of global consumers will go out of their way to help others and 28% say they want to be even more compassionate the coming months. And for 46% of European teens, being a good person is on the top of their list when they think about the future.

EuRA Conference speaker Ken E. Nwadike Jr. would be proud.


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Just back from the EuRA Relocation Conference in Dublin and not too long off the slopes of – you guessed it, Ischgl – I find myself reflecting on how the pandemic has affected us all. Practically and emotionally. Being able to meet and travel freely again is still exciting to me. And I don’t think I’m alone in celebrating mask mandates and the exit of the QR code.

When Deborah Seymus* visited Val Thorens in December 2019, she interviewed those who live life by the season. What was meant to be a series of interviews we could spread out over the year, was quickly rushed through in a single issue of ReLocate, as we scrambled to make sense of various support measures, travel bans, and more, whilst learning to survive the home office.

Thursday evenings were spent clapping for the frontline workers that struggled through their days without the PPEs needed to do so safely. Many of our members stepped up to do their bit and make the best of a bad situation. Coming home with a pack of toilet roll was the kind of victory that made our day, even if it did mean splitting the skin of our hands with all those alcohol gels required to leave the house. Numerous lockdowns and restrictions later, we are once again welcome to go about our day as we please. But things can always change again, and as Elke Van Hoof, CEO of Better Minds at Work puts it: “The Covid years have been a real-time experiment in mental resilience.”

Perhaps most importantly, we’ve (re)discovered the importance of empathy. At our 2022 AGM, ABRA keynote speaker Bart de Leeuw of The Oval Office spoke about the power of empathy in business. It matters hugely in the era of disconnection – think of digital vs human, individualism vs inclusion, privacy vs transparency, etc. – as expectations have changed. No longer do we work to survive or to guarantee a standard of living. Today, the human factor takes priority as the Empathy Value Index Employer Edition 2022 proves.

Empathy is about understanding, about being able to see things from someone else’s perspective. It’s about empowerment and connecting with each other on a human level. For us at ABRA, this means we cannot wait to welcome you to our upcoming AGM and Member Meeting on Thursday 25th May at International School Ghent. If you haven’t signed up yet, please be sure to do so, as keynote speaker and migration law specialist Sylvie Micholt dives into a societal issue that has been dominating the headlines for much too long.

We hope to see you there!

*As an aside, Deborah Seymus recently published her first book Vijftig Piemels Later, a daring and open-hearted autobiography that details her journey of self-discovery. If you enjoy a cheeky, fast-paced read, then please do support her writing by buying her book.

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The Paradox of Sustainable Mobility

The concept of sustainable mobility might appear paradoxical at first. After all, moving expats around the world involves flights, home searches, shipping of goods and all sorts of other activities great and small that create harmful emissions. Processing residency applications uses electricity, computers need replacing as they age, and what about those hyperscale data centres that keep us in the cloud?

Identifying the environmental impact of an entire value chain is a bit like identifying the length and thread count of a piece of string. Where does it begin and where does it end? How many fibres are entwined? Thankfully, there are organisations out there who will help you calculate everything from the product environmental footprint of the soft drinks your company fridge stocks to the impact of all those emails you are sending and receiving, should you be inclined to find out such things.

And indeed, with so much technology at our fingertips we can work effectively from pretty much anywhere in the world, so reducing global moves seems a quick environmental win. Why relocate at all?

I’d be preaching to the choir if I tried to explain the importance of global mobility to our loyal readership and how it contributes to creating successful, and indeed sustainable, teams. Yes, mobility incurs emissions, and yes, we must try and lower them in every way we can. But there are many ways in which we can do our bit for the planet without sentencing ourselves to a world in which all business is conducted by video link.

Net-Zero Emissions

It will not have passed you by that, especially in the wake of COP26, there is a lot of talk about achieving net-zero. Briefly put, a company achieves net-zero emissions when its activities and those of its value chain have zero impact on climate and help limit global warming to 1,5 degrees. It essentially means we are doing no further harm.

According to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), this can be achieved by assessing a company’s impact across three categories, or scopes. Scope 1 covers direct emissions: fuels used for production, vehicles, etc. Scope 2 takes indirect emissions into account, such as energy used for heating (or cooling) buildings and powering those laptops. Scope 3 involves emissions up and down the value chain, which includes all services and products bought or sold.

Achieving scopes 1 and 2 is (theoretically speaking) relatively easy if you’re in service delivery. It means banning use of all fossil fuels by introducing a fully electrified fleet and using renewable energy to heat, cool, and power your facility (and fleet). Achieving scope 3 is more complex, as we must start taking all activities into account.

Because what is the environmental footprint of updating beds, sofas, and curtains if you’re a serviced housing provider? What happens to your moving trucks when you replace them? What type of investments does your company pension plan make on your behalf? Is the paper in your printer fsc certified? What type of energy powers your local town hall? Your mobile provider? And how ‘green’ are the pigments in the crayons your students use?

How long precisely is your piece of string and what is your baseline measure?

Moonshot Missions

Suffice to say, there’s an awful lot to consider when it comes to achieving net-zero emissions. There are countless industry spearheads who are making great strides towards achieving net-zero and their commitment and efforts should be applauded and encouraged. But at the same time, we ought to take a broader view of sustainability. Not only does it make sustainability feel less like a moonshot mission, it’s also infinitely more beneficial to our planet. Because net-zero only looks at carbon emissions and there is so much more that threatens our way of life.

In just 50 short years, Earth Overshoot Day (the day each year upon which we have used up more resources than our planet has to offer) has shifted from December (1971) to July (2022). If we want to sustain today’s lifestyle, we need not one, but 1.75 planets Earth. In other words, we are depleting our planet’s resources faster than it can regenerate them. And that’s just our natural resources.

Biodiversity loss is accelerating at an alarming rate and is widely recognised as an even bigger threat than climate change. And despite the impetus created by movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the daily reality is that socio-economic inequality remains on the rise. So, much as net-zero emissions must be achieved (and not just by way of carbon compensation programmes), it only covers a small part of the global solution.

Understanding Sustainability

It is perhaps important to revisit the definition of sustainability at this point. The dictionary tells us that something is sustainable when it can be maintained at a certain rate or level. It can fulfil the needs of current generations without compromising those of future generations. And this doesn’t just mean environmental sustainability, it means sustainable economic growth and a healthy, cohesive society too. But if we’re depleting our planet to the point that we need an Earth-and-three-quarters to fulfil today’s needs, then shouldn’t we be looking to give back more than we take? And this means giving back on all fronts, not just natural resources.

Back in 2021, Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting explained sustainability to us in words we could understand: “Sustainability becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (emissions, biodiversity, recycling, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.).”

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

This is where the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals come into play. The UN has identified no less than 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’. These Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, offer a roadmap to all the ways in which we can help contribute to a better world for all.

Belgium comes in ahead of the global curve on the SDGs. We have access to clean water and good sanitation; we enjoy quality healthcare and an educational system that sets us up for job opportunities and solid economic growth. Our cities and communities are becoming increasingly sustainable, with green parks replacing swathes of urban concrete.

There are all manner of platforms that help us reduce food waste, share bikes, cars and scooters, and we enjoy widespread access to public transport. We have access to clean energy (although the energy crisis means its affordability is debatable) and live in a peaceful nation with a fair justice system. Gay marriage is a legal right and women enjoy leading positions in both the private and public sectors (though equal pay remains an issue).


The Positive Compass

We might have a lot going for us, but we face some major issues too. Anxiety and depression are on the rise, one in 10 children in Belgium lives in extreme poverty, and despite the so-called ‘betonstop’ ten football pitches of open space disappear annually. As a society, we need to challenge ourselves to not just do no further harm, but to restore, regenerate, and make the world a better place altogether. Businesses have an important role to play here.

Our September Member Meeting keynote speaker Niels de Fraguier introduced a dynamic and holistic approach to making change happen. The Positive Compass is a great way of making sense of what being an ethical organisation means. It details how you can be part of the global solution by becoming a regenerative business. Built on five key pillars – Purpose, Planet, People, Partners, Places – it helps identify key areas in which you and your organisation can start making a difference.

Take advantage of The Positive Compass’s free toolkits; they are invaluable if you want to become a purpose driven organisation that leverages business as a force for good.

Empowering Transformational Change

When we hold the Positive Compass pillars up against the SDGs, becoming a sustainable, regenerative business starts looking less like having to scale Mount Everest and more like trekking up Ben Nevis. Introduce volunteer days where team members give back to the community or clean up flyaway litter. Plant a Tiny Forest next to your office and give local biodiversity a boost. Add a beehive or two and replace the sugar in your canteen with your own honey (it’s healthier and doesn’t get more local than this). Introduce a great mental health plan for team members. Be an equal opportunities employer. Involve your team and brainstorm all the ways in which you too can become a more sustainable organisation.

The opportunities are endless, and it is up to you to take action. So that the next time you receive an RFP that requires clarification on your sustainability efforts, you’ll be able to say you are taking positive action to not only reduce your organisation’s environmental footprint but to improve the world around you. Of course, the impact of each individual business is different, and a shipping company will need to do more than introduce a butterfly garden in the office parking lot to offset the impact of shipping a container halfway around the world. We must each uncover our own baselines and build from there.

using business as a force for good

Sustainability Symposium EuRA Dublin 2023

Creating sustainability in mobility is a massive task and not one any one company can tackle alone. It’s why mobility industry associations EuRA, WERC, CERC, FIDI Global Alliance, IAM and CHPA have joined forces to create a Sustainability in Mobility Coalition. They have spent the past year working alongside each other to develop a pioneering approach to helping their members across disciplines achieve their sustainability goals.

ABRA, the Association of Belgian Relocation Agents, is proud to support their work as an Affiliate Coalition Member. If you are attending the upcoming EuRA Relocation Conference in Dublin this April, then be sure to join the Symposium on Tuesday the 25th to learn what has been done already and how we can implement best practices.

We hope to see you there!





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On the one hand we have the employer who feels they lost a certain amount of control of their team during lockdown, because what precisely were staff up to when they were at home? And on the other we have the employees who quite enjoy having the flexibility to walk the dog mid-afternoon or run a quick load of laundry during working hours. Understandably companies are keen to keep their employees in the workplace as it helps them feel more in control. And, of course, social cohesion remains essential to a strongly aligned team. But as long as targets, deadlines, and KPIs are being met, is there a problem? And how can you create a safe, respectful and balanced working environment for all?


“People need structure, and work-from-home has blurred boundaries,” says Willemijn. “Before Covid you’d get into your car, drive to work, do your eight hours and then return home again. Things were clear. WFH means the kids asking for a snack, a delivery that needs signing for, screens freezing mid-meeting and questions needing to be repeated… The symbolic mask that we wear for work – at work you are in function, at home you can be your authentic self – has cracked now our professional and private lives have become so entwined. Calling a colleague at 4pm is perfectly reasonable, but experience tells us they might already have poured themselves a glass of wine after a full working day.”

“We’ve always been told that, in order to be successful, we must work hard. But what precisely does that mean? Is it working from nine to five, is it being busy-busy-busy whenever someone asks how you are? What precisely is the measure of success? Companies tend to think in return-on-investment: what they get in return for the employee’s remuneration. But perhaps we should start talking about return-on-time – or ROT – instead of ROI: if you are better able to focus on that report when the house is quiet, then surely that represents better value for the company. However, if your boss rings while you’re showering at 10am because you were working late, they might think you are slacking, even though the opposite is true. It’s hugely important to understand that perspectives differ and a lot of misunderstandings are due to perception.”

Cave Syndrome

Going from the relative peace and quiet (and safety) of your home office to an open plan space with lots of people can be quite stressful. Even more so now that Omicron has made its entry. And you aren’t alone if you’re feeling hesitant about returning to life ‘as before’: a recent study by the American Psychological Association reported that 49 percent of surveyed adults anticipated being uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. It found that 48 percent of those who have received a COVID vaccine said they felt the same way. This sense of anxiety is known as the ‘cave syndrome’ and the back-and-forth between the loosening and tightening of restrictions doesn’t exactly help.

“People are understandably nervous about working in a shared environment,” confirms Willemijn. “Because what is company policy? Vaccination is still a personal choice and (in theory) employers cannot force you to have one. Picture yourself sharing a meeting room with eight people, of whom four are wearing a mask. How does that make you feel? Are they unvaccinated or just anxious? People are becoming increasingly distrustful and judgemental of one another. Are you ‘woke’ or a ‘follower’? Which side of the fence are you on? And how do you address this as a team leader? Can you even address it?”

State Your Policy

“The right to privacy means you aren’t allowed to ask about someone’s vaccination status or beliefs. So what do you do? Are you going to discuss this openly with the team or respect individuals’ right to privacy? There is a case to be made for this because you are legally obliged to provide employees with a safe working environment. The two principles are diametrically opposed, so how can you reassure your team? A lot of organisations are struggling to work out how to deal with this. Because simply following government restrictions (or the lifting of them), isn’t a company policy you can build on. The national advisory group GEMS advises one thing and the politicians decide something else altogether. Understandably, faith in the powers that be is at an all-time low and you need your own company policy to reassure your team.”

In fact, a number of organisations have already openly stated their stance on the matter and you can argue it either way. ZNA announced vaccination to be a prerequisite for all new hires and Leaseplan made vaccination mandatory for its entire staff unless they want to work from home ‘forever’, as have Google and Facebook, to name but a few. This show of strength – get the jab or lose the job – although understandable, isn’t exactly respectful towards the individual and doesn’t make for a fully aligned team. So where do you go from here?

Shades of Grey

“We need to recognise how vulnerable we are all feeling, both as employers and as employees. Everyone is deliberating, trying to work out what is ‘right’ moving forward, but the truth is nobody knows. There is no black or white; only shades of grey. We need to find a way for employers to be both respectful and vulnerable towards their employees and I think HR has a vital role to play. People need to be able to voice what makes them feel (un)safe without fear of being judged. Last year proved how much we missed the cohesion that comes from spending time together – literally ‘teambuilding’ – now it is time to create balance and openness through conversation.”

“The good thing is that we’re seeing a lot of organisations invest in connection and mental wellbeing. And the amount of subsidies available in Belgium mean that you can invest without incurring any cost below the line. In fact, done right, you could even even ‘profit’ on the cost of remuneration – as well as profiting from stronger human capital – making it a win-win situation for all. Everyone knows about the KMO Portefeuille, but lesser known initiatives like ‘werkbaarheidcheques’ and ‘Vlaams opleidingsverlof’ are equally interesting.”

Moral Obligation

“It’s a shame that it’s so difficult to find your way around the red tape, but I feel employer and employee share the responsibility of finding out what is out there. Take the time to look around, really see what you need, what your people need; be it time management training or a workshop on diet and sleep. So much is available, as an employer, you’re almost morally obliged to take advantage of the opportunities. There really is no excuse to not invest in your people; every single sector is crying out for talent, so why risk losing your most valuable assets? If you’re not preventatively investing in your mental capital, you’re not doing enough to keep them on board.”






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“Any period of transition is impactful, but the past two years have been a real-time experiment in mental resilience. Unsurprisingly, stress and burnout are on the rise. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review they became ‘rampant’ in 2020. And right when our energy levels are low, we’re being asked to experiment with hybrid workplaces. When we do go back to the workplace again, that is. Thankfully, employers are becoming more aware and are placing a lot of focus on the employee. If there is one good thing to come from the pandemic, it has to be this new level of understanding of the human factor,” says Elke.

Preparing for Transition

“Evolving into a hybrid workplace is a period of transition. And as with any transition, preparation is key. You need to organise inclusive sessions that explain what the rules and expectations are going to be, and what hybrid working means to your company. Additionally, you want to invite experts who can inspire people and bolster mental resilience; who can talk about how to stay focussed, even when working from home. Change management is a combination of good internal communication, and informing people on the goals and the road to them.”

“It’s important to remember to differentiate between how you work from home and how you work in the workplace. In the office we have regular breaks that allow our brains to recuperate. The proverbial coffee breaks and water cooler chats, sharing lunch at the same table, commuting to and from work; they all give our brains some much-needed time to rest and reset. When you’re working from home, the tendency is to just keep going until whatever you’re working on is finished. But these breaks provide you with the energy to keep going. A lot of what we do is about inspiring people to recognise when they are in a healthy, positive flow or just powering on through by willpower.”

Recognising Signals

“We’re all responsible for recognising each other’s alarm signals. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – both mentally and cognitively – from not being able to concentrate properly, or memory loss, to being short tempered. The things that wouldn’t bother us normally become magnified when our brains don’t get the chance to take a little ‘breather’ every once in a while. Equally, physical signs like palpitations, sweating, headaches and neck pains, or trouble sleeping at night are all signs that your resilience is low.”

“If anything, the pandemic has created the momentum to embrace the best of both worlds: seeing each other in person to foster personal connection and working from home to enhance focus when needed most. At the end of the day (or working week), a good balance between these two means you should be feeling more energetic and are enjoying work more. Of course, just as each individual is different, so are their jobs. People who need to work in full focus will benefit more from being away from the busy office floor than someone who has a coordinating role. When preparing your hybrid workplace policy, it’s important to take these difference into account.”

Connection Matters

Meeting a few times a week as a team ensures you don’t end up with a situation where who is in the office on which days mushrooms into something wholly uncontrolled. You have to create structure and touch base in person on a regular basis. Additionally, you need to communicate clearly. You’ll often see people are a lot more business-minded during online meetings, whereas meetings in real life allow for the all-important ‘how was your weekend’s’ that help give your brain a break. Allow for time wasted: it’s a lot more valuable than you might think. Chitchat helps foster that human connection, no matter how much people have come to appreciate the efficiency of online meetings. So make sure you integrate them in the digital workplace.”

“Our work persona is just one of our many faces, and the pandemic has taught us that showing more of our authentic persona helps establish better personal connections. We have all changed or grown in different ways these past years. We’ve had time to reflect on what we are doing and where we want to go from here. For myself, the pandemic has shown me the importance of spending quality time with my two young children and I’m now actively choosing to free up more time for them. I suspect a lot of people have gained new insights about their personal and professional lives and how they wish to live them post-COVID. The choice to do something with these insights and change long-standing habits is the Mental Reset we should all make if we want to live happier and more energetic lives.”

For your copy of The Mental Reset visit https://bettermindsatwork.com/en/boeken/


6 Steps Towards Stronger Resilience

  1. Preparation is key: be clear about what the new workplace is going to look like, what the expectations are, and bring in the experts that will inspire and enthuse your team.
  2. Learn to recognise the difference between a healthy creative flow and powering through on sheer willpower. Give your brain regular breaks.
  3. Learn to recognise when your brain is in distress, and don’t be afraid to talk to others when you see them struggling.
  4. Embrace the best of both worlds and be open to the fact that no two jobs are the same, just as no two people are the same.
  5. Create structure, but allow for time wasted: build in time to share those personal moments that give your brain a break and re-energise you.
  6. Take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself, your priorities, and where you want to go from here.

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With the launch of their brand-new multilingual website and series of English language brochures, new ABRA member Toerisme Vlaams-Brabant wants to help expats discover a different side of Belgium explains Fiene Lambrigts, Expat Expert. “Expats are an important audience for us. So many people settle into the region each year and want to get to know their new home country. We want to introduce them to some of the lesser-known natural and cultural gems of our region.”

Between a top selection of 24 inspiring walks, 36 cycling routes for all ages and the ready-made Perfect Sunday daytrips, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fill each weekend with a new and exciting outdoor activity. But it’s not just cyclists and hikers who are catered for. The region boasts 430km of rider and driver routes for equestrians that will take you through the most beautiful forests, magnificent views, castle domains, valleys and hills, stables and picnic areas.

Locals share their best kept secrets on the website, and you can even join guided tours for internationals. Whether you’re a foodie, a culture addict or a nature lover, there’s something for everyone as well as it being a great way to make new friends. Soak up interesting facts while tasting the best of Belgium’s beer, chocolates, or even wine. Yes, you read that right. Not only does Belgium produce wines, they win awards and come from, you guessed it; Flemish Brabant

As well as all the natural and culinary highlights, the region also has a strong cultural heritage, with no less than three individual locations being listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. From castles, abbeys, and medieval city halls to floating steel staircases and interactive experience centres, each outing is sure to transport you into an exciting new world.

You don’t have to venture far afield to enjoy the best of Belgian nature, heritage or culture. The Green Belt around Brussels and Leuven is easily accessible by road and public transport and Toerisme Vlaams-Brabant makes a point of prioritising accessibility by public transport for all of its destinations. Combining a few top attractions with a beautiful walk or bike trip through nature has never been easier with their inspiring tours and routes.

“It’s so easy to get stuck doing the same old things, even locals can be surprised to find out what’s right on their doorstep. Relocation agents do such an amazing job taking care of all the practical arrangements for a move, but a big part of settling into your new home country is getting to know your local area. Feeling at home is one of the vital stages that make or break any foreign assignment. It’s our mission to help everyone – recent arrival or lifelong local – feel welcome and make Belgium feel like home.”

“We’ve just published our newest walking brochure, which is free to download from our website. And our next series of guided tours for internationals starts from April, so we encourage anyone interested in doing ‘something different’ to visit us anytime at all. We’re here to make you feel at home in Belgium.”

Download your copy of the 2022 Walking Brochure from https://www.toerismevlaamsbrabant.be/en or contact Fiene Lambrigts if you’d like to receive multiple copies for your expat welcome packs.

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Near-term Outlook

Even if some commodity and energy prices have peaked, any drop in headline inflation from negative energy base effects will not materialise at the start of 2022. Instead, energy base effects look likely to push up headline inflation in the first few months of 2022. At the same time, cost-push inflation is gaining momentum. Here, producers’ selling price expectations are close to, or at, record highs and even in the services sector, selling price expectations are now close to all-time highs.

Traditionally, it takes between six and twelve months before any pass-through from higher producer prices to consumer prices materialises. There are no standard estimates for this pass-through as pricing power differs depending, for example, on the state of the economic cycle or the level of competition. In the current situation, both in the US and eurozone, high backlogs in the manufacturing sector and cash-rich consumers suggest there is strong potential for a significant pass-through.

On top of this, the lack of skilled workers has already started to exert upward pressure on wages. In the eurozone, despite some slack and furlough schemes, the labour market has recovered unexpectedly fast and is also showing the first signs of a supply-demand mismatch. Add to this inflation-indexation in some countries, and unions focusing on wage rises instead of job security in others, and we should see higher wages next year as well.

Inflation Outlook 2022

All of the above suggests that elevated inflation levels will be ‘transitory’ but this period of transition could be longer than previously anticipated. Even if some of the one-off factors fade out of Year-on-Year inflation next year, the delayed pass-through from higher producer prices as well as lockdown-related price volatility could still impact inflation far into 2022. As a consequence, we see headline inflation slowing in the second half of 2022 but still staying above pre-pandemic levels.

Longer-term Considerations

The disinflationary period of the last decade was not only the result of the balance sheet recession and subsequent deleveraging and low growth but also a result of two external developments: the emergence of China in the global economy and cheap labour as well as digitalisation (price transparency, competition and making services mobile).

In addition to the trends mentioned above, including wage-price spirals and sustainably higher commodity prices, it is important to assess how these two major ‘external’ drivers will shape inflation in the coming years. Regarding globalisation, it could in fact be more de-globalisation, protectionism and regionalisation of supply chains which push price levels higher. Also, with China’s ambition to become a fully developed economy, the country’s role in the global economy could become inflationary rather than disinflationary. Sure, there is still an enormous pool of untapped labour, be it in Africa or Asia, but the question is whether these regions will be able to take over the role of cheap labour provided by China quickly or whether this will only come with a long delay. Some economists even claim that the ageing of the global population and the adverse trend of the dependency ratio will result in higher real wages leading to greater inflationary pressure. Even the Japanese experience seems to indicate that an ageing economy has a preference for low inflation.

The disinflationary impact from digitalisation, however, could last a while. Price transparency, increased competition and services becoming mobile have exerted disinflationary pressure on most economies over the last decade and are likely to continue to do so over the coming years. On a different note, it is still unclear how the costs of the energy transition will affect inflation going forward. Don’t expect permanent upward pressure on prices but rather inflationary spikes on the back of carbon pricing or higher or new taxes. It is very early to draw strong conclusions about longer-term inflation trends on the back of the pandemic, but these moves could be far more relevant than most of the transitory factors mentioned above. Changes to underlying inflation trends will not cause large jumps in the immediate outlook, but if indeed a somewhat higher trend in inflation emerges in the aftermath of the pandemic, this would be key for central bank policy.

All in all, inflation is expected to remain at elevated, albeit lower levels than at present, until at least mid-2022. Once all base effects and one-off factors have petered out, inflation will still not return to pre-pandemic levels as there are many good reasons to believe that former structurally disinflationary drivers will become inflationary in the years to come. In the case of Belgium, inflation could even remain above 2% on average in 2022, as Belgium is more exposed to shocks on the price of energy and as automatic wage indexation (a particularity of the Belgian economy) is likely to boost wage cost and so… inflation.

Peter Vanden Houte, Chief Economist ING Belgium

Philippe Ledent, Expert Economist ING Belgium


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As previously reported, there are recognised and non-recognised licenses, EU models and non-EU models. Recognised European model driving licenses that do not have an expiry date, need to be exchanged within two years of registering as a resident in Belgium. Owners of a recognised EU model license with an expiry date need to be exchanged before this date, or within five years of registering here, whichever comes first.

Where the recognised driving licenses enjoy a fairly straightforward exchange process, both non-recognised and non-European models go through a lengthy and complicated procedure. There are two main bottlenecks in the exchange process: the length of the authentication procedure and the booking of driving exams.

Main Bottlenecks
Owners of a recognised non-EU model driving license are able to exchange their license after having been registered as living in Belgium for over 185 days. Until then, they can drive with their national license. Owners of a non-recognised non-EU model driving license will need to sit an exam before being eligible for an exchange. This exam can only be booked once the expat has received their Belgian resident’s card and has been registered here for over 185 days. To further complicate matters, owners of a non-recognised driving license are not allowed to drive in Belgium once they have registered as a resident with a Belgian town hall.

Efforts to Align Procedures
The main difficulty in trying to coordinate a smoother process and align exchange procedures stems from the fact that we are dealing with both regional and federal authorities, as well as individual communes. Any driving license sent in for exchange goes from the town hall to the local police, then on to the federal police for authentication. Once it has been authenticated, the driving license goes back to the local police and then on to the town hall. As the federal police are confident that licenses are authenticated within two to three weeks maximum, it appears the delays are on a more local level.

The committee has explored multiple options, including enquiring whether expats could present their driving license to the federal police in person or submit their documentation along with the Single Permit request. Sadly, neither are options as they would require a change in the law. Similarly, asking embassies to provide an authentication document is not as straightforward as it sounds. Although a handful of countries do this, they are few and far between and a number of countries (including the USA) have already indicated they will not be implementing such a system.

Although hardly ideal, it would appear that lobbying with your local mayor and/or town hall is most impactful Deborah Loones tells us. She has done so for Ghent and has the impression that the procedure has sped up somewhat. Together with Eléonore van Rijckevorsel she has been in touch both the Vereniging van Vlaamse Steden en Gemeenten, or VVSG, and the Federal Government to see if the exchange of driving licenses and speeding up access to (bi)lingual exams can become a priority.

Individual Town Hall Procedures
In the meantime, our committee has started enquiring with different Brussels town halls as to their procedure. We have started listing their responses in an Excel spreadsheet, which our relocation members can find under the ‘full member info’ section of our website after logging in. Whatever the outcome of these talks, the relocation committee continues to make driving licenses a priority.

On the upside, there is good news from the commune of Etterbeek. They have now launched a brand new website. Expats looking to register as first time residents of Etterbeek can now use the email address etrangers@etterbeek.be to book their appointment. EU residents can book their appointment online and only need to show up to collect their new IDs. Non-EU residents will need to make an appointment and come in to request their IDs in person. Simply use the green button ‘prendre rendez-vous’ on the new website www.etterbeek.be. Along with the new website comes a new address for the town hall, which has now moved to Avenue des Casernes 31, 1040 Etterbeek.

Quick Overview for Etterbeek Town Hall

■ New physical address: Avenue des Casernes 31, 1040 Etterbeek
■ New website: https://etterbeek.brussels
■ New procedure for registrations:

∞ Non-EU: first registration only on appointment, as well as all other steps of the registration and renewal: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/adresse/premiere-inscription-ou-suivi-ressortissants-hors-ue
∞ Non-EU: Collection of residency card or registration certificate on appointment: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-h-ou-aia-pour-etrangers-demande
∞ Non-EU: collection of a residency without appointment is possible following the instructions outlined here: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-ou-h-pour-etrangers-retrait
∞ EU: first registration by mail: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/adresse/premiere-inscription-ou-suivi-ressortissants-ue
∞ EU: order and collection of the card on appointment on: https://etterbeek.brussels/fr/demarches/identite/carte-b-e-f-h-ou-aia-pour-etrangers-demande

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We first reported on the rise of conscious capitalism back in 2016, when we interviewed Elisa French of Ceeyana for ReLocate on how this new world view is impacting the way we do business. Joeri Van den Bergh of InSites Consulting confirms that the pandemic has amplified this megatrend, making it tangible across the generations. With offices in seventeen countries worldwide, InSites Consulting is uniquely placed to quantify this global shift in perspective on sustainability. As the firm’s co-founder, Joeri Van den Bergh likes to push boundaries, especially when it comes to market research.

Positive Impact Company
We republish this interview with permission of the Spadel Group, home of Bru and Spa mineral waters, from their sustainability platform Source of Change. Creating a more sustainable world, accelerating the circular economy and joining a climate neutral society are the main drivers for this Belgian family owned organisation that is on track to becoming a Positive Impact Company. As Spadel Group CEO Marc du Bois puts it: “We share an inherent connection with our natural resources and the regions in which we operate. Recognising the power of our actions, we commit to protect, restore and rethink the world around us.”

Climate Protests
In 2019 the fight against climate change dominated the headlines. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, children around the world bunked off school to protest global warming, proving Generation Z won’t be silenced. The ongoing demand to ‘do better’ ensured the climate issue was firmly placed centre stage and in September 7.5 million people took to the streets, frustrated by government inaction and half-hearted corporate promises. That summer, InSites Consulting launched a study to uncover which issues mattered most to our communities.

“84% of Europeans aged 15 or over feel sustainability is ‘important’ or ‘hugely important’,” explains Joeri Van den Bergh. “And this is even higher with the younger generations, with almost 9 out of 10 Millennials (aged 14 to 24) and Gen Zs (aged 25 to 39) ranking it as a top priority. Generation X (aged 40 to 55) tends to be most sceptical; being critical is a typical Gen X response. They often consider corporate sustainability efforts to be a commercial strategy rather than about contributing positively to the environment. Even so, 8 out of 10 feel sustainability is important.”

Global Pandemic
In 2020 a new fight dominated the headlines. This time a global pandemic had us sheltering in place, introducing terms such as social distancing and lockdowns into our vocabulary. So did COVID-19 become more important than climate change? InSites’ second study asked the same questions as in 2019, and more, charting a clear evolution.


“During the first lockdown we found that the younger generations were less concerned with their own health, but very much so with that of their parents and grandparents,” says Joeri. “The impact of the virus on the economy and job security were also major concerns, but the health of our planet remained a top priority as the impact of the lockdowns on quality of life and the environment became apparent. With the roads clear of traffic, air quality improved. People started noticing flyaway litter and became aware of the amount of packaging they were using now that everything ended up in the bin at home. Similarly, people made a point of using what was in the fridge rather than letting it go to waste.”

“The leading conclusion to come out of the 2020 study was that none of the issues became less pressing in people’s minds. A number of issues became more important, such as CO2 reduction, but it was the social and local aspects that received the biggest boost. Despite – or precisely because of – the economic downturn consumers realised how important it is to support independent retailers, rather than the big chains. Seeing how dependent we are on the global supply chain also made people think about becoming more self-sufficient. Topics like the circular economy and buying locally have gained a lot of traction thanks to COVID.”

Understanding Sustainability
“Sustainability is a broad issue,” continues Joeri. “It becomes clearer when you divide it into three components: better for me (organic, natural, additive free, etc.), better for the planet (recycling, packaging, emissions, biodiversity, etc.) and better for society (fair wages, child labour, gender equality, etc.). If you look at the top 5 spontaneous associations with sustainability, you’ll see they are all linked to what’s better for our planet.”

“Sustainability can be confusing for the average consumer. When we buy organic cotton, we think we are doing the right thing as it is farmed without pesticides. But cotton needs huge amounts of fresh water; a limited resource. Perhaps it’s been imported from the other side of the world, creating emissions. Or workers may not have been paid a fair wage, making it a lot less sustainable than a traditional cotton produced locally. So it might be better for yourself, but it isn’t necessarily better for the planet or for society. We expect an organic label to mean sustainably produced at a fair wage – or fair trade to mean organically produced and good for the environment – but these are three entirely different things.”

“Enjoying brand preference and receiving ‘license to play’ a role in consumers lives will depend on whether or not you are sustainable.”

Conscious Consumers
About half of Europeans believe they live a sustainable lifestyle, with the other half saying they don’t. The top reasons for this being ‘I don’t know what I can do’; ‘the subject is too complex’; ‘it takes too much effort’; or ‘it’s expensive’. Education on these topics is an important part of creating a more conscious consumer believes Joeri, as well as making sustainable choices easily accessible.

“It’s important for brands to invest in sustainability. It positively reflects on your brand, with over half of consumers – across all generations – agreeing sustainable brands are more up to date. Seven out of ten admit to thinking more positively of companies and brands that actively reduce their ecological footprint. Additionally, consumers believe sustainable products to be better quality. Finally, it’s a big part of employer branding. People want to work for employers that share their personal values, and purposeful work helps attract young talent.”

The InSites study not only confirms the importance of taking a sustainable approach to business, but also serves to highlight quite how deeply ingrained the desire for a better world has become across the generations. Understanding all aspects of sustainability – better for me, better for the planet, better for society – is simply the first step in becoming a company with a positive impact.

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This year, in response to the unprecedented worldwide economic downturn and in addition to existing protectionist ideologies and anti-immigrant sentiments, countries renewed their focus on local workforce protections, but with a new emphasis on mitigating the risk of infection and compensating for skyrocketing unemployment rates. Along with widespread travel restrictions to ban the entry of entire groups of foreign nationals, many governments used a range of methods to restrict admission and work rights by imposing heightened eligibility criteria, decreasing quotas and increasing minimum salary levels.

Most countries promulgated restrictive entry and exit rules, and foreign nationals who were allowed entry faced complex and often intrusive health and entry requirements, and in many cases, strict criteria for work authorization that was implemented before COVID-19. Additionally, many countries divided essential workers from non-essential ones, creating a new category of admissibility, and a rapid acceleration of the digital transformation was seen to limit person-to-person contact during immigration processing. If there was ever a year of rapid global change in immigration rules, this was it.

COVID-19 Implications

Birth of New Type of Restrictionsim
As the epidemiological situation around the world changed, COVID-19-related travel restrictions ranged from broad entry bans to constantly changing specific bans with exceptions based on citizenship and/or originating country. A new type of restrictionism developed with the easing of travel restrictions. Policies began to focus heavily on health certificates, medical screenings and other related measures. While borders were starting to reopen, employers reconsidered sending their employees abroad in light of the implications of quarantine requirements. Faced with the inconvenience and interruption caused by mandatory quarantines, many travellers were reluctant (or unable) to partake in any form of travel during this quarter.

Implementation of Immigration Policy Reviews and Overhauls Sidelined by COVID-19 Response
With government resources limited, the need for recovery from government closures—including reconciling application backlogs and regularizing out-of-status foreign nationals—will be at the forefront of immigration administrations’ concerns in the short term. As a result, immigration policy overhauls planned for implementation during late 2020 and into 2021 have been delayed in many countries.

Travel Alliances in Stark Contrast to Divergent Policies
As economies struggled to reopen and compensate for months of closures, travel bubbles (also referred as “travel corridors” and “air bridges”) created among countries with similar COVID-19 infection rates resulted in lenient entry rules or exceptions to entry bans/quarantine, to facilitate travel and help improve each country’s economy. In stark contrast to coordinated agreements, a key 2020 trend was the diversion of many local/state governments from centralized plans that were created to coordinate travel policy changes. This was particularly noticeable in the European Union (EU), where the European Council recommended that EU countries lift the external border restrictions for a limited number of countries, based on objective criteria related to the COVID-19 infection rate and whether reciprocal policies apply. EU Member States, however, took a country-by-country approach, creating uncoordinated and complex entry rules.

Unprecedented Unemployment Rates Exacerbate Protectionism
In both developed and developing economies, the pandemic is causing unprecedented job losses and business closures. The unemployment rate in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries increased by an unprecedented 2.9 percentage points in April 2020 to 8.4%, compared to 5.5% in March. As economies begin to reopen, unemployment is projected to fall, but remain substantially above pre-pandemic levels. As a result, policies across the world will continue to shift more toward the protection of local workforce to mitigate unprecedented job losses. As history has shown, countries will likely continue to turn inward in response to sustained high unemployment rates but will ultimately seek to improve their fiscal situation by welcoming foreign talent and foreign investment (often an underrated source for economic recovery).

Work-from-Anywhere the New Normal
Many employees were moved to remote work situations in countries with temporary and ambiguous remote working concessions, that were often hastily created in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis. In many cases, companies were compelled to follow temporary government remote work regulations that often led to the employer being noncompliant with labour and other laws. Many times, whether an employee could work remotely under their work authorization depended on several factors, such as the terms of the employment agreement (Austria), the location of work (Canada), or the visa category (United States). These and other scenarios created compliance risks beyond those related to immigration law (e.g., employment law, social security law, tax implications, etc.).

Some employees ended up working in a country other than the one where they applied for work rights. As governments scrambled to catch up to such decisions, lawmakers created ambiguous policies that did not contemplate saving employers and their employees from the various legal compliance risks. The combination of uncharted legislative and policy territory and hasty decisions to address immediate needs resulted in a period of chaotic employer policy changes. This is especially important in the context of the Posted Workers Directive in the EU, where employers are required to comply with strict standards to ensure the posted worker’s working conditions are the same as local workers. In many ways, an ideal approach for remote workers would be if more immigration systems separated the need for company sponsorship from work authorization eligibility, which would allow for more flexible employment agreements, such as employee-leasing or third-party placements.

Immigration Policies and Special Concessions for Essential Workers
The pandemic created a new division in the immigration landscape. Essential workers, such as healthcare workers, production and food processing workers, maintenance workers, agricultural workers, and truck drivers, and other categories of workers deemed necessary in the fight against COVID-19, were exempt from entry bans. This approach may create a new policy focused on workers deemed essential by the destination country governments for various situations (even outside this pandemic) and could create more opportunities for local and foreign medium-skilled workers. Labour protections, such as quotas and labour market tests, traditionally disfavoured such applicants, who in many countries are considered medium- and even low-skilled.

Education-focused Immigration Programs May Increase Opportunities for Medium-Skilled Foreign Workers
Prior to COVID-19, immigration programs in countries that sought to attract the best and brightest featured eligibility criteria based on high standards of professional skills and experience. Conversely, education-based programs, such as the post-graduate practical training program in the United States, were the focus of many immigration-related restrictions. When COVID-19 hit, there was a heightened need for medical professionals and other essential—but lower-skilled, lower-paid—workers. Immigration schemes may start to reflect such needs in entry rules; immigration paths may be created especially for such entrants and protectionism may ease to allow special exemptions and rules for medium-skilled workers with certain educations such as vocational or non-traditional schooling, or otherwise. This is already seen in the United Kingdom, where the new points-based system will create a preferential route just for healthcare workers with a job offer.

Emerging Trends

Fragomen believes the following key trends will strongly impact the immigration landscape in the next several years. While there is no direct action to be taken now, they feel these trends require close observation, as they will likely have a significant impact on how business is conducted in the future.

Health Assessments in the Spotlight
While the topic of an “immunity passport” caught on during the early days of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, the World Health Organization warned that there is no evidence that those who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies or are protected from re-infection. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that up to half of antibody tests could incorrectly state that an individual has antibodies. For these reasons, among other, immunity passports are not a realistic option as a basis for travel rights. However, health records for travellers, often referred to as a “health passport,” containing antibody test results, recent negative COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination are now becoming the norm.

Government Need to Increase Revenue May Impact Employer Budgets
Just like nearly every private industry, public government departments suffered from cuts in spending and expenditures in national health and economic recovery programs. As governments aim to rebuild economies post-COVID-19, politicians will have difficult decisions to make with respect to how to recoup funds after months of closures of public services. In some countries, this could result in higher taxes, while in others it may result in cuts on public spending.

Attempts to compensate for losses could have two effects:
∞ Higher application fees and fines for noncompliance. Employers and foreign nationals could see increased application fees for both initial and renewal applications. Fees for noncompliance with immigration regulations could also increase.
∞ Increased enforcement efforts. Government motivations to increase noncompliance fines could lead immigration departments and other governmental bodies that enforce immigration and employment law to expand their watchdog roles and increase the volume of their enforcement efforts, if resources and laws allow it.

This means employers will need to factor increased fees— which could prove to be dramatic—into their budgets. Employers should be prepared for stricter enforcement efforts, including government audits of workplaces and workplace documents, as well as increased strictness in reviewing employer and foreign nationals’ immigration applications.

Mismatch in Demographics to Create Work Opportunities
The working age population in most high-income countries is declining, while elderly populations are growing. By 2050, the prime working-age populations of OECD countries will have shrunk by more than 92 million people, while their populations over 65 years old will have grown by more than 100 million people. This means OECD countries are facing a gap of more than 15 million workers per year, or a total of 400 million workers over 30 years. However, many lower-income countries have working-age populations that are growing faster than job creation rates (e.g., Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Latin America, Middle East). Since it has been proven that the potential income gain from mobility exceeds the gain from more schooling, this could mean a great opportunity for foreign workers.

Manufacturing Will Move to Home Countries, Decreasing Long-term Assignments
COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of supply chains. Governments and companies will start to review manufacturing locations and move facilities home to create a more dependable and sustainable supply chain. Pharmaceutical and medical supply manufacturing locations were under a microscope during COVID-19, as personal protective equipment shortages loomed and reliance on Chinese production was strong. These may be the first of many industries that shift production to other locations in the long term. In 2021 and after the pandemic, U.S. and European companies will likely reconsider their supply and service ties with China, which could either spur a growth in home country production and service jobs, or a spread of production in other production hubs with low wages.

This could reduce out-of-country travel needs and could instead re-focus hiring efforts on local populations (including immigrants in the home country under local hire work permits). This will also force companies to create new forms of automation to decrease the costs of onshore production, which may create needs to cut budgets elsewhere. Alternatively, COVID-19-related financial losses will, for many companies, undercut the ability to move production at this time, as very little spare capital remains to make such drastic changes. However, the conversation and concern were amplified during the pandemic and, in three to five years, moving production posts could become more of a reality for employers with continued concerns about the stability, both economically and politically, in China.

Finally, Fragomen believes the private sector will play an ever more significant role in shaping immigration policy. With the past several years of immigration restrictions spurring the business community to become more involved in policy development at both national and international levels, organisations such as the Global Forum for Migration and Development help the private sector raise awareness of the benefits of labour migration. The pandemic has brought the role of the private sector into even higher relief as governments and organisations work to balance crucial COVID-19 containment measures with mechanisms to support the global economy.

For the full report, please visit the Fragomen website.

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Although there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, there are still many organisations who find themselves in difficulties due to the ongoing crisis. Those in crisis can still count on the Replacement Income, but under different conditions. Liantis social security fund (sociaal verzekeringsfonds/caisse d’assurances sociales) offers a clear overview of the updated support measures. They also offer a free online tool that will show you what, if any, financial support you are entitled to in 2021 with a few simple clicks.

3 Pillars of Replacement Income

Since January 2021, the Replacement Income (overbruggingsrecht / droit passerelle) comprises three pillars. These apply until June 2021.

Double Replacement Income if Compulsorily Closed or Dependent on a Compulsorily Closed Sector
Is your business compulsorily closed for at least one day in a particular month, or does it depend on a sector that is compulsorily closed? Then you qualify for a double replacement income for that month.
Application: For the months of January, February and March 2021: submit your application via My Liantis if you are a Liantis client, or contact your own social security fund.

Payment: On Fridays Liantis pays the benefits that were applied for the week before. Your benefit will be in your account within three working days. Benefits for the month of March 2021 are paid as of 2 April 2021.

Read more about the replacement income for those who are compulsorily closed or dependent on a compulsorily closed sector

Crisis Replacement Income in case of Substantial Decrease in Turnover
Are you still exercising your self-employed activity, but has your turnover fallen by at least 40%? In that case, apply for the crisis transitional right in the event of a substantial decrease in turnover. The sector in which you are active plays no role in this benefit.

Application: For the months of January, February and March 2021: You can submit your application via My Liantis if you are a Liantis client, or contact your own social security fund.

Payment: Benefits will be paid as of 2 April 2021.

Read more about the crisis replacement income in the event of a substantial fall in turnover

Crisis Replacement Income in case of Quarantine or Child Care
Do you have to interrupt your activities completely for at least seven consecutive calendar days because you have to go into quarantine? Or can you not work for at least seven days because your child cannot attend the day-care centre or school due to corona measures? In that case, you are entitled to crisis replacement income.

Application: For the months of January, February, March and April 2021: apply via My Liantis or via your own social security fund.

Payment: The first payment for the month of April 2021 will be made on 1 May 2021 at the earliest.

Read more about the crisis replacement income in the event of quarantine or taking care of a child

Did you know…
∞ You can combine replacement incomes with another professional activity as an employee or civil servant almost without restrictions?
∞ If you enjoy the replacement income, you may continue to receive your salary as a business manager, director or working partner?

Applying for Replacement Income
The easiest way to submit your application and have it processed is via the customer portal My Liantis (section ‘my social status’). If you don’t have access to My Liantis yet, you can register at liantis.be/myliantis using your eID or itsme app. A username will be created automatically based on your e-mail address. Is this not possible? Then you can always go to the Liantis support page with your questions.

They will inform you of their decision on the Friday following the week of your request. Still have questions? Then contact your personal customer advisor.

Application Deadlines
∞ For the months January to March 2021: at the latest 30 September 2021.
∞ For the months of April to June 2021: no later than 31 December 2021.

Still want to apply for Replacement Income for 2020? This is still possible for the second semester of 2020.

∞ For the months of July through September 2020: at the latest on 31 March 2021.
∞ For the months of October through December 2020: at the latest on 30 June 2021.

Crisis Replacement Income before January 2021
In 2020, there were two forms of crisis Replacement Income, with an equally high benefit amount:

1. The Crisis Replacement Income to support self-employed persons who were forced to close their business or who were mainly dependent on compulsory closed sectors.

∞ If you were compulsorily closed directly during the months of October, November or December 2020 and did not carry out any self-employed activity other than click & collect or take-away: double benefit.

∞ If you were compulsorily closed in October, November or December 2020 and exercised other self-employed activities besides click & collect or take-away: no entitlement to the double benefit, but possibly the single Relance Benefit.

∞ Were you dependent on a compulsory closed sector in October, November or December 2020 and did you decide to completely interrupt your activities: a double benefit.

∞ Were you dependent on a compulsory closed sector in October, November or December 2020, but you continued to work (e.g. to serve private clients): a single crisis Replacement Income.

Take a look at their page about the double Replacement Income for more information.

2. If your business was not closed by force and you were not dependent on a compulsory closed sector, you could count on the Relance Benefit to support your restart until December 2020. This form of Replacement Income was granted to self-employed persons who were closed on 3 May 2020 or on whom the measures had the same impact. There’s a separate webpage with more information on the relance benefit. Since January 2021, this form of replacement income has been replaced by the Crisis Replacement Income due to a Drop in Turnover.

As well as the federal support measures there are a number of regional measures, which we have bundled in a handy overview that answers the following questions:

■ You belong to a direct compulsory closed sector and you do not carry out any other independent activities besides click&collect or take-away.

■ You are under a direct obligation to close and you engage in other self-employed activities besides click & collect or take-away.

■ You are dependent on compulsory closed sectors without complete interruption.

■ Crisis bridging right because of compulsory closure or because you are dependent on a compulsory closed sector: for which self-employed persons?

Republished with permission by Liantis social security fund.

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The Withdrawal Agreement protects the right of residence for UK nationals and their families who have been living in Belgium. It also protects the exit and entry rights of UK frontier workers in Belgium.

Belgium has opted for an extended application period lasting until 31st December 2021 in order to make sure you have sufficient time to submit your application. During this period, the rights of UK nationals living in Belgium before the end of the transition period, and their family members, are protected.

We strongly recommend that you apply as soon as possible in order to protect your rights for the future and ensure as smooth a transition as possible. You can apply for your new card from 1st of January 2021 until the 31 of December 2021.

The new residence document

If you have a residence right, you will receive a residence card for beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement (M card). This card has a validity of 5 years, after you which you can renew your card or apply for a permanent residence right.

The new document for local border traffic

If you have a status as a frontier worker, you will receive a card for local border traffic as beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement (N card). This card has a validity of 5 years, after you which you can renew your card.

Download the full letter from the Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration.

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To find our flow in our new home country, we should consider our priorities say experienced expats and diplomat wives Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens. Their book ‘Expat Partner: Staying Active & Finding Work’ takes a deep dive into what motivates us in a job. The simple model they have devised divides the whole pie that is our professional career into five parts: identity, salary, financial and social securities, professional skills, social contacts and structure.

Once we start looking at what each individual aspect of our career brings us, it becomes easier to decide which elements are essential to our happiness, and which we might be able to go without. Because chances are that not all five aspects will be perfectly aligned when following a partner abroad. Does that mean you shouldn’t go altogether, or might your chosen activity compensate for the missing pieces in other ways? Which are the aspects you need to focus on, and which can you simply stick in the fridge for the time being?

NetExpat’s Relocating Partner Survey confirms that the potential disruption to a partner’s career is the number one reason for employees not accepting a foreign posting. It also shows that 71% of international assignments failing due to an unhappy, unintegrated partner in the host location. And with any foreign assignment representing a significant financial (and personal) investment, the importance of finding your flow as a trailing partner shouldn’t be underestimated.

Carine and Marie’s book is the perfect guide for anyone considering following their partner abroad. Set out in easy to read chapters, it asks questions such as ‘What should you be mindful of?’ and ‘How do you see yourself in your new situation?’. The book allows you to ask all the right questions, both before, during and after your stay abroad. Interspersed with real life stories from the field, it offers inspiring examples and useful warnings about potential pitfalls. Step by step, you will be able to make the career choices that best suit you at that particular moment.

Buy the book
Watch the ABRA webinar

Authors Carine Bormans and Marie Geukens spoke at this month’s ABRA Town Hall.

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“It has hit in waves,” says Willemijn. “In March we were blindsided; suddenly this strange and scary new virus had us sheltering in place, adjusting to life in lockdown. You could feel the unrest and insecurity, but we were all in it together. Then life started picking up again. Companies started reboarding staff, making plans for how many people from which teams could come into work on what days. Everybody had their own system. We started feeling positive again. Antwerp went through a lockdown-light in August, but it was effective and we were confident.”

Impact of Restrictions on Wellbeing

Summer may have provided some temporary relief, but face masks, social bubbles and work-from-home or hybrid regimes are firmly back in place again as confirmed cases of the novel corona virus continue to rise. Nobody will deny the importance of human contact and personal interaction for our mental wellbeing, so what effect can we expect these measures to have on us?

“We offered companies a free mental resilience scan earlier this spring to see how people were faring under the lockdown. It was a small-scale study, but the results were highly disconcerting: 42% of respondents were unable to motivate themselves to work from home and 53% felt employers weren’t clearly communicating their expectations. A powerful mix of stressors piled on top of personal, economic and financial insecurities.”

“Every industry has been impacted, and people are feeling under pressure, albeit for different reasons. Temporary workers don’t know if contracts will be renewed. The hospitality and event sectors are struggling to keep their heads above water. Health care workers have barely had time to catch their breath before this second wave hit. We have nowhere near reached the end of the road and I expect more people will start suffering in silence as the months roll on.”

Singles Suffer the Most

“That being said, we have noticed that singles suffer the most,” Willemijn continues. “Families are challenged to effectively work from home whilst teaching the kids and running a household all at the same time, but at least you have someone to hold on to when things get on top of you. Singles rely on colleagues and friends for social cohesion. They really miss the workplace and descend into depression much quicker.”

Getting up every day, getting dressed and motivating yourself to stay focused isn’t always easy. You can cope with the loneliness for a while, but distractions lie at every turn. You do a quick lap with the vacuum cleaner whilst waiting for the washing machine to finish its spin cycle, but then get distracted by something else and before you know it, half the day is gone. You might as well just call it a day and settle in for some Netflix. The lack of structure leads to feelings of guilt and the negative emotional spiral can be crippling believes Willemijn. Prof. Dr. Elke Van Hoof, Expert in the Superior Health Council of Belgium, has been quoted as saying a tsunami of corona burnouts is heading our way. But is it burnout, depression or something else altogether?

Burnout or Depression?

“Great question. Only time will tell I guess, but I personally believe the balance is tilting towards depression. We are social beings and feeling a person’s touch, whether through a handshake or a hug, is a basic human need. Social bonding releases oxytocin (the happy hormone) and without it our cortisol (the stress hormone) levels skyrocket. We can manage short periods of stress (which trigger our natural fight-or-flight response), but when the balance shifts too far in one direction, the body starts sending out distress signals: headaches, a sore neck, heavy legs, tingling in the arm. All symptoms associated with a burnout. But I don’t believe that we should automatically view our body’s response to the stress of adapting to this ‘new normal’ – whatever that might be – as a burnout.”

“We are living through stressful times, and yes, of course work plays a big role. We spend eight hours a day at work, but now we’re working from home and are expected to stay close to home, if not at home, as much as possible. So where can we find the rest and relaxation we need to switch off and give our brains a break? Quite literally, today’s societal disruptions are disrupting our brains and with that, our mental wellbeing.”

A positive mindset can help a great deal of course, but what if you’re naturally prone to worry? Hourly news updates of spiking rates and overrun hospitals, opposing voices on social media and in the news; none of it helps ease the unquiet mind. Even the most resilient amongst us are susceptible to moments of panic confesses Willemijn.

“Quite literally, today’s societal disruptions are disrupting our brains and with that, our mental wellbeing.”

Daily Sources of Stress

“Just recently I was forced to miss my niece’s eighteenth birthday. I’d woken up with a bit of a cough and a light fever and convinced myself it was corona. My dad is a high-risk profile and the whole family was due to meet. From making an appointment with my GP to getting my test results back took ten days. Ten days that I spent making excuses so as to not worry my family, worrying about whom I’d seen in the two preceding weeks, worrying about their families, friends and colleagues. In the end I got the all-clear from the doctor, but those ten days of waiting were incredibly stressful and I ended up missing my niece’s birthday party, which made me feel sad too.”

“Companies are seeing similar worries coming from their employees and find themselves navigating tricky situations on a daily basis. A client’s key sales person had recently returned from honeymoon and the team demanded he got tested before returning to work. So on the one hand we have an entire team flat-out refusing to work with a colleague, and on the other we have our honeymooner, who has no way of getting tested on a Sunday evening and is forced to miss an important meeting. How do you manage this? What’s your company policy going to be? It’s just one of the infinite ways in which COVID-19 not only impacts how we work together, but how we treat each other too.”

“Because let’s be very clear: everything we do right now is a source of stress. Work from home? It brings stress into your safe haven. Reboarding? Places stress on teams and management alike. Going to the shops? Stressful stuff because who last touched that keypad? It begins the moment we get out of bed and you can quite easily drive yourself nuts worrying.”

Soothing the Unquiet Mind

What then is the solution? Do we allow ourselves a five-minute freak-out in the morning and then just get on with things? Ping an elastic band on our wrists every time we catch ourselves spiralling? How do we stop worry getting the better of us? And how can companies instil trust in both teams and process?

“Communication is key,” suggests Willemijn. “Organisations have to be clear about what they expect from their employees and how these expectations – and measures – will be managed. Are you going for a hybrid setup or is everyone WFH until further notice? How long is this likely to last, and what is guiding your decision making? How will you be reboarding people? What kind of support can team members expect?”

“We’ve created an entire series of webinars for our clients as individual employees have different needs. Everything from online yoga classes to brain training sessions to strengthen mental resilience has proven to be hugely popular. But you can’t just rely on tools. Organisations also need to make sure there is room for informal conversations, like you’d normally have while waiting for the kettle to boil. You need to nourish social cohesion, and if that means a weekly online coffee hour or creating a buddy programme where people check in with one another, then that’s what you need to introduce.”

“Bring structure to your day and alternate between the things that give you energy and those that cost energy.”

Bring Positivity Back

“Personally, I’ve stopped watching the news. There’s no point, it just makes you worry more. I receive a morning push message with the latest statistics. I look at it and then delete it. Tune out the bad news to maintain a positive mindset. Similarly, when I watch a movie or a series, I only watch nice things. Laughter helps release endorphins so watch a good comedy or call a friend and get silly together. I also love watching things that uplift and inspire me, such as TED talks or webinars, and listen to podcasts that put me in a positive mindset.”

“Take yourself out of your comfort zone. You live at home, work from home, maybe the kids are home too, as well as your partner. Even if you have more time now that the daily commute has fallen away, you shouldn’t be using that time to work more. Instead, challenge yourself to do or learn something new. I’ve started studying to become a neuropsychologist. Why not? I have time now. There are so many free apps and classes to be found online. Learn yoga, start doing pilates, lift some bags of sugar for weights… Exercise is essential to a healthy body and mind and there’s so much you can do at home.”

“Card games such as memory are a super simple but effective way of training your brain and keeping concentration and memory skills on point. Whether it’s an online game of solitary or a board game with the family, playing games stops you worrying about things you can’t control. It’s one of the few good things to have come out of all this: people are playing games again and spending more quality time together. Also be sure to stay in touch with the people you care about. Schedule weekly FaceTime or Zoom chats with loved ones near and far.”

If you’re going to be spending this much time at home, make it nice. Get a floral subscription – I used to get flowers delivered every other week, but have now upgraded it to weekly as fresh flowers really bring me joy – light some candles every evening, read a book, dig in your garden, paint the wall that’s been irritating you for so long, do the things that make you feel good about your environment.”

“Find some time to meditate every day, or even easier: find a theta wave playlist that works for you. Theta waves are hertz waves and the ‘pure’ stuff sounds awful, but some YouTube playlists are almost music-like. Where alpha waves energise, theta waves soothe the brain and relax you. Just stick on your headphones and sit back for twenty minutes or so before you go to bed. It works wonders. You can put it on your speakers while you cook or do yoga, but to get the full benefit, use headphones. Just don’t put it on in the car or you might just doze off,” laughs Willemijn.

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, bring structure into your daily routine. It’s all good and well adding all these new things into your day, but you need to maintain balance. I’ve used Excel to make a weekly schedule for myself that alternates between the things that give me energy and those that cost energy. Mornings are for studying, then I exercise before doing an online intake or coaching session, after which I meditate. Continuously switch between relaxation and effort, and block off enough time for each in your daily planner.”

Eight Top Tips

• Stop watching the news, a daily push message is enough to keep you updated;
• Watch things that uplift, inspire and make you smile;
• Step out of your comfort zone and learn something new;
• Exercise daily and play games to refocus your mind;
• Stay in touch with your loved ones;
• Create a warm and happy home environment;
• Quiet your mind through meditation or theta waves;
• Bring structure into your day and alternate between effort and energy.

Visit www.pinkrebelrevolution.com for more information on recovering from burnout and for free webinars to help you strengthen your mental resilience.

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Lockdown 1.0

All of the respondents reported experiencing major changes to bookings and occupancy rates as soon as the first lockdown was announced. From tenants abruptly returning to their home countries to last-minute cancellations of newly expected arrivals, the industry was thrown into disarray from one day to the next. However, the sudden drop in new bookings was mostly balanced out by residents who found their assignments extended due to travel restrictions.

“Many of our residents left abruptly to return to their respective home countries when the first lockdown was announced. From having been fully booked, we were almost empty overnight. During that same period, we received requests from people stranded in Waterloo and in need of temporary housing as a result of hotels shutting down and/or not being able to secure a flight back home. Strangers became grateful guests.”
Marijke Gilmore, DVM Furnished Housing

“Together with the Antwerp Hotel Association we gave away 500 free nights to doctors, nurses and caregivers from hospitals in Antwerp when bookings went down. This way essential workers could stay closer to work when doing double shifts or rest during the day when working night shifts.”
Filip Goorden, Arass Hotel & Business Flats

“Lockdown was very strange, as everything ground to a halt from one day to the next. Thankfully, our property management and trustee services kept us busy. Once the borders opened up again things slowly went back to normal, but bookings can change at an instant depending on home countries’ latest COVID rules.”
Guillaume Dubucq, Skyline Renting

Addressing Concerns

Unsurprisingly, health and safety came out as the number one concern. From ensuring social distancing can be maintained throughout the communal areas to daily disinfection and hygienic collection systems for linens, serviced accommodation providers have been careful to implement all WHO and government guidelines. Cancellation policies and flexibility of bookings were the second most popular demand with clients.

“Daily cleaning of all communal areas with efficient products, clear signposting regarding the importance of hand washing and maintaining a social distance, staff wearing protective gloves and masks whilst working, asking tenants to leave their apartments during cleaning if they can… All the measures we have implemented are designed to keep our guests safe and offer them peace of mind.”
Filip W, Belsquare Residence

“We have found that many customers use our apartments for quarantine purposes and working from home and shopping for food has been a concern. To assist we have been adapting our services and spaces to ensure they can comfortably work from home in safety. We have delivered food welcome packs to tenants who are unable to shop on arrival and our technicians have helped a number of tenants rearrange furnishings in their apartments to configure remote working office spaces.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF

“We created adapted policies related to cancellations and early departures in response to client concerns. We also offer solutions for guests in quarantine, so they can live with the necessary comfort without leaving their studio or apartment. Most importantly, we created a Safety Charter together with our local teams and suppliers that takes into account feedback from clients as well as government and WHO advice into consideration.”
Wendy Croes, Premier Suites Plus

Service as Usual?

It isn’t just tenants who are expected to work from home during the lockdown; accommodation providers too have to limit the number of workers on site. From having just one staff member and a single housekeeper on site per shift, to closing down breakfast bars and communal areas, on the whole, service does not continue as usual for our members during lockdown.

Instead, creative solutions such as breakfast bags and linen drop offs are popular ways of providing guests with as much comfort as possible. Feedback on such measures is positive as guests feel their safety concerns are being heard.

“We have chosen to limit our services as much as possible as guests’ main concern is staying safely within their bubble. As all our apartments are fully equipped with all necessary white goods, guests are fully self-sufficient. We ensure they have spare sets of bed linens and towels and provide ample sanitizing products. Service is not quite as usual, instead we adjust our rates accordingly, and we all prefer it this way. That said, the utility costs will increase for us as people spend more time at home.”
Marijke Gilmore, DVM Furnished Housing

“Although we have had to temporarily halt our cleaning services, our technical support remains assured at all times with the team handling all requests for technical support. In the commercial field, we work with virtual tours and 3D videos of our apartments and residences. The safest way during this pandemic to show our apartments to prospective tenants.”
Robbie Vercarre, RentMore

For the accommodation providers with shared amenities on offer, hygiene and booking systems take centre stage in the fight against COVID-19. Tenants are able to book hourly timeslots in gyms, which are disinfected after every use. Communal areas where guests can meet up have become significantly less popular since the start of the pandemic, even if guests do report missing human interaction. Thankfully spacious living rooms means guests are able to exercise in their apartments during times of restricted movement.

Expectations & Assignments

The fact that serviced apartments come fully equipped has proven to be a major draw for companies sending staff overseas. Uncertainty on the future of travel meant a lot companies waited to see what actions others were taking with regards to foreign assignments, but as the months rolled on, mobility picked up again as confidence in the sector grew. Being able to cook in your own kitchen, do your own laundry and work from home in a spacious environment with high speed internet means sheltering in place is comfortable and safe. Especially for guests coming from countries that require a quarantine, a serviced apartment is the perfect solution.

“In Antwerp the projects that started up again first, were mainly in the Port of Antwerp. People that travel for work stay longer, but also demand flexibility as their stay can change at once if rules change again. I do believe guests chose places where they feel safe and apartments that offer more space offer more comfort.”
Filip Goorden, Arass Hotel & Business Flats

“We noticed that expats who were at the end of their assignments had their assignments extended as their employers or embassies were unable to fly in their successors. Instead, they extended the work contracts for the people already in Belgium.”
Guillaume Dubucq, Skyline Renting

“Guests have become more approachable and are hugely understanding of any changes or restrictions to our services in line with government advice. Bookings are often made at the very last minute and others stay longer than initially expected. In general companies expect more flexibility in terms of operations and bookings or cancellations.”
Laura Temmerman, Residence Inn Ghent

Lasting Impact

Without a doubt, COVID has had an impact on the housing industry. Heightened health and safety protocols, a flexible approach to changes and last-minute bookings, virtual tours and more are changes that are likely to stay. Now more than ever, a frictionless experience has become a must, even if this does complicate matters from an operational point of view. The pandemic has created a lot of uncertainties for the economy and taking an agile approach has become the norm for organisations in all sectors.

As companies discover work from home as a viable option in times of need, the benefits of a serviced apartment over a hotel room become even more obvious. Apartments with an outdoor space such as a terrace or garden are seeing increased demand as tenants find themselves spending more time in their apartment than usual.

“Technology plays a big part in how the client wants the booking process to be. They either choose whether it is tech-led with, for example, instant bookings, live availability or a more consultative approach with human interaction. This time also offers an opportunity to develop the business and look at new areas of the business.”
Yolanda Blomjous, SITU

“We have seen this as an incredible opportunity to really study the expat and travelling professional’s needs and ensure that our services are flexible enough to meet the needs of the full lifecycle of their relocation requirements. For example, short stay apartments like Zilverhof Residence are a five minute drive from the international airport and available for weekly rentals, making them ideal for travellers needing to quarantine.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF

“Needs will always evolve, but we do not believe it will have a lasting impact on business. Brussels remains the European capital and international business people and Eurocrats will always have a home here.”
Robbie Vercarre, RentMore

And Finally

Respondents are unanimous in their positive outlook on the future. Yes, things have changed and yes, these remain trying times for everyone but members are committed to meeting all governmental and customer demands to ensure guests enjoy a safe and pleasurable stay in Belgium.

“It has been a great opportunity to adapt and strive to improve the services for our customers. We have seen the market begin to change and we are working hard to ensure that we are ready to continue meeting these changes as we head into 2021 with our flexible offerings and apartments for each stage of business professionals’ relocation lifecycle.”
Stephany Cowley, BBF

“A lot will depend on politics and the measures different countries implement, as well as medical advances. COVID has definitely had an impact on how we experience social life and how we work, and it will take years to back to where we were in the past.”
Laura Temmerman, Residence Inn Ghent

“Every struggle, every challenge, creates new experiences that we should embrace and use in our future business. This pandemic is one of a kind and made history, but it will never change the fact that the Hospitality Industry is a People Industry. Our daily goal is to welcome our residents in a healthy, safe and warm environment so that they feel at home…”
Wendy Croes, Premier Suites Plus

“With travel being put on hold and postponed, this is a good time to review temporary housing policies and to look at suppliers in a different light. A more personal approach seems to be the way forward, after all, we are in this together and nobody knows what the future holds but there will be a new normal!”
Yolanda Blomjous, SITU

For a complete overview of ABRA members that provide serviced accommodation, please visit

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Since 20 August 2020, the Belgian government continued to seek alignment with the EU recommendations and announced new guidelines that would formalise the broadening of the scope of workers considered as highly skilled essential workers exempt from the travel ban. Updated guidelines applicable as of 11 September, make official solutions for both short- and long-term travellers (being less or more than 90 days in any 180 day period).

Long-term travellers from “White Listed” countries

From 25 September onwards Belgium foresees in a removal of border restrictions and quarantine requirement for all travellers coming from so called ‘While Listed’ countries. Travellers coming from these countries are permitted to travel to Belgium regardless of the travel purpose, provided that they comply with standard visa and entry criteria. These countries originate from the listing originally issued under the Council Recommendation of June 30. Countries currently included in the list are: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand and Uruguay (list subject to change – check https://diplomatie.belgium.be/nl for a most updated version).

Long-term travellers from countries that are not “White Listed”

All foreign nationals who qualify for a single permit based on a work authorization category exempt from labour market testing are automatically included in the category of essential workers. This includes specialised technicians and shortage occupations in the Flanders and Walloon regions of Belgium. All foreign nationals who have been issued an Annex 46 in the procedure towards obtaining a Single Permit will qualify for the VISA D (B34). Equally, the EU Blue Card applicants continue to qualify for the Visa D (B29).

Short-term travel from countries that are not “White Listed”

Belgium has also included an important exception on the travel ban for short-term travellers who can demonstrate the essential character of their activities in Belgium.. In order to meet these criteria, travellers must obtain an “Attestation of Essential Travel” (template available on the website of the Immigration Office) from the relevant Diplomatic Post. To obtain the attestation, you must submit the documents that prove the essential nature of the activities, such as a work permit B, documents supporting the work authorisation exemption and statement(s) from the employer. We recommend that all travellers obtain this attestation to avoid queries by airline companies or Belgian border inspection services.

Finally it is also Important to mention that self-employed workers will no longer be subject to the travel ban if they can carry the relevant VISA D and/or “Attestation of Essential Travel.” It remains important that all travellers complete the Public Health Passenger Locator Form (PLF) 48 hours prior to arriving in Belgium. Proof that the PLF has been completed will need to be given to the airline when boarding the plane. Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival from a red zone and should only be tested if they present symptoms. Note that that the quarantine can only be lifted based upon the optional self-assessment or to fulfil the essential purpose of the trip and to the extent that this activity cannot be postponed to a later date.

After months of highly restricted access options to Belgium, these adjusted guidelines bring a wind of change and allow companies to reconsider the remobilisation of foreign national staff, which is crucial for business recovery and economic growth.

Opportunities for workforce planning – what companies should do:

1. Keep up to date with government measures. These measures are constantly changing and windows of opportunity for enhanced mobility can appear. It is crucial to develop broad awareness of the restrictions, as well as a deep understanding of business solutions.

2. Develop creative remobilisation strategies. As there are variances among EU countries with respect to border openings, employers can use the more “relaxed” countries, such as Belgium, as entry points into the EU.

3. Explore EU-wide permits/facilitated immigration routes. European legislation and European Court of Justice case law provides facilitated routes for non-EU nationals to work in more than one EU country. This allows companies to explore the full potential of their EU-based workforce while it remains challenging to bring employees from outside the EU.

4. Make sure you remain compliant. The work and travel patterns of your employees may adjust substantially to the current circumstances: working from home and/or client site, furlough schemes and more frequent business travel inside the EU. Employers must remain vigilant to the employment, immigration and social security legislation requirements with which they may have to comply in this new landscape.

For further information and advice on navigating the immigration landscape and impacts of COVID-19, please contact Jo Antoons or Alexander De Nys.

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The IPI/BIV contested this ruling at the Council of State (Raad van State/Conseil d’État) on November 12th but the case was rejected on November 14th (FR / NL). Please take careful note of the information shared below as we have heard reports of fines up to €2000 for those found in breach of regulations.

From a strictly legal point of view, physical visits for home searches and/or surveys are not authorized as we are currently under lockdown. In practice, some real estate agencies are still conducting visits (dependent on region) and others are only doing virtual visits. We understand that each case is different, but we strongly advise you to postpone house hunts until the matter has been resolved. The Colour Code Protocol published by the Flemish Ministry of Housing appears to be the safest (and clearest) guideline to follow until further notice.

Many industries – including home cleaning services, removal services and real estate services – have published guides to safely resuming business post-lockdown and the measures outlined here should be followed at all times. However, keep in mind that these guides were written with a loosening of restrictions in mind. Measures include maintaining a safe distance, hygiene precautions and minimising the number of people in a space at any given time.

Tuesday 17th November brings yet another update: it would appear that you can view a property now as a private individual and providing there is no one else in the property (FR / NL).

Official Government Position
Toegelaten Economische Activiteiten (webpage)
Gids Opening Handel (PDF)
Activités Économiques Autorisées (webpage)
Guide Ouverture Commerces (PDF)

Ministry of Housing (Flanders)
Colour Code Protocol (PDF)

IPI/BIV Position
Impact van COVID-19 op je kantoor (webpage)
Impact du COVID-19 sur votre agence (webpage)

Individual Sector Guides
Real Estate Industry (PDF)
Moving Industry (PDF)
Cleaning Services (PDF)

Generic Guide
Safety at Work

For your interest, the following is the IPI/BIV’s take on current governmental guidelines. This reasoning has, however, been rejected. Home viewings are not authorised under the current lockdown.

May I open my office?

Under Article 6(3) of the MB of 1-11-2020, companies offering services to consumers are closed to the public. Intermediaries and stewards have to work behind closed doors in their real estate offices. Teleworking is compulsory unless this is impossible due to the nature of the job.

Site visits and place descriptions are allowed, as there is no ban on non-essential movements. The sector advises restricting a place visit to a maximum of 2 visitors at a time, in addition to the real estate agent. Respect the sector guide at all times!

We have made an informative film for consumers about the course of the physical site visits. In it, we show that the real estate agent takes all precautions and protective measures to ensure that the site visit runs as smoothly and safely as possible.

Which measures do I need to take?
Can home visits, surveys, etc. take place?

Under Article 6(3) of the MB of 1-11-2020, companies offering services to consumers are closed to the public. Intermediaries and stewards have to work behind closed doors in their real estate offices.

Teleworking is compulsory unless this is impossible due to the nature of the job.

Site visits and place descriptions are allowed, as there is no ban on non-essential movements. The sector advises restricting a place visit to a maximum of 2 visitors at a time, in addition to the real estate agent. Respect the sector guide at all times!

In addition, the FPS Economy published the ‘guide to the opening of trade’. The content of this guide can be supplemented in accordance with the guidelines of the National Security Council. This guide also applies to free professional activities without physical contact, see p.7.

Please also note that the Flemish Government approved a protocol for the rental market based on colour codes. The application of the measures is made dependent on the stage of the coronavirus pandemic and is indicated by colour codes ranging from green, over yellow and orange to red. The Minister of Housing determines which colour code applies.

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After all, you usually only fire off the occasional late night email or put the finishing touches to that report before turning off your laptop and settling in for the night. However, this new reality is expected to last anywhere from a few more weeks to eighteen months or more. This means we can expect to be working from home for quite some time to come, and even when the lockdown lifts, it may be reinstated at a future date. And so we thought some lessons from a professional freelancer might be welcome in helping you stay sane in the confines of your home.

Because working from home means lots of distractions, and anything that helps you focus is worth looking into. From the cat meandering into your Zoom meeting to the depressing stain on the wall you are facing, it’s not as easy to be productive as you might have expected. The things we can usually ignore are suddenly magnified as we spend all day confined in our own little bubble.

Home Office

Time then to give our home office a bit of love. Yes, it matters which way your desk is facing and yes, it’s important to have a good desk chair. You can take my word for it. Desk work is back breaking and you’ll be hard pressed to find a chiropractor willing to take new clients right now. Spend some time online and find that perfect chair; your back and neck will thank you for it. Similarly, move your desk around the room until it feels right. Clear those piles of bills away and make it yours.

Order a pot of paint and a brush, and freshen up that wall. Get rid of the wobbly table that houses your printer and invest in something stylish. You’re going to be looking at it for eight hours a day for the foreseeable future. You might as well treat yourself. Don’t forget to order in fresh flowers to cheer up both yourself and your work space. It’s the small things that make a difference.

Ideally, a decent work space means somewhere you can close the door on. Not just from the kids or the dog for obvious reasons, but where your work is out of your field of vision. It’s ever so tempting to just finish that one small item off your to-do list as dinner is in the oven, but – speaking from experience – you’ll find yourself working late into the night. All this leads to is unrealistic expectations from international clients who suddenly find you are always available, heightened irritability, and of course sleeping in late because you’re exhausted from burning the midnight oil. It’s a slippery slope. Finding and sticking to a healthy rhythm is essential when working from home. Be strict, turn off that computer at the end of the day and don’t touch it again until tomorrow. Oh, and take the weekend off.

Virtual Workplace

Apps like Slack, Trello and Asana can help remote teams stay on track, and are essential when you’re trying to manage projects from home. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.

On a side note, please remain vigilant when it comes to strange emails, attachments and other unusual activity. Hackers are having a field day with so many people suddenly working from home computers. So update your software to the latest version, get a good password manager and consider investing in anti-virus software that packs a punch such as Malwarebytes. SafeonWeb also has some great tips to keep you safe online.

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Keep On Keeping On

With movement restricted to just the essentials, you’ll quickly find the walls are closing in on you. And although your dog may be enjoying the extra walks, they’re hardly adding productivity to your day. So, as well as your daily excursion round the block, find an online class you can really get into. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube. Her ten to fifteen minute stretch classes are a great way to start your morning, injecting energy and focus into your day. From guided morning meditations to hour-long Vinyasa flows for flexibility, she has something for everyone.

In the name of research I decided to check out overnight global phenomenon Joe Wick, also known as The Body Coach. I enjoyed every second of the 30-minute session, but can tell you my glutes and calves are in agony today. His cheerful delivery and personal shout-outs to the kids online are sure to put a smile on your face and give your day a much-needed boost. It’s not surprising his daily PE class has captured the imagination of parents and kids alike, with week 1 of ‘PE with Joe’ racking up views from 17 million households around the world. Thirty second bursts of HIIT-style exercises include everything from ‘bunny hops’ to ‘Spiderman lunges’ (shooting imaginary webs from your wrists) are live-streamed straight from his living room at 11am CET. So give it a whirl, I’ll be there again tomorrow, cat and dog tripping me up.

After Work Apero

Speaking of internet sensations, the video chat app HouseParty has seen a massive increase in downloads, with Vogue hailing it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately”. Just like with Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Google Hangouts, you can video call with friends, but unlike with these, people can just join in the ‘party’ without you needing to add them to the call. This can have surprising benefits, as well as some potential pitfalls.

We’ll leave it to you to decide how and with whom you prefer organising your virtual happy hour, but socialising is key to staying sane when it’s just you and your four walls. So be sure to take some time out to have some fun with family, friends and colleagues, even if it has to remain virtual for now. We’re looking forward to hosting the first virtual ABRA Apero on Friday April 17th from 6pm, an invite will follow separately.

Finally, tempting as it might be to open that bottle of vino and go into holiday modus sometime around midday, know that this too shall pass and we expect things will become busier than ever before when lockdowns around the world lift and borders are reopened. As EuRA’s CEO Tad Zurlinden said last week “Our industry is going to be at the forefront of rebuilding commerce and economies all over the world and we need to be ready to react fast and big when that day comes”.


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Deferral of Payment and Guarantees

The banks and the government are very much aware of the difficult situation in which both companies and individuals now find themselves. They want to support and financially support them as much as possible. In this way, they have every opportunity to get through this turbulent period as well as possible and to quickly find a stable financial situation as soon as the corona crisis has subsided.

Together with the Minister of Finance, and with the support of the National Bank of Belgium, the sector has worked out an agreement for viable companies, based on two pillars:

■ The financial sector is committed to viable businesses and the self-employed as well as mortgage borrowers who are at risk of payment problems by postponing the corona crisis until 30 September 2020, and this without charging any costs.

■ The federal government will activate a guarantee scheme for all new loans and credit lines with a maximum term of 12 months, granted by banks to viable non-financial businesses and the self-employed.
These support measures are intended to provide financial flexibility in order to to enable taxpayers to overcome temporary financial difficulties.

Quick Overview

a. Which companies?
Natural or legal persons with an enterprise number (ECB/KBO):
∞ regardless of their sector of activity
∞ who are experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the spread of the coronavirus and can demonstrate this (e.g., a decrease in the number of business, a significant drop in orders and/or reservations, chain reaction effects with partner companies, etc.). Support measures may not be granted to undertakings which, regardless of coronavirus, experience structural payment problems.

b. What debts?
∞ Withholding tax (bedrijfsvoorheffing / précompte professionel)
∞ VAT (payment deadlines are extended interest free)
∞ Personal income tax
∞ Corporate income tax
∞ Taxation of legal persons

c. What is the timeframe?
∞ Application to be submitted no later than 30 June 2020

d. What measures?
∞ Payment plan
∞ Exemption from interest on arrears
∞ Remission of fines for non-payment

e. What conditions?
∞ Compliance with the conditions for filing declarations
∞ debts must not result from fraud

Support measures will be withdrawn in the event of:
∞ failure to comply with the payment plan granted, unless the debtor takes
timely contact with the administration
∞ occurrence of collective insolvency proceedings (bankruptcy, judicial reorganisation, …)

f. What steps?
Contact your bookkeeper for further details and the links to the correct documents for your region.

Social Security Contributions

Option 1. Postponement of Payment

Entrepreneurs in main occupation and assisting spouses may apply for deferral of payment of 1 year if they experience difficulties due to the coronavirus. You do not pay any surcharges or interest (in case of timely payment in 2021) and your rights will continue to accrue.

Which Quarters:
∞ 1st quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 31 March 2020 to 31 March 2021
∞ 2nd quarter 2020: payment date postponed from 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021

Deadline Request:
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 1
Applications before 15/06/2020 for quarter 2

How to apply:
Send your bookkeeper an e-mail with the following details and request a postponement:
– Surname and first name
– Place of residence
– Name and seat of your company
– Company number
– Professional activity in which you are active

Please note: direct debit customers must notify the bank themselves. If they fail to do so, social security contributions will still be credited in the event of postponement of payment.

The measure concerning the postponement by one year of the payment of social security contributions for the first two quarters of 2020, as well as the regularisation contributions due on 31 March 2020, is extended to ALL categories of self-employed workers (i.e. not only applicable to self-employed workers in their main profession and assisting spouses). In view of the economic impact of the emergency measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the application for deferral of the first quarter 2020 contributions may be submitted until 15 June 2020.

Option 2: Reduction of Social Security Contribution

You can have your social contribution reduced to the legal thresholds when your income is reduced. Overview Thresholds: https://www.xerius.be/nl-be/zelfstandigen/sociale-zekerheid/drempelbedragen

Option 3: Temporary Financial Difficulties Exemption

You can request an exemption due to ‘temporary financial difficulties’ for the social security contributions of the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2020. If you want to apply for a waiver of your fees for these two quarters, we recommend that you do so before you receive the statement for the second quarter. An application for future quarters is not possible. This is only available to the full time self-employed and their and assisting spouses in the maxi statute.

If you receive a positive advice, you will not build up any pension rights for these two quarters (this is provisional and can be adjusted due to coronavirus), although your social security (health care) status will not be affected. Also keep in mind that you will have to have been active in this statute for at least 4 quarters. This too may be relaxed, but this is not yet clear.

For the time being, there are no simplified application forms and you have two options: submit directly to the government or as a customer of Xerius via this form. If you have a different social secretariat, please check their website for the relevant paperwork.

However, we are in favour of applying for a postponement of payment first. You can always apply for the exemption later (before the end of 2020).

Replacement Income
(overbruggingsrecht or droit passerelle)

For whom?
YES: ALL self-employed persons in main profession and assisting spouses in maxi statute.
NOT: Self-employed as a secondary profession, pensioners, student self-employed and self-employed persons with equal secondary profession.

Please note: this is considered as a replacement income and cannot be combined with any other benefit (during this break you may also NOT start working as an employee).
Starting date of the entrepreneur does not matter and it is also available to sole proprietors and company managers. The sector in which they are active does not matter either.

The Replacement Income can be combined with the Flemish Nuisance Allowance. If you want to take advantage of this, you must apply for it yourself. Replacement Income is paid out by your social insurance fund (Xerius, Acerta, Liantis, …).

Amount of Payment:
∞ Active in the hospitality industry (even if you do not close your business completely and still offer takeaway meals and close your business for at least one day).

∞ Other sectors (where you are obliged to close your business completely or partially due to the corona virus) and interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days.

∞ Other sectors that close down as a precaution, or because they have too few customers.

They receive a benefit of 1,291.69 euros (or 1,614.10 euros in case of dependants) for either March or April, depending on which month you interrupt your activities for at least 7 consecutive days. Are your activities interrupted for at least 7 consecutive days in both months? Then you can get a replacement income in both March and April.

How to apply and when can you expect your payment?
Option 1: Send an e-mail to your social insurance fund and mention the following in the e-mail:
o Apply for a replacement income because of corona virus,
o your name, first name and place of residence,
o your customer number, which you will find on your statement or on the back of your identity card (your national registration number is also your customer number).
o your company number and the name and registered office of your company,
o the sector in which you are active and briefly outline the reason(s) why you had to interrupt the activities as a result of the coronavirus.
o the period of interruption: the date that you stop your activities and possibly the date that you resume your activities (the latter date is currently not yet estimable for most people, so it is not necessary to indicate this).
o the bank account number to which the payment may be made.

Also answer the following questions in your e-mail:
o Do you have at least one dependant (wife, cohabitant, parent, grandparent, child,…)?
o Do you exercise a professional activity during the cessation or interruption of your self-employed activity? Or are you still a mandatary or working partner in another company?
o Do you receive a replacement income during the period of interruption?

Option 2: Fill in the simplified application form for ‘coronavirus’ replacement income, sign and send it to your social insurance fund.

Please note: Application in both options must be done by yourself. Your accountant of course will assist you if you have any questions about this.

Hindrance Premium
(hinderpremie or prime unique)

The Hindrance Premium is determined on the basis of the establishment unit of the entrepreneur and applies to forced closures of physical locations (excl. pick-up). There is only a premium of 4,000 euros. The premium of 2,000 euros has been abolished in Flanders. Brussels and Wallonia apply different rules (for the time being) – see further down.

– 1 establishment:
o 4,000 euros per forced closure and only for physical locations (excl. collection) – proof by declaration on honour
o Pay at least as main professional or 1 FTE as salary

– Multiple locations:
o You receive the Hindrance Premium for a maximum of 5 locations.
o Paying at least as a main professional or 1 FTE as an employee.

The Flemish Hindrance Premium can be applied for up to and including May 5, so you certainly have plenty of time to submit your application.

Download the various documents from the ABRA website.
Apply for the Flemish Hindrance Allowance with this link.

What do you need to have at hand?
∞ Your e-ID and your e-ID pin code (or your smartphone if you log on via itsme).
∞ An active Belgian account number of your company on which the premium can be paid (in IBAN format, i.e. consisting of 16 characters starting with BE,
followed by 2 digits and then the 12 digits of your account number)
∞ Check your normal opening days, as they were before the coronavirus measures
∞ Main or secondary profession
∞ In case of a secondary occupation: do you pay social security contributions like a main occupation? Only auxiliary professionals who pay the minimum contributions of a main professional are eligible.
∞ The website address (url) of your company if you have one
∞ Do you have multiple branches? Be sure to select the right branch for which you are applying for the premium.

∞ This premium is tax exempt.
∞ The further promotion of webshops has NO influence on the granting of the premium when a physical location is present.
∞ The Belfius card reader and probably also at other banks can be used as an E-ID reader.
∞ If you do not have an active branch in the KBO or if the position(s) is (are) not correct, you cannot apply for a nuisance bonus (this can possibly still be rectified via the Ondernemingsloket).

a. Tax freeze in Wallonia
For its part, the Walloon government has frozen all regional taxes related to the number of days that the businesses are closed, prorated to the number of days they are closed.

b. Closure Compensation
Compensation of 5,000 euros per closed company in Wallonia The Walloon Government grants a lump-sum compensation of 5,000 euros for each business that has closed or ceased operations during the period of containment. The sectors concerned are horeca, accommodation, travel agencies and reservation services, retail, as well as travel and provision of services (e.g. beauticians). An indemnity of 2,500 euros is also provided for companies with the activity is restricted, including hairdressers.

■ The information number 1890 remains available for entrepreneurs and Walloon independents.

The Brussels government, for its part, has decided to support the treasury of the companies affected through the granting of public guarantees on bank loans for a total of EUR 20 million. It also intends to strengthen support for companies in difficulty via the Centre for Enterprises in Difficulty (CED). Simplification and administrative benevolence towards the companies and businesses affected as well as the anticipation of the treatment and liquidation of economic aid to priority destination for the Horeca, cultural, hotel and event sectors are also applicable.

■ The information number 1819 centralizes all information for companies and entrepreneurs in Brussels.

Compensation Premium Entrepreneurs

As of last week, the Flemish government is providing an additional support measure for entrepreneurs who are not obliged to close down (and therefore cannot apply in conjunction with the Nuisance Premium), but who are still experiencing a large loss of turnover due to the Corona crisis. This is the Compensation Premium. They are still working on the application and correct modalities, for now you can find the latest information on the VLAIO website.

This new premium is aimed at companies and their suppliers who are allowed to continue working or shops that remain open but have a large loss of sales due to the restrictive measures, which can show that they have a loss of sales of -60% in the period between 15 March 2020 and 30 April compared to the same period last year.

For start-ups, a decrease in turnover of -60% compared to the financial plan laid down will be taken into account. NPOs are also eligible, provided that at least one person is employed full time.

Examples: companies in the events sector that also employ many freelancers; (para-) medical professions such as physiotherapists, dentists, psychologists or speech therapists who are only allowed to carry out urgent interventions; companies that provide essential food services such as praline shops or liquor traders, but still suffer a heavy loss of turnover due to lack of passage or tourists; painters or plumbers who are only allowed to carry out urgent repair work; farmers who work specifically for hotel and catering customers, etc….

Amount of Aid
∞ The aid includes a one-off compensation premium of €3,000;
∞ There is a maximum of 5 premiums per company if there are more than one operating seat per company.
∞ Self-employed persons in a secondary occupation, who pay social security contributions as a self-employed person in their main occupation due to the level of income, can also receive the compensation premium of € 3,000;
∞ Self-employed persons in secondary occupation who have an income between € 6,996.89 and € 13,993.78 can claim a compensation premium of € 1,500. This premium also applies to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who are obliged to close, but does not apply to self-employed persons in a secondary occupation who combine this with a job as an employee of 80% or more.

More information is not yet available at time of publication and so we advise you to refer to the VLAIO website where the application will shortly be made available.

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Fragomen has devised a #COVID19 Impact Statement for each country in the Benelux, relating to right to Travel, Work and Reside. These will be housed on the Fragomen website, and will be regularly updated to take account of emerging government guidance and the changing landscape. They take a risk based approach where policy is not fully developed, and address the business impact of government closures and delays.

The Impact Statement answers all type of questions employers have as they look to protect their workforce and ensure compliance with immigration regulations. It includes travel restrictions, current application processing, delays to start dates, working from home policies, unpaid leave or temporary unemployment, changes to the employment contract and salary, work and residence permit renewals and many other items you need to consider from an immigration perspective.

Please consult Fragomen if you would like access to these documents. In the meantime, please find below a broad description of the current situation in Belgium.

General Situation in Belgium

• Travel ban: until 19 April (extension possible) with limited exceptions such as for those whose travel to Belgium is deemed essential (such as frontier workers) and nationals normally residing in Belgium, holding a Belgian residence permit and returning home.

• Regional Employment Offices & Foreigners Office: still processing all application types, processing times may experience some delays.

• In-country appointments: Town Halls are continuing to provide essential services. We recommend consulting the website of the Town Hall or contacting them via phone or email prior to visiting to confirm whether an appointment should be made or whether it is possible to arrange via email.

Leniency Measures

Given the current situation, the Belgian authorities have instated some “leniency” measures:

• There seems to be flexibility with respect to single permit supporting documents that are difficult to obtain due to COVID-19 such as medical certificates and police clearance documents (these remain mandatory but can be provided at a later stage).

• If an assignee cannot return home and risks becoming illegal in Belgium, they can exceptionally apply for an extended stay and work due to reasons of force majeur.

• Work or single permits allow working from home without a negative effect on the validity of the authorization, provided the working from home measures are temporary and due to the current situation surrounding COVID-19.

As you can see, the situation is highly complex but Belgium remains open for immigration processing, albeit on a limited basis.

Fragomen also wants to confirm that for individual cases, solutions are available and they are happy to help determine what can be done for each individual impacted by this situation. Fragomen can also assist with looking at your broader European workforce, both for urgent solutions now and preparing to remobilise, while equally addressing posted worker and social security compliance, as well as cost saving strategies.

Finally, Fragomen has invested thousands of hours and manpower in creating a unique microsite on the immigration impacts of COVID-19, for which there is no charge to access. This site is updated on a daily basis by the Fragomen Knowledge Team in conjunction with Fragomen legal experts around the world and includes a daily updated tracker including more than 135 countries’ specific COVID-19 policies.

If you have not had a chance to visit the site lately, please access our free microsite at https://www.fragomen.com/about/news/immigration-update-coronavirus

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In many organisations, all three are considered Mobility’s customers. Identifying key customers and their priorities is a vital step to achieving lasting, positive outcomes. Responses to the question on how mobility defines success, we can see that 87% of companies prioritise business satisfaction. These answers indicate that the business is Mobility’s primary customer. However, when asked how often Mobility engages the business when considering policy changes, most participants responded with “sometimes” or “often” rather than “always”. Engaging the business to learn what they value helps Mobility make good decisions about resources and approaches.

Most participants noted that the primary purpose of moving talent around the organisation is to fill skill or knowledge gaps. Additionally, customer requirements are increasingly diversified. Successful mobility functions are those that can engage with customers to understand their wider needs and offer solutions that allow the business to make good decisions in these areas. Ultimately, good decisions are the result of exploring customer needs and collaborating with customers and external partners to implement solutions that reflect the purpose of mobility within the organisation.

What do you consider to be the most important outcome of a cross-border assignment?
■ to fill staffing needs in locations where skills or knowledge are not available = 4.1
■ to provide strategic business direction = 3.3
■ to provide professional development and global skills for assignees = 2.9
■ to provide training/development for staff in host offices = 2.2
■ to spread organisational values and culture = 1.7

(5 = extremely important, 4 = very important, 3 = moderately important, 2 = slightly important, 1 = not important)

Ensuring effective governance: for some mobility functions, governance is solely about compliance. For a growing number of mobility leaders, it is about balancing oversight and flexibility.

Most participants indicate that multiple stakeholders must approve an international assignment before it moves forward. The host business is typically responsible for absorbing mobility costs and is noted as an approver in 77% of organisations. In contrast, Mobility, which creates and administers the policies, is an approver in just a third of organisations. This approval structure generates a requirement for mobility to respond to the diverse needs of the business and explains the continuing trend of Mobility offering flexible package options for the business. Forty percent of participants meet that requirement by differentiating policies by length and purpose, while 32% (up from 26% last year) offer flexibility via negotiation.

In companies offering assignment flexibility, mobility tends to play an advisory role with 39% of organisations indicating mobility recommends assignment and transfer packages for the business’ consideration. In 14% of organisations, mobility is responsible for defining assignment benefits and support and only 9% allow the business to structure packages without mobility’s input. Expanded possibilities for personalised packages and business choice require a strong and supportive governance framework. Successful mobility programs reinforce the mobility decision-making process with clear governance oversight.

How would you best describe global mobility’s approach to providing flexibility to the business?
■ 40% – multiple policies differentiated by length but also purpose, e.g. standard or developmental policies.
■ 32% – flexibility is provided by individual negotiation and exceptions.
■ 32% – all assignees go on the same assignment length with little flexiblity.
■ 26% – policy offers ‘core’ benefits for all employees, with option to add or adjust ‘flexible’ benefits.
■ 26% – policies outline benefits by job level or other criteria.

Communicating creatively: forty-four percent of companies see an opportunity to improve the way Mobility communicates with employees while 48% are prioritising better communication with the business.

With increasing policy options and governance models that encourage the business to make package decisions, Mobility has begun focussing on communications to provide guidance and distribute important information to the business as well as employees. Both audiences are important customers and connecting with them in a targeted way helps mobility in the short and long term. Eighty-six percent of companies are making efforts to improve employee experience and dynamic, one-to-many communications like videos, portals, and training modules engage employees while reducing administration. These resources can, for example, help the 17% of participants that provide cash lump sums explain the intent of such payments to encourage more thoughtful spending. Communicating with the business has historically been done on a case-by-case basis, but new resources, such as mobility decision guides, help the business create compliant packages or select policies that balance assignment investment and purpose.

Please indicate if your company offers flexible choice to the employee in any of the following ways:
■ 36% – provide a cash allowance in lieu of individual benefits.
■ 17% – offer a cash lump sum for multiple benefits.
■ 16% – offer choice between a cash allowance or in-kind benefits.
■ 6% – offer flexible spending budget or flex points approach.
■ 49% – none of the above.

Policy Trends

Most participants report that the demand for mobility is stable or growing. There are noted changes to the types of assignments and transfers being used today. Compared with last year, 13% more companies now have an international one-way transfer policy (72% vs 59% in 2018). In addition to increased interest in one-way transfers, multiple organisations reported their intentions to add a commuter policy to their mobility program. The growing use of commuter arrangements reinforces the trend of companies supporting more flexible work arrangements.

Looking Ahead

The most significant change in Mobility today is how the function works and communicates with customers. Participants reported ongoing and planned initiatives to improve Mobility’s visibility and engagement with customers, and many are leveraging technology and vendors to make that happen. Mobility is also increasingly focused on providing the business accurate cost estimates and planning support.

In addition to these operational and communication enhancements, there is a continued expansion of Mobility’s remit with many assuming responsibility for business travellers, commuters, locally hired non-nationals, and domestic relocations. The consolidation of all things mobility is increasing market demand for integrated and agile technology solutions that streamline workflow, cost planning, communication, and tracking. The Mobility function of tomorrow will be more connected, resourceful,
and impactful than ever before.

For the full report, visit the AIRINC website: www.air-inc.com/library/2019-mobility-outlook-survey/

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What led you to develop this platform?

“Thousands of expats move to Europe every single day and most of them do this without support from their employer. They’ll ask family, friends and acquaintances who have relocated before them for advice or end up on Google. And much as they’ll receive useful information, a lot of it will be contradictory and can be hugely confusing.”

“In fact, the platform is a great solution for expats who are already living here too. To give an example, I’ve been living in Belgium for 10 years, but when I recently wanted to look into extra dental cover, I was lost. There’s a sea of information out there, but if you search for ‘dental cover plans Belgium’ you end up with a list of dentists and articles on social security. All I wanted to know was which providers offer which plans. Imagine how confusing it is for new arrivals. Where do you even begin looking?”

“This is the problem we want to solve with Xpatris.com. We’ve carefully selected the market’s service providers, filtering them for dedicated expat services where possible. The clear overview not only lets users compare different plans and providers, but directs them to the most relevant pages. Trying to find the right dental plan via Google took me more than ten clicks, whereas the platform let me filter, select and sign up for the dental coverage I was looking for within three clicks.”

Is this the new way to relocate?

“Expats are increasingly expected to relocate themselves, but no, we’re definitely not a relocation service provider. The platform is complementary. The same client company that sends over a VIP CEO sends over junior profiles who don’t get the same level of support. Instead of spending unpaid time explaining the difference between Telenet and Belgacom, relocators can simply direct expats to the platform. We see Xpatris as a support tool for everyone active in the global mobility industry; it’s a daily solution that saves time and money. Time that you can spend focussing on delivering the personalised services that clients pay for.”

You’ve been live for just over a month, how has the platform been received?
“Initial response has been better than we dared hope: over 500 unique users registered during the first week, and we hadn’t even started our social media pages yet. We’ve already received the support of some really important players such as BNP Paribas, Radisson, Everis… Their HR departments are delighted with the platform. We’d love to see everyone using our platform and are very happy to collaborate. If you’d like to partner up with us, get in touch! That said, we’re not resellers: we are completely objective and every service provider is given the same amount of visibility. The platform is free for both users and providers. And because users can rate and review providers we ensure the quality and competitiveness of services offered remains high. Think of Xpatris as the Tripadvisor for expats.”

Who is behind the platform?

“Xpatris is the culmination of our own experiences as expats in many different countries and now in Belgium. We are two cofounders – Salvatore from Italy and Pari from India – who put our combined knowledge at your service. Pari used to work in Silicon Valley and combined with my experience in the financial world, it makes for a strong business and development background. Not to mention our personal experiences: we’re expats helping other expats get the most out of their new life in Belgium. We’re supported by a Buddy Community as well; all volunteers who have come to Belgium as foreign nationals. And then of course we have strategic partners such as ABRA, International House Leuven, Commissioner. Brussels and other institutions who are helping us power the platform.”

What’s next?

“We’ve chosen to focus on Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and Ghent as these are the most popular Belgian destinations with expats, but we’re looking forward to going international, penetrating new markets and developing new technology.”


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New Membership Category

Most, if not all, of our Full and Local Members rely on freelance relocation consultants during busy periods. As freelancers, they are able to jump in and help out where needed, covering everything from orientation tours to school visits and more. As such, it is important they receive the same level of training as any other relocation consultant.

With the creation of this new membership category, Freelance Members will be able to access the EuRA Managing International Mobility training for free, just like any other ABRA member. Freelance Members will also be invited to join the quarterly ABRA Member Meetings, where they will be able to network with peers and partners.

The ABRA Board has decided on launching this membership category at the exceptionally democratic rate of €25 to ensure widespread take up. We look forward to welcoming Freelance Members as of November 1st, 2019, and thank our Full and Local Members for helping us spread the word.

Free Access to EuRA Training

Over the years the partnership between ABRA and EuRA has gone from strength to strength, as together we seek to raise the bar in service delivery while sharing knowledge and insights from the industry. Many ABRA members already enjoy the many benefits of EuRA membership, including the annual relocation conference and free access to their outstanding online training programme.

We’re delighted to have negotiated some of the same benefits for ABRA members, courtesy of EuRA. As an ABRA member, you are now able to access the Managing International Mobility – or MIM for short – training for free, whether or not you are a EuRA member. Comprising 23 lessons in all, Module 1 can now be followed whenever and wherever you like. Simply pick up where you left off when you log in to the EuRA Academy app.

There will be four modules in total, three of which are currently under development. Training is entirely free for EuRA and ABRA members, however if you’d like to be accredited there is a small admin fee to be paid. To receive your ABRA member coupon code, contact ABRA Secretary Fiona Klomp on admin@abra-relocation.com.

Relocation Committee

Our Relocation Committee, comprising Eric Klitsch of Brussels Relocation and Pauline Six from Bright Expats, has recently been joined by new board member Liesbeth Van de Meersche of The MAP Group. With Eric taking over as ABRA President, the Relocation Committee would love to attract additional members, so if you feel you would be able to offer your support, please reach out to us. Volunteers for this committee should be Full or Local Members. Together, the RC promotes the industry of relocation, works towards recognition of ABRA, legal and other compliance matters.

This year, the focus has been firmly on 1000 Brussels as the situation is becoming worse by the day. The Fast Track desk has imploded under the backlog, and registration of expats takes an inordinate amount of time. As such, the Relocation Committee has built a core team to work on a new procedure. We look forward to keeping you updated on further progress.

ABRA Vice President Pauline Six joined a Round Table in Etterbeek at the start of the year, which involved different institutions that support or work with expats located in the Etterbeek area. Their APProach project aims to develop e-services for citizens and improve expat inclusion in the municipality. Around half the 50,000 residents in Etterbeek are foreigners thanks to the EU institutions, with some 2% leaving or arriving annually.

Membership Committee

While we lost a few members throughout the year due to changing contact persons, our Membership Committee has made every effort to attract even more new members to our association. Katrien Van den Waeyenbergh of Partena Business and Expats, Sandra Van Bellingen of BBF and Fabienne Vanderkelen of Altair Global, contacted some 150 potential new members by direct mail towards the end of last year and followed this up with a personal phone call.

Their approach has proven very successful, with 13 new members joining ABRA this year. This brings our total membership to 77 members, of which 15 are Full Members, 1 Local Member and 64 Affiliate Members. With the creation of the new Freelance Membership, we are looking forward to further growing our ABRA family.

It remains the goal of the Membership Committee to ensure that we not only see an increase in new members, but also that current ABRA Members are pleased with their membership. So if you have any questions, concerns, or have a potential new member in mind, please reach out to Katrien, Fabienne and Sandra anytime via membership@abra-relocation.com.

Communications Committee

The ABRA website continues to remain a useful reference tool, with the period between May 2018 and May 2019 attracting 23,067 unique visitors over 42,000 times. Between them, they viewed 274,524 pages, representing a growth of almost 20% in visitors and a 70% rise in page views from previous years.

As such, we’d like to remind all ABRA Members that if you’ve published a white paper, have conducted an important study or have other industry relevant news, you can share it on our newsfeed and social media channels. If you haven’t received your guide to publishing with ABRA, then reach out to Fiona via admin@abra-relocation.com for your personal copy.

Having chaired the Communications Committee for eight years, Fiona has handed over Chairmanship to Salvatore Orlando of BNP Paribas Fortis. The committee is very keen to attract new members with experience in media and/or marketing to help expand our partnerships, advertising and promotion of the industry. Any ABRA Member can join the Communications Committee, so please do reach out to us if this sounds like you.

Events Committee

From ‘How to prepare your business for a Deal or No Deal Brexit’ to ‘The Expat Method: Mastering Personal and Organisational Change’, the keynote speakers at our Member Meetings have been varied, thought provoking and informative. Thank you to speakers Sara Bigwood, Leadership Development Coach and Family Strategist, Christine Sullivan of Fragomen Global Immigration Services, Michael Penning of the Community Help Service, Simon Poppe of Allia Insurance Brokers and Michael Dale, Life Coach, Facilitator and Author of ‘The 7 Core Needs’.

Our gratitude also goes out to our recent meeting hosts DY Patil International School, Partena, IDSB, ING Brussels, Aspria Royal la Rasante and their speakers, as well as upcoming hosts Da Vinci International School in Antwerp.

We have a number of topics and speakers in the pipeline, however we are always interested in your suggestions. Please to reach out to Dave Deruytter of ING and Alexander De Nys of Fragomen with your suggestions and thoughts. You are also most welcome to join our Events Committee if you would like to help shape our event programme moving forward.

Considering joining one of our Committees? We’d love to hear from you! Positions are on a voluntary basis, however you are expected to be available for a number of short meetings throughout the year, as well as be able to help implement any planned points of action. Contact admin@abra-relocation.com to find out more.

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Bob Rosen: “We tend to forget who the real customer is. We get wrapped up in our relationships with HR or the RMC and don’t really think about the end user. Instead, we should do real research around their needs and define our services back from there. Also, this whole categorisation by age groups is probably the wrong way to think about how we deliver which services. It’s more about how people consume things: a 59 year old can consume in the exact same way as a 25 year old. You have to build different modes of delivery into your product.”

How we access services is changing dramatically.

Bill Graebel: “Clients hire us to be their global programme manager. Their objectives tend to be based around three or four main pillars. Consistency in the transferee experience is one of these. The employer brand needs to be upheld. In the past they may have had a tri-regional model, with local HR or business unit leaders being able to place their own nuances on how someone would be served or under what kind of policies. But the reality is that people are relocating across the globe. They’ll compare their relocation to Latin America to the one in Europe, which might be an entirely different experience, and can influence whether or not they’d be willing to relocate for the company again.”

“Then there is compliance. Whether taxation, labour law or data, it’s a rapidly accelerating and complex landscape. Data needs to be assessed and analysed because organisations want to know where they are most successful in recruiting and deploying people, and under what kind of policies. How quickly do transferees assimilate into their teams and the local community? The quicker they assimilate, the more focus they have on the job, which is ultimately the ROI for the corporation. Obviously this is viewed through a macro lens, but consistency of delivery, brand experience, the mitigation of risk; when you put them all together it makes a very complex but fascinating opportunity in this era of globalisation.”

Increasing popularity of lump sum relocation.

BR: “Lump sum relocations have a significant impact on revenue streams as they chip away at the traditional service model. It’s also a much bigger marketplace and can be an opportunity to expand our business. If we take the things we know – our institutional knowledge and products – and remix them, we can assemble products and services in a different way. We need to consider how we can assess clients’ needs and hit them at the points in time where they need those services, from the day they find out they’re moving to the day they leave the assignment. There’s a variety of information and services they need to access along that entire timeline.”

Historic under-investment in technology.

BR: “It’s our responsibility to ensure we have a sustainable company. As an industry we’ve underinvested, we have a lot of foundational things to do before we can take full advantage of new technologies such as blockchain and AI. Simple things need to come first: APIs to connect our people in the field with our systems, your systems, HR and the corporations’ systems. Instantaneously connecting that data is not about eliminating people, it means they can focus on the more difficult cases and assess what people’s needs are. It’s not taking cost out, it’s taking work out.”

Profit margins under pressure.

BG: “We all want more for less, it’s the way of the world. We can’t expect corporations to be any different, they’re in competitive industries too. There’s no silver bullet, but there has to be a continuous effort to examine your workflow, to look at the intersections where your work lets off and someone else’s work begins. Then you want to find a way for not just one entity to reduce their cost structure, but that allows both entities to lower their costs. In an ideal world both hold on to an incremental margin, but in a practical world it enables you to at least remain competitive.”

BR: “We have an ongoing responsibility to be more efficient and effective at what we do. You don’t pay €5000 for a television anymore. Those companies have figured out ways to streamline the supply chain, materials and so forth. We have to think about where the overlaps in our business lie and how we can get rid of them. One of these ways is through automation.”

We’re living longer, what does that do to the world of work?

BR: “You’ve got to go where the work is. People may not relocate their whole family anymore, but short term assignments, extended business travellers, gig workers; these people are all traversing the globe. It nibbles away at the core of what has traditionally been our work, but it also creates tremendous opportunity in huge volumes and high velocity moves. We need to figure out how to tweak our institutional knowledge and repackage it in ways that will serve people. Transferees may not need a three-day house finding tour, but a one hour orientation to the local area. Our knowledge and our networks are the information people want to access, we just need to find a way to present it to them.”

BG: “From a consumer point of view – they say over the next few years one in six people on the planet will change residence each year – there is a big need. On the one end of the spectrum there is the university student who changes dorm room at the end of the year, and on the other end people who move from their primary residence into a care home. But everywhere in between represents potential. Over the next few years 35-40% of people will be gig workers, these people don’t have any corporate support and have to figure things out like immigration, pensions, how their taxes are applied… People are going to need a ton of assistance at some point. I believe there is a variety of new services yet to be invented, deployed and – of course – accessible from your mobile device.”

“From an employment point of view we’re going to have to be more open minded, let go of our sense of ageism. Because to what age is someone competent at their job? Much of our senior executive team is retiring over the next ten years. I tell them ‘Your number one job is being a mentor, but also to be a mentee, because unless you’re retiring in the next two years, you’d better be continuously learning and curious about acquiring new skills.’ You can’t sit still anymore, your job is going to require a new skill set every few years.”

To catch the full session, it’s follow-up ‘applying trends’ or any of the other conference talks, visit the EuRA YouTube channel.

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Joël Vanmellaert, Managing Director of BBF, tells us: “Belgium, especially Brussels with its international institutions, has had a thriving market of apartments with services for years. This is mainly due to the attractive prices for longer periods and the convenience as well as the benefits of renting an apartment with services. Both for tenants and the persons responsible for housing their employees.

To date, however, there is no competent representation that represents the interests of the sector and can draw the lines in conjunction with the economic and local government. In Brussels last year, the minimum period for residential rentals was suddenly increased to 90 days. And this to the regret of a number of important companies that rented only for periods of 1 month from BBF.”

As a member of ASAP (the Association of Serviced Apartments Providers) we not only have a better view of what is going on in this international market, but we also convey more confidence and expertise. ”

The organisation is focused on guaranteeing confidence in booking a serviced apartment with consumers all over the world. Especially since this type of accommodation is relatively new and often unknown to the larger public.

Every year ASAP carries out a thorough inspection of the apartments with its members. The Quality Accreditation is the leading system for quality assessment, recognition and reporting for the industry. The ASAP quality mark is recognized worldwide as the leading accreditation in the industry. Relocation agencies and global travel buyers in particular see the importance of working with accredited suppliers.

The network meeting also aimed to propose a Belgian ASAP entity in relation to the recent changes to legislation in Brussels. And to ascertain to what extent other suppliers in Belgium regard this as an enrichment for the market.

“I am very excited about the new chapter of ASAP in Belgium.” James Foice, CEO of ASAP, said during the event. “We are grateful to BBF and the other Belgian members for the opportunity to expand, evolve and grow as an association. This European chapter for ASAP is very exciting and we can’t wait to see what else will come. “

James Foice continues: “The demand for apartments has risen worldwide in the last 12 months. With more and more people moving for their jobs, an apartment with services is a relatively cheaper option than traditional accommodation. The accreditation body has been an important promoter for our industry. We hope that this local chapter can also grow as a local representative of reliable and professional providers. With the support of BBF, our relationship with the European market is being strengthened, a topic that we will also address at the ASAP convention held every year in London during December. We also plan to secure further partnerships around the world over the next five years. BBF is a great team and a good partner on board. And we are proud to support this new opportunity for our industry. “

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There are a number of types of insurance coverage that you are legally required to take out as a business, such as occupational accidents and general civil liability. Then there are the additional covers which will differ per organisation, and are dependent on risk. At the very least, you need a good general liability insurance to insure against all cases of non-contractual damage to third parties. How extensive it should be will depend on the type of business and the activity.

Spill water on a client’s laptop and it’s covered by your general liability insurance. If you’re serving snacks at an event and one of the suppliers has suffered from a salmonella outbreak, they’ll want to have product liability coverage. In addition to a good fire insurance, consequential loss insurance is also useful to compensate for turnover and loss of profit immediately after the fire or water damage.

For intellectual and liberal professions, contractual professional liability is often added. When there are employees, an occupational accident insurance policy is mandatory and every company car requires motor insurance. You can supplement this with comprehensive insurance and assistance.

GDPR and data processing agreements can hold large contractual liabilities, so what if you lose a client’s documents and accidentally disclose private data? Private liability insurance can mean the difference between bankruptcy and the survival of your business. After all, professional liability does not always require an error to have been made, simply failing a contractual obligation can be sufficient to trigger your contractual liability with a client.

Similarly, cyber crime is on the rise and a sudden attack by ransomware can see you held liable by your clients for not meeting your contractual obligations.

It can be interesting to insure the directors of the company under a directors’ liability insurance. An inexpensive insurance policy, it guarantees legal representation and assistance when the business owner (accidentally) causes damage to his business or a staff member. Under the new company law this is seen as not only a business accident but also falls under your personal liability because you are at fault. A business owner can, if he is not insured, lose everything. Not only is his business declared bankrupt, but his house can be taken too. We’ve seen it happen before.

Succinctly put: insurances are a form of precaution. They require you to take a closer look at all your possible risks so you can try to eliminate or reduce them. You transfer the residual risks to an insurance company in exchange for payment of a premium. The better your own precautions, the cheaper your insurance will be. So critically assess your risks and get advice from a specialist insurance broker.

“A good insurance package is not just an accumulation of policies. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Ask for guidance from an independent broker who can guide you through your risk assessments.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co

It’s hugely important that all the insurance policies included in a package are aligned. One policy must strengthen the other, not weaken it. Imagine your insurances for civil liability and legal assistance are under the same company. Now let’s suppose you have a civil liability car insurance with company A and company A is the market leader in Belgium. If you cause an accident, there is a good chance that the person involved is with the same insurance company. This creates a conflict of interest. Company A must represent both persons, without the control of a counter company. The tendency to compensate the customer with the smallest damage could be high.

If you’re the party who has suffered the greatest damage and are convinced that you are in your right, you can lodge an objection by appealing through legal aid. But, if that legal assistance is with Company A again, you have a problem. The legal assistance at A thus weakens the civil liability guarantee. It’s therefore best to take out legal assistance insurance with an independent legal assistance company. Of course, the disadvantage here is the cost. Separate legal assistance costs much more, but you are guaranteed that your files will always be handled correctly.

An example of reinforcement would be if your consequential loss insurance is with the same company as your fire insurance. Suppose a fire starts in your office, requiring you to close it for a longer period of time and on top of that a discussion has arisen with the damage expert. If you place the business damage insurance policy with the same company, the expertise becomes more urgent to the covering insurer. The longer the expert discusses details, the longer your company will suffer consequential damage. As a result, the insurance company will have to pay more for the loss of profit and the rental of replacement offices. It is therefore in the insurer’s own interest to reimburse you as quickly and effectively as possible.

“Focus on risk management and apply prevention measures.” – Alain Voets, Concordia Insurances

Of course, there is no insurance to help reduce insurance claims. A company can take measures, such as working with a prevention advisor, to reduce and manage the risk of, for example, accidents in the workplace. With less accidents, you suffer less damages and less damages helps lower your premium. Companies that work with machines, for example, receive additional conditions imposed by insurers in order to limit certain risks. After a year, these are revised and adjusted if necessary to ensure that the premium doesn’t need to be increased. You might also offer employees an incentive if there are less accidents than the previous year; this makes staff more alert for accidents.

“On the one hand there is the element of chance, but on the other there are risks that you can assess and limit. If you’re organising an event or managing a project from A to Z, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, before, during and after the event. ” – Alain Voets, Concordia

The number of things that can go wrong at any time are endless, but when we find ourselves needing to claim, we’re often quick to blame the insurer when we don’t receive the compensation (we think) we deserve. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t always due to the insurance company, but may also be attributed to the customer or the broker.

When things do go wrong with the insurer this is often to do with conflicts of interest, where the insurance company decides to pay out the lesser of two claims as previously discussed. A form of abuse of power then plays a role. The insurance company has an entire army of good lawyers at its fingertips, which the client usually doesn’t.

“Some customers try to cheat the insurer by not disclosing all the facts, but they usually end up deceiving themselves.” – Filip Declerq, Expat & Co

Things can go wrong from the customer’s side when they are careless or don’t receive specialist guidance by their broker. It’s easy to forget something, and accidents are quick to happen. If something happens, and you are not, or not sufficiently insured, you pay for the costs yourself. You cannot blame your insurer for your carelessness, negligence or oblivion, irregular control or follow-up.

Incomplete transparency can be contributed to the customer. Some customers try to cheat the insurance company by not disclosing all the facts. But they usually end up deceiving themselves, because insurers leave little to chance. The same applies for brokers. They too sometimes forget something. Nothing human is alien to them. But they do have professional liability insurance for this. If damage is caused by their fault or negligence, the client will be reimbursed under their professional liability insurance.

“The onus is on clients to inform us of changes. If you’ve bought a new car, you need to let us know so we can insure it. Companies evolve and communication between the insurer and insuree is hugely important.” Laurent Martin, ALLIA Insurance



∞ Submit your claims in time
Many contracts have a limited time span after the accident or incident to submit your claim. If that time is up, the insurance company does not have to reimburse you.

∞ Be honest, correct and complete
Make sure your first version of the facts is always the correct version. People who change their version afterwards, when they feel things aren’t turning out the way they want, are always considered suspicious. Companies have the right to call in detectives to find out the truth. A well-known trick is to visit the neighbors: they’ll often share more than the customer would like. Anyone caught for fraud, concealment or misrepresentation of the facts can be sentenced and loses all entitlement to compensation.

∞ Ensure order in your own file
If you make a mess of your file, you can’t expect your insurance company to process it within the agreed time. Claims Adjustors are not your personal secretary. Also, don’t forget that you’re not the only customer. If we were to give priority to messy, and therefore time-consuming, files, we would build up more backlog. As a result, we would also have more dissatisfied customers. Priority is given to as many satisfied customers as possible and therefore to orderly files.

∞ complete in one file per insured person (not all insured persons mixed together), possibly clearly grouped into one large file;
∞ make sure your documents are arranged by date;
∞ avoid mixing invoices or supporting documents from previous files with new ones;
∞ report your form filled in as completely as possible: describe the cause of the accident, the diagnosis of the disease and such as accurately as possible, supplemented by witness statements, medical reports or other evidence;
∞ don’t forget to mention the account number on which the reimbursement can be deposited.

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So why place data and technology at the top of our trends list? Relocation is a people business and few (if any) of our members are likely to be looking into AI or data mining to grow their businesses anytime soon. But we think it’s important you understand the most influential disruptor of the decade that impacts absolutely everything, right down to our weekly food shop. So here goes.


1. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and GDPR

Artificial intelligence is essentially the kind of task that, if humans performed it, we’d say they had to apply intelligence to execute the task. AI is not simply chatbots on a customer service helpdesk. It’s about machine learning and data analysis. Every query you make and every decision you take helps the system give a better, more personalised response as it learns to anticipate your requirements. And Waze telling you the best route in view of the current traffic situation or Facebook’s algorithm deciding which posts show up in your newsfeed, is just the start of it. No matter what you might principally believe about AI, chances are you are already relying on it.

Similarly, as a company, you possess data. There is personally identifiable data, or PPI (home address, dates of birth, work visas and more), and non-personally identifiable information (such as gender, age range or nationality). GDPR has changed the way we look at data from a business and personal perspective, and it’s a good thing. However, it’s the massive amounts of non-PPI data, also known as Big Data, that are currently driving marketing efforts around the globe as ROI becomes ever more measurable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the counterweight to all this machine driven activity is a powerful need for a more human connection, more on which later.

2. Smart Speakers and Long Tail Keywords

The never-ending quest to rank well in search engines continues as before but has now gained an additional facet with the rise of Alexa, Google Assistant and other AI powered devices (hello, machine learning). The very nature of online searches is changing drastically, with ComScore estimating that half of all search queries will be voice-based by 2020. Deloitte recently predicted the smart speaker will really breakthrough in 2019.  So what might this mean for your business?

Imagine you are considering moving halfway around the world on a foreign assignment. You’ve told your boss you’ll have to talk to your partner before coming back with a firm decision, and so whilst cooking dinner you ask Siri about international schools in the Brussels area or residential neighbourhoods in Waterloo. Siri will only give you a handful of answers, maybe even just one, instead of the 79.2 million that a Google web search will. To cater to this new technology you need to start including long tail keywords to bolster your online presence; highly specific multi-word phrases that answer the very specific questions someone might ask their smart speaker.

“I predict that storytelling will be one of the major differentiators between brands that get noticed and those that don’t. The market will continue to get noisier and brands that create human connections through the art of story will rise. This means that now more than ever, becoming a prolific writer and communicator is a key characteristic of effective marketers.” – Holly Tate, Vanderbloemen Search Group


3. Social Purpose, Authenticity and Brand Storytelling

We’ve spoken about the importance of purpose in previous issues of ReLocate and this continues to be the case in 2019. In fact, it is going to drive more decisions than ever before. No longer can we simply sell a service or a product, we have to lead with our business purpose to convince customers of our proposition.

“Social purpose is rising up the corporate agenda as consumers look for companies demonstrating (not just talking about) shared values. Watch out for brands taking Iceland’s orangutan lead and placing accountable leadership at the heart of their organisational strategies – and social media – to drive company value over the long-term,” says Sarah Hall of Sarah Hall Consulting.  Supermarket chain Delhaize lost a lot of credit in the public eye just a few weeks ago for plastic wrapping the plastic wrapping on a plastic toy giveaway a week after their pledge to minimise use of plastics.

Authenticity is key and as such your brand story should be the solid ground on which all your communications are built. The Stackla Report tells us that 86% of consumers feel authenticity is an important factor when deciding what brands to support.  This number is even higher among millennials. No matter how big or small your organisation, customers and employees alike are increasingly expecting your mission, vision and values to be more than just words. Driving your strategy, it is what you do and how you do it.

“Consumers used to accept that their favorite brands were neutral. “Don’t pick sides, and avoid topics and statements that alienate any audiences” were the common PR marching orders,” says Deirdre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications. “Today, there is a different set of consumer expectations. Businesses are required to have a voice and to take a stance for their customers on important topics. Maybe it is climate change, politics or other social issues? Social media and the citizen journalist have ignited brand purpose and social activism. There are businesses not only ready to join the conversation and be the voice, but that are also helping to create the change their customer wants to see.”

4. Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing

Advertisement fatigue is real and with 30% of all internet users expected to be using ad blockers by the end of the year, marketers are having to come up with creative new ways to reach target audiences. Sponsored articles (also known as native advertising) and user generated content are great ways of doing this. Their main strengths are that they entertain and inform audiences and – when done right – feel natural and authentic. GoPro for example almost solely relies on user generated content as a quick trip to their website will show you. Asking users to send in their best clips, they offer cash awards and promotions for the footage they use.

“In 2019, brands are going to find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain their audience’s attention on social media. The brands that develop creative content strategies that tap into themes that are culturally relevant (and topical) to their audiences, will win. People don’t go on social to see content about your brand, they don’t care about you or your brand. They want to be educated, entertained and inspired. The sooner you realise that and start creating content that fulfils those needs, the better.” states Dan Knowlton of KPS Digital Marketing

Similarly, influencer marketing is enjoying a meteoric rise. “For years we’ve been reviewing and rating products and services, which has paved the way for the rise of influencer marketing. Offering companies and brands a new way to survive, it looks like this trend is here to stay,” says Carol Lamarque of Duval Innovative Marketing. “People will always be receptive to recommendations by others. Think back to the last conversation you had with a friend about a new restaurant. If they enjoyed it, you’re highly likely to book there too. Social media have only strengthened this process as they offer committed influencers a great platform. You can’t underestimate the impact of a micro-influencer with a few hundred followers. Because they’re so small people see them as an individual, not a medium. It’s how they instil confidence.”

“Stories have redefined the way brands communicate on Instagram, and creative marketers are now learning to use this format to address each stage of the customer journey, from awareness to direct purchase. We’ll see even more investments in this channel in 2019.” – Todd Grossman, Talkwalker

5. Social Stories, Takeovers and Video Marketing

With 3.196 billion global social media users, equating to 42% market penetration (We are Social), social media’s significance to society cannot be ignored. Offering companies with limited resources access to powerful marketing tools, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are adjusting their advertisement models to make marketing more effective for companies.
In this, video and social stories are leading the way. Done well, video marketing produces amazing results. According to HubSpot, simply adding a video to an email boosts click-through rate by a staggering 200-300 percent, and putting one on a landing page increases conversion rate by 80 percent. Forbes research supports this, reporting that 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% will call a vendor after viewing a video.

Thankfully, including video in your communication strategy doesn’t require a multimillion euro budget. Think about allowing team members to ‘take over’ your social media pages for a fresh new view. From interviews, demos and ‘behind the scenes’ glimpses of events, life in the office and more, thanks to smart phone technology, video is easily integrated. Use photographs and short video clips to create ‘stories’ on your newsfeed, and as they will only stay up for a limited amount of time, they serve to create a sense of excitement with followers. The more savvy marketers make use of the interactive options provided in stories such as ‘vote yes or no’, ‘click here to discover more’ and so on.

6. Personalised Content

If you want to stand out in 2019, you need to personalise your marketing – and that means personalised content, products, emails, and more. With the availability of data-like purchase history, consumer behaviour and links clicked, custom content has never been easier. In fact, Evergage reports that 96% of marketers believe that personalisation advances customer relationships. And it’s not just marketing that is driving this trend. Infosys found that 74% of customers feel frustrated when website content is not personalised. According to Forrester, 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience. And Digital Trends tells us that seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experiences more relevant. Time to start looking at your customer data then.

When done correctly, using personalised marketing in digital and print business-critical documents can help you effectively reach your customers and yield a high ROI. In addition to revenue opportunities, personalised document marketing can help create a better customer experience by delivering content unique to an individual’s specific needs. Businesses like Netflix and Amazon are already leveraging the power of personalisation. Logging on to your Netflix account, for example, immediately shows you the evidence of this: the banner, carousels, order, artwork, text and search are all personalised for you. As Kevin George, Head of Marketing at EmailMonks, puts it: “The future of e-mail is real-time, behaviour-based personalisation. A study by Marketo shows that personalised, triggered e-mails based on behaviour are 3x better than batch-and-blast e-mails.”


7. Employee Engagement and Positive Experiences

From communicating with your target audience to communicating with your team, employee engagement is where all of the above comes together. Your corporate story is built on your strategy, which in turn is what brings your mission, vision and values to life. Your company culture needs to inspire and engage, as the business benefits of getting this right are impressive. Harvard Business Review reports that organisations that boast a clear and inspiring company culture can expect to achieve 20-30% better business results than their competitors. Michael Hartland wrote about the importance of delivering a positive employee experience in HR News last year, and we couldn’t agree more.

“An increased focus on building positive employee experience will be a core goal of internal communications plans. The benefits in improved customer experience and retention of top staff performers are undeniable. But while the value may be understood now, practical implementation has lagged behind. Nearly 80% of executives rate employee experience as important, but only 22% believe that their companies are building a genuinely different employee experience. In fact, employee engagement generally has been flat in recent years. One cause for this lies in our increasingly complex workplaces. Virtual teams, dispersed staff, technology, and multi-generations and cultures have all added to this complexity.”

8. One Tool to Rule Them All

This, in turn, segways into our final point quite nicely. We live and work in an increasingly mobile world. Over half of all internet usage is done on mobile, compared to just 31% three years ago. And although businesses have recognised the importance of a ‘mobile first’ mentality, the implications – and opportunities – for internal communications are both technical and physical. Witness the growing popularity of programmes such as OneNote, Google Docs and other cloud-based applications that facilitate team input and creativity.

Technological innovations have also opened the door for company apps as a new way to strengthen employee communication, engagement and loyalty. Allowing you to manage projects, assign tasks and keep other team members updated, free apps such as Slack, Trello and Asana offer a modern and convenient way of working within a team environment, irrespective of physical location. Holding the middle ground between a digital to-do list, a Whatsapp group and email, they go a long way towards keeping your mailbox free of clutter and help you pool information and resources within the team.


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“We’re here for anyone who wants to express themselves in English,” CHS board member Michael Penning tells us. “Our Helpline is staffed by volunteers who offer a listening ear to anyone who needs information or is struggling with a problem. The calls we receive vary as widely as the support we offer. A lot of our calls are fairly straightforward requests for information. Where to find a notary who understands the difference between Belgian, American or Indian legislation. Where to find a GP or medical specialist who speaks English – it’s so important that you can clearly express what the problem is, especially if you’re not confident in your adoptive language – phone numbers for emergency electricians, plumbers or locksmiths … we’ve built up quite an extensive database since we first opened our ears in 1971!”

Offering a 24/7 Helpline, a Mental Health Centre and an Educational Testing Programme, CHS has grown to an organisation which comprises 18 multilingual therapists and some 40 volunteers, as well as a board of trustees. And although English is the main language spoken, some ten languages are spoken by the team of therapists, ensuring clients from all over the world are offered the very best of support. Where the Helpline is staffed by a team of trained and dedicated volunteers, the Mental Health Centre is staffed by a team of health care professionals – psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists – who are there for adults, adolescents and children alike.

“We receive a lot of calls from people who find themselves at a loss when they first move to Belgium. Rather than drinking their evenings away at the local Irish pub, they want to play cards with likeminded people, join a cricket or tennis club or some other kind of activity. On the other end of the spectrum, we also deal with more pressing calls for help. Very occasionally we’re confronted with someone who is thinking about ending it all. Thankfully, when someone reaches out to you, they’re usually looking for a way out in the positive sense of the word. Much as they might maintain the rope is ready in the garage, the fact that they are calling means they just want to be heard. There are a lot of lonely people out there and lending a listening ear can really help make the difference.”

“We’re making a concerted effort to reach out to more youngsters and adolescents by going out to schools, and they are increasingly finding their way to us too. Youngsters today get so tied up with their smartphones and video games that they crave a personal exchange. They don’t want to talk to their parents, teacher or friends – convinced they won’t understand them anyway or embarrassed to say what’s bothering them – and just want a little guidance.”

The Educational Testing Programme in particular has proven to be popular with CHS clients, as the psycho-educational assessment programme is the only one of its kind in the Benelux. Aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 18, it is there for children who are experiencing difficulty in the classroom, struggle with homework or finding it difficult to pay attention in class. “We understand parents would like to have their child tested before the start of the new school year, but you have to match the right therapist with the child. It all depends on the problems they’re experiencing,” explains Michael. “Interestingly, we sometimes see that when a child has for example been found to suffer from attention deficit disorder, the parents want to get tested too! If you are struggling with any type of question at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CHS. Their team of highly trained volunteers and therapists are on hand to help you understand and adjust to the demands of life as an expatriate. It can take just one comforting phone call to help someone through a crisis or set up a course of therapeutic treatment.”

“Relying on the support of volunteers to ‘woman or man’ the phone lines and run the administrative office, CHS needs help too,” Michael tells us. “We don’t ask for much, but the time people are able to give us is very valuable. Whether they want to help on the Helpline or are happier doing administrative tasks, or even helping with our fundraising efforts, we’d love to hear from anyone who can spare a few hours during the week or weekend. It’s important our volunteers are good listeners and have a fluent grasp of the English language.”

The Community Help Service annual calendar is much more than a calendar. It’s full of useful, practical and sometimes ‘out-of–the-way’ information for both newcomers to Brussels and long-term residents. Costing €10 each, sales are an important way of raising funds. CHS is offering a discount on multiple purchases for readers of ReLocate and for ABRA members who would like to include them in their welcome packs and a sale-or-return arrangement can be discussed.

Helpline (24/7) – 02 648 4014
Book an appointment – 02 647 6780

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ReLocate spoke with professor Greg Clark, urbanist and Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute Europe, to find out more. He is a widely published author on city development and investment issues and advises a wide array of international organisations. In May 2016 he presented a new report analysing the competitiveness of Brussels and Antwerp. Where most analyses of a city’s competitiveness rely on economic performance, The Urban Land Institute report looks at a much wider range of issues. Ranging from liveability to geopolitical risk and sustainability, these are the things that influence a city’s attractiveness to residents and companies alike.

Brussels and Antwerp are very different in nature: how did you approach the comparison?
“We put together two benchmarking groups, ran workshops, visited the cities and conducted a ton of interviews before running this comparative analysis in which we measured Brussels and Antwerp against groups of peer cities to arrive at an assessment of their competitiveness,” explains Greg Clark. “We didn’t just look at economic performance, but at other issues that impact a city’s attractiveness to residents too. Matters such as liveability, governance, geopolitical risk and sustainability are just as important in urban life. Brussels was tested against well established capitals such as London and Paris, cities that provide tough competition. Antwerp on the other hand was held up against peer cities that are reinventing themselves – some of them port cities – like Hamburg and Amsterdam, and other (former) industry greats such as Manchester and Liverpool.”

Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.

What are their main selling points?
“Both cities have very good fundamentals, and their own, unique attractions. Antwerp is compelling for its extraordinary DNA. It has always been one of the world’s greatest trading cities and has invented many ideas about the connection between trade, innovation and discovery. Antwerp knows how to build a city around a port. Located within a north-western European economy of roughly 100 million people with a huge GDP, it’s well connected with Belgian, Dutch, Northern French and German cities on all sides. Antwerp has a huge opportunity to build a central role for itself as part of a regional system of cities.”

“The Antwerp port is embracing innovation in terms of how goods are managed, how energy is used and what technology is applied. They’re building an innovative port and energy complex, with a big focus on the circular economy, which is important and fascinating. Of course, the city of Antwerp is synonymous with the craft and design of high-quality goods. From the diamond industry to its fashion sector, Antwerpians know how to make items of high value work in the market place. This mercantilist attitude means it is truly open for business.”

left: Antwerp right: Brussels

“Boasting a young and vibrant population that is committed to taking the city forward, Antwerp is further boosted by a government with big ambitions. From building a canopy over the ring road to creating more public spaces and developing the left bank, the city is redesigning its urban fabric to make a future-proof city. Smart citizen initiatives activate people to act as the eyes and ears of the city, giving feedback on the quality of bicycle lanes or roads and public facilities that might need maintenance. These distinctive edges of Antwerp amount to things that are quite exciting considering its small size. Thinking about the business opportunities that arise from disruption runs deep within the Antwerp DNA.”

Brussels’ youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity give rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries.

“Brussels on the other hand is distinctive in a completely different way,” Greg continues. “It is a major capital city, and as home to the various European institutions and NATO it has an influential presence on the global stage, although it is yet to leverage it to its full potential. It’s interesting when you compare Brussels with cities like Washington DC or Singapore, which play an influential role by hosting global institutions, international summits and other gatherings that really work for the city.”

“It has a youthful population and great cosmopolitan mixity giving rise to a highly scientific, entrepreneurial labour force that is willing to work in all sorts of industries. The high calibre of educational institutes in Brussels is somewhat obscured by the presence of international institutions such as the EU and NATO, but the educational cluster has enormous potential thanks to leadership in fields such as IT, life sciences, or medicine. Most obviously it has enormous potential to be a global school of government, public policy and management.”

“When you look at productivity progress in Brussels a lot of it is to do with the dynamism of the labour market and its liquidity. People want to spend time in Brussels, partly because of its influence, but then find they want to stay and do other things too. It’s important to remember that government institutions feed and support a huge cluster of other kinds of decision making and communication activities. There are very big, positive spill-overs and multipliers that you can leverage into other industries. If you thought a government town can only ever be a government town, you’d be wrong.”

All attractive qualities indeed, surely there must be some drawbacks?
“They also both suffer from a number of challenges,” agrees Greg. “Part of this is that they are located in Belgium, and, great as Belgium may be, it is not a country that enjoys a clear institutional framework. Both Brussels and Antwerp struggle to build their identity and present themselves in a way that cities in less confusing countries do not. Brussels has far greater assets than say Vienna or Zurich, yet these cities have fewer difficulties presenting and promoting themselves on an international stage. Similarly, whilst Antwerp has greater or equivalent assets to Liverpool, Lyon, Genoa, and Turin, it has difficulty articulating what it is, where it is, and why.”

“They’re also rather late to the urbanisation agenda compared to other European cities. Citizens in Brussels and Antwerp are highly dependent on their cars and prefer the suburbs to the city centre. The Belgians tend to sub optimise the use of land and real estate, which translates into low levels of densification and very few mixed-use development projects. It also means there has been very little focus on transport and connectivity as a way of embracing and spurring on urbanism. The third thing that seems to be true for both of them – although each city has a slightly different version of this – is that they have had some difficulty creating the right geographical and institutional space through which to apply leadership to the city.”

“Brussels Capital Region struggles due to the way it is defined; geographically it’s too small for the – much larger – Brussels metropolitan area and then of course there is the fragmentation of having 19 separate municipalities, which rather effectively prevents an integrated governance model. You need a leadership platform for the whole area, otherwise you end up with different policies being pursued in different parts of the region, which is not particularly helpful. For Antwerp it was more of a question of leadership appetite in the past, although I think this is now being addressed. The current leadership has the appetite to succeed and a vision for moving the city forward. It’s just been slow getting there.”

“The public sector almost has a monopoly on leadership control in Belgium. Other sectors, such as business, cultural and higher education, have not played active civic leadership roles like they do in other cities of comparable sizes. There’s been too much waiting around for city government to put things right, rather than civic leadership working hand in hand with city governments to create forward momentum. I suppose you could say both cities have become somewhat institutionalised. This is now being addressed in Antwerp where civil and trade movements are working together with the city towards creating a more sustainable future for the city.”

Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together with organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map.

How can Brussels and Antwerp improve on their competitiveness?
“We focused on three main areas for our recommendations on addressing these weaknesses,” Greg tells us. “First, Brussels and Antwerp need to start embracing urbanisation. This means being proactive in extending and developing public transport as a way of reducing car dependence. By strengthening the urban mix, you create excitement and vibrancy. Creating exciting city centres and sub centres, together with a more active transport mix, helps attract and retain corporate investment and the dynamic workforce needed by these companies.”

“Secondly, the institutional frameworks have to be right. This creates room for city leadership that is continuously thinking about their city as somewhere people will want to live and work, rather than getting stuck in Belgian politics. Thinking about public and private partnerships on a city level is a big part of this, just look at how Antwerp is involving its citizens in the maintenance of its city.”

“This in turn leads into our third point: the promotion of Brussels and Antwerp. Both cities need to build a strong brand and identity. Getting together an alliance of organisations that will back the city and help create a new global story will help put them on the map. This is certainly happening in Antwerp, and I believe efforts are underfoot in Brussels now too.”

“Finally, both cities have really creative industries which are part of the impact of the cosmopolitan diversity of the city. You should be able to really use that cosmopolitan diversity as a driver of creative endeavour. The idea isthat diversity creates competitive advantage through interaction. To realise that, you’ve got to address the challenges of social exclusion and segregation. Brussels has two cosmopolitan populations: one is the elite that services the global institutions, the other is the population of migrants who have come from a poorer set of countries in search of a better life. Somehow, you’ve got to make those two kinds of populations work together.”

To read the full report, visit the Urban Land Institute website:

Brussels and Antwerp: Pathways to a Competitive Future

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The Forces Shaping the Future

“The pace of change is accelerating. Competition for the right talent is fierce. And ‘talent’ no longer means the same as ten years ago; many of the roles, skills and job titles of tomorrow are unknown to us today,” says Carol Stubbings, Global Leader People and Organisation, PwC, in her foreword. “How can organisations prepare for a future that few of us can define? How will your talent needs change? How can you attract, keep and motivate the people you need? And what does all this mean for HR? The ‘Four Worlds of Work’ for 2030 report aims to kickstart your thinking about the many possible scenarios that could develop, and how to best prepare for the future. Remember that your starting point matters as much as your destination; the best response may mean radical change, or perhaps just a few steps from where you are today.”


The megatrends are the tremendous forces reshaping society and with it, the world of work: the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe; the disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity that are impacting every sector. Businesses need a clear and meaningful purpose and mandate to attract and retain employees, customers and partners in the decade ahead. How humans respond to the challenges and opportunities which the megatrends bring will determine the worlds in which the future of work plays out.

∞ Technological Breakthroughs
Automation, robotics and AI are advancing quickly, dramatically changing the nature and number of jobs available. Technology has the power to improve our lives, raising productivity, living standards and average life span, and free people to focus on personal fulfilment.
∞ Demographic Shifts
With a few regional exceptions the world’s population is ageing, putting pressure on business, social institutions and economies. Our longer life span will affect business models, talent ambitions and pension costs.
∞ Rapid Urbanisation
By 2030, the UN projects that 4.9 billion people will be urban dwellers and, by 2050, the world’s urban population will have increased by some 72%. Already, many of the largest cities have GDPs larger than mid-size countries.
∞ Shifts in Global Economic Power
The rapidly developing nations, particularly those with a large working-age population, that embrace a business ethos, attract investment and improve their education system will gain the most. Emerging nations face the biggest challenge as technology increases the gulf with the developed world.
∞ Resource Scarcity and Climate Change
Demand for energy and water is forecast to increase by as much as 50% and 40% respectively by 2030. New types of jobs in alternative energy, new engineering processes, product design and waste management and re-use will need to be created to deal with these needs.


■ The Red World: a perfect incubator for innovation with few rules
New products and business models develop at lightning speed, far more quickly than regulators can control. Big business is outflanked in a digital-enabled world that’s teeming with small entrepreneurial companies. Digital platforms match worker with employer, skills with demand, capital with innovator, and consumer with supplier. This allows serial entrepreneurs to reach far beyond their size in terms of influence and scale. Anxious to compete, larger employers fragment to create their own internal markets and networks to cut through old-style hierarchies. Specialism is highly prized in the Red World and a career, rather than being defined by an employer or institution, is built from individual blocks of skills, experience and networks. The most sought-after skills mean the biggest reward package and workers move frequently, staying only as long as the project or business lasts.

■ The Blue World: capitalism reigns supreme
In the Blue World, companies see their size and influence as the best way to protect their prized profit margins against intense competition from their peers and aggressive new market entrants. Corporations grow to such a scale, and exert such influence, that some become more powerful than nation states. Workforces are lean and exceptional talent is in high demand – employers secure a core group of pivotal high-performers by offering excellent rewards but otherwise buy in flexible talent and skills as and when they’re needed. Human effort, automation, analytics and innovation combine to push performance in the workplace to its limits; human effort is maximised through sophisticated use of physical and medical enhancement techniques and equipment, and workers’ performance and wellbeing are measured, monitored and analysed at every step. A new breed of elite super-workers emerges.

■ The Green World: companies have to care
In the Green World, corporate responsibility isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a business imperative. Companies are open, collaborative organisations that see themselves as playing an essential role in developing their employees and supporting local communities. Reacting to public opinion, increasingly scarce natural resources and stringent international regulations, companies push a strong ethical and green agenda. This is characterised by a strong social conscience, a sense of environmental responsibility, a focus on diversity, human rights and fairness of all kinds and a recognition that business has an impact that goes well beyond the financial. Employees enjoy family-friendly, flexible hours and are encouraged to take part in socially useful projects.

■ The Yellow World: we’re all in this together
In the Yellow World, workers and companies seek out greater meaning and relevance in what they do. A strong desire for ‘fairness’ in the distribution of wealth, resources and privilege drives public policy. Workers find flexibility, autonomy and fulfilment, working for organisations with a strong social and ethical record. This is the collective response to business fragmentation; the desire to do good, for the common good. Technology helps by lowering barriers to entry by providing easy access to crowdfunded capital and a worldwide market. The Yellow World is the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of new worker Guilds that develop in order to protect, support and connect independent workers, often providing training and other benefits that have traditionally been supplied by employers.


PwC’s Four Worlds of Work are each markedly different, but through each runs the vein of automation and the implications of robotics and AI. It’s clear that automation will result in a massive reclassification and rebalancing of work. Some sectors and roles, even entire sections of the workforce will lose out but others will be created. Automation will not only alter the types of jobs available but their number and perceived value. By replacing workers doing routine, methodical tasks, machines can amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills. This view is supported by business leaders worldwide who responded to PwC’s most recent CEO survey. While CEOs are keen to maximise the benefits of automation – 52% told us that they’re already exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together and 39% are considering the impact of AI on their future skills needs – the majority (52%) were also planning to increase headcount in the coming 12 months. Finding the skills they need has become the biggest threat to their business, they say, but the skills they’re looking for are particularly telling: problem-solving, adaptability, collaboration, leadership, creativity and innovation top the list.

For the full report, please visit the PwC website:

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Primary Motivations for Moving to Belgium

Without a question, work is the most important reason for moving to Belgium. Almost a quarter of survey respondents found a job in Belgium of their own accord, 13 percent of respondents were assigned by their employer and 9 percent were recruited here. After work comes ‘love’ as the most important motivation for moving to Belgium with 17 percent of respondents relocating for their partner’s job or education and 11 percent of respondents wanting to live in their partner’s country. These figures closely reflect the survey’s overall results, with the exception of those who found a job in their adoptive home country on their own (22% Belgium vs. 12% global).

Support Network

As any expat will tell you, having a support network is essential to settling in somewhere new. Whether this means weekly Skype calls back home or joining friends and family in your adoptive country for a drink, surrounding yourself with those who can offer moral support and knowledge is key. The vast majority of expats (77%) report they did not have any friends or family living here before deciding to move. Of the 23 percent that did have friends or family here only 8 percent had a support network in the same city.

Language Matters

Just as cultural differences matter, so does language. For the ease of Settling In Index, the Expat Insider survey looks at language: out of all the subcategories for this index, Belgium performs best when it comes to language, ranking 30th. Just over a third of respondents (36%) agree that learning the local language is easy, but 56 percent say that it is easy to live here without speaking the local language (vs. 33% and 46% respectively, across the world). Moreover, a large proportion of expats in Belgium (62%, including 8% who are native speakers) say that they speak the local language at least fairly well, compared to only 54 percent globally saying this about their host countries’ local language.

Beyond the Expat Bubble

Though stereotypes are all about expats tending to stick together, the InterNations survey suggests that the proverbial ‘expat bubble’ may be on its way out. Although almost half (46%) of expats report their social circle mainly consists of other expats, another 43 percent say it is made up of a mix of locals and expats, showing that expats do socialise outside of the ‘bubble’. These results contrast with the global responses, where just a third (33%) have mostly expats friends and the majority (48%) enjoying friendships with fellow expats and locals alike.

Socialising with Expats

Half of the respondents (49%) say this is due to the fact that most of their work colleagues are expats too and 41 percent believe that expats make up a high percentage of the Belgian population. Just 13 percent live in an expat neighbourhood and a mere 7 percent report their partner has mainly expat friends. A quarter of all expats surveyed regularly attends expat events or belong to an expat club or site.

Ease of Settling in

“When it comes to the Ease of Settling In Index, Belgium ranked 45th out of 65 countries overall,” says InterNations Media Spokesperson Vera Grossman. According to the Friendliness and Finding Friends subcategories, Belgium ranked 54th in both. Just 55 percent of expats rated the general friendliness of the Belgian population positively, compared to 70 percent saying the same about their host countries globally. Furthermore, only a quarter of respondents agree that it is easy to make local friends, whereas 42 percent say this globally. The fact that 45 percent of expats regard Belgians as distant rather than welcoming might play a role here.

Although Brussels ranks 29th overall according the Getting Settled Index (the city-counterpart to the country-specific Ease of Settling In Index), it ranks 40th for the subcategory of local friendliness. However, 51 percent of expats in Brussels rated the general friendliness of locals positively. And in addition 43 percent of expats agreed that it was easy to make friends in the city, compared to two-thirds of expats worldwide.

Family Life Abroad

Belgium boasts an overall ranking at the 16th place for Family Life and does best when it comes to the Quality of Education (10th) and the Cost of Childcare & Education (10th), despite the fact that only 44% of parents feel childcare to be easy to afford. Belgium even manages to outperform Sweden (2nd place) and is hot on the heels of global number one Finland when it comes to children’s general wellbeing. About 50% of expats opted for a local state school, whereas 26% choose an international school and only 2% opted for homeschooling. Eigthy-four percent of families are satisfied with their life in general in Belgium, compared to a global average of 80%.


The survey results show a gap between satisfaction with personal finance (23rd) and cost of living (40th), which led us to ask InterNations what in particular was viewed as being expensive about life in Belgium. “Although the survey did not ask expats what they found most expensive,” Vera tells us “we did ask participants to rate the affordability of healthcare and housing, in addition to the question on how they rate the local cost of living. So, we cannot say what is the most expensive thing, rather the Cost of Living index aims to give a general overview of expats perception of costs in their host country. The Personal Finance Index, on the other hand, takes into account respondents’ satisfaction with their financial situation and in how far their disposable household income is enough to cover daily costs.” In numbers this translates to 51% of respondents feeling housing is affordable and 73% feeling healthcare is affordable in Belgium. With regards to disposable income, 47% felt it was more than enough for daily life, 38% felt is was about enough and 15% reporting their household income to be insufficient.

Satisfaction of Working Abroad

Getting to know the locals might not be the easiest but expats in Belgium generally report they are quite happy living there. When it comes to career and work-life balance, Belgium ranks above the global average coming in hot on the tail of the top three global destinations: the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Bahrain. With the global average for overall job satisfaction clocking in at 64 percent, no less than 67 percent of expats in Belgium report being satisfied with their jobs. When it comes to work-life balance, 62 percent of survey respondents report they are satisfied with their personal lives thanks to an average working week of 42 hours (44.3 global), compared to a 60 percent global average. On top of that, job security is where Belgium outshines the global average with 69 percent vs. 57 percent. Finally, the career prospects in Belgium satisfy over half of respondents (54% vs. 53% global), with the state of the economy keeping almost six in ten happy (58% vs. 56% global).

For the global survey results visit the internations website: www.internations.org/press/press-release/

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“What makes you feel at home?” Iliv, the Belgian information platform on daily life at home, asked over 2000 respondents last year. Exactly half of these respondents feel it is imperative that the people they love live there too. And over thirty percent listed ‘my things’, ‘decoration’ and ‘crockery’. Almost a third felt a pet was an essential part of home life and over a quarter feels a garden or terrace and own furniture are important, just as connections with friends, family and furniture play a role in how at home we feel. In short: it’s both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.

“It is both our favourite people and our favourite things that turn a house into a home.”

That we like having our favourite people around seems obvious. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy living together. Creating a warm and stable home for your family is essential according to the Flemish child- and youth psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssens. Last year he wrote a book entitled ‘Nesten’ in which he attempts to answer the question of what makes a family home. “It’s a work in progress,” he feels. “A house becomes a home when each family member feels free to be themselves, and where there is noticeable effort to form a unit. A nest really. And seeing as you can’t just buy one, nor create one from one day to the next, nesting equals some serious work,” he writes in his introduction.

Adriaenssens pleads for slow and steady creation, a critical view and including the children in the process of furnishing the home. “A house takes care of our physical needs, as it provides warmth, quiet and a safe haven. But nesting is only possible when you are free to turn your house into your own.” Inspiration, he says, can be found anywhere: in your own past and the house you grew up in, through talking to family members, from other families, or from magazines and books, but putting your own stamp on it is essential.

“Interior magazines shouldn’t dictate how you create your home. That the lamp by designer X works so well with the table of Y is a possibility, one of a thousand. But we wouldn’t wish a life in an interior upon any family with young children. We shouldn’t begrudge them life in a living, breathing environment; we should allow them to experience a real home.”

That we should want to keep our favourite things close by, as shown by the Iliv survey, makes sense according to Ruth Mugge. Ruth is an associate professor at the Industrial Design Faculty of the Technical University Delft and researches product attachment; the strength of the bond that we feel with a product. “An object that we feel an affinity to conjures up emotions. People can feel happy, proud or warm towards their favourite things. Or sad in regard to an heirloom. An object to which you are attached has a special meaning that brings about feelings of protection.”

“People can feel happy, proud or warm towards favourite objects.”

“These are also the things we take along when we move house.” Her research shows there are four main reasons for attaching to an object: because they give expression to your own identity, because they bind you to a group, because you enjoy them or because they remind you of something or someone. “Of these reasons, memories are the strongest binding factor, as they make an object irreplaceable. Logically this is the most important reason to keep them with you or to display them in your home.”

“Moving often means a change of identity, whether it’s becoming a resident of a new town or a new country. If you want to keep your old identity intact, then it’s important to give the objects that show your identity an important place in your home. But if you’re looking forward to a ‘new you’ then they will be less important,” And, Ruth Mugge admits: “Extreme expats, people who move regularly for professional reasons, have one of two strategies: either they are less likely to bond with objects than others would as they know it is only temporary. Or they will take a little bit of ‘home’ with them with each move.” A kind of survival kit that can easily be integrated into a property, essentially.

This product attachment may partially explain why we are seeing so many display cabinets in furniture catalogues these last few years, both in high-end and high-street design. The still life’s you can create here are literally that; they bring instant life to a home. Only recently British interior magazine Elle Decoration devoted no less than six pages to ‘the art of display’; smart ideas for modern-day still life’s in trendy colours.

“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax.”

“An absolute must for any home is a great sofa; somewhere you can retreat to and relax,” says Katja van Putten, project manager at Iliv. “It’s surprising how many people find this indispensable to feeling at home somewhere,” she stresses. And then of course there are the tricks of the trade that will make any house feel warm and welcoming.

In her book ‘Home is where the heart is’ interior design specialist Ilse Crawford highlights the most important ones. “There are certain basic things that make us feel safe – and have for centuries. They are irrational and independent of style: drawers and doors that close with a sturdy clunk (why else would car manufacturers add the noise digitally?); high back furniture; overscale tables, beds and lamps; things that resonate of home, and help us create a new and deeper sense of domestic comfort.”

She feels it makes sense that we should like vintage furniture, as it reminds us of childhoods spent at parents’ and grandparents’ homes, and she knows that our bodies much prefer rounded shapes. That we should love rocking chairs, sheepskin rugs, traditional textiles and cosy corners to sit in is logical, as is a warm environment with mood lighting and healthy, clean air. It’s hardly surprising to her that comfort and decoration have become important again in the world of interior design. “Patterns, wallpapers and artisanal items bring more intimacy, privacy, sensuality and beauty and offer a counterbalance to the more clinical designs. “Home,” she writes, “ is a mental state as well as a place.”

Five easy suggestions that will ensure you feel at home instantly:

• ensure you have somewhere to retreat to;
• make sure your house is warm, literally, but also through the use of warm colours, materials
and mood lighting;
• involve all housemates in the decorating and be flexible;
• put together a survival kit of your most precious items when moving house;
• have a display cabinet with favourite photographs, memories and meaningful objects.

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The Recognised European License
Member countries of the European Union give out a European model driving license. These driving licenses are recognised throughout the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) as well as many other locations around the world. In broad strokes, if you have a European driving license and are living in Belgium you need to exchange it before it runs out, or if you are settling here on a more permanent basis (exchange within 2 years of settling in Belgium).

Although you can drive here with your Guadeloupian license (yes, as an overseas department of France it’s part of the EU), it may be worth considering exchanging it for a Belgian one if you plan on being here for a while. At the very least you should get your license registered with your local commune, so that if you were to lose or damage it you can easily request a replacement. So far, so good. The matter gets somewhat more complex however as we venture further afield.

The Recognised non-European License
If you are the proud owner of a recognised non-European driving license then according to the conventions of Vienna and Geneva you may legally drive your car here. However, this only holds true providing you do not possess either a Belgian ID card, or an A, B, C, D, E, F, E+ or F+ card.

As soon as you are officially registered as living here you receive your Identification Number of the National Register (rijksregisternummer/numero national). Your newly acquired residential status automatically means you will need to exchange your license for a Belgian one as you are now a Belgian resident. This in theory should be a straight-forward exchange of licenses.

The non-Recognised non-European License
The same system applies with a non-recognised non-European driving license: you can legally drive here with your foreign driving license until you are awarded residential status. As soon as you have received your national number you will need to exchange your driving license for a Belgian one.

However, as your license is not recognised here, you will need to sit both theory and practical exams before it can be considered for exchange. Unfortunately, a letter from your embassy attesting to the validity of your license is of absolutely no value in this process.

The International Driving License
If you are here on a business trip visa (90 days max) then you may want to request an international driving license from your home country to cover the duration of your stay. Check with your home country whether you need an international driving license to go with your national license in Belgium. This will differ from country to country, but your embassy will be able to advise you.

The international driving license has no actual legal value in Europe. It merely serves as an additional document to go with your national license. An international driving license is valid for one year only and must be collected in person from your home municipality, which means you should have obtained it before coming over.

The Exchange Process
The process of exchange is simple in theory: you go to your local municipality with your current driving license and your Belgian ID card and request an exchange. Your license is sent off for a check and then exchanged for a Belgian one.

It is important that your license meets the following requirements: you have the same nationality as your license – or you can prove you were residing in that country for at least 185 days in the year you received it – you received it before moving here, it is valid, and the categories awarded are recognised here.

If your license is not in one of the recognised national languages, you may need to have it translated by a sworn translator before it can be considered, especially if it is not in our Latin alphabet. If your country does not follow the Gregorian calendar (as we do in Europe) then the valid from/to dates will also need translating. Some embassies provide standard translations of national driving licenses, so it is worth checking with your embassy.

Your license is then sent off to the FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer who will verify that your driving license is not counterfeit. Providing your license is real and you do not need to sit any additional tests it will be exchanged for a Belgian one. This usually takes between six and eight weeks. The commune essentially acts as a letterbox, so how quickly they send it on to the Ministry can also depend on their own backlog.

If you have to sit both theory and practical tests, then you will need to pass these before your license can be exchanged for a Belgian one. Larger cities such as Brussels and Antwerp offer driving tests in a number of different languages, or you can bring a sworn translator along at your own expense.

Again, much depends on how long it takes for you to book (and sit) your exams and receive your test results. Bring your results along with your national license (and any translations) to your local commune and ask for the exchange process to be initiated. You should have your new license within 6 – 8 weeks.

Practical Advice
Good to know: a national foreign license (whether recognised or non-recognised) always exempts you from driving lessons, providing you are requesting a license with the same categories (AM, A, B, C, D, G) given out in Belgium. You may however still need to take theory and practical tests, depending on the license you hold.

You can start taking theory lessons online even before you arrive in Belgium and can book your exams the day you receive your national number. Sending off proof of passing with your current license gets things moving as quickly as possible.

We have to remind expats that driving without a license is illegal in Belgium and leaves you open to fines if you are stopped by the police, and worse: potentially uninsured should something happen. Although some communes provide a document stating your license has been sent off for exchange, we are told this has no legal value at present.

Leaving Belgium
You can request your national license back when you leave Belgian territory and give up your residential status. Should you come back again in future years, you will have to start the exchange process again. Until you have physically received your Belgian license you can still change your mind and request your national license back.

Useful Websites

List of recognised EU and EEA driving licenses:
List of recognised non-EU and EEA driving licenses:
FOD directive on exchanging European driving licenses:
FOD directive on exchanging foreign driving licenses:
Exams with an interpreter:

Read about how ABRA is hoping to speed up and simplify the driving license and exchange issue and get behind our cause.

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When an expat moves to Belgium they are legally required to exchange their national driving license for a Belgian one. Although the FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer provides us with a list of countries that award recognised non-European driving licenses (countries not listed are not recognised), and although each and every local commune has received exactly the same directive when it comes to handling foreign licenses, many members report long delays, lengthy processes and conflicting instructions.

One thing is clear: you can drive here with your foreign license as long as you are not registered as a Belgian resident. As soon as you are registered, you need to exchange your license for a Belgian (European model) driving license. It’s this registration process where some of the perceived delay comes from: whereas you can get registered within 2 weeks in a smaller commune such as Waterloo, it can take up to 5 months in a busy commune such as Brussels city centre. Going back to the commune to initiate your driving license exchange after you’ve already been living and working here for five months can feel like red tape for the sake of it.

It is also clear that legally you may not drive without a valid driving license. If your current license has been sent off for exchange, you cannot drive until you have received your Belgian one. Quite simply because under Belgian law you cannot be insured without a valid driving license. The question is at which point your foreign license becomes invalid: is this as soon as it is sent off or only once you’ve received your new one?

“Getting stopped by the police for a routine control and being fined is a risk that some people are willing to take,” Eric explains. “However, it’s not the fine that’s the problem, the problem is if an accident happens. We know of companies that ask their employees to return their car keys to HR on the day they receive their Belgian ID cards. The car stays in lock-up until they have received their Belgian license, it’s a strict policy. A few years ago an expat had an accident while his license had been sent off for exchange and the lease company refused to cover the accident. Thankfully it was mostly material damage to the car, but imagine if you seriously injured someone. You’d be paying both financially and emotionally for the rest of your life.”

“Some communes provide the expat with a document they can show the police in case they are stopped,” adds Koen. “Unfortunately, we’re not sure what the legal validity of this is, even if it is provided by the commune itself. Whether or not this document will get you out of a fine may depend on the policeman who stops you, but you have to take into account your insurer as well. Will they cover you if you drive with a document that certifies your license is being processed? Many brokers will, but you never know for certain until something happens. And finally, the Ministry tells us that such a document holds no legal value. It’s a very murky situation with a lot of grey areas. The expat thinks they are covered and upholding the law, but in actual fact they may not be.”

With the exchange of a foreign driving license taking around six to eight weeks on average it is easy to see why expats, employers and relocators alike would like to see this process speeded up. ABRA’s relocation committee has been exploring the options.

“There are a number of different avenues we have been exploring,” Eric tells us. “The very best outcome would be a faster process altogether. But we understand there are just two people at the Ministry to cover all the driving license exchanges, which means there is an immense backlog. More funds to process foreign arrivals isn’t exactly a popular request.”

“As an interim measure we would like the Ministry to ratify a standard document nationwide that covers expats during the exchange process,” Koen continues. “This of course is a big challenge and one we can use help with. Finally, this document needs to be accepted by insurance and car lease companies, although insurance coverage is for a large part the employer’s responsibility. But it would be good to be able to advise clients which insurance companies will accept such a ‘covering’ document.”

“We have a few client companies who have already expressed an interest in supporting our efforts for this interim document and a faster exchange process. ABRA members – and ReLocate readers – can be of great help here: the more companies that get behind our cause, the stronger our voice will be as we lobby the government. So please ask your clients if they would be willing to attest to the impact of the exchange process on their business. Companies make a serious investment every time they bring over an expat and for them to then have to turn around and say ‘sorry boss, I can’t drive until January’ is problematic to say the least.”

If you would like to get behind our cause and help us lobby for a faster driving license exchange process as well as an official interim document for drivers, then please contact Eric Klitsch or Koen Reekmans via: admin@abra-relocation.com

Read about the basic principles of the exchange process here.

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What kind of preparations are recommended before relocating to Belgium in regards to immigration and visas?

“It is key to find out if you need a Belgian visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Belgium. The Belgian legislation applicable to the employment of foreigners makes a distinction in the rules applicable to the right to enter and stay and the rules applicable to the right to work. EU/EEA and Swiss citizens can work without a work permit in Belgium. Third-country nationals, however, will typically need a work permit to engage in economic activities.”

What is the Blue Card System? Why is it necessary to differentiate between highly-skilled / highly-paid workers and everyone else?

“In 2000 the European Council met in Lisbon to define the strategic plan that could help the Union’s competitive position in the global market in terms of employment, economic reform and social cohesion as part of a knowledge-based economy. In that meeting the Union set the strategy to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

In order to establish this goal the EU established measures to attract highly skilled employees from outside of the EU, one of those being the European Blue Card. Why exactly was it deemed so important to put the focus on this? At the time the Council concluded that the growth of the EU would be at stake because of the lack of highly qualified and skilled human capital. Therefore, special schemes and measures had to be put in place to increase Europe’s attractiveness towards highly-educated and talented foreigners to help build this competitive knowledge-based economy.”

There are three types of work permit:

Type-A work permits allow you to work for any employer indefinitely;
Type-B work permits allow you to work for a specific employer for up to a year (renewable);
Type-C work permits allow those staying in Belgium only temporarily – such as students – to work for any employer for up to a year (also renewable).

There has recently been some reform to the “Blue Card System”, have the changes benefited workers or have they made the process more difficult and restrictive?

The EU Blue Card scheme has been in operation since 2009. The scheme was proven unsuccessful for a number of reasons, including more attractive national parallel schemes, limited associated rights and its limited ability to attract young talent. The European Commission adopted a proposal to review the EU Blue Card scheme to address those weaknesses and to improve the EU’s ability to attract and retain highly skilled workers in 2016. It foresees more flexible admission criteria, extended labour market access and intra-EU mobility rights for EU Blue Card holders and facilitated access to EU long-term residency. The Commission’s proposal is currently discussed between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council and will hopefully be adopted in the course of 2018.

What are the most common queries that your team deals with in regards to visa processes in Belgium?

  • Can my spouse work? Not automatically. “The spouse of a foreign worker does not have an immediate right to work on the basis of the dependent residence permit. They still require a work permit B sponsored by an employer. The good news on the other hand is that the status of dependent spouse offers access to a work permit B category with more relaxed eligibility criteria.”
  • Can we expedite the procedure? “Unfortunately it is not possible to opt for an expedited procedure in Belgium. The relevant authorities usually handle applications on a first come first serve basis and strive to deliver in a consistent manner against stable processing times (2-4 weeks for work permit applications and 5-15 working days for visa applications).”
  • Does the embassy keep my passport? “Some of our clients who have a very busy travel schedule are terrified of having to surrender their passport at the Embassy while applying for their visa. Luckily we often have good news as most embassies quite cooperative towards the requests from applicants to to give the passport back if they can substantiate the urgent need for this (eg. Business travel).”
  • Does the EU Blue Card offer me the right to work in the entire EU? “Unfortunately this is not yet the case. The EU Blue Card only grants work rights in the member state that has issued the EU Blue Card. I have to explain to our clients that they still require work authorisation if they would go to work in any of the other member states.”
  • Can my (non-married) partner come with me? Again, not necessarily. “This often creates a “reality shock” for non-married couples as they are forced to make a choice to apply for family reunification by either marrying (abroad or in Belgium) or concluding legal cohabitation upon arrival in Belgium (subject to various eligibility requirements).”
  • My work visa is about to expire, should I renew my visa even when I’m already in Belgium and have a residence permit? “The work visa is “transferred” into the residence permit upon completing the town hall registration procedure. The legal status of the foreigner in Belgium is not defined by the visa as soon as they have the valid residence permit. Their status is 100% compliant and covered when they have a valid work and residence permit.”

What is the process from work permit (A, B or C,) to residency (D) to citizenship?

  • To apply for unlimited residency you have resided legally in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of five years.
  • If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU, this can count towards your five-year period.
  • Acquiring citizenship requires the applicant to have a permanent residency status.
  • Once permanent residency is acquired it then follows a ‘Nationality Declaration’ track.
  • Nationality Declaration:

– Legal residence of between five and 10 years in Belgium;
– Be able to prove that you speak one of the three main languages;
– You are socially and economically integrated.

Want to acquire citizenship through marriage to a Belgian national?

  • You must have been living together for three years;
  • Still fulfil the five-year residence requirement;
  • Also have knowledge of one of the three main languages.

Are entrepreneurs able to apply for a Professional Card without holding any other visa for residency in Belgium? Are the visa and immigration rules different for entrepreneurs?

“As a rule, a foreign national exercising a self-employed activity in Belgium needs to be in possession of a Professional Card. Some foreign nationals are exempt from this requirement, such as foreign nationals who come to Belgium on a business trip, provided that the trip does not exceed three consecutive months. Whether the entrepreneur needs a visa and/or Belgian residence permit will depend on their nationality and duration of stay in Belgium. The general rules apply which are similar for foreign employees and self-employed.”

What is the EU Intra-Corporate Transfers directive and when do you think it will be transposed into Belgian legislation?

“The EU ICT directive harmonises the conditions of entry and residence for third-country nationals amongst the EU Member States (excluding UK, Ireland and Denmark) in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer (ICT). An ICT is the temporary secondment of a third-country national who resides outside the EU, from a company established outside the EU to which the employee is bound by an employment contract to a group company located in a Member State. This directive introduces for the first time a European ICT work permit that enables the third-country national to work under certain conditions in EU Member States other than the one that issued the EU ICT permit.

Given the intra-EU mobility rights associated with this new EU ICT permit, it is crucial that Belgium implements the European Directive as soon as possible. Not doing so places Belgium at a significant competitive disadvantage not only in attracting this type of skilled worker but investment as a whole. It creates an obstacle for economic growth and strategic planning for multinational companies that have their regional headquarters in Belgium and have positions with pan-European duties or have to develop skills in a multicultural international environment. The transposition of the Single Permit and the EU ICT permit is anticipated for the second half of 2018.”

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 19 October 2017. What does this mean for travellers?

ETIAS is an electronic monitoring system and will be compulsory for third country nationals who do not need visas to travel the Schengen Area. It will be the equivalent of ESTA (similar system in the US) and it will aim to ensure that people travelling to the EU do not threaten the security of the Schengen countries and to impede irregular migration.

Legislation setting ETIAS up is being discussed internally in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Once both institutions agree upon their respective position, discussions in trialogues between the European Parliament, Council and European Commission will begin.

EDIT: 23/11/2022

The European Union has postponed the launch of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) for another six months to November 2023.

With thanks to Jo Antoons, Alexander De Nys, Christine Sullivan, Andreia Ghimis and Rimma Abadjan of Fragomen.


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Choose your Platforms

First things first. There is no point in trying to be on every single platform out there. Unless you can put someone on this (almost) full-time, you will have to decide which channels are the most interesting to you and then carefully consider which of these will be your main priority. At a guess, for most of you this will be LinkedIn. Facebook may have more users globally, but broadly speaking most people will use this for their more personal updates: holiday photos, inspirational quotes, lighter news topics – and lest we forget – the “silly” stuff such as memes and name games. As such it is unlikely that you will be drumming up a lot of serious business here anytime soon.


That doesn’t mean to say you should forsake your Facebook Company Page entirely: it’s a great platform for quick updates that catch your followers’ eye and that will drive them to your website or LinkedIn profile when they are actively looking for your professional support. Use your Facebook page for the more personal approach and keep the updates coming regularly. As a general rule of thumb your content here should be around 80% industry relevant news, expert tips & advice, relevant articles, memes, videos and other entertaining content. Just 20% of your posts should include product updates, special offers, contests, and the like, if you want followers to stay invested in your story.


LinkedIn on the other hand is where businesses and decision makers hang out. This is where we go to find out about industry relevant news, making it an essential part of any company’s social media presence. As the number one* social medium for lead generation, it is the perfect place to showcase your expertise and industry knowledge, so make sure you post regular updates that stand out from the newsfeed.

Use your LinkedIn page to ask questions, post articles and industry insights, conduct polls and research, press releases and other items that you would like to share with a business audience and that showcases your expertise.

Of course, you want to ensure that anything you publish is seen by as many people as possible. The best thing to do is to publish company content through the company page and then repost it to your personal newsfeed to share with your personal contacts. Ask team members to repost the content as well, so that it can pass by their followers’ newsfeeds too. And finally, make sure to share your content with the ABRA Groups for maximum visibility.

A Professional Profile

Most likely you will already have a personal profile on LinkedIn (which of course has a professional looking headshot instead of a holiday picture with your partner cut off), but do you have a company page as well? If not, then this is the place to start.

Your company profile should feature a clear description of your services, aims, and company philosophy, as well as your contact details. Employees should link themselves to the company profile page so that “2-10 employees” doesn’t just look like an empty statement, but actually shows the people behind the organisation. We all prefer doing business with actual people, and this is a quick and easy way to give your company that personal touch. Share your most important content across different platforms for a quick and easy way to keep that newsfeed moving: with a small tweak that industry report might work for Facebook and Twitter too. Most importantly: don’t give up. There is no magic pill for instant social media success, instead it’s very much a case of try and try again before you hit the perfect note that will have new clients knocking on your door.

For ABRA Members only: Knowledge Sharing

That being said, we want to help get you the attention you deserve. Our members deliver the highest levels of service and professionalism and are each experts in their field. And with our combined knowledge base being the most extensive in the Belgian industry, we want to maximise our impact.

As well as articles published by ABRA, we want to invite you, our members, to share your expertise with our readership through the newsfeed on the ABRA website, as well as through our Group pages. If you have published a white paper, conducted industry related research or have a well-researched answer to a particular topic or current affair, then please do share it with us so we can help spread the word.

Find out what the EuRA panel had to say on leveraging the power of social media by visiting their YouTube channel.

GREAT NEWS! ABRA members receive a free best practice guide to social media sharing. Drop us a line at relocate@abra-relocation.com for your free copy.

Join the conversation with ABRA on LinkedIn and Facebook.

* “For B2B companies, LinkedIn is one of the most powerful social media channels available. …research of more than 5,000 companies has shown that LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter.” – MarketingLand

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So what exactly is burnout? Stress. Plain and simple. Stress in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing: after all it’s one of our oldest survival instincts.  It is important however that the goal is clear and attainable and the person feels supported. Stress only turns to burnout when a variety of factors build up over a long period of time, creating an imbalance between capacity and load, with no end in sight.

A match burns bright before it burns out, and similarly a person with burnout will have put a lot of passion and energy into his or her work. That’s the upside. It also means there’s a lot of ‘self’ involved, with emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a feeling of failure in the end when that ‘self’ isn’t rewarded every now and then.

Causes and Effects
For a long time burnout was ascribed to personality only. It’s true that certain characteristics make a person more susceptible to suffering from burnout. Interestingly enough the majority of these characteristics are what makes the candidate stand out for the job in the first place.  Character traits such as a strong sense of responsibility, perfectionism, idealism, not wanting to disappoint, needing to feel useful and easily offering help, are all highly attractive to an employer.  Balance these out however with the characteristics that are less easily spotted, such as trouble asking for help, introversion and an inclination to depression, and the need to safeguard a careful balance between a healthy amount of stress and unmanageable pressure becomes more obvious.

Where workaholism was worn like a badge of honour back in the 80’s and 90’s, today we are starting to realise it is not the basis for a sustainable lifestyle in the slightest.  There are a number of reasons for this particular swing of the pendulum, most notably the fact that we no longer feel in control. We don’t decide to come in first and leave last because we want to hit that sales target, but because cut-backs mean we have to do the job of three others.  Add to this an increasing expectation to be “always switched on” and it becomes easy to see how work related stress can spiral out of control.

Researchers agree that changes in society account for a large part of the problem. The flexible job market creates uncertainty; the balance between work and private life, especially when working partners also have to take care of a sick family member; (too) high expectations from both ends of the job; an increase in emotional load and openness about stress on the work floor mean we can easily become overloaded to the point of not being able to function anymore.

Workable Work
Despite recent legislation demanding that employers have a clear policy in place that protects workers from stress and burnout, only 15% of Flemish companies actually have one. Or, in the words of neuro-psychologist Elke Geraerts: “This century holds a lot of challenges: changing work-processes, technology that surpasses our mental capacity, the undermining of social structures. Self-knowledge and self-empowerment are necessary for survival.”

Research by the Flemish Stichting Innovatie en Arbeid shows that in 2016 a paltry 51% of employees on the Flemish job market had a job that earned the quality seal ‘werkbaar werk’ (workable work). This means a job that doesn’t cause undue levels of stress, over-straining or illness, that is interesting and motivating, that offers opportunity to learn and develop, and that leaves enough room for family and private life.

Long-term absenteeism is on the rise, mainly due to psycho-social factors.
One in three employees experienced work related stress the previous year.
Estimated yearly cost: 4 billion euro.

Hitting the Wall
Brussels-based psychologist Ioana Cirstea shares her thoughts on the subject. “I used to work for a bank and I currently treat a lot of people who work for multinationals. I notice more and more people are suffering from burnout. After the financial crisis it got worse. The crisis was used as an excuse for reorganisation. Companies concerns for profits dominated, meaning no new hires, causing the remaining employees to do the work of three others. Employees hit a wall when they don’t feel recognised for their work. They are tired, disillusioned, disappointed, have a sense of injustice and feel helpless because they feel their voice is not heard by management. People need encouragement, acknowledgment or even a raise in salary. The bottom line is: people feel faced with a big mountain and become demotivated when they’re not seen as people.”

Expats, high risk demographic?
The obvious question within the context of ReLocate is: are expats at an increased risk of burning out? After all, the pressure is on when an employer has invested so much in bringing you over.  We asked psychologist Ioana Cirstea, who sees a lot of expats in her practice.

“I’m an international myself. I left Romania thirteen years ago to study and live in the Netherlands, Spain, the USA and Belgium. International people in general are a special group and I like working with them, we share similarities. It is helpful for them to see someone who can relate to their problems. Of course it’s not difficult to find international clients in Brussels,” she laughs.

“It’s important to understand that culture shock can happen to anyone, no matter how short the distance moved is perceived to be.  Missing your family and friends, the (often extensive) travelling, … International people often lack a local support system, the network of people who can help them (both in and outside the job). They easily feel isolated, especially when there’s a language barrier. Visa and working permits also cause a lot of insecurity when they are temporary. In general the complexity is higher for expats, but anyone can suffer from a pressure overload.”

Yet expats are ambitious people, which makes them both resilient and receptive. “They set high objectives, they want to succeed and are willing to go great lengths to do so. At the same time they are more alone in life. Work becomes so important – it’s what they have here. So yes, maybe they are at higher risk for burnout or other stress related problems as they will probably not stop, even when their body gives them signals, because they have less options than locals. It’s not easy to change jobs unless you also want to change country which is an additional stress factor.”

Nevertheless, Cirstea sees a solution, including for expats: “Talk! Looking for a different job should be your last option. People who are suffering from burnout are more negative, both about themselves and the world around them. For internationals the possibility of having to go home, a failure, adds even more pressure. It would be great if companies would promote job mobility instead of having people stuck at the same position for three years.”

It’s the system, stupid!
Why all parties involved should make an effort
You can overcome your burnout, but if the system doesn’t change around you, there’s a large risk of it happening again, especially if the causes were predominantly context related. So what can we do? How can we start burning with passion instead of burning out? Governments, employers and employees share equal responsibility. The good news is that the taboo surrounding burnout is breaking down now that the problem has, quite frankly, become too big to ignore. Belgium acknowledging this by means of law in 2014 is an important step forward.

But more is needed, ideally in the form of awareness campaigns, a burnout prevention plan for every company, better access to cheaper psychological help (psychotherapy isn’t recognised as medical help in Belgium, making it very expensive and patients often feel a sense of shame about needing this help), and lots of training for individuals, including learning how to be a better worker.

As individuals we have to make an effort too, which includes asking for help when you need it, but management can help a great deal, starting by taking burnout seriously and installing a prevention plan that might include providing a clear job description for every new task the flexible, multi-available employee gets; providing space and time for tasks that need silence and concentration; team building activities to stimulate a sense of community; no emails over the weekend; respecting breaks; nap-rooms; holding meetings standing up to keep them short and effective; autonomy; challenge; support; feedback; addressing different skills; offering development of talents and skills. “Skills such as mindfulness, presence, active listening, and recognition and acknowledgement of emotions are the very skills that encourage teamwork, connection with colleagues, and recognition of common purpose,” the Institute for Healthcare Excellence website tells us.

The Psychologist’s View
“For me there were times when it was very difficult”, Ioana Cirstea shares her personal experience. “Even though I had nice colleagues and job security, being an employee in big company was not my calling. Fortunately, I found people who understood my difficulties and I was able to change jobs.”

“For Europeans life is easier because they don’t need a visa etcetera. This encourages working abroad and meeting other likeminded people.” To companies she’d like to say: “The intake is very important because the first month is difficult, help is needed with paperwork, registration. On the job itself I suggest coaching, training, whatever is needed for a smooth journey. People shouldn’t be thrown into the job but have a follow-up, a manager who listens to the employees and doesn’t minimize problems, who sees them as persons. Within the company freedom of expression, less competition, doing things together, talking about the challenges of the job, should all be normal.”

She admits it won’t be easy. “One person by himself cannot fix this. The employee can play a role but the problem is related to the way the work is organised, the culture, the management style.”

Does this mean it’s unhealthy to work far from home? “Moving around is becoming more normal. As long as the work is rewarding and the expat enjoys what he or she does it’s fine. To stay in your own country and not like what you do isn’t much of an option either. Instead, working abroad can be glamorous when you start out and ticks those all-important learning and experience boxes. Although once the honeymoon period is over reality can set in with a bump,” Cirstea confesses. “But you find ways to adapt. To answer the question, I don’t think it’s unhealthy to live and work abroad, on the contrary, I think it opens new horizons, you become more tolerant. Living and working abroad is enriching, but not easy.”


Elke Geraerts, ‘Mentaal Kapitaal’, Lannoo, 2015
Elke Geraerts is neuropsychologist with her own practice, author of two best-selling books and CEO of Better Minds at Work, helping companies detecting and preventing burn-out amongst employees. | www.bettermindsatwork.com

Presentation by Provikmo, part of ADMB preventie, a service for companies to help them with durable welfare policy. | www.admb.be/nl/provikmo

Thank you Ioana Cirstea! | www.coach-psychologist.eu

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Going back to the roots of good old customer service
What has been lacking in the era of online reservations, self check-in and quite a number of AirBnB interactions, is a prominent level of face-to-face customer service. This is a key element of the hospitality industry and the power it wields is not to be ignored. It makes the difference between repeat customers, solid reputations and can be the deciding factor in tourist’s choices, as well as those guests providing a steady income for hoteliers: the frequent flyer. Thusly we are seeing a change in AirBnB’s approach with Experiences. Not only are AirBnB hosts able to let you experience their home town by letting out their house, apartment or room, they can literally play host to various experiences that will enrich your journey and ensure you engage with your surroundings such as a truffle hunt, an aquatic interaction or a solid favourite: wine tasting. In competition with this new functionality from AirBnB, hotels that distinguish themselves from the pack by delivering quality customer service every time and ensuring unique attention to detail will be the winners in the months to come.

Pod Hotels
Based on the concept of Capsule Hotels – which were originally developed in none other than the space poor Osaka, Japan – by stripping away unnecessary amenities hotels make best use of limited space. Providing the guest a place to sleep, wash and of course log on. Most pod hotels are wholly on the grid, offering in-room climate control, pre-check-in viewing preferences, breakfast ordering and most importantly mood lighting. These pod hotels have come a long way from the idea of sleeping in a fibreglass box and there are more and more pod hotels popping up in the most crowded of cities, offering this state of the art in-room technology to distract from the lack of space. Many pod hotels also offer fantastic communal areas such as cafés, vape bars and even hot tubs, encouraging guests to ditch the pod and interact. Most recently, the vision of “cross-pollinating” is starting to surface where non-pod hotels integrate pods on the ground floor. A further example of this type of cross-pollination follows…

Hotel meets Student Dormitory
Fusing luxury short-stay with student style accommodation and then topping it off with long stay options, these new hives of communal activity are popping up in every university city across the globe. Balancing out their high-end guests, who are usually a seasonal treat with the reliable source of funds, that long-stay student lodger ensures these hotels some staying power. Also boasting stunning communal spaces that encourage guests of all backgrounds to interact and exchange ideas, workspaces are a key part of the build and are not just limited to a desk, a chair and a WiFi code. These hybrid hotels encourage workshops, gatherings, lecture series or an area to just contemplate. For the “stay a while” guest there are communal kitchens, bicycles for hire, laundry rooms and a genuine feeling of home.

Smart Hotels
We’ve heard of Smart Cities, Smart Roads and even Smart Parking. It’s now time for Smart Hotels. When we talk about Smart Hotels images of George Jetson inspired gadgets and gizmos flash before us, the whole room powered by a tap on an iPad. That’s not what’s being referred to here. Smart hotels are more about the intelligent use of space and the ability to plug a guest into the local information grid, making best use of real time data and therefore providing the ultimate stay – not forgetting all this at an achievable price. In the US especially the rise of mobile working is opening up space once used for offices and now providing the hotel industry with the bare bones of urban chic hotels. Millennial business travellers are not after five star luxury like our bawdy ancestors were, they are looking for pared-back décor, an authentic experience and tend to shy away from over-the-top branding and superfluous logo usage.

Dynamic Pricing
As all online businesses are experiencing, those that can offer dynamic pricing (also known as time-based pricing) see increases in their profits and better utilisation of their product. Dynamic pricing is the real-time adjustment of rates based on supply and demand. Hotels conduct the majority of their business online and can take advantage in occupancy fluctuations, seasonal changes and employ dynamic pricing structures to offer competitive rates that meet the ever-changing demand. We have seen dynamic pricing work for other industries such as the parking industry (basically hotels for cars) with incredible success. This type of revenue management strategy can be uniquely precise, changing rates daily or hourly based on sophisticated technology and the trusty old internet. However, hoteliers-be take note: this kind of pricing strategy can alienate corporate guests by restricting negotiations on corporate rates as dynamically priced rooms can work out to be more expensive than the agreed corporate rates.

Add-ons and up-sells
It’s definitely the perks of a hotel that make it stand out from the rest, and refining the skill of providing guests with the extra option that will make their trip unforgettable will be one to watch for in 2017. Hotels will have to work harder in 2017 to ensure their establishment offers top-notch loyalty programmes, where guests don’t have to spend a fortune to earn one measly point. The fact that AirBnB has launched Trips is a clear indicator to hotels that they need to be playing host to their guests in the most generous manner. It’s not just about a bed and a shower anymore. It’s about providing a complete travel experience. Organising bespoke tours, workshops, local events and enabling guests to feel as though their host city is their city, all important factors in providing a total guest experience. Especially with online bookings, or hotels that use apps for reservations, the trick here is to ensure that the potential guest is not distracted by a rainbow of events and services prior to tapping in their credit card number. Patiently waiting until the reservation is made, the guest is more likely to add once the booking is secure as they can be distracted during the booking process. Add-ons such as a bottle of champagne or a breakfast buffet make the guest feel special and takes advantage of all a hotel can offer. Packages are also crucial to this trend, and hotels can be as creative as they like to entice guests: free airport pickups for those booking on weekdays, free concert tickets for guests booking for periods in advance, or free dinner vouchers at the hotel restaurant for a booking of three consecutive nights or less are great examples of creative incentives.

Servicing the Local Community
An interesting niche in the market that hotels don’t usually latch on to are the services they can provide for the local community. Hotels are usually viewed as places for out-of-towners, only for those visiting the area and gone within a few days. A trend to look out for is the mobilisation of services that a hotel can offer their next-door neighbours: this can be as simple as holding packages, or advising on the best places in town to eat, drink and be merry. There are a plethora of services that hotels can offer local residents and we anticipate that 2017 will see hotels becoming community hubs more than they have ever been before.

Travel agents are making a comeback!!
Yes, once the internet took over we turned our backs on the local travel agent and pieced our own journeys together, just as we wanted. However, we didn’t realise just how much hard work that would be. Online travel agents are making a comeback and showing us just how much expertise is involved in organising that “once in a lifetime trip” or making that tricky connecting flight work. The overwhelming options available nowadays are often too much for the not-so-well-seasoned traveller. Do we lose time or do we lose euros when deciding how our itinerary should look. The expert traveller who has been there and done that all before, is more likely to be looking for unique experiences that are sometimes out of layman’s reach. Let’s not forget also that it is quite often about who you know in the industry and travel agents can be a fantastic way to secure an exclusive price on a well researched and fuss free trip.

Whatever type of stay you’re after, there truly is something for everyone.  Be sure to look up our outstanding accommodation providers by visiting:

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Expats and internationals must rely on reputation, information and intuition when making the big choice. Instead of a list of top tips, let’s look at some important questions you can pose when contemplating a new school for your child(ren).

What accreditations does the school have?
Some schools are accredited by the Council of International Schools, some by the European Union, others are accredited by the Council of British International Schools. Whichever accreditation you rely on, these bodies have been set up to ensure the schools adhere to solid educational policies.

Where is the school located?
Sometimes we have the opportunity to choose the school first, then set up sticks based on that. The school run can be a thing of joy or a daily disaster depending on journey times, traffic, whether the school operates a bus service or is equipped for before or after school care. Take the time to research public transport links, travel time and the specifics of the bus services a school offers and incorporate those into your decision making process.

“Moving to a big city where spaces are limited and classes are overcrowded? Look for alternatives in the countryside: studying in a healthy environment might be more easily accessible than you think.”
Erica Di Maccio – European School MOL

How much will it cost?
For those parents who are paying the school fees out of their own purse, there are a few points to consider:

• What is included in the actual school fees?
• What application fees need to be paid?
• Are there annual administrative fees?
• What extracurricular activities are included in the school fees?
• If there are optional school trips, what are the costs of those?
• If the school has a cafeteria, how much does the food cost?

How does the school prepare my child for possible future transitions?
Yes, you have just moved, or are preparing to move and aren’t keen on the prospect of calling the movers again anytime soon, however this point is key for those families that move about quite a bit. This question refers to future schools they will attend on your next assignment, commission or project, or the next phase of their school lives, be it secondary or tertiary. These times of transition can be hard on children, and schools offering inclusion support can make a difference to how quickly your child adapts to their present school, and any schools, colleges or universities they may attend in the future. Some schools take a great interest in helping children cope with change. Ensure you cover this with the admissions team when sizing up a school, they are there to help answer your queries and address your concerns.

What curriculum does the school follow? And to what extent?
Schools differ greatly in the curricula that they offer. Some are broad-based and are adaptable to a number of educational possibilities in other countries. Others offer a curriculum set by a specific country that enables your child to continue their education or transition back to their home land more easily. Others yet again follow a curriculum set out by a country however they do not follow it to the letter. This is more particularly a consideration for parents of secondary school children, each year the children progress the more important it becomes to be aware of the subjects on offer and the public examinations that the school can prepare the students for.

“The curriculum will be key, as is the choice of subjects for example. Does the school offer A Levels, IB, vocational BTEC courses or a mix of all three?”
Kim Burgess – British School of Brussels

What are the class sizes?
This one can be a deal breaker, depending on the personality of your child. Large class sizes are great for children who excel in situations where the learning environment is lively, fast paced, independent and utilise group-work due to less one-on-one time from teachers. Other students prefer a quieter, more structured and more supportive classroom experience. This is often a more productive environment for those students attending a new school in a new language. Large and small class sizes have both advantages and disadvantages, knowing what best suits your child’s approach to learning goes a long way in helping to decide on the right school, and nurturing their learning styles.

What assistance can the school provide in cases of special educational needs?
Parents of a child with special educational needs require extra support. Some schools have a comprehensive approach to ensuring your child progresses and enjoys their time at school. A few more questions for these parents could be:
• does the school have a special learning programme tailored to suit my child’s needs?
• will my child receive extra help from a teacher or teacher’s assistant?
• will there be possibilities to work in smaller groups?
• how much feedback can I expect from the school?
• and for those children with special physical needs, is there support with physical or personal care difficulties, e.g. eating, getting around school safely or using the toilet?

What if my child does not speak English yet, or doesn’t speak it well?
Especially in cases where you are moving your child from a non-English speaking school to an English speaking school, bilingual school or immersion school, the support that the school offers for English as an Additional Language (EAL), reading, spelling or writing support can be crucial to your child’s English language development. Schools promoting EAL extracurricular activities, learning support groups and specialised teaching expertise are open to fielding questions you have on this topic. Don’t be afraid to ask the specifics of what they offer and ensure you are aware how they not only can assist but also motivate and encourage your little learner.

What’s the difference between bilingual and immersion schools?
Most especially in a country like Belgium, where there are three official languages, the options available for bilingual learning and immersion learning are broad and it can be difficult to differentiate. Here’s a quick breakdown:
• Bilingual learning: a school offers academic content in two languages. The split between the time spent in each language can vary from school to school. 30%-70% or 50%-50%. The schools offering bilingual programmes will expect that your child is a native speaker of one of the languages offered and can speak the second language fluently.
• Immersion learning: these programs are designed to help native and non-native speakers become bilingual and biliterate. There are many support structures in place to help your child learn the second target language and develop their skills across all subjects.

Is there a parent support association or network?
Moving to a new city or country is a big step for the whole family. Some schools have vast communities and networks where parents can share information and give each other support. They can offer support via weekly catch-ups, through social media, or operating a buddy system. These big changes can often be quite daunting for spouses, who can only benefit from making a new network of friends. These school communities help families feel more quickly at ease in their new surroundings and enable parents to be a more stable source of support for their children.

What extracurricular activities are on offer?
Again, these vary greatly from school to school. These activities offer opportunities for your child to broaden their social networks, gain experience in sports, the arts and languages and generally enrich their international schooling experience.

Questions answered, what next?
Once you have collated the answers to these questions, the next step is to arrange a visit to the school to get a feel for the teaching styles, compare the proximity of the school to where you live, and generally soak up the atmosphere.

There are massive differences between schools regarding school visits. Some schools require a non-refundable payment of the administration fees before you can even set foot on the grounds – others may invite you to check out classes in action and even eat lunch in the cafeteria. Ensure you are clear about school visits and how these are carried out.
Some schools offer the option of “transition days” or “step-in days” where your child can experience what it will be like at their new school before the new academic year or term begins. This can be a great advantage to nervous students and take the edge off the sometimes overwhelming feeling on the first day.

“Meet the head teacher! You can tell a lot about a school from a quick chat with the head. After all, you are going to be leaving your precious children in their care every day. Ask them what they believe in, what they value and what their vision is for the school and then sit back and listen for 10 minutes.”
Brett Neilson – St Paul’s British Primary School

It’s also a great idea to take the time to speak to families already enrolled at the school. The school should be able to put you in contact with the established community networks. Families are usually open to discussing their views on the school and how their children respond to the teaching style and curriculum.

Choosing the right school is never an easy task, but we hope the above guide will help set you off on the right foot with this important decision.

A special thank you goes out to all our member schools who contributed to this article. You can find a full list of our members (and member schools) by visiting us online:


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Thanks to Leuven University, Europe’s eldest, the city has long been an international hub for students, researchers and companies. Their presence has done the region good, but it doesn’t mean the people who want more for Leuven can sit back and rest on their laurels. That’s why, in 2016, Mohamed Ridouani (alderman for SP.A) initiated Leuven MindGate, a network of local institutions, government bodies and industry sectors joining forces to guarantee long-term sustainable development, innovation and welfare in the region. How? By creating optimal circumstances for businesses (e.g. attractive tax conditions), research & development, studying and living.

Research + White Paper
Everything starts with people. With the aforementioned survey Leuven MindGate wanted to “investigate what makes Leuven an attractive place to live and work and where there’s room for improvement. A special taskforce was created to come up with practical recommendations and to specify the right actions required to establish this high-level living and working climate within the region”. The results are bundled in a white paper titled ‘Towards An Outstanding Working and Living Environment: needs and practices for supporting international knowledge workers’.

To start with a general conclusion: success boils down to integration. Not surprisingly these are the paper’s three main focus points: integration of the worker in his or her job, the family or partner into the new environment, and both of them into the Leuven community. In spite of the abundance of help on a wide variety of subjects that is offered by relocators and other specialists, several gaps in the supply of information for newcomers kept surfacing. It is here that the city has decided to step up and take responsibility.

A selection of conclusions from the report:
• The knowledge workers were least happy with the help offered in the search for a daytime activity (e.g. a job) for the partner, a school or day-care for the children and cultural integration;
• The partner’s wellbeing often seems to be the determining factor for a longer or even permanent stay in the Leuven region. Fewer than half (42%) of international staff currently feel part of the local community, 45% of partners who want to work in Belgium experience difficulties;
• The City of Leuven plays a vital role in the integration of international knowledge workers, but their initiatives are scattered and not all accessible;
• [Most] people want the City of Leuven to inform them about administration and registration, activities and healthcare;
• The gap-analysis between the importance rated and the quality of the support shows that in the future the greatest improvement (high importance combined with current low quality) can be made with actions targeting partner job search, housing, relocation, schools and childcare and tax matters;
• 54% of respondents indicate that more information from the City of Leuven about cultural and social activities would be useful.”

Leuven, hidden pearl (policy)
Alderman Mohamed Ridouani makes it his personal matter to address these issues. From an interesting but rather unusual portfolio containing (among others) economy, education and real estate, he works on the internationalisation of Leuven. Again integration is key here. “I try to make it one of my assets, because a city with a high quality of living – liveable, tolerant, bustling – is an attractive city. I visited Shanghai during the course of our research for MindGate, and found they’re experiencing trouble attracting knowledge workers partly because of the smog.”

Like many innovations, Leuven MindGate and the dream of an International House originate in frustration. Ridouani: “Leuven has and offers a great deal of opportunities. Everyone knows it as university town, but it’s much less known that we’re also leading in research. Because of that we’re only reaching part of the international talent that might be interested in working here, which means less companies, and less European research funds.”

Ridouani wants the world to see Leuven for what it is: a pearl. In order to do this Leuven MindGate has set two main goals. One: putting the city on the map for health, hi-tech and creativity (Did you know Teno-fovir, one of the most frequently used medications to treat AIDS was developed there?). Two: Combining forces for a larger (social) coherence. “There’s research going on at IMEC (world renowned nano-electronics research centre), there’s research going on at the university hospital, combine those two and you get biotech. This in turn opens up a world of possibilities for start-ups, investments and so forth,” Ridouani enthusiastically explains.

“The university is good for six hundred years of scientific development and gaining knowledge,” Riduani continues, “twenty years of transforming that into products and solutions lead to companies like IMEC that brought wealth to our region. And I don’t just mean financially, with 156 nationalities in one city we can speak of cultural wealth as well. The next step is to make sure we attract and foster activity and business for more prosperity, more jobs, an even higher quality of life. We can only make that happen if people stay.”

Laying the Foundations
When asked about remarkable conclusions that came out of the Leuven MindGate research, Ridouani says: “I was surprised to learn that such a large percentage of respondents like to live here, but they don’t feel integrated. I think 80% of the respondents said they don’t know who their neighbours are. In fact a very important reason for people to leave Leuven is their partners’ lack of activities and integration. I was also surprised that the city’s offerings like cultural activities, schooling, child day care, etcetera are hardly known. It supports my conviction that social cohesion starts on a very local level.” That’s where the International House comes in. Besides investing in affordable workspace and housing, issues like schools for accompanying children are a necessary means to remove the barrier to come to Leuven. In Ridouani’s words: “integration into the local society is a top priority”.

Even though the idea of one location where everything the expat needs is concentrated under one roof was a product of his own imagination, Ridouani is humble enough to admit that he might not be the only one to have had this thought. Research took him to Denmark, to the International House in Copenhagen. The house accommodates public authorities, public services, private services and the University International Staff Mobility team. It offers support before, during and after relocation and integration. “We also visited the International House in Eindhoven. Each has it’s own specialties, but the basic offer is the same: an overview of online resources and forms to prepare the expat’s stay and help in his or her search for accommodation. Once they arrive they will be guided through their emigration process. The International House will be a home base where expats can find all possible information they need to integrate as quickly as possible: information on schools, (cultural) activities, volunteering, job markets. Besides practical and administrative help, we are planning to organise events and a festive International Day. What I think will be unique in the Leuven International House is the integration of the International Primary School that is currently situated in Heverlee.”

“We already have 17.000 international workers in Leuven. I want them to feel at home, to break the barrier between them and the Flemish community, something the people from Leuven would like as well.” Ridouani sounds inspired. “The International House should become the central place for all affairs international, but I hope it will also become a symbol or flagship for Leuven’s international aura and ambition.” By no means is Ridouani planning to replace the service providers that are currently operating in Leuven: instead he’d like to join forces. As far as integration goes Ridouani is thinking big. “Think of all the local applications that research could lead to: city planning, mobility, safety, air quality…”

It looks like 2017 is the year in which many a relocator, expat and employer’s dream finally comes true: Belgium’s first International House is well on its way to becoming a reality. We highly recommend reading the report. Find it here:

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How come Belgium’s such a big player? And what does this silent giant of an industry actually entail? Life Sciences are those fields of study that deal with living organisms and their life processes. You may think in the direction of biology, healthcare and medicine, nutrition, microbiotics, ecology and the various interconnections between those fields. Especially Research & Development, and more precisely the expertise in the area of clinical studies, puts Belgium at the European summit of biotech, the cross-pollination between biology and technology. Twenty-nine out of thirty top pharmaceutical companies that operate in this field (including of course Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer) have offices in Belgium.

Let’s start with some facts and figures. The Belgian biotech industry:
• Is the number one R&D employer in Belgium;
• Was the 2nd largest biopharma exporter in Europe in 2013;
• Creates three indirect jobs for every biopharma job in Belgium;
• Has high global rankings in actual production and patents.

As for the other question, why Belgium, there are a number of factors to account for. Call it a tripod made up of political, economical and scientific factors. Of course this industry didn’t drop onto Belgian soil out of thin air. It all started in the early 80’s. Mark Vaeck, currently CEO of Complix, was “lucky enough” to witness it. “In 1980 Amgen, one of the pioneering biotech companies, was founded in the US,” recalls Vaeck. “In 1983 I started out with Belgium’s first biotech company, which was founded only a year earlier. Only two years later a second company was raised and from there it was a speedy development on account of very important molecular biology research done at the university of Ghent and the spin-offs this created. Two laboratories in particular were important to that development, that of professor Van Montagu, scientific founder of Plant Genetic Systems, and the virology laboratory of professor Fiers that formed the basis for Innogenetics. A lot of the people who now hold top-jobs in biotech in Belgium started out in one of those two companies. So you could say Belgium is a cradle of biotech.”

“Flanders has an innovation culture similar to Silicon Valley. It’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual – research shows that people from such a background are better innovators,”  – Bernard Munos, founder of InnoThink

The whole region of Flanders, with clusters around Ghent, Leuven, Brussels and Hasselt and Antwerp, compares very favourably to the rest of Europe. “It has an innovation culture similar to Silicon Valley. It’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual – research shows that people from such a background are better innovators,” says Bernard Munos, founder of InnoThink (innovation in pharmaceutical industry, ed.). What’s more, the proximity and cooperation between different companies and researchers make Flanders attractive to small companies and small(er) companies can innovate more easily.

But that still isn’t all. Let’s not rule out the importance of a government with a nose for opportunities in growing business and welfare. Minister De Croo (Open Vld, Vice-President, involved with the World Economic Forum) summarises the reasons why he believes Belgium holds a 16% market share in Europe:

• Top-notch academic research facilities;
• Fiscal system geared towards innovation;
• Tax reduction on labour costs for researching;
• Big amount of foreign investors.

Mark Vaeck explains why he and Complix chose to set-up and stay in Belgium. “I have experience in The Netherlands, the US and Belgium. Since I was born and raised here, it’s the most evident territory for me. The technology of Alphabodies was developed within Algonomics, also a Belgian company, in which I was a Board member until we decided to establish a new corporation especially to develop the Alphabodies for therapeutic applications. So my network is here. It’s hard to predict the future, but the next logical step might be to start a subsidiary in the US, as stepping stone towards a listing on the Nasdaq stock market. Other than that, I don’t see any reason to go anywhere else but Belgium, especially the UK,” Vaeck chuckles.

“The surface of Flanders is comparable to that of a large city in the US. If you consider that, the amount of businesses here is hallucinatory,” Vaeck continues. “This density is good. There’s a network of related service companies, good staff, short distance to the universities and we are centrally located in Europe with connections to all the large European cities. Fiscal and practical governmental support also adds to the attractiveness of the region. Subsidies and a reduced income tax for expats compensate for the high taxes and labour costs.”

Science Parks
The activity is mainly concentrated around the universities and the affiliated science parks, the largest being those of Ghent, Leuven and Brussels, which are in a sense a combination of the previously mentioned factors: location, knowledge and financial benefits which attract investors and thus create more jobs. No wonder they call them incubators (from the dictionary: ‘a place, esp. with support staff and equipment, made available at low rent to new small businesses’).

Mark Vaeck acknowledges the benefits of a science park. “We cooperate with several of the universities on a regular basis, but also with VIB, an umbrella research group. Being near such locations makes communication easier. Because of the short physical distance and close cooperation, our branch in Hasselt for example provides us access to the animalium for animal testing. Complix also has a small subsidiary in Luxembourg. The offices are situated at the LIH (Luxembourg Institute of Health), which grants us access to their infrastructure, including machinery that’s too expensive for a small company like ours to buy.”

Expats and a Global Mobility Policy
When asked about a global mobility policy, Mark Vaeck can’t help but laugh. “We’re only twenty five people, what do you think? No, we try to stay lean and mean, with little administration. At this moment we have one foreigner working for us, the Chief Scientific Officer, who is an Irish lady. It’s an important subject though. To be competitive you have to be able to attract the right people, and you won’t find all of them within one small country. Luckily we’re attractive right now, also because of our alliance with Merck & Co (a US  pharma giant, LLtV) which means a real boost for the company’s profile. When we start growing in the future we’ll be able to attract more international people. I always refer to Ablynx (another biotech company that Mark Vaeck also co-founded and led as CEO for the first 5 years, LLtV), we started out small there, and now it has a 300-people staff, which counts, especially within the management, several foreigners.”

“Belgium is an attractive place for biotech companies,”  Vaeck concludes. “The advantages on income tax for expats makes it agreeable, the fact that most people speak English much better then in our surrounding countries, Brussels’ multicultural melting pot, a high standard of living and decent housing at acceptable prices, short distances between hotspots like Ghent and Leuven, good restaurants, nice festivals; Flanders scores pretty well on all those subjects. One thing that needs improvement is the number of international schools. And the traffic jams, they’re a real pain.”

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2004. The Flemish government observes the need for a new paradigm in order to become the creative, innovative region they aspire to be. Until that time innovation was considered something exclusively technological, but around 2004 it started to become clear that new business models were needed and technology was no longer sufficient when handling ever more complex societal issues. A second insight, they couldn’t do it alone, led to the formation of a group of people with diverse, creative backgrounds.

“It started with a conference in Leuven appropriately called ‘Creative Districts Meet at Flanders’”, Pascal Cools, director of Flanders DC, recalls. “Representatives from nine different innovative regions worldwide were invited. The internet has proven to be a great tool to find interesting start-ups and policy surrounding them, how else can you know what’s happening in South-Africa and Israel? Of course there are several organisations, like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that look into those types of initiatives too.”

The attendees agreed that the initiative to exchange best practices and experiences with trans-regional and trans-disciplinary collaborations was worth fostering and the DC Network, the international branch of Flanders DC, was born. The Districts of Creativity Network currently unites thirteen regions spread across the globe from China, to Brazil, Finland, India, the USA as well as several European hubs. DC Network organises two annual activities: the Reverse Mission, a delegation of entrepreneurs, policy makers, educators, sector-representatives, pays a study visit to one of the member-regions, and the Creativity World Forum, a conference organised by one of the members focused on multidisciplinary collaboration, which takes place in one of the member regions. CWF returns to Flanders every three years..

Stimulating Creativity and Innovation
So why did a government decide to stimulate creativity and innovation in business, culture and education? Not only on a domestic level but across borders too? What are the benefits? And, what’s in it for Flanders? Pascal Cools explains why creativity is such a magical ingredient. “Think about services like Uber or Airbnb. Those are typical concepts from creative sectors, combined with technology and a nose for business. The key to their success: user centric design. This might sound very logical but 90% of companies don’t take the perspective of their customers. My cliché example would be Apple that made computer technology easy, beautiful and fun. They wouldn’t have succeeded with just engineers who think much more linearly.”

Cools also has something to say about the broader value of bringing creatives into your company than just enhancing the saleability of your product. “Competition is not only next door but across the globe. It’s impossible for a Flemish company to compete with a ‘Made in China’ aluminium window frame that’s 40% cheaper. Meaning if we want to assure jobs in the future we will have to make sure companies have a chance of surviving. And that means they need to innovate. The Fortune 500 includes businesses that were able to adapt to circumstances, that reinvented themselves, companies like, again, Apple, Microsoft, Google.”

Besides the commercial necessity there’s also a moral aspect to the need to innovate. “There are societal challenges that ask for a creative solution: climate changes, hunger, diversity”, says Cools. “We need to use the full potential, not just stick to the laboratory. I’m convinced that creatives, meaning people with artistic creativity as their raw material, can contribute to solutions because they perceive the world differently.”

Study into the Success of Thinking Outside the Box

Whether the ‘box’ be a department, a company or an industry, in an economy that can only grow by means of inspiration and creativity, staying within your own walls doesn’t suffice anymore. Flanders DC asked Vlerick Business School (an internationally oriented independent school) to look into what components make innovating across sectors a success. The study was finished in 2015 and then translated into a convenient ready-to-use online tool for managers. www.innovatiefsamenwerken.be

Born Global
Though internationalisation is a large chunk of Flanders DC’s operations, they mainly operate on home ground. Daily business revolves around what Cools calls a ‘Disney slogan’: making entrepreneurial Flanders more creative and making creative Flanders more entrepreneurial. “After twelve years of focussing mostly on the first aspect, the government has asked us to concentrate on the latter,” Cools says. “(Would-be) entrepreneurs from twelve different creative industries like fashion, gaming, design, film and architecture can knock on our door for a broad range of topics such as advice on finance, business models, inspiration and network. We have a special focus on fashion, gaming and design because these three face the same challenges. Companies within these sectors are intrinsically internationally oriented. In fact they need to be ‘born global’, meaning they have to start operating on the international market right away because Flanders and Belgium alone are too limited for them to succeed. We help them with issues such as ‘I want to go to Hong-Kong, but how do I go about it? Do I go there, or de we go to special fairs for design, fashion and gaming?’”

The website cici.flandersdc.be features 32 projects that originated in the 2013 en 2014 Open Call for Innovation with Creative Industries (cici). These projects were selected as they have a possible impact on Belgian science, industry and/or society. One example is the wireless brain scanner developed by the Gent University Hospital that researches brain functions without the patient having to sit still in a hospital ward for days looking like Frankenstein’s hat maker. Patients, and especially kids, wouldn’t wear the helmet, which meant data-gathering was difficult. The cici-project united scientists, designers and a specialised CAD drawer who together realised a comfortable, nice-looking headband. The longer a child wears the band, the more points he or she collects, which is where the game comes in. Pascal Cools reckons this is where its success lies: “The question is not how can we make the machine wearable, the question is how do we make patients want to wear it.” Other examples are wooden interior design objects made from orchard waste, a mobile lab full of technical novelties to introduce children to technique, science and art and a food pairing app that helps you discover flavour combinations previously unheard of.

The Freedom to Feed Creativity
Flanders DC was instigated by the government, but isn’t a governmental organisation. Cools: “They always said they’re interested in results and an increase in revenues, but apart from some of the guidelines I mentioned earlier, they don’t really care how we get there. We have the luxury of great mutual trust. Of course we’re monitored to see if we spend their money efficiently, but the political interference is limited to that.”

Freedom is something Cools offers his people, not surprisingly a multi-disciplinary team, too. Creativity can flourish when there are as few as possible restrictions in how employers reach their targets. How they stay inspired? Cools: “Keeping our antennas activated at all times, keep our finger on the pulse. I think we’re one of very few companies that recognizes the need to be on Facebook and Twitter during working hours, this is where many new ideas are introduced.”

The world is continuously in motion and that’s a fact. Since 2004 many organisations and companies have discovered the benefits of cross fertilisation between disciplines, of injecting a dose of external creativity into their workflow. We might even say it’s becoming mainstream. Does that mean Flanders DC’s job is done? “It’s true we’re facing a new challenge,” acknowledges Pascal Cools. “We have to strive for redundancy, as this would mean we’ve completed our task successfully. It goes against commercial logic, but from a societal point of view it’s the only direction we can take. From a personal perspective it will obviously be a shame if our work ends, but I don’t think we’re finished yet. It’s going to take time before creatives are considered equal to and by the rest of the market.“


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ReLocate does away with all the drama and takes a “stiff upper lip” look at Brexit. We’ve  consulted leading immigration law firms Fieldfisher and Fragomen, who in preparing their own clients for change during and after Brexit negotiations, have shared a few practical steps with us to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Overview of Outcomes
Yes, uncertainty is set to reign until negotiations commence in early 2017. Considering that the European Treaty established a negotiation period of at least two years in case of an exit, it is unlikely that there will be any immediate changes in the near future.

These negotiations could have a wide range of outcomes:
• The Norwegian, Icelandic and Lichtenstein model: the UK would remain subject to the majority of EU legislation, however there would be no role played in the decision-making process and no right to veto, including no independence from EU legislation nor the European Court of Justice;
• the Swiss model: ability to develop mutual agreements with the EU;
• the Turkish model: remaining part of the Customs Union;
• the “sui generis” model*: a completely new approach to UK / EU relations;
• total withdrawal from the EU*: if this is to occur, there would be swift changes to UK legislation.

From an International Business Perspective – Fieldfisher
Companies are best advised to anticipate change and ensure they are in a position to identify possible issues that need to be addressed as they arise. In doing so they can reassure staff on all levels. So what could possibly change? Establishing which regulations may be the most heavily impacted can be difficult, Fieldfisher has broken down the main points to be addressed into three main areas to be assessed within internationally operating companies: social security/welfare, employment law and of course, immigration. Fieldfisher has highlighted the existing regulations that may be affected, and what the knock-on effects of these changes may be.

883/2004 and 987/2009: regulates the social security scheme applicable to internationally mobile workers

These regulations are likely to be repealed once the UK leaves the EU, and the mutual treaties previously established between countries will once again be activated.

Knock-on effects:
• The original mutual treaties limit the determination of the social security/welfare scheme to be applied and benefits covered therein;
• they do not provide for any regulation on simultaneous employment (two or more social security/welfare schemes operating at the same time);
• they do not systematically provide for regulations on accumulation of social security/welfare benefits/entitlements;
• they do not systematically provide guaranteed rights in respect of health/sickness costs.

593/2008: determines the law applicable to employment contracts in a cross-border situation

Employment contracts between EU and UK will no longer be viewed in the frame of the “free movement of workers” principle.

Knock-on effects
UK legislation will have to be rigorously applied in cases of EU staff employed in the UK being brought before a UK court with an extraneous element, and vice-versa. When UK employers employ staff on EU territory, they will have to rigorously apply the legislation of that EU state.

3. IMMIGRATION – from a business perspective
This is still a hot topic of speculation. The UK Government could implement a points system not unlike that of Australia, although there have been indications that this is not preferred by the May administration. The UK borders are unlikely to close completely, however the UK Government is expected to implement some forms of restriction before the “divorce date” to limit a massive influx of people.

Knock-on effects
The knock-on effects of changes to immigration between UK and the EU are wholly dependent on the outcome of the negotiations. If the right to free movement ceases to apply or is restricted, those businesses built on sourcing international talent will then have to look to the new immigration and employment rulings for guidance regarding any future employment. Attempts to limit net immigration to tens of thousands will then result in severe restrictions to the pool of potential employees in the UK.
Fieldfisher’s advice on handling these potential changes within businesses:
• “Nominate a person or team of people who are responsible for monitoring employment issues. Ensure all staff have a contact person to whom they can address questions or express concerns in all the countries in which the organisation operates. This will ensure that all staff, wherever located get the same consistent message which in turn will give reassurance that the organisation knows what it is doing and what needs to be done as we approach Brexit.”
• “Staff may feel unsettled and anxious about how restriction to free movement may affect their right to live and work in the UK or other EU member states. Given the fact some EU legislation will be repealed, international mobility policies may need to be assessed and adapted, and ensure specialist advice is utilised.”
• “Encourage workers to list their entitlements to pension and other social welfare benefits when starting to work outside the UK.”

“The criteria for nationality applications are not always more demanding than those for long-term or permanent residency, and nationality is the more secure option to guarantee residence rights in the long term.” – Jo Antoons, Fragomen

From an Individual’s Perspective – Fragomen

Companies and individuals are naturally concerned about what Brexit will mean for EU nationals living in the UK and for UK nationals who are residing in another EU country. While UK politicians figure out what approach they will propose for those affected, individuals are wondering what actions they can take now. Fragomen suggest three key points of consideration for UK citizens currently living, working or studying in an EU member state who wish to take measures to safeguard their mobility rights.

According to Fragomen the first action step is to register your residence if this was not already done. UK citizens without a residence document who have been residing for more than three months in an EU member state should be encouraged to contact the national authorities and obtain one. Not all EU countries impose registration regulations on EU nationals, and in this case obtaining an official residence document before a divorce date is the safest way to avoid grey areas and maintain your right to reside in the EU even after a formal separation.

Permanent residence rights and regulations vary from EU state to EU state. Some require five years of legal residence, some (including Belgium) request only three years when specific conditions are met. Fragomen suggest this action step with two reasons in mind:
• This confirms that you fulfill the requirements for the right to permanent residence, useful in cases of long absences from the EU member state where you currently reside;
• this maintains as many other rights as possible after Brexit. British EU permanent residence holders may have their status automatically transformed to that of non-EU nationals, whereby they are granted long-term residence for the whole of the EU or just the country where they currently reside.

EU or national long-term residence does not boast the same breadth of rights as EU permanent residence, however it does guarantee the right to continue residing in the host member state.

3. APPLY FOR NATIONALITY – but only if it is the right option for you
Obtaining the nationality of the EU country where you have been residing may appear to be the obvious option, however, before taking on an additional nationality, ensure that you’ve considered what is involved in the application process:
• Is dual citizenship allowed in your host country?
• What knock-on effects may a change in nationality have on your taxation status?
• Would this lead to a loss of rights? For example, some EU states grant less generous family reunification rights to citizens as opposed to those granted by EU free movement legislation.

That said, criteria for nationality applications are not always more demanding than those for long-term or permanent residency, and nationality is the more secure option to guarantee residence rights in the long term. Nationality can only be revoked in exceptional circumstances, while residency can be lost after two consecutive years of absence from the host country.

It is essential for businesses to maintain their own sense of structure and identity in this time of uncertainty. When approaching Brexit from an individual’s perspective, each unique personal situation must also be taken into consideration before making a decision. If we are able to maintain a sense of order, promote clarity and adaptability within organisations and keep open channels of communication we will ensure the best outcomes are achieved and business operations and lives carry on as calmly as possible.

With thanks to Stefan Nerinckx of Fieldfisher and Jo Antoons of Fragomen.
You can download their whitepapers by following these links:


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When the world wasn’t much bigger than a thirty-minute ride in the back of my parents’ car, I remember people being critical of those who moved across the border of our neighbouring country Belgium. These were rich folks, or at least they aspired to be, the others supposed. I didn’t understand much of it, only that they must be smart, as they were able to buy a bigger house and a fancier car by, in theory, moving just a few exotic kilometres away. Something to do with taxes, people said. I recall seeing pictures of these supposed mansions and being disappointed; it looked just like home, no ornamental pillars, eternal sunshine or prancing pink ponies whatsoever. I still don’t understand much of it today, but for different reasons. I’ve since learned that this phenomenon is called a tax haven and that it involves much more than one border, a short stretch of land and an actual, physical house.

Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti were drawn by this same question: what constitutes a tax haven? For two years Woods (NL 1970, grew up in Italy) and Galimberti (IT, 1977) worked on ‘The Heavens’, a photographic documentary research project that sheds light on the obscure workings of seemingly exotic tax havens and the so-called offshore world. Given the publication of the Panama Papers and the Lux Leaks scandal earlier this year, the duo proves their nose for current affairs.

Woods’ and Galimberti’s interest was awakened as they were bent over a map in Woods’ Haiti home. Galimberti casually remarked that after a pretty good year the Italian government would claim half of his profits. I should hide it, he joked, upon which they observed that the notorious Cayman Islands were only an hour away. Could he actually pull it off? For that they needed to unravel the workings of a tax haven, about which the duo only had vague notions, even though the subject makes the news every day. A bigger challenge, given they’re photographers, was how to picture a phenomenon you can’t see.

“Many James Bond-movies were filmed on locations where tax havens are located. Long-legged beauties, mysterious wealth and spies travelling the globe set the tone. It gave the fast-growing off shore world a sexy touch.” – Nicholas Shaxson ‘The Great Escape’, The Heavens, 2015

For over two years the duo travelled to thirteen different tax havens to capture associated phenomena, places and people. It included a lot of fact checking, “not because we’re nerds, but to avoid getting into trouble with any big companies’ lawyers”. Part of their research was setting up The Heavens LLC, incorporated in Delaware, USA with the same company Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Google, Walmart and 285.000 other companies. It was done in twenty minutes, no papers required.

tax havens
A man floats in the 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the skyline of “Central,” the Singapore financial district, behind him. Singapore

In a visual language borrowed from glossy annual reports and interior magazines, this is the image they present us with: shiny shoes, flawless rows of safes and post boxes, a tropical skyline (a forest of overtly designed but empty skyscrapers littering Panama’s coast), rooftop swimming pools, a moon speckled sea where a single yacht is anchored (waiting to bring Donald Trump Towers’ guests to a deserted island). Men with motorised hobbies, meetings with take away coffee, ugly carpets and comfy chairs, men and women in business uniforms. Singapore Freeport – part of the Singapore Diamond Exchange headed by Belgian Alain Vandenborre –  built with extra solid foundations to be able to carry the tons of gold, diamonds that pass through each year and more art than you will find in Firenze. Flipping through the book is looking at surfaces and shells. It’s looking at nothing much, except for the occasional outstanding view. Tear sheets collected by an ambitious young man with big dreams and a lack of scruples. It’s playing James Bond, only the villains look stunningly uninspiring and they hardly ever get caught.

The duo learned the proof is in your pantry, your bookmarks, your wardrobe: Starbucks, Chiquita, Lays, Gillette, Amazon, Google, they all make use of ingenious, questionable, but legal ways to pay less tax and make more money. Unless you’re a hermit, there’s no escaping it. Billions of private and corporate dollars are stashed in tax havens, “often legally, to escape financial regulations or to reduce their taxes, draining the resources countries can spend on education, health care and security.” During the Vietnam War the USA even attracted blood money from Africa to finance the conflict, implicitly approving of armed conflict.

What lingers besides that dazzling world of polished make-believe is a pit in the stomach. Can a book like this change anything? Maybe not, but it does challenge you to a thorough reflection on today’s society. And although some Barbie-esque villa’s and palm trees are involved, I can now say for sure that a tax haven isn’t exotic at all. Thanks guys, for a depressingly good book.

‘The Heavens. Annual Report’
Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
Dewi Lewis media, 2015

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Generational Differences
Lisa Johnson, Consulting Services Global Practice Leader of Crown World Mobility says: “The differences for this generation seems to fall into two big categories. First, there are a number of studies that show millennials worldwide expect to gain some international experience during their careers, as well as expecting career progress to happen with a shorter timeline than in the past.

The second big difference has to do with how information is communicated and the options that are open to millennials. There is a need to provide information and communicate using apps, texts and emails rather than through policy documents, face to face meetings or phone calls. Technology and how information is received is one of the biggest shifts in any industry and, of course, also impacts Mobility.”

Lisa Johnson finds that the most recurrent questions faced by relocators today are around low cost ways in which they can provide their services to early career employees seeking international experiences. Discovering which technology lends itself to developing apps and updated services fast enough is a big one, especially as many destination service providers have to operate within a limited budget and timeframe.

The New Normal
Walter Vermeeren, Senior Vice President EMEA of Altair Global, agrees that the difference in demands is mainly a result of changing times. “Our environment is continually evolving and as a consequence the people living in that environment change. There’s a difference in the type of requests we are seeing and to stand out as a DSP in a society driven by technology you have to adapt, no matter what age group you’re dealing with.”

Although many millennials will have travelled or studied abroad before embarking on their professional careers, they often lack a deeper understanding Walter Vermeeren feels. “They are the younger transferees, frequently single and in most cases they won’t have children. This is very different compared to the typical expat we saw 20 years ago. Millennials are generally very confident. Most of them will have enjoyed a student life without too many financial problems, be it in Europe, Asia or the USA. I certainly wouldn’t want to call them spoiled but it is fair to say that this is a generation that takes a lot for granted. Essentially, we’re looking at a group of independent workers who don’t necessarily expect relocation support but who simply assume that everything they do will go smoothly. And this means that the customer has changed drastically for relocation providers.”

Lisa Johnson elaborates: “We find that a lot of our early career employees have never moved before. They have no idea about all the things they don’t know. Ironically enough companies offer them cash options and DIY move solutions. But few employees are experts at moving, which means we need to offer a lot of practical advice and support. How much will it cost? Is immigration compliance important? Can I live anywhere I want without being concerned about safety? Why shouldn’t I negotiate my own lease?”

Corrective actions are not unfamiliar Walter Vermeeren tells us. “A lease agreement signed without DSP support is a typical example of this. We all know what can go wrong: from dodgy contracts, overpaying for a property or landlords who refuse to take care of essential repairs, by bypassing professional support, millennials can be left disappointed from the moment they arrive in their new home country. Situations like these usually mean the relocation service provider has to step in and fix things after the fact. Equally, it’s not much fun for the millennial who has to ask for emergency support. All this can also end up costing the employer a much higher service fee than anticipated.”

“The emergence of technology designed to support low cost moves is creating a shift in services. Yes, you can move more cheaply and find your own apartment quite easily, but you have to factor in human support in order to advise the millennial employee on the more practical side of things.” – Lisa Johnson, Crown World Mobility

Troubleshooting the Gap
Even so, we are dealing with actual physical human beings and a gap between brain and technology, let alone the detailed and specialist knowledge on vital components to a move abroad, such as immigration. This means that problem solving will probably continue to form a substantial part of the job. Adjusting your services and communication to the specific needs of your clients will surely help to minimize the number of hours spent troubleshooting.

Ensuring a smooth relocation for your clients will (for a part) hinge on how you deliver your services to the client. “With millennials you are best off offering a list of services from which they can choose, with a few mandatory services on the list. And the service list cannot be changed for a financial benefit if they don’t use it,” says Walter Vermeeren. “Start compiling your list by talking to millennials and finding out what it is that they really expect. DSP’s should work with their customers to develop this itemised service list. Try to be as pro-active as you can be, think about what you can provide and what the customer might want you to provide. And communication really works best using modern technology. Keep it fast, short and simple!”

“Use apps, timelines, texts and infographics instead of the typical HR policy document,” Lisa Johnson adds. “Information across the board is being produced and shared in new ways. Uber is a great example of getting what you need when you need it, just as airbnb is. I believe we’ll see a general shift where for example housing options are presented in a way not dissimilar to the airbnb model. And it’s not just the millennials who see the benefits of these technological changes; society at large is coming to rely quite heavily on these visually pleasing and easy to use applications, whatever their form or function. At the same time, technology is shifting faster than guidelines and security measures, so there are some very realistic concerns around these ‘uber mobility’ solutions that will need to be addressed.”

Future Visions
When asked how he sees the future of relocation services, Walter Vermeeren tells us that “The millennials will grow older, which means we’ll likely find that expectations and services required will level out somewhat. But don’t forget that the next generation is hot on their heels: the Z-generation or i-Generation, the digital natives. They’ll expect even more online and highly personalised services through all the media they use (TV, Smartphone, PC, Smartwatch and other things to come, 24/7!). This is a generation that likes to share goods and so co-housing will become more of an option, and a service where DSP’s can add value. This Z-generation was not financially pampered and is growing up in a very uncertain environment. They will be looking for more certainty, which is where DSP’s come in by once again providing guaranteed services and support.”

Lisa Johnson has a more philosophical approach to the future of relocation services: “Every company is aware of the fact that the majority of employees today are millennials and that they are driving certain shifts around career paths and experiences. They want work to be meaningful, have time for activities outside of work or want to be sure they can work for a company that does meaningful things. We will all benefit from these attitudes.”

Technology Musts

Computers, tablets, gaming consoles and smartphones are firmly embedded in our everyday lives. White papers by Crown Relocations, Xonex and Living Abroad teach us that:
1 – one of the greatest values of relocation technology is its ability to deliver pre-assignment resources to candidates through multiple platforms;
2 – tools should be streamlined, allow 24/7 access, reduce disruption, and offset problems in the new location. All of these features add up to faster assimilation into a new location, with less employee and family stress;
3 – relocation technology should be easy to use, must be fully functional on mobile platforms, giving an assignee greater convenience, connectivity and control of their relocation process.

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Increasing Mobility
There is a clear consensus that the volume of workers is expected to keep climbing. A strong majority of employers indicates the number of mobile employees in their organisations will increase or stay the same. As many as 89% of organizations indicated they plan to increase their mobile workers in the next two years according to PwC’s “Moving People with Purpose – Modern Mobility Survey 2014”.


Talent Gaps
Talent gaps continue to be cited as the top motivator for moving employees abroad with as many as one in three (34%) employers cited as “having trouble filling key positions.” (Moving People to Work)   The dynamics are also changing. The profile of the Western senior executive being sent to explore foreign market opportunities is long replaced with a more complex, horizontal portrait.

“Talent management has become a headache for CEOs, with only 30% saying that they have the talent they need to fulfill their future growth ambitions.”  (Talent Mobility 2020)

Expanded Reach
Employers also cite market expansion as a key driver for sending employees abroad. While this was also true in the past, the opportunities and barriers of market expansion have evolved. The balance between developed and emerging markets is shifting; while Western economies continue to send employees to emerging markets in droves, mobile employees from emerging markets are going not only to more developed countries but to other developing markets too.

“Nearly half of firms (45%) indicate some form of expansion impacted their relocation volumes.” (Corporate Relocation Survey Results)
“[Mobility professionals] regard new market growth as the principal driver behind the growing need for global mobility (60%).” (Strategic Global Mobility)

Leadership Development
Successful organisations are planning for their futures by making sure their high-potential employees develop a global mindset through international experience. They will have to be comfortable leading colleagues, and pursuing market opportunities, from very different corners of the world.  International experiences are seen as opportunities to build intangible leadership skills.

Attract and Fulfill
A key evolution is that employees themselves are asking for international assignments. It is not lost on the broader talent base that global experiences have become a stepping stone to promotion and mandatory for senior leadership.  While previous generations held mixed views regarding the personal value of international work, millennials in particular are increasingly requesting these assignments. International posts, then, are a key tool in the global contest for young talent.

The millennial generation will make up 50% of the workforce in less than a decade and a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reports that of 4000 millennial generation survey participants, 80% state that they want to work outside of their home country at some point during their career. It will be seen as a rite of passage.

Cost Pressures
Global economic confidence has hardly recovered from recent effects of the European debt crisis, let alone the global economic crash of 2008-2009, and cost management continues to place pressure on mobility professionals. This pressure isn’t slowing mobility volumes or even shrinking budgets, but is driving managers to more clearly demonstrate effective management and return on investment.

Changing tax requirements and government regulations are quickly becoming the top risk faced by global employers. Governments in every corner of the world are ramping up pressure around enforcement of these regulations. As compliance becomes increasingly complex and increasingly important, employers appear to be increasing the levels of outsourcing this work to external consultants. Despite this rising need, many companies are facing avoidable penalties for non-compliance.

“Over-regulation is cited by 78% as a concern.” (Global CEO Survey)
“Some 40% of respondents reported that they did not have a formal risk control framework to monitor payroll tax and social security compliance, with 64% reporting they incurred avoidable penalties for non-compliance in 2012.” (Global Mobility Effectiveness)

Key Trends
Steven Cryne concludes that there are four important key trends that can be taken from the various reports:
(1) flexible program design as a result of a globalised talent pool, shifting employee demographics and demands; (2) increasingly strategic role for mobility in the organisation; (3) heightened focus and expertise in ROI and data analytics; and (4) more collaboration between business and government on labour regulations.

1. Global Talent Pool and Option Diversity
We are likely to continue to see an increasing variety in the types of assignments and policies, which is being driven by a number of factors. Cost pressures are driving employers to consider less expensive options for mobilising talent, ranging from short-term assignments and employing regional staff to virtual teams and “local plus” packages. Technology is making these different options easier to manage and demand from employees, especially millennials, is also driving flexibility.

2. Integrating Talent Mobility in Organisational Strategy
As the value proposition of mobility shifts, so might its role in the organisation. Mobility professionals and consultancies are all advocating for mobility to play a more strategic role and to become embedded in a diverse range of activities, playing a broader role in human resources.

3. Proving Return on Investment Becomes Crucial
All surveys that asked about tracking, evaluating, and other elements related to ROI clearly show organisations are not excelling in this area. “95% of companies don’t measure international assignment ROI… respondents simply are not sure how to do so” (Mindful Mobility).

“Three in four respondents expect to be measuring return on investment from mobility in two years’ time, compared with  just 9% who do this today. Fewer say they  can accurately quantify the cost of their programme. Even by 2017, only around half (49%) expect to be able to do this accurately.” (Moving People with Purpose)

4. Increased Government Collaboration
Employers have not been passive in response to heightened pressure over government regulations and compliance requirements. Even when their governments do not see it, employers know that mobile labour is a national economic advantage. Developed countries with ageing populations will become less dependent on domestic labour and employers – and associations – are helping them to recognise it.

“Indeed, 44% of CEOs plan to work with their governments to develop a skilled and adaptable workforce over the next three years. Twenty-seven percent want to collaborate with government to create a more competitive and efficient tax system.” (Global CEO Survey)

For the full presentation, please contact EuRA.

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Highly skilled personnel – From 1 January 2016, a foreign worker must earn at least 39,824 Euro gross per year in order to qualify for an employment authorisation and work permit type B as a highly skilled worker. In addition, he or she must also hold a higher education or university degree (or the equivalent).

Management personnel – The salary required for an employment authorisation and work permit type B as a manager will be at least 66,442 (or 66,441 in the Brussels region) Euro gross per year from 1 January 2016. Obviously the person in question must also actually hold a managerial position within the company.

Blue card – For the award of a European “Blue card” (i.e. a residence title which (under certain conditions) grants its beneficiary a right to a stay of longer than 3 months, while at the same time granting him the right to work) a minimum gross annual salary of 51,494 Euro is required as from 1 January 2016.

Exemption for executives working at headquarters – For foreign nationals employed at headquarters as executives or managerial personnel to benefit from the work permit exemption, from 1 January 2016 they must earn at least 66,441 Euro gross per year.

Wage elements taken into account – For the calculation of this minimum amount, all sums (gross salary, bonuses, year-end bonuses, double and single holiday allowances, etc.) and benefits in kind such as housing, car, etc. which count as remuneration for work will be taken into account, provided they are expressly included in the employment contract, with the amount specified.

Wage elements not taken into account – The allowances often granted to foreign workers to cover the additional costs that their employment abroad may involve are therefore not eligible (so-called ‘cost of living allowances’, removal costs, children’s school fees, etc.).


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“While most Western European cities have remained stable in this year’s rankings, UK cities have fallen,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, a Senior International Mobility Consultant at Mercer.  “However the drop is not as large as to be expected, with steep rental prices keeping UK cities up.  In the past year we’ve observed strong rental accommodation prices increase in Aberdeen, and to a lesser extent in Belfast. Although there has been only a slight increase in the average rental price in London, this cost remains at the higher end of the scale when compared to cities worldwide.”

“Although the value of the Euro has remained steady against the US dollar, the Pound has fallen, largely due to Brexit fears,” explains Ellyn Karetnick, Head of International Mobility at Mercer.  “But whilst currency fluctuations will always cause a major impact on costs, local conditions like high property prices can counterbalance the impact of currency movements.  It is important to understand local costs when deploying employees in countries across the world and we use the Mercer International basket of goods to help calculate rankings and packages.”

Few organisations are prepared for the challenges world events have on their business, including the impact on cost of expatriate packages.  This year’s survey again proves that factors including currency fluctuations, cost inflation for goods and services, and instability of accommodation prices contribute to the cost of expatriate packages for employees on international assignments.

Mercer’s survey takes into account 375 cities throughout the world; this year’s ranking includes 209 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of more than 200 items in each location, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

According to the 2016 survey, Hong Kong tops the list of most expensive cities for expats, pushing Luanda, Angola to second position.  Zurich and Singapore remain in third and fourth positions, respectively, whereas Tokyo comes in fifth, up six place from lst year.  Other cities appearing in the top 10 of costliest cities for expatriates are Shanghai (7), Geneva (8), N’Djamena (9) and Beijing.  The world’s least expensive cities are Windhoek (209), Cape Town (208) and Bishkek (207).

Nathalie Constantin-Métral, Principal at Mercer with responsibility for compiling the survey ranking, said, “Despite some marked price increases across the region, several local currencies in Europe have weakened against the US dollar which pushed a few cities down in the ranking. Additionally, other factors like recent security issues, social unrest, and concern about the economic outlook have impacted the region.”

“Cost of living allowances are intended to help protect the purchasing power of international assignees, and can go up or down depending on inflation levels in the home and host location, and the movement of exchange rates.”

Two European cities are among the top 10 list of most expensive cities.  At number three in the global ranking, Zurich remains the most costly European city, followed by Geneva (8), down three spots from last year.  The next European city in the ranking, Bern (13) is down four places from last year following the weakening of the Swiss franc against the US dollar.   Several cities across Europe remained relatively steady due to the stability of the Euro against the Dollar.  Paris (44), Milan (50), Vienna (54), and Rome (58) are relatively unchanged compared to last year, while Copenhagen (24) and St. Petersburg (152) stayed in the same place.

Brussels meanwhile has climbed the rankings quite significantly, coming up 16 places (from 102 to 86) this year.  Nathalie Constantin-Metrál believes the rise in utility costs in Belgium has a large part to play in this as goods and services  in general increased only slightly.

When we enquired about the expected impact of the impending Brexit Kate Fitzpatrick said “Cost of living allowances are intended to help protect the purchasing power of international assignees, and can go up or down depending on inflation levels in the home and host location, and the movement of exchange rates. Generally speaking, the requirement for any sort of cost of living adjustment increases for assignees from a location with a devalued currency (e.g. UK outbound assignees), while the reverse is true for assignees into such a location (e.g. UK inbounds), as the home country currency now goes further and therefore requires less of an adjustment to maintain purchasing power in the host location than in the past.

That said, organizations take many different approaches to the exchanges rates used to calculate such allowances, the frequency with which they review them, and the thresholds at which they would make any off-cycle interventions, so there will be a range of ways for companies to manage this over the coming weeks and months. It is also important to remember that currency movements – even moderately significant ones – are not uncommon, and many multinational companies will have defined mechanisms for dealing with such volatility.”

Mercer produces individual cost of living and rental accommodation cost reports for each city surveyed. To purchase copies of individual city reports, visit:

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“This machine is not a space ship; it’s a time machine. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It lets us  travel the way a child travels: round and around and back home again to a place we know we are loved.”

The compelling ‘Mad Men’ character Don Draper, creative director at a New York advertising company, pitches a campaign for a slide carousel to Kodak. While projecting pictures of his family and reminiscing on his mentor, he smartly interweaves his personal story with Kodak’s new technology and their wish to become a household name.

In every season of the Emmy Award winning television series one pitch stands out. The common denominator is the personal experience that helps sell a product. In Don Drapers words: “Trying to establish a deeper bond with the product – it’s delicate but potent.” Or, as Peggy Olson puts it during a pitch for Burger Chef: “Every great ad tells a story.”

And although we’re referencing a drama series, the show’s appeal lies in how relatable not only the characters are, but the stories they are selling too. People tell business stories to communicate and connect with employees, customers, colleagues, partners, suppliers, and the media. Business stories differ from regular stories, in that you tell them with an objective, goal, or desired outcome in mind, rather than for entertainment.

When you tell a story well, it can create an intense, personal connection between your audience and your message. Effective stories can change our opinions, they can inspire us to achieve goals that we didn’t think were possible, and they can show us how we can change things for the better.

Things to Sell and Stories to Tell
“Entertainment and corporate communications have intertwined for as long as there have been things to sell and stories to tell,” writes Alan Berkson from Freshdesk in a zdnet.com blogpost.

If traditional advertising is dead, brand storytelling is experiencing a meteoric rise, proving that although times may change, human nature does not. The easiest way to someone’s heart is through a perceived personal connection. Whether it’s your ‘about us’ page, your Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile or Facebook page – even the tone of voice of your internal communications – your ‘story’ is what turns your stakeholders into believers.  Authentic, transparent and relevant communication holds the key to your success.

Thankfully, great communication isn’t exactly rocket science. From your clients and suppliers right down to your team members, you’ve already built a relationship.  Strengthening that bond is simply a matter of combining all the ingredients you already have lying around to create your narrative:

mission + vision + values + strategy = brand story

In Alan Berkson’s words: “It’s what your company stands for, and how it’s making the world a better place. It’s a story that comprises your strengths AND your weaknesses.”

According to Incite’s Summit White Paper 2016 on Corporate Storytelling “your brand story extends beyond your marketing campaign and defines your company holistically. People buy into that story, not your product. They are alienated when you don’t live up to that story, and they are increasingly loyal and passionate when you do. Customers have plenty of choice nowadays. Yours is not the only option. You want them to choose to associate with you, not the competition.”

And it’s not just customers either, employees too want to know the ‘why’ of the company they work in, they want to feel connected and inspired.  Chances are you chose your employees and suppliers conscientiously and without them your business wouldn’t be the same. By making them an important part of your narrative you are able to show how much you value and appreciate them.

Start Listening
“It [storytelling] is especially useful for leaders, for example when leading people into the future, taking them through change, influencing, unifying people towards a common purpose, transmitting values, motivating and inspiring. Incorporating stories into your messages helps to develop a shared sense of identity.” says Vera Woodhead, coach and brand developer, on allthingsic.com.

Some more sound advice from Alan Berkson: “Companies and their brand managers need to come to terms with the reality that they are no longer the only voices in the conversation. It begins with listening. You need to have the right tools and processes in place to hear and, most importantly, understand the consumer and then weave them into you corporate story. [That story] needs to be infused into everything, from marketing, PR and customer service, to HR, product development.”

It’s easy to miss an opportunity to connect so you want to be both selective and aware of your approach. In order to engage your audience your message needs to be concise, memorable, understandable, differentiating. A proper strategy is key. Your story is made up of different elements and not all of those are suitable for every channel. Once you’ve formulated your story and plan of action it’s time to share your message wherever, whenever you can.

Missed Opportunities
We’ve all been there: we’ve dedicated time to keeping our lines of communication open, have raved about our great new services and special offers to clients and have shared our best photographs and most titillating insights on social media, only to find that we’ve failed to garner the reactions that we were hoping for.  Our audience has failed to connect, our message has simply passed them by.

In fact, it’s your corporate storyline that ties everything together and not making use of what you already have is quite simply a missed opportunity.  In order to build a dedicated following you need to make sure that your narrative holds across the many communication channels you utilise.

Messages have to reflect your vision in order to stand out from the crowd.  Simply reposting interesting articles that are relevant to your field of business won’t do anymore.  Where is your company’s view on the matter?  Why should people care what you’re up to?  What does your team have say? Get your story straight and your audience will start feeling that personal connection you’ve been seeking.

Not everyone gets away with Don Draper’s charades, but if you stay aware of pitfalls and keep it real, your story will surely be one of success.

Our top picks from Incite’s White Paper:
1. Determine where your brand story will come from. The main lesson here? Don’t manufacture something from nothing. Pick something you’re already doing. This can be aspirational (a “campaign for real beauty”), it can be a legacy point (the rich history of…), it can be based on sustainability and corporate responsibility, or it can come from your employees.

2. Don’t tell it yourself. This is beyond marketing and communications. You want to accentuate a message that’s already out there. Twenty percent of marketers say customers have more power to define your brand than anyone else. Your employees are a good bet, too.

3. Make sure you can tell it persuasively. If you’re going to ascribe the responsibility to tell the story to employees instead of the marketing and communications departments, you’ll need a different set of processes to sign off. You can’t strangle a story by running it past legal every time you have an opportunity to propagate it.

4. Ensure that this is for the long term. A brand story is most emphatically not a campaign with an end date. It’s far more wide-reaching than that. You need to plan further ahead and build foundations that last longer than any typical marketing campaign planning process you’ve done before. That means getting employee buy-in (which is why we talk not about creating a story, but about accentuating an existing one). This isn’t a paint job – it’s something people sign up for.

5. Use the story with more than just your customer base. Your brand story will help engage and build morale with your workforce, too. Use it to do so.

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If we feel hard done by, we’re quick to share our displeasure with the world.  Today’s media is abound with public relations disasters such as sackings being tweeted live through the company account and disgraced public figures who said one thing and did another altogether, effectively ending their careers.

We have a strong sense of justice and fairness and as a society, we crave a more meaningful life.  This means that aligning our personal and professional values is becoming increasingly important to both our success and our happiness.

So how does this translate into the global mobility sector?  As a people oriented business the majority of the relocation industry is quick to see the benefit of strong customer relations, but with a continued pressure on cost and speed it is easy to lose sight of the rest of our stakeholders’ interests.

Elisa French, partner and founder of Ceeyana, brought to life how easily and quickly we can integrate our personal philosophy into professional practice. With over 2 decades in Executive Coaching and Strategic Management behind her, Elisa is actively involved with the Relocation Professionals Coaching Program in cooperation with Oxford Brookes University and has transformed lives for a wide range of clients from small businesses to large corporations around the world.

The Conscious Capitalist
“Capitalism has served us well,” posits Elisa, “but is has come at a great cost. We now own more mobile phones than toothbrushes and our world is being disrupted at a greater speed than ever before.  As consumers we have more choices, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. We don’t always feel heard or appreciated by our peers.  Depression, burn-out, loneliness; they’re all signs of our time and very much on the rise.”

“Businesses need to acknowledge that it is their role to serve society, and as business people we need to see opportunity in this,” she continues.  “We all prefer doing business with organisations that have a philosophy we can relate to, but it takes courage and commitment to change for good.”

“Typically organisations sense that they would like to take a more conscious approach to their day-to-day dealings, but it’s not easy turning such a big ship around.  Compliance and governance are big hurdles to overcome, but we don’t rea-lise how many easy and small things already set us on track towards creating a more fulfilling life in a better world.” Elisa adds when we catch up after the conference.

Most of us will already have made a start towards positive change without even being aware of it. Whether you’re recycling your printer cartridges or just making sure that you don’t print out every single email, taking those first steps towards instilling a more conscious approach throughout your organisation isn’t as daunting as you might expect.

Improving Lives
“For the vast majority of us money is not our driving force.  Whether your company mission is to have fun along the way, to make a personal difference to the families you relocate, or to support a local charity, for most of us work involves wanting to improve life in one way or another.”

It’s finding this higher purpose that helps take your company to the next level Elisa believes.  “Every organisation is different and what works for one, may not work for the other, so ask yourself, what does conscious capitalism mean to you? What are your principles, what are your values and what do you really want to stand for?  Tell me why should I work with you and not somebody else.  Ask yourself how you can integrate this common purpose into your day-to-day processes and relationships, but most importantly: turn up and actually do what you have set out to do.”

Money to be Made
Research supports the claim that defining and working towards this common higher purpose as a person, a team and as an organisation, is the key to creating a sustainable and successful business.  A study by Edelman Marketing even suggests that companies committed to conscious capitalism outperform others by a factor of 10, proving there is money to be made in adopting a more conscious approach to business.  The 2012 study also showed that when price and quality are equal, 71% of consumers would not just switch brands, but even help a brand promote their product or service if there was a good cause behind them.

“These companies are not settling for the cheapest suppliers or squeezing what they can out of prices, but instead work with selected suppliers to become loyal and mutually respected partners who invest in quality and innovation,” Elisa continues.  “By investing in salaries, education, health and wellbeing, staff feel validated and want to come to work.  Simply allowing people to speak up, paying them well, acknowledging them and giving fulfilling work builds a committed and loyal team who will carry your message out into the world.”

Being your Best
Your purpose is what anchors your organisation.  It’s the magnet that serves to draw in all of your stakeholders and gets them to buy into your ‘story’.  From clients and contractors to individual team members, you want everyone to be on board so that you can flourish by aligning with society’s need to lead better, more conscious lives.

It’s the millennials who are driving this desire for a more sustainable future.  It can be hard for management – and long-standing team members – to see the need for change.  They are often perfectly happy with how things have been running, but when you hire fresh young thinkers they bring new impetus to your company culture. So ask yourself: ‘are your processes bringing out the best in every stakeholder? Does your business allow you to be the best you can be?’ and then go from there.

“Think about it.  Only too often do we devote all of our energy to getting the job done, to the detriment of living up to our higher purpose.  We may choose to ignore the fact that a team member’s moods affect the entire office as we believe they get the job done.  Or perhaps you’re keeping on  a client that really you’d rather not have, simply because they pay the bills.  If you’re accepting situations that undermine who you are and what you believe in for the sake of saving time and resources, it’s bound to come back and bite you. It has a massive impact your organisation’s culture, and takes away from where you are trying to head.  You really need to critically assess what type of a culture you are tolerating: it’s the life force of your organisation. If your company is all about measuring quarterly profits and quick wins, then this is what you’ll get.”

If on the other hand you can not only define your values, but really embed them you start building values such as transparency, trust, integrity, compassion, generosity, autonomy and more into your company culture. Values that have a huge impact on your performance and that create great, energetic places to work.  If, for example, you were to look at employee turnover as a key performance indicator, you’re starting to think like a conscious leader.

Creating Structure for Growth
“When you truly start walking the talk everybody gets to play a part in making this higher purpose become a reality and becomes accountable for their individual input and actions,” says Elisa.  “When everyone is seen as equal you create a culture where feedback – even the most critical – is welcomed as an opportunity for learning.  Defining your values sets boundaries and creates structure for growth as well as offering the opportunity to become who you really want to be.”

Most importantly you have to check in with your values on a regular basis. Whether it’s your operating systems, your business model or your company culture, make sure you don’t stray from your path or allow yourself to become distracted by the one who shouts the loudest.

Be the Change You Want to See
“When we do purposeful work we treat people with trust, care, and respect, and restore the ecosystems around us.  We start recognising that all aspects of our lives and the world are interconnected. We go to sleep not feeling as lonely and depleted, but happier and more fulfilled.  We feel engaged with the world around us and our work environment gives us the opportunity to lead the most meaningful lives we can.  That being said, it’s up to us to step out of our comfort zone as individuals as well.  We all want the world to be the best place it can be and we all have a part to play in this.  Yes you want your company to be the force for good, but you have to live and breathe what you stand for as a person too,” Elisa concludes.

Find Elisa’s talk on the EuRA website or visit her online at www.ceeyana.com

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“I was always the one who was going to pursue the big career,” says Ilonka Vlot (1971, Wormerveer, NL). Vlot is on Skype from Singapore where’s she’s just returned from a short holiday to The Netherlands with a suitcase full of towels. “I still haven’t figured out where to go for those kind of things here, so why not rely on HEMA where the offer is sturdy, affordable and well designed?” Vlot’s ’ main occupation these days is running a household of 4,5 (I don’t have to tell my husband what to wear, she laughs), but it hasn’t always been like that.

Ilonka Vlot is specialised in supply chain; inventory planning to be precise. She started working for a global tobacco company in 2000 and when her son turned one she started commuting between Utrecht and Southampton, England every week. “My husband and I always wanted three children, but I had a lot of trouble getting pregnant. When our son was four we sort of gave up on that dream and decided to pursue another: seeing the world.”

Vlot’s parents were partial expats (“We lived all the way in Belgium for four years”) and she had paid them regular visits when, during her twenties, they were living in Singapore. The city had a great appeal and Vlot decided to apply for a job there with her own employer. Unfortunately they opted for an Asian candidate instead of flying in an expensive European. The dream of going abroad hadn’t evaporated though, so when in 2010 an opportunity to do a project for her husband’s company in Geneva arose, the family decided to take it.

Life as a Trailing Spouse
“I then applied for a job with my company’s office in Lausanne and they offered me a position. We were discussing the details of my contract when I found out I was pregnant.” They’d never given up trying and after acupuncture the very last IVF treatment miraculously succeeded. “I told my employer ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t fill the position after all’,” says Vlot. It seems strange for a career woman to put that career on a side track, “but,” Vlot argues, “I don’t think it’s fair to either employer or child to be involved only part time. That’s when my life as a trailing spouse began.”

“Instead of both of us having jobs and sharing all responsibilities, now all of a sudden Jelle had the lead career, whereas I was always the one who enjoyed working the most. He used to have this vision of working within cycling distance and leaving with his lunch box on his transporter every morning.”

Vlot, true to her ambition: “I did want to make myself useful in Geneva, so I registered as freelancer, which took me over a year because of the bureaucratic swamp, and did a project for my former employer during my pregnancy. When my daughter was three months old I wondered what I’d do next. That’s when the next opportunity came along: Argentina.
We packed up to live in Buenos Aires for ten months. Our son could go to the international school, my husband’s work was easier as he was managing the same project as in Europe, and the abundance of public holidays gave us the opportunity to travel the entire country. It often felt like a holiday.”

The Logical Next Step
Standing on a Berlin street corner, Christa Baltzer-Bakker (1964, Haren, NL) shares her motivation to swap countries over the phone. “After twenty years Amsterdam had become all too familiar. My husband owns an internationally oriented scientific publishing house. He mainly works online, so location is not of great importance. Besides, from a perspective of growth and considering the international character of most editorial boards in the business, Berlin seemed a logical next step.”

Baltzer enjoys living in Berlin where she has been able to settle into a pan-European circle of friends. Her two sons, the eldest working as a cook in a star-restaurant, the youngest finishing high school this year, have lives of their own. After working alongside her husband for three years, Baltzer reinstated her former career: “I worked as an interior designer in Amsterdam for twenty years and felt it was the right time to start offering my services again.”

It makes a lovely scenario for the next stage of a professional career. Alas, the economy turned out to be as changeable as the weather and Baltzer saw herself confronted with some of the same challenges Ilonka Vlot was facing. “It proved to be quite difficult to realise a proper business model, so my husband decided to apply for a job with a large medical publishing company. In Switzerland.”

Handicrafts and Jewellery
“We knew there wouldn’t be a next job in South-America, so we started talking about the next move soon,” says Vlot. “Our son was tired of moving and hoped to go back to the Netherlands, but my husband and I wanted to do one more.’” After turning a down a job in the US (“We weren’t sure we would be happy in an average American city,” says Vlot), opportunity came knocking: a three-year project in long anticipated Singapore. “We were relieved. It meant our son could finally start making friends and I could get back to work.”

Once more Vlot got in touch with her former employer. Once more she registered as a freelancer to realise a project, because once more she turned out to be pregnant. “We hadn’t done anything to prevent it after the successful acupuncture treatment, and this time it happened spontaneously.” Vlot is overjoyed by seeing her dream of having three children come true, but she does feel now it’s time for her side-tracked career to start moving again. “I don’t need to work for the money, but I do need an activity of my own. I don’t really have hobbies – work was always my hobby – and I’m not the type to be involved in charity apart from donating,” she confesses. “I did join a group of mompreneurs (mothers with small businesses mainly in handicrafts and jewellery – ed.) but we don’t have much in common apart from being a mother.”

Sweet Home Switzerland
Building a steady client base is a challenge both Ilonka Vlot and Christa Baltzer face. But where Vlot is experiencing trouble establishing one because of differences in culture, the fact that Baltzer does have one is causing her headaches. “I have to carefully consider whether or not I will join my husband in Basel. I have work here in Berlin and will have to start from scratch if I move. I feel reluctant to slow down what I’ve only just built up. Plus, Switzerland isn’t what you would call welcoming to foreigners. Then again, renting two houses is expensive and, more importantly, it’s not very nice not living together.’

Baltzer chooses to look at things on the bright side: ‘My husband is Swiss-German and he has lived in Basel before. The city and its museums, restaurants, a few friends, they’re all somewhat familiar. That was a consideration when looking for a job.”

“I think I have the resilience to start over somewhere new again. As a child I’ve had to move quite often and I’ve learned to form new social circles quite quickly. Of course the experience of moving to Berlin helps, and the fact that I have a creative profession too; I can always find something to do. Even financially it’s possible to take it slow and just work on a new client network for six months, although I’m really enjoying working on a couple of projects for a Polish manufacturer just now.”

Vlot has less experience to rely on. “I never took to networking,” she admits. “But, after a year and a half of befriending potential clients I finally have some actual leads that might result in an assignment. In the mean time I’ve continued developing myself by organising lectures for the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. It’s satisfying to wear high heels and make-up again, taking the subway with a laptop under my arm instead of pushing a stroller. It gives me the energy I need to give to my family.”

Like Baltzer, Vlot has another change coming. “It’s very probable that by the time my leads actually solidify, I’ll be back in Geneva again,” she laughs, “but at least I’ll have practised building a network. I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve done, but I’m also looking forward to settling in one place for a longer period if we get the chance. We would be lucky to get to live in Geneva again, we really enjoyed our time there…”

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Daniel Poelman, Business Partner Expats, and Leen Goyvaerts, Business Partner Professions Libérales & Independants at KBC Brussels are keen to introduce me to Julie Fulon, Community Manager for the Brussels branch of Startit@KBC and owner of girleek.net.  We meet at the Brussels incubator and co-working space to find out more.

Happy Accidents & Unexpected Success Stories
“The face of business has undergone a radical change over the last few years,” Daniel tells us.  “There is a growing community of people who have bags of experience, or even none at all, and have a great idea that they seek to develop. Belgium hasn’t always been perceived as having a particularly friendly environment for businesses to develop and grow in, but thankfully that’s changing.”

It really was per chance that Startit saw the light of day.  “The bank organises an annual competition for all employees worldwide.  By getting our own people to pitch ideas we get to involve different backgrounds and cultures in improving our services and optimising internal processes.  There’s never really a set theme and two architects who were working in the Antwerp tower at the time, saw an opportunity to fill the empty floors through an original and socially responsible concept: bringing together young people with bright ideas and entrepreneurs and organisations that would be able to help them get their projects off the ground,” explains Leen.

“They won the pitch and were given a budget by an internal sponsor who simply told them ‘we have the space, now you have the money, let’s make it happen’.  Partnerships with the University of Antwerp, Flanders DC, iMinds and others mean that a great variety of expertises and networks have been brought together under one umbrella that start-ups can use to their advantage.”

It was an unexpected success that saw the first floor in the Antwerp tower filled almost immediately.  Today there are Startit offices in six cities across Belgium, housing some 287 start-ups and 28 nationalities, and the numbers continue to grow.  The Brussels incubator opened its doors last Oct-ober and their very first Pitch Day brought in 15 start-ups.  Today there are nearly 40 start-ups working on their plans for global domination and the co-working space is positively humming with activity.

“You become part of a community. Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another save time and money.” – Julie Fulon, Startit@KBC

So how does it work? “Start-ups really are just that,” explains Leen.  “They’re at the ideation stage.  Budding entrepreneurs are offered the opportunity to come and pitch their idea to our jury and, if they are accepted, are given 12 to 18 months maximum to develop themselves and to learn to do business.  This is their time to create a real business plan, to complete trial runs and ensure they have a viable business before heading out into the world and officially opening for trade.”

“One of the major benefits of being invited to work here is that you become part of a community,” adds Julie.  “Even if you’re in completely different fields, you can still help each another.  Only the other day at the lunch table one of the tech guys pointed out to two budding entrepreneurs that they would need to keep in mind credit card expiration dates for their online business.  A simple statement, but one that will save them lots of time, stress and money in the future as their monthly membership programme grows.”

And of course there’s the mentorship programme too: “We ask our mentors to meet with their start-ups for at least two hours every two weeks,” Julie continues.  “And although every start-up has their personal mentor, they can ask any of our mentors for help or introductions to potential clients, partners or departments.  It’s easier for the start-up to reach the right people when they can get an introduction through one of our partners or mentors. It’s an invaluable benefit to have.”

“Mentors are usually decided on at Pitch Day.  The jury often knows who will be right for which project but sometimes we ask the candidate who their ideal mentor would be.  Of course many say ‘Bill Gates’,” laughs Leen, “but it does give you an idea of what type of support they are after. We’ll always look at each individual case and find a local mentor who is best matched with their needs.  We also get a lot of interest from people who want to become mentors, but we remind them that it’s an unpaid job that requires a lot of time and effort, so only the truly dedicated should apply.”

Changing Times
It’s rare for start-ups, especially in the tech industry, to find people who understand what they are trying to accomplish.  “We’re increasingly coming into contact with innovative organisations and start-ups through Startit and our Bolero Crowdfunding initiative, which made us realise that we didn’t really have the proper tools in place to service them,” says Leen. “It’s something we very much want to change and the reason why KBC and KBC Brussels decided to establish a national multidisciplinary team that can share its expertise and knowledge and help guide these young enterprises on their journey.  We kick off in a few weeks when we’ll have some 40 people around Belgium whose job is specifically to offer a customised service.”

“We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us.  We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.” Daniel Poelman, KBC Brussels

“It’s a huge change for KBC too,” Daniel admits.  “We’re learning from the start-ups, just as they are learning from us.  We’re changing our mentality and are bringing new entrepreneurial tools that will benefit all of our clients.”

So what does the future hold?  “The future just happens, our environment is becoming more favourable to business and it’s up to us to be a part of it.  No one said ‘we want to become the leading start-up incubator in Belgium’ but it happened.  The same goes for our industry itself.  We’re investing in digital and ‘the internet of things’ but no one really knows where it will take us.”

“This entrepreneurial spirit is increasingly becoming part of the DNA of KBC.  We’re seeing the benefits of networking and are integrating this into our own business model as well.  We’re longstanding partners of BelCham for example, and given KBC’s Startit commitment to supporting young companies in Belgium, it only felt natural for us to become one of the Founding Partners of BelCham Atelier in 2013, the pioneering incubator in the heart of New York City (located in the same building as the KBC and Belcham offices).  Under the leadership of Chris Burggraeve and Bieke Claes, respectively President and Managing Director, BelCham Atelier has already become the first port of call for Belgian scale-ups who want to explore their potential in the US.” Daniel is proud to conclude.


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On a day like any other, Warre wanders off into the rolling landscape to go bird watching. When he decides to look down instead of up, he finds a creature under a bush that his bird guide doesn’t feature: a tiny creature, something between a girl and a bird. Warre and his wife Tine decide to raise her as a human child, hiding her wings and forbidding her to eat with her mouth or fluttering to the ceiling in public. But Viegeltje, who has a fondness for worms, sautéed beetles and bread with peanut butter, follows her adventurous nature and heads out into the world, while the people she encounters frantically seek to keep her from possible harm.

Dutch peanut butter, a Walloon landscape and two archetypical Flemish first names; add a challenged yet hopeful and resilient character, giving you a picture of Joke van Leeuwen’s personal experiences. She grew up as the daughter of a reverend who moved around The Netherlands, family in tow, before taking up a position as professor in Theology in Brussels. Van Leeuwen was thirteen, tired of cycling to the nearest town to go to school and ready for a change, because surely ‘it couldn’t get any worse.’ But despite lots of good will, going to high school in Brussels turned out to be quite the cultural shock.

“Even the teachers were unaware of the scope of our many differences, great and small.  Little things that can really throw you off such as your place in morning roll call. In Belgium the prefix is written with a capital, so I got up when all students’ names beginning with an ‘L’ were called but was reprimanded for not paying attention; I was supposed to rise at ‘V’. Everything I’d ever considered a certainty was pulled out from under me like a rug.”

Besides the puzzling Flemish meaning of familiar Dutch words, life outside the walls of school and home meant she also had to deal with people speaking French. Like the time she went out to buy a pair of tights (‘maillot’ in Dutch) but was presented with an array of bathing suits (‘maillot de bain’ in French) instead. Van Leeuwen translated several of her experiences from this period into a series of poems (‘Kind in Brussel’ (‘Child in Brussels’) from ‘Four Ways of Waiting for Someone’, 2001) in which feelings of frustration mingled with sheer amazement are positively tangible.

After finishing high school, Joke van Leeuwen studied graphic arts at the Royal Academy of Art in Antwerp and the Saint-Lukas Institute in Brussels and history at the University of Brussels. She made her idiosyncratic debut as an author and comedian in 1978 after winning the Delft student cabaret festival, expanding her talents into many fields. Later she returned to The Netherlands because of her husband’s work, but after their divorce and her son had left the nest, she ‘voluntarily returned to Belgium.’ Van Leeuwen: “I felt stifled in Amersfoort, the small city where I lived. People thought it arrogant to talk about experiences of living abroad. I discovered I feel more at home in places that are a melting pot, like Brussels.” She chose to live in Antwerp for practical reasons: “I have regular engagements in The Netherlands.”

A hybrid backdrop of Flemish and Dutch phenomena
Frustration, the ability to wonder and a determination to get it right (“At home there would be a dictionary where I’d look up the right word”) are pretty useful qualities for a writer-in-the-making. “It had a positive influence,” Van Leeuwen agrees. “I was a creative child already and language and imagination were stimulated by my parents, but the experience of moving to a different culture as a teenager taught me to improvise and think in detours at an early stage.”

The new culture provided her with a subject and a whole new array of words and images to add to her vocabulary, writing proved a means to process the experience. It made her contrary, meaning that in her opinion nothing’s true and everything’s possible. It’s a trait you will find in many of Van Leeuwen’s characters that crowd her stories set against a hybrid backdrop of Flemish and Dutch phenomena. “It happens naturally,” says Joke van Leeuwen. “I simply choose what suits the story best – it enhances the fictitious character.”

Perhaps one of the most important aspects however, is the ability to see things from a different perspective. In daily life, her bi-culturality is as much of an influence as in her work. “It would be beneficial if everyone would live abroad, even if it’s just six months,” Joke van Leeuwen believes. “You should however make a proper effort to encounter that new culture and not stick within a colony of compatriots. Only then you can experience how relative your own habits and values are, even when it’s just a neighbouring country.”

“I see a clear role for myself, within my work but also in my private life. An example I like to give is when a Flemish jury labelled a Dutch author ‘merkwaardig’. In Dutch that means ‘strange’, but in Flemish it means ‘remarkable’.”

Ultimately you can even play a role in helping others understand and familiarise themselves with that culture. This was my main reason to accept the position as Dichter der Nederlanden (Poet of the Low Lands). With this honorary position the Algemeen-Nederlands Verbond, a foundation that encourages a greater familiarity between Flanders and The Netherlands, celebrates the fact that 200 years ago Belgium and The Netherlands were a single country for a period of fifteen years.

In her acceptance speech, Van Leeuwen refers to herself as a ‘two-legged bridge’. “Sadly not many people are interested in this assignment; remarkably less then when I was Antwerp’s city poet. There’s especially little attention from The Netherlands, which seems to be more and more oriented towards domestic issues. I’d say that’s quite worrisome in an age when mono-cultural thinking is impossible to maintain. The situation illustrates what a disadvantage it can be when people haven’t spent any time in a different culture – they keep thinking inside the box.”

Joke van Leeuwen is concerned but determined as well. “I see a clear role for myself, within my work but also in my private life. An example I like to give is when a Flemish jury labelled a Dutch author ‘merkwaardig’. In Dutch that means ‘strange’, but in Flemish it means ‘remarkable’. The author was given a compliment and he wasn’t aware of it! I was able to translate, and he went home feeling satisfied, but when you think about it, it’s wrong that we don’t understand each other even though the foundations of our language are the same. On both sides of the border television programs from the neighbouring country are subtitled. The problem with that is: you stop making an effort to understand each other. But it’s really not a problem if every now and then you come across an unfamiliar word!”

Helping Iraqi and Syrian writers settle in
It becomes clear that there is also a political motivation involved when promoting bi-culturality, also outside the Flemish-Netherlands realm. “When you’ve been part of two countries for as long as I have you should be allowed to have two passports. I’m not really Dutch anymore, whatever that may be (“I haven’t eaten an ‘oliebol’ on New Year’s Eve for years,” she jokes), but should I turn my back on a country that awarded me a state prize? (Theo Thijssensprijs, 2000) At the same time I’d like to be able to vote on a federal level in Belgium. I live here, I pay my taxes, I participate. But apparently it doesn’t work like that.”

Language can be a creative tool, but a political one as well. Learning a language can help understand a culture and enable communication. As chair of PEN Vlaanderen (PEN defends writers and the freedom of speech around the world, both through direct and indirect support.), Joke van Leeuwen is well aware of this notion. “We’re promoting Arabic writers that came here from Iraq and Syria for example. We enable them to do their work, but if they really want to settle here, they’ll have to be given the opportunity to learn Dutch as soon as possible. An asylum seekers’ centre is the worst possible place if you want to integrate and gain wider recognition.”

Van Leeuwen illustrates with a personal memory. “I remember the Bosnian family that came ‘on holiday’ with me and my husband and son. They fled Bosnia because of the war and stayed in a camp. They hardly ever went out. Their four-year-old daughter lit up during her time with us because she could play, learn, interact. We told them ‘You’re not going back to that camp’. So they stayed with us until they could make a life of their own.”

Joke van Leeuwen’s ‘Belgium for Dummies’ tip follows quite naturally: “Listen, watch, don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t put all Belgians in the same category. Of course that applies to everything. More specifically? Don’t call Flemish a funny or even charming dialect – it’s degrading.”


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Steering my bicycle through familiar lanes and unfamiliar alleyways felt like being madly in love. We had no jobs, few friends and lots of ‘goesting’ to try everything the city had to offer. More specifically we were looking for a new balance where work and play would produce the perfect breeding ground for all those artworks, articles and books that were slumbering in the back of our minds.  Writing is my business and observing my second nature – surely those ingredients would make a fine cocktail from which to capitalise on my experiences.

When you first arrive somewhere new it feels like an extended holiday. Knowing you’re not returning home any time soon makes all the difference – there’s no need to go looking for bread and cheese during a Thai holiday because you’re perfectly content to have rice every day.  But a trip around the world is nothing compared to dealing with insurance companies, Flemish landlords, looking for work, trying to make friends to explore foam art coffee places with instead of staring out of the home-office window at a lonely weed trying to prosper in a crack between the bricks of the house opposite.

Once the excitement of the new started wearing off, gloomy days and mornings thick like cold mush settled in its place instead. My previous experience with Antwerp and the Flemish only helped so much – it was very different living there with a Dutch partner instead of a local. While he was away (and he was half the time) I was trying to make sense of the seeming lack of logic in supermarket layout (we’d never start with the wine), a leaking roof and a hysterical landlord, a debit card that only worked in half of the shops I frequented. And those were merely some of the practical issues.

Though utterly scared of failure, I started to gather evidence to help me write about why my attempts to make sense of my new surroundings – and my place in them – made me feel like a wind-up toy in hot quicksand. Crossing just one border had turned me into a migrant and that status changed everything. Where in Amsterdam I had found myself doing silent battle with my computer, stressed by lack of inspiration and full of regret for not grabbing the opportunities for internships I was offered, in Antwerp I suspected depression from information overload lurking around every corner.

During my research I learned that there’s a word for this kind of stress, an entire research area even: ‘Acculturation Psychology’. Batja Mesquita, Professor of Psychology at the KU Leuven and ‘hands-on’ expert: “The range of changes one encounters when switching cultures is very wide: from emotions to how you perceive the world. Stress, the ability of handling all the novelties or not, are also part of that,” Mesquita explains. “An international move doesn’t only mean a material change, it also means losing one’s social network. Acculturation can make you tired because everything, even the appearance of a milk bottle, is different from what you’re used to. In very severe cases acculturation can cause exhaustion, anxiety or depression.” Mesquita confirms that this also applies to a seemingly not-very-drastic move from The Netherlands to Belgium.

So there it was, a label for my condition. While attempting to find certainties in Belgium, I discovered a profound Dutchness within myself. Apparently my desire for order and planning weren’t merely a question of character: I could’ve given that example of the milk bottle myself. Something seemingly trivial like how the isles of a supermarket are arranged proved to be essential to my wellbeing. So when late last winter the supermarket around the corner sprang from its makeover as a blue and white Albert Heijn, I found myself grinning from ear to ear amidst the isles of familiar products glistening in the tube light.

I can’t say which effect Albert Heijn has on my writing so far, but I do know I’m feeling more at home.

When I first got here I swore to never visit the Dutch grocery giant, but I reached the point where wellbeing prevailed over principles. Apart from the fact that they were the nearest grocer, they were also cheaper and open until eight PM.

I’m over the moon to have my favourite peanut butter again, to be able to find the fresh milk with my eyes closed and vinegar and oil together on one shelf. I have to confess to choosing the soothing comfort of being surrounded by ‘vla’, ‘drop’ and ‘stroopwafels’, even though I never eat them, over the thrill of a foreign supermarket – for daily business at least.

I can’t say which effect Albert Heijn has on my writing so far, but I do know I’m feeling more at home. And yes, I found a job, I found that coffee place I can hang out with new and old friends and a proper chunk of Dutch cheese only a brief walk away. Maybe it’s finally time to start writing that book.

by Lise Lotte ten Voorde – www.cultuurcocktail.eu

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Shorter, condensed, more dynamic; that’s how Anita Meyer would describe the evolution in the way events are set-up nowadays. The ‘Ignite’-principle – probably derived from Pecha Kucha – is one of the many positive changes. Speakers get five minutes during which they can show fifteen slides of twenty seconds each. The speed inspires a subject that’s close to the heart and ensures a lively presentation of a wide subject range, not necessarily related to relocation.

Visiting various events around the globe also sheds light on tendencies within relocation. Where in the past years digitalisation and compliance were important issues, this year social values and care for the climate are high on the agenda. John Mackey, co-founder of a successful supermarket chain and author of Conscious Capitalism, writes that a successful company makes profit on the one hand and cares for its surroundings on the other.

Meyer notes that translating this to the relocation business will take some effort, especially when it comes to the products. Yet there are some examples of good practice. A large global company, for instance, obliges its personnel to spend three days a year making an effort for our planet and its people and to show proof of that. Another company engaged orphans for small chores around the company and a Chinese CEO asked a widow to cook him and his staff a fresh, healthy lunch every day. In Sweden there’s a green housing service who shows its clients around on foot and treats them to a healthy, vegetarian lunch.

National Relocation Conference, London, September 10, 2015
The NRC is a one-day conference organized by the Association of Relocation Professionals (ARP). The dynamic program comprises 30-minute sessions on compliance, immigration, sales strategies and ‘moving stories’ from the removal industry, with here and there a Just a Minute presentation. Pickford Move Manager for example, the largest moving company (in business for a hundred years), and ACS, the largest international school in London, were each given five minutes to present themselves.

The plenary session was titled Vision Meets Reality and featured the best-known characters in the UK relocation industry. A panel of two relocaters, a mover and an apartment service, shared how they envisioned their companies five years ago and how they’ve actually turned out. In some cases vision and reality were worlds apart. The audience is always keen to listen when such experienced speakers are on the stand.

Two especially inspiring individuals were keynote speaker Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft (he plays the role of fortune-teller for Microsoft, see www.theenvisioners.com) and a wake-up-after-lunch speaker, Nicola Cook, Chief Opportunity Officer of Company Shortcuts (www.companyshortcuts.com )

A few quotes from Dave Coplin to trigger your curiosity:
– Work is an activity. It’s something you do, not something you go to (work). Choose any best place to do it from;
– Emptying your inbox cannot be the goal of the day;
– Unbox your inbox: email is where information goes to die;
– TLDR: ‘too long, didn’t read’: keep your messages short.

Nicola Cook, talked about sales strategies, the difference between products with a short life span (like yoghurt) and wholesale products (like tires) and how they differ from the sale of services. If you’re trying to sell a specific service like relocation, which can sometimes feel redundant to HR people, it all comes down to relationships. You may have to know people for years before they place their first order.   Nicola advises to:

– Win mindshare: be visible, in the right way (adapt your technique to your product);
– s’marketing: combine sales and marketing, preferably via internet;
– 75% of purchasing decisions are taken before the potential customer contacts you.

Zukunft HRM Expo, Cologne, September 16-17, 2015
It was the first time that EuRA was invited to participate at what is considered to be the biggest trade fair for HR management in Europe. Given the well-known abyss between HR-people and relocaters, the invitation to partake in this event was a great opportunity, and somewhat of a milestone, to draw attention to the available relocation services. EuRA was assigned a secluded office space and pressroom where the 15.262 attendees were invited to come in and ask questions about relocation.

“Since EuRA did not know what to expect as a first time attendee, and the visitors were not sufficiently aware of our presence, the opportunity was not fully utilised. For the next edition we will properly prepare advance marketing via Internet,” says Anita Meyer.

Visit www.zukunft-personal.de for an impression of the event.
Salon RH Suisse, Genève
September 30 – October 1, 2015

Another first: the workshop presentation EuRA held at the annual Human Resources exhibition in Geneva. The exhibition welcomed 2.736 visitors to 185 exhibition stands, and lots of interesting short, practical sessions, organised in speakers corner structures all over the exhibition area.

EuRA received great interest from the audience. Some of the topics that were addressed: is it a global trend for expat-contracts to move from long term to short term? (Yes) What do European or global memberships add to being a member of a national relocation association? (A broader view on relocation issues. In China, for example, each year three new international schools open. That’s interesting information you wouldn’t know otherwise.)

Anita Meyer presented EuRA together with Sabine Baerloche of Active Relocation and former president of SARA, the Swiss Association of Relocation Agents. They focused on the benefits of working with relocation professionals (save yourself some trouble) and the pitfalls if you don’t.

The EuRA presence certainly enhanced the visibility of the association and awareness of the necessity to work with accredited EGQS holding members. Quite a few people in the audience approached Sabine and Anita for more information on relocation, on training, on quality seals and more.

Executive Briefing, Boston, October 6, 2015
One day before the World Employee Relocation Council in Boston, networking guru Ed Cohen organized one of his famous networking events. Cohen is founder, owner and driving force behind the Global Business News Media. He has a radio station exclusively on the topic of relocation and earns a living by setting up lunches where HR-people meet with parties who’d like to sell their goods to HR-people.

The program included short presentations by and about the sponsors of the event. For example: a young man who took over his father’s moving company and a presentation on cultural trainings and how aspiring expats should be screened to establish if their families can cope with having him or her gone for a long period.

A panel of speakers comprised of relocaters, removal companies, Cost Of Living Allowance calculators, temporary housing companies, cultural trainers and corporates were presented a set of questions which enabled them to give their opinion on the same subjects, from a different point of view:
– What’s your strategy for developing young leadership?
– What’s your strategy for growing market-share across borders?
– What new techniques and technology are you developing for enhancing customer services and talent engagement?

Food for thought for both panel and attendees, resulting in an exceptional networking event with lots of useful information and eye-openers.

World Employee Relocation Council (WERC), Boston, October 7 – 9, 2015
“As president of EuRA I will limit my report to the EuRA cocktail in the Marriott on October 8, even though it was a vibrant, maybe the best ever WERC, conference,” says Meyer.

“The bar was on an intermediate level, with easy access and visibility, and ample place for networking for the many EuRA members and friends who attended. The EuRA cocktail is becoming a popular event at the annual WERC. Every year we have to look for a bigger room to accommodate the attendees. CORT was the main sponsor for the 3rd year in a row. Thank you Ken Barron & team.”

“Almost the entire board of EuRA was present, and we took the opportunity to invite everybody and his little brother to the Malta EuRA conference in April 2016.  All board members were sporting the blue sunglasses, the EuRA goody bag item that will be sold in support of the charity of the year. Just as in previous years, we are looking for a local charity in Malta. It’s such a lovely feeling when the destination is tangible.”

The 2016 EuRA Conference takes place in Malta from April 19th to 22nd.  Book your place online by visiting the EuRA website: www.eura-relocation.com

eura relocation charity
above: the EuRA board get into the swing of things and sport the EuRA charity sunglasses
top: thank-you painting by the orphanage that was supported through the charity auction at the 2015 Porto Conference

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Soprano Nicola Mills (1976, Lancashire, GB) knows all about facing the big unknown. Besides singing in the chorus of the Vlaamse Opera, Nicola’s also known as The Down to Earth Diva. We meet at a wine bistro just around the corner from where she lives in the Antwerp Zuid area. It’s a lovely December day; pale blue sky outside, the warm guitar sounds of Django Reinhardt on the loudspeakers indoors.

I half expect her to show up wearing the polka dot dress she features on her website, but today I get the ‘real’ Nicola. “Putting on that dress helps me switch to my singing mode and being a singer. A colleague gave it to me about a year ago. I had to go to rehearsal, so I couldn’t try it on right away, but all I could think was ‘I hope it fits!’ It’s funny,” she says, “because that’s how it all sort of started.”

A Different World
Nicola has been venturing out as a solo artist for years, singing for charities, events and, more recently, with a group of singing waitresses in a surprise flashmob act. However when she’s not at the opera, you will often find her singing arias on the streets of Antwerp. Why would someone with a day job risk a cold? Out of love for singing and wanting to bring opera to people who don’t normally visit the theatre is the more superficial answer. The underlying reason though, is of a more personal nature. “My anxiety was stopping me from enjoying my solo career and I was getting more and more frightened to do it. I couldn’t perform anymore; I was scared to face an audience, scared that no one would want to listen. It was time to face my fears, so when I saw someone in Brussels do it, I thought ‘I can do that too’.”

It wasn’t the first challenge on Nicola’s path to becoming an opera singer. “I come from a working class background,” Nicola tells me over a bowl of soup. “We didn’t have a lot of money and I was the only one with any musical talent. Luckily there was a great musical centre that I could go to. I was seven when I started playing the trombone, but after a while it became clear that I really wanted to sing. Even then I was battling shyness, but at some point I decided to join the choir and I absolutely loved it. One of the teachers, Barbi Hankinson-Parr, thought I had talent and she offered to give me free lessons. I was fifteen by then.”

Hankinson-Parr was crucial to Nicola, because she encouraged and helped her enter competitions, exams and, ultimately helped her to get a place at The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama in Glasgow. “I didn’t even know it existed! It was such a completely different world and I threw myself into it. I knew then that I was going to be a singer.”

After graduating her fears started to come back however, and Nicola decided to play it safe: she went back to the North of England to get married and become a singing teacher. “I did keep singing, but never fulltime. There were too many battles going on in my head and I was just too scared to really go for it. I was afraid of failure.” It was a week of concerts for elderly people in homes that made her realise she had to give up teaching: “My heart needed to sing,” Nicola emphasises. “I left my husband because I realised I could never live the life I really wanted to live if I stayed.” She was thirty by then.

“I trust life will take us where we need to go”

Dramatic High
An audition landed her at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, ‘one of the most renowned opera houses in the world’. “I moved to London and finally started living the life I’d always wanted.”

After London came Amsterdam. She felt that it would be good to move to a different country and experience a different language, so she secured a place at the Opera Studio in Amsterdam. “I wanted to live somewhere else and my gut told me to ‘do it now or it will never happen.’ The course itself was disappointing, but I had a small salary, the opportunity to work abroad and to experience a new culture.  The move led to work all around The Netherlands, starting with Dutch National Opera and then a debut at Het Concertgebouw.  I enjoyed so many good experiences whilst living there. I was always worried that I had left it too late to really make it work as a singer, but since leaving my husband I’ve never been out of work as a singer. I’ve been a full time singer now for 10 years. My worries were for nothing.”

Nicola’s life reached a dramatic high when her Dutch partner left her. “It broke my heart.” She joins her hands in front of her heart, while rolling a pair of dark brown eyes to the ceiling. “I didn’t know what to do but I always trust life to take us where we need to go.” Her answer came in the form of a contract with the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp. The permanent job finally gave Nicola the solid base she needed. “I really didn’t want to start over once again, but moving here has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. I could hide in the choir on the one hand and build a life, healing myself and finding a better balance on the other. After Amsterdam and London, Antwerp was such a relief. Life is slower here. It’s the perfect place to turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly.”

Christmas Carols
Nicola was preparing for her first solo concert as The Down to Earth Diva, around the time she decided to make her debut on the Antwerp Meir.  The show became a story of her life with recordings she remembers from her childhood that have helped shape her as the singer she is today. The theatre needed some pictures “and that’s where the dress came in. It fit my body and my goal perfectly. Somehow everything started to piece together: someone wanted to help me with a website, I was advised to make a flyer and cards, and bought an amplifier and microphone. Everything pointed in one direction: go out there and sing.”

“Antwerp is the perfect place to turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly”

With her solo performance, Nicola found a way to unite her inner diva with her more humble, grounded alter ego, appealing to both opera lovers and passersby that would never set foot in an opera house. “I still have my anxieties but I enjoy singing solo again. I really love giving to people, making them happy by singing and healing myself all at once. I feel that’s my role; my way of contributing to a better world.”

Before Nicola rushes of to sing Christmas carols on the Meir, she admits to missing friends and family. “I love it here, but I will try to create more opportunities to sing in England so I can be with them more often. If I can sing on the streets here, I can do it anywhere! If there’s one thing I learned it’s this: face your fears, you never know what might happen if you do.”


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Master of the Universe
Where last year content was king, this year it has officially become Master of the Universe.   Keyword-laden websites and articles have been in the doghouse ever since Google’s 2011 Panda update, and with the rolling-out of the Hummingbird platform in 2013 even more attention is being paid to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than just particular words. The idea being that pages matching the meaning do better in search engines, rather than pages matching just a few words. This has put the onus squarely on producing relevant, interesting content that engages audiences across the board.

Additionally, consumers have become significantly better at spotting the meaninglessness of ‘cheap’ content, recognizing a lack of purpose in your message within seconds and excluding you from the content they wish to consume. Sharper positioning of your brand, the focus of your message, cutting through the clutter, condensed and more to-the-point content is the key to communicating online in 2016.  Connecting your inner value system holistically with your audience will increasingly provide guidance and direction for how you create your content: authentic, engaging and from the inside out.

Emotional Marketing
Another big trend in the world of corporate communications is brand storytelling.  According to the Brand Storytelling Report 2015 by Headstream, more than a half of consumers are more likely to buy a product if they really love the brand story. People want to hear stories about real humans, stories they can relate to. Relevant stories that speak to consumers make brands meaningful. On top of that, they can go viral, giving brands organic recommendations that are more trustworthy than any other corporate messages. Emotional marketing helps businesses to stand out in the highly competitive market.

Apple, for example, don’t sell computers. They offer a way of thinking and a challenge to the status quo by making their products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. It just so happens that they fulfil this vision by making computers.  Coke doesn’t sell softdrinks, they offer happiness, Samsung doesn’t sell mobile phones, they give you emotions and moments. Redefining your marketing strategy in 2016 can change the way people perceive your brand and bring them around to your offer.

Rise of the Social Influencer
That said, customers often trust peer recommendations more than a company’s sales message and curating user generated content (UGC) will become an increasingly important marketing activity. Internet users are more willing to trust a favourite blogger rather than a recommendation from a brand, making bloggers and other social influencers exceptionally powerful in the shaping of consumer opinions.  Of course, word of mouth has always been a valuable source for customer acquisition and retention. However, with social media development it moved to a different level.

Conversation Starters
The traditional sales message is not the only way to gain attention for your brand as we move beyond the traditional publisher/advertiser relationship in 2016. By sponsoring great content, wherever it lives, brands are no longer reliant on display ads and banners to generate awareness. Instead, they can be associated with genuinely engaging videos, imagery and interactives which work on the platforms their audiences are using.  Sponsoring content associates a brand with the site and topic at hand. Native advertising allows brands to develop their own content which looks and feels like a piece of journalism.

We’ll also see more companies partnering with industry peers and organisations with common goals to share know-ledge, start conversations, work on projects and campaigns together, and to generally increase the breadth of communications within the world they operate in.

Thought Leadership
Hot on the brand story’s heels is the increasing priority of thought leadership. Thought leadership is a newer marketing trend where business leaders and companies position themselves as experts in their area of business, which in turn serves as a great framework for related PR tactics and campaigns.  From the publishing of white papers to appearing as a keynote speaker or putting yourself out there on LinkedIn with well-written opinion pieces, thought leadership is fast becoming a great way to get yourself and your company noticed, so make sure you get your story straight, keep your content original and most of all, be engaging.

Continued Shift Towards Mobile
With more communication taking place over the web, traditional communication tools have become increasingly obsolete. In addition to ensuring your business contacts’ information is available at all times, the real benefits of mobile devices are seen in the applications that they run.

According to Techcrunch there are now over 2 billion deskless workers in the global workforce, outnumbering desk workers 3 to 1.  Collaboration platforms and productivity applications are supporting this trend towards remote working by allowing staff members to conduct business on the go as long as they have internet access.

These types of tools give employees access to business data and CRM platforms via almost any mobile device. Thanks to the power and versatility of mobile platforms and devices, the increased adoption of enterprise mobility is able to continue without hindering any business processes or negatively impacting employee performance.

Increased Reliance on Cloud-Based Solutions
This increased mobility provides an opportunity for cloud-based communication solutions to prove their worth. Many companies are already employing cloud technology because of its reduced cost and easy implementation. However, leveraging this technology’s capabilities will become necessary for companies who want to remain competitive.

Hosted real-time communications provide a superior business communication solution  and integrating this technology with existing CRM software gives client-facing employees, such as sales staff, customer representatives, or office executives, a single place to access client data to manage customer interactions seamlessly. This level of service enhances customer experience while improving business efficiency. It also offers the added benefit of allowing employees to log onto the back-end systems on any device, even if their company-issued hardware is not accessible at that time.

Bigger Emphasis Placed on Enterprise and Cloud Security
While this notion is nothing new, maintaining enterprise-grade security will be as important as ever in 2016. With organizations continuing to migrate towards mobile and cloud solutions, the increased number of associated devices means more potential breakpoints.

Recent high-profile cyber-attacks have highlighted just how exposed any system network can be. The technological progress that continues to provide us with new business tools means that new opportunities continually arise for hackers. Each new technology has its vulnerabilities that must be identified and secured, and the rapidly-changing threats to communication applications require dedicated efforts to ensure the continued integrity of sensitive business communications.

And finally, we predict this won’t be the last set of trend predictions you come across this year!

Sources: smartinsights.com; newsweaver.com; tech.co;
addison-group.net; forbes.com; cotap.com; headstream.com; brandaffairs.com; hotwire.pr.us

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We were warmly welcomed by  Mr. Bart Vandesompele, Managing Director of De Community Gent.  Ghent’s Mayor Daniël Termont, was the second speaker.  He explained, based on the questions and suggestions that came up during the previous expat event  in December 2014, which was hosted by the city hall of Ghent, the expat services Ghent has been working on the last year and the future, foreseen improvements.

Mayor Daniël Termont was followed by  Prof. Dr. Barney Jordaan, who entertained us all with his presentation about “Surviving in the corporate jungle. What can we learn from the conflicts in the animal world to solve our differences?” The lively remarks and questions raised by the public made for an interesting,  interactive discussion.  Afterwards, at the Vlerick’s ground floor cafeteria, an unconstrained networking drink was organised. The many expats in attendance, both from Ghent and other cities, were able to mingle with the stakeholders and sponsors of De Community Gent present that evening.

Again, De Community Gent’s effort to set in place an event especially focussed on its expats has been a real success.  Next up is the “Expat New Year’s Drink” on Monday evening 25th January. Around 100 expats have subscribed to this event and De Community is looking forward to it.

The association was created back in May 2013 and comprises three main partner groups: Expat Community; Jong & Wijs (Young and Wise) and Wijze Vrouwen (Wise Women).  In the future, other groups might be created in function of specific needs, Vandesompele tells us.

It was created as a meeting place for co-operation, exchange and interaction between the city of Ghent on the one hand and her societal, socio-economic, scientific, cultural, sport and other stakeholders on the other hand.  Its main aim however, is to further strengthen the city’s image by showing a vested interest and proactive approach to bringing stakeholders of all shapes and sizes together through regular networking and informative events.

The association is an interactive cooperative platform by the many organisations in Ghent that believe the city has the DNA needed to forge an even stronger identity in the international community.  “We want to show how attractive our city is to both the multinationals and the expats that they employ,” explains Vandesompele.  “Ghent is cementing its place on the destination map as Belgium’s third largest city.  We want people to see our city for vibrant, multicultural and welcoming place it is.”

The platform functions as a table for Ghent where people can meet around different themes.  With its 7 structural partners and over 50 member organisations, these topics span the broadest of ranges.  Visualise the activities of its member organisations as a four-leaf clover if you will:

“Expats who come to live and/or work in Ghent will always be made to feel welcome and contribute to the open-minded spirit that our city has become known for,” Vandesompele summarises.

Visit www.decommunitygent.be for further details on their work and upcoming events.

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On 16 November 2015, a political decision was reached on implementation of the Single Permit Directive, 2011/98/EU.
It provides for:
• A single permit for residence and work for non-EU nationals;
• A single application procedure;
• Equal rights for non-EU nationals.

The directive now needs to be implemented in national law. Since it’s a regionalised matter, each region will transpose it following the agreement reached on the issue.

The political agreement embraces the following characteristics:
• The Single Permit will in principle replace the work permit procedures A, B and C – except for 12 categories of workers excluded from the scope of the directive (e.g., seasonal workers, ICT);
• The 16 November 2015 proposal must be implemented by law; this legislation will be regionalised;
• Employers must apply but the application is signed by both the employer (registered office) and the employee;
• When the regional authorities receive the application they will send a copy to the Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken/Service des Etrangers (which has 60 days to do a security check), as well as process the case;
• The application – once admissible – must be processed and completed within four months; current work permit applications take (only) a few weeks, though the proposal states that an emergency procedure can be applied for – further details will have to be worked out but it seems that it will only be available in very specific cases.

The single permit directive is deemed to be implemented in summer/fall 2016. Whether all regions will do at the same time is not clear yet.     To be continued…


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