For example, some landlords are unwilling to rent to families including disabled people. The feeling is that the disability makes the family difficult, more likely to cause damage to the property or require expensive modifications to the building.

These concerns are unfounded, based on misunderstanding of the realities of disability, and should no longer be part of the conversation. Simply put, finding a home should be no more difficult for one family than the next.

Let’s look at the reality of making finding a home accessible for all…

Is it as scary as landlords think?

Whilst it’s true that accessibility needs are not as scary or complicated as many people feel, there’s no denying that requirements do exist. Users will have specific needs which will need to be addressed for them to live comfortably and independently.

The most visible form of disability is mobility: wheelchair users, both in the case of people who need a wheelchair permanently, or only on occasion, need space and easy access. Ensuring that doors are wide enough in the home, and ramps are in place instead of steps is the most common consideration, but that’s not the end of it.

Wheelchair users will also need to ensure that any facilities such as lifts have wide enough doors and can take their weight plus that of their chair. The best way to find out the client’s needs in this case is simply: ask! Some people who have mobility impairments are able, for example, to climb one or two steps – some are not.

Bathrooms may need the most modification, with some people needing handrails, walk in showers or similar. Whilst this CAN be the case, it’s worth starting by asking what their current setup is and whether the space is suitable. After all, there’s little point installing handrails if the turn from bathroom to bedroom is too tight to navigate anyway.

One concern a landlord may have is having to add “ugly” bars or supports to the bathroom. However, there are now many products on the market that are easy to install and remove. There are also “invisible accessibility” architectural solutions that can make a home adapted for your clients of all ages and abilities.

For users who have sensory disabilities, the requirements might be a little less obvious. For a person who is deaf, for example, any home will need to have fire alarms installed which give a bright, visual cue or vibrate. These adapted fire alarms are available online and can be installed just as easily as any other fire alarm.

Someone with a visual impairment might have a service dog or may want to live very close to their place of work or school. A quiet and calming environment can have a profound impact on those with learning disabilities or people with autism. Location is key, but so is acoustic insulation, as anyone suffering from tinnitus will tell you.

In fact, if a person has a high sensitivity to external stimuli, hearing the neighbour’s refrigerator humming away all night can do more than just ruin a good night’s rest. Similarly, living above or next door to a restaurant or having a room that backs onto the communal bin area will be a no-go for anyone sensitive to scent.

What can relocation agents do?

The first step is to make a positive effort to change your business and mindset to accommodate the needs of disabled customers. This isn’t just about having a wheelchair friendly door and a ramp to your office (although this is of course a great first step).

In Belgium there are subsidies available for businesses who wish to make adaptations to enhance the accessibility of their offices and commercial spaces. For example, in Brussels the subsidies cover up to 70% of the whole cost of the operation. You can find out more about the subsidies available for your business here.

The most important thing is to create an environment in which your clients feel safe to discuss their needs. Not just once, but throughout their contact with you. That starts with your marketing, dedicating space on your website to make it clear that you support clients with a disability and how you do that. Any qualification interviews or questionnaires should also include space for families to indicate any specific needs or requirements they have.

It’s crucial to approach this conversation in a positive way. Don’t ask for a list of disabilities, that can come across as both insensitive and invasive. Instead seek input on specific needs from the property. Even ask for any features or facilities which their current accommodation has (or lacks) which would be needed in their new home. The aim is to invite disclosure without invading privacy.

Disability-related needs should be proactively considered when arranging property visits as well. It’s common for relocation agents to schedule one or two days of property viewings and drive the clients from one viewing to the next. In this case, it’s important to establish whether a family has any specific needs which may impact how they can travel. Does anyone need to bring a wheelchair? If so, how much storage space is needed for it? Or does anyone have issues getting in and out of vehicles, ruling out lower cars? Also here, the best way is to ask your client directly.

Equally, you may find that a family wants to use public transport to ensure they can get around independently following the move so the locations and order of visits will need to take that in to account. For people who have a mobility disability, ensuring accessible public transport is available near is crucial: you will find information in the websites of public transport companies, such as STIB, TEC or De Lijn.

You may also want to find and have access to a sign language interpreter in the case of a client who is deaf or hard of hearing. You can’t always rely on family members to relay messages, and engaging an interpreter is a strong sign of how much you are dedicated to supporting your customer. You can communicate by writing, of course, but for an on-site visit using the services of a sign language interpreter will be easier for all.

Please note that there isn’t really a “universal sign language” so first ask your client if they would like a sign interpreter, for which language, and then you can contact a specialised professional.

Try to hear what’s not being said.

Cultural, social, and personal reservations can sometimes make people reluctant or unwilling to disclose their needs. In those circumstances, it can seem almost impossible to help the people who need it most.

The only thing to do in these instances is to be aware of the indications which you are given. For example, a family instant on having a home on the ground floor may have a member who has mobility limitations. Equally, a need to be as close as possible to work or school may indicate the same.

Ultimately, there is a limit to what you can do. The best thing you can do is to be clear that your business stands ready to support the specific needs of clients with a disability, when they are raised, and that you are listening. Opening the door to the discussion will make all the difference.

More than just a nice thing to do.

Offering inclusive service options is about more than doing the right thing. It’s about keeping an open mind and hearing the things that aren’t being said. Ensuring that your business is actively capable of supporting the needs of clients with a disability will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

By offering services tailored to this sector, you open a whole new market for yourself. You will also create a differentiator for your business against more traditional competitors. There’s a clear business case for ensuring that your company is ready to support the needs of all. Though, just like any new market, you will need to invest both time and money to make the most of this opportunity.

Our thanks to Eleonora Censorii of Destination Everywhere Accessible Travel for her insight and support in this series. If you would like to discuss making your business more inclusive for people with disabilities, or further information on the solutions mentioned in this article, we recommend having a chat with Eleonora.

ABRA members enjoy a free consultation and discounted rate from Eleonora.

 

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How does healthcare work in Belgium?

Great question!

Healthcare is partially funded through the social security contributions that you pay on your salary. This will cover 50-75% of your cost of treatment. Though this rises to 80% when it comes to prescription medication.

You can sign up to state-sponsored health insurance, commonly known as your mutualité or mutualiteit, which will let you claim some of your costs back. If you’re not a fan of paying part of your medical costs, you can take up private health insurance to cover all of the costs.

Once you have this in place, you’re covered for trips to the doctor, hospital and dental care. You’ll also receive maternity care as part of the insurance, provided that you have been insured for a qualifying period of time before becoming pregnant.

Applying for public health insurance

This is the easy bit. As the public health insurance is paid from your salary, your employer will do much of this for you. If not, then you will need to register yourself at your local social security office.

The only thing you need is an eID card, which you will receive as part of your visa application. You may then select one of the public health insurance companies to use. There’s little difference between them all. They mostly are formed around a specific political or religious group.

Note that, if your employer is handling the health insurance process for you, it’s common for them to sign you up to the company which they work with. But, as mentioned, all mutualities are reliable.

Taking private health insurance

If you prefer to have all costs covered, or have a pre-existing condition, it’s worth considering taking out private health insurance. This may cover your medical costs completely, giving you peace of mind around your health.

It’s worth asking your employer if they offer private health cover, so be sure to check before you sign-up yourself.

As with any insurance, there are many providers, and we recommend check to ensure which providers meet your needs. Some, for example, offer family plans to cover your spouse and children, whilst others offer international cover. Ideal if your job sees you travelling regularly.

What about this Zorgkas thing?

If you’ve been in Belgium a while, you might have found a bill for the Zorgkas landing on your doormat. But what is it and do you have to pay? In a word: yes.

In Flanders (not Brussels or Wallonia), all persons aged 25 and over must pay an annual contribution of €62 to the Zorgkas, or Vlaamse Zorgverzekering. It is not an optional thing.

This payment is additional to your own contributions to the mutualité and goes towards paying healthcare costs for those who aren’t able to or who need additional support. Think of the elderly, people who are chronically ill or those with additional care or mobility needs.

What’s next?

With all of your insurances and documents in place, it’s time to choose a family doctor and a dentist. It’s even possible, if you want, to register with multiple doctors, though you will need to pick one to hold your records.

You can find doctors on the Golden Pages website, though we would suggest asking colleagues or friends for recommendations. It’s common practice for you then to have an initial consult with your new doctor, just to ensure that you’re happy with them.

Where it’s fairly easy to find a GP local to you, dentists tend to have waiting lists for new patients, so try and register as soon as you arrive. It’s no fun trying to find a dentist when that sore tooth is playing up.

Accessing services

With all of your insurances in place, you’re ready to go. Most doctors work on an appointment system, though some do permit walk-ins, on a first come, first served, basis.

To access medical services, you need only present your eID card. From there, the provider can check the insurances that you have.

As a rule, you will need to pay for treatment at the point of consultation. These costs may then be claimed from your insurance provider, less any deductible. Just ensure to get and keep your receipt from the treatment, as you will need to submit this to your insurance provider with any claim for reimbursement.

Mental Health Services

And of course, sometimes it really is just a case of feeling a little lost and lonely in your adopted home country. Being able to talk to someone can make all the difference when you’re feeling anxious, are struggling to adapt to your new life abroad, or if the kids are playing up.

CHS, the Community Help Service, has a free 24hr anonymous helpline staffed by highly trained volunteers as well as an expert professional team of psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and coaches. Help is only a phone call away.

With that, you’re all setup for healthcare in Belgium.

Of course, we wish you good health and hope you never need it! If you hit any issues with setting up your healthcare, we’d recommend speaking to one of our members. Our relocation specialists are experts in helping people like you move to Belgium and settle in. You can find a list of all our members here.

ABRA Members CM and Partena Business & Expats are both national health insurance providers, or mutualités.

Whereas ABRA Members Expat & Co and Vanbreda Eurinsurances offer private health plans especially designed to meet expat needs.

 

 

 

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Do EU citizens need a visa to work in Belgium?

As with every country, there are many different options of visa in Belgium. But, depending on where you’re from will define what you do or don’t need to live, work or study here.

If you’re a citizen of an EU or EFTA country, then you won’t need a visa at all. With the agreements which are in place within these groups, you can work, travel, live and study freely in Belgium. However, you might need to report your arrival to the municipality at the local town hall within ten days of arrival.

When you plan to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need a residence card, called an eID card. To get this, you will need to register with the Immigration Office. This can be quite a lengthy process, so we recommend doing this sooner, rather than later.

What type of visa do you need?

For those who are not an EU or EFTA citizen, there are two main types of visas in Belgium, the short stay and long stay.

Short stay visas are for visits of under 90-days, and are called Visa Type C. These can be used for vacation, work, study or hospital visits. You can pick these up from your local Belgian Embassy or Consulate and take a minimum of 15 days to arrange. We say minimum as they often take much longer, especially during the summer, so applying as early as you can is highly recommended.

Note that not every country needs one of these visas for vacations. UK, US, Canadian and Australian citizens don’t need them, for example. If you’re not sure, we recommend checking out the latest advice from the immigration office.

If you plan to stay longer than 90-days, then you’ll need a long stay visa. Called a Type D, these visas cover the whole range of reasons for staying in Belgium beyond three months, including work, study or visiting family.

Getting to work in Belgium

Working within Belgium is relatively simple if you’re from within the EU. However, if you’re from a third country and plan to work for more than 90-days, then you will need a work permit to be employed here.

There are several options depending on your contract term and planned status.

For Entrepreneurs, you’ll need a professional card in addition to the Type D visa to work in Belgium. These are issued by regional authorities, and you’ll need one in place before you start to trade here. It is necessary to have this card for any trade or to complete any business activities in Belgium.

Expats moving to Belgium for long-term work will need to have a fixed-term, single permit which will be completed by your employer. Again, this is in addition to the Type D visa. These permits can take many months to arrange, so it’s important that your employer starts the process well ahead of your proposed start date.

If you’re coming to Belgium to work periodically on a Schengen visa, then it’s possible to get a 90/180 work permit. With this, you can work for up to 90 days out of 180 in Belgium. Your employer will need to arrange this for you and, when you have it, you can use it to arrange a Type C short stay visa from your local embassy or consulate.

Visas for spouses and family

The Type D long stay visa is the one needed if you plan to join your spouse who is coming to work and live in Belgium in the long term.

Note that you will need to be able to prove your relationship and that you have sufficient funds to support your family and expenses to be successful with this application.

Studying in Belgium

Moving to Belgium to study will mean that you need a Type D visa. To receive this, you will need to be able to prove that you have been accepted to study at a recognised Belgian University or educational institutional. You will also need to be able to prove that you can sustain yourself financially whilst in the country.

Crucially, the visa will also enable you to work up to 20-hours per week during the academic period and longer during holidays.

Navigating the process

Arranging and completing your visa application in the shortest time possible can be a complicated and daunting proposition. That’s where our members come in.

If you’re planning to move to Belgium, we’d recommend you have a conversation with a relocation agent as soon as you can. They can support you through the visa application process and keep on top of it for you. They can also support you with the logistics of the move, finding a home, schools and settling into the country too.

You can find a full list of our approved relocation agents right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Every year, in early Spring, the team at Tourism Flemish Brabant create a Dutch language guide to exploring the province on foot. However, this year, they’ve also created a limited edition, English language guide.

The guide outlines 12 walks, suitable for new and experienced walkers, listed by the season when they’re best visited. You’ll also found details of the route markers you need to follow, plus recommendations of places to visit and eat around the walks.

And the best bit? The guide is free, all you have to do is pay the postage!

Not sure if you need a FREE walking guide in your life? Well, here are our four favourite walks from the guide. If you want the other eight, you’ll need to pick up your own copy.

Big Oak Walk – Bierbeek

Located around 30 minutes east of Brussels, Bierbeek is a small town nestled in the countryside.

The walk covers 12.6km through woodland, including over 1,000 majestic oak trees. This is a lovely area to lose yourself in nature and get away from the hustle of the city.

And when you’re done, what to do? Well, the guide gives a strong recommendation of a bistro where you can “enjoy a local beer and something scrumptious”, which is always great in our book!

Halewijn Walk – Zoutleeuw

An hour’s drive outside of Brussels sits the city of Zoutleeuw. With a population of just under 8,500 people, Zoutleeuw is home to the historical St. Leonard’s Church which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Halewijn walk covers 11.4km and will take you by St. Leonard’s, if you’d like to visit. Before that, you’ll be treated to trip through Het Vinne Provincial Domain, a nature reserve which includes the largest natural lake in Flanders.

Het Vinne also includes a watch tower to see the whole lake, a playground for the kids and an art trail with free art book. If you want to see the lake and learn more about it, there’s a free, 90-minute tour available.

Kesterbeek Walk – Beersel

Beersel is 30 minutes’ drive south of Brussels, though you can get there by train in just 18 minutes.

At only 8km, this walk does include some height, so get ready to elevate your heart rate. Running through the Zenne River’s valley, this is a fantastic way to enjoy the local countryside and to work up a thirst for a trip to the local brewery when you’re done.

Whilst you’re in Beersel, we’d recommend you take a trip to Beersel Castle. Built in 1300, it has a rich history and is considered one of Belgium best preserved castles.

Warande Walk – Tervuren

17.5km to the east of Brussels lies the historic town of Tervuren. A treasure trove of historical and cultural sites, the village of Tervuren is worth a visit on its own.

The Warande walk encompasses the St Hubert Chapel, Het Spaans Huis restaurant, and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. At only 5.8km long, you get a lot of sights for a short distance.

The Royal Museum for Central Africa holds a vast collection of specimens from central Africa, including over 10,000,000 specimens in the Department of Zoology, 200,000 rock samples in the Department of Geology and over 120,000 objects in the Department of Cultural Anthropology.

Finally, if Tervuren sounds familiar, that might mean you’re a dog lover. One of the four distinct varieties of Belgian Shepherd takes its name from this region.

Our thanks to the team at Tourism Flemish Brabant for letting us have a sneak peek at the latest, limited-edition English language walking guide. If you’d like a copy of your own, it is available now and you can pick it up here, for the price of the postage.

 

 

 

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Whilst there is little data on mobility by race or ethnicity, we can say that only around 20% of expatriates are women. This may stem from the expectation that women are the primary care givers within a family, but it highlights that businesses may not be doing enough to enable women to take advantage of opportunities, irrespective of their domestic situation.

It is unsurprising then that a Deloitte survey found that only 10% of global mobility teams are active in DE&I discussions. Or that only 15% actively track DE&I data for global mobility. But with international experience having clear benefits for leadership skills, an opportunity for more diverse leaders is being missed.

So, what can you do to bring the global picture in-line with the local one? How do you ensure consistent experience and standards throughout your business? And why does it matter?

Benefits of DE&I.

From cultural to neurodiversity, a varied team with different characteristics, identities and experiences can be a big business win.  Not only does it allow you to access a larger talent pool, leveraging the expertise of a diverse workforce can increase innovation by up to 20% according to the World Economic Forum.

Another important reason to incorporate DE&I initiatives is that they align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, as well as support your Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It’s all connected…

We all want to be an attractive employer, and DE&I is a great way to improve your reputation.

Get some figures.

So, where to begin? The first place to start is to actively track DE&I information through your global mobility programme. This provides a clear starting point and give you a deeper understanding of how your company is performing.

This can often be one of the most daunting steps to take. But it does present an opportunity to start a dialogue with your internal teams to get them onboard at an early point.

Focus on outcomes, not actions.

All too often DE&I has been reduced to a series of checkboxes which, when complete, means that the job’s done. Right?

Well, that’s often not the case in the places it matters. With the people on the ground.

Once you have data of where your business is, the next step should be where you need to go. What SHOULD your global mobility proposition deliver? Which groups within your business are underrepresented within the expatriate cohort?

Asking questions like this will start to give you an appreciation of who is currently being left behind by your programmes and therefore who needs your help the most.

With that established, it’s time to engage with those groups within your business. You need to understand what blocks, real of perceived, are stopping them from taking these global positions and how you can help.

Build it in.

With what you plan to do and who for established, it’s time to break that down into steps, and integrate that within your business.

This will require that you work to deeply connect both your global mobility and DE&I processes from a top-level down. Establishing then refining policy frameworks and procedures which will ensure the successful delivery of desired outcomes.

You will need to ensure that this isn’t done solely as an HR directive. The Global Mobility teams within your business, and any third parties who you work with, will have invaluable insight and experience. By developing this aspect of your DE&I strategy in this way, you give it the greatest probability of long-term success by listening to those doing the job at a local level.

DE&I Training & Integration.

This isn’t as simple as getting your global mobility team on a course. They should be having those already.

We’re talking here about the teams where expatriates will be arriving. DE&I is not a global standard, it is a highly localised concept with members of the same country in different countries having wildly different expectations. Without care and thought going into this aspect of a relocation, problems can easily be built in.

So, ensuring a global level of best practice and training all members of your team to that standard is the first step. It is also wise to develop a programme to help new arrivals settle and integrate both with their new colleagues and new home. This can include assigning a local “buddy” within the office for each expat, arranging social events, and giving localisation, as well as language training.

Communication.

With all of this in place, you need to let your team know. Be clear where global mobility schemes have been unsuccessful previously and what you are looking to achieve now. Then ensure that you clearly let the target groups know that these opportunities are for them.

A good communications drive should be about letting members of your team know what they can be doing and how they can do it. Crucially, you should also address the common concerns and issues which under-represented groups raised to you previously. Acknowledge that these have been issues, then explain how they’ve been fixed.

Finally, book in a timeline for where and when feedback will be sought on the success of this new DE&I initiative. Make space and time to review how this is doing and then to refine what you’re doing even further.

For too long DE&I has been disconnected with global mobility programmes. In leaving it out, many will have missed out on invaluable life and professional experience. But, with care and by listening to those affected, we can ensure that this is no longer the case.

If you would like support in improving your global mobility programmes, especially with the relocation and integration of expatriate staff, then ABRA members can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Actually not that Big…

At only 30,528 square kilometres, Belgium is the fifth smallest country in Europe. Whilst you might think that being small isn’t a benefit, it means you can get to France, Luxembourg, Germany or the Netherlands with only 2 hours driving, not bad at all.

You’ll also find yourself really close to some key European capitals including London (320km), Paris (265km) and Amsterdam (173km) with train services to all three.

So, if you’re looking for a home that lets you travel and see the rest of Europe really easily, you won’t find a better one than Belgium.

(And if you’re wondering, the four smallest countries in the EU are Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and AndorraNow you’re trivia quiz ready!)

4 Languages, 1 Country.

Did you know that four languages are spoken widely in Belgium?

Well, there are, and one of them certainly surprises many people:

  • 59% speak Dutch*.
  • 40% speak French.
  • 1% speak German.
  • And 55% speak English as a second language.

The area you live in will define which language is most prevalent. So, make sure you know which language you need to know for your chosen home city.

Whilst the main cities will see most people able to use English, for more remote or quieter areas, even a basic level of the local language is beneficial.

*Though this could most accurately be called Flemish, which is to Dutch what American is to English. The same but some different words, phrases and pronunciations.

Local Government Rules.

Where some countries have large, centralised government, Belgium does things smaller. Every Belgian municipality has its own City Hall, called a Commune, which handles the administrative and bureaucratic side of life.

If you’re staying for more than three months, you’ll need to inform your local Commune. This is where you get your Residence Visa, so take along lots of identifying documents including your passport, ID, any marriage certificates and birth certificates, for you and your family.

But the Commune is about more than admin, here you can find out lots more about the local area and your new home. Information on local events, schools, and pre school facilities can all be found here, so don’t forget to ask!

The Favourite Form of Transport.

The Belgians are great lovers of sport and the outdoors, so, of course, they’re into cycling. The country offers a lot of choice for those who enjoy life on two wheels. If you’re a casual rider who likes the flats, fancy a challenge with hilly areas or just see a bike as a commuter choice, the Belgian cycle network has you covered.

From urban Antwerp to bucolic Flemish Brabant, getting around by bike is easy.  In fact, in a country of 10.4 million people, there are over 8.8 million kilometres of mapped cycle routes. Those are split into over 158,000 individual routes, 9,800 of which you’ll find in Brussels.

The paths themselves are really well signposted and kept in great condition. However, the Belgian weather doesn’t always play ball, so make sure you take the right clothing for any cycling adventures you have planned.

That said, if you prefer off-road mountain biking, there are over 2,800km of trails documented by enthusiasts. These trails cover over 55,500m of route descent, letting you choose the level of challenge you want from your trip.

Whether you’re a beginner or ride as a serious sport, Belgium has the terrain and infrastructure for you. Is it any wonder that Belgium gave birth to the world’s greatest cyclist, Eddy Merckx?

Dinner is Served.

While many people know that Belgium is famous for chocolate, waffles and beer, do you know just how big those foodstuffs are and what else you can get? After all, you can’t live on beer and chocolate. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Well, let’s start with the beer. As of 2021 there were over 400 active breweries in Belgium, producing over 1,500 different types of beer. Whatever your beer of choice, you’ll find it in Belgium and some distinct varieties around it as well.

When it comes to chocolate, things are even more impressive. Boasting over 2,000 chocolatiers, producing over 172,000 tonnes per year, chocolate is big business in Belgium. Though this isn’t a surprise when you consider that chocolate production in the country can be traced back to the 17th century.

If that’s dessert and drinks taken care of, what about the main course?

Many people are surprised at the importance of Belgian fries, or frites as a staple. You’ll find many shops selling them in the towns and cities across the country. That explains why Belgians eat more fries than Americans, per year, and why they’re the national dish.

But once you have your fries, what to put with them? If you’re feeling saucy, there’s a lot on offer including familiar sauces like mayonnaise, curry and tomatoes, but you’ll also find more exciting varieties. These include Andalouse sauce (peppers, mayonnaise, tomato paste, & pickles), Samurai sauce (mayonnaise, Tunisian chili, spices, tomatoes, & peppers) and sauce Americaine (mayonnaise with tomato, chervil, onions, capers, seafood stock, & celery) should you be feeling more adventurous.

From there, we’d recommend trying moules-frites (mussels with fries), stoofvlees (a hearty beef stew to drench your fries with), and waterzooi (a creamy stew of fish or chicken). Whatever your tastes, you’ll be well fed in Belgium!

These are just some of the hidden gems of wisdom you’ll need to know to live in Belgium. If you’d like help unlocking the secrets of Belgian life, then we recommend working with some of our members. They can help you plan and complete your move with ease, then support you as you find your way in your new home country.

 

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The truth is that many of these problems and negative experiences can be resolved with two simple things; thought, and education.

Picking up your whole life and moving to another country can be incredibly stressful. But if you or someone in your family is disabled, the stress is compounded by uncertainty. What are the facilities for people with disabilities like in the new country? Will access to services be possible?

With many relocation agents untrained in supporting these clients, it’s too easy to miss the signs of someone in need. That said, if we do notice an issue, many feel uncertain how to approach and offer help around someone with a disability.

This isn’t helped by the low expectations that many disabled people have when using services not designed for them. Simply put, they are so frequently overlooked or uncatered for, that they see that as the baseline of service. In fact, this happens so often, that many disabled people don’t mention, or even hide, their disability from service providers.

We can all agree that this isn’t how it should be.

The truth is that many of these problems and negative experiences can be resolved with two simple things; thought, and education.

For example, asking someone if they’re disabled can be confronting. However, asking if they have any particular needs relating to facilities or accessibility will allow someone to discuss what you can do to help, rather than what their “problems” are.

Similarly, if a client is insisting on ground floor accommodation, taking the time to ask whether this is a personal choice or an issue of accessibility gives an opportunity to disclose, rather than an intrusive challenge.

When it comes to showing accommodation, ensuring that you know what accessibility features are available at each property will save time and show your awareness of different needs.

Changing the way disabled people are seen to shift focus from the disability to the person behind it is essential. The best way to do this is with a standard toolkit within your business to upskill your team to support disabled people through education.

A toolkit is best developed by asking disabled people what they need. Establishing needs and preferences of real people who use your service. Then using those experiences to refine your processes and service offering for future users. Constantly evolving, developing and improving.

So, aside from a warm feeling of helping people, why should a business invest time, money and resources in making such a big change to your business?

It’s just good business, that’s why. Much of our industry works on good word of mouth. With disabled customers being so poorly taken care of, being one of the only companies offering them a professional, considered service will improve your reputation and attract more clients.

Additionally, many relocation agents work with HR teams who have diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements. By being able to include services specifically aimed at disabled customers, corporate clients will find your business a much more attractive and acceptable partner for their staff relocations.

Taking a stand to support disabled people is not only the right thing to do, but it will also help your business grow and give you a whole new set of services to offer. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a great idea!

Throughout 2024, we will be featuring a number of Industry Updates created in partnership with Destination Everywhere Accessible Travel. Together we will discuss some of the key concerns and challenges which disabled people face before, during and after relocation.

If you can’t wait for the next one, we recommend you reach out to Eleonora to see how she can help make your business a more disability supportive experience.

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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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This year, NetExpat and EY returned to update their findings. Sam Pinney, Director Benelux/ APAC Client services & Global Advisory for NetExpat said:

“Originally launched in 2018 by NetExpat, in partnership with EY, the Relocating Partner Survey is the most comprehensive benchmark survey ever conducted related to the spouses and partners of transferees. The 2023 survey leveraged the historical data from the last 5 years, along with new feedback from corporate HR representatives, mobile employees and their partners to showcase perspectives from these three different viewpoints.”

For the 2023 report, the team added in more topics to reflect the changing priorities within the industry. Specifically:

  • The effect of hybrid and cross-border remote work
  • Family Experience
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)

Looking Beyond the Employee

As with the 2018 survey, this new work provides new insight into the priorities and needs of employees and their families.

Crucially, employees and their partners feel that employers have listened and begun to prioritise the Family Experience. This has seen corporate programmes begin to reflect the needs of families more accurately. As the report highlights “the well-being of the family is a key component of the services companies should consider offering in an international relocation package”.

We can see the success of these new look programmes in the survey results. Looking at partner support, for example, only 31% of employees felt that employers were doing enough in 2018. This has jumped to 55% in 2023.

Additionally, offering support beyond the employee enhances the DE&I agenda of the employer.

Changing Attitudes

Increasingly relocating employees are coming from Generations Y and Z, which is seeing a shift in priorities for partners.

Specifically, when we look at the importance of second incomes, younger generations find two incomes to be more important than previous generations. We see this in the survey results with second income being important to 69% in 2018, rising to 74% in 2023.

This new breed of mobile talent is also expecting more from their prospective employer. Especially when it comes to supporting their partner and family. Whilst corporations are evolving their programmes to offer more services to the family, there is still work to be done to meet the expectations of new, relocating employees.

The Importance of Family

It is crucial that employers who are seeking the best international talent keep these changes in mind. When we look at the most common reasons for assignment rejection, 3 of the top 6 relate directly to family. By not creating a programme which proactively supports the partners and family as a whole, key talent can be lost.

Beyond the initial acceptance, when common reasons for failed assignments are reviewed, family is a key factor here too. In fact, 74% of respondents listed their partner not being happy as a factor in the failure and 38% included issues with their children.

How to Improve the Family Experience

We are already seeing a shift in the approach of employers. The focus is moving from “cash” to “care”.

Where ten years ago 61% of businesses would use a cash allowance to attract partners, this has now dropped to 36%. In its place, we’re seeing an increase in direct support to the partner, with 69% of employers offering this and 51% offering integration support for non-working partners.

Additionally, the pre-decision consultation is an emerging practice which shows great promise. These can be used to reassure the employee and their family before they make the decision to become mobile. Whether handled by internal HR assets or external providers, these are a great opportunity to proactively address common assignment rejection issues.

Corporations are increasingly offering support through a peer-to-peer system. This sees a person with whom the family/partner identifies offering support to the family. This is an extremely effective and cost-efficient way to provide tangible support to the partner and family. This also provides a framework for monitoring and proactively addressing the common reasons for failed assignments before they become critical.

All of this leads to a stronger framework for talent retention, which is the best outcome for all involved.

Our thanks to NetExpat, especially Sam Pinney, for the agreement and support for us to produce this brief for our ABRA members. If you would like to look deeper into their results, you can download your own copy of the report here.

 

 

 

 

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Brussels

The capital of Belgium and home to the European Parliament, Brussels is a bustling multicultural centre. It’s a great place to live as an expat, offering a huge range of employment opportunities, as well as international schools. In fact, nearly 40% of the population of Brussels is non-native. Unsurprisingly, most people speak English, which is very useful as you work on your Dutch and French!

The city includes a thriving centre, full of amazing restaurants and bars to sample some of famous Belgian beer.  Away from the centre, the city offers quiet suburbs ideal for families. All of this is connected with an efficient public transport system which makes getting around easy.

But, as you’d expect, this can come at a cost. Brussels can be an expensive city to live in, especially when it comes to accommodation. Selecting the right municipality to live in can have a big impact on these costs though. For example, if cost isn’t an issue, then Etterbeek or Ixelles/Elsene would be a great choice. However, if you’re looking for something a little more cost effective, then Anderlecht might be worth a look.

Antwerp

If Brussels is the economic powerhouse, then Antwerp is the cultural heart. Focusing on fashion and cultural tourism, the city is the perfect home for creatives and those seeking a trendier home. This, of course, has attracted expats from around the world. In fact, over 180 nationalities call Antwerpen home, with sizable English and American communities in the city.

Of course, the fact that Antwerp is Europe’s second largest port, also contributes towards the city’s international flair and flavour. Home to Europe’s largest petrochemical cluster and hotspot for startups, Antwerp truly is an international hub of trade and innovation.

As you’d expect, this means you’ll find international schools, universities, expat communities and clubs in the city.  The city has a younger feel, offering good employment opportunities for students, good public transport in the centre, biking infrastructure and much more affordable rent than Brussels.

On the cultural side, diamond capital of the world Antwerp is home to world class museums, including the stunning MAS, Chocolate Nation (for those with a sweet tooth) and the Museum Plantin-Moretus, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As with the Capital, Antwerp has many residential areas, each with their own unique feel and prices to suit a range of budgets. You’ll find many of the residential areas to the north of the city centre. If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend the industrial Het Eilandje, or the or, if you fancy a livelier space, check out the trendy Het Zuid. A little further afield, but still within the Antwerp ring road, residential hotspots like Oud Berchem or Zuremborg are very much hip and happening.

Ghent

If you’re looking for a distinctly Belgian city, then Ghent might just be perfect for you. Often said to be the most beautiful city in the country, Ghent is growing in popularity.

Central to the growth is the University of Ghent, which is helping the city to become a centre for research and development. Around 30% of the population are students, so their efforts are clearly working! This is also attracting businesses around the engineering and life-sciences industries.

The city itself is gorgeous, very pedestrian and bicycle friendly, which has been a key focus for the current city government. Despite the size of Ghent, you’ll find a welcoming, village feel to the city with small boutiques, great restaurants and a vibrant atmosphere. We’d recommend navigating the city on two wheels, as it’s the best way to see the canals and architecture. Though do look out for the tram rails! They can be a big surprise for the cyclist distracted by Ghent’s architecture!

Accommodation in the city can be expensive. With the city begin at the meeting point of the rivers Scheldt and Lys, many properties offer stunning rivers views, but that doesn’t help the rent! We’d recommend you take a look at homes in Muinparkwijk, Coupure or Visserij to get you started.

In addition to the large variety of public schools, Ghent has a successful international school, which includes a pre-school, elementary school and, as of September 2023, a secondary school.

Leuven / Louvain

If a deciding factor of moving to Belgium for you is the beer, then we’d recommend you consider the heart of Belgian Beer, Leuven. The city is the home of the biggest brewery in the world, AB InBev, the owner of Becks, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Leffe, and many more besides!

From craft beer festivals to international short film festival, Leuven is known for having a good time. Concerts, competitions, and sporting events add to the vibrant atmosphere of this historic destination. The city is also home to KU Leuven University, and an international school, making it ideal for expats with children.

You’ll also find that you can easily commute to the larger centres, like Brussels and Antwerpen, from Leuven. So, if you want the big city job, but a quieter homelife, this would be an ideal location to commute from.

More importantly, with the internationally renowned Institute of Microelectronics and Components (Imec) looking to attract an additional 1,950 staff by 2035, local opportunities abound too!

Liege / Luik

Situated on the river Meuse, Liege is gorgeous city, with parts of dating back to medieval times. The city is also close to the German and Dutch, with Luxembourg not too far away either. Liege is one of Belgium’s largest cities, and the biggest in the French speaking area.

But it’s not just the language inspired by France; you’ll also find that the cuisine in Liege has some strong French influence and creativity.

Nicknamed “the glowing city”, Liege has a vibrant nightlife, helped along by the world-class educational institutions within the city.  The city also hosts annual music festivals, including the huge Les Ardentes multi-day event and Jazz à Liège.

You’ll find many expats centred in the apartments on streets including Rue due Jardin Botanique, Rue du Mont St-Martin, Piercot, and Boulevards Frere-Orban.

Wherever you choose to put down your roots, you can be sure Belgium will be a fantastic home for you. If you’d like to know more about the details of moving here, you can find out how to find a home from our recent update.

When you’re ready to take the next step, our ABRA members can help you find a new home and get the move done, no matter where you are in the world. Check out our members – including international schools – and start planning the next step in your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Well, the first step is to build a plan of action to make your business a sustainable service provider. However, knowing where to start can be a challenge.

Thankfully EuRA, in collaboration with the Coalition for Greener Mobility, has produced a new white paper covering sustainable development goals for Destination Service Providers (DSPs). This includes details of the framework DSPs should use to develop and meet sustainability goals in all areas of their business.

The aim is to help you create your own Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) programme. It will help your business look beyond financial goals and begin to develop value within society. Part of this includes considering then managing environmental sustainability and social responsibility issues. An effective ESG programme should also describe how you monitor and review your performance and manage your business.

We recommend that ABRA members develop and adopt an ESG programme as a matter of best practice. To get you started, here are our top take aways from each section of the EuRA Sustainability White Paper.

Environmental Sustainability

A good ESG programme should be built into the fabric of your business. Your environmental planning should consider every operational perspective of your business, from the office to service delivery.

Within the office, consider:

  • Power suppliers – choosing suppliers who provide renewable energy has never been easier. This will have an instant impact on your business’s carbon footprint.
  • Paper consumption – the world has never been more digital. It’s worth taking the time to see which of your business practices can be taken fully digital. Moving away from printing unnecessarily will not only protect natural resources, but also save your business money in paper purchases and storage solutions.
  • Training – Ensuring that your team is fully up to date with business policy and best practices will help minimise your carbon footprint.

Service delivery can also have a strong impact on how sustainable your business is:

  • Work with the right people – ensure that you’re working with other companies who share your sustainability goals. If they don’t, provide them with guidelines covering your requirements and support them to become compliant with your needs.
  • Help your assignee – Providing information on public transport, sustainable power suppliers and recycling options will help your assignee start sustainably.
  • Consider how you move – Is it possible to use public transport or even to cycle for your team? Can service delivery occur at the weekend when traffic may be lower? By being conscious and minimising use of fossil fuelled powered vehicles, you can cut carbon emissions and save money.

Social Sustainability

The social side of an ESG programme is where you consider how your business impacts wider society. We’re not just talking about the environment though, this is also about the wellbeing and quality of life of customers, assignees and suppliers.

By considering what impact your business has on the lives of others, you can quickly develop a plan to be a positive force within your community.

  • Take care of your team – look at ensuring your team has a positive work life balance, that vacation means time off, not less calls, and that stress is kept to a minimum. You should also ensure that you’re providing an environment where your staff can develop skills and feel fairly compensated for their time.
  • Financial transparency – create and enforce equal pay and payment best practice policies. Also allocate annual budget to train your team and to achieve the business’s ESG goals.
  • Bring your customers along – inform and educate your customers on sustainability best practices. Making your own ESG programme easily accessible and a prominent part of your messaging can help here too.
  • Encourage your community – by actively engaging with your local community, your business can be a force for good for all. This can take the form of charitable work, sponsorships, internships or encouraging employees to let you know what the business could be involved in.

Governance

All DSPs are subject to checks, best practices, areas of compliance, reporting and policies to ensure their ethical and legal operation. ESG governance ensures accurate reporting, transparency of operations whilst pursuing integrity and diversity within leadership.

Key areas to think about within your business include:

  • Compliance – consider the policies and practices your business needs to follow. This can include GDPR, anti-money laundering and anti-bribery policies.
  • ESG/Sustainability Advocacy and Ownership – The success of any far-reaching policy hinges on consistent implementation. Tasking one or members of your team to own and implement the ESG programme is a great step towards success.
  • Risk Management – it’s crucial that you consider factors inside and outside your own business. Completing risk assessment of suppliers, partners and your own workforce will give you a clearer picture of business vulnerabilities and ways you and others can improve.
  • Write it down – Your entire ESG programme should be documented and available. There’s no point in creating a policy unless everyone who needs it can access and use it.

If you’d like to read the white paper in full, you can request your copy from the EuRA website. The EuRA sustainability framework is a living document, so it doesn’t cover every possible situation. If you think something important is missing, we’d love to hear about it to get it added to future versions.

ABRA is working towards our own ESG programme, which we aim to have in place during 2024. Our Sustainability Committee will define the programme roadmap, and objectives. Once completed, we will pass this on to all members and make it available to all.

If you would like to help with this process, then members may join our Sustainability Committee. If you would like more information, please contact us here.

You also might enjoy EuRA’s Sustainability Training Series, an interactive webinar programme. To find out more, or to access the session recordings, visit EuRA.

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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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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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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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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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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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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
www.abra-relocation.com/member-by-business/

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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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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.”

www.xpatris.com

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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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As professionals in the global mobility sector we know all about managing culture shock, helping our assignees adapt to new environments, and spend a lot of time considering matters such as cost of living allowances and hardship locations. But what about those who move halfway across the globe with no help whatsoever? The people who leave their homes behind for entirely different reasons than a (temporary) foreign assignment? Freelance journalist and millennial Deborah Seymus has a monthly column on living with a young refugee with Knack online and is republished here with their permission. We look forward to bringing you her column over the coming issues as we explore a brand new view on life in Belgium.

Just over six months ago I met Izat*. Izat fled Afghanistan at the age of 19. He and his family lived in the village of Tagab in the northeast of Afghanistan, which has been under Taliban control since 1995. War has been raging in the region since 2001, and with Tagab trapped between the Taliban militia on the one side and government soldiers on the other, his village is under constant fire. Going to school is not an option as schools ceased to exist some time ago and career opportunities for young men are limited to being recruited by either the Taliban or the army. Realising this, his parents concluded there was no future for him in Tagab. They saved up 10,000 dollars and with a heavy heart helped their son flee to Belgium.

“If it doesn’t happen today, it’ll happen tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then surely another time.”

Time is precious. For most of us probably so much so that it takes up a large amount of our lives. Making and planning our time for all sorts of things such as work, appointments, social occasions, ourselves and our partners, can be quite frankly, exhausting. Like no other people, the Flemish are masters at explaining why we really can’t meet for at least another three weeks because, well, our diaries simply won’t allow it.

When Izat* arrived here he had no idea about the busy lives we lead. Our lives are controlled by time and finding yourself suddenly thrown into such a hectic rollercoaster is anything but self-evident. His biggest obstacle, to this day, is the concept of dividing and scheduling time. In Afghanistan there is no such thing as an agenda. You live from day to day, especially in the region where he’s from. What doesn’t happen today is for tomorrow, and if it’s not tomorrow then it will certainly happen another time. This also means he experiences time differently than we do. When Izat first arrived, he only knew the terms ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’. Imagine trying to adapt to our ridiculously hectic lives, full of tight schedules and double bookings.

“Our lives are controlled by managing time and making our schedules work.”

I came home one evening and told him that I was sleeping badly as my mattress needed replacing. He suggested buying a mattress tomorrow to which I replied that driving to IKEA next week suited me better. I might as well have said next month, because he didn’t understand. “What does next week mean, Deborah?” I tried explaining that next week is the week following after this one, but that the day itself needn’t be set yet. “So next week can be in four days, but also nine days?” He looked even more confused. I nodded and told him we Flemish people are a little weird with time. Unsurprisingly, he struggled with interpreting a ‘next week’ appointment for a long time.

In the early days I sent him two messages per appointment. One to confirm that he had an appointment and a second message as a reminder an hour or two before the appointment. I also made a weekly schedule and hung this on the fridge. This way he gradually started learning about the concept of having appointments and meeting them. And although Izat still isn’t quite ready yet for the kind of carefully planned lives we Belgians lead, he has come a long way these last six months. He understands what it means when I tell him that I am away next weekend, but even so, the social worker and I still send him a message the day before one of his appointments to be safe.

“Family responsibilities.”

Since two months Izat has a job. On weekends he works as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. Never has he been late, and he isn’t happy when they ring to cancel his shift. His motives are different than mine. Every hour he works is an hour he earns money. Part of the money he earns goes to his family in Afghanistan. Now that the Taliban have shot his father in the leg, he is no longer able to work. Izat feels responsible for his family and sends money each month. To put this into perspective: a newcomer can earn up to €240 per month on top of his integration income. Any more than that and his living wage is docked. Considering that this is just €910,52, there is little room left to save, and time is running out.

“The programme deals with what is right in front of us, but spends very little time on what will happen after it ends.”

Izat and I will live together for a year and a half. We’re now six months in. In October 2019 the project ends and he will be expected to have learned enough to live completely independently. It frightens me. He is progressing in leaps and bounds and was recently crowned top of his class, but even with the money he can(not) save right now, things are going to be very difficult.

The project focuses on the situation now and current issues (such as Izat’s unstable health), however very little time is spent on preparing the boys for what will happen once the programme ends. Key of course is helping them integrate into society as quickly as possible, but that’s a long process. Social workers have a very limited amount of time per client. Each social worker has to make priorities, and oftentimes this is a choice between head and heart. They are exceptionally aware of how difficult it is for newcomers to create a sustainable future.

When Izat first arrived in Brussels he was sent from pillar to post. For forty days he was dependent on a crisis centre where, if he was lucky and on time, he could eat and spend the night. Sometimes he couldn’t. Then he’d sleep in the Maximilliaan Park. “That was very cold, often I do not eat or sleep,” he tells me.

While we sit here talking on our settee, I look outside. I’ve just come back indoors after managing not even five minutes on our terrace. I try and imagine lying on a park bench in these temperatures, surrounded by people who only wish for the night and time to pass by faster. What must it be like to not know anyone? To be surrounded by strangers speaking a strange language? I brush away a tear. Sometimes I struggle to grasp what he has gone through just to get here.

“A pretty impressive workload if you ask me.”

From Monday to Friday Izat attends school fulltime. On top of this he follows a course on ‘social interaction’ on Tuesday evenings that aims to teach him how we communicate in Flanders. Topics such as how to cope with stress, how to manage time, habits and customs between men and women, and more are discussed here. And then he works on weekends. Depending on the restaurant’s need, one or two days. Which I consider a pretty impressive workload.

His parents have no idea what his life here is like, how much time he spends practicing the au-sound or the word ‘voraw’ (vrouw) or even that he is living together and spending time with a female who is not his wife. During those early months Izat spent a lot of time in his room, alone. Slowly he has started to get to know me and open up to me. Not an easy task for someone who has been through so much and has had his trust abused so regularly through the constant transfers and leaving behind of friends. The trust he places in me, the openness with which he speaks now and the moments he wants to spend together mean the world to me.

“Never ever have I experienced such respect and generosity.”

I’ve a fair amount of experience of living together with people. But I have never enjoyed the respect and generosity that I am given by this young man, in any kind of relationship. Recently he came home after a long weekend’s work with some money in his pocket. “For you,” he said “because I see you replace lamps and they expensive.” I was left speechless. Of course I couldn’t accept the money, but his offer said so much more. We’re a family now and we share expenses so I want to contribute was what he was really saying. Is there anything more heart warming to start the year with?

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The most frequent questions immigration providers receive from clients are:
∞ What Brexit scenario should we prepare for?
∞ When should we start preparing?
∞ How should we prepare?

Answering these questions is difficult, but not impossible.

Preparing for a soft or a hard Brexit?

So what scenario should you prepare for? To answer this question, companies should look at what decision makers are currently doing. Both in the UK and in the EU (at EU and at national level) decision makers keep highlighting their commitment to finding a deal. However at the same time, everyone is also preparing for a no-deal scenario. For example, the French government published a draft law in November 2018 to create a no-deal legal framework. Other countries, such as Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Czech Republic have made public their no deal preparations as of the beginning of 2019. In addition, the European Commission published three communications last year – one in July, one in November and one in December – urging all stakeholders, from national administrations to citizens and economic operators, to prepare for a hard Brexit.

This is indeed the most cautious thing to do. On the one hand, possible disturbances caused by a hard Brexit could be very costly for companies. On the other hand, all the efforts put into preparing for a hard Brexit would not be wasted if, eventually, a soft Brexit occurs. Why? Because the hard Brexit and the soft Brexit scenarios are in the end not so different from each.
Three main aspects distinguish them. The first one is the two year transition period (30th of March 2019 – 1st of January 2021) which would be implemented only if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified and enters into force by 30th of March 2019 (soft Brexit).

The second one is the level of protection to be granted to UK/EU nationals residing in the EU/UK prior to the Brexit day (less generous in case of a hard Brexit). And the third one is the nature of the future EU-UK relationship. In a hard Brexit scenario there would be no time to negotiate. So, from an immigration perspective, we would fall back immediately on already existing immigration schemes (GATS mode IV, EU permits, national permits) as of 30th of March 2019. This does not mean however that, in the future, this could not be re-negotiated and amended. In a soft Brexit scenario, there would certainly be talks about the future arrangements during the transition period, and some more ambitious schemes could be put in place.

Nevertheless, understanding what impact Brexit will have on current employees and future employees is crucial for all businesses. And some of this analysis will be the same in both scenarios. The major consequences will be felt only two years later if there is a soft Brexit. Yet, the sooner companies start preparing, the better chances they stand to avoid all possible disruptions and negative consequences on their employees.

When should companies start preparing?

Ideally, preparations should already be on-going. Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, companies and employees can already take steps to protect their rights and prepare for the future, irrespective of what the future will look like. All concerned people must make sure they are making use of all existing tools and schemes already in place and that they are ready for when new ones will be available for them.

How should companies prepare?

The first thing to do is classify the stakeholders within the company who will be impacted. Some of the stakeholders are easy to identify: EU nationals locally hired in the UK or UK nationals locally hired in an EU country. But Brexit might also have an impact on cross border workers, business travellers, employees temporarily assigned in the UK or an EU country, and even third country nationals in some situations. Moreover, Brexit will also impact future employees. Therefore, recruiters and HR departments must be aware of how their work will be influenced by Brexit.

Once the stakeholders are identified, it is crucial to put a communication strategy in place with tailored messages to all groups of stakeholders. Employers should reassure employees to make sure they retain them. In addition, they should train recruiters and HR specialists to help them understand the implications of a soft or a hard Brexit.

The third step – not necessarily in a chronological order as some of these steps can be taken simultaneously – would be to collect data about the impacted employees. It is no longer sufficient to know who they are. Companies must also have information about their length of stay in the host country, nationality of their family members, type of employment, employment conditions, education, etc. All of this data is necessary to create preparedness strategies and contingency plans.

And lastly, get ready to implement these strategies and plans. Brexit is an ever changing landscape and is very difficult to keep up with. There are no exact deadlines, no exact timelines, no precise outcome. Companies must be flexible. They must make sure they have all the necessary resources and are ready to act at any time. With all the uncertainty around Brexit, only one thing is certain. As cliché as this may seem, companies should definitely hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

With thanks to Andreia Ghimis, Senior Consultant EU Government and Client Advisory at Fragomen

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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.

www.chsbelgium.org/en/
Helpline (24/7) – 02 648 4014
Book an appointment – 02 647 6780

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As professionals in the global mobility sector we know all about managing culture shock, helping our assignees adapt to new environments, and spend a lot of time considering matters such as cost of living allowances and hardship locations. But what about those who move halfway across the globe with no help whatsoever? The people who leave their homes behind for entirely different reasons than a (temporary) foreign assignment? Freelance journalist and millennial Deborah Seymus has a monthly column on living with a young refugee with Knack online and is republished here with their permission. We look forward to bringing you her column over the coming issues as we explore a brand new view on life in Belgium.

Just over three months ago I met Izat*. Izat fled Afghanistan at the age of 19. He and his family lived in the village of Tagab in the northeast of Afghanistan, which has been under Taliban control since 1995. War has been raging in the region since 2001, and with Tagab trapped between the Taliban militia on the one side and government soldiers on the other, his village is under constant fire. Going to school is not an option as schools ceased to exist some time ago and career opportunities for young men are limited to being recruited by either the Taliban or the army. Realising this, his parents concluded there was no future for him in Tagab. They saved up 10,000 dollars and with a heavy heart helped their son flee to Belgium.

It’s safe to say Izat experienced culture shock when he arrived here. Many of our habits and customs are completely alien to him. When I got home after a trip to Italy, Izat had taken his desk out of his bedroom. A bit awkwardly it stood there, pushed into a corner of the living room.

I toddled towards his bedroom and knocked. Izat opened. “Deborah, hello! You had a good holiday?” Poking my nose round his doorway while smiling my affirmation of a great holiday, I noticed a large rug on the floor. “Izat, don’t you need the desk to study soon?” Izat shook his head and said with a broad smile: “I am studying on the ground, much better.” A day later I received a phone call from the civil servant of the Public Centre for Social Welfare, or OCMW, asking me how the flat share was going. In passing, I mentioned that Izat had put out his desk and that it seemed better to have the desk and some other old furniture collected. This turned out to be a huge issue because ‘Izat must learn to work at his desk, as otherwise he would not study’.

I tried to explain to Lydia* that Izat could study on the ground perfectly well, as was his custom back home. She informed me she would be visiting our apartment to make sure the desk was back in his room as this was ‘very important’.

Thankfully it occurred to me to say that this way he would be able to study with me in the living room after school hours, and I could keep an eye on things. She became a little milder and admitted perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

“The desk-drama got me thinking.”

The effort I had to put in explaining the absence of a desk in his bedroom got me wondering. Was this cohousing project prepared to give Izat a chance to integrate with respect for his values and standards? Something minor like a desk created such an upheavel, as Izat would ‘not integrate well’, while all he wanted to do was hold on to his own culture. In Afghanistan, it is customary to do almost everything while sitting on the ground. Eat, study, talk, rest, and so on. To him – and me – it seemed only logical that he should study however he feels most comfortable, but the OCMW clearly felt otherwise.

Much later it would transpire there was a more practical reason why the desk wasn’t allowed to be removed. As the apartments are rented out fully furnished and the OCMW does not have storage space, they had nowhere to put it. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, and we often have fun with the situations we find ourselves in. Situations that confront me with the facts of life and that serve to emphasize our cultural differences.

“Here, everything is a little crazy.”

Enjoying one of the last balmy evenings, we sat together on our apartment’s terrace. Me with a glass of wine, Izat with his mint tea. When we notice someone walking by through the park onto which our terrace looks out, Izat greets the man. I wondered why he said hello to a stranger. “Isn’t that a normal thing to do then? In our country we greet every stranger. Even more, we invite strangers to our home and eat together.” At my explanation that no, we don’t usually greet strangers, let alone invite them into our homes, he went a little quiet. Having given this some further thought, he smiled and said: “Here everything is a little crazy. If you want to see friends, you must make an appointment. I do not understand that. If I want to see friends, I just drop by.”

A few days later we went food shopping together. I showed him mussels and while I’m explaining this typical Flemish specialty a man appears behind us. “Ah,” he grins “you’re going to cook tonight, what time do you expect me to be at your place?” I gave him a smile in response, but Izat – not understanding it as a joke – simply asked me “What time Deborah man has to be at our place?” Charmed as I was by his hospitality, I had to explain it was just a joke.

“Turns out it really is all-purpose.”

The next morning I noticed the apartment desperately needed mopping. Due to my busy work schedule I couldn’t do it myself and asked Izat if he would be okay with doing that. “No problem, I mop,” was his cheery answer. In the evening I came home and the entire apartment had indeed been mopped. With a tea towel. I have a dozen different cleaning products and at least as many accompanying cloths. But if I’d never used all those different things before, I would probably have done the same.

Which reminds me of the time we went to do our laundry together and he proudly brought the all-purpose cleaner he’d purchased for the job. I didn’t have the heart to tell him and thought I’d take the risk. Turns out it really is all-purpose: our clothes came out looking clean and smelling pine-fresh.

“The unexpected kindness of neighbours is humbling.”

In the early days of our flatshare, one of Izat’s friends slept outside on the floor of our terrace. Without a blanket or pillow, because it was summer. The next morning our neighbour knocked on our door, wanting to know if we needed an extra bed. When I didn’t understand her offer of an extra bed – I hadn’t even noticed our very quiet overnight guest – she explained to me that ‘another boy than Izat had slept on the terrace’. Such thoughtfulness from a Belgian neighbour, perhaps we’re not all that unwelcoming after all.

My new realities: guests are always welcome, eating together happens on the floor, if it’s late you stay over, mint leaves are put in the tea kettle, not the cup, and showering or brushing teeth is not a daily requirement.

“All of a sudden I realised the permanent nature of cultural differences.”

Recently I realised the extent and permanent nature of the differences in our habits and customs. I had always assumed that it would take ‘just a little bit’ of adjusting, but now I realise that this is a near enough impossible expectation. Afghanistan will never leave his head, and his customs and habits will always remain close to his heart. A Belgian who moves abroad will live by his own habits and customs. Expecting a refugee to make a sudden and complete turnaround and follow all local customs from one day to the next isn’t realistic. When you leave your country, you don’t consciously choose to leave your customs and values behind. You consider them a safe haven in a strange port – a little bit of ‘home’ – an important and valuable coping mechanism I am sure.

“Afghanistan will never leave his heart and you don’t just change your habits. You should respect them.”

The incredible drive with which Izat goes to school, the zest with which he tackles household chores and the understanding he shows for my way of life is admirable. And although we are most impressed by people who adapt quickly, we must also learn to give newcomers a warm welcome by respecting and valuing their customs. When foreigners are appreciated by Belgians, they are much more motivated to adapt to our way of living.

Izat* and Lydia* are not their real names.

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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%.

Affordability

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:
https://mobilit.belgium.be/nl/wegverkeer/rijbewijs/vreemde_rijbewijzen/europese_rijbewijzen
List of recognised non-EU and EEA driving licenses:
https://mobilit.belgium.be/nl/wegverkeer/rijbewijs/vreemde_rijbewijzen/niet_europese_rijbewijzen
FOD directive on exchanging European driving licenses:
https://mobilit.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/hoofdstuk_27_europese_nationale_rijbewijzen.pdf
FOD directive on exchanging foreign driving licenses:
https://mobilit.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/hoofdstuk_28_buitenlandse_rijbewijzen-niet_europese.pdf
Exams with an interpreter:
http://www.goca.be/nl/p/rbw-tolk

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.

www.fragomen.com

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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.

Facebook

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

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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Looking across the business world, approximately 70% of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. A mere 10% remain active, privately held companies that continue to operate under the leadership of the third generation. In stark contrast to publicly owned firms (in which CEO’s hold the reins for an average of six years) many family businesses have the same leaders for 20 or 25 years, and these lengthy and established leadership tenures can make it harder to cope with shifts in technology, business models, and consumer behaviour. Today family firms in emerging markets face new threats from globalisation. In many ways, leading a family-owned business has never been harder.So what is the answer? Stay put or sell out? ReLocate has consulted the experts in both these fields and brings you the best ways to do either.

Tips for Growing a Family Business

Offering your offspring a fallback option
Many owner/operators of family businesses built their dreams on the idea that their children would work together with them, that they would create something lasting that would provide for their offspring in the years that follow their retirement or passing. In some situations this creates a positive and profitable collaboration as the child is familiar with the running of the business and knows the product or service back to front by the time that they take over. In other family businesses, where the business is quite successful from the beginning, the children are raised in a wealthy atmosphere and may indulge in more frivolous pursuits in their late teens and early twenties. So by the time they need to get serious and settle into their role of proprietor, they are unprepared for the task and due to lack of experience the business fails in the hands of the second generation.

Ensure essential screening and training is employed
Following on from the two situations explained above, ensuring that those family members that do join in the efforts of the family business are experienced, educated and qualified to do so, is essential to the continuation of achieving profits and developing the nature of the business. Simply being born into a family that runs its own enterprise is not qualification enough to take the lead, or even a management role. There are many family businesses that employ best practices such as ensuring their offspring have attained the proper education required of such positions (in the outside world) such as a diploma, degree or even masters. This is also coupled at times with enough relevant experience in a business outside the family business. Some families even go to the extent of having their family members apply for the vacant positions alongside non-family members.

“Everybody thinks about ‘The Succession Plan’. I had great ideas, but no successor.” Patrick Oman, Chairman, Irish Relocation Services

The family expands more quickly than the business
Quite interestingly, some families expand more quickly than the business does. Growing a business can take a few decades, and dealing with economic highs and lows, market dips and competition can take its toll. In contrast to a growing family, a business expands and shrinks with the flow of economic growth and decline. When a business founder has a few children, and each of those children take a spouse and have children of their own, each of whom are interested in taking on a role within the business, employee supply can outweigh demand. Ensure that you do not merely take family members on as staff to please spouses or continue interest from grandchildren. The business must continue to operate as a business and not cater to the emotions of growing families.

Plan for growth to include the growing family
The first two tips are about planning to avoid failure. You want to ensure there is genuine interest from family members, and that this is complimented with a solid education that meets the experience requirements from the hiring company (yours). This is about developing strategies to grow the business and create roles for the ever-increasing family members. For example: two brothers who took over the family business from their father anticipated handing leadership to their combined seven children. The brothers realised that their business would need to expand to accommodate their children to the extent that enough high-level roles could be created within the business. As their offspring completed their education and found the relevant experience to join the family business, the fathers employed the strategy of purchasing two other companies in the surrounding area with the intent of dispatching members of the next generation to run things in the other locations. This in turn generated the revenue required to support the newly employed family members as well as offering enough operational roles for them to fulfil.

Bloodline determining job function when joining the business
It happens quite often in family owned businesses: the tendency for parent and child to specialise in the same aspect of the business. This could be finance, operations, marketing or sales. However comforting this may be for the parent to teach the child their specialty and for the child to feel they are “stepping into the shoes” of the parent, this can cause problems within the business. The first issue this raises is by staying in specialised silos: managers in the next generation do not gain the cross-functional expertise required for overall operational leadership. Secondly, there can be negative consequences of close family members supervising one another. Personal dynamics come into play and this can interfere with coaching and the candid feedback that’s necessary for career evolution.

Engage the services of non-family mentors
A great way to avoid this situation is to appoint mentors that are not part of the family. Even in circumstances where the business is quite small and family members need to supervise one another, ensuring there is input from an interested external party means they can provide objective performance evaluation.

It is important to recognise that family owned and run businesses will always operate differently to publicly owned firms. There are many positive elements of working closely with your family, in an industry that could possibly define the character and nature of those family members. However, to survive the long-haul, family businesses must ensure that they adopt formal policy and strategy on employment, promotion, growth and investment interests. In that way they can ensure that the business continues to be passed from one generation to the next.

Tips for Mergers and Acquisitions

In the event that there are no family members to pass the business on to, or the next generation are uninterested, uneducated or unavailable, the inevitable decision to merge with another business or to sell your business on may have to be made. Or, it could be the case that you want to increase your stronghold in your industry or expand your business to include more family members and you want to acquire another company. In general terms, more than 50 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail and more than 80 percent fail to enhance shareholder value. Let’s review some ideas on the best way to ensure the upcoming change in your business is a positive one.

There is more than just one way to merge, or acquire. Depending on the unique characteristics of your business and the business you are about to engage with, you may want to consider the following:

A buys B
B buys A
A trades shares in A for shares in B
B as above
C is created and shares provided to shareholders in A & B

In all cases, there are a few points to consider and taking note of these before you take the plunge can help you avoid the pitfalls of a joining of enterprises.

What are your motives?
Growing the business for the good of your family is a wonderful motive for merging with or acquiring another business. Selling your business due to lack of interest or lack of family personnel to take over is also a solid reason. However, be honest with yourself. Is it a good time to make this change? What is the economic climate at present? Would it be a better choice to wait a few years to grow, instead of buckling to family pressure right now? If you need to delay due to a difficult market you could ask your children to take some more time to invest in their education or experience. Making a rash choice due to family concerns is not business-savvy. If facing a merger or acquisition your role in the organisation may change entirely, so you need to be clear with yourself what you expect and what you want to get out of the new union.

“We saw the industry changing and knew we’d have to make an investment in order to stay ahead of the curve. But making such an investment at our age had us asking ‘when will we see the return?’ The time was right personally and professionally.” Dean Foster, Executive Strategic Consultant, Dwellworks

You’re building something entirely new
Building your company from scratch is something sole proprietors should be proud of. You are used to making the decisions entirely on your own and taking sole responsibility for them. Taking on a new company with a history and operational structure of its own is a big task and getting two teams of people to work together and accept the new leadership structure takes some planning. You can consider the following to pre-empt any difficulties that may arise:

• From the get-go clearly define your new role: and the role of each member of the executive team. Clarity is crucial in the early days as this will prevent any niggling concerns and enable the team to focus on the big picture.
Be exact about the new leadership structure: as you now command a larger team than previously, ensuring a representative from each area of the new business is involved in the integration of the two entities encourages cohesion and constant communication amongst team members.
Pre-empt concerns: more people in the staffing structure means more feedback and possible complaint about decisions that need to be made. Being mindful of the reasons behind taking the chosen course of action and being able to readily explain them can take the sting out of criticism during the changeover.

“I was keen for Patrick [Oman] to stick around for a while and he was keen to stay too, but you have to lay out the ground rules of how that relationship is going to continue. There has to be clarity of roles.” Dan Sennet, Managing Director, Irish Relocation Services

Be real
It’s all about the integration of the two businesses. When those involved are too distracted by the completion date and possible payouts, the new entity itself loses focus and can fail right from the start. It can be a lengthy and sometimes dull process when ironing out the logistics of the deal, however losing sight of what the two business are going to become once joined is quite dangerous. Be clear with your staff, ensure they have no unreal expectations of how much better (or worse) the new working structure is going to be, and be honest – some questions they have may not be able to be answered for a while.

Preparation for change
Those staff employed in family run businesses (be it family members or non-family members) are used to a particular way of working. Just like a family, with its traditions and preferences for let’s say, a particular supplier or a brand of soap in the bathroom, a family business can become accustomed to a particular way of operating. When change occurs, this can be confronting for both family and staff members. Getting together with the leadership team and realistically setting out possible risks and downsides to the upcoming deal ensures you’re not caught out when having to face emotional responses to change. Have a plan and you will find those tricky moments are settled more quickly than you expect.

On the same page
Making sure not only the leadership team, but also the staff themselves are on the same page is crucial to what happens after the deal has been done. You have to look ahead to after the dust has settled and agree on common goals for the future of the business. Success is more easily achieved when everyone involved is aware of what needs to be accomplished. Set down some milestones and ways of measuring attainment of these goals. Short-term goals keep the energy levels up and push you onwards towards the long-term goals.

Find out more about what the EuRA panel had to say on their personal experiences in merging and acquiring their various companies by visiting the EuRA YouTube channel.

 

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The idea of “work” and “working spaces” is changing rapidly, and a business needs to keep abreast of what attracts new staff and what keeps them content to ensure their business stays afloat. ReLocate brings you an amalgamation of two reports, both entailing information crucial to the attraction and retention of staff. The first report being a survey on students and young professional expats by BNP Paribas Fortis, understanding the motivations behind their want or need to relocate based on their job prospects gives businesses an insight on how to position themselves to attract the best staff. The second report is a Global Talent Trends Study from Mercer, an innovative group that uses analysis and insights as catalysts for change within organisations. Their report details the steps employers need to take to ensure they are retaining the best employees and explains how we are moving forward into an era of fierce competition between businesses for talent like we’ve never seen before.

Looking back: what motivates students and young professional expats to relocate?  – BNP Paribas Fortis

Understanding what motivates students and young professionals to up sticks and move their whole lives to another country is key in attracting the best talent. Knowing what the driving factors behind their decisions are enables companies to put in place the most effective recruitment campaigns and attractive employment policies. “Millennials are the driving force behind this contemporary intra-European mobility, with more and more young expats in Europe seeking new academic and professional experiences elsewhere,” states Salvatore Orlando, Head of Expatriates at BNP Paribas Fortis. Despite big changes in UK and American approaches to immigration these past months, the professional market in Europe is still open to vast levels of mobility. The survey was executed by the Think Young think tank, founded in 2007 and focuses entirely on young people, providing decision makers with high quality research on key issues affecting millennials.

MOTIVATION TO RELOCATE – MOST SPECIFICALLY TO BELGIUM
Students
Just over half of students polled stated that the main reason for leaving their home country and relocating to Belgium was dependent on the opportunity offered by university or school in their home country. A further 39% cited experiencing another culture was enough for them to want to leave home. Learning a new language or developing existing language skills was the key factor in motivating 39% of those who responded. The final outstanding motivating factor in students deciding to relocate to Belgium was that they felt that the move would have a positive impact on their CV and would then in turn maximise their career opportunities.

Young Professionals
The results of this survey on young professionals are much more defined, with a massive 80% of respondents stating that the move to Belgium was wholly based on the career opportunities here. Half of those surveyed cite personal development as a driving factor in their decision to move. While motivations such as learning another language, the standard of living or quality of life and indeed even financial reasons are way further down on the list. Andrea Gerosa, founder of ThinkYoung sees the clarity in the results: “It’s a meaningful move, driven not by the desire to have fun but by the willingness to learn more, improve skills, and enhance career opportunities.”

What does this mean for employers and educational institutions?
Employers and educational institutions have the hard task of pre-empting students and young professional’s career aspirations, and ensuring that they provide clear opportunities for career progression.

Educational institutions need to ensure that the courses they offer contain the latest curriculum developments, and that these are transferable should their students wish to change track – as students often do. Universities and colleges should do their best to attract the best teaching staff that employ modern teaching methods that are also tried and tested. It is also important to offer a wide variety of extra-curricular programmes where students can employ their talents in a more practical environment, gaining them valuable experience for their future in the workforce. Scholarships also ensure that students from a wide variety of backgrounds are given the opportunity to learn, providing the learning environment with a variety of opinions and perspectives.

Employers can use this information to entice the best young professionals to their organisation. Providing potential young employees with clear paths of career progression through well thought-out organisational structures, allows each employee the chance to climb the ladder or explore other areas of the business. Progression isn’t always up, it can be left or right, and when employers offer flexibility, such as secondments to other departments, or other locations – this can be the deciding factor for a young professional full of enthusiasm.

Looking forward: what practices can we put in place to retain the best talent? – Mercer

There’s no denying that 2016 was a trying year in more than one area. With the uncertainty faced by the Brexit vote, the big change in American politics and constant conflict in the Middle East it is crucial that companies shift their focus onto their workforce, to care for the health and wellbeing of their staff. Technological advancements are also having a massive impact on the workplace, how we work, where we work and how we can balance that with enough “down time” are all changing our view of the world of work. On top of all this, Mercer reports that 92% of employers expect an increase in the competition for talent this year.

According to Mercer, these are the top six ways in which they feel companies are going to respond to these new challenges:
1. Attracting top talent externally
2. Developing leaders for succession
3. Identifying high potentials
4. Building skills across the workforce
5. Supporting employees’ career growth
6. Increasing employee engagement

FOUR TRENDS TO WATCH FOR IN 2017
1. Growth by design
It’s all about transforming the internal structure of organisations and ensuring that the “people agenda” is not overlooked. In Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study they state that 93% of organisations are geared up for a reorganisation in the next two years. Those who aren’t already in the throes of redesign may be left behind.

2. A shift in what we value
If an employee feels undervalued, it is likely that their output will decrease and they will eventually look elsewhere when deciding upon their professional future. Mercer’s study reports that 97% of employees want to be recognized and rewarded for a wide range of professional contributions, not just sales targets or financial results. The rewards employees are seeking are not just fair and competitive compensation, they want more flexible work options, they want opportunities to get promoted, they want leaders who set clear direction, as well as peers that will challenge them and help set the tone for the future of the company. Knowing how to reward employees is key to holding on to them.

3. A workplace for me
When an employee feels that they are not just a number, they are more likely to produce work of a higher quality and also more likely to stay within your organisation. Being able to personalise your employees’ experience will bring significant advantages to your output and staff retention levels. One way for your employees to personalise their working experience is to introduce flexible working options. Mercer’s study showed that the majority of employees want more flexibility within their roles, however not all organisations are as flexible as their employees would like. 1 in 3 employees indicated that they had requested a flexible work arrangement in the past, however they were turned down. Further to this, 1 in 2 employees expressed some concern that working part-time or remotely would negatively impact their promotion opportunities. There is clearly more work to be done here.

4. The quest for insight
Companies are collecting more data from both candidates and employees than ever before, Mercer questions how this data can be better used to gain actionable insights – we don’t seem to be using the data to the best of its abilities. Mercer states that even though many organisations around the globe are collecting data, very few are able to translate the data into predictive insights. Just 1 in 4 are able to produce basic descriptive reporting and historical trend analysis. Looking forwards, predictive analytics – such as identifying which employees are likely to leave – would be incredibly valuable however less than 35% of HR leaders are able to provide this information.

It is an exciting time for the employment market. Organisations are redefining and redesigning their internal structures and the results will eventually be a complete overhaul of employment and work in general as we know it. Concurrently, employees are demanding more of their employers and the more vocal they are the better. The more transparent employment processes are employees can be assured of a better fit within the organisation and employers will then benefit from loyal, happy, engaged and steady employees. Workplaces are becoming not just a place where we feel obliged to show up to within certain timeframes, they are morphing into fluid and flexible spaces where our talents are nurtured, our contributions are valued and we work together towards a future that we are all content to be a part of.

TOP TIPS TO WIN THE TALENT WAR
• Promote a contribution culture where everyone feels welcome to give input;
• Focus on the “whole person agenda”, including health and wealth benefits;
• Define exciting career paths for a positive impact on retention;
• Take a chance on non-traditional talent who have potential but not experience;
• Mitigate risk by building a diverse port-folio of skills and a culture of innovation;
• Create a sense of belonging that resonates with your diverse workforce.

Read the full reports:
BNP Expat Survey
Mercer Talent Trends

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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.”

Sources:

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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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:

www.abra-relocation.com/member-by-business/

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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:
www.leuvenmindgate.be/en/news-press/hr-event

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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.

1. SOCIAL SECURITY / WELFARE
883/2004 and 987/2009: regulates the social security scheme applicable to internationally mobile workers

Changes?
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.

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

Changes?
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
Changes?
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.

1. REGISTER YOUR RESIDENCE IN THE HOST COUNTRY
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.

2. APPLY FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCE
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:

www.fieldfisher.com
www.fragomen.com

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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”.

KEY DRIVERS

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.

Compliance
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.).

www.fieldfisher.com/locations/brussels

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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:
www.imercer.com/products/cost-of-living.aspx

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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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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.”

www.jokevanleeuwen.com

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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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Tendencies
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.”

www.thedowntoearthdiva.org
www.facebook.com/thedowntoearthdiva/

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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…

www.fieldfisher.com/locations/brussels

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