SHAPE-Chievres, Belgium

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18/10/2011
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Hi All -- I was stationed at Chievres from 94 to 97 and loved it.  Married a wonderful women from Stambrugges ... NorthEast of Mons.  Anyway Corinne (my wife) went back on vacation last year and of course wanted to take advantage of commissary privelidges.  To her surprise gate security wouldn't let her on the installation with just an ID card.  ???  Now she's going again for 3 weeks and I don't understand.

Can she get a temp Shape Card...or is there any way for us to get access to AAFES/DECA facilities?

Thanks so much.  It's real tough getting info from here.

Kent and Corinne Comstock

  




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13/08/2011
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edith says:
August 4, 2011 at 12:44 am

No, you don’t need a visa if you work on SHAPE or Chievres and are employed by a US company (such as AAFES) or the US government. If you did not work, you would still be covered as a dependent of your husband IF he does get a government/civilian job at Shape/Chievres and you are listed on his orders.


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Melanie S. says:
August 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Hello All:
I am looking for some advice on relocating to the SHAPE community… after 22 years of service, my husband will be retiring from the USAF/MNANG this year. One option we are looking at is relocating from the US to the SHAPE/Chievres community. He is looking at federal employment options. We are just in the beginning stages of this. My question is regarding whether either of us need a work visa. It is my understanding that my husband would not as a federal employee, but that I may depending on if I worked and where I worked. Am I correct in assuming that if I worked within SHAPE or Chievres system, that I would not need a visa? If we relocate to SHAPE we plan to stay 4-5 years and that would outlast a tourist visa. Any insight and help as we begin looking at our options would be so appreciated and helpful. We have never been stationed overseas before.

Thank you from a military wife in Minnesota.


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Kory Caughie says:
July 31, 2011 at 2:37 pm

We are moving to SHAPE in 3 weeks and I’m wondering where the bus routes extend to and where a lot of the SHAPE families live. We have a high schooler.


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Jenny A says:
June 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Army but all branches are here, it is a NATO base. We do like it here, but others don’t because things are more difficult. THe commissary and PX are very small. It is more of a country type feel then a regular city feel. Thigns are further away from each other. But you are centrally located to all different cities to go and visit. So many nice places to go and visit.


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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (now in Belgium!) says:
October 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

Being overseas, we’re allowed to crave our American TV and movies. Believe it or not, there are quite a handful of theatres, and I bet not too far from your overseas location that play movies…in English. I still remember watching “Avatar” on one of the largest 3-D screens in Europe, in Berlin….in English. How did I know which theater and which showing to attend?

Simple….just google the name of your nearest decent-sized city (whether you are in Germany, Belgium or wherever)…and type the name for movies (“kino” in German as an example). You should see some pop up in your area. Go to their website (and use Google Translator if you need to navigate around at first and find the actual moving listings, dates and times).

After you see the title of the movie listed, look for the initials “OV”, which means “original version” (or “Version Originale” in French). So if it’s an American or US-made movie, it’ll be shown in English, for those showtimes that list “OV” or “VO”. Obviously, if it’s a movie made in Spain, it’ll be in Spanish. You get the drill.

Here in Belgium, many of my fellow Shapians go up to the Kinepolis Imagibraine (or even the one up in Brussels if you want to make a day of it at (and visit the Antonium and other sites in that area). You will also see the movie with subtitles while you are watching your American movie (French or German subtitles respectively), but guess what? This should help you learn the language…so it’s all good in the end!

For a movie that’s REALLY popular ala “Edward & Bella, the Movie”, and some of the 3D premiere showings, you can even reserve your seats and pay for your tickets online (if you have online banking). You can do this months ahead of time for peace of mind….so, if you are really itching to see something that is coming up soon….keep your eyes PEELED. I like to get the daily podcast, New Movie Trailers to keep up on the latest movies coming down the pipeline. Get them daily on your IPOD or other MP3 player.

Of course, let me also plug AAFES and your local AAFES movie theater. We don’t have to wait as long for new releases as we used to wait, and they do try to keep the prices down for us folks overseas…..not fond of the censorship on which movies they will and will not play here (such as the new Pat Tilman movie which did not make the overseas line-up)….but I guess that’s a topic for another day for someone else’s blog.


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Veteran Military Wife says:
September 20, 2010 at 8:12 am

Posted: 20 Sep 2010 04:00 AM PDT
Yes, this post is DRY stuff, but you need to know it if you’re going to live in Belgian…so pay attention!

Imagine my horror when I logged onto our online Belgian bank and saw three credits….three credits for what? Why do those amounts look familiar? Oh CRAP….those are three bill amounts I THOUGHT I had paid last month….what happened???? Here’s now to make sure it doesn’t happen to you and other things you really need to know to pay your Belgian bills and access your money.

A few weeks after you move into your new home, you’ll start getting your bills….in French….Google Translator comes in very handy, or if you feel like hoofing it, you can head over to either ACS or the American Housing Office on SHAPE to ask what the stacks of paper have to say.

If you’re like most NATO folks here, you’ll be getting a bill from Electrabel, our electric and gas company. You should be getting this one monthly. Be sure your home has a carbon monoxide detector if you have gas heating. If you don’t have one, don’t worry…you can get one for about 50 euro at the local Media Markt. The PX only seems to have smoke detectors.

Depending on what commune you live in, you’ll get a bill from them, showing what your water bill is. This bill will come either every other month or every third month. A commune is not what you think…it’s the Belgian version of a county or municipality, so your local government.

Now remember, these particular bills are ESTIMATES of USAGE….but you still have to pay them. You see, the meter man (from an independent meter reading company) will come by your home, once a year, to get the meter readings (each meter will get read separately and on different days of the year). You’ll get a special card in the mail to either fill out the numbers yourself (which you can call in, mail in or put in the window by your front door on the specified date)….or, you can let the meter reader in on the date they are supposed to come by. Each commune does it on a different day of the year, so you can just be moving in and already have to do it the month you arrive like we did, or 11 months later!

The good and the bad with the meters being read early….if you had energy hogs living in your place before you, you are going to be paying for their usage and not yours….until you have been there awhile, get the meters read again and get your amounts readjusted….again, once a year only, it’s going to reflect THEIR usage. The American Housing Office did say if you think the amounts are way out there, you can call and get the amount readjusted.

How do you know what YOU are using and what it costs? The housing office will give you a chart to record your meter readings, and then a typical amount of what a unit of each costs…and then you multiply the amounts and see what comes out. The opposite holds true too…if you think you are not paying enough and don’t want a big bill at the end of the year. Imagine the little old Belgian lady who may have lived in your home before you. At the end of the year, you’ll either get money back because you overpaid, or you’ll owe because you underpaid….so PLEASE don’t think the money you get for your utility payments is FREE extra money….you may need it at the end of the year and owe thousands of Euros, IF you have been underpaying!

We are basically hosed here, because we had a Canadian NATO family with two teenagers living in our home before us. What does this mean? One….teenagers use a lot of water…they leave lights on, and the kicker….the Canadian military folks stationed over here don’t have to bother tracking their utility usage because their government PAYS FOR IT DIRECTLY! Our predecessors couldn’t even tell us, around how much they used per month of anything….to include municipal trashbags….more fodder for another blog post on how they do trash collecting over here….not like the US.

What other bills might you see? Well, if you have TV, internet and phone, most likely, you’ll get a bill from Voo.com (the new guy in town) or the old warhorse, Belgacom, that is known for its “customer no-service”. We personally have Voo, which ended up being much cheaper than Belgacom, with many more channels, many in English and with a DVR thrown in, not to mention a combo deal with phone and the fastest internet connection available. Be sure to check if they service your town or village, as Voo is not in all areas yet. Also realize, that whichever company you choose, do not use the lowest level of internet service…the download speeds are too slow, plus, we Americans tends to upload/download beyond the monthly usage allowed for those low-cost options. You’ll end up with your internet cut off or huge overage charges before you know it! Either way, compare the two before you make any decisions and know what is even available in your area where you live.

If you have more than one vehicle, you’ll also get a bill for road taxes sent to your spouse’s work address…depending on how big your second vehicle is that you registered. It can be anywhere from 150 to over a thousand Euro….A YEAR…the larger the engine, the bigger chunk you’ll pay. Don’t ask me where the roadtax money goes, as I won’t harp on the roads here….but they generally suck and will tear up your car over time. Needless to say, ALWAYS make sure your second registered vehicle is the smaller one!

Let me think….I think that’s all the bills we’ve gotten so far…..with our rent, we obviously don’t get a bill, just pay it the first of the month every month with online banking through our local Belgian bank.

As a sidenote, some folks will have oil tanks with their homes, instead of gas. This means that they need to keep an eye on their gauge to see how much is in there…don’t laugh…I’ve seen a family run out of oil or MAZOUT, as it is called here and wonder why they didn’t have any hot water. You want to make sure you are all full up before the winter too. Some landlords will include the amount in your rent, or you pay them directly or you have to arrange to get the tank filled yourself. To save money, fill it in the summer months and try to get together with your neighbors, so you can all get filled at the same time…you’ll get a discount for that typically.

So how do you pay these bill people? You can either cash your American check (from your stateside account) at the Finance Cash cage on SHAPE and carry the cash to whatever office is on the bill (not a good idea….a few are in Brussels and not nearby, although you may find a branch office near Mons). Or easier….take the cash and pay at any Belgian post office. Belgian post offices, like in Germany, are also banks. Not only can you pay your Belgian bills there, but you can also open an account with them. There is also one conveniently located on SHAPE. Better….open up an account with a Belgian bank. Fortis is the most popular bank and used to have the contract on SHAPE, and that’s why most Shapians are with them. Now, since this summer, it is Monte Paschi, an Italian bank that has been doing business in Belgium since the 1940s and Fortis is no longer on post, which has created a hassle for some…having to drive to a Fortis branch office off post (and not directly nearby).

With that Belgian account, you can take your dollars (yes dollars, because you get a better rate depositing dollars rather than cashing dollars and converting them to Euros at the Finance Cash cage)…..to Monte Paschi (or Fortis, or whatever Belgian bank you want to use as there are also others) and deposit it there into your Euro account.

Monte Paschi gives you online access to your account, and a little electronic keypad called a Digipass, to pay your bills online. You memorize a code to put in the Digipass, and it’ll spit out a unique code that you can only use with one unique transaction online. It generates a new number every time you put in your code….each number can only be used once. Lose your Digipass and you lose your ability to pay bills online, even though you know your user name and password to access the account online.

When entering your bill info online, you can even save the vendor/bill info for next time. Type in the address from your bill (check the orange and white form attached to your bill…that’s where all the important info is)….who the bill is being paid to (Voo, Belgacom, etc) and pay attention here….this is how you write the account # below.

On your bill, you will see a # that looks like this:

BE32210044400083 (“compte beneficiare” on the orange and yellow form)

When typing the account # into your computer, leave out the first four characters, so in this case, BE32. The account # you are entering should have the last 12 digits only! I found this out the hard way when I had bills bouncing back.

Remember that Europeans use a comma in place of a period!!!!! So 240,16 Euro is actually “Two hundred and forty euro and sixteen cents”! You don’t want to screw that up….so pay attention there too.

Somewhere on the first sheet of your bill, you’ll see something that says “memo” or fakture # or something that will single out this bill as yours for this particular time period. Put that in the memo section so the biller knows which bill exactly you are paying.

And that about wraps up bill paying! ALWAYS keep copies of bills you paid, regardless of how you paid them. For your entire time stationed her, you need to be able to prove you paid a bill….it can happen where they said you didn’t pay, when you did! As a last comment, don’t ever ignore anything you get in the mail. Be And that about wraps up bill paying! ALWAYS keep copies of bills you paid, regardless of how you paid them. For your entire time stationed her, you need to be able to prove you paid a bill….it can happen where they said you didn’t pay, when you did! As a last comment, don’t ever ignore anything you get in the mail. Be smart enough to at least use Google Translate to figure out the gist of the mail you got…and if still in doubt, go to the housing office or ACS for translation help.What have you learned about Belgian bills?


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Veteran Military Wife says:
September 10, 2010 at 7:18 am

Commissary in Chievres Belgium: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-yrrnwUlzs


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Life Lessons of a Military Wife says:
September 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm

One of the neatest things about Belgium…I have found….is that rules here are a little different than elsewhere. Where else in the world, would a city allow a battalion’s worth of armored vehicles, tanks and other WWII era vehicles….with a few modern ones thrown in….free reign throughout the city and countryside? Apparently, only in Mons is this possible! Every September, you can see the world’s largest congregation of MOVING WWII era vehicles. I think I also saw every kind of uniform or best guess as to a uniform….loved the kids in their French and Belgian resistance uniforms with their berets, sweater vests and Tommy guns! Here’s how to best enjoy this event for next year, and I highly recommend traveling from other duty stations in Europe for this once-in-a-lifetime event, where you can even ride a tank, or whatever else grabs your fancy!

First things first, visit the official site of the event. I’m hoping they will get more sponsorship in 2011, because the rumor is that the city of Mons has pulled back sponsorship for future events. Let the tourist bureau know this is an important event or else it risks being on a much smaller scale!

If you want to ride the tanks or wheeled vehicles, the organizers set up an obstacle course at the Bois Brule. You must prepay on the official site. It entails filling out the form with your name and information, as well as which vehicle you’d like to ride in and whether you’d like to do this on Saturday or Sunday. Then, go to your local bank or use its online banking system to pay the account # listed at the site. You can also pay internationally, as they list their international bank codes as well. Print out a copy to show proof of payment, and take it with you. Once you get to the bivouac site, which is right on the edge of the obstacle course at Bois Brule. Look for a tent that is giving out the ride tickets. They make you sign a waiver, and they also have a list of who rides what and on what day. Arrive early in the day to avoid waiting in line.

We arrived right around 0930 am on Saturday, which was perfect. As everyone else, we drove behind the barriers on the canal road, and parked right there on the street behind the other cars ahead of us. We walked about half a mile to the entrance of the bivouac site, which also held a military fleamarket, which was worth it alone to visit. So many uniforms (not just WWII), memorabilia, items dug up from battlefields and my youngest was just tickled a vendor let him where the German Pickelhaube, which was probably a copy….but it was cool anyway! I was also surprised to see some swastikas and Nazi stuff displayed, but then realized this is not Germany and it is not illegal to display. Before the day was over, my little one was decked out as a WWII doughboy. The prices are also very reasonable, and I even saw a sign of some guy advertising that he could retread your tank for you….these people are SERIOUS!

Remember that Saturday is always free for SHAPE ID card holders, so be sure you show it at the entrance or pay the small fee. Sunday is “Family Day”, and I guess is free for families. You’ll get an armband before entry. Of course we saw many, many in uniform. We also saw SHAPE soldiers in their duty uniforms. We walked through the bivouac and saw numerous tents and conglomeration of sleeping arrangements, as well as static displays of many vehicles. Of course there were also food tents and beer….and more beer. Everyone was having a great time.

The boys chose to ride the T-72 Russian main battle tank…and they were not disappointed…the obstacle course was a bit of a roller coaster and boys got to sit in the gunner’s and tank commander’s hatch. What an experience they told me!!!

On Sunday afternoon, we headed out to Mesvin and the farmer’s field where the mock tank battle was scheduled to happen. Arrive early! There will be police and organizers directing traffic, and you’ll end up parking in the town and walking out to the field, which takes about 10-30 minutes depending on how early you arrived. They started the tank battle early this year, and I swear it lasted only five minutes, so don’t get disappointed….leave in plenty of time and arrive early! The tank battle had lots of booms, tanks and vehicles running around and also infantry soldiers in hand to hand combat with the first German soldiers I’d seen. The official site says German uniforms are strictly prohibited….but you’ll see them here and only here. One German had to be taken on by three US soldiers, and I think they had more fun than the rest, in an impromptu wrestling match. They even had one German vehicle and the Germans occupied defensive positions. Of course the Americans won! That was the last we saw of the Germans as they were hauled away, never to be seen again.

Then things got exciting, as all these vehicles lined up in positions for the road march into Mons Grand square. I must say, this must’ve been highly orchestrated….everyone seemed to know their place. We found a place along the parade route, at a corner, so we could see the tanks pivot and turn….and weren’t disappointed there either. Many left themselves some space as they gunned it around the corner, tearing up the roads in the process. Many also threw bon-bons to any kid they saw….they loved it! We even saw my son’s science teacher go by manning one of the anti-aircraft guns. We kept saying, isn’t this something to see….we felt like we wereo on a movie set, especially with the old WWII Harley motorcycles whipping around back and forth with determined riders in goggles and leather helmets….loved it!

We ended up slipping out the back way ut of town…through some goatpaths to the next town, and headed around the back way to Mons. We wanted to reach the square before they did. We even found parking downtown, by the train station, and since it was Sunday, parking is free. We then walked the five minutes to the Grand Place, which was already prepped for the convoy’s arrival. The Italian restaurant in the square still had plenty of seating, so we pulled up some chairs and had an awesome pizza and pasta meal, watching the tanks and other vehicles roll in….we even saw General Patton at one point….boy, he had gained some weight! They must’ve packed hundreds of vehicles in that square and much to the delight of the crowd, the parade barriers were moved and everyone could interact with the vehicles and their operators.

It was amazing to talk to some of the re-enactors. It is a culture and not just a hobby. Many of the tanks had one owner but had teams who took care of them. Many were so lovingly restored. We talked to one man, who came from England and said this is the premier event world-wide for things like this, whose American tank he bought from the Croatian Army! He ended up taking out the jerry rigged Russian engine and restored it back to all its original parts….can’t imagine what that must’ve cost! One tank was even rescued, even though it had a major hole through it from an anti-tank round in a real battle (which was artfully covered up of course). Anyway, lots of close up photo opportunities and fun interacting….these guys are just a trip!

This event is highly recommended for WWII buffs, and kids will find it absolutely fascinating! Put it on your calendar if you are in Europe!


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Megan Kilbourne says:
September 8, 2010 at 2:49 am

Help I am new here, have no friends-am very lonely-need things to do to keep me busy and meeting people!


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Veteran Military Wife says:
September 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

Welcome to Belgium! First things first, if you are coming from the US, you are coming at an advantage, as you won’t compare everything back to the States….you’ll just chalk it up to being in Europe and the European way:-)) If you are coming from clean, orderly and efficient Germany, you have the tendency to compare everything…..STOP! Don’t do that. This is what I did, and it will set you up for a depressing first look…and first few months here.

Some things you will find different here….the attitude of Belgians…the attitude and culture of NATO….not anything we Americans are used to. Belgians, in this part of Belgium, are known as Wallonians….they speak French here, not Dutch and not Flemish. In fact, they would gladly be another country, separate from Flanders (where they speak Flemish, a dialect of Dutch). It used to be the richest part of Belgium and now is the poorest (if it was a country, it would be almost as poor as Albania). You definitely want to speak some French or be willing to learn, as outside the NATO community and directly around SHAPE and Brussels, not too many speak English. And even if they do speak English, many will act like they do not at first….it’s always common courtesy to try to speak a couple phrases and words in ANY foreign country that does not count English as its first language. You can take advantage of courses on post, or access the military learning online to use Rosetta Stone (read the article on this site or ask your military spouse).

Since we now have a brand new hotel on Chievres Air Base, where most people stay, you will be about 30 minutes away from SHAPE. In the summer, expect to be in there about two months. Finding housing can be very tight during the summer months as in many places. During the off months, you may be waiting a long time as well, and not because you are competing with so many others for housing, but because there is less housing available. Yes, there is some housing available on SHAPE and a few military leased housing areas, but they have waits as well. Just be prepared and go with the flow. It is not unusual for some to not bring their families and spouses right away, so deferred travel for dependants can be easier on your family while your military spouse gets settled in and finds housing. You can always share photos and Skype as you try to figure it out. I recommend that your spouse get with the person he is replacing, and try to rent their home before it gets back into the system.

Food…eating out is more expensive here, so plan to do more cooking. Even though there are some fast food restaurants (mainly the ubiquitous Fritterie, where everything is fried)….in the nicer restaurants expect to spend at least 20-30 euro per person. We do get nice allowances being in this area, and we are actually doing better financially wise, than living on post in Germany, so go figure. Everyone will tell you that Belgium is expensive….some go across the border to the South, a short hop away, to do their grocery shopping and other shopping. France is just cheaper.

Roads are bad and pockmarked, and you’ll find black ice in the winter….make sure your vehicle is prepared and personally, I would not bring anything too nice over here. I do know someone who is lower enlisted and does not make a lot of money, who rented a clunker from Pool Auto (right outside maingate SHAPE), who is paying LESS to rent a car than he would paying for insurance and maintenance for his own car. Also check Geico for insurance as USAA unfortunately has to go through a third party for Belgian insurance, and we found our car insurance go up 2x what it was in Germany, which was already more expensive than the US.

Schooling…most folks use the international school on SHAPE, the American sector….some enroll their children in the Belgian system or Belgian schools. Some homeschool as well. The American section of the SHAPE International School follows the DODEA curriculum.

Back to the Belgians….they like to take their time. Do not rush a Belgian. Do not mess with his vacation period, time off or time after work gets out. Things will happen when they happen, and do not try to give another solution to whatever you think is wrong…they’ve done it for x amount of years like this, and they will continue. You’ll see this attitude with your landlord too….all in due time…things will eventually happen. You will hear a lot of “it’s not possible”, and if you are persistent, and maybe come back the next day, suddenly it is possible. The Belgians have had so many different rulers through the centuries, they aren’t big rule followers. You’ll fill out forms in triplicate and more, and then come back and be told you need another form…or the office is closed from 1-2pm….or….or…..my husband had to have been the most frustrated person thinking he had it all in order, only to have a wrench thrown into whatever he was trying to accomplish. No wonder they give you two months to inprocess here!

But, with all that said….this is a WONDERFUL opportunity to rub elbows with other internationals, especially for your children. My kids have kids from at least six European countries in their classes at school, as well as on their soccer teams. My husband is one of two Americans in his office, and again, at least eight European countries soldiers’ present…most in the rank of Major and Lieutenant Colonel. It sure has been different…and you wonder what NATO really accomplishes…but all in all, I think this is a once in a lifetime assignment….plus, you are only 2-1/2 hours from Paris by car, 4 hours from London, 2 from Amsterdam and so on….plus Belgium has some wonderful beaches, chateaus and castles at every turn (including directly around here), attractions, battlefields, and where else can your kids (or you) ride in a WWII era or a T72 Russian main battle tank? Mine did, and it was the highlight of the year!

Come and join us!


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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (now in Belgium!) says: August 15, 2010 at 7:58 am

It’s that time again…the military is moving us again after two years….this time to SHAPE (near Mons), Belgium. My first impressions are that this is certainly not Germany…..more like Kosovo without the bullet holes, as a coworker of my husband’s pointed out. If Flanders and Wallonia (the French speaking Southern part) were to split into two separate countries, Wallonia would be the second poorest European country just ahead of Albania! But with that being said and after meeting some of the friendliest people I’ve met in Europe, here are some tips to make your move successful.

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

If you are coming from Germany, add a small fire extinguisher to your vehicle. It is required by Belgium law in addition to your first aid kit, warning triangle and the orange safety vest. Make sure you bring a vehicle in good working order, as the roads are bad, bad and very bad here…and rough…many, the size of goatpaths with tons of potholes and black ice in the winter rather than loads of snow. I would not come with a very nice vehicle! Come prepared! Also, vehicles must have rear fog lights and all vehicles under 5 years old must have an official yearly inspection that is no joke! It is very thorough, so let me recommend you get it pre-inspected before going to the official inspection station. The autoshop on SHAPE can do that for you and that along with a foglight installation will set you back just over 100 euros.

Be sure to get your vehicle inspected at the official CT inspection station in Braine-le-Comte, about 20 minutes from SHAPE. Go right after lunch, midweek, and you’ll have a much shorter wait than at the one in Mons. We were in and out of there in 30 minutes. You’ll also find some of their technicians speaking English and the experience costs just over 50 euros. After speaking to the technician, he said most Americans who fail the inspection fail because of misaligned headlights and improperly installed foglights.

Av. Du Marouset 103
7090 Braine-le-Comte

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

Other quick tips that come to mind:

* If you are staying at the lodge on Chievres Air Base, try to get a suite, which will have a kitchenette with a microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher and hotplates. Don’t bother bringing a toaster or crockpot, as they are not allowed. There are toasters down in the lobby in the breakfast area for your use.
* If you want to stay off post, you can only do that if you get a statement of non-availability from the lodge, meaning they have no more rooms left. There are other hotels closer to SHAPE (Chievres is a 30 minute drive away by car or you can use the shuttle). If you are coming in the summertime, in 2010, we had a HUGE heatwave and you won’t find AC in off-post hotels.
* If you have a pet, make a reservation as EARLY as you can at the lodge, as they only have seven pet rooms and only a few are designated for long-term stays. There is a kennel on Chievres a few hundred meters from the lodge, but availability is limited, so make reservations EARLY. Also be mindful of your arrival time and opening/closing hours of the kennel or you could be stuck with closed doors and no place for your pet.
* Breakfast is included in your room charge at the lodge. It is a simple breakfast of various cereals, yogurts, fruitcups, hardboiled eggs, bagels with jellies and cream cheese, orange and apple juice and a coffee machine that puts out a variety of different cups of coffees and hot chocolates. One of the local churches was also nice enough to have a barbecue once a month for hotel guests during the summer.
* Near the lodge and all within walking distance, you’ll find the PX with a food court, the PXtra (like a large shopette), a library, commissary and a gym. The PX and commissary are closed on Mondays, so you do have to prepare ahead of time for your food options that day.
* There are car rental agencies outside SHAPE and one on Chievres. Some people do take the shuttle from Brussels Airport to Chievres Lodge. Do remember that the military does not reimburse you for care rental charges, so ship your car EARLY and rent a vehicle in the States, where it is much cheaper. We saw some folks who had their cars three and four days after arrival due to shipping vehicles early.
* Best Pizza in Town: Best pizza…on the main drag in Ghlin before you get to the canal…awesome stuff!

We are looking forward to this assignment and have already visited some of the beautiful chateaus, parks and museums in our local area! The Mons area used to be one of the richest areas of Belgium due to its coal mining industry that no longer exists. The beautiful rolling hills and mounds full of trees and greenery were once piled up black “trash” from the coal mines. This area also has a rich Italian history with all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who emigrated here during the coal boom. I’ve found some awesome stone oven baked pizzas already! If you speak Italian, you’ll also be that much ahead as many in this area do speak the language! How great is that? All in all, we are centrally located to visit all over Europe and quick access to Belgium’s awesome train transit network. By car it’s also only about two hours to Paris and many Shapians, as they are called, travel to Paris for the day…hey, the schools even take field trips to the Louvre!

What to expect when you get to the CHIEVRE LODGE:
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Things you’ll find at the lodge that may be more useful to you and your family:

* A nice Continental breakfast is included in your stay.
* I believe those PCSing in and out have priority.
* There are some grills out back, along with a new playground with rubberized surfaces.
* The only benches around the whole grounds are those at the playground….strange.
* There are three free computers connected to the internet for your use in the business center. There is also a printer attached.
* You’ll also find a DSN phone in the business center (really a small room).
* Did you know you can get a dial tone in the US from calling any DSN phone to dial 1-800 numbers or to use your calling cards? Call 809-463-3376 and then dial your toll free number.
* There is a binder in the lobby listing items for sale that people have posted.
* There is a shuttle bus stop right out front that will take you to SHAPE and Brussels Airport. I think you have to make reservations though to get to the airport.
* The lodge has storage rooms that can be used for free on a case available basis. Just keep asking at the front desk.
* The front desk is very helpful in giving you ideas on what to do in your spare time.
* If you are looking for a neat Belgian grocery store close by and the back gate is open, try the Champions store there. It even has limited hours on Sunday.
* Don’t forget that most eating choices are closed on Monday, although the Patriot Club next to the gym does serve lunch on Mondays.
* Yes, the longterm rooms and suites do have kitchen facilities, but they are meager at best. There are two burners with no exhaust fan, plus a small microwave that I believe you can use in a convection/browning way too confusing for me to figure out. The dishwasher is also half the size of a regular one.
* If you are looking for something to read, the thrift shop, Grandma’s Attic maintains a bookcase on the third floor of the lodge with free hardcover and softcover books for you to borrow, including childrens’ books.
* Speaking of Grandma’s Attic, it is worth a visit and right next to the commissary.
* Washers and dryers are in a laundry room on each floor. Access it with your roomkey. Doing laundry is FREE and many times there is extra detergent to use as well. Only use half of your American washing liquid as the washers can overflow if you use too much.
* The wailing and scary bird noises you hear behind the parking lot are not peacocks….but pheasants! Look for them in the bushes, and watch them fly out right in front of you.

Insight on life as a new Belgian resident.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++
I say resident, because any day now, I should have a policeman going by our house (hope it’s after we move in), to check that I exist, and then I’m on my way of becoming a Belgian resident with Belgian resident perks. My husband, who is US military stationed here, cannot be a Belgian resident…that’s why all the bills will come in my name. Huh? Anyway, after being here a month, I think I am an expert in my opinion and can offer the following observations.

In no particular order:

* Even though everyone says that it is dreary, rainy and cold here (even the Belgians say this), I have found this summer superhot, mostly in the 80s and 90s with only four days of some rain.
* At least with the French (which is 20 minutes away), never say “Gesundheit” or “Bless You”. Apparently, you don’t say that after someone sneezes….still waiting to hear a Belgian sneeze so I can test this out.
* If you plan on bringing your pet with you on this assignment (at least in the SHAPE/Chievres area), and you are staying on post at the lodge…AND…you are coming in on the weekend, make note that the kennel closes at 1500.
* I would not bring a super nice car here as the roads are bad to worse and winters put a real toll on it too. This is probably why the Belgian government does yearly inspections of cars older than four years old (at about 50 euro a pop). If your vehicle does not have a rear foglight, then get one before coming here. I’ll post more later on the inspection and registration process and what steps you have to complete in getting a foglight installed as well as a pre-inspection.
* Remember that as a SHAPIAN as you are called, you are allowed only ONE vehicle tax-free. Make sure this is your vehicle with the BIGGEST engine. If you buy a second car, like a little roadrunner with a small engine, you’ll end up paying a yearly roadtax (think it’s yearly) on the bigger one you have being shipped over if you buy and register your little car first. For a big minivan, expect to pay around 1000 euro down to 250 euro for a small vehicle.
* You REALLY have to follow the priority from the right rule. This means if you come to an intersection that does not show that you have priority (start learning the signs now), you must yield to vehicles coming from the right, even if it is a goatpath! Pay close attention here!
* In a restaurant, do not signal the waiter by yelling “Garcon” (which means BOY). It is rude.
* If you are going to a restaurant outside of the “big city” and not on the strip between Chievres Air Base and SHAPE, don’t expect lunch (unless it specifically says so) and don’t expect dinner service until 1830 in the evening. We went through three country restaurants before we figured this out.
* If you like fleamarketing and antique hunting, you will be in heaven here! I will post about this on a later date too.
* Shopping in France is much cheaper. Drive South of Mons for 20 minutes and there you are.
* Veggies and fruits are fresher and cheaper on the economy. Take advantage of all the farmers’ markets.
* I was thrilled to find quite a few stores such as supermarkets and bakeries open on Sunday (even if it is for limited hours).
* Train travel is cheap compared to Germany and you can be in Paris in two hours, Brussels in 45 minutes and London in 4-1/2.
* Paris is only 2-1/2 hours away by car. Many people drive there, park outside the city and take public transportation in.
* We have discovered some amazing beaches on the North Sea with wide sandy beaches, sand dunes, boardwalks, amusement parks and trails galore. It is only 1-1/2 hours away. I’ll have to write more about this wonderful area around De Panne.
* We are in the middle of farmland, so you will see tractors and farm equipment on the roads, and I have heard during sugarbeet season, you will be amazed at what rolls off the trucks.
* Speaking of trucks, you will have more windshield cracks and dings here than anywhere else.
* Since USAA has to go through another company here, their insurance quotes are expensive. Check Geico outside the frontgate and others.
* For car rentals, check out the clunker agency across from the flags outside the gate at SHAPE HQ. You’ll pay half of what you would typically pay to the big car rental agencies.
* If you come in the summer, none of the off post hotels have AC. Stick with Chievres Lodge which is new, modern and has AC.
* Don’t bring your basic appliances. In the Spring, Summer and Fall, you will find large fleamarkets on SHAPE, as well as the thrift shop on Chievres (and not to mention civilian fleamarkets). If you use your 110 volt appliances from the US, you can buy transformers (which also can be found at these sales) to step down the 220 volt European voltage. Your US alarm clocks and other appliances that cycle will not work accurately. If you have an expensive standmixer, leave it in the US as the motor can easily get burned out and ruin your machine.
* Bring a fuel efficient vehicle, as you are limited by what you get fuel-wise (more so than in Germany and dependent on engine size).
* Brush up on your French. They speak French here and no, not a lot of people speak English away from post (except maybe in Brussels and larger cities).
* Be sure to read my housing article.
* Realize that utilities bills are much, much higher than in the US. Start watching your water usage and turn off lights when not in use. After you arrive and move in, be sure to unplug your transformers completely, as they can still draw power when turned off.
* As part of your housing contract you can negotiate with your landlord (with assistance from the housing office), do the following. If your home doesn’t have one, get a day/night electric meter installed which gives you huge discounts on electricity after 10 pm at night and on the weekends.

We unfortunately do not have the generous Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), as the American military has in Germany…so we do not have some of the same benefits, VAT relief being one of them…it is more complicated and limited here among other things, and I won’t even get into road taxes and fuel rations just yet! I guess Europe is Europe, but I see now that the Belgians are very different culturally from the Germans…makes me miss my Germans a bit!

FAQ’s:

*How hard is it set up an account there, since Community Bank doesn’t operate in Belgium? All the information on the SHAPE2Day site about the Italian bank seems confusing. How does one initially set up the account there? Can you use a stateside check to transfer funds? Is the account necessary for the Belgian rent, utilities, etc.?

-You can use any Belgian bank to set up your accounts…we always keep our American bank account where our paychecks go (that never changes) and then when we move, we always open up a local account. Some people use Andrews FCU, which is here..think they do dollar and euro accounts….think it’s more complicated paying bills and such. We chose the Italian bank Monte Paschi, because they got the latest contract with SHAPE (it used to be Fortis for many, many years and many Shapians still use them, just have to use the branches off post). The Italian bank has operated in Belgium since end of WWII, so they are a “local bank” in effect too. We have a euro account there and pay our rent automatically every month and other bills as we get them. That way, I can go to the Army Finance cash cage at any time of month, cash a personal check (up to $3k a week without special permission), and handcarry the money over to our Italian bank and deposit it. Otherwise, you are slave to the calendar, and it is not unusual on paydays to see lines out the door at the cash cage and then people paying their rent either at the Postbank or wherever or their landlord’s bank to be there 1st of the month. We learned our lesson and not to deposit an American dollar cashier’s check into the Italian bank..that cost us 22 euro! Better to cash checks at the finance cage and then handcarry your money to where it needs to go….a hassle, but at least if you keep min funds in your local account, you can do this at anytime of the month or every other month (you can access your account online to check balances, etc). You set up your account there in person and put cash in there to start it up (again, cash personal checks at the finance cash cage)…sorry for being repetitive.

*How do you know which areas are decent to live? I have been searching the sites on your blog, but am trying to get a feel for distances to SHAPE. Are most places within a 20km commute a decent choice? Are there any areas which are not safe? I know that I will have to check with the school bus route, but am uncertain as to which areas or towns are nice to live.

-Decent areas to live….all areas are okay really that I have found. The housing office does check for generally safe areas before they accept a house into the system. I will tell you that there is vandalism in Mons, so if you choose to live in the city, only do so if you have secured parking in a courtyard or away from the street. Also the areas around the train station are not as safe.

I’d say 3/4 of the places are within 20 km. You have to also think of your commute in the wintertime on these horrible roads, which may be beautiful and bucolic in the summer. Many Americans live in the Chievres area (also Brugelette), Jurbis, Masnuy St Jean and Pierre…Mons area, Casteau, Ghlin, in towns along the canal like us in Obourg…the areas closer to both bases. When you come to housing, you can also get the sheet that lists all the towns the school buses service.

Other blogs to read about SHAPE and/or Belgium life:
* “What Goes on in her Head?” with Edith Mills. The local (and traveling) antics of Edith and her family….funny, funny and informative! She lives in a carriage house of a local chateau and has traveled extensively all over Europe (and the US).

* Jessica Wants to Be has written an informative blog entry on moving to the Mons area. She is not military and formerly lived in Italy. Her later entries cover her mostly passionate love of running.

* Somewhere in the Middle. Not a local blog and fairly new but still gives a peek into expat life in Belgium.

* The Shand Family is by an expat family living in Belgium. Nice glimpse into city life and a family with young children.




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13/08/2011
out of persons persons said post was helpful
susanna says:
August 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

Here some videos from YouTube about SHAPE Belgium and surroundings:

* Backroads of Belgium
* Streets of Obourg close to SHAPE
* Roadtrip to Belgium in preparation for the PCS move to SHAPE
* A ride around Belgium SHAPE base




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