Portuguese Italian, Antonio Buscardini, 31, grew up in Lisbon and attended a French high school there. After that, he studied political science in Toulouse. During this period, he took a two-month internship in Brussels, a city he fell in love with. He later on worked as a press officer for the Assembly of European Regions. When the opportunity presented itself for Antonio to live in the Belgian capital, he was delighted. He is now working in his new job as a freelance journalist on several projects for one and a half years. One thing is certain, life never gets boring for Antonio.
What are the reasons for your expatriation?
Antonio: I think my attraction to living abroad is primarily due to my education. You know, I may be Portuguese, but I grew up attending an international school, surrounded by different languages and cultures. Somehow, I never quite felt at home in Portugal. Here in Brussels, I feel like I am in Belgium, Portugal and a million of other countries at the same time. In this multiculturalism, I found my place. And if I do get homesick at times, I'll eat cod in a Portuguese restaurant at Place Flagey.
How come you have chosen Brussels?
Antonio: I lived in Brussels for the first time during my studies. I was invited for a summer internship and I fell in love. The student atmosphere of Place Luxembourg had probably also something to do with it. Even then, I promised myself to return if the opportunity arose. That's why, when my then employer offered me a position in the Belgian capital, I did not hesitate.
I chose Brussels also because it has managed the challenge of being both a human-sized city and a city full of life, where you never get bored. Sometimes people call Brussels a village and I think that's true. Walking down the street I regularly meet people I have known in Portugal years ago. At the same time, there are so many things to do, places to visit, opportunities to party, etc. The city is teeming with activity! Brussels has the conviviality of a village with the atmosphere of a big city.
Before arriving, did you have any preconceptions about Belgium and its inhabitants?
Antonio: You know, I did my studies in France, where there are a lot of preconceptions about Belgians… (laughs)
Seriously, I had the image of a country where one emigrates to work in the European institutions. Today, I have friends who work as bankers, journalists, lobbyists for NGOs... The Belgian business world is bigger than I thought!
How is your business as a freelancer going?
Antonio: I started working as a freelancer one and a half years ago. Since then my business has developed well. I now wear three different hats. At TV5 Monde, I am a journalist / producer for the Itinéris series. I am editor in chief at the Press Club; I take care of the realisation of catalogues and I am the link between journalists and various entities (embassies, NGOs, etc.). Finally, I am also the manager of Regional Flavours, an initiative launched by FEDRA (The Federation of Regional Growth Actors in Europe). We organise various events designed to publicise the specialties of regional producers from around the world (culinary, wine or other) in the European territory. Sometimes my three roles intersect. I can shoot a documentary in Martinique on the history of rum and slavery for TV5 Monde, organise a press conference on the same theme for Press Club and close all by a tasting with Regional Flavours.
Did you encounter difficulties in getting started as a freelancer in Belgium?
Antonio: No, establishing myself as a freelancer in Belgium was not really difficult. There are many courses that help you get started and explain the need to hire an accountant for the most important aspects without spending big bucks. However, do not make such a decision lightly. Before you take the plunge, you always have to ask yourself several questions: What will my annual turnover be? Am I ready to lead this life? What about stability? If you work as a freelancer for a single company, you are almost an employee. But if you have multiple clients, many hats, it's not the same.
For those who want to create their own company it’s even more complicated. It takes quite a lot of start-up capital, which is not available to everyone.
What advice would you give to future expats wishing to settle in Belgium? Have you had difficulties with certain official procedures or formalities?
Antonio: First, I would tell them to come and see the city up close. In Brussels, there are areas that I like, others less so. Some neighbourhoods are really nice, but one does not necessarily want to live there. Recently, a friend contacted me because she was reluctant to settle in Brussels. I welcomed her for a month at my home, which is the amount of time it can take to immerse oneself in the city and make an informed choice.
Then I would advise anyone interested to relocate to contact their bank before leaving. Personally, I did not, and once there, some housing opportunities were snatched away right before my eyes because I still did not have a bank account in Belgium. Registration with your commune, opening an account and signing the lease are closely related procedures. If you already take the first steps by setting up your account before you leave, everything will be easier once you get to Belgium.
One of the positive formalities in Belgium is the rental guarantee system. In my previous housing experiences, it was always the owner who was responsible for the return of the rental guarantee at the end of the lease. Some refused to give it back, claiming that there was damage to the property. Here, the money is paid into a blocked account, and an expert assesses the state of the housing before and after your arrival. Both parties must agree before releasing the money.
Anything you would like to add?
Antonio: Expat life sometimes offers great opportunities to meet other people. It is here in Belgium, that I met my wife, she is also an expat, of Dutch origin. We just got back from our honeymoon.
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