I’ve been going back and forth between the UK and Belgium for the last 10 months, and due to a change in circumstances I’m finally getting all the bureaucracy in order so as to stay in Belgium on a more permanent basis.

First of all the flat. Sign the papers with the landlord to transfer the flat contract to me. Go to the bank. Insurance is obligatory as part of my contract, but I can’t get insurance without being registered in the commune, and to register with the commune I need a rental contract. Three days of cycling between the landlord, the bank and the Commune and it’s finally fixed, but it’s really silly…

But it’s not half as bad as Coditel. Turn up at the Coditel office in St Josse with all the papers, with the desire to sign a new contract with the same conditions (but with my name on it) once the current contract expires. “On ne peut pas faire cela” explains the person there, talking to me as if I’m a 5 year old child after I’ve been waiting 30 minutes to see him. No you f**kwit with your ludicrous peroxide blonde haircut and over-the-top shirt: French might not be my mother tongue, but I do speak French, and actually – as the customer – I can rightly demand half decent service.

You can only, apparently, terminate a contract by sending a letter by recorded delivery, and NOT in person. But you can only sign new contracts at their office, in person. So more waiting sometime next month. And then they cannot transfer the ownership of the set-top box and the modem to me. These have to be returned to the office and then given back to me.

Only in Belgium, only in Belgium…


  1. Writing this 12 years later, and having lived in Brussels for the past 5 years, I can only confirm that it has not got any better. Incompetence and lax attitude everywhere from restaurants to service providers to commune offices. Still beyond me how this country is doing relatively well economically.

  2. Richie

    I lived in Brussels for a while and suffered the awful experience of dealing with Belgian companies. One of them being Coditel. I couldn’t cope with their dire service any longer so I decided to cancel my contract.

    At the time they had changed the rules so it was now possible to sign up or cancel a contract at their one and only office in Brussels. Imagine one retail outlet for the entire customer base of Brussels? Well apparently this is Belgian cutting edge commerce..

    I turned up to find that their were two desks sitting in the middle of the shop with a person sat behind each one. It looked kind of like an odd TV game show with two contestants.

    One desk had 30-40 people queueing from it, with the queue going all around the shop, out of the door and down the street.

    The other desk had nobody there.

    I enquired at the empty desk what was going on. The person told me that the long queue was for people who want to cancell their contract. His desk with nobody their was for new contracts!

    I asked him if they might want to use a ticket system like at the post office, or if he might want to help in serving the queueing customers.

    His reply was “No, that’s not possible.”

    Never ever deal with Belgian companies unless you have absolutely no other choice.

  3. “On ne peut pas faire cela” == in Dutch “Dat kan niet”. Oh, boy, you’ll hear that, a lot…

    How to translate that into English? “It’s impossible.” “We flatly refuse to do it.” “We flatly even believe that it’s possible.”

  4. @Lou – have just been having a similar experience with Belgacom in my new place… 🙁

  5. “Only in Belgium, only in belgium” 😉

    Sorry for laughing, but I never get bored of listening to these stories. The good news is, once you’re up and running with these services, you’ll never need to speak with them again!

    – LD

  6. Robert Persson

    @Tim Worstall: Just because the main EU institutions are in Brussels does not mean they function the same way. Just as one example, EU jobs are highly sought after here because EU employees are exempt from national taxation and pay into a special EU tax system instead. Not only are the taxes a lot lower; they are also sane; for instance in Belgium overtime is automatically taxed at maximum rate (60%) even if you are on minimum wage, while there are so many strange extra taxes and even stranger exemptions that you really don’t know whether you are coming or going. The EU, on the other hand, taxes like a normal country.

    For my own part, the EU has been protecting me from some of the worst excesses of Belgian bureaucracy. For instance I have been unable to obtain a certificate of residence from the Brussels Bureau des Etrangers, mainly because they are irresponsible and malicious in their interpretation of the rules, but they cannot throw me out of the country or stop me working because I have inalienable rights as a European citizen.

    Right at the moment I have been struggling to find a way to ship my belongings back from Canada before my 12 month grace period is up. To cut a long story short, there is no way on earth that I will ever be able to provide the kind of documentation that Belgian customs demand. Fortunately, however, I am perfectly within my rights to clear my belongings through another EU country thanks to the Single Market. It will cost me a few hundred euros more to detour them via London, but that’s still going to be a lot cheaper than waiting however many more months or years for pointless documentation, and then to have to fill another form for every single pencil and pair of underpants as they bleed me for VAT and duty for every item (and we’re talking about Belgian VAT rates, don’t forget).

    Probably also worth mentioning that one of the communes in Brussels with the smallest delays, and the least inhumane behaviour by its staff towards foreigners, is Etterbeek. The reason for this is that a high proportion of its residents work for the EU. They have higher expectations of the state than Belgians do.

    And then there’s The Post. The Belgian postal service is truly appalling. I have had four parcels sent to me since I have been here. Two were quite falsely marked as undeliverable due to wrong address and returned to Canada and Germany respectively; the postman never even bothered to leave a note to say that he had been. The other two parcels disappeared altogether, presumably as part of the epidemic of organised theft in the sorting offices. Fortunately the European Commission is finally forcing the Belgian government to stop throwing money into this useless monster and to accept competition within the market for postal services.

    Basically, without the EU interfering in Belgian governance, I would be pretty seriously shafted.

  7. “but I can’t get insurance without being registered in the commune”… that is the first time I hear that you need to be registered to the commune to get insured on a rental agreement or a flat… I guess it depends on the bank or the clerk you deal with…
    I had my share with Belgian bureaucracy but as I come from Romania, I can tell that I am used to it so I guess it’s not so bad…

  8. Tim – phyical location of the EU institutions in Brussels does not necessarily mean that the Belgian bureaucratic system is or will become dominant throughout the rest of the EU 🙂
    1 in 4 of the population holding either a public administrative or elected post does not for streamlined bureaucracy make.
    I agree that generally UK bureaucracy seems easier, though if you’ve ever dealt with Lambeth council you’ll know the UK provisions at local level’s not universally superior…
    Jon – I remember all this from wolutv. In the end it took 6 months to get cable in my own name and it entailed a day off work in which they came to unplug and replug in the same cable!. I sympathise.
    (And I didn’t even really want their cable package which was different from the one available in my boyfriend’s commune a few streets away…)

  9. And you desire that our own bureaucracy be run on the same lines for what reason?

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