Moving to Luxembourg?

This is a revised version of an article published in 2012, revised August 2015.

 

Luxembourg? That’s just a city with lots of banks right? Surprisingly that view still holds in the eyes of many. If you are moving to Luxembourg it is worth noting it’s small size, but like any other country it has a capital and yes other cities, towns and villages too! If you are moving here you can decide on city, town or country living. The capital Luxembourg is like a mini-version of any other main city being full of shops, bars and nice cafes. Other places worth checking out are Esch, Echternach, Vianden, Bettembourg and Diekirch. If you fancy a more rural life style the North of Luxembourg city offers some stunning countryside and the South-West some nice farming towns and villages. This article will focus on the tips which are based mainly on experience rather than rules.

Basic Information

Here are some tips and advice if you are moving here:

  • Luxembourg city is small enough to get around in using public transport, you can easily get from one side to the other in under 30 minutes by bus. Travel cards are €25/€45 per month for city only or national and cover all buses and local trains. Many employers offer these at a discount for their staff, for example I currently receive the €45 pass for around 50% off.
  • You must register at the local commune within 7-days of arriving
  • Luxembourg is small and news travels very fast. As  a result reputation is everything this “trust” aspect is also reflected in how banks operate.
  • Food is certainly more expensive than Germany, France or Belgium. Comparing it to Bonn where I lived before you can add 20% or more to anything except coffee, wine and certain other items.
  • You will hear Luxembourgish, French, German and Portuguese and no doubt many other languages too. English is also quite widely spoken.
  • The natives I personally know prefer to speak Luxembourgish (naturally), as a second choice it seems they prefer German over French. For the rest of the population it probably varies quite widely.
  • Most Government documents are in French and German, although increasingly English is available as well.
  • So far most contracts I have seen have originally been in French with an English translation. However, on my bank documents atleast they clearly state the French version is the one that stands in the case of a legal dispute.
  • French is most widely used in shops, bars and restaurants.
  • While you can probably survive with English although a basic knowledge of French or German makes life much easier.
  • The country is extremely international.
  • Luxembourg is NOT a low tax country if you are an individual, it would be fairer to describe it as a lower tax country.

Banking

Luxembourg is famed for it’s banking and rightfully so. If you are coming from the UK  where the concept of service in banks was abolished by people such as (the artist formerly known as Sir) Fred Goodwin then be prepared for a surprise. I have heard from insiders at various banks that services have started to deteriorate (mainly due to the change of ownership of the various banks) which has led to an investor-owner rather than just owner culture which sort-of prevailed prior to 2008. That said BCEE has not changed ownership and remains one of the most secure banks in the world. To date though I have to say I have been pleased with the standard of service I have received from BGL BNP Paribas.

  • Set up your bank account before you arrive, this is easily done and BGL BNP Paribas offer this service, others such as BIL and BCEE may do so as well. If you do not do this then organising your salary payments or even renting an apartment can become more difficult.
  • The larger banks such as BCEE, POST, BIL and BGL have extensive cash machine networks throughout the country. Smaller ones such as ING do not, which means you end up paying if you have to use another banks ATM. Although some accounts offer a set number of free withdrawls across the EU in the basic package.
  • Opening accounts in other currencies is quick and simple at most banks.
  • ATM fees if you use machines outside your own bank’s network can vary massively from €0.75 to €2.
  • Most leading banks now offer some kind of free bank accounts, these are often online only and require that you also pay in a set amount per month and/or maintain a deposit.
  • Most banks let you make a set number of free transfers to other SEPA compliant banks in the EU. Post charges a small fee per transaction.
  • You can survive easily with a Euro account from banks in other countries but sometimes certain things can only be set up or based on Luxembourg accounts. For example rental bonds or direct debits for local companies. POST does not offer rental bonds, so keep this in mind if you are looking for an account.
  • Many banks offer free banking for students (within certain limits).
  • Setting up an account and credit cards can be done quickly and easily, credit scoring etc is increasingly being used but not to the same degree as in many other countries.
  • Credit cards are paid back in full at the end of each month unless you agree another plan with the bank. There is no interest to pay if the account is settled within a few days at the start of the following month.
  • If you require basic banking services only then Luxembourg Post Offer a good and quick set up service which is free. The service is however basic, it’s really an account and that is all.  You do however need to pay for all transactions and any debit or credit cards. However, it can be good value for money if you need only basic services and have a low number of monthly transactions. Also note that POST offers nothing in the way of financial services or advice, not even deposit accounts!

If you are likely to be moving frequently between different countries, as I was for a while. Then in the longer term an international provider such as American Express (AMEX) may be a good idea. While they are often not good value for money they do allow you to bring your credit profile (and credit limit) with you between countries; even if you physically end up changing the registration country and card. Amex is not as widely accepted in Luxembourg but is in all major supermarkets and many shops. They have the advantage (unlike if you keep the card account in your home country) that you can pay directly from your Luxembourg account thus avoiding the need to remember to wire or send the cash to another country.

An additional useful service is Digicash which lets you pay bills and other items by simply scanning a QR code. Many banks offer Digicash payments as a service to their customers.

Renting a Property

If you moving to the city then be prepared to experience high rents; although if you are coming from London they will appear cheap. A few tips on flat hunting:

  • The main website is: www.athome.lu
  • Try to look for a rental agency which is smaller and does not have hundreds of apartments. In general their standard of service is higher. I can personally recommend Bricks and Sylvie Becker – so far anyway!
  • You will most likely need one months rent for the agency fee plus two months deposit. You can avoid paying in advance for the latter with a deposit bond or bank guarantee, these are sometimes offered for free when you open a bank account, otherwise expect to pay a fee per month plus an initial fee. A bank guarantee from a foreign bank is not usually accepted.
  • The magic rental number if you are living in the city is €1200 per month, below this the size of the apartment drops and the cost per square meter is extremely high. Studio apartments are around €800 p/m for anything from 20-40 m2.
  • A room in the city will set you back €600 per month or more. The university however does offer cheaper student accommodation, although this is increasingly more widely available in near the Belval campus which is not even in Luxembourg City.
  • If you want more for your money check out Bonnevoie a “working class” neighbourhood which is nothing like it sounds. Pleasant, near the railway station and with shops etc.
  • Parking is available in the street for free in some zones if you are a resident there, otherwise you can pay up to €200 per month in addition to your rent for a space.
  • Look out for the communal charges which are added to your rent, these can include as little or as much as the owner likes and vary quite significantly. Always ask specifically what it includes.

Like anywhere con artists and bad service are problems in the rental sector, common problems include:

  • The same apartment advertised by many agencies, not always a scam but it makes it very hard to even find out if the property exists at that agency or is still available.
  • Agents will sometimes not turn up  and will often not even not even bother to call you to say the apartment has gone or that they are not coming.
  • Never, I repeat NEVER pay for any of the charges, fees or deposits in cash or via services such as Western Union. Always insist that all fees are paid or assigned to a bank account registered in Luxembourg.
  • It is possible to rent apartments without resorting to agency fees but frankly this is  more difficult and can be more risky. Although this risk can be avoided if you are moving in and already know the people from before. In general though trust your instincts.
  • I am not sure if it is a legal requirement but many larger agencies try to bend the rules. Insist on the full name, real address and telephone number of the property owner. Many agencies refuse to provide the latter as a way of preventing you from getting help if something goes wrong.
  • Many agencies are unresponsive, they do not answer emails even if they list that as an option. A phone call is always best, it is worth noting that some agents cannot speak English or even German.
  • Even if a property is via an agency it is often the case that only one person deals with that property. If they are on holiday expect absolutely no service from that agency when it comes to viewings or help.
  • You can ask for a “clause diplomatique” to be inserted into your rental contract. This means that if you have to move out of the country for work then you can cancel the agreement with three months notice. The agent will however query why you have asked for this if you have a local employer so it can be a black mark.
  • Most contracts are for one year with automatic annual extensions there after, although the owner can ask you to leave if they intend to move into the property themselves.
  • Property moves quickly so you do not normally get more than a couple of days to decide. However, there is usually a reasonable supply of property so don’t panic if you  miss out.
  • A good agent and landlord will “decide” if you are the right person to rent their property. This is also the case in many other countries, so do expect to be asked to provide  documents e.g proof of employment. If they ask for nothing then I personally would be a little suspicious.
  • Agents should not ask for fees to view or express an interest in an apartment. The only agency fee you should pay is when you agree to rent the apartment.
  • Try to put yourself in the owners shoes and keep your proposition simple. They generally prefer an individual renting a property to two friends being on the lease as the latter shows no one person can perhaps afford the property; a problem if one moves out. Sub-letting is however in general forbidden.
  • If possible pay the two months deposit/caution using the bank guarantee system or some form of held deposit at a bank. This makes it harder for the agent or owner to run off with your money.
  • Outside of Luxembourg the prices fall quite a bit and you can get some excellent deals on larger houses in the North etc.

It is probably also a good idea to join the Union of Luxembourg Consumers who can provide you with early advice in the event of rental disputes. They also offer some assistance with legal costs, my understanding is that they can offer cheaper advice from a lawyer. The membership fee is very low and probably worth it in the long term.

Telecom and Internet

Such services are more costly than in many countries, in general mobile contracts from POST, Tango, Orange and JOIN all seem far less advantageous than what customers receive in the surrounding countries. The big thing to watch out for is roaming, Luxembourg is quite small so talking a step to y0ur left near the border can result in being in data roaming. Therefore if you are planning to use your phone a lot outside of the borders it is worth exploring what roaming tariffs they offer. Join for example offer a flat rate and pay-as-you-go option across Europe.

Home phones provision and Internet is also much more expensive, although to date I have been with POST (probably the most expensive of all three) but the quality of service has been excellent so you probably get what you pay for. There is increasing competition in the market with others such as Eltrona and Numericable offering highly competitive deals.

Closing Remarks

Moving to any country can seem a bit intimidating but in general the authorities in Luxembourg plus many private sector organisations make the process relatively quick, simple and pleasant. Luxembourg is very international so it is geared towards the immigrant.

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New book chapter in process…

Ethics, Privacy and Trust in Serious Games. McCall, R., and L. Baillie  Handbook of Digital Games and Entertainment Technologies, edited by Ryohei Nakatsu, Paolo Ciancarini and Matthias Rauterberg. Springer.

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Publications page updated

I’ve added some new publications to the relevant page.

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Off to The Human System Interaction 2015 in Warsaw

Along with other colleagues from the eGlasses project I will attending the Human-System Interaction Conference in Warsaw. There are quite a few eGlasses related publications there and we will be presenting some work from our team. Also look out for the keynote talk from Michael Haller.

We will be championing the eGlasses alternative to Google Glass, really it’s designed for use in research labs but has many more features than the commercially available platforms.

 

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Review: Localbitcoins.com

If Bitcoin.de is the paragon of simplicity be prepared for the altogether more confusing world of Localbitcoins.com. But it’s only confusing as you have so many options!

Localbitcoins does exactly what it says, it lets you trade Bitcoins both locally (i.e. cash face to face if you like) and also like other exchanges with people located elsewhere. It lets you buy and sell your Bitcoins via anything such a cash all the way through credit cards and finally  to bank transfer (including SEPA). You can also trade in a variety of currencies, indeed whatever the other trader is offering. In common with Bitcoin.de this is an over the counter exchange which means payments are conducted between parties directly while the trade is held in escrow until the seller releases the bitcoins. This of course has its inherent risks.

As a buyer or seller you set up an advert with a floating price, i.e. at a fixed percentage above or below the Bitfinex market rate. This means unlike Bitcoin.de the price reflects the going rate more accurately however it does mean you need to constantly check any listings you make sure you don’t lose money on a sale. Also important to note is that you define your own terms of sale (including payment method and dates). Other features worth noting are that you can define levels of trust and also the ID requirements of your fellow traders. Adverts can also have an opening time, much like a physical shop. Note however that  if you place an advert you are responsible for 1% fee, whereas if you respond to an advert or use the quick sell feature you pay nothing. Quick sell is nice in that it finds the best price from all available adverts given the criteria you specify.

Trust is is important in such markets and you can leave a variety of ratings and even comments relating to other people you have traded with. You can even block or mark them as trusted – with trusted traders being given access to specific adverts you have listed for them only. In general this is a much more important feature than on bicoin.de. For example I have had far more problems with others cancelling trades or not abiding by trade terms that I have specified. There is a forum attached to the site where you can find lively discussions about potential scammers and common problems others have encountered.

Other features worth noting are the live chat assistance from members of their customer support team. Which can be reached in the darkest hours of the night. You can also mark trades as in dispute and their team will normally respond to the request and resolve the situation within 1 working day. My experience of this was that they were thoroughly professional and quick.

In general I find Localbitcoins requires much more active involvement that Bicoins.de also the number of scammers and untrustworthy people on it seems to be much higher. This not the fault of Localbitcoins but it is something you should take into account if you are planning on using the site. It is also a problem which has been noted on in other reviews and forum posts.

Would I recommend the site? Yes in short but only if you are prepared for the ride. Their customer service is very good and the range of options you can set up for trades is impressive. However, for the newbie I’d stick to bitcoin.de.

 

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