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Travel Security Advice for Belgium

 

Belgium_National_Flag

belgium_mapBelgium_Overview


 

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:

Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.  Tourist facilities are widely available.  Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belgium for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:

Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement.  As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.  The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.  Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required.  For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheetFor further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.  Visit the Embassy of Belgium website for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information Sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:

Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents.  Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business.  However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.

Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by.  Nonetheless, spontaneous demonstrations take place in Belgium from time to time in response to world events or local developments.  We remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.  American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.  American citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.  Information regarding demonstrations in Belgium can be found on the U.S. Embassy Brussels' website.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s information on A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:

Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pick pocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers.  In Brussels, pick pocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi).  The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station.  Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage.  It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.

Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them.  Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars.  If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars.  Always drive with windows up and doors locked.

Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations.  Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target.  Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification.  Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.  The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.  The Belgian “Commission for financial assistance to the victims of intentional acts of violence and to the occasional rescuers” provides financial compensation, under specific circumstances, for victims of crime and for those who have suffered injuries and consequent loss caused by such incidents.  The fund also provides for dependents or immediate family members of homicide victims.  For more information, contact the Belgian Ministry of Justice at +32 2 542.72.07 or + 32 2 542 72.08 or +32 2 542.72.18.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Belgium is 101 for police emergencies.  For all other emergencies, please dial 112.

Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Persons violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.  Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official.  A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.

While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium.  Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks.  Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency.  Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds.  Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports.

Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival.  Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status.  Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.

Please see our Customs Information sheet.

BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT:

Since April 1, 2007, non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.

This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.

Some exceptions to this general obligation exist.  Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments.  For more information, please see the Limosa websiteFor more information about working in Belgium, please visit this website.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:

Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium.  The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem.  Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however.  The Embassy's Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy website.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Belgium.

For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) websiteFurther health information for travelers is available from the WHO.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility.  Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night.  Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium.  For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street.  The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports.  The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour.  While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit.  Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot.  Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.

Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280.  Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666.  Emergency services are efficient and responsive.  By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101.  For all other emergencies, dial 112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information or visit Belgium’s national tourist office website.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Belgium's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium's air carrier operations.  Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:

Americans living or traveling in Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  The U.S. Embassy is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent.  The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111.  Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111.  The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409.  The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays.  Further information can be obtained from the Embassy’s website.

This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated October 3, 2008, to update the section on Information for Victims of Crime.

 


 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding Belgium HERE.......

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can check out our World Wide Embassy Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens)........

Regards

The SW Team.........

 

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