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Belgium Travel Guide:

         Tourism Information

Flag of Belgium
  Tourism Rating    Travel Safety   Entry Requirements  Avoiding Petty Theft

 Special Note   Road Safety and Conditions   Medical Care

 

   
 
Tourism Rating   Top of Page  

 

Two Globes = Add-on destination

 

 

Climate

Cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 77°F, winters average 45°F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are 10°F and 100°F.

Belgium: Add-on Destination (two of four globes)

For many vacationers, visits to Belgium are opportunistic, added on while planning a visit to another destination.   Belgium offers a number of interesting places to visit and  is a great place for terrific food and relaxation.   Belgium's tourist destinations present a mix of the spectacular and the bland, but, in general, they are not the "best of the best".  If you have a chance to visit Brugge or Brussels, take it!

  1. Belgium is a patchwork comprised of Flanders, Wallonia, and the Capital region of Brussels.  Flanders is flat and home to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.  Wallonia contains the Ardennes and the cities of Liege, Namur, and Tournai.  Brussels is the diplomatic center of Europe, as it is home to both the European Union and NATO.


  2. Belgium is an easy place for independent travel.


  3. ThereArePlaces recommended travel destinations for Belgium can be found at Belgium: Places To Visit


  4. The official tourism web site for Belgium is www.visitflanders.com.   Visit  www.opt.be  for information  focused on Brussels and Wallonia.


  5. When planning your travel, be sure to review the ThereArePlaces Travel Planning Guides for insights on how  to "travel well" and "travel safe".
 
Travel Safety   Top of Page
Green light - safe travel conditions

Overall, Belgium is a safe place for travelers.

  1. No official health advisories, travel advisories, or specific terrorism warnings for Belgium have been posted by the U.S. Government at this time.  Before you depart, always check with the Department of State  and CDC to insure that these conditions have not changed.  In addition, you will find that the     Foreign & Commonwealth Office  of the British Government provides excellent travel advisories.
  2. The State Department's Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-202-501-4444 .
  3. When  visiting a foreign country, avoid public demonstrations (whatever the cause) and do not broadcast either your public opinions or your nationality.
  4. The emergency number for the police is 101.   Belgium participates in the single European call number 112 for all other emergencies.  112 calls will be answered in Dutch, French, or German depending on the region of the country.
  5. The U.S. Embassy is located in Brussels at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The Consular Section in Brussels 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. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy's website at: : http://belgium.usembassy.gov/ See our article on how U.S. Counsels can help Americans abroad.

    The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays.

 
Entry Requirements   Top of Page  
  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 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 Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa  for the most current visa information.

(The Schengen Agreement 90 day period begins when entering any of the following countries which are parties to the Schengen agreement: Austria, Belgium,  the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg,  Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia Spain, and Sweden.)

If you do not have a passport, see our article on the Ins and Outs of Passports.  Other important travel documents are covered in our Information Guide on Passport, Visas, Customs.

ADVISORY NOTE: In September of 2006, the Belgian government began a trial project requiring a fingerprint record accompany those seeking a visa to visit Belgium and apply for the visa in Washington D.C.  The Belgian Embassy in the United States was quick to point out  tourists who are going to visit Belgium for less than 90 days do not require a visa to enter or tour the country.  We will inform you of any additional changes in the Visa Policy of the Belgian government when they occur.

For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield St. NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. The website of the Belgian embassy in the United States can be found at http://www.diplobel.org/usa.

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.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens who are also Belgian citizens under Belgian law may be subject, while in Belgium, to certain aspects of Belgian law such as mandatory voting. Those who may be affected should inquire at a Belgian Embassy or Consulate regarding their status.

In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. For additional information, please see the State Department's  Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet home page at http://travel.state.gov for an explanation of dual nationality issues.

U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Belgium or any other nation are reminded that U.S. law requires they enter and depart the United States documented as U.S. citizens.

   
Avoiding Petty Theft   Top of Page  

Before you travel, read our articles on Pickpockets, Con Artists, and ATM safety in the ThereArePlaces Information Guide on Personal Safety for travelers.  Be alert and avoid the petty theft situations that target travelers.  The more common situations are described below.

Visitors should take reasonable precautions because street thefts, purse snatchings, and pick pocketing are occurring with increasing frequently in Belgium, particularly in the major cities.

In Brussels, crime continues to increase annually with pick pocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops being the most common. These crimes are especially prevalent in the public transportation system (subway, bus and tram) and at Brussels ’ 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 particular attention to their personal belongings when in the station.  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.

  • A common ploy is to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. Carjacking of expensive vehicles remains a significant problem in Brussels as do thefts from parked cars.  Do not leave valuable on display within parked cars.
  • 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.

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 while the victim is stunned. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices 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 have been known to prey on unwary tourists. Tourists are advised never to leave valuables unattended in vehicles and to keep car doors locked when driving. Travelers also are advised to leave expensive jewelry, financial records, address books, and other personal effects at home or stored in a safe place during their visit. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification.

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 any crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The U.S. Embassy/Consular Section in Belgium is located at Boulevard du Regent 25, 1000 Brussels. The telephone number from within Belgium is 02-508-2111; from outside of Belgium, 32-2-508-2111. Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends, and to explain how funds can be transferred.

   
     
     
Special Note   Top of Page  
  1.  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 (ATM's) 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 favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations and airports.

2.  Both geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint.

3.  Belgium is divided ethnically into the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons, the 70,000 residents of the eastern German cantons, and the bilingual capital of Brussels. The population density is the second highest in Europe, after the Netherlands.

4.  Language, economic, and political differences between Dutch-speaking Flanders and Francophone Wallonia have produced increased cleavages in Belgian society. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and the 19th century accentuated the linguistic North-South division. Francophone Wallonia became an early industrial boom area, affluent and politically dominant. Dutch-speaking Flanders remained agricultural and was economically and politically outdistanced by Brussels and Wallonia. The last 50 years have marked the rapid economic development of Flanders, resulting in a corresponding shift of political power to the Flemish, who now constitute an absolute majority (58%) of the population.

5.  Most public toilets in Belgium charge .30€ for use of a toilet but you can avoid this charge by using the facilities at restaurants where you dine or by stopping in at a fast food outlet, if you can find one.

6.  ThereArePlaces makes every attempt to ensure that the travel information we present to you is current. Before you depart, be sure to check with official government sources to determine the status of critical information relating to a particular county.

   
Road Safety and Conditions   Top of Page  
 

While in Belgium, you 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.

Safety of Public Transportation: good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: good

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.

ThereArePlaces recommends that you do not drink and drive.  In most foreign countries, especially in Europe and the UK, the maximum permitted blood alcohol levels are lower than those enforced in the United States.  Penalties and punishments are significant. See our article on drinking and driving in foreign countries  for more information.  Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.

Speed Limits in Belgium:

  1. Built-up areas - 50 km/h (30 mph)
  2. Outside Built up areas (including  dual carriageways) - 90 or 120  km/h
  3. Motorways - 120 km/h
  4. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but it is posted only at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. 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.

Our information on speed limits is as current as possible. Always confirm the speed limits with your rental car agent and observe the posted speeds limits whenever and wherever you drive.

Use of mobile telephones while driving is against the law in most European countries.  The fine for violating laws against the use of mobile phone while driving is significant.  If you need to use your mobile phone while on the road, stop your car in a designated parking area and call from there.

Tourists driving rented vehicles should pay close attention to the provisions of their rental contracts.  Failure to do so could result in fines or confiscation of the car during your travels.  Make sure that you are familiar with the terms, restrictions and costs related to your car rental (see our article on Rental Car Costs).

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.

For specific information concerning Belgian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Belgian National Tourist Organization offices in New York, tel: 212-758-6130 or via the Internet at http://www.visitbelgium.com.

   
Medical Care   Top of Page  
 

Good medical facilities with modern diagnostic equipment and well-trained physicians are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can provide adequate care for complex medical problem.

Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff; however, hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English.

We strongly urge you to consult your 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. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, you should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing medical service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your departure, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.

Your existing medical insurance carrier may cover "customary and reasonable" medical care while you are abroad. Usually, if reimbursement is provided, it is paid at a reduced ("out of system provider") rate. Check with your insurance carrier before you depart to determine the type and amount of coverage that may be provided. If coverage is provided, be sure to ask how claims should be filed and ask them to send some claim forms, in case you require any medical treatment while on vacation.

Read our article on  travel insurance to learn the factors that you should consider before you purchase or decline to purchase a travel related insurance policy.

ThereArePlaces Information Guide on Health contains valuable health related advice for the traveler considering a trip abroad.

   
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