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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Belgium

Belgium - Consular Information Sheet
May 11, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required. A visa is not required of American citizens for business or tourist stays of up to 90 days. For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers may 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, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York. The web site of the Belgian Embassy in the United States is http://www.diplobel.org/usa/default.htm.

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.

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 Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer.

SAFETY/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 maintaining a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, Belgium’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity. Since October 1998, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has conducted several arson attacks in the Antwerp area targeting fast food restaurants that serve meat products. The attacks have occurred after closing hours and have caused no injuries. Several ALF members were arrested in December 1999 in connection with these attacks.

CRIME INFORMATION: Belgium remains a relatively safe country, and anti-American sentiment is rare. Visitors should take reasonable precautions because street thefts, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing are occurring more frequently particularly in the major cities. In Brussels, crime continues to increase annually with pickpocketing and purse snatching being the most common. These crimes are 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 station is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay particular attention to their personal belongings when traversing it. In addition, car-jacking incidents involving expensive cars remains a significant crime problem.

Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men have been known to prey on unaware tourists. Tourists are advised to never leave valuables unattended in vehicles, and should keep car doors locked when driving. Travelers are also 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 U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. The emergency numbers for the police and medical assistance are 101 and 100, respectively, and for cellular phones 112. Visitors to Belgium requiring additional information should contact the Consular Section at the American Embassy (telephone: 322-508-2387).

U.S. citizens may also refer to the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad for ways to promote a more trouble free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities are widely available and the large university hospitals can handle almost every 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. The Embassy’s Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States although some hospitals in Belgium will accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield, depending on the plan. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.

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.

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. 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 in Belgian Francs. Belgian police also conduct breath analyzer checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.

Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Assistance at tel: 070-344-777, which is a free call within Belgium. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions at 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 at tel: 212-758-6130 or via the Internet at http://visitbelgium.com. For information about international driving permits, please contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Belgian customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belgium of a variety of items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belgium in Washington or one of Belgium’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. The web site of the Belgian Embassy in the United States is http://www.diplobel.org/usa/default.htm.

Belgian customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information, call (212) 354-4480, send an e-mail to atacarnet@uscib.org, or visit http://www.uscib.org for details.

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 strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: 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. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50.00 and $100.00 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATM’s) are widespread in Belgium and they accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Belgian Francs are likely to find a favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations and airports.

CHILDREN’S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living in or visiting Belgium are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium and obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. The U.S. Embassy is located 27 Boulevard du Regent, 1000 Brussels. The Consular Section 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 4:30 P.M. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site http://www.usinfo.be.

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet for Belgium, September 15, 1999, and eliminates the Y2K Information.

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