Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
Business appointments are necessary and the person with whom you are meeting will generally decide the time. Avoid scheduling business trips to Belgium during July and August, the week before Easter, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s, as they are prime vacation times. It is expected to arrive on time to an appointment, as arriving late may create the impression of unreliability. Meetings are generally formal, but first appointments are more social than business oriented, since Belgians prefer to do business with people they know. It is best not to remove your jacket during a meeting unless you are invited to do so. Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual and it is recommended to have one side translated into Dutch or French (depending on the area of the country where you are doing business). It is important to use the appropriate language and to avoid speaking French to a Fleming and vice versa. English is generally widely spoken within the business community.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Despite the terrorist attacks that occurred on March 22, 2016, Belgium remains largely safe. 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 of 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, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
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, however, 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 carrying luggage. In Brussels, pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are very 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 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 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.
Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s internet web site at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, and the Belgium Consular Information Sheet https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel.html can be found. Up-to-date information on 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).
American citizens do not need a visa when they travel to Belgium for business or for personal travel. Their stay in the Schengen area should not exceed 90 days within a six month period. The American visitor will need to present a valid American passport (that does not expire before the end of the visit), proof of sufficient funds, and a return airline ticket.
The Schengen visa is valid for the following 24 European countries: 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. A Schengen visa issued by an Embassy or Consulate of the above countries allows the holder to travel freely in all of these countries.
Visas issued on or before December 20, 2007, by the new Schengen States (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta) are only valid for these nine new Schengen countries, not for the whole Schengen area.
A citizen of the United States of America who intends to reside in Belgium for a period longer than 90 days, or for a succession of periods totaling more than 90 days per six month period, must first obtain a temporary residency visa.
When the applicant seeks to engage in a professional activity on an independent basis, the required residency visa can only be issued upon the presentation of a professional card and supporting documents.
The professional card is applied for through the Embassy or Consulate General and must be approved before the Embassy can issue a visa.
When the applicant seeks to engage in a professional activity on a salaried basis (employee status), the required residency visa can only be issued upon the presentation of a work permit and supporting documents.
The work permit is applied for and must be obtained by the employer in Belgium at the appropriate regional government office before the prospective employee enters Belgium.
The employer mails the work permit to the employee who can then contact the appropriate consular office in the jurisdiction which the employee resides. The employee must request his/her visa at least three weeks prior to his/her intended departure date. The normal processing time for this type of visa is one week. See Embassy and Consulates of Belgium in the United States | Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs for more information on application procedures for the professional card and temporary residence visa.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following links.
- State Department Visa Website: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html
- U.S. Embassy in Belgium: https://be.usembassy.gov/
The currency used in Belgium, alike in the whole Eurozone is the Euro (sign: €; code: EUR). 1 USD = 0.8960 EUR. 1 EUR = 1.1159 USD (on 5/22/2020).
There are several telecom companies in Belgium. In order to be connected to a landline network, an initial subscription must be taken with one of the landline operators, the main ones being: Proximus, Telenet. Belgium is gradually “cutting the cord” with an increasing number of consumers opting for mobile-only services.
There are three major service providers for mobile telephones in Belgium: Base SA, Orange (formerly Mobistar), and Proximus. Each company offers a range of services and packages, and it is recommended to compare tariffs and conditions carefully before entering into a contract. International roaming (which enables a phone on a Belgian contract to work outside the country) is available but must be requested and may cost extra. In order to obtain a mobile phone contract, visit a shop and provide the following:
- ID (passport or identity card)
- Proof of address (a utility bill, property rental contract or bank statement)
- Bank account IBAN number
For short-term service the alternative to a contract at a fixed monthly rate is a pay-as-you-go card, where the prepaid card must be regularly reloaded with additional credit. These are typically available at large transportation hubs and airports.
Road and Rail Networks
Belgium has a highly developed road network. High-capacity motorways (freeways) are located around Brussels and cut across the country, such as the Wallonia motorway. A network of expressways supports the motorways.
Most of the motorways are part of other European routes. They facilitate access to neighboring countries and make it possible to travel easily from one town to another or across a region.
The Belgian rail network was the first to be built on continental Europe and is the densest in the world. However, the density is not uniform throughout the country, due to the recent trend of eliminating unprofitable lines.
There are five high-speed train services currently operating in Belgium: Thalys, Eurostar, InterCityExpress (ICE), TGV and Fyra. These high-speed lines support speeds up to 300 km/h (190 mph) and allow fast and easy transit to London, Paris, Amsterdam and other major cities in neighboring countries.
For more information see Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS) https://www.belgiantrain.be/en.
Inland waterways form a relatively evenly dispersed network. The network depends on two large rivers: the Meuse and the Scheldt, and a network of canals. Inland waterways as a means of transportation for goods is becoming more and more popular due to the high cost of traditional road transportation.
Belgium has one international airport (Brussels Airport) and four regional airports (Antwerp-Deurne, Charleroi, Liège and Ostend-Middelkerke).
The Brussels Airport is currently enhancing its relations with many different regions around the world. It also features a fair balance between scheduled flights and charter flights.
Brussels Airport is sometimes backed up by the regional airports, which provide extra support. Each of these airports specializes in certain niche markets.
Antwerp-Deurne: small airlines, business flights and freight.
Charleroi: industrial airport (aeronautics industry), low-cost carriers, business flights, and some scheduled services and cargo.
Liège: large air freight, tourist flights, and some scheduled services.
Ostend-Middelkerke: air freight (especially with Africa), scheduled services and tourist flights.
For more information see: Brussels International Airport http://www.brusselsairport.be/.
As in other countries, each industry/product uses its own mode of transport. For mass retail and merchandise, road networks are utilized for short distances (foodstuffs, etc.). For construction materials, oil and chemicals, inland waterways are typically used. Most energy and steel products are transported via the rail networks.
Belgium has three national languages: Dutch (also referred to as Flemish), French, and German. The divisions are as follows: Dutch (official) 58%, French (official) 41%, and German (official) less than 1%.
English is spoken and understood throughout most of Belgium. In Flanders, the northern region of Belgium, Dutch is the predominant language while in Wallonia, the southern region, most people speak French. Residents in a small section of Belgium near Germany speak German as their primary language. Brussels, the center region, is officially bilingual, speaking both Dutch and French.
As in any other country, language is a crucial part of doing business in Belgium. Many documents must be filed in at least one of the three national languages. It would benefit companies to have personnel who speak one of the languages, or to seek the help of a professional translator.
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 Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at Getting Started with Business in Belgium.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, 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) or via the CDC’s web site at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at https://www.who.int/en.
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.
Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays
Belgium is six hours ahead of Eastern Time in the United States (Greenwich Mean Time [GMT] + 01:00 Standard Time).
8.30 am to 5.30 pm – Offices (Monday to Friday with 30-60 minutes for lunch)
9.00 am to 4:00 pm – Banks (Monday to Friday, some offices open later during the week and on Saturdays)
9.00 am to 6.00 pm – Shops (Monday to Saturday and until 9.00 pm on Fridays)
Typical hours for museums are 10.00 am to 5.00 pm, six days a week, and are closed on either Monday or Tuesday. Belgians usually have lunch between 1.00 pm and 3.00 pm and dinner, their main meal, between 7.00 pm and 10.00 pm, with peak traffic around 9.00 pm. Some stores close from noon to 2.00 pm, but stay open until 8.00 pm to compensate. In many towns, stores will stay open until 9.00 pm one evening a week, normally Fridays.
2021 Local Holidays:
January 1: New Year’s Day
March 30: Good Friday
April 21: Easter Day
April 22: Easter Monday
May 1: Labor Day
May 30: Ascension Day
June 10th: Whit Monday
July 21: National Day
August 15: Assumption Day
November 1: All Saints Day
November 11: Armistice Day
December 25: Christmas Day
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
Legislation exists that exempts goods from import duties and VAT, if they are brought into Belgium for re-export. Such goods must be kept in a bonded warehouse until they are re-exported. The shipment does not have to be re-exported in total; the portion of the shipment destined for the local or EU market is liable for duties and VAT at the time when the importation takes place. Additionally, goods may be sorted, repacked and relabeled in bonded warehouses. Many customs clearing agents in the main ports and airports are able to provide these services in bonded warehouses.
For temporary entry of goods, Belgium accepts an ATA Carnet. An ATA Carnet is an international customs document that simplifies customs procedures for the temporary importation of commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for exhibitions and fairs.
Personal belongings are acceptable for transport to Belgium and can be processed with customs approval with exemption from duty and taxes. A Commercial Invoice is required for all shipments seeking this type preference from customs. In order to ensure that the goods are properly identified and processed as Personal Effects, the shipper should mark both the Bill of Lading / Air Waybill and Commercial Invoice with this wording: “USED PERSONAL BELONGINGS”.
Shipments of personal effects that are received without the proper documents and descriptions will be subject to normal entry, and documentation requirements and delays may result in the clearance. Shippers are cautioned to submit only qualified personal effects (used personal goods having been in the owner’s possession for a period of at least one year) and not to include articles (new clothing, souvenirs, etc.) that do not qualify.
Seehttps://www.fedex.com/en-us/shipping/international.html for further information on document requirements.