ETIAS - Traveling to Belgium
U.S. citizens can travel to Belgium using an ETIAS visa waiver
Country of Belgium
- Dutch - French - German
Belgium - US Embassy and Consulates
(112 is the equivalent to 911 in the US)
Belguim: An Overview
Belgium is known for its mediaeval towns, Renaissance architecture, and as the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO. It is also known for its world-class Belgian chocolate (French: chocolat belge, Dutch: Belgische chocolade). The country is distinctive in its regions with Dutch speaking Flanders to the north, French speaking to the south, and German-speaking residents to the east. Brussels, the capital, is bilingual (French and Flemish) and is haute elegant with art nouveau buildings and ornate guild halls. Americans sojourners will delight in exploring stunning, opulent cities like Bruges and Ghent and meandering along the many picturesque canals. Decadent fine dining at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants, sampling exquisite wine and savoring the famed beer ensures foodies will be gleefully satiated.
Belgium was at the heart of the First and Second World Wars and many of the military sites are popular for history buffs and tourists alike. However, it is the architecture that makes Belgium the place of fairytales. Belgium has always been renowned for being an extremely prosperous and cosmopolitan country. It has a very high standard of living and quality-of-life and is considered one of the most peaceful countries in the world. A vacation here will be destined to be steeped in culture, history, and architecture. Belgium’s population is just over 11 million and the diminutive gilded country is visited by more than 7 million tourists every year.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ETIAS, is coming in 2021. With authorization for the ETIAS Visa Waiver Program for visa-free travel with a generous 90-day limit, per trip, to glorious Belgium along with dozens of Schengen Area countries, your daydreams of their famed handcraft chocolate, romantic boat rides down pretty canals, and classic European indulgence are closer than ever. Belgium is among the first five European Union member countries that signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985.
Primary Languages: French, Dutch, and German; some Flemish regionally. English is spoken in most tourist areas.
Where to Go
Brussels is renowned as an elegant and multicultural city. The architecture is eclectic as buildings and concrete obelisks give way to more traditional Neoclassical and Romanesque styles, and in the case of La Grand Palace; a showstopping blend of baroque, gothic and Louis XIV style; one of the reasons it is decidedly the most famous landmark in the city. There are countless museums and landmarks to visit including the Atomium, Parlamentarium, Natural Sciences Museum, Autoworld, The European Parliament, and the Museum of the City of Brussels. Sip a glass of half-en-half, a local blend of white wine and French champagne, or a pint of local lager at one of the many city pubs. Brussels has an excellent metro line service along with buses and trams enabling you to get around the city with ease.
Bruges is a picture postcard mediaeval town with meandering canals and cobbled streets. It is petite and ideal for exploring by foot. Or for a romantic twirl are around the city, hold out for a tour by horse drawn carriage. Medieval architecture, bright flower-banked canals, and dreamy footbridges, Bruges is enchanting. Bruges also boasts 10 Michelin-rated restaurants to appeal to those who want to indulge. There are a number of luxurious small, intimate hotels with delightful views over the charming waterways.
Antwerp is Belgium's second largest city as well as being the second largest port in Europe; it was once one of the most important cities in Europe. It is trendy and boasts upmarket fashion boutiques and art galleries. The insta-pretty old town with its cobbled streets invites with its diverse from-then-until-now architecture. Trek to the central railway station, hailed as, “one of the most beautiful in the world,” to see an example of Antwerp’s magnificent late 19th century building design. Antwerp has a reputation as the ‘diamond capital’ city of the world and has vibrant nightlife scene for those who come to life after dark.
The Flemish Ardennes, the hilly region in southern Belgium has scenic countryside in abundance and is rife with wildlife with many flowers and trees. Located to the south of Ghent it is very popular with walkers. The town of Spa (for which wellness spas are named) is an indulgent stop; it has been known for healing thermal waters since the 14th century. It is surrounded by hills and has softly flowing river springs. Damme is on the outskirts of Bruges and is on the banks of Danse Vaart. A pretty tree-lined canal runs through the town. This idyllic village is known as a literary town and a statue of a Flemish 13th century author, Jacob van Maerlan, stands in the Town Square. Bouillon sits on the bank of the Semais River not far from the border with France. It boasts an 8th century Castle and verdant hills that softly curve down to the meet the meandering banks. De Haan is known as one of the most beautiful villages in Flanders. It has a scenic coastline and the village dates back to the Middle Ages. Americans will be interested to read that it was once the home of Albert Einstein who lived there before emigrating to the United States
Belgium, a country so diminutive, is large in castle wealth; more than 3,000 chateaus and castles grace this magical place. Meandering the countryside or city-exploring, travelers can find dreamy ancient castles to investigate. Wallonia’s beloved Château de Beloeil, complete with classic round turrets, in rest amidst a glorious Baroque garden and rests a long its own lake. Along the Meuse River in Namur province is the regal Chateau de Freÿr, complete with formal French gardens in the style of André Le Nôtre who designed the gardens at Versailles. Some delightful castle tours offer tours to Belgium’s beloved chateaus and castles. Overnight stays in some chateaus are possible offering almost royal accommodations!
Belgium is a flat land bordered by France to the south west, the Netherlands to the north east, Luxembourg to the south east, and Germany to the east. Its coastline opens to the North Sea. All five countries are members of the Schengen Area and will require ETIAS authorization for the Visa Waiver Program being launched by the European Union in 2021.
ELECTRICAL OUTLETS AND ADAPTERS FOR US PRODUCTS
Belgium uses Type C & E Plugs. You will need an adapter and maybe a transformer to use products made for the US electrical grid. Belgium runs on a 230 (220) volts, 50 hertz AC current, while US runs on 120 (110) volts and a frequency of 60 Hz AC current. Many American products are able to run on 230 (220) volts, 50 hertz AC current. You need to check your electrical product to make sure it is labeled "dual voltage" before you plug it in, otherwise you may burn out the components rendering it useless. Learn more about the different European plugs and currents here.
PICKPOCKETS AND THEFT
- Nearly all crimes suffered by tourists in Belgium are nonviolent and avoidable, however you should be prepared for pickpockets. Belgium's transit systems are notorious for pickpockets
- Being vigilant is your best friend when you are in high theft areas: train stations, trains, city buses, subways and open air shopping areas.
- Store important documents, money and phones in zippered or buttoned pockets, specialized travel day bags or a money belt.
- You should never leave your bags unattended! Make sure you can see them at all times. Better yet, you should keep in physical contact with your bags in public places.
First, be sure to check that your phone will work in Belgium. The easiest way to find out is to check with your mobile phone service provider. You can also find out if your service provider offers international plans for Belgium. We recommend signing up for an international plan if you plan on using your smart phone to connect to the internet or use the travel apps you may have installed on your phone. If you decide not to sign up for an international calling and data plan, costs can add up very quickly!
Free WI-FI can be easy to access, but can be very slow or not available in the countryside. Sign up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service to secure your phone, tablet or computer when using public Wi-Fi networks. This prevents hackers from accessing your device when using free Wi-Fi.
BELGIUM TAXIS, BUSES AND SUBWAYS
- Taxis - A good rule of thumb is use a prominent taxi service, one that has a company logo and a telephone number on the car. Avoid using taxis that just have a taxi light on the top of the car. Make sure the taxi driver is using the correct rate for the time of the day and day of the week. Nighttime and weekends have higher rates. When taking a taxi that has a set fare, for example to a Belgium airport, make sure you establish the price before you leave.
- Buses and subways - Most Belgium cities have a great public transportation system. The cost of a transit pass for the entire time of your stay can equal the cost of one or two taxi rides. Check out the ticket options that are offered at subway stations, bus terminals and train stations. Get a transit map or download a transit app to your smart phone. Google maps have transit maps for most Belgium cities.
EXCHANGING CURRENCY IN BELGIUM
The most important thing you should understand is how exchange rates work. The euro usually has a higher exchange rate compared to the US dollar. So if you want to get 100 euros and the exchange rate is $1.10 for one euro, it will cost you 110 dollars to get 100 euros. There are many currency conversion apps you can down load to your smart phone to get up-to-date exchange rates.
Many people like to get euros through their bank before they leave for their trip. Check out what fees the bank charges for this service. Different banks have different fees. These fees can be expensive, so it pays to shop around.
When in Belgium avoid using currency exchange companies or booths. These companies can charge up to 15% to 20% of the amount you are exchanging. Belgium banks can also charge high fees to exchange money. You best bet is to use your ATM card with an established bank to get local currency.
DEBIT CARDS AND ATMS
First, make sure that your ATM card can be used internationally. Second, see what your bank charges for international ATM fees. Third, see what is the maximum amount you can withdraw each day. While there are fees associated with using an ATM card, they are usually much less than the fees charged by Belgium banks and currency exchange companies. ATM fees are a flat fee not a percentage. So when you are withdrawing money using your ATM card, take out the maximum amount to reduce amount of ATM fees you will incur. Also it is a good idea to use bank ATMs instead of third party ATMs, which can charge higher fees.
CASH VS CREDIT CARDS
Using local cash is key for the European tourist. Some businesses do not accept credit cards and many businesses charge a higher price when using a credit card due to the credit card fee they pay to the credit card company. Many businesses will take US dollars, but then you will need to figure out the exchange rate to ensure you are being charged the correct amount and receiving the correct change. Having smaller bills is better than large bills. Also remember to keep your cash secure in pickpocket proof pockets or a money belt.
US credit cards are widely accepted across Belgium. Just in case, check with bank to be sure your credit card will work in Belgium. Before you leave on your trip, sign up for a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. If you don't, you may be in for a surprise when you get your credit card statement that contains lots of foreign transactions and currency conversion fees.
It makes sense to use a credit card for hotels, car rentals, Eurail pass, upscale businesses and restaurants. Limit the number of credit cards you take with you. Bring one back up credit card in addition to the main card you intend to use. Be sure to contact your credit card company and let them know the dates you will be traveling abroad.
TIPPING IN BELGIUM
Generally speaking, if someone in the service industry provides great service for you, a tip of a couple of euros is acceptable, but not required.
- Restaurants - 5% to 10%, with 10% being for over the top service. Be sure to check to see if service has already been included in the bill
- Taxis - round up to the nearest Euro, for example, if the fare is 5 euro give them 6
- Hotel porters - one euro for every bag
Here's the good news: most of Europe, including Belgium, has a universal health care system that takes care of everyone – including foreigners. If you need healthcare due to illness or injury while traveling in Belgium, you won't have to worry about getting treated. There may be out-of-pocket costs, but those are generally reimbursable depending on your health insurance.
TIPPING IN BELGIUM
- Pack enough of any prescription medications for the length of your stay, in their labeled, original containers. It is smart to add a few more pills than you need, just in case you stay longer.
- Bring a small first aid kit with over-the-counter necessities.
- In an emergency call 112, that's the "911" in Europe.
- If you have a non-emergency health issue, go to the nearest pharmacy first. Belgium pharmacists can actually diagnose and prescribe medications for minor issues like sore throats, sinus and stomach issues and minor aches and pains.
- If the pharmacist can't help you, go to a clinic. They're much like our stateside urgent care clinics, and providers can order any tests you might need like x-rays.
- Ask for a House Call. Your hotel will most likely be able to have a physician come to your room if need be.
- Most embassies and consulates have lists of physicians and hospitals in major cities. Go on the U.S. Embassy's site, choose your destination and look under U.S. Citizens Services section.