COUNTRY DESCRIPTION ^
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
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 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.
Belgium remains a relatively safe country. Visitors should take reasonable precautions because street thefts, purse snatchings, and pick pocketing are occurring more frequently, particularly in the major cities and in train stations. In Brussels, crime continues to increase annually with pick pocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage 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 is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay particular attention to their personal belongings when traversing that station. A common ploy is to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back. Carjacking of expensive vehicles remains a significant problem.
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 should 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.
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.
Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.
Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.
MEDICAL FACILITIES ^
Good medical facilities are widely available. 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, which can be found on the Embassy website at
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. 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 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. 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.
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
EMERGENCY NUMBERS: The emergency numbers for the police and medical assistance are 101 and 100, respectively, and for cellular phones 112.
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, travellers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s website at
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, travellers may contact DOD at 618-256-4801.
Please also refer to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.
October 15, 2004