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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Belgium 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at U.S. Tri-Mission in Brussels. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Belgium. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Belgium country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Belgium at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brussels as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage, small electronics, and laptops are prevalent at the three major train stations: the North Station (Noord Station or Gare du Nord); the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Centrale); and the South Station (Zuid Station or Gare du Midi, the primary international train hub). Criminals frequently work in pairs or as part of an organized gang, often with a high degree of skill and sophistication in selecting victims and places to commit crime. One common trick is for the thief to ask you for directions or distract you while an accomplice steals your luggage or electronics. Thieves often steal carry-ons placed above seats when large crowds of people exit at a train stop. Theft of bags on trains has increased, particularly the Brussels-Amsterdam route. Do not store any electronics or your identity documents above your seat; carry them on your person or in a bag on your lap or secured at your feet.  Small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually late at night and often in Metro (subway) stations or in tourist areas. Thieves typically seek small, high-value items such as smart phones and watches. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Violent crime remains unusual, but low-level street crime is common. Muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Thieves often loiter in transportation hubs like the Metro, trams, train stations, and airports to take advantage of disoriented or distracted travelers.

Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Police continue to report on “smash and grab” incidents. Do not leave any valuable items in plain sight inside a vehicle. Make certain your vehicle is locked, as some thieves are using key fob intercepters to block locking mechanisms. Home burglaries and residential property theft remain a concern. If residing in Belgium, using a home alarm system is extremely beneficial, especially if you travel frequently. Lock your windows and doors while not at home, even if you are just going out for ten minutes. While staying at hotels or small inns, use the in-room safe for your valuables. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

While most monetary transactions are available (e.g. cash, credit cards); U.S. money orders are not negotiable in Belgium. Personal checks will only clear through a bank at which a person holds an account, and can take two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100. Check ATMs or other machines for skimmers or removeable readers. When possible utilize bank ATMs. In bars and restaurants, have the card swiped in front of you; do not let servers or merchants take your card out of sight. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Scammers have victimized U.S. nationals in Belgium. A common scam involves an Internet friend or partner reportedly detained by immigration authorities in Belgium en route to the U.S., who will not be released unless funds are paid for customs fees. In every case, these reports have been confidence schemes. Several U.S. nationals have lost thousands of dollars in such scams. Funds transferred in response to such offers are rarely recovered. The point of the scam is to make the target believe that the message is coming from Belgium when it is really coming from another country. Find information on fraud schemes on the Department of State's International Financial Scams website. U.S. nationals in the U.S. who have been victims of Internet crime should report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. U.S. nationals in Belgium who have been victims should contact the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels (Tel +32-2-811-4057). Depending on the circumstances, the Regional Security Office can then direct you to the appropriate Belgian, U.S., or international law enforcement agency.

Belgium has good Internet services, which makes using social media very easy and convenient. As with any Internet use, practice good cybersecurity measures. While using public WIFI, protect passwords and be cognizant of people who may be “shoulder-surfing” or trying to obtain personal information. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travelers may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Belgium's road network is generally well-built and maintained, but there may be potholes even on principal roads. Sufficient lighting exists on major highways and cities, but on rural roads, it is often insufficient or nonexistent. Road signs are not as frequent and may not be as informative as in the United States.

Belgian right-of-way rules differ from those in the U.S.; understand these rules thoroughly before driving. Traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. Always slow down and yield to those coming from the right. The maximum speed limit on highways is 120 km/hr (72 mph) but is not always posted. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally between 50 km/hr and 70 km/hr (30-52 mph); however, in the Brussels city limits, many speed limits are only 30 km/hour. While Belgian authorities enforce speed limits strictly, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claiming ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding; authorities may impound vehicles if the driver cannot pay the fine on the spot. Belgian authorities have placed numerous fixed photo-speeding cameras around the city, and use mobile photo-speed camera systems throughout the city and on highways.

Belgian police conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays. The legal limit for operating a motor vehicle is .05% blood alcohol content.  A breath analysis is also standard after an accident (even if you are the one hit), to include bicycles or other small motorized transports.

Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, Tel: 02 286-3040. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, Tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. For police emergencies, dial 101. For all other emergencies, dial 112.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is excellent in most parts of Belgium, and used by much of the population. Inter-city trains, metro trains, trams, buses, and taxis make moving around the country very easy. The one issue that occurs with some frequency is labor strikes or unrest. These actions can cause delays or service cancelations for several days at a time. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Belgian airports are excellent and provide departure points to all over Europe. Airline travel to and from Belgium is safe and reliable. Given the large volume of travelers, provide yourself ample time to process through the layers of security at the airport.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brussels as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

In November 2018, an attacker seriously wounded a police officer with two kitchen knives at the entrance of the main police precinct just steps from the Brussels Grand-Place (Grote Markt). At the time of this report, the suspect remained in police custody for “murder and acts of terrorism”.

In May 2018, a prisoner on furlough fatally attacked two police officers in Liège. While fleeing the scene, he shot and killed one more victim. Police killed the assailant following a hostage situation at a nearby high school. Four police officers were wounded, and the attacker died at the scene. Police suspected the assailant of the murder of a former associate found dead at his home the day before. Authorities note the assailant had radicalized in prison; ISIS claimed credit for the lone wolf attack.

In March 2016, terrorists detonated bombs at the Brussels airport (BRU, a.k.a. Zaventem) and in a train at the Maalbeek Metro station. Thirty-five people (including the three perpetrators) died and more than 300 people were injured. 

Belgian authorities have arrested dozens in various counterterrorism sweeps over the past three years, and have disrupted planned terrorist attacks on at least four occasions. As with other countries in the Schengen area, Belgium maintains open borders with its neighbors. Belgian law enforcement and security officials cooperate with neighboring countries to maintain an effective anti-terrorism effort while preserving a welcoming environment for tourism and business.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

In 2019, there were occasional instances of anti-U.S. sentiment displayed by large groups and organizations, as well as those protesting U.S. foreign policy stances.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Brussels as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations occur frequently. All public demonstrations require prior police approval and presence to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Spontaneous demonstrations can take place in response to political or economic issues, on politically significant holidays, during international events, or following local developments. Even demonstrations meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; avoid them if at all possible. the U.S. Embassy Brussels website generally announces larger public demonstrations, which OSAC reposts on its Belgium-specific page. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

While not widespread or frequent, there have been incidents of religious violence in Belgium. There has been an increase in anti-Semitic acts and threats in the last several years. There has also been increased reporting of hate speech and anti-Muslim graffiti, as well as acts of violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Personal Identify Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI+ events in Belgium. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Individuals with physical disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from conditions in the United States. Although Belgian law requires that any new building with public or community space must be accessible for persons with disabilities, many existing buildings and the public transportation systems are less adapted. Find general information on the accessibility of tourist accommodations, public transportation, museums, etc., on the Belgian Tourist Office's website. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Belgium is a known transit point for drug smuggling, and drugs are commonly available. The possession of drugs is illegal throughout Belgium, and unlike some cities in the Netherlands, the police will enforce anti-drug laws.  Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe; convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Be aware of the risk of being drugged at nightclubs. Review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Police Response

The emergency line requesting police assistance in Belgium is 101. Belgian police agencies are very good and responsive. Local police take all reports of crime seriously and do their best to investigate and resolve criminal cases. Report incidents to the police in the event of a crime. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Authorities may expel, arrest, or imprison those violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly. Belgian law requires that everyone carry official identification at all times, and display their ID request to any Belgian police official. U.S. nationals who are not residents will need to present their U.S. passport or valid driver’s license.

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements, and customary international law, a U.S. national arrested in Belgium has the right to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of the arrest and to have communications forwarded to the Embassy. Request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy in the event of an arrest or detention.

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

The Belgian "Commission for financial assistance to victims of intentional acts of violence" provides financial compensation, under specific circumstances, for victims of crime and for those who have suffered injuries and consequent loss caused by such incidents. The Commission also provides for dependents or immediate family members of homicide victims. For more information, contact the Commission at +3225427208, +3225427218, +3225427224, +3225427229, or +3225427244; or by e-mail at commission.victimes@just.fgov.be or commissie.slachtoffers@just.fgov.be.

Medical Emergencies

For medical emergencies, dial 112. High-quality medical facilities are widely available. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals may not necessarily have staff members fluent in English. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Do not assume insurance will carry over during travel. In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and/or hospital visits in other countries. If the policy does not have international coverage, it is a very good idea to take out another one for the trip. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?,Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Belgium.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Belgium Country Council is active, meeting twice per year. For more information on the times and locations of OSAC Country Council meetings, call +32 2 811-4776 (from the U.S., dial 011-32-2-811-4776), or contact OSAC’s Europe team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

25 Boulevard du Régent, B-1000 Brussels

Business hours: 0800 – 1000, Monday – Friday

Telephone: +32-2-811-4000; Fax: +32-2-811-4546; USCitizenBrussels@state.gov

Website: https://be.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Non-EU citizens staying in a private residence must register with local commune authorities within three days of arrival. Requests for any change in visa or resident status should be completed through commune authorities. Complete any such request prior to the expiration of the current status. Note that given the substantial requirements to change status, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.

Non-Belgian employees and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short-term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance. This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed individuals and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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