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Belgium 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Belgium; Europe > Belgium > Antwerp; Europe > Belgium > Brussels

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Belgium has been assessed as Level 2. Exercise increased caution due to terrorism.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Brussels does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

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

Please review OSAC’s Belgium-specific 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.

Belgium is a highly developed European country with a modern economy and excellent infrastructure.

Crime Threats

Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common for a country capital this size. Muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Thieves often loiter in transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations to take advantage of disoriented or distracted travelers.

In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are prevalent at the three major train stations: the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord); the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central); and especially the South Station (Zuidstation 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 while an accomplice steals your luggage. Small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations in Brussels. Thieves typically seek small, high-value items such as smart phones and MP3 players.

Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Police report an increase in smash-and-grab incidents over levels seen in previous years.

There has been an increase in home burglaries and residential property theft. If residing in Belgium, utilizing a home alarm system is extremely beneficial, especially if you travel frequently. Ensure that you lock your windows and doors while not at home, even if you are just going out for 10 minutes. While staying at hotels or small inns, utilize the in-room safe for your valuables, and if the room does not have one, take valuables with you or ask the front desk to lock the items in the hotel safe.

You should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and necessary personal identification. We advise U.S. citizens to avoid wearing expensive jewelry and watches. Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available.

Cybersecurity Issues

Scammers have victimized U.S. citizens in Belgium. A common scam involves an internet friend or partner who is reported to have been detained by immigration authorities in Belgium en route to the U.S. and will not be released unless funds are paid to the “traveler” for Belgian customs fees. In every case, these reports have been determined to be confidence schemes. Several U.S. citizens have lost thousands of dollars in such scams. Funds transferred in response to such offers can rarely be recovered. Information on fraud schemes can be found on the Department of State's International Financial Scams website. 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. U.S. citizens in the U.S. who have been victimized by Internet crime should report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. U.S. citizens in Belgium who have been victimized should contact the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels. Depending on the circumstances, the Regional Security Office can then direct you to the appropriate Belgian, U.S., or international law enforcement agency.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

You may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the U.S. Belgium's road network is generally well-built and maintained, but you will encounter 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 U.S.

Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving. 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 highways is 120 kilometers (72 mph) but is not always posted. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally between 50 km and 70 km (30-52 mph); however, in the Brussels city limits, many parts are only 30 km per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claiming ignorance may not prevent you from getting a significant fine for speeding, and your vehicle may be impounded if you cannot pay the fine on the spot. Belgium authorities have placed numerous fixed photo-speeding cameras around the city and utilize mobile photo-speed camera systems throughout the city and on highways. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

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.

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 within Belgium. For all other emergencies, dial 112.

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 are utilized to 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 cancellations of services for several days at a time.

Terrorism Threat

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

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Since the beginning of 2016, Belgium’s terror alert level was rated at Level 3 (probable attack) and remained so until March 22, 2016, when Brussels was suffered two terrorist attacks, one at the Zavemtem-Brussels International Airport and the second at the Maelbeek Metro Station. The terror level was raised to Level 4 (imminent attack) for the week following these attacks. For the remainder of 2016 and throughout 2017, the threat level remained at Level 3. The threat level was lowered to Level 2 in January 2018.

On June 20, 2017, soldiers shot and killed an attempted suicide bomber at Brussels Central train station after the attacker’s bomb failed to fully detonate. There were no additional casualties. On August 27, a man with a knife attacked and slightly injured two Belgian soldiers near Brussels’ Grand Place in the center of the capital. The attacker was shot and killed by military personnel. 

As with other countries in the Schengen area, Belgium maintains open borders with its neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives entering/exiting the country with anonymity. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain an aggressive and effective anti-terrorism program.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

In 2017, mainly in December, there was openly anti-American sentiment displayed by large groups and organizations. Pro-Palestinian supporters demonstrated on three different occasions against the U.S. foreign policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Additionally, during this time period, there were a number of incidents of social media postings that displayed anti-U.S. and anti-Trump statements.

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

Prior police approval is required for all public demonstrations, and police are present to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, spontaneous demonstrations do take place in response to world events or local developments. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; you should avoid them if at all possible. In general, larger public demonstrations are announced on the Demonstration Notices page within the U.S. Embassy Brussels website and reposted on OSAC’s Belgium-specific page.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

While not widespread and frequent, there have been incidents of religious violence. There have been anti-Semitic acts and threats since 2013. Additionally, there were increased reported incidents of hate speech and anti-Muslim graffiti due to the increase in Muslim migrants seeking asylum in Belgium. After the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, there were even more reports of anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents of harassments and assault. After the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, there were several incidents of anti-Muslim activity including an anti-Muslim demonstration in Molenbeek by a right-wing organization and a suspicious white-powder incident at a local mosque in downtown Brussels.

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure

Belgium has excellent internet services, which makes using social media very easy and convenient. While using public WIFI, protect passwords and be cognizant of people around you who may be “shoulder-surfing” or trying to obtain your personal information.  

Economic Concerns

While most monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards); U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account, and clearance can take two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities that are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100. ATMs are widespread, and accept most U.S. ATM cards for fund withdrawals. If you want to purchase Euros, you are likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports.

Personal Identity Concerns

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what is found in the U.S. Although Belgian law requires that any new building with public or community space has to be accessible for persons with disabilities, many existing buildings and the public transportation systems are less adapted. General information on the accessibility of tourist accommodations, public transportation, museums, etc. can be found on the Belgian Tourist Office's website.

Drug-related Crimes

While not a major crime problem, drugs are common and available. Possession of drugs remains illegal in all of Belgium, unlike some cities in the Netherlands, and the police will enforce anti-drug laws. One drug-related crime travelers should be aware of is there have been cases of people being drugged at nightclubs. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.”

Police Response

The Belgian police agencies are considered very good and responsive. All reports of crime are taken seriously, and local police do their best to investigate and resolve criminal cases.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

While you are traveling in Belgium, you are subject to all local laws. If you break local laws, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. Persons violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Belgian law requires that everyone carry official identification at all times. This ID must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. U.S. citizens who are not residents will need to present their U.S. passport or valid driver’s license.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Belgium, you have the right to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy. To ensure that the U.S. is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the U.S. Embassy as soon as you are arrested or detained.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The local emergency line is 101 for police assistance. For all other emergencies, please dial 112.

The U.S. Embassy can assist with the following:

  • Replace a stolen passport;

  • Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of a violent crime;

  • Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities and assist in contacting family members/friends; and

  • Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although the local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.

For local first responders, please 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 by phone 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

High-quality medical facilities are widely available. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals may not necessarily have staff members who are fluent in English.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Insurance Guidance

You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave: Does my policy apply when I am out of the U.S. and will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation? In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and/or hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not go with you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy, Consular Section

25 Boulevard du Régent

B-1000 Brussels

Call-In Hours for Consular Section: Mon-Tue-Thu: 1400 – 1600; Wed: 800-1200; Fri: 1100-1300.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: 011-32-2-811-4000 (available 24/7)

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

Embassy Guidance

Belgium is a party to the Schengen Agreement. This means that U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. Your passport should be valid for at least three (3) months beyond the period of stay. You need sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. For additional details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet. Visit the Embassy of Belgium website for the most current visa information. If you need additional information about entry requirements, including visas for employment or study in Belgium, you can contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel (202) 333-6900, fax (202) 338-4960 or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York. Detailed contact information can be found on the Embassy of Belgium website.

Non-EU citizens staying in a private residence must register with local Commune authorities within three days of arrival. You must request any change in visa or resident status through Commune authorities. You must complete any such request prior to the expiration of the current status. You should 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.

Since April 1, 2007, 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.

U.S. citizens traveling to Belgium should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Belgium Country Information Sheet