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Belgium 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Europe > Belgium; Europe > Belgium > Brussels

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 ACS Unit 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 BELGIUM AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Belgium-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

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 throughout Belgium. 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. RSO advise you to pay particularly close attention to your personal belongings when in Metro and train stations. Thieves watch for people who put their luggage down and are inattentive. It is a good idea to hold onto your hand luggage 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. Police report an increase in smash-and-grab incidents over levels seen in previous years. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at traffic 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 before you have time to react. Park in secure areas or parking garages.

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. 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.

Cybersecurity Issues

Scammers have victimized U.S. citizens in Belgium. A common scam involves an Internet friend/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. Transferred funds can rarely be recovered. Information on fraud schemes can be found on the Department of State's International Financial Scams website. 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 RSO at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels (Tel 011-32-2-811-4057). Depending on the circumstances, the RSO may direct you to the appropriate Belgian, U.S., or international law enforcement agency.

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

Transportation-Safety Situation

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, 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 70 km and 50 km (52-30 mph); however, in Brussels city limits, many parts are 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. Authorities have placed numerous fixed photo-speeding cameras around the city and utilize mobile photo-speed camera systems throughout the city and on highways.

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 percent blood alcohol content.

Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, Tel: 02 286-3040. For police emergencies, dial 101 within Belgium. All Belgian emergency services can also be reached by dialing Tel: 112. This number provides multi-lingual assistance. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. 

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. Labor strikes or unrest can cause delays or cancellations of services for several days at a time.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Belgian airports are excellent and provide departure points to all over Europe. Airline travel to and from Belgium is considered safe and reliable.

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

In the days following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, Belgian authorities raised their terror alert level to Level 3 (probable attack) and to Level 4 (imminent attack) for the Brussels Capitol Region. This was the second time it has been raised to Level 4 since World War II. As part of the ongoing investigation into the Paris terror attacks, it was revealed that several of the terrorists originated from Belgium and potentially conducted planning in Brussels.

Belgium remained at Level 3 until March 22, 2016, when Brussels suffered two terrorist attacks: at the Zavemtem-Brussels International Airport (BRU) and at the Maelbeek Metro Station. The terror level was raised to Level 4 for the week following these attacks. For the remained of 2016, the threat level stayed at Level 3. With the increase of terrorist attacks throughout Europe in 2016, there is no expectation that the threat level will be lowered in the near future.  

As with other countries in the Schengen area, Belgium maintains open borders with its neighbors, allowing the possibility to terrorist operatives to enter/exit 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

There were only a small number of incidents of social media postings that displayed anti-Western statements. After the November 2016 U.S. Presidential election, there were several, very small demonstrations against the new administration that occurred in proximity to the Embassy.

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. In general, larger public demonstrations are announced on the Safety & Security Messages page on the U.S. Embassy website.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

While not widespread or frequent, there have been incidents of religious violence:

  • There have been anti-Semitic acts and threats since 2013.
  • 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 terrorist attacks in Paris, there were even more reports of anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents of harassments and assault. After the March 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

Personal Identity Concerns

Individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find 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

Though there is not a major crime problem, drugs are common and available. Drugging at nightclubs does occur. Possession of drugs remains illegal, and police will enforce anti-drug laws. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Police Response

While you are traveling, you are subject to all local laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own, and criminal penalties will vary from country to country. 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. Belgian law requires that everyone carry official identification. This ID must be displayed upon request to any 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, 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. If you are a U.S. citizen with an afterhours emergency, you can reach U.S. Embassy Brussels at (+32)(0)2-811-4000.

Crime Victim Assistance

The 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.

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line is 101 for emergencies requiring 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/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.

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 +32 2 542-7208, +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

The Embassy's Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors.

Insurance Guidance

You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out before you leave. 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. 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 the Department of State’s 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 Brussels Country Council currently meets four times a year and has approximately 50 members. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions or to join. 

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: 2.00 p.m.-4.00 p.m.;
Wed: 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 p.m.;
Fri: 11.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Telephone: 011-32-2-811-4000 (available 24/7)
Fax: 011-32-2-811-4546
Email: UScitizensbrussels@state.gov
Website: http://belgium.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 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.

If you are going to live in or visit Belgium, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. By registering with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements, and help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Belgium Country Information Sheet