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Belgium Country Information
It may be a little country, but it is a lovely one, so it is sad that Belgium is often overlooked when travellers plan a trip to Europe. Tucked between the desirable and obvious destinations of London, Paris and Amsterdam, Belgium is usually treated as a stepping stone to the English Channel, or, at most, a quick stop-over for a look-see in the capital, Brussels.

Beyond the city of Brussels with its historic Gothic buildings and tall European Union office blocks, is a treasure-trove of undiscovered lazy seaside towns, and the inland wooded gorges of the splendid Ardennes, sprinkled with medieval castles and steeped in folklore. The medieval city of Bruges has character and charm galore with a rich architectural heritage, graceful canals, winding waterways and cobbled streets, and is a favourite with visitors. Belgium is a country that has inspired many artists and writers with the charm of its Gothic cathedrals, town halls, gabled guildhouses and rich museums.

Basic Information:
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs with receptacle and male grounding pin can be used.

Language: The Flemish, in the north, speak Dutch (60% of the population); the Walloons in the south speak French (40%). Brussels is bilingual, the majority of citizens speaking French. In the east there is a small German-speaking community. English is also spoken.

Travel Health: Reports have been confirmed of human cases of Swine Flu in Belgium. No vaccinations are required for travel to Belgium. Medical facilities and care in Belgium is excellent but expensive so travellers are advised to take out medical insurance. UK citizens receive emergency medical care for a reduced cost, but should have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to qualify.

Tipping: Service charges are included in bills and tipping is not necessary, unless for exceptional service. Porters, coatroom and bathroom attendants are generally tipped.

Safety Information: Most visits to Belgium are trouble-free, but travellers should be wary of street crime in the cities, such as mugging and pickpocketing, particularly in Brussels at major railway stations and on public transport. Brussels is home to a number of international organisations, including EU and NATO, which could become the target of indiscriminate terrorist attacks.

Local Customs: Belgium law requires everyone to carry some form of official identification at all times.

Communications: The international access code for Belgium is +32. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City codes are required for all calls within Belgium; the area code for Brussels is (0)2. Mobile phones operate on GSM networks. Public phones take coins or phone cards. Internet cafes are widely available.

Duty Free: Travellers to Belgium arriving from non-EU countries are allowed to enter the country with the following items without incurring customs duty: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits over 22% in alcohol or 2 litres of dessert wine 22% in alcohol and sparkling wine, and 2 litres wine; 50g perfume and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods such as souvenirs to the value of €175. Prohibited items include unpreserved meat products.

Climate in Belgium
Brussels has a maritime temperate climate, characterised by warm summers and mild winters. The city has a high average annual rainfall, and visitors can expect a downpour any time of year. Temperatures range from highs of around 80°F (27°C) in summer to 45°F (7°C) during the middle of winter. Snow is possible, but not frequent, in winter.

The climate of Brussels is categorised as maritime temperate, with typically warm summer weather and mild winters. Summer days average 80°F (27°C) and in mid-winter temperatures are around 45°F (7°C). Those who travel to Brussels are advised to pack an umbrella: the city is very wet, and rain is common all through the year.

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Belgium Visa and Entry information

  • Entry requirements for Americans: US nationals must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of stay. A visa is not required for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK nationals must possess a valid passport. A visa is not required for stays of up to three months for passports stating European Union on the front cover, British Overseas Territories Citizen, British National (Overseas), British Citizen or British Subject, with the right of abode in the UK. Other passport holders require a visa.
  • Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of stay. A visa is not required for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for Australians: Australian nationals must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of stay. A visa is not required for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for South Africans: South African nationals require a passport valid for at least three months beyond intended period of stay. A Schengen visa is required and should be obtained before travel.
  • Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least three months beyond intended period of stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport. No visa is required.

Passport/Visa Note: The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. Nationals of non-EU countries are recommended to hold return or onward tickets, sufficient funds and documents for their next destination.

Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.

Belgium Attractions

  • Grand Place (Central Square) - The Grand Place is the heart of Brussels and has been since the Middle Ages. One of Europe's more beautiful squares, it lies in the centre of a confusion of small cobbled streets, and is surrounded by richly decorated 17th century Baroque Guildhouses, various Neo-Gothic buildings and museums.
  • Mannekin-Pis - The distinctive statue has been described as the Eiffel Tower of Brussels and tourists throng the streets in search of the tiny urinating urchin. The bronze Mannekin is thought to represent the 'irreverent spirit' of Brussels, but there are numerous tales about its beginnings.
  • Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate - The Chocolate Museum is a fitting tribute to both the history of the cocoa bean and the Belgian's famed love of chocolate. The first chocolatier in the city appeared in the 1600s and today Belgians eat an average of 9kg a year! Visit on Tuesday to Friday between 10am and 3pm and you'll to see the master chocolatier at work and get to taste his handiwork.

Special Events in Belgium

  • Belgian F1 Grand Prix - The Spa-Francorchamps track often makes for one of the most exciting races of the season as it has a reputation for rain on race-day. The track is two hours away from Brussels.
  • Europalia Festival - The first Europalia (from the Roman 'Opalia', meaning 'rich harvest') was conceived in Brussels in 1969, and the festival has been held every two years ever since to showcase the visual and performing arts of different designated guest countries each year.
  • Brussels Beach - Not just a beach, but a real seaside resort in the heart of Brussels on the edge of the canal, Brussels Beach, or Bruxelles Les Bains, offers half a mile (1km) of fine sand, coconut palms and waterfalls, and plenty of sport, relaxation and cultural activities.

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Airports in Belgium

Brussels International Airport (BRU)

  • Location: The airport is located eight miles (13km) northeast of the city centre.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from March to October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +32 (0)2 753 7753.
  • Getting to the city: The train station is located on the lower level (1st Floor). There is a train shuttle service from the airport to the North, South and Central stations of Brussels. The shuttle runs every 15-20 minutes and the journey takes approximately 20 minutes. It operates between 5.30am and 12.20am from the airport and costs €2.60. A bus station is below the Arrivals hall. The #12 bus on weekdays before 8pm and the #21 at all other times takes passengers to the European Quarter of the city and costs €3. There are also buses that serve Brussels Airport to Antwerp;. An airport bus link also operates between the Brussels railway lines and the airport (Tel. +32 70 22 02 00). There are licensed metered taxis available outside the Arrivals hall; the 30-minute journey to Brussels costs around €35 (Tel: +32 2 752 98 00).
  • Car rental: Major car hire companies are represented at the airport, including Avis, Budget and Hertz; their desks are in the Arrivals hall.
  • Airport Taxis: From Brussels International Airport metered taxis available outside the arrivals hall. The drive takes 30-minute journey to Brussels city centre and costs around US$44. Licensed Taxis are recommended and can be recognized by a blue and yellow sign.
  • Facilities: Airport facilities include ATMs and bureau de change, a post office, duty-free shops, cafes/restaurants, a beauty shop, a Communications Centre with Internet access, religious services, train information and reservation, travel agency, and luggage lockers. There is also a mobile phone rental office and Wireless LAN hotspot service.
  • Parking: Both long- and short-term parking are available 24 hours. NV Interparking SA operates parking facilities for more than 9,000 vehicles next to the terminal. Car Hotel provides long-term parking facilities close to the E19, and a free shuttle service to the passenger terminal every 10 minutes.
  • Departure tax: None.

Antwerpen International Airport (ANR)

  • Location: The airport is located one mile (2km) east of Antwerp.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from March to October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +32 (0)3 285 6500.
  • Getting to the city: Bus 14 leaves for Antwerp Central Station regularly. Taxis are available outside arrivals.
  • Car rental: Avis and Hertz operate from the airport.
  • Facilities: Airport facilities include a bank, restaurant, duty-free and a business centre.
  • Departure tax: None.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL)

  • Location: Brussels South Charleroi Airport is 28.5 miles (46km) from the city.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from March to October).
  • Contacts: +32 71 251 211
  • Getting to the city: There is access to Brussels from Charleroi Brussels South airport by car, train or shuttle coach. The highway network connects the airport to northern France and the Netherlands.
  • Car rental: Rental companies include Avis, Europcar and Hertz.
  • Airport Taxis: Taxis are always available outside the passenger terminal and may offer a fixed price to certain destinations. The pick-up charge is €2.40 during the day and €4.20 at night. After this, it is between €1.20 and €2.40 per kilometre. The city is about a half hour drive from the airport.
  • Facilities: There is a tourist help desk in the arrivals terminal. Other facilities include shops, bars and restaurants, first aid and baby/parent rooms, travel agent and Internet stands, a VIP lounge and a well equipped business centre. There is a bank, a bureaux de change and several ATMs. Facilities for the disabled are also good.
  • Parking: Long-term and short-term parking are available at the airport.
  • Departure tax: €3.49

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Driving Information

Drinking and driving:
Maximum permitted level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.049 per cent. If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is between 0.05 and 0.08 per cent you will be banned from driving for three hours an issued an on the spot fine . If you refuse to pay the fine the public prosecutor will prosecute and impose a fine up to €2,750, 0.08 per cent or more an on the spot fine of up to € 550 and a ban from driving for at least six hours; if prosecution (more than 0.15 per cent) fine up to €11,000 and a licence suspension up to five years.

Driving licence:
Minimum age at which a UK driving licence holder may drive temporarily imported car and / or motorcycle 18.

On-the-spot. The officer collecting the fine must issue an official receipt showing the amount of the fine. Motorists can refuse to pay an on-the-spot fine; a foreign motorist refusing to do so may be invited to make a consignation (deposit) and if he does not his vehicle will be impounded, by the police and permanently confiscated if the deposit is not paid within 96 hours. Fines can be paid for in cash euros or debit / credit card.

Unleaded petrol (95 and 98 octane), diesel and LPG available. No leaded petrol (anti-wear additive available). Petrol in a can is permitted, but forbidden aboard ferries and Eurotunnel. Credit cards are accepted at filling stations; check with your card issuer for usage in Belgium before travel.

Driving Distances:
Antwerp to Brussels - 55kms (45 minutes)

Please click here http://www.viamichelin.com/ for more driving distances

Dipped headlights should be used in poor daytime visibility.

Use of dipped headlights during the day compulsory. The wearing of crash helmets is compulsory for both driver and passenger.

Motor Insurance:
Third-party compulsory. The police can impound an un-insured vehicle.

Passengers / Children in cars:
Children under 18 and less than 1.35m must use a suitable child-restraint system whether seated in the front or rear seat of a vehicle. Exception: When two child restraint systems are being used on the rear seats and there isn’t adequate room to place a third child restraint system, then the third child may travel on the back seat protected by the adult seat belt. A child under three can not be transported in a vehicle without a child seat/restraint. It is prohibited to use a rear facing child seat on a front seat with a frontal airbag unless it is

Seat belts:
Compulsory for front / rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted.

Speed limits:
Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles with or without trailers. In built-up areas up to 31 mph (50 km/h), outside built-up areas 55 mph (90 km/h) and on motorways and dual carriageways
separated by a central reservation 74 mph (120 km/h). The minimum speed on motorways 43 mph (70km/h).
A limit of 30 km/h may be indicated at the entrance to a built up area. Vehicles with spiked tyres must not exceed 60 km/h on normal roads and 90 km/h on motorways / dual carriageways.

Compulsory equipment:

  • Reflective jacket - Drivers stranded on a Belgian motorway or on a major road (usually four-lane roads, called 'route pour automobiles' - sign E17), stopping on places where parking is not allowed, must wear a reflective safety jacket as soon as they leave their vehicle. Fine for non-compliance €50 is applicable, but the amount can be much higher from (€55 - €1,375) if the driver refuses to pay or in a circumstance where the driver has to go to court (for example in the event of an accident). The jacket is compulsory for vehicles registered in Belgium. Whilst a foreign registered vehicle will not be fined for not carrying a reflective jacket if there is a police check, he/she could be fined for not wearing a jacket in case the vehicle breaks down.Warning triangle - Compulsory for vehicles with more than two wheels.

Other rules / requirements:
First-aid kit and fire extinguisher recommended as their carriage is compulsory for Belgian-registered vehicles.

Traffic on a roundabout must give way to traffic coming from the right, unless indicated otherwise by road signs.

A new road sign has been introduced banning the use of cruise control on congested motorways and can also appear during motorway roadworks.

A white disc bordered in red, bearing the word 'Peage' in black indicates that drivers must stop. The Dutch word 'Tol' sometimes replaces 'Peage'.

Any vehicle standing must have its engine switched off, unless absolutely necessary.

A car navigation system with maps indicating the location of fixed speed cameras is permitted but equipment which actively searches for speed cameras or interferes with police equipment is prohibited.

The police can impound a vehicle with an unsafe load.

Spiked tyres are permitted from the 1 November until the 31 March. Snow chains are only permitted on snow or ice covered roads. Winter tyres are permitted from the 1st October until the 30th April, a lower speed limit needs to be adhered to and the maximum design speed for the tyres displayed on a sticker on the dashboard.

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