Visas for Belgium

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Visas for Belgium

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs check but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).

Airports in Europe are thus divided into "Schengen" and "non-Schengen" sections, which effectively act like "domestic" and "international" sections elsewhere. If you are flying from outside Europe into one Schengen country and continuing to another, you will clear Immigration, but not Customs, at the first country and then continue to your destination where your baggage will have customs checks but there will be no further immigration controls. Travel between a Schengen member and a non-Schengen country will result in the normal border checks. Note that regardless of whether you are travelling within the Schengen area or not, many airlines will still insist on seeing your ID card or passport.

Nationals of EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) countries only need a valid national identity card or passport for entry - in no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length.

Nationals of non-EU/EFTA countries will generally need a passport for entry to a Schengen country and most will need a visa.

Only the nationals of the following non-EU/EFTA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro*, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.

These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work - see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries.

If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt, unless you are Andorran, Monégasque or San Marinese), make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you cannot obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.

Note that:

  • while British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area,
  • British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general do require visas.

However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.

Further note that:

(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,

(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa and

(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.

Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in Belgium without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.

Getting to Belgium

By Plane

Brussels Airport (also known as Zaventem due to the town in which it is mainly located) is Belgium's main airport (IATA code BRU). It is not located in Brussels proper, but in surrounding Flanders. The airport is the base of the national airline Brussels Airlines. Other full-service airlines use BRU, as well as budget carriers such as Vueling, JetairFly and Thomas Cook.

There is a train (€ 5.10) running every 15 minutes to Brussels centre taking 25 minutes, some of them continuing to Ghent, Mons, Nivelles, and West Flanders and bus lines number 12 and 21 (€ 3 at the vending machine/€ 5 on board) every 20 to 30 minutes to Place Luxembourg (European Parliament district). The bus stops at NATO and Schuman (for the EU institutions) on its way to the centre. There are also two trains per hour to Leuven, taking 13 minutes. A taxi to the centre of Brussels costs around € 35 - cheaper if booked in advance. Taxis bleus: +32 (0)2 268 0000, Taxis Autolux: +32 (0)2 411 4142, Taxis verts: +32 (0)2 349 4949.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA code CRL) - about 50km south of Brussels, mostly serves low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair and Wizzair. You can get to Brussels Gare du Midi on a coach in about an hour (€13 one way, €22 return). If you're going to any other part of Belgium, buy a combination bus+train ticket via Charleroi Sud train station from the TEC vending machines outside the airport for at most €19.40 one-way.

However, if you are really stuck, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to take credit cards. The price of a taxi ride to Brussels is a set fare (approximately €95 as of May 2006) and you can check with the taxi driver if he will accept your credit card(s) or not.

Antwerp Airport (IATA code ANR) - has some business flights, including CityJet's reasonably priced link to London City airport. Other airports include Oostende, Liège and Kortrijk, but they only handle freight and charter flights.

Flights to airports in neighbouring countries might be worth considering, especially to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport which has a direct rail link to Brussels, also making stops at Antwerp and Mechelen.

By Train

There are direct trains between Brussels and:

  • Amsterdam, Luxembourg (normal trains, running every hour)
  • Paris, Köln/Cologne, Aachen, Amsterdam (Thalys)
  • Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris-CDG airport and many other French cities (TGV Bruxelles-France).
  • London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Lille and Calais (Eurostar). Tip: If going to another Belgian city opt for the "any Belgium Station" ticket (£5.50 one-way in 2nd class), and your local transport is included in your Eurostar ticket. Depending on the distance this may work out cheaper than getting a separate ticket. Note: Passengers travelling from the UK to Belgium go through French passport/identity card checks (done on behalf of the Belgians) in the UK before boarding, rather than on arrival in Belgium. Passengers travelling from Lille/Calais to Brussels are within the Schengen Area.
  • Frankfurt, Köln/Cologne (ICE)
  • Zürich, Switzerland, via Luxembourg (normal trains, 2 daily)

They connect with domestic trains at Brussels' Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, and with all Eurostar or ICE and some Thalys tickets, you can finish your journey for free on domestic trains. For all high-speed trains, you need to book in advance for cheap fares, either online or using a travel agency. There are no regularly scheduled sleeper trains anymore.

You might want to check the TGV connections to Lille too. The trains from the rest of France to Lille are more frequent and usually cheaper. There is a direct train connection from Lille Flandres to Ghent and Antwerp. If your TGV arrives in Lille Europe, it will take a 15 min walk to the Lille Flandres railway station.

Plan your trip with the Deutsche Bahn timetable. It has all domestic and international connections across Europe.

By Car

Major European highways like the E-19, E-17, E-40, E-411 E-314 and E-313 pass through Belgium.

Carpooling

The cheapest way to get to Belgium (3€/100km) from anywhere in Europe if you are a little flexible and lucky is usually taxistop.

By Bus

You can get to Belgium from all over Europe on Eurolines coaches. International busses have stopovers in Antwerpen, Brussels north-station, Leuven & Liege.

Due to the Bosnian war in the 1990'ies there are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours runs three times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Hercegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, Off-season approx. (132€) for a return ticket.

By Boat

There is an overnight ferry to / from Zeebrugge from Hull in England, but it is not cheap. There's also a vehicle-only daytime service from Oostende to Ramsgate in England.

From France:

  • There are domestic Belgian trains that terminate in Lille (station Lille-Flanders).
  • Between the De Panne terminus of the Belgian railways (and the Coast tram – Kusttram) and the French coastal city of Dunkerque, there is a bus line run by DK'BUS Marine: It may, however, be operating only in certain time of the year. It is also possible to take a DK'BUS bus which goes to the closest possible distance of the border and then cross it on foot by walking on the beach and arriving at a convenient station of the Coast tram, such as Esplanade.

From Germany:

  • You can take a bus between the train stations of Eupen (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany) which is quite fast and less expensive than doing the same trip on an international train ticket.

From the Netherlands:

  • For a list of border-crossing buses between Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • In order to avoid paying for an international train ticket on the route between Amsterdam and Antwerp, you can get off in one of the border stations of Essen (Belgium) and Roosendaal (the Netherlands) and walk to the other on foot. You can follow the main road between the two places and will need to walk some 10 kilometers in a flat and open, though particularly uninhabited terrain.
  • Apart from being a peculiar result of ancient European history, the town of Baarle (formally Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is a possible change point, since the town's main bus stop Sint-Janstraat is operated by both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
  • The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a border-crossing bus between Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are termini in the respective country's railway network.
  • There's a bus (line 45) operated by the Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn going between the train stations of Genk (Belgium) and Maastricht (the Netherlands). There is another bus (line 20A) departing from Hasselt, going to Maastricht. A train connection is non-existing in this place, but it is being built at the moment.

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