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We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution.
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Irish citizens planning travel to Brussels are advised to remain vigilant and exercise a high degree of caution.
Multiple explosions occurred in Brussels on 22 March 2016 and there remains a heightened security presence on the streets. We strongly advise citizens to be vigilant, especially in crowded areas. This means being aware of your surroundings and immediately reporting anything suspicious to the police (112). Keep yourself fully informed of what's going on around by monitoring local news and social media and follow the instructions of the local authorities.
On 24 March the Belgian authorities announced that the threat level was reduced down from the maximum level four (serious and imminent threat) to three (a serious and real threat). Further information can be found on the Belgian Crisis Centre website and Twitter feed.
The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, try talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.
You can contact the emergency services in Belgium by dialling 112.
Please note that if you are an Irish citizen and require urgent assistance while the Embassy is closed, contact the main Embassy number, + 32 499 58 53 28, and leave a message on the Duty Officer voice mailbox. This mailbox will be monitored regularly.
Our tips for Safe Travels:
- Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities.
- Get a European Health Insurance Card
- Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
- Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly if there’s an unforeseen crisis like a natural disaster or a family emergency.
- Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates.
- Read our ‘Know Before You Go’ guide.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Belgian authorities are advising that "Level 3 terrorist alert is still maintained for the whole country with increased vigilance especially in places with a high concentration of people".
Crime remains relatively low in Belgium but you should take sensible precautions:
- Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place
- Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home
- Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don’t use ATMs after dark, especially if you are alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business
- Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafes, train and bus stations
- Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible
As with any country, crimes such as mugging, bag-snatching and pickpocketing are not uncommon in Belgian cities and towns. You should be extra vigilant in Brussels at major railway stations, on the underground, buses and trams (generally running from 05.00 to 01.00), particularly around the Schuman area (the EU quarter) and the Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, which is the Eurostar terminal and the terminus for buses from Charleroi airport.
If you’re a victim of a crime while in Belgium, report it to the local police immediately. You can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Brussels if you need help.
If you’re planning to drive in Belgium, you should take normal safety precautions. Belgian roads are generally in good condition and are lit at night, including the motorway network.
If you want to drive:
- Bring your full Irish driving license and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught
- Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights
Traffic is fast and Belgium’s accident rate is high mainly due to speeding. Speed traps, cameras and unmarked police vehicles operate throughout the country.
Fines for driving offences have increased dramatically (e.g. up to €2,750 for exceeding the speed limit by 40 km/h) and visitors to Belgium have to pay on the spot. Vehicles may be impounded if they are unable to pay.
You should also be aware of the ‘priority to the right’ rule: drivers must stop for traffic joining from the right, except on motorways, roundabouts, and roads signposted with an orange diamond within a white background. Trams have priority over other traffic. If a tram or bus stops in the middle of the road to allow passengers off or on, you must stop.
Pedestrians should be aware that ‘the green man’ signal does not mean that cars will automatically stop. Also, many of the zebra crossings are not accompanied by light systems. The custom is that the motorist should stop to allow any pedestrian cross at the zebra crossing as and when they choose to use the zebra crossing. Be careful in all cases and at all times as some motorists will be more vigilant than others.
If you’re hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.
Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).
Local laws and customs
Local laws and customs
Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or even illegal.
Illegal drug use (no matter what the drug) carries stiff penalties, including fines and long prison terms.
If you need medical attention when you’re in the country, you can call the Community Help Service on 02 648 40 14 who can put you contact with an English-speaking doctor.
We can’t pay for emergency medical repatriation, repatriation of remains, or for expenses as a result of a personal emergency while you are abroad. If you buy an appropriate travel insurance policy, these costs will be covered, provided you haven’t broken the terms and conditions.
Buying comprehensive travel insurance can save you and your family a lot of money if something goes wrong. It will also ensure that you get the medical attention you need, when you need it. Hospital bills can quickly run into thousands of euro, and a medical evacuation back to Ireland can cost thousands more.
Not all policies are the same, and the cheapest one might be cheap for a reason. Make sure your policy covers all the activities you plan to do on your trip. Insurance Ireland recommend that you purchase a policy that provides a minimum medical cover of €1 million.
Your policy should cover:
- All medical care abroad, including evacuation by air ambulance, or other emergency procedures, and any other costs associated with an unexpected longer stay.
- Your entire trip, from departure to return. Consider an annual multi-trip policy if you’re making more than one trip in the year.
- 24-hour emergency service and assistance.
- Personal liability cover (in case you’re sued for causing injury or damaging property).
- Lost and stolen possessions.
- Cancellation and curtailment.
- Any extra activities you intend to do that are excluded from standard policies (e.g. water sport activities such as jet skiing or other extreme sports).
Exclusions: You should know most insurance policies will not cover drink or drug-related incidents.
European Health Insurance Card
As an Irish resident you are entitled to get healthcare through the public system in countries of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland if you become ill or injured while on a temporary stay there. Ensure that you get or renew your EHIC (the new name for the E111) before you go, and remember, you need one for every person travelling in your group.
The EHIC is not a substitute for proper travel insurance provided by a reputable insurer. It doesn’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. Also, some private hospitals may not accept the EHIC, so you should check with the hospital administrator beforehand.
A H1N1 Virus (Human Swine Flu)
For information, please consult the following web-site that gives information on the Swine Flu www.influenza.be
Frequently Asked Questions on Passports and Visas
Q. I think I've lost my passport. What should I do?
- Check again! Have a friend check your bag, pockets, drawers, safes, and suitcases. Search the clothes you were wearing the last time you used your passport. Once your passport is reported lost, it can't be used again even if you find it.
- Call the embassy – if you're certain the passport is gone, contact the Embassy on 0032 22 82 34 00. A staff member will tell you what you need to do to get a replacement document. You should also file a report with the nearest police station. A police report will be needed for a replacement travel document and also to make a claim on your travel insurance.
- Once you have filed a police report, you must come to the Embassy in person. Two passport photos, a police report, proof of travel and identification are needed in order for us to issue your new document. There will also be a fee for the document.
Q. Can you email or deliver a new travel document to me?
Q. I always carry my passport on nights out as proof of my age. Is that ok?
- Carrying a photo ID is mandatory in Belgium at all times. Your passport is an important document and should always be kept safe. Don't carry it with you unless absolutely necessary – why not apply for the PassportCard for travel within Europe - it's only €15 and fits in a purse or wallet so it's less likely to get lost.
- Other ID such as the Garda Age Card is available for just €10 at www.agecard.ie
Q. I've been travelling a lot in recent years and my passport is a bit worn looking. Is that ok?
- Normal wear or fading of the lettering on the cover should not be a problem. However if there is any damage or signs of tampering such as missing pages, or cracks on the photo page, this may cause problems at Belgian airports.
- If you are encountering problems because of a damaged passport, you should replace your passport online, or at the Passport Office in Dublin or Cork before leaving Ireland.
Entry and exit
- Irish citizens do not need a visa to enter Belgium. A valid passport is all that is required.
- Non-EU nationals resident living in Ireland may require a re-entry visa, even if you have a GNIB card. Make sure to check this before leaving Ireland.
Any other tips?
- Leave a copy of your passport in your hotel or email yourself a copy in case you lose it.
- Plan ahead and check your passport expiry date before you book your holidays. Check your children's passports too as they expire more quickly than adult ones. You can sign up for a passport renewal reminder at https://www.eforms.gov.ie/en/reminder/passport/