Administrative matters: visas and permits
There are certain formalities you need to go through before leaving for Belgium. Depending on your country of nationality, some may not be necessary:
- You must have a valid passport or ID card issued by your country of nationality (for citizens of some countries, an identity card will suffice). Make sure that your passport is valid for the length of your stay or at least for a reasonable time after your arrival. This will save you any additional inconvenience.
- Some nationalities are required to have a visa to enter Belgium. You can get one from the Belgian embassy or the consulate responsible for your place of residence.
- In some cases, employees must also have a work permit in Belgium; self-employed persons need a professional card.
Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement. For EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) citizens, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Citizens of countries outside the EU, and other than those mentioned above, need a passport and should check whether they need a visa for Belgium before travelling to the country.
Always check if your passport is valid for the period of your travel, if not longer. Acquire any visas you need in advance. Obtaining a visa or renewing a passport can take time. It's always a good idea to carry a copy of documents with you, including traveller's checks and prescriptions, and leave a copy at home where they are accessible by a family member or friend. Keep the originals and copies separate. An extra set of passport-size photos can also be useful.
If you are planning to stay in Belgium for more than 90 days you should check with the consulate or at the FPS Foreign Affairs website whether you need a long-stay visa or not. You must apply for a long-stay visa at the appropriate consulate or embassy in your country of residence and must have the visa stamped in your passport before travelling. Visas cannot be obtained or changed once you’re in Belgium.
To apply for a long-stay visa, you’ll need a passport that’s valid for at least 12 months plus some or all of the following documents:
- a legalised birth certificate (i.e. with apostille) and translation for each member of your family;
- legalised (apostille) copies of marriage or divorce certificates with translations, as applicable;
- a medical certificate from an approved doctor (the consulate or embassy will give you a list);
- the completed application form(s);
- passport-type photos (one to six or more, depending on the circumstances);
- a work permit (if you’re planning to work) or evidence that your employer has applied for a work permit for you;
- evidence of eligibility to practise your trade in the country (if you’re self-employed, a journalist or in some other regulated profession) or a professional card, which serves as a work permit for some self-employed trades;
- a police report (sometimes called a ‘certificate of good conduct’);
- proof of financial resources (if you aren’t going to take up employment);
- proof of health insurance;
- if a student, evidence of admission from an approved educational establishment.
If you require a visa to enter the country do not attempt to do so without one, as you will be refused entry. Note that Belgium generally requires you to have a work permit or evidence that your employer has applied for one on your behalf before you can even apply for a long-stay visa or residence permit.
If you’re going to Belgium for employment and aren’t from the EU, your prospective employer must apply for a work permit first; once that has been issued, you can apply for your residence visa. The Belgian embassy advises that the visa process can take up to a year, so don’t buy your travel tickets until your visa has been approved. You may be required to present certain certified and translated documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.). For more information on the documents you need to apply for a long-stay visa, visit the FPS Foreign Affairs website.
EU and EEA nationals don't need to apply for residence permits in Belgium.
Non EU-nationals must register with their local commune within eight days of their arrival in Belgium, even if they’re living in temporary accommodation. Within two weeks of moving to a permanent residence, you must apply for a foreigner identity card and to be officially registered in the foreign population register.
To apply for your identity card, whether you’re an EU national or not, you and family members over the age of 12 must go to the town hall in person to register. Children under the age of 12 will be issued a ‘name card’, people over 12 will get an eID (electronic identity card).
To apply for an identity card, each applicant needs two or three passport-size photos, a medical certificate, plus a work permit and visa if you’re a non-EU national. The charge for the application varies from commune to commune, but is usually between €15 and €20. In some communes you may have to be fingerprinted.
Once you're registered, you will need to pick up and activate the eID at the town hall, or request for it to be activated and sent to your place of residence. Foreigner identity cards are renewable every year. You must apply for a new card within eight days of moving to a new home, even within the same commune.
All residents of Belgium over the age of 12 are required to carry their identity cards with them at all times. Eventhough random ID checks are no longer permitted under Belgian law, a police officer can ask to see your identity card if he has ‘reasonable cause to suspect you of having committed a crime. If you don't show your card, you can be held under ‘administrative arrest’ for up to 12 hours until your identity and your right to be in Belgium can be officially confirmed.
Children under the age of 12 must have their name cards with them (usually carried in a plastic envelope worn around their necks) at all time when not escorted by their parents. While you’re waiting for your identity card to be issued, it’s sensible to carry your passport with you at all times.