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Country Reports

Belgium Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Generally speaking, the majority of trips to Belgium (population 11.3 million) pass without incident. Despite a history of political troubles, this calm and prosperous Western European country offers its visitors a high standard of travel conditions. Some eight million foreign travelers visit this highly urbanized country annually.

TERRORISM

However, the threat from terrorism is currently high, particularly in the capital Brussels. On March 22, 2016, three explosions occurred in the Brussels area, leaving at least 30 people dead and 200 injured. Two explosions took place at Brussels-Zaventem International Airport (BRU), prompting authorities to completely shut down the airport for several days, while another took place in the Maelbeek metro station (near European Union [EU] institutions). Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack prompted the government to raise the terror alert for the entire country to the maximum level "four." The national threat level has since been reduced to "three."

These explosions came just a few days after Belgian authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, a member of the group that carried out the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris. Many of the Paris attackers were either Belgian nationals or had connections in Belgium (several hundred Belgian nationals are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join radical jihadist groups). The government temporarily raised the terror alert for the Brussels Capital Region to "four" overnight November 20-21 due to a "serious and imminent" threat of attack (the alert level in the rest of the country remained at three). Residents were asked to avoid public places, airports, train stations, and shopping centers and metro service was suspended in the city. On December 31, 2015, Brussels canceled its New Year's Eve celebrations due to the elevated terror threat.

A series of major police operations were carried out on November 20 and 23, 2015, leading to the arrest of at least 20 suspects in six communes in the Brussels region (Molenbeek, Anderlecht, Jette, Schaerbeek, Woluwé-Saint-Lambert, and Forest) and in Charleroi. Such operations now occur on a regular basis in the capital.

SOCIAL UNREST

Since Brussels hosts a number of EU institutions as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), large-scale demonstrations organized by a variety of groups periodically take place. Strikes and protests organized by domestic groups are also common.

While the majority of demonstrations in Belgium are peaceful, clashes have been known to break out. Related transportation and traffic disruptions are not rare, particularly in Brussels.

POLITICS

Politics in Belgium are often tense due to tensions between the French and Flemish-speaking communities. The next legislative elections are set to be held in 2019.

TRANSPORTATION

The quality of public transportation is generally high. However, transportation strikes are relatively common in Belgium and can occur with little notice.

CRIME

Travelers should be aware that an increase in petty crime has been observed in urban areas.

HEALTH

Medical infrastructure is of the highest quality throughout the country.

OTHER

Belgium has been a member of the EU since 1958 and is a part of the 26-country visa-free travel Schengen Zone.

Climate

Belgium has a temperate oceanic climate and rain is common throughout the year. Summers (June to September) are mild and winters are cool, even cold.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +32 Police: 101 Ambulance: 100 Fire Dept.: 112

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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