Tourism / Transport
Tourism in Belgium is one of Belgium's industries. Its accessibility from elsewhere in Europe makes it a popular tourist destination. The tourist industry generates 2.8% of Belgium's gross domestic product and employs 3.3% of the working population (142,000 people). 6.7 million people travelled to Belgium in 2005. Two-thirds of them come from the larger nearby countries - France, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany, there are also many tourists from France, Spain and Italy.
Like many national institutions in Belgium, the national tourist agencies are split along regional lines with two tourist agencies. They are the Belgian Tourist Office Brussels & Wallonia for the regions of Wallonia and Brussels Capital-Region, and Toerisme Vlaanderen covering Flanders, although it covers Brussels as well.
In 1993, 2% of the total workforce was employed in tourism, less than in many neighbouring countries. Much of the tourism industry is located either on the heavily developed coastline or in the Ardennes. Brussels and the Flemish cities of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Mechelen, the Flemish Cities of Art, attract many cultural tourists. Much tourism in Brussels is business tourism.
Belgium ranked 21st on the World Economic Forum's 2007 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, lower than all the neighbouring countries. Although the country scored highly for 'natural and cultural resources', it was ranked only 114th in the world for both 'price competitiveness' and 'availability of qualified labor'. In recent years the number of international tourists has stayed relatively stable, but the income they generate has increased to 9.863 billion US Dollars in 2005.
The territory of Belgium is divided into three Regions, two of which, the Flemish Region and Walloon Region, are in turn subdivided into provinces; the third Region, the Brussels Capital Region, is neither a province nor a part of a province.
The Belgians enjoy good health. According to 2012 estimates, the average life expectancy is 79.65 years. Since 1960, life expectancy has, in line with the European average, grown by two months per year. Death in Belgium is mainly due to heart and vascular disorders, neoplasms, disorders of the respiratory system and unnatural causes of death (accidents, suicide). Non-natural causes of death and cancer are the most common causes of death for females up to age 24 and males up to age 44.
Healthcare in Belgium is financed through both social security contributions and taxation. Health insurance is compulsory. Health care is delivered by a mixed public and private system of independent medical practitioners and public, university and semi-private hospitals. Health care service are payable by the patient and reimbursed later by health insurance institutions, but for ineligible categories (of patients and services) so-called 3rd party payment systems exist. The Belgian health care system is supervised and financed by the federal government, the Flemish and Walloon Regional governments; and the German Community also has (indirect) oversight and responsibilities.
Transport in Belgium is facilitated with well-developed road, air, rail and water networks. The rail network has 2,950 km (1,830 mi) of electrified tracks. There are 118,414 km (73,579 mi) of roads, among which there are 1,747 km (1,086 mi) of motorways, 13,892 km (8,632 mi) of main roads and 102,775 km (63,861 mi) of other paved roads.There is also a well-developed urban rail network in Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi. The ports of Antwerp and Bruges-Zeebrugge are two of the biggest seaports in Europe. Brussels Airport is Belgium's biggest airport.
Rail transport in Belgium was historically managed by the National Railway Company of Belgium, known as SNCB in French and NMBS in Dutch. In 2005, the public company was split into 2 companies: Infrabel, which manages the rail network and SNCB/NMBS itself, which manages the freight and passenger services. Both companies are held by a third company, named SNCB/NMBS Holding. There is a total of 3,536 kilometres (2,197 mi), (2,563 km (1,593 mi) double track (as of 1998)), of which 2,950 km (1,833 mi) are electrified, mainly at 3,000 volts DC but with 351 km (218 mi) at 25 kV 50 Hz AC (2004) and all on standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in). In 2004 the National Railway Company of Belgium, carried 178.4 million passengers a total of 8,676 million passenger-kilometres. Due to the high population density, operations are relatively profitable, so tickets are cheap and the frequency of services is high. The SNCB/NMBS is continually updating its rolling stock.
The network currently includes four high speed lines, three operating up to 300 km/h (186 mph), and one up to 260 km/h (162 mph). HSL 1 runs from just south of Brussels to the French border, where it continues to Lille, and from there to Paris or London. HSL 2 runs from Leuven to Liège. HSL 3 continues this route from Liège to the German border near Aachen. HSL 4 runs from Antwerp to Rotterdam by meeting HSL-Zuid at the border with Netherlands.
Electrification is at 3 kV DC, with the exception of the new high-speed lines, and of two recently electrified lines in the south of the country which are at 25 kV AC. Trains, contrary to tram and road traffic, run on the left.
Metros and Light Rail
In Belgium an extensive system of tram-like local railways called vicinal or buurtspoor lines crossed the country in the first half of the 20th century, and had a greater route length than the main-line railway system. The only survivors of the vicinal/buurtspoor system are the Kusttram (covering almost the entire coast from France to the Netherlands, being the longest tram line in the world) and some sections of the Charleroi Pre-metro. Urban tram networks exist in Antwerp (the Antwerp Pre-metro), Ghent and Brussels (the Brussels trams), and are gradually being extended. The only rapid transit system in Belgium is the Brussels Metro. Some heavy metro infrastructures were built in Brussels, Antwerp and the Charleroi area, but these are currently used by light rail vehicles, and their conversion to full metro is not envisaged at present due to lack of funds.
Regional transport in Belgium is operated by regional companies: De Lijn in Flanders operates the Kusttram and the Antwerp pre-metro as well as a bus network, TEC in Wallonia operates the Charleroi pre-metro as well as a bus network and MIVB/STIB in the Brussels Capital-Region operates the Brussels metro as well as the Brussels tram and bus network. Despite this regional organization, some bus and tram routes operated by STIB/MIVB go beyond the regional border, and some bus routes operated by TEC or De Lijn transport passengers from the Flemish or Walloon regions to the capital city.
The road network in Belgium is managed by regional authorities, meaning that a road section in Flanders is managed by the Flemish Government, a road section in Brussels by the Brussels government and a road section in Wallonia by the Walloon Government. This explains that road signs in Flanders are written in Dutch, even when referring to a Walloon region, and conversely, which can be confusing for foreigners who do not know the different translations of Flemish or Walloon cities in the other language. The road network in Belgium is made of highways, national (or regional) roads (the secondary network) and communal roads (or streets). Communal roads are managed at the municipal level. There are also a number of orbital roads in Belgium around major cities.
- total: 152,256 km (2006)
- country comparison to the world: 35
- paved: 119,079 km (including 1,763 km of expressways)
- unpaved: 33,177 km
Belgian road numbering evolved during the middle decades of the twentieth century, in a relatively inconsistent way. Road number allocations became less systematic during the surge in road building that took place in the 1960s and 70s. Frequently downgraded and deteriorating older national roads retained two digit numbers while newer major roads were identified with less instantly memorable three digit numbers, if only because the shorter numbers were already taken. 1985 saw a comprehensive renumbering of the "N" (National) roads which now followed the scheme described below.
The Belgian waterway network has 2,043 km, 1,532 km of which in regular commercial use. The main waterways are the Albert Canal connecting Antwerp to Liège, the Ghent–Terneuzen Canal through the port of Ghent connecting Ghent with the Westerschelde, the Boudewijn Canal through the port of Bruges-Zeebrugge connecting Bruges with the North Sea, the Brussels-Charleroi Canal, Brussels-Scheldt Maritime Canal and Scheldt connecting Charleroi to Antwerp, the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal and Scheldt connecting the Borinage to Antwerp, the connection between the North Sea and Antwerp and the connection between Dunkerque and Liège via the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal, the Canal du Centre, the lower Sambre and the Meuse. Waterways are managed on a regional level in Belgium. The region of Brussels only managed 14 km of waterways from the Anderlecht lock to the Vilvoorde bridge. In Flanders, the management of waterways is outsourced to 4 companies: NV De Scheepvaart, Département Mobiliteit en Openbare Werken, Agentschap voor Maritieme Dienstverlening en Kust and Waterwegen en Zeekanaal NV.
According to the 2009 CIA World Factbook, there are a total of 43 airports in Belgium, 27 of which have paved runways. Airplane passengers in Belgium can use 5 airports, the largest of which being the Brussels Airport. The other airports are the Ostend-Bruges International Airport, the Brussels-South Charleroi Airport, the Liège Airport and the Antwerp International Airport. Other airports are military airports or small civil airports with no scheduled flights. Well-known military airports include the Melsbroek Air Base and the Beauvechain Air Base. Belgium has also 1 heliport.
The Belgian national airline used to be Sabena from 1923 to 2001, until it went into bankruptcy. A new Belgian airline named SN Brussels Airlines was subsequently founded by business man Étienne Davignon. The company was then renamed as Brussels Airlines in 2006. In 2009, Brussels Airlines was taken over by German airline Lufthansa.
Depending on the purpose of your travel to Belgium, there are different types of visas that will apply to the occasion. Whether you are planning to go on a visit, study or work and reside there permanently, you will have to apply for a different Belgium Schengen Visa, accordingly.
General required documents for a Belgian Schengen Visa Application:
Firstly, download the application form, fill it completely and with sincerity.
You can also fill the Schengen Visa application form electronically and then print a hard-copy. 2 photos must be attached; the photo should be of passport format – a recent whole-face capture with a light background.
Learn more about photo requirements and specifications for a Belgian Visa.
Your passport and copies of your previous visas – valid for at least 3 months beyond return date – are required.
Your passport must have at least two blank pages
. Travel health insurance confirmation of minimum 30,000 € coverage within Belgium and the entire Schengen area.
A cover letter stating the purpose of visit to Belgium and itinerary Flight Itinerary with dates and flight numbers specifying entry and exit from Belgium Hotel Booking for the whole duration of the intended stay in Belgium.
Proof of civil status (marriage certificate, birth certificate of children, death certificate of spouse, ration card if applicable) Means of subsistence – Proof of sufficient financial means for the period of stay
UK residents, please read: How to Apply for a Belgium Visa in the UK?