Safety and security
In January 2018 the Belgian authorities decided to reduce the threat level from Level 3 to Level 2. A Level 2 threat represents an "unlikely" threat. This drop in level implies that the threat has decreased and an attack has become less likely. However, a level 2 does not mean that the threat no longer exists. The move may mean a reduction in the number of army personnel patrolling the streets. Safety measures at large events like concerts may also be reduced. Further information can be found on the Belgian Crisis Centre website and Twitter feed.
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 metro, buses and trams.
There has been a noticeable increase recently in the theft of passports at the following locations:
- Busses and trains serving Brussels Zaventem Airport
- Brussels Gare du Nord/Noordstation
- Gare Centrale/Centraalstation
- Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, which is the Eurostar terminal and the terminus for buses from Charleroi airport
- Areas with a large density of tourists, such as Grand Place in Brussels
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.
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 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
Low Emissions Zones
Drivers in Belgium should be aware of the introduction of a number of low emissions zones prohibiting certain types of vehicles from specific urban areas.
The ban applies to Belgian and foreign registered vehicles.
Drivers should note that rules vary in the different regions of Belgium.
From January 1 2018, all 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region and certain approach roads became part of a low emissions zone.
The initial introductory phase sees a ban on all diesel cars made before 1997. The range of vehicles affected by the ban will expand in the coming years to include, among others, pre-2001 petrol vehicles from 2019.
During the first 9 months of 2018 warnings will be issued to offenders. Thereafter, fines of €350 will be issued.
Full details of the types of vehicles encompassed by the ban, vehicles that will require prior registration later in 2018 and plans for expansion can be found on the Brussels LEZ website.
Antwerp became the first area in Belgium to introduce a low emissions zone in February 2017. Irish vehicles with 4 wheels require vehicle registration and payment of a small tariff.
Mechelen will become a low emissions zone in Summer 2018 and Ghent will follow in January 2020.
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.
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).
Tue, 31 Jul 2018 14:03:31 BST