Belgium, like most other members of the European Union, is soon to make it more complicated for some people who wish to visit the country who are not European Union citizens themselves. Belgium has suffered from recent terrorist attacks and, like other European countries, has experienced a wave of refugees fleeing from outside Europe where war or discrimination is rife. Such security concerns have lead the European Commission to consider improving security by gathering more data on travelers via a European visa waiver system similiar to the ESTA used for U.S. visitors.
The new pre-travel authorisation system, called ETIAS (which stands for European Travel and Information Authorisation System) which will come into force by 2024 is expected to help vet foreign visitors before they actually arrive in Europe and improve security. It won’t affect everyone, and certainly won’t have any effect on the freedom of movement that all E.U. citizens have at present. However, it could affect you if you haven’t had any need of a visa to visit Europe up to now, if you are not an E.U. citizen.
Belgium is both in the E.U. and Schengen – What does this mean?
The E.U. and the Schengen block are almost but not quite the same thing. Nearly all the countries like Belgium that are in the Schengen zone are also E.U. member states, but a few aren’t, like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The Schengen Agreement was an agreement between its members to standardise border and immigration controls. If you have been given a Schengen visa when you arrive at Brussels international airport, for instance, you will be allowed to visit any of the other Schengen countries in Europe. It is the Schengen zone countries that will be most affected by the introduction of ETIAS.
Why visit Belgium?
Belgium is probably best known outside Europe as the seat of the European Parliament – the body that makes rules about how the European Union works. It may also be recognised as a country that produces and sells excellent chocolates and beer.
While many visitors to Belgium who are not on a business trip often use it to get to somewhere else in Europe, it may be worthwhile staying a little longer and experiencing some of Belgium’s famous cities. Brussels is the largest Belgian city and like most of the others is full of architectural and historically significant heritage sites.
Bruges is another very popular Belgian city with a UNESCO World Heritage listed city centre, dating back to the city’s 14th century Golden Age.
Belgium is not just cities. It also has beaches in the North and seaside resorts as well as rolling, verdant countryside in the hilly Ardennes region in the South.
Will I need a Belgium ETIAS visa waiver?
European Union and Schengen zone citizens will not be affected by the roll out of the Belgium ETIAS visa waiver, but if you are a North American, Australian or a citizen of any of the other 60 countries that have enjoyed a visa free entry to Europe up to now, you will be required to make an online application for ETIAS in 2024 before you arrive to Europe. The cost of the ETIAS will be € 7 and be valid for a period of 3 years from the date of approval.