Belgium, like most other members of the European Union, will soon make the task more difficult for some people who want to visit the country who are not themselves European Union citizens. 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 rampant. These security concerns have led the European Commission to consider improving security by collecting more traveler data via a similar EU-wide ESTA visa waiver system for US visitors.
The new pre-trip authorization system, called ETIAS (European Travel and Information Authorization System), which will come into force in 2020, is expected to help foreign visitors before arriving in Europe and improve safety. This will not affect everyone and will certainly have no effect on the freedom of movement of all EU citizens at the moment. However, this could affect you if you have not needed a visa to visit Europe so far, if you are not an EU citizen.
Belgium is both in the EU and Schengen - what does this mean?
The EU and the Schengen bloc are almost but not quite the same. Almost all countries like Belgium that are in the Schengen area are also EU Member States, but some are not, such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. Britain is (right!) In the EU, but not in Schengen. Basically, Schengen was an agreement between its members to standardize border and immigration controls. If you have received a Schengen visa upon arrival at Brussels International Airport, for example, you will be allowed to visit one of the other Schengen countries in Europe. It is the countries of the Schengen area that will be most affected by the introduction of ETIAS.
Why visit Belgium?
Belgium is probably the best known outside of Europe as the seat of the European Parliament - the body that sets the rules for the functioning of the European Union. It can also be recognized as a country that produces and sells excellent chocolates and beer! In fact, Belgians are known to drink more of their beer than any other nationality, so Belgian beer must be good!
While many visitors to Belgium who are not on a business trip often use it to travel elsewhere in Europe, it may be worth staying a little longer and discover some of Belgium's famous cities. Brussels is the largest city in Belgium and like most others is full of historically significant architectural heritage sites.
Bruges is another very popular Belgian city with a UNESCO World Heritage city center, dating back to the 14th century golden age of the city.
Belgium is not just cities. It also has beaches in the north and seaside resorts as well as hilly and green countryside in the hilly Ardennes region to the south.
Will I need a Belgium ETIAS visa waiver?
Citizens of the European Union and the Schengen zone will not be affected by the rollout of the ETIAS Belgium visa waiver, but if you are North American, Australian or citizen of one of the other 50 countries that have benefited from visa-free entry in Europe so far, you may soon have to apply online before you arrive in Europe. Keep an eye on what is happening to ETIAS over the next few months if you plan to visit Europe. Your travel agent or we can explain how ETIAS could affect you, contact us .