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General Info about Belgium

Visa Requirements
All that US, Canadian, or Australian residents require to visit Belgium for a period of up to ninety days is a valid passport. In some cases it is also advisable to have proof of a return ticket. Citizens of EU member states must present either an identity card issued by their home country or a current passport. Nationals of all other countries or anyone intending to work or study in Belgium should contact the Belgian consulate in their home country.

Currency
The currency used in Belgium is the Euro which is made up of 100 Cent. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in circulation are €2, €1, 0.50c, 0.20c, 0.10c, 0.05c, 0.02c and 0.01c.

Language
The principal languages spoken in Belgium are Flemish, French and German but English is also widely spoken particularly in the bigger cities such as Brussels.

Climate
The Belgian climate is mild with cold, damp winters and warm summers and its capital is no exception. Rain is also a predominant feature of Belgium’s weather pattern. Winter in the city is a desolate affair with very short daylight hours and most people spend a great deal of their time indoors.

The best time to visit is probably after April and before October when the weather is much improved with temperatures reaching the high eighties during June and July. Unfortunately, these also happen to be the wettest months so come prepared with some waterproof gear or you’re in for a pretty miserable time.

Medical Care
Members of the European Union are eligible for free medical care, but they must get an E111 certificate from the local health authority prior to departure. Non-EU members should take out travel insurance to ensure they are covered for any medical assistance they may need while travelling.

It is advised that you take out travel insurance before going. You can now purchase travel insurance on Hostelbelgium.com. Click here for further details.

Time Zone
The time zone used in Belgium is Central European Time which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and six ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Opening Hours
Up until recently most businesses in Belgium closed for lunch, although this is still practiced in some of its smaller towns. For the most part, however, shops open at 9.30am or 10.00am and remain open until 5.30pm or 6.00pm in the evening. Some of the bigger shops stay open later one night every week, usually on Fridays.

Banks are generally open between 9.00am and 12.00pm and again from 2.00pm until 4.00pm from Monday to Friday. Some larger branches remain open during lunchtime and open on Saturday mornings to facilitate visitors to the city. It is worth noting that museums in the city do not open on Mondays and many are only open from April to September.

Tourist Offices
These can be found in all major Belgian cities and towns. Free maps and guides can be pickedc up in them. Only some of the smaller towns may not have tourist offices.

Tax
Value added tax in Belgium varies between 6% and 21% but non EU-nationals are entitled to a tax refund upon leaving the country. In order to qualify you must get your invoice stamped at customs and return it to the shop by mail. The other alternative is shopping in any of the number of stores which display a ‘Tax Free for Tourists’ sign.

Currency Exchange
The most convenient way to change money is to use ATM machines, if your bank and card offers this facility. Otherwise, banks are the best place to change foreign/traveller’s cheques.

Electricity
220v/50Hv.

Telephones
The international calling code for Belgium is 32. To dial from abroad you dial 00, followed by 32, the local area code and the local number.
If you wish to call abroad from Belgium, dial 00, followed by the international calling code for your particular country, the local area code and then the local number. It is worth noting that you also need to drop the first zero from the local area code for both types of call.

Public telephones in the city accept either coins or cards. These can be purchased in any of the post offices and in most newsagents. For international calls you should use Econophone cards which are much cheaper than the regular phonecards and these are available in various agents.

Post Office
Opening times for post offices are from 9am-12pm and again from 2pm-4pm Mon-Fri.

Tipping
The service charge and tax is always included in your hotel and restaurant bills in Belgium. This can also be quite high in places so unless the service was exceptional do not feel obliged to tip.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

In Belgium they take place on January 1st, Easter Monday, May 1st, Ascension Thursday, the first Monday in June, July 21st (national Belgium Day), August 15th, November 1st and 11th and December 25th.

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