If you live and work in Belgium, you will be entitled to subsidised Belgian healthcare. Find out how to access healthcare in Belgium and claim your reimbursements.
If you’re living and working in Belgium, you will typically be covered by state Belgian healthcare if you carry out the compulsory registrations. The Belgian healthcare system is one of the best in Europe but you need to have state or private health insurance to access it and claim Belgian healthcare refunds.
Expat health insurer Bupa Global explains how to access healthcare in Belgium and register with a Belgian health insurance fund, plus information on visiting Belgian doctors, medical specialists, dentists, Belgian hospitals and Belgian pharmacies. You can also find details on what to do in a medical emergency in Belgium.
This guide covers all aspects of the healthcare system in Belgium:
- The Belgian healthcare system
- Health insurance in Belgium
- Doctors, dentists and medical specialists in Belgium
- Hospitals in Belgium
- Pharmacies in Belgium
- Pregnancy and birth
- In an emergency in Belgium
Bupa Global is one of the world’s largest international health insurers. They offer direct access to over 1.3m medical providers worldwide, and provide direct settlements, so no up-front healthcare payment for the client is required. They provide access to leading specialists without the need to see a family doctor first, and ensure the same level of cover, whether at home or away.
The Belgium healthcare system is divided into state and private sectors, with fees payable in both, funded by a combination of Belgian social security contributions and health insurance funds. With mandatory health insurance, patients are free to choose their own medical professionals and places of treatment. Patients generally pay costs upfront and are reimbursed a proportion of the charges for medical and dental fees, hospital care and treatment, maternity costs and prescriptions through their Belgian health insurance fund (mutuelle in French, or ziekenfonds in Dutch). Some alternative treatments are also reimbursable if carried out by a qualified doctor. Many people top up their cover with private insurance to get a full refund of all medical costs.
Doctors work in public and/or private settings. Dentists are almost all private. Hospitals and clinics are private and usually managed by universities, religious organisations or mutuelle/ziekenfonds.
Belgian healthcare updates 2016–2017
Tax reforms to be implemented from 2016 to 2019 aim to reduce the burden of employee tax by shifting it elsewhere. As part of this ‘tax shift’, changes to Belgian healthcare are planned. So far, since 2016, cosmetic surgery procedures now attract VAT at a rate of 21 percent, although reconstructive surgery resulting from an accident remains exempt from VAT. Although this move has been criticised by doctors’ unions, the Belgian state estimates it could generate some EUR 80m annually for the government.
As part of the social security enrolment process, all employees and self-employed must register and start making contributions to a health insurance fund in Belgium (mutuelle/ziekenfonds). Healthcare social contributions are 7.35 percent of your gross salary (3.55 percent deducted at source; 3.8 percent paid by your employer). Self-employed people pay the full 7.35 percent through social security payments. You and any dependents are covered. You can compare Belgian health insurance quotes to pick the provider of your choice.
European Health Insurance Card in Belgium
If you hold an EHIC in Belgium (European Health Insurance Card) you can use this until you take up permanent residence and/or employment; then you have to register with a mutuelle / ziekenfonds like everyone else.
Social security card
You will receive a social security card (known as Carte SIS, now eID) to take to the health insurance company of your choice. Healthcare charges are then partially or refunded by your health insurance fund.
The amount of reimbursement varies according to the treatment and your personal circumstances but, for example, most people can claim up to 75 percent of the cost for a normal doctor’s consultation or minor treatment. For hospital stays, you must personally pay a fixed amount for accommodation, while medical fees are paid directly by your insurer. You can take out supplementary or private insurance to cover amounts not refunded. Check the details of your cover with your own mutuelle/ziekenfonds; for example if you’re self-employed you will only be insured for major health problems and may want to take out extra cover.
It’s important to note, however, that you may not qualify for reimbursements for the first six months after joining a mutuelle/ziekenfonds, unless you are able to prove you have paid sufficient social security contributions in your home country.
Stats about healthcare in Belgium
Belgium was ranked fourth on the Euro Health Consumer Index in 2016, putting it ahead of countries such as Denmark, Germany and Finland. The Belgium healthcare system was noted for having among the best accessibility and fastest access to healthcare services than anywhere in Europe, although not quite top-ranking for the best treatment results.
Belgium’s recorded healthcare expenditure places it within the EU’s medium range of EUR 3,500–4,000 per inhabitant (in line with Finland, France, Austria and Germany), representing around 10.4 percent of annual GDP, one of the few countries to spend more than 10 percent on healthcare (including countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Germany).
The average life expectancy is estimated at 78.8 years, while Belgium has an average of 6.2 hospital beds per 1000 people, more than in Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Most doctors in Belgium work within the state Belgian health insurance scheme (conventionné/geconventioneerd), while some combine this with private work or work entirely in the private sector. You can choose your own general practitioner in Belgium, although if they work in both the state and private sectors make sure it’s clear which service you want.
Patients usually pay the doctor upfront and then get a refund later from their insurer. You can also see a medical specialist without a doctor’s referral but it will be cheaper if you do so through your GP/family doctor. Find out how to choose a doctor in Belgium, arrange refunds and organise referrals onto a medical specialist in Expatica’s guide to doctors and medical specialists in Belgium.
Belgian dental care is included under the Belgian healthcare system, where patients can claim partial reimbursements on certain dental treatments and children . To maintain your coverage, however, it is mandatory to have at least once annual check up. Read more about visiting dentists in Belgium.
In Belgium there are public and private hospitals (hôpitaux/ziekenhuisen), university hospitals and polyclinics. Some specialists are full time, while others also work in private practices. As with general practitioners, you can arrange to see a specialist of your choice at any Belgian hospital but check if they are covered by your insurer to ensure you can claim a refund.
You can also walk into ‘emergency outpatients’ for immediate treatment; though as in other countries, do not use this as a GP replacement. You may be charged a non-refundable small fee if you use emergency services without a referral. You should remember to take your European Health Insurance Card in Belgium, eID or an identifiable means of payment with you, though emergency treatment will not be refused if you don’t.
For inpatient stays, most hospitals will charge a daily fee, which is dependent on your circumstances (unemployed pay less, for example), and the length of your stay (drastically reduces after the first day). You may also need to take things you need, such as a towel and soap. You have to pay a fee for daily hospital care in Belgium, although your health insurer should cover the costs of medical treatment you receive while in hospital.
When you’re admitted to hospital you will have to pay a guarantee and show your SIS card or eID. Fees vary. If you choose a shared room you pay a set fee for the room and treatment that will be almost completely reimbursed. If you choose a single room then you pay extra for the room and the doctor may also set his or her own fee for treatment. Ask in advance for a breakdown of extra charges.
For more information and a list of the main Belgian hospitals, see Expatica’s guide to hospitals in Belgium. In Brussels, the main public hospitals are organised under the Iris association (www.iris-hopitaux.be), or find your local hospital at the Belgian Hospital Association’s website www.hospitals.be.
In Belgium, a pharmacy is called a pharmacie or apotheek and you’ll recognise them by the green neon cross outside. They are usually open from Monday to Friday, often on Saturday mornings and on a rotating emergency service on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and out-of-hours. You can find your nearest 24-hour pharmacy by entering your postcode here or call 0903 99 000 (EUR 1.50/min) for the chemist on-duty.
Non-prescription medicines are not refunded but those prescribed by a medical professional are. You have to pay for prescription medicines when you collect them from the pharmacy, minus the set percentage payable by the insurer. Some medications are reimbursed fully while others only up to 20 percent. For information about Belgian medicines, see the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP).
To confirm a pregnancy in Belgium, see your general practitioner in the first instance. To find out more about pregnancy and birth in Belgium, including maternity benefits, see Expatica’s guide to having a baby in Belgium. Support is also offered by the antenatal care authorities in the language communities, listed below.
In the Flemish community, antenatal care is carried out by doctors in Belgium alongside gynaecologists and obstetricians in private practices. Kind en Gezin, the Flemish children and family welfare agency, offers free advice and support to pregnant women and families with children under three years old.
In the French community antenatal care is mainly carried out by gynaecologists and obstetricians working in both public or private practices; your GP will be able to advise on your choice. See the French agency Office de la Naissance de l’Enfance (ONE) for detailed advice and information. During your pregnancy you may be allocated a Medical Social Worker (travailleur médico-social or TMS) who will help prepare you for the birth in Belgium and breastfeeding and can advise on maternity benefits.
Contact the Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT) for information and advice about healthcare during pregnancy and antenatal classes throughout Belgium.
Costs during pregnancy, the birth and post-natal care immediately afterwards, are covered by compulsory Belgian health insurance.
In Belgium, terminations are legal up to 12 weeks after conception and can be carried out at family planning centres and hospitals. See La Fédération Laïque de Centres de Planning Familial (FLCPF) for family planning centres in Brussels and Wallonia, or Luna for Flemish family planning centres.
Call the pan-European emergency number 112 (or 114 hearing assisted), free of charge from any phone, for any life-threatening situation. When you call they will need to know the type of emergency, address (municipality, street, house number, locality, etc.) and the number of people in danger.
An ambulance will take you to the nearest hospital but you will typically have to pay for this service, unless you have special or private health insurance that covers this.
Other emergency numbers:
- Medical service – 100
- Emergency doctor – 1307
- On-call pharmacy – 0900 10 500 / 070 66 0160 (fees apply)
Find a full list of emergency numbers in Belgium.
- I need an ambulance – J’ai besoin d’une ambulance (French); Ik heb een ziekenwagen nodig (Dutch).
- I need a doctor – Il me faut un médécin (Fr); Ik heb een doctor nodig (D).
- Heart attack – crise cardiaque (Fr); Hartaanval (D).
- Stroke – Un accident vasculaire cérébral (Fr); Beroerte (D).
- Accident – Accident (Fr); Ongeluk (D).
- Emergency – Urgence (Fr); Spoedgeval (D).
Belgian healthcare contacts
- Belgian Hospital Association (L’Association belge des Hôpitaux / Belgische Vereniging der Ziekenhuizen).
- Belgian Social Security Office (La sécurité sociale belge / De Belgische sociale zekerheid).
- Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT).
- Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP).
- Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment (Le service public fédéral (SPF) Santé publique, Sécurité de la Chaîne alimentaire et EnvironnementDe Federale overheidsdienst (FOD) / Volksgezondheid, Veiligheid van de Voedselketen en Leefmilieu).
- La Fédération Laïque de Centres de Planning Familial (FLCPF) – family planning centres in Brussels and Wallonia.
- Kind en Gezin – the Flemish children and family welfare agency.
- Luna – Flemish family planning centres.
- Office de la Naissance de l’Enfance (ONE) – information for the French community on pregnancy, birth and beyond.
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Click to the top of our guide to the Belgian healthcare system.