Living in Belgium? Find out how to get the right healthcare for you and your family with our guide to going to the doctor in Belgium.
Knowing how to get the right healthcare when moving to a new country can be challenging. This can be especially stressful if you don’t know the language and have young children or any underlying health conditions.
To help you, our guide to going to the doctor in Belgium has all the information you need. Discover how to register with a doctor, find out about costs, prescriptions, and what to expect at a consultation.
In this guide, we offer advice on the following:
- Doctors in Belgium
- Who can access doctors in Belgium?
- Finding a doctor in Belgium
- Registering with a doctor in Belgium
- Making an appointment with doctors in Belgium
- What to expect when visiting a doctor in Belgium
- Medical specialists in Belgium
- Cost of doctors in Belgium
- Health insurance in Belgium
- Doctor prescriptions in Belgium
- Emergency doctors in Belgium
- Making a complaint about doctors in Belgium
- Useful Belgian medical phrases
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Doctors in Belgium
Belgium has one of the most highly-rated healthcare systems in Europe. In the 2019 Health Care Index, it ranked in ninth place out of 89 countries based on the overall quality of healthcare.
Doctors in Belgium must train for at least seven years to become a general practitioner or 12 years to become a specialist.
There are around 300 doctors per 100,000 inhabitants in Belgium, and the country has become an increasingly popular location for foreign doctors and trainees. One report claimed the number of non-Belgian doctors in Brussels increased by more than 50% between 2014 and 2019.
Doctors in Belgium are available in both the public and private healthcare sectors, with some operating from private practices or being attached to specific clinics or hospitals. OECD data shows that 99% of residents can access treatment through the public healthcare system, but many pay for additional health insurance.
When you visit the doctor in Belgium, you’ll generally need to pay an up-front fee, which will then be reimbursed in full or in part through your state or private health insurance policy.
Medical surgeries generally open all day on weekdays from around 8 am to 5.30 or 6 pm. It’s also possible to visit an out-of-hours doctor in the evening or at the weekend if required.
Who can access doctors in Belgium?
Expats moving to Belgium need to register as a resident and make social security contributions in Belgium before they can join a state health insurance scheme and access healthcare.
Once you’re registered and have obtained your national residency card, you can take out a basic health insurance policy with a Belgian insurer, which will also cover any dependents you have.
Basic health insurance policies allow expats to claim partial reimbursements of their medical costs. To claim back the full 100% of your costs, you’ll need to sign up for a supplementary private insurance policy.
Finding a doctor in Belgium
Once you’re registered with the Belgian healthcare system, you are free to choose your own general practitioner or family doctor (médecin/huisarts), or even see different Belgian doctors at the same time.
For contact details of local medical professionals and general information, you can contact the 24-hour Community Help Service helpline on +32 (0)2 648 4014 (available in English, French, Flemish, German and Spanish).
Generally speaking, there is a better choice of general practitioners in Brussels than in smaller towns. It’s also typically easier to find specialists in major cities.
Finding English-speaking doctors in Belgium
English-speaking doctors in Brussels aren’t hard to find. Many Belgian doctors understand English, as medical training often involves English-language textbooks or periods of study in English-speaking countries.
Doctoranytime provides an online tool that lists general practitioners and specialists by the languages they speak, making it easier for expatriates to find doctors in Brussels speaking a number of foreign languages.
The US Embassy also keeps a list of English-speaking doctors in Brussels and around Belgium.
Registering with a doctor in Belgium
You can register or consult with the medic of your choice, so long as they are registered with one of Belgium’s state insurance companies.
Your insurance will sometimes cover an initial appointment for you to assess whether you feel comfortable with your chosen Belgian doctor. If you have a private insurance policy, the cost is usually reimbursed.
You can nominate a main doctor in Belgium to hold a central record of all your medical records (the GMD, or Dossier Médical Global/Het Globaal Medisch Dossier, available in French and Dutch).
In exchange for the GMD registration fee (which is reimbursed), you are entitled to claim higher reimbursements for certain treatments.
Making an appointment with doctors in Belgium
Many general practitioners in Belgium work with appointment systems, though walk-in consultations (on a first-come-first-served basis) can also be available. Doctors in Belgium will make house calls if you are too sick to visit the clinic.
If you require an out-of-hours doctor in Belgium, your surgery should provide the name and number of the on-call doctor on its answerphone.
If you need a house call, your surgery may require you to call first thing in the morning to secure a position on the schedule for that day.
What to expect when visiting a doctor in Belgium
Doctors’ surgeries are generally set up for consultations and general examinations. Surgeries can be cold, so if you need to undress for your examination, remember to dress accordingly.
Take your Belgian identity card with you to your consultation, as the doctor may use this to check whether you qualify for reimbursement of your medical expenses.
Belgian doctors often work alone without secretarial staff, so they may answer the phone to arrange appointments during your consultation. This can be frustrating, but you’ll get used to it.
Doctors in Belgium have a reputation for taking time to discuss treatment and answer questions from patients, so don’t be concerned about being rushed in and out.
If the doctor decides you need medication or specialist treatment or testing, they’ll write a prescription or referral letter.
Medical specialists in Belgium
Under the Belgian national health care system, you can make an appointment directly with a specialist without requiring a referral from your family doctor.
That said, your GP is often the best person to advise you on choosing a specialist. Your reimbursements may also be different if you go straight to a specialist without seeing your GP first.
While waiting times to see a GP can be reasonable, you may need to wait a lot longer to get an appointment with a specialist.
Cost of doctors in Belgium
Most Belgian doctors work within the health insurance scheme (conventionné/geconventioneerd), which means they offer standardized prices for consultations and treatments. These doctors are known as ‘fund doctors’ and prices should be on display in the surgery.
In 2020, the consultation for a GP is set at €22.22 for an unaccredited doctor and €26.80 for one who is accredited. The cost of a home visit is €39.63. This marks a 1.95% increase on 2019’s prices.
Doctors in the private sector may charge more, or expect you to pay a larger percentage of the costs yourself.
Payment and refunds for GPs in Belgium
When you see your GP, you’ll need to pay for the consultation upfront and then claim a partial refund from your insurer afterward.
Many doctors only accept payments in cash, though some clinics and pharmacies will take credit cards. When you pay, you will be given a receipt, which you will need to complete to claim reimbursement.
Your receipt will state that you visited a medical provider registered with the INAMI (National Institute for Health Insurance). It should include the amount paid for the appointment and the type of service delivered.
Health insurance in Belgium
There are many health insurers in Belgium. Some of the largest companies providing coverage to expats for treatment in Belgium include:
Doctor prescriptions in Belgium
If your doctor writes you a prescription, you’ll need to take it to a pharmacy (pharmacie or apotheek) to get your medicine. Pharmacies are easily identified by a large green cross sign, which is often illuminated.
You have to pay when you collect your medicine from the pharmacy, minus the set percentage payable by the insurer, which is deducted at the point of payment.
Some medications are reimbursed fully while others only up to 20%. If you purchase medicines without a prescription you’ll need to pay full price.
Most pharmacists speak at least some English and will be able to explain how often to take the medicine, how long for and any side effects you’ll need to be aware of.
Emergency doctors in Belgium
If you need an urgent out-of-hours consultation you can find these either by calling your surgery (the answerphone message should give you a number to call) or by attending a private clinic. Private clinics are more commonly available in major cities.
Emergency phone numbers in Belgium
Call the pan-European emergency number 112 (or 114 hearing assisted), free of charge from any phone, for any life-threatening situation.
An ambulance will take you to the nearest hospital but you will have to pay for this service.
- Medical service – 100
- Emergency doctor – 1307
- On-call pharmacy – 09 001 0500 / 07 066 0160 (fees apply).
Making a complaint about doctors in Belgium
If you wish to make a complaint about a doctor or specialist in Belgium, you can submit this to the ombudsman.
Who you’ll need to complain to depends on the nature of the complaint and where you’re based in Belgium. You can find full details on the Belgian Health Service website.
Useful Belgian medical phrases
- I need an ambulance – J’ai besoin d’une ambulance / Ik heb een ziekenwagen nodig.
- I need a doctor – Il me faut un médécin / Ik heb een doctor nodig.
- Heart attack – crise cardiaque / Hartaanval.
- Stroke – Un accident vasculaire cérébral / Beroerte.
- Accident – Accident / Ongeluk.
- Emergency – Urgence / Spoedgeval.