Finding an eye doctor in Belgium is not something expats usually think about. If they have good vision, they’ll never visit an ophthalmologist.
But if you suddenly find yourself needing an eye doctor, you’re in good hands — vision care in Belgium is high-quality, just like the rest of the Belgian healthcare system. International insurance provider Globality Health offers an overview of eye care in Belgium, including finding the right specialist and whether your insurance covers it.
Globality Health is an international health insurance provider with expertise in providing exceptional cover for expats. More than 3,000 experts are on hand around the world to offer individual advice, solutions and services.
When to visit an eye doctor in Belgium
Most people start their search for an eye specialist only when they have vision problems. Even if you have no issues, experts recommend getting your eyes checked every three to four years, especially after 40; children should have their first eye test before the age of five. A family physician or an optician can refer a patient to an eye doctor if they feel further specialized care is necessary.
Ophthalmologists vs. optometrists in Belgium
Ophthalmologists (oogarts or oftalmoloog /ophtalmologue) in Belgium are medical doctors who specialize in the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eyeball and its orbit. Ophthalmologists are most commonly seen for serious eye issues, and your family physician will refer you to one in case of a medical problem.
Optometrists, on the other hand, do not have a medical degree; instead, they have followed a four-year course in optometry. Optometrists are trained in treating various eye conditions such as myopia, farsightedness and astigmatism. They offer vision therapy and can prescribe several visual aids including glasses and contacts. They do not perform surgeries, unlike ophthalmologists. In Belgium, some, but not all, opticians are trained as optometrists and can thus perform vision tests and prescribe contacts and glasses on site.
Optometrists will send you to the ophthalmologist if they cannot correct a problem with visual aids alone. Optometry isn’t recognized in Belgium as it is in other countries, which means that neither your insurance nor RIZIV (National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance) will reimburse you for your visit.
Where to find an ophthalmologist in Belgium
There are several ways to finding an ophthalmologist in Belgium. Your family physician, or GP, can refer you to the right eye specialist. Alternatively, if you see an optician/optometrist to test your eyesight and they decide that you need more comprehensive testing, they can refer you to an eye specialist. Sometimes, your friends or family can recommend someone they were happy with.
Another method is to search online: sites such as belgoptic.be or allow you to enter your postcode to help you find the ophthalmologist or optometrist closest to you. Certain websites for Belgian health insurance providers also offer the ability for users to search for eye doctors; many of them, however, are only available in Dutch or French.
Is ophthalmology/optometry covered by Belgian health insurance?
A visit to the ophthalmologist is covered by all Belgian health insurance providers. Make sure your doctor has signed a contract with your insurance company – this means that he has a rate set by the health insurance – since the rate would be higher if they didn’t. You can find a list of these eye specialists on your health insurance company’s website. Make sure to look for geconventioneerde oogartsen, which identifies the doctors who have signed the agreements.
Since optometry is not a recognized profession in Belgium, you will not be reimbursed for your visit. It is one reason most people choose to go to the ophthalmologist in the first place.
Your health insurance may partially reimburse you for your glasses and/or lenses. It depends on several factors, including age, severity of the condition and the kind of lenses. Usually, the more expensive the lenses, the more you get reimbursed.
If your primary care physician refers you to a specialist, the health insurance company will refund a larger amount. You do need to have a Global Medical Record (globaal medisch dossier), an electronic file of all your medical data which your physician can easily open for you. A Global Medical Record is easily shared with all your practitioners and contains all kinds of information, among them your vaccinations, use of medicines, allergies and so on.
RIZIV also covers treatments or procedures in certain cases. Your local optician will usually inform you which treatments are covered.
With each health insurance provider, you have the option to purchase additional insurance, which can provide extra coverage for eyeglasses.
Children’s eye care in Belgium
Children up to 18 years old always get reimbursed for lenses. The amount covered by insurance depends on the strength and the kind of lenses as well as how much time has passed since your child got their previous glasses. Some insurances also cover the frames.
Where to get glasses and contact lenses in Belgium
You can buy your glasses and/or contact lenses at your local optician’s or online, and you do not need a prescription. However, you will only get reimbursed if you buy your glasses with a prescription from the ophthalmologist. Make sure to look for an ophthalmologist who has an agreement with your health insurance company; otherwise, your refund will be much less.
What to do in an eye emergency
True eye emergencies are very rare. If they do happen — chemical exposure, burns or cuts — your best bet is to go straight to the emergency room. You will most likely have to see an ophthalmologist for follow-up care. However, you can always call your eye doctor — they may keep slots open for emergencies.