If you’re planning a move to Belgium, find out if you need a Belgian visa or permit to visit, live, work or study in Belgium.
You may need to apply for a visa or permit if you want to visit, live, work or study in Belgium. This essential guide provided by Expat Management Group will help you find out which Belgian visa or permit you need depending on your nationality and situation.
This guide to visas in Belgium includes the following sections:
- Immigration in Belgium
- Who needs a Belgian visa?
- Types of Belgian visa
- Belgian short-stay visas: less than three months in Belgium
- Non-immigrant Belgian visas
- Immigrant visas in Belgium
- After you arrive: mandatory registration
- Belgian citizenship
- Asylum seekers in Belgium
- Useful resources
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Immigration in Belgium
Belgium has seen an increase in the size of its migrant population over the last two decades. Around 150,000 people move to the country each year and approximately 25% of Belgian residents were foreign-born. As it is part of the Schengen Area, Belgium allows many EU residents passport-free travel into the country and it has developed a reputation, as the home of the European Union headquarters, as a continental hub of political and economic activity. Immigration to Belgium is dealt with by the Immigration Office, which is part of the Federal Public Service for Foreign Affairs.
Who needs a Belgian visa?
Citizens of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) can travel freely to Belgium without a visa and don’t need a work permit to engage in economic activities. Citizens of the 25 other Schengen Area countries within the EU/EFTA can travel freely to Belgium without a passport. Those from EU countries that are not part of the Schengen Area (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) need to show a passport but don’t need a visa. The UK is currently an EU member but is due to leave very soon after the Brexit referendum vote in 2016. The future surrounding Belgian visa or entry requirements for UK citizens after Brexit is still uncertain, but for the time being the UK continues to enjoy full benefits of EU membership.
Under certain circumstances, EU/EEA/Swiss citizens need to register at the local town hall (maison communale/gemeentehuis) when they arrive in Belgium. For more information, see Expatica’s guide to EU/EEA and Swiss nationals moving to Belgium.
Third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA citizens) will normally need a Belgian visa for any long-term stay (over 90 days) in Belgium. For shorter stays of less than 90 days, residents of many countries will need to apply for one of the short-stay Belgian visas. Some non-EU/EFTA countries have agreements with Schengen Area states to allow their citizens visa-free stays of up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes. A full list of the 61 countries this applies to is available here.
Types of Belgian visa
Belgian visas can be broken down into three broad types:
- Short-term Belgian visas – these are visas that permit stays of up to 90 days for purposes such as tourism or short-term business;
- Non-Immigrant visas – these are longer-term temporary visas for purposes such as studying or working on fixed-term contracts, where the holder doesn’t intend to stay in the country beyond a fixed period;
- Immigrant visas – long-term visas for those who want to stay in Belgium either long-term or permanently, for purposes such as work or retirement
Full details of these visas along with qualifying conditions, costs and application processes, are explained below.
Short-term Belgian visas
A short-stay Schengen or C visa allows you to stay in the Schengen area (including Belgium) – but not work – for up to a maximum 90 days (three months) in any 180-day period. If you have a Schengen visa issued by another Schengen state you can also come and stay in Belgium, provided you have not yet exceeded the 90-day allowance in any part of the Schengen area.
Here is a list of the different short-stay Belgian visa types.
Airport Transit Visa
An airport transit visa is a special visa that allows you to pass through the international transit zone in Belgium (and indeed any Schengen country) while you are waiting for a connecting flight. You are not allowed to leave the airport and enter Belgium. The visa is required by residents of the following countries who travel through Belgium – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria. You may be exempt from needing this visa if you are a family member of an EU/EFTA citizen.
You need to apply for an airport transit Belgian visa at least 15 days before your trip. If a Belgian airport is your first or only transit airport, you can submit the application at the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country. See here for a list of Belgian embassies and consulates around the world. Along with your application form, you will need to provide a valid passport/ID, two recent passport photos, proof of flight, travel insurance policy, and proof of the paid visa fee of €60.
A tourist Belgian visa allows visitors to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days in a 6-month period. All third-country nationals wanting to visit Belgium for tourist purposes will need this visa, unless they are one of the 61 exempt countries. Applications need to be made at the Belgian embassy or consulate of your home country a minimum of 15 days prior to your planned visit. Along with the visa application form, you’ll need to provide a valid passport/ID, two recent passport photos, flight details, health insurance details, proof of accommodation and proof of financial means to support your stay. You’ll also need to show proof that you’ve paid the tourist visa fee of €60 (€35 for children aged 6-12).
If you want to come to Belgium to visit family or friends, you’ll need this visa. The requirements, processes and costs for the visitor Belgian visa are much the same as for the tourist visa. The main difference is that you also need to provide a letter of invitation from the friend/family member, along with proof of family relationship for relatives.
This visa is required for short-term business-related trips to Belgium lasting less than 90 days. This is a requirement for non-EU/EFTA nationals but the same exemptions apply as for the tourist visa. The processes and costs for the business Belgian visa are the same as for the tourist visa. Requirements are also the same but you will also need to provide a letter from your employer explaining the purpose of your trip, or an invitation letter from the organization in Belgium requesting your attendance.
Official visit visa
Official visit visas in Belgium are required for those who have received an official invitation for the purposes of:
- an official meeting, consultation or negotiation;
- an exchange program;
- an intergovernmental organizational event
Requirements and processes are largely the same as for the Belgian tourist visa. You will need to provide the letter of invitation along with other required documents. An Official Note of the Consular Department is required for diplomatic visits. The cost of the this Belgian visa is €60, but diplomatic passport holders are exempt from paying the fee.
This is a visa for those wanting to receive medical treatment in Belgium and not stay for longer than 3 months. If treatment is expected to last longer than this, you will need to apply for the appropriate long-term Belgian visa. Requirements, processes and costs are much the same as for the tourist visa, but you will also need to show proof of the need for medical treatment (e.g. doctor’s letter) along with proof that medical fees are covered through either advanced payment or insurance.
Short-term study visa
For trips relating to study or educational purposes lasting less than 3 months, a short-term student visa can be applied for in much the same way as the tourist visa or other short-stay Belgian visas. You will need to provide the relevant documents related to your visit (e.g. acceptance onto study program or proof of qualifications). Children also need to provide a declaration of consent from parents as well as from their school if the visit is taking place during term time. For school trips and school exchanges, schools or travelling parties from non-EU/EFTA countries can make a group application that exempts children in the group from having to make individual visa applications. Full details of all children attending, including photos, need to be provided in advance of the trip.
Belgian visa for cultural, sports, religious or film events
This visa covers visits made by the likes of artists, sportspeople and religious leaders to attend events, competitions or film shooting in Belgium. As well as the standard short-stay visa requirements, applicants need to provide event information and evidence of skills or qualifications. For film crews, details of the film, film-maker credentials and list of film crew members also need to be provided. The standard fee for this visa is €60 but there are many reductions and exemptions so you will need to check what applies to your individual circumstances.
Non-immigrant Belgian visas
If you’re coming to Belgium for longer than 90 days for a fixed period but don’t intend to stay in the country permanently, you will need to apply for a long-stay (category D) non-immigrant visa and residence permit based on the purpose of your stay. For example, whether you are coming to Belgium to work, study or stay with a family member. Since 2015, an additional contribution has been required to process certain long-stay Belgian visa applications. This fee is in addition to the standard handling fee and should be paid to the Belgian Immigration Office prior to making your application. The fee amount is between €62-358 depending on circumstances, although there are exempt categories such as children. Further information is available from the Belgian Immigration Office or the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country.
The following non-immigrant Belgian visas are available.
Non-EU students who want to study in Belgium for a period exceeding 90 days will need to apply for a Belgian student visa. You can apply for this visa if:
- your studies will be your main occupation during your stay in Belgium;
- you have sufficient resources to support yourself during your stay. For the 2018/19 academic year, this is set at €654 a month net;
- you have health insurance coverage;
- you have no outstanding criminal charges against your name
You will need to show evidence that you have been accepted onto a course at a recognized institution in Belgium, along with valid passport/ID and proof that you meet the above requirements. The cost for this Belgian visa is €180 plus the additional contribution if applicable. For more information, see this guide to studying in Belgium.
Visas for temporary workers/au pairs
There are three temporary Belgian work visas which each allow the holders to work in Belgium for a period of up to 12 months. These are:
- Category B work visa – this is issued for a specific job with a specific employer and requires sponsorship from the employer. B work permits are issued when there is a shortage of suitable candidates among the Belgian workforce or for certain skilled positions including managerial posts, academic staff, sportspeople and entertainers. This visa is usually applied for by the employer and can be renewed beyond 12 months if criteria is still met.
- Category C work visa – this is issued to people already in Belgium temporarily but who didn’t come for work purposes (e.g. students, family members or asylum seekers). It allows the holder to take up any job for which they are qualified. It can be renewed beyond 12 months in some circumstances.
- Au Pair visa – individuals aged between 18-26 who don’t hold a Belgian work visa can work in Belgium as an au pair if they and their host family meet certain conditions. This visa cannot exceed 12 months.
More information on these visas can be found in this guide to work visas and permits in Belgium.
Non-immigrant family visas
If you want to come to Belgium to stay with a partner or relatives for a limited period of time that is longer than 3 months, you will have to apply for a category D family reunion visa along with a temporary residence permit. Visas can be issued for periods of up to 5 years although there is the possibility of renewing them. You should make the application at the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country. The exact process and requirements depend on where you are coming from, whether you are visiting EU/EFTA or non-EU/EFTA relatives, and how long you intend to stay. Visa costs are €180 plus the additional costs of applicable. See the Expatica guide to moving to Belgium to join a relative or partner for more information.
Immigrant visas in Belgium
If you are relocating to Belgium or planning to come for a significant period of time (longer than a year), you will need to apply for a category D long-stay Belgian visa. Which visa you apply for depends on the purpose for moving to Belgium. The standard cost of a long-stay immigrant visa is €180 plus the same additional surcharges as the non-immigrant visas. Generally, you will have to apply for this visa at the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country. If you apply from within Belgium, you should do it through the local Belgian municipal administration offices/town hall (maison communale/gemeentehuis).
The following types of immigrant Belgian visa are available.
Family reunion visas
As a general rule, if you’re a non-EU/EEA or Swiss national, you can get a long-term visa to accompany your spouse, registered partner or parent (if you’re a dependent family member), who has been given permission to come and live in Belgium as long as you fulfil certain conditions. You have to be able to prove your relationship, have suitable accommodation in Belgium, and there must be sufficient funds to support the family’s living and health insurance costs.
You’ll need to complete an application form for a long-stay visa in Belgium, provide various documents (including valid passport/ID and proof of relationship to your relative(s)) and show proof of fee payment. For more information, see these guides for moving to Belgium to join a relative or spouse and getting married in Belgium.
If you are a Belgian national or a foreign resident living in Belgium who wants to adopt a child from overseas, you’ll need to apply for a category D long-term Belgian visa for the child. For this, you’ll need to supply a completed application form, passport, parents passports plus visa/residence permits, child’s birth certificate and completed adoption forms. Children adopted by parents born in Belgium or with Belgian citizenship automatically obtain Belgian citizenship. You can find out more information on intercountry adoption from the Central Federal Authority or from the regional Belgian authorities.
For a long-term work visa in Belgium, you will need to first find a job and a Belgian employer who will get authorization to employ you and apply for a Belgian work permit on your behalf. The long-term Belgian visa for work purposes is known as a Category A work visa which allows the holder to work for any employer indefinitely. For more information, see Expatica’s guide to work permits in Belgium and how to find a job in Belgium.
Non-EU/EFTA nationals who want to start a business or set up as self-employed in Belgium need to apply for a professional card which acts as a permit to trade and carry out independent business activities. You will need to apply for a long-stay category D Belgian visa via the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country (or from the local municipal administration offices if already in Belgium), submitting an application form along with the necessary accompanying documents. You can apply for the professional card at the same time as making your Belgian visa application. The professional card is issued by the regional authorities. More information is available on the relevant websites for the Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital regions. See Expatica’s guides to starting a business in Belgium and becoming a freelancer in Belgium for more information.
Retirement to Belgium
Those looking to retire to Belgium from a non-EU/EFTA country will need to apply for a Category D long-stay visa from the Belgian embassy or consulate in their home country. In order to retire to Belgium, you will need to show that you are able to support yourself without working. This can be done by providing bank statements, pension statements or proof of income from real estate for the last six months. You will also need to supply a letter explaining your reasons for relocating to Belgium. Preference is given to those who can demonstrate ties to Belgium (e.g. family ties or having lived in the country before). Other documents that need to be provided are completed application form, valid passport/ID, medical certificate, criminal record history certificate and proof of visa fee payments.
Arrival in Belgium: registration and residence
When you arrive in Belgium you have three days to register your arrival at the municipal administration offices. They will give you a document specifying when you have to leave Belgium. Anyone who plans to stay in Belgium for more than three months will be classified as a ‘resident’. After your arrival in Belgium, you have eight working days to go to your local municipal administration office/town hall (maison communale/gemeentehuis) to be registered on the Foreigner’s Register and get your residence card. To find the details of your local town hall, you’ll need to contact the commune in which you’re living; click here for a full list of communes.
You’ll need to take along your passport, work permit (if applicable) and passport photos. You’ll be issued with a Certificate of Registration, and either an A residence card if you are staying for a specific amount of time, or a B residence card if you are allowed to stay in Belgium indefinitely.
Besides registration, you will also need set up the necessary aspects for living in Belgium, such as a bank account, health insurance and more. See the necessary steps in our checklist for after you move to Belgium.
Citizenship and permanent residence in Belgium
Once you have resided in Belgium for a period of five uninterrupted years and you plan to stay in Belgium long term, you may qualify for permanent residency in Belgium. Certain residents will also be able to apply for Belgian nationality if they fulfill certain conditions. Both allow you to stay in Belgium indefinitely, working or otherwise, under similar conditions as Belgian citizens.
If you hold a Blue Card from another EU-member state, and have lived elsewhere in the EU for a certain period, this time can count towards your calculation of five years.
For more information, see our guide to Belgian citizenship and permanent residence.
Asylum seekers and refugees in Belgium
Belgium is signed up to the Geneva Convention so all foreigners who enter the country have the right to apply for asylum. The first step towards applying for asylum in Belgium is submitting an application to the General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS). Applicants are then sent to a reception center while the application is processed, where they receive lodging, meals and medical support. Decisions usually take around 3-6 months. If the asylum case is rejected, an appeal can be lodged within 30 days. Asylum seekers will be interviewed about their application as part of the process. If they are granted refugee status, they will be given residency in Belgium for an unlimited period of time. Rejected applicants will not be able to stay in Belgium and will be expected to leave within a specified period. Belgium had around 20,000 first time asylum applicants from non-EU countries in 2018, the 8th highest in the EU.
- IBZ – the Foreigners Department of the FPS, the Belgian Immigration Office.
- Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs – website of the Belgian Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and development Cooperation, which has general, information about visas, studying and working in Belgium.
- Portal Belgium.be – the Belgian government’s official information and services portal.
- Regional Authorities – for specific information about procedures in the different regions of Belgium.
- Crossroad Migration Integration: website for legal aspects related to immigration (in Dutch).
- The Association for the Rights of Foreigners: factsheets on immigration (in French).
- eID: information on Belgium’s electronic identity card.