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Every country has a different healthcare system and you can’t expect to get all the same things the NHS offers for free when you travel overseas. In many places, you will have to make some kind of contribution to the cost of any care you receive. Belgium is one such place, as there is no system in place that is equivalent to the NHS. Belgian residents have a social security system in place to cover the healthcare of their citizens and, depending on the nature of your visit to the country, you will be required to pay some or all of your healthcare costs.
Travelling to Belgium
Contacting emergency services
If you are confronted with an emergency while in Belgium, the number to call is 100 or 112. If you require a hearing assisted line, you can call 114. This call is free from any mobile or fixed telephone. An ambulance will be dispatched and will arrive at your location quickly to transport you to the nearest emergency centre – please note, though, that this service will NOT be free of charge.
The majority of emergency services staff and doctors can speak English, but this cannot be taken for granted. Where possible, have someone assist with your call who can speak Dutch or French. It may also be helpful to familiarise yourself with a few handy Belgian phrases for emergency situations.
French and Dutch are the two main languages spoken in Belgium. The French word for ’emergency’ is ‘urgence’, and the Dutch word is ‘spoedgeval’. When you are through to the emergency services, you need to ask for the medical service: in French, this is ‘service médical d’urgence’, and in Dutch it is ‘medische spoeddienst’.
You may also want to take note of the following useful telephone numbers:
- 100 – National fire service: pompiers or medische spoeddienst
- 101 – Police: police fédérale or federale politie
- 105 – The Red Cross
- 02 648 40 14 – Community service helpline (English language crisis and information service – 24/7)
Healthcare until the UK departs the EU
Emergency care is available for anyone who requires urgent medical assistance. You should expect to be charged in full if you receive any care without a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
It is always advisable to purchase sufficient travel insurance and ensure you have access to the funds to cover any medical assistance you require while abroad. Remember to retain all paperwork and receipts (it’s a good idea to make copies) as you or your insurance company may need it to apply for a refund of any expenses.
Currently, an EHIC provides access to any required state-provided healthcare in Belgium at a discounted rate, or sometimes for free, if you are in the country temporarily. If you are told to pay upfront for any healthcare services, it is probable that the treatment you are to receive is not part of the state healthcare system.
There are certain healthcare costs that EHIC doesn’t cover. These include:
- Being transported back to the UK
- Mountain rescue
- Private treatment
Tread carefully with regards to any healthcare that is arranged by a travel representative or hotel. They often reassure visitors that expenses can be claimed back, but this is only applicable to private insurance and not treatment that is provided under the EHIC.
If you have a pre-existing health condition
Anyone with a pre-existing health condition should ensure they purchase quality travel insurance before travelling to Belgium.
It is essential that you inform your insurance company about any pre-existing health issues or conditions you have. Failure to do so could result in your policy being declared null and void if you experience complications with that condition while travelling. If you are using an EHIC, this will remain valid until the UK departs the EU, but it may not work once the Brexit process is completed.
If you have any pre-existing health issues that will require treatment while you are overseas, consult your doctor for advice before you commit to travelling. Be sure to take any documents about your condition or medication that will be helpful while abroad.
If your reason for travelling is to obtain specific medical treatment, be sure that you have researched and learned everything you need to know.
In Belgium, when you receive care in a hospital, it is not free of charge. Usually, inpatient care comes at a fixed daily cost, and you pay for additional medicines, tests and treatments individually.
If you are taken to hospital, make sure you show your EHIC upon admission if you are a visitor to the country. If you are living in Belgium, present your Belgian residence identity card. It’s a good idea to carry your British passport with you too. This will help you avoid having to pay any refundable fees upfront and ensure you pay only the patient contribution to costs.
The Belgian Hospital Association, or Association Belge des Hôpitaux, provides a comprehensive list of the nation’s hospitals.
The address of the head office is:
B 1060 Brussels
You can call the association on 00 32 2 543 7819, or you can email them at email@example.com.
If you need to receive treatment from a dentist in Belgium, you will have to pay a direct fee to the practice. After doing so, it is possible to claim back anything up to 80% of the costs of dental treatment in the country.
To reclaim those expenses, you will require a receipt on the official paperwork, so you should ask your dentist to provide this. In French, you would say ‘attestation de soins donnés’, or in Dutch you would say ‘getuigschrift voor verstrekte hulp’.
There are some dentists who will accept partial payment if you have an EHIC. Check before you book an appointment with a dental practice, as there are considerable differences in charges from one practice to the next. It can be very easy to make a poor choice and be lumbered with higher fees than necessary, so take care when choosing the right dental practice for your needs.
Prescriptions in Belgium
You will have to pay your prescription charges when you take a prescription to a pharmacy. The EHIC does not cover your prescription fees, and you won’t be able to claim any refund. However, presenting your EHIC card together with the prescription should ensure that you pay the same rate at the pharmacy as someone who lives there.
The majority of pharmacies in Belgium have regular opening hours, and they usually include a telephone line that operates 24/7. If a pharmacy is closed, it will point you in the direction of the nearest open pharmacy.
If you need information about duty pharmacies, you can call 0903 99 000 at a cost of €1.50 per minute. This is a 24-hour telephone service to help people find their nearest pharmacies. They also have an online service which enables you to search for pharmacies by postcode.
Bringing your own medication with you
Some prescription medication contains substances that are controlled by the Misuse of Drugs regulations in the United Kingdom. This means that there are extra legal controls that apply to these medications.
You may require a personal licence if you wish to take these types of medicines abroad. There are also specific requirements with regards to:
- How you carry the controlled medications
- The documentation you must carry with you
There is detailed information about travelling with controlled medications on the GOV.UK website.
If the UK departs from the EU with no deal in place, the requirements regarding your access to healthcare in Belgium are liable to change.
If you have plans to travel to Belgium after Brexit takes place, you should purchase travel insurance to ensure you can get access to the medical care you need. You should treat it as if you were visiting a non-EU country.
If you currently use an EHIC issued in the UK, this will remain valid until Brexit happens.
The UK government is seeking to form agreements with countries, including Belgium, regarding healthcare arrangements for British nationals after Brexit. Expect new developments in the coming months.
If you work in Belgium
Healthcare up until Brexit
Health insurance is compulsory for anyone living in Belgium. It is funded through contributions via social security. All insurance providers are required to offer the same services. There are 5 state health insurance schemes in Belgium, all of which operate as non-profit.
If you work in Belgium, you are required to register with a social security organisation to qualify for medical care. Occasionally, these organisations will reimburse medical treatment fees in full, but it usually returns up to 80%, with patients paying the remainder.
Once you are registered, your social insurance scheme will cover all your dependents. This includes both children and non-working spouses. It is the responsibility of you and your employer to make the necessary social security contributions. The amount payable is set and regulated by the Belgian government.
You also have the option of taking out private health insurance in addition to social security. This will cover any fees that don’t qualify for reimbursement by social security organisations.
If you are a British worker posted to Belgium by a UK-based company, you may be entitled to healthcare cover from the UK. Contact HM Revenue and customs to find out if you qualify.
Healthcare after Brexit
If you work in Belgium and are paying your social security contributions, you will be able to access the same healthcare options as a Belgian national living there. You will be required to obtain a long-stay residence permit, details for which will be published in the near future.
If you have been living legally in Belgium continually for over five years, you may be able to apply for a permanent residence permit. If you are posted to Belgium by a UK company, you may be required to purchase health insurance in Belgium to ensure you have access to the necessary medical treatment.
For pensioners in Belgium
Healthcare up until Brexit
If you are living in Belgium and receiving an exportable British pension, contribution-based ESA or any other exportable benefit, you may be entitled to funding from the UK for state healthcare. You will be required to apply for an S1 certificate of entitlement. It may be necessary to liaise with a different team, depending on which exportable benefit you receive.
Note that different rules apply to different exportable benefits with regards to healthcare cover.
S1 certificates (formerly E106)
An S1 certificate is designed to help you access healthcare while in Belgium. An S1 certificate will remain valid until the day the UK leaves the EU, but may become invalid after this date. You should apply for an S1 certificate to cover you up until Brexit takes place. Eligibility for an S1 depends on:
- whether you have worked and made contributions in the United Kingdom
- whether you receive certain UK benefits, including pensions
You can apply for an S1 certificate through the Business Services Authority.
People who have lived in Belgium for 5+ continuous years may be able to apply for permanent residency.
You will be required to contribute to social health insurance, just like Belgian citizens, to receive the necessary healthcare entitlements. Legal residents over 25 are legally required to join a health insurance scheme.
If you plan to retire in Belgium, you will be required to demonstrate health insurance that covers the necessary costs, and provide evidence of sufficient finances.
For students in Belgium
If you are a UK national studying in Belgium, and you currently have an EHIC card, this will remain valid up until the date the UK departs from the EU. It is highly recommended that you continue to pay for healthcare insurance in addition to the EHIC to ensure you remain covered.
After the UK departs from the EU, you should continue the practice of purchasing insurance that covers your healthcare while in Belgium. This will be the same as if you were visiting or staying in a non-EU country.