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Expats moving to Belgium can rest assured that they’ll be in safe hands when it comes to their medical needs. The country is home to one of the most reputable and reliable healthcare systems in Europe.
Unlike many other expat destinations, the division between the public and private healthcare sectors in Belgium is somewhat blurred. Fees are payable for both types of care and the system as a whole is funded by a combination of social security contributions and health insurance funds.
Anyone living and working in Belgium will have access to the healthcare system, provided they have carried out the compulsory registrations and have some form of state or private health insurance.
To make use of Belgium’s public healthcare system, expats from the European Economic Area, Switzerland and the UK can apply for access to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles European expats to the same treatment at the same cost as a national of Belgium. However, a card can’t be used within Belgium unless it has been issued elsewhere in the European Union, so expats should be sure to have this in place before they arrive.
Anyone who is employed in Belgium has to contribute towards a Belgian health insurance fund as part of the normal social security enrolment process. Most expats opt to top up this cover with some form of private insurance which entitles them to a wider range of treatments and shorter waiting periods.
Expats should find out whether they qualify for ‘non-resident’ tax status in Belgium. If this is the case, they may not be required to contribute to national social security and will probably be covered by their employer’s healthcare plan.
Hospitals in Belgium are either public or non-profit, while private clinics, usually managed by universities or religious organisations, offer basic treatment for minor ailments. Most doctors in Belgium work in both types of institution, while dentists are almost all private.
Most private health insurance policies in Belgium allow patients to choose their own medical professionals and hospitals. Private medical facilities in Belgium adhere to high standards of care and hygiene across the board. Most doctors and other medical professionals will also have a good understanding of English, so communication shouldn’t be much of an issue for the majority of expats.
Pharmacies and medication
Pharmacies in Belgium are plentiful. They are almost always marked by a neon green cross, meaning that expats will have no trouble spotting them along shopping streets or in malls and shopping centres. Most over-the-counter medications are readily available and prescriptions must generally be paid for on collection.
Belgian pharmacies operate from Monday to Friday and on Saturday mornings. There is usually an emergency roster system in place for Saturday afternoons, Sundays and out-of-hours services. A number of pharmacies in Belgium also offer 24-hour services. A list of nearby pharmacies which are open after hours can usually be found displayed on a pharmacy’s window.
Emergency services and important numbers
Emergency services in Belgium are reliable and response times are generally good. Ambulances will be able to take expats to the nearest hospital, but unless they have a comprehensive insurance policy in place to cover this cost they can expect to pay for these services out of pocket.
For medical emergencies and fire services in Belgium expats can call the local emergency number, 100. The general European emergency number, 112, will be useful for English-speaking expats. There are also a number of on-call pharmacies available for emergency medication delivery, but these are often overpriced.
Expats should also take note of the contact details for their nearest local embassy or consulate in case of emergency.
Expat Protect plans have been designed for expats and local residents in France, Benelux or Monaco. They can be purchased as a top-up health insurance or purchased as full cover.