Even as an expat, you will be entitled to subsidized healthcare in Belgium. Find out how to access Belgian healthcare and claim your reimbursements.
If you live and work in Belgium, you typically receive coverage by state Belgian healthcare if you carry out the compulsory registrations. This helpful guide explains how to access healthcare in Belgium for expats, including getting health insurance as well as using services.
The guide includes the following sections:
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Overview of healthcare in Belgium
The Belgian healthcare system
The Belgian healthcare system is one of the best in Europe. It is divided into state and private sectors, with fees payable in both. The state system is funded by mandatory health insurance which allows residents to access subsidized services such as doctors, hospital care, dental care, maternity costs, and prescriptions.
Both federal and regional governments have responsibility for healthcare in Belgium. The Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety and the Environment oversees public healthcare. The regional Flemish, Walloon, and German-speaking communities all have their own administrative healthcare divisions.
Belgium ranked fifth in the 2018 Euro Health Consumer Index. It has “perhaps the most generous healthcare system in Europe”. However, Belgium scored lower than the top-ranking countries in terms of outcomes.
Who can access healthcare in Belgium?
Healthcare in Belgium is accessed through health insurance. If you live and work in Belgium, you will have to register for social security and make health insurance payments. This will give you access to subsidized public healthcare.
Those who don’t have access to subsidized public healthcare, however, must take out private insurance to cover any health treatment they have.
Healthcare costs in Belgium
Belgium spends 10% of its annual GDP on healthcare expenditure, according to 2016 figures. This places it ninth out of countries from the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Public healthcare in Belgium is funded by a combination of health insurance and social security contributions. On top of this, residents have to pay for the remainder of unsubsidized care. Health insurance funds will cover:
- around 50-75% of the costs for doctors, hospitals and clinics;
- around 20% of prescription costs;
- basic dental costs;
- maternity costs
Unemployed residents, pensioners, students, and those with disabilities are entitled to the same subsidies as the working population. Employees receive automatic cover for their children and any dependent spouses.
A full breakdown of subsidies and reimbursements is available in this guide to Belgian social security.
Health insurance in Belgium
As part of the social security enrollment process, all employees and self-employed must register and contribute to a health insurance fund in Belgium. These are called mutuelle in French and ziekenfonds in Dutch. Residents are free to choose their own mutuelle/ziekenfonds.
Health insurance contributions are 7.35% of gross salary (3.55% from your own salary; 3.8% paid by your employer). In addition, self-employed workers pay the full 7.35% themselves.
It is important to note, however, that you may not qualify for reimbursements for the first six months after joining a mutuelle/ziekenfonds, unless you are able to prove you have paid sufficient social security contributions in your home country. If you hold an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) you can use this until you register with a mutuelle/ziekenfonds.
You can compare Belgian health insurance quotes to pick the provider of your choice. Companies providing international health insurance coverage to expats include:
For more information, check out our guide to health insurance in Belgium.
How to register for healthcare in Belgium as an expat
To access healthcare in Belgium, you need to register for social security. After you have done this, you can choose a mutuelle/ziekenfonds. This is often done by your employer. Otherwise, you can visit your nearest social security office. You will need to provide:
- valid ID such as a passport;
- residence permit;
- proof of address such as a recent utility bill
Once registered, you will receive a social security card (known as Carte SIS, now eID) to take to the health insurance company of your choice. Healthcare charges are then reimbursed by your health insurance fund.
Private healthcare in Belgium
Private healthcare in Belgium runs alongside public provision. Some doctors, dentists, and specialists provide both state-funded and private treatment. This means it is important to check upfront what public insurance will cover, if you don’t have private coverage.
To use private healthcare in Belgium, you will need to take out private medical insurance or pay the full costs. Most private health insurers require you to pay medical costs upfront and then make a claim for reimbursement.
As public healthcare in Belgium is subsidized rather than free, many residents choose to take out a private insurance policy to top up their state coverage, as well as give them access to private healthcare treatment.
Doctors and medical specialists in Belgium
Most doctors in Belgium work within the state Belgian health insurance scheme, while some combine this with private appointments or work entirely in the private sector. You can choose your own general practitioner in Belgium, although if they work in both the state and private sectors make sure it’s clear which service you want.
Patients usually pay the doctor upfront and then get a refund later from their insurer. You can also see a medical specialist without a doctor’s referral, but it will be cheaper if you do so through your GP/family doctor. Find out how to choose a doctor in Belgium, arrange refunds, and organize referrals to a medical specialist in our guide to doctors and medical specialists in Belgium.
Women’s healthcare in Belgium
To confirm a pregnancy in Belgium, see your GP in the first instance. In the Flemish community, antenatal care is carried out by doctors in Belgium alongside gynecologists and obstetricians in private practices. Kind en Gezin, the Flemish children and family welfare agency offer free advice and support to pregnant women and families with children under three years old.
In the French community, antenatal care is mainly carried out by gynecologists and obstetricians working in both public or private practices; your GP will be able to advise on your choice. See the French agency Office de la Naissance de l’Enfance (ONE) for detailed advice and information.
Contact the Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT) for information and advice about healthcare during pregnancy and antenatal classes throughout Belgium.
Contraception is available over the counter in Belgium, including emergency contraception. Terminations are legal up to 12 weeks after conception and can be carried out at family planning centers and hospitals. See La Fédération Laïque de Centres de Planning Familial (FLCPF) for family planning centers in Brussels and Wallonia, or Luna for Flemish family planning centers.
More information is available in our guide to having a baby in Belgium.
Children’s healthcare in Belgium
Those with health insurance can access either free or subsidized healthcare for their children in Belgium. You can register your child with your GP. Support is provided by the regional agencies Kind en Gezin (Flanders) and ONE (Wallonia). You can access services such as:
- pre-natal support
- medical check-ups and screenings by a pediatrician
- free vaccinations
- weight and measurement to monitor development
- hearing and eye tests
The vaccinations program includes shots for:
- whooping cough
- measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
More information can be found in our guide to children’s healthcare in Belgium.
Dentists in Belgium
Belgian dental care is included under the state healthcare system, where patients can claim reimbursements for check-ups and basic treatments. However, most dentists work privately and treatment not covered under basic health insurance can be expensive.
For this reason, many people in Belgium take out private dental insurance to cover these costs. You will need to have at least one annual check-up to maintain your public health coverage. Read more about visiting dentists in Belgium.
Hospitals in Belgium
In Belgium, there are public and private hospitals, university hospitals and polyclinics. As with general practitioners, you can arrange to see a specialist of your choice at any Belgian hospital, but check if they are covered by your insurer to ensure you can claim a refund.
For inpatient stays, most hospitals will charge a daily fee, which is dependent on your circumstances (unemployed people pay less, for example), and the length of your stay (drastically reduces after the first day). You may also need to take things you need, such as a towel and soap. Although your health insurance should cover the costs of medical treatment you receive while in hospital, you have to pay a fee for daily hospital care in Belgium.
You can also walk into ‘emergency outpatients’ for immediate treatment; although as in other countries, you should not use this as a GP replacement. You may have to pay a non-refundable small fee if you use emergency services without a referral. See our guide to hospitals in Belgium for further information.
Health centers and clinics in Belgium
Belgium has primary care centers (maisons medicales in French; wijkgezondheidscentra in Dutch) where various different healthcare providers and professionals operate. These include GPs, nurses, and physiotherapists. Patients can register with a center to access services covered by public health insurance.
See the Federation Maisons Medicales (Wallonia) and the Vereniging van Wijkgezondheidscentra (Flanders) for more information.
Family Planning Centers are Belgium’s equivalent of family clinics, providing information and services on sexual and maternal health. The FLCPF provides facilities in Wallonia and Brussels. There are no family planning centers as such in the Flanders region. However, there is Sensoa, which provides expert advice on sexual health, relationships, and other topics.
Pharmacies in Belgium
In Belgium, a pharmacy is called a pharmacie or apotheek and you will recognize them by the green neon cross outside. They are usually open from Monday to Friday, often on Saturday mornings and on a rotating emergency service on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and out-of-hours. You can find your nearest 24-hour pharmacy by entering your postcode here.
Non-prescription medicines are not refunded, but those prescribed by a medical professional are. You have to pay for prescription medicines when you collect them from the pharmacy, minus the set percentage payable by the insurer. Some medications are reimbursed fully, while others only up to 20%. For information about Belgian medicines, see the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP).
Mental healthcare in Belgium
Despite the fact that Belgium has a lower than average number of mental health professionals per capita, there is generally less stigma around mental health issues than in many countries. Around 4% of adults report having used a psychologist. This is above the EU average.
Mental health services are available through public, private, and voluntary sectors in each region. They include:
- mental health care centers which provide counseling, daycare and residential care
- psychiatric hospitals for people with ongoing mental health conditions
- the Community Help Service, a charity organization offering support and advice including counseling
See our guide to mental healthcare in Belgium for more detailed information on what is available.
Other forms of healthcare available in Belgium
You can find alternative and complementary therapists in Belgium. According to a 1998 study, around 40% of the population said they had used complementary therapies at least once. The most popular treatments are:
However, public health insurance doesn’t officially reimburse these treatments. You can get some treatments covered if they are carried out by a qualified professional. Private companies will usually insure alternative medicine, but not as part of the basic package. You will have to pay for the additional coverage.
Belgian medical schools do not teach alternative medicine, therefore students need to gain qualifications at specialist schools and colleges. All therapists should belong to a regulatory body or association. For example, the Belgian Acupuncture Federation.
In an emergency in Belgium
Belgian emergency numbers are:
- Medical service: 100
- Emergency doctor: 1307
- On-call pharmacy: 0900 10 500 / 070 66 0160 (fees apply)
Call the pan-European emergency number 112 (or 114 hearing assisted), free of charge from any phone, for any life-threatening situation. When you call, they need to know the type of emergency, the address, and the number of people in danger.
An ambulance will take you to the nearest hospital. However, be aware that you will typically have to pay for this service, unless you have special or private health insurance that covers this.
Find a full list of emergency numbers and helplines in Belgium.
- I need an ambulance – J’ai besoin d’une ambulance (French); Ik heb een ziekenwagen nodig (Dutch)
- I need a doctor – Il me faut un médécin (Fr); Ik heb een doctor nodig (D)
- Heart attack – Crise cardiaque (Fr); Hartaanval (D)
- Stroke – Un accident vasculaire cérébral (Fr); Beroerte (D)
- Accident – Accident (Fr); Ongeluk (D)
- Emergency – Urgence (Fr); Spoedgeval (D)