Belgium along with 24 other European nations is part of the Schengen area. Belgium was one of the original signatories to the 1984 agreement that is named after a small town in Luxembourg and created a border-free travel zone within Europe. The Schengen area was created independently of the European Union but the agreement has now been incorporated in European Union Law. Even so, the Schengen area does include countries that are not part of the European Union such as Switzerland, whereas other EU member states like the UK are not part of it.
|The Schengen Area|
Under the Schengen agreement, anyone can travel to any of the 25 Schengen countries with just one set of documents. In some cases that means just a passport, in others a Schengen visa is needed. American citizens can travel to and from the Schengen area with just their passport, but other nationals may need a Schengen visa. The latter group includes Russia and many Caribbean and South American nations. A list of Schengen-visa countries can be found here, but it is always wise to check with the consulate or embassy to obtain the latest information as things do change from time to time.
|This is what a Schengen visa looks like. This one issued in the Netherlands.|
If you need a Schengen visa, you can apply to the consulate or embassy of any of the member states. You will need to apply in person and bring certain documents. For a list visit the website of the embassy of country you will visit first. For people residing in California, the Belgian Consulate in Los Angeles is the place to go. The Belgian embassy is in Washington D.C.
Armed with a passport that is valid at least 6 months beyond the projected stay, American citizens can enter the Schengen area and stay for a maximum of 90 days within a six month window. They cannot work or conduct business there. They also have to provide evidence of sufficient funds and a return airline ticket. Although not strictly required it is good to have evidence of emergency medical insurance as this is considered a key part of "sufficient funds" by many border patrol agents. Schengen area policies are sold by most insurers. As in the US, the immigration agent at the port of entry has the ultimate power to grant or deny access to anyone.
Individuals who want to study in Belgium or conduct business there need special visas. Business and trades people who want to hire citizens or be self-employed and conduct short term assignments need to file a Limosa declaration.
Remember that, while in Belgium you need to carry ID at all times. The only valid ID for non-citizens is a passport. Some riders take copies of their passport on training rides and most of the time this has been acceptable to Belgian police but be aware that you do so at your own risk. I would certainly recommend that you take your passport whenever you drive a car or whenever you put yourself in situation where ID checks are likely -such as going out late at night in a major city.