11 tips for when you travel

The peak travel season is here again. Let us offer you a few tips to help you sail through.

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Photo of three children and a woman standing on a bridge

Exploring Montmartre (Paris), a nice nearby holiday (© iStock).

The peak travel season is here again. Let us offer you a few tips to help you sail through.

Travelling to a foreign country is something many people look forward to. But such another country may have different laws, often different customs, and it is not always safe there. And we shouldn't forget to keep travel as sustainable as possible. In short, travelling requires preparation. We hope our tips can help you with that.

1. Consult our travel advice

The FPS Foreign affairs keeps you up to date with detailed travel advice for each country. They offer therefore a wealth of information about the country you intend to visit. Is it safe there? How can I get around? Does the country experience earthquakes or other disasters, and what is the climate like? Are there any specific health risks? What local laws might have an impact on my stay there? Is my driving licence valid there? In short, we provide continuously updated information that allows you to be well-prepared before you leave.

We recommend that you read and follow our travel advice carefully. Although they are not binding, some insurance companies do take them into account (tip 5) and you are not entitled to consular assistance in an area subject to a negative travel advice (tip 11).

2. Subscribe to Travellers Online

Some areas are extremely risky, but even in the safest of countries, problems can arise: a natural disaster, an attack, a political crisis... If you register through Travellers Online, our embassy or consulate can support you more easily and notify you if necessary. Your contact details will obviously remain confidential.

3. Ensure you have valid travel documents

A Belgian citizen abroad – including a child under 12 – must always be able to present identification for him/herself. Within the European Union and a limited number of countries outside it, a valid Belgian identity card is sufficient. In other countries, you need a passport, with or without an (e-)visa. Inform yourself thoroughly in advance – also about the cost – and get the required documents in order in good time. You can find all the information about this in our travel documents section.

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Photo of a hand showing a Belgian passport

The Belgian passport, renewed last year (© FPS Foreign afffairs).

4. Get your vaccinations in order and consider your health

Some countries require internationally recognised proof of vaccination against diseases such as yellow fever. But it may also make sense to protect yourself against malaria, typhoid and hepatitis A or B, for example. Bringing a travel medical kit can be very helpful, and be wary of eating raw foods.

The Institute of Tropical Medicine has gathered together all the necessary information on vaccinations and health risks, including for each individual country, on its Wanda website. You can also visit our Health and Hygiene section (not available in English) and the detailed travel advice for each country.

5. Make sure you are properly insured

Travel is not without risks and it may therefore be worth taking out one or more insurance policies. You should consider cancellation insurance in case a flight is cancelled, for example. Also be sure to check what costs are covered by your health insurance for medical care and hospitalisation in another country. Take out additional assistance insurance if necessary. Learn more in our Travel Insurance section (not available in English).

Our travel recommendations are not binding; in principle, Belgian citizens can go wherever they want. Be aware, however, that some insurance companies do not provide cover for events occurring in a country for which the FPS Foreign Affairs has issued negative travel advice.

6. Inform yourself about means of payment

Is it necessary to take cash in local currency, do you prefer travellers' checks, or can you pay in your destination country with your debit or credit card? Check with your bank and consult our Your Money section (not available in English) and the detailed travel advice for each country.

7. Be careful when importing and exporting goods

Imports of goods for non-commercial, personal use may be subject to restrictions. For example, you are permitted to bring into the EU a maximum of 200 cigarettes and 16 litres of beer from a non-EU country. In addition, the import of certain plant and animal species, including some of their parts, is not permitted. The same applies for some counterfeit items or objects of cultural or religious value. Its possession is punishable. Please refer to our Customs section (not available in English).

For security reasons, you are only permitted to carry limited amounts of liquid in your hand luggage. Please consult our Airports and air passenger rights section (not available in English).

8. Show respect for local culture and adapt your behaviour

Other countries have different customs so you should inform yourself thoroughly. Maybe the stores close during siesta or a coffee at a terrace café is very expensive. Either way, you should follow the laws of the country. In Scandinavia, for example, there is zero tolerance for drink-driving. In some countries, it is better to be restrained about showing affection for your partner in public.

Ask people's permission beforehand to photograph them. Taking pictures of military buildings is prohibited everywhere in any case. Find additional tips here and consult the detailed travel advice for each country.

9. Make your trip as sustainable as possible

Travel inevitably involves a significant carbon footprint. In these times of great climate and environmental challenges, it is essential to organise your trip as sustainably as possible.

If your travel plans can't be made greener and the footprint is large, you can offset their carbon emissions. Also during your holiday it is important to prevent waste of water and energy and of course not to pollute or damage the environment and nature. Find more tips and information here.

10. Always keep some phone numbers handy

Anything can happen when travelling. You should therefore always keep some phone numbers handy, such as those of your family and friends, your tour operator, your insurer, and your bank. And not only on your smartphone, but also on a piece of paper that you keep with you.

If the situation is serious and you are unable to find any help yourself, you can call upon the Belgian embassy or consulate. Therefore it is advisable to always keep that phone number, too. The list of contact information can be found here.

11. Contact the embassy or consulate in case of (serious) emergency

Our consular officials will distance themselves from private matters, however. In the first instance, you are expected to seek help from family, your employer, insurance provider, healthcare fund or tour operator.

But of course, the problems can be serious such as when documents are lost or stolen, in the case of an accident or death, or when you have to deal with the courts. All embassies provide a standby phone service for serious emergencies. For less urgent matters, we encourage you to call during business hours. You can also fill in the contact form on the site.

Also, remember that in some cases you cannot apply for consular assistance such as when you are in a region for which the FPS Foreign Affairs issues negative travel advice. All the necessary information can be found in the Belgians in distress section.