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Visa requirements are mainly determined by 3 factors:

  • How long the person will be staying in Belgium (more or less than 90 days)
  • The applicant’s nationality, EEA or non-EEA
  • The purpose of the stay (studying, working, family reunion, etc.)

Depending on the applicant’s profile, some formalities may haveto be performed in the country of origin (visa) and a number of administrative steps will have to be taken once in Belgium (ID card).

Brussels consists of 19 different communes which all have their own Mayor, city council and local administration offices. Depending on where people will be living, procedures and required documents will vary. Bringing along copies of all documents submitted for the visa procedure is recommended.

Formalities before arrival

There are no formalities before arrival for EEA(1) citizens staying = 90 days, only a valid passport or a national ID card is required.

Formalities upon arrival

People visiting Belgium, mostly tourists, are generally registered through a hotel register. Those who are not staying in a hotel should contact the local administration and report their presence (declaration of arrival).

Formalities before arrival

There are no formalities before arrival for EEA citizens staying > 90 days, only a passport or a national ID card is required.

Formalities upon arrival

EEA citizens have to report to the local administration in order to apply for a Belgian ID card (provided they have found long term accommodation) within 3 months after their arrival. While the procedure to obtain an ID card is running (this can take from a few weeks to a few months), a temporary document (the official name of the document is annex 15) is delivered, as proof that the international student or scholar has complied with immigration regulations. Banks may accept this document for opening an account.

Documents needed to apply for a Belgian ID card are a valid passport or national ID card and proof of medical coverage valid in Belgium (such as the European Insurance Card). International students and scholars have one extra month to submit other necessary documents, such as a rental contract, proof of sufficient financial means, and a registration certificate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel or a work contract. These documents have to be submitted within a period of maximum 4 months after arrival.

Formalities before arrival

For a stay shorter than 3 months, the type C visa is the appropriate way to travel to Belgium. In general these so called ‘tourist’ short term stay visas, grant access to the whole of the Schengen area. Depending on whether there are bilateral agreements, some nationals are exempt from a type C visa and are allowed into the country with a valid passport (check with the local Belgian diplomatic representation). This type of visa cannot be prolonged beyond its 90 days validity, except for medical or humanitarian reasons. Returning to the Schengen areawith a new type C visa is only possible after leaving the Schengen area for a period of minimum 6 months.

Delivery of Type C visas is generally the Belgian diplomatic representation responsibility (no permission needed from the Department of Immigration). Documents to submit are:

  • Plane tickets, including a return ticket
  • Proof of sufficient financial means or a financial guarantor (a Belgian resident)
  • Hotel reservation or other information about accommodation
  • Medical (travel) insurance
  • Invitation letter

Since recently, the local Belgian diplomatic representation requires biometric data (digital fingerprints and a digital photograph) of all type C visa applicants, irrespective of their place of residence or nationality. To comply with this new identification procedure, applicants must present their visa application in person and be fingerprinted and photographed at that time. The visa process will be based on the same documents as in the past. The new identification process will have no effect on the issuance or the date of delivery of the visa.

Children under the age of 12 and persons for whom fingerprinting is physically impossible will be exempt from the fingerprint requirement. For all others, a refusal to provide the requested biometric data will lead to the visa application being put on hold, or even rejected.

Formalities upon arrival

People visiting Belgium, mostly tourists, are generally registered through a hotel register. Those who are not staying in a hotel should contact the local administration and report their presence (declaration of arrival).

IMPORTANT: Using a type C visa to enter the country with the purpose of exchanging it for a long term visa (type D visa) in Belgium, leads to a long, difficult procedure which should be avoided at all times. This will only be possible if there is no Belgian diplomatic representation in the home country and therefor visa matters are handled by local Embassies of neighbouring countries (The Netherlands). In these cases, only type C visas can be delivered, and the applicant must change his or her status after arrival.

Formalities before arrival

Non-EEA citizens need a Type D visa to obtain residence in Belgium. The application is submitted to the Belgian diplomatic representation in the home country. Sometimes when the applicant has legal residence elsewhere, application from there is also allowed. By bilateral agreement, Swiss nationals (non-EEA country) are exempt from all visa formalities. In some cases the visa is delivered by the Belgian diplomatic representation itself. In other cases the application is forwarded to the Department of Immigration in Belgium for examination and approval. It can take a while for the documents to arrive in Belgium with diplomatic post, and for the Department of Immigration to reach a decision. Once the documents have reached the Department of Immigration, the status of the application can be checked on their website. Unfortunately the website is only available in Dutch and French.

Applications from a number of so called ‘sensitive’ regions need to pass through State Security which may further delay the process.

Recently, some restrictions linked to the type D visa have been lifted: travelling through the whole of the Schengen area is now allowed during the period mentioned on the visa. Until recently, a C + D or multiple entry visa was required.

Although procedures may differ from one Belgian diplomatic representation to another, the basic requirements for visa applications are:

  • A valid passport
  • A certificate of good conduct
  • A copy of the birth certificate
  • Medical clearance delivered by a physician appointed by the Belgian diplomatic representation
  • Depending on the purpose of the stay:
  • For students : admission letter, proof of financial means (click on sub-level "financial means for more information) such as a scholarship certificate or a financial guarantee form
  • For family reunion : marriage certificate, proof of financial means and suitable accommodation
  • Next to a handling fee of about 180 EUR to be paid to the Embassy (may differ), there also is an amount of 200 EUR charged by Immigration Services (for staff 350 EUR). The payment can only be made by bank transfer directly on the Belgian account of the Ministry of the Interior. The proof of payment (bank statement) needs to be added to the other documents. Instructions on how to proceed can be found on the following web page. For students, the "article" that needs to be mentioned in the reference accompanying the transfer is "art. 58", for staff under work permit B "art 9" and for staff under hosting agreement "art 61/11".
  • Students with scholarships from a Regional, Federal, European entity or issued by a by the government recognized institution of higher education (VUB) can apply for an exemption (for more information contact the International Relations and Mobility Office).

Formalities upon arrival

The visa given by the local Belgian diplomatic representation , often mentions that it is necessary to report to the local administration within 8 days of arrival in Belgium. However, this is generally not possible because it takes most people more than 8 days to arrange suitable long term accommodation and, hence, to be able to determine which local administration is responsible.

All international students and scholars planning to stay for a period that exceeds 90 days, must apply for a Belgian ID card. In order to obtain a Belgian ID card, long term accommodation must have been arranged. While the procedure, which can take from a few weeks to a few months, is running, a temporary document (the official name of the document is Annexe 15) is delivered, as proof that the international student or scholar has complied with immigration regulations.

Acquiring the residence permit (ID card), valid for one academic year at a time and renewable, implies submitting a number of documents to the local administration such as:

  • A valid passport with the type D visa
  • A rental contract
  • A scholarship certificate, a financial guarantee form, or money blocked on a VUB account
  • A registration certificate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Depending on the commune in which the student or scholar will be living, some additional documents may be required (birth certificate). Bringing along copies of all documents submitted for the visa procedure may prove helpful.

The APS procedure

The APS certificate is a document that verifies the authenticity of academic documents and discourages document fraud. This document is normally required for all students from the People's Republic of China with a higher degree from a Chinese university who apply to a Flemish Higher Education Institution.

The procedure to receive the APS certificate consists of two screenings:

  1. Document screening (Phase 1): the Chinese candidate sends his or her file to the Chinese APS Centre (info@aps.org.cn). Costs of the screening (1,000 RMB) are paid directly by the student. The APS centre then screens the authenticity of the documents when the file is complete.
  2. Interview (Phase 2): the student is invited for an individual interview in English after the document screening. During the interview, the student is tested on knowledge he or she should have according to the file. The total cost of the document screening and the interview is 2,500 RMB.
    Students have three chances to pass the interview, with a minimum waiting period of 3 months between each interview.

More information about the procedure can be found on www.aps.org.cn

Partial exemption

A partial exemption to the APS procedure is possible, also referred to as the APS light procedure. In this case, the student is exempt from the interview (Phase 2). The document screening (Phase 1) is still required.

Partial exemption to the APS procedure is possible if the student:

  • is already legally residing in Belgium at the time of the application.
  • is admitted as a doctoral student (PhD) at a Flemish University based on a selection interview. This PhD selection interview replaces the APS interview.

To receive a partial exemption, the student contacts the International Office at the VUB (IRMO) with a proof that he or she has been interviewed and is accepted by the promotor of the PhD topic (i.e., an invitation letter). IRMO then sends a namelist, including family name, first name and date of birth, with supporting documents to the Flemish Ministry for Higher Education. From there, the list is forwarded to the APS centres in China.

Full exemption

A full exemption to the APS procedure is possible. In this case, the student is exempt from both the document screening (Phase 1) and the interview (Phase 2).

Full exemption to the APS procedure is possible if the student:

  • does an exchange in the framework of a bilateral agreement between a Chinese and a Flemish higher education institution.
  • does an exchange in the framework of an official exchange programme, such as Erasmus+, ASEM Duo, ...
  • has obtained a scholarship from the China Scholarship council (CSC).
  • has already successfully obtained a higher education degree or study credits in a country other than the People's Republic of China. Credits from winter/summer programmes are not admissible.
  • has a diploma from Hong Kong or Macau.
  • is a refugee from the People's Republic of China.
  • has a diploma from the People's Republic of China, but doesn't have the Chinese nationality.

In the first three exemption categories (bilateral agreement, official exchange programme or CSC scholarship), the student contacts the International Office at the VUB (IRMO) with a proof to allow the exemption (transcript from the university, exchange programme nomination, scholarship certificate) and includes his or her family name, first name, date of birth and confirmation of the exemption category to which he or she applies. IRMO sends a namelist with required documentation to the Flemish Ministry of Higher Education, from where it is forwarded to the Belgian Embassies in China. This allows the student to apply for the visa without the APS certificate at any of the Belgian Embassies in China.

In the remaining full exemption categories, no APS certificate is required for the visa application.

Special admission requirements

Admission to a higher education institution based on a test doesn't exclude the necessity of the APS certificate for visa application. Examples are:

  • the admission test for a Bachelor, preparatory or transition programe in Audiovisual and Visual Arts, Music and Performing Arts.
  • the admission test for a Bachelor or Master programme in Medicine or Dentistry.

The APS certificate is still required in these cases.

Further remarks

Contacts

  • students who apply for the APS procedure, can contact the APS centre in China by email or through the website.
  • students who apply for a (partial) exemption from the APS procedure, can contact the international office at the VUB.

Evaluation

The full exemption in the framework of bilateral agreements, official exchange programmes or scholarships from CSC is re-evaluated in academic year 2020-2021. In case of a negative evaluation, the partial exemption will be reinstated for these three categories of students.

Problems

It occurs that the Belgian embassies in China are not immediately notified of the APS exemption updates. If you would be asked to supply APS documentation for your visa application after registering for the exemption, please notify IRMO to solve the issue.

EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway.

EU: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Holland, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden Cyprus, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic. 
New EU member states with restrictions: Romania and Bulgaria.
Switzerland is neither EU nor EEA, but has bilateral agreements with the EU which means that Swiss citizens do not require a visa to travel within the EEA.

EEA: EU + Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway.

EU: Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Holland, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden Cyprus, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic. 
New EU member states with restrictions: Romania and Bulgaria.
Switzerland is neither EU nor EEA, but has bilateral agreements with the EU which means that Swiss citizens do not require a visa to travel within the EEA.

The local administration is the whole of public services and departments managing the communication between the local authorities (city, town or village) and the citizen, usually the local town hall, which is in charge of issuing residence permits, building permits, driving licences, registration of births and deaths, etc.

Embassy, Consulate, or other local official representation.

Commune: town, city or village. Brussels consists of 19 communes, these are: Anderlecht, Brussel Centrum (Bruxelles centre), Elsene (Ixelles), Etterbeek, Evere, Ganshoren, Jette, Koekelberg, Oudergem (Auderghem), Schaarbeek (Schaerbeek), Sint-Agatha Berchem (Berchem Saint-Agathe), Sint-Gillis (Saint-Gilles), Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Molenbeek Saint-Jean), Sint-Joost ten Noode (Saint-Josse ten Noode), Sint-Lambrechts Woluwe (Woluwe Saint-Lambert), Sint-Pieters Woluwe (Woluwe Saint-Pierre), Ukkel (Uccle), Vorst (Forrest), Watermaal-Bosvoorde (Watermael-Boitsfort).

EU: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Spain

Schengen non-EU : Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Ireland is EU but NOT part of the Schengen area.

Special rules may apply to students from specific countries. Students from China need to pass a selection procedure called APS.

Non-EEA students are not allowed to use their own financial means through money on a bank account and always need a third person, to act as their financial guarantor. The latter will be responsible for the student’s living, study and medical costs as well as repatriation. (Annex 32 – also see “Scholarship certificate or a financial guarantee form”)
Are also accepted: proof of a regular income such as a scholarship, grant, student loan or salary (leave with pay) and money, blocked on an account provided by the University.

Type D visa for entire families are only delivered in the framework of economic migration. Under the student status the family can only travel after the student has obtained his ID card, has arranged medical insurance for the family and can present proof of suitable accommodation (registered rental contract).

charter awarded by the European Commission. The Charter sets out the fundamental principles and the minimum requirements with which the higher education institution must comply when implementing its ERASMUS activities.