Business Hours -- Banks are usually open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 4:30pm, and some branches are open on Saturday morning. Stores generally are open from 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, and some are also open on Sunday. Most department stores have late hours on Friday, remaining open until 8 or 9pm.
Drinking & Drug Laws -- Belgium has rigid prohibitions against the possession and use of controlled narcotic drugs, and a strict enforcement policy that virtually guarantees stiff fines and/or jail sentences for offenders. This can be especially important if you are traveling from neighboring Holland, where the rules are more tolerant and enforcement (for soft drugs) is generally lax. The minimum age for drinking beer and wine in bars and for legally purchasing beer and wine is 16; for drinking hard liquor in bars and for legally purchasing hard liquor, the minimum age is 18.
Electricity -- Like in most of Europe, Belgium uses 230 (220-240) volts AC (50 cycles), compared to 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles) in the United States and Canada. Converters that change 110-120 volts to 220-240 volts are difficult to find in Belgium, so bring one with you.
Bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Embassies & Consulates -- All the following embassies are located in the Belgian capital, Brussels. U.S.: bd. du Régent 25-27 (tel. 02/508-21-11; www.usembassy.be; Métro: Arts-Loi), open for visa applications Monday to Friday from 9am to noon, and for assistance to U.S. citizens from 1:30 to 4:30pm. Canada: av. de Tervuren 2 (tel. 02/741-06-11; Métro: Merode), open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9am to noon and 2 to 4pm, Tuesday and Thursday from 9am to noon. U.K.: rue Arlon 85 (tel. 02/287-62-11; Métro: Maalbeek), open for visa applications Monday to Friday from 9:30am to noon, and for other matters from 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 4:30pm. Australia: rue Guimard 6-8 (tel. 02/286-05-00; Métro: Arts-Loi), open Monday to Friday from 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 4pm. New Zealand: Square de Meeûs 1 (tel. 02/512-10-40; Métro: Trone), open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 3:30pm. Ireland: rue Wiertz 50 (tel. 02/235-66-76; Métro: Schuman), open Monday to Friday from 10am to 1pm.
Emergencies -- For police assistance, call tel. 101. For an ambulance or the fire department, call tel. 100.
Gasoline (Petrol) -- A gas (petrol) station is a station-service in French, and a benzinestation, a pompstation, or a tankstation in Dutch. Gasoline in Belgium is lead-free and sold in two varieties: eurosuper 95 or eurosuper 98 (for its octane number). Diesel is sold in all stations; LPG (liquid petroleum gas), is sold in many. The first hydrogen-fuel pump was installed in 2008. Taxes are already included in the printed price. One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters, and 1 imperial gallon equals 4.4 liters.
Internet Access -- The number of "cybercafes" has been declining, but most towns still have some.
Language -- Belgians speak either French or Dutch (you may hear it called Flemish), and a tiny minority in the east speaks German. Many Belgians speak two or all three of the national tongues but, since language is a sensitive subject in the land, they might not be willing to prove this by actually doing so in practice. English is in effect the second language, and it is taught in the schools from the early grades, with the result that many Belgians speak fluently. You may speak English in Belgium almost as freely as you do at home, particularly to anyone in the business of providing tourist services, whether cab driver, hotel receptionist, waitperson, or store assistant.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. The American Express emergency number in Belgium is tel. 02/676-21-21. For Diners Club, call tel. 02/626-50-04. MasterCard holders should call tel. 0800/1-5096. Visa's emergency number is tel. 0800/1-4379.
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks in Belgium are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 1-800/325-6000 in the U.S.; www.westernunion.com).
Mail -- Most offices of La Poste are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Postage for a postcard or an ordinary letter up to 50 grams (1 3/4 oz.) to the U.K., Ireland, and other European countries is 0.80€ ($1.30); to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of the world, it's 0.90€ ($1.45).
Newspapers & Magazines -- The main British and Irish daily newspapers, and the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal Europe, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Business Week, Fortune, The Economist, and more are available from news vendors at major railway stations, and from other outlets in the main towns and cities.
Pharmacies -- For both prescription and nonprescription medicines, go to a pharmacy (pharmacie in French; apotheek in Dutch). Regular pharmacy hours are Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm (some close earlier on Sat). Each pharmacy posts a list of late-night and weekend pharmacies on the door; or contact tel. 0900/105-00; www.apotheek.be.
Police -- For emergency police assistance, call tel. 101.
Smoking -- Smoking is officially forbidden in most restaurants and bars. Exceptions are small bars and small restaurants serving light meals. Trams, buses, and Metro trains are smoke-free. Note: This being Belgium -- where thumbing one's nose at the awesome number of local rules and regulations is a national sport -- don't be surprised if nobody takes a blind bit of notice of the smoking ban anyway.
Taxes -- On top of a 16% service charge, there's a value-added tax (TVA/BTW) of 6% on hotel bills, 12% on some other goods and services, and a whopping 21% on restaurant bills. The higher rate is charged on purchased goods, too. If you spend over 125€ ($200) in some stores and you are not a resident of the European Union, you can recover it by having the official receipt stamped by Belgian Customs on departure and returning the stamped receipt to the store. Your refund should arrive by check or be credited to your credit card within a few weeks. Not all stores participate in this scheme so it pays to ask first, particularly for major purchases.
Time -- Belgium is on Western European Time (WET), which is Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), plus 1 hour. Clocks are moved ahead 1 hour for daylight-saving Western European Summer Time (WEST) between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October. For example, when it's 6pm in Brussels, it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), 7am in Honolulu (HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
For the exact local time from the local "speaking clock," dial tel. 0900/8002.
Tipping -- The prices on most restaurant menus already include a service charge of 16%, so it's unnecessary to tip. However, if the service is good, it's customary to show appreciation with a tip. It's enough to round up the bill to the nearest convenient amount, if you wish, rather than leave a full-fledged tip. Otherwise, 10% is adequate, and more than most Belgians would leave. Service charge is included in your hotel bill as well. Taxis include the tip in the meter reading. You can round up the fare if you like, but you need not add a tip unless you have received extra service like help with luggage. Here's a general guide to tipping for other services: Give 20% of the bill to hairdressers (leave it with the cashier when you pay up), and 2€ ($3.20) per piece of luggage to porters.
Toilets -- In primarily French-speaking Brussels and in Wallonia, these likely will display an H or HOMMES for men, and an F or FEMMES for women; in Dutch-speaking Flanders, it'll be an H or HEREN for men, and a D or DAMES for women (or there'll be a graphic that should leave no doubt either way). Be sure to pay the person who sits at the entrance to a toilette. He or she has a saucer where you put your money, usually around 0.50€ (80¢).
Water -- The water from the faucet in Belgium is safe to drink. Many people drink bottled mineral water, though, generally Belgian brands like Spa and Bru.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.