What does the current ban on non-essential travel mean for professional travel to and from Belgium? This article explains and Ius Laboris lawyers from around the alliance provide a perspective on professional travel in their jurisdictions.
This article has been updated based on the available information until 15 February 2021. As government measures have been updated several times in the past months, it is always advisable to consult the website of the relevant government agency before planning or embarking on professional travel.
In recent weeks, Belgian legislation on foreign travel and the obligations associated with it have been amended several times. The measures have some important implications for professional travel to and from Belgium. The measures below are currently in force until 1 April 2021.
Ban on non-essential travel
From 27 January 2021 until 1 April 2021, non-essential travel to and from Belgium is again prohibited. These temporary travel restrictions do not apply to essential travel. The Ministerial Decree of 26 January 2021 distinguishes two categories of persons:
1. EU and Schengen citizens and residents and listed exceptions
For individuals who have EU Member State or Schengen zone nationality or their main residence in an EU Member State or the Schengen zone, as well as for individuals whose main residence is in a third country listed on the website, essential travel is defined in Annex 2 of the Ministerial Decree. This includes, for example, ‘travel for purely professional reasons'. Short professional trips to and from Belgium therefore remain possible for this category of persons.
Travellers must complete and sign a digital or paper declaration of honour (a template is available on the website) prior to their trip and must carry it with them during the essential travel.
2. Third-country travellers
For travellers coming to Belgium from a third country who are not nationals of one of the EU Member States or Schengen states and whose main residence is not in a third country listed on the website, essential travel reasons are listed in Annex 3 of the Ministerial Decree. They include, for example, the categories ‘professional travel of frontier workers', ‘travel by qualified persons, if their work is necessary from an economic point of view and cannot be postponed' and workers in possession of a work permit or single permit. The Immigration Office clarifies on its website that for this second category of individuals, a short professional trip from third countries to Belgium will not be considered as essential travel unless it falls under one of the exceptions of Annex 3.
These individuals must hold an essential travel certificate (issued by the Belgian diplomatic mission or consular post) unless the essential nature of the travel is proven by official documents in the traveller's possession. If the person in question is not in possession of the above documents, entry to Belgium may be denied.
Mandatory quarantine and testing
The following rules are currently applicable with regard to quarantine and testing after a stay abroad:
- For Belgian residents returning from a red zone after a stay of more than 48 hours: mandatory ten-day quarantine and a mandatory test on day one and day seven. The duration of the quarantine can be shortened to a minimum of seven days provided that a negative test is obtained on day seven.
- For non-Belgian residents returning or travelling to Belgium from a red zone after a stay of more than 48 hours and with the exception of travellers from the UK, South Africa and South America, there is a mandatory ten-day quarantine and they must be tested on day seven. The duration of the quarantine can be shortened to a minimum of seven days provided that a negative test is obtained on day seven. In addition, non-residents must have a negative test result of maximum 72 hours old (irrespective of the length of their stay abroad and their stay in Belgium) to enter Belgium. There are some exceptions, such as for travellers who are not coming to Belgium via a carrier if they have been abroad for no more than 48 hours or will be staying in Belgium for less than 48 hours.
- For all travellers travelling from the UK, South Africa and South America to Belgium, there is a mandatory ten-day quarantine, they must provide a negative test result that is a maximum of 72 hours old and take a mandatory PCR test on days one and seven.
In addition, all employees or self-employed individuals residing or staying abroad who will stay in Belgium for more than 48 hours to perform activities must have a negative test result from a test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure for Belgium (regardless of whether they come from a red zone or not).
According to the current information on the website, quarantine can be temporarily lifted in order to undertake a necessary activity, to the extent that this activity cannot be postponed. This means the quarantine may only be lifted to fulfil the essential purpose of the travel (e.g., a meeting) and only to the extent that this activity cannot be postponed. Social distancing and other protective measures must be scrupulously observed while carrying out this activity.
If the employee is required to go into mandatory quarantine, the employer can deny him or her access to the workplace.
Mandatory Public Health Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and Business Travel Abroad (BTA) Form
The ‘Public Health Passenger Locator (PLF) Form' allows tracers to contact travellers if an infection is detected and to initiate contact tracing if necessary. The following individuals must fill in this form:
- Anyone returning to Belgium by plane, boat, train or bus must complete the form within 48 hours prior to arrival in Belgium.
- In the event of travel by another means of transportation, the form should only be completed if the traveller's stay in Belgium lasts more than 48 hours or if their previous stay outside Belgium lasted more than 48 hours. If the traveller is travelling to Belgium from outside the EU and the Schengen states, this form must be completed in any case (regardless of the length of the stay abroad and in Belgium, even if it is less than 48 hours).
Failure to fill in this form may lead to refusal of entry to Belgium.
The ‘Business Travel Abroad (BTA) Form' must be completed online by the Belgian employer, Belgian principal or international organisation established on Belgian territory if it concerns travel abroad for professional reasons and before the departure of the employee concerned. This form can only be used for:
- Travel abroad by Belgian residents: travel for files or projects that require limited on-site intervention (no time limit).
- Travel to Belgium: this form cannot be used by non-residents of Belgium for travel to Belgium for the purpose of temporary or permanent employment, but it can be used for a limited business contact related to a concrete project or file, for a maximum duration of five days.
This form generates a certificate number that must be entered in the customised Public Health Passenger Locator (PLF) Form in order to activate the professional travel section. For professional travel, an adjusted score applies, on which the decision is based on whether or not mandatory quarantine is imposed.
Failure to fill in this form, or filling it in incorrectly will result in the travel not being considered as professional.
Obligations on employers or users for temporary employment in Belgium of employees living or residing abroad
All employers who temporarily rely on employees or self-employed individuals who live or reside abroad are required to keep a register of these individuals if they perform work in Belgium and if they stay for longer than 48 hours.
All employers and ‘users' must check whether the Public Health Passenger Locator (PLF) Form has been completed by the employee or self-employed person residing or staying abroad. If this is not the case, the employer or user must ensure that the form is completed before the individual starts their employment in Belgium.
General obligation to comply with COVID-19 rules
A new general obligation has been imposed on all individuals present at the workplace to comply with the COVID-19 obligations imposed by the government.
Compliance with the above obligations can be monitored by the occupational physician and the labour inspectorate. The occupational physician and the labour inspectorate may ask all those involved to provide proof that they are complying with these obligations.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.