Belgium: country of beer, chocolate, the European Union, and one of the most original landmarks on the planet.
It is also one of the most (unfairly, in my opinion) underrated countries in Europe. Many travelers just pass through, reserving a mere half-day to visit Brussels, maybe check out Brugge, and move on.
Most people who do stay longer, though, end up pleasantly surprised. Belgium has a diverse population, a thriving arts scene, a phenomenal beer selection… and a very fast, reliable 3G network.
Belgium’s telecom landscape is dominated by three companies: Proximus, Base and Orange. While you’ll get good service with all of them, Proximus currently boasts the highest LTE coverage, with over 80% of the country. The competitors cover less than two-thirds.
I opted for Proximus, a decision made easier by the fact it has a store in Midi station, conveniently located just by the exit of the Eurostar terminal.
If you mostly need data, though, I’d recommend you also take a look at Orange, which offers a data-heavy plan.
There are also a handful of MVNOs working in the country, running mostly on Base’s network and offering competitive voice and SMS packages. If you don’t need data, it may be worth checking them out. Many can only be signed up with online, however, which as I later learned, make them a non-starter for foreigners.
Purchasing the SIM card was quick. I just popped into the Proximus store at the Midi train station, beside the Eurostar terminal exit, and asked one of the attendants for help.
They explained to me the couple of options I had for a prepaid card in flawless English, and set me up as soon as I made my choice. They also registered me under their system, for which you need to show proof of ID. As an EU national, I showed my national ID card – for anybody else, passports are a valid form of ID.
The ID showing part is a new requirement. In the past, there was no need to show proof of ID to purchase a prepaid card. You could even do it online, with the SIM card arriving in the mail a few days later. However, after the terrorist attacks of early 2016, Belgium changed the law, requiring all new SIM card buyers to register.
The documentation requirements to do this online are high, with new customers being asked to provide their e-identity number and Belgian bank account, among others. Since only Belgium residents have these things, foreigners can no longer sign up for SIM cards online.
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Getting the SIM card set me back 10€, loaded with the same amount of credit. That 10€ didn’t go far, though — it gave 10 min of calls, 500 SMS and 100MB of data. The data was gone after a day of wandering.
As the starter pack noted, it’s worth it to top up with a bit more credit, as you get more bang for your buck: 15€ credit gives 20 min, 250MB and unlimited SMS, 25€ provides 50 min, 500MB and unlimited SMS.
Alternatively, Orange’s Tempo Touch gives 1GB for 15€, 1.5GB for 20€, and 3GB for 50€, along with unlimited SMS and 500MB for Facebook and Twitter. Keep in mind, though, that download speeds on Orange’s network are generally lower than with Proximus.
Although Orange offers another data-heavy plan, Tempo Giga, it’s not available to foreigners since it’s only available online.
Topping up is, as it’s usually the case in Europe, fairly simple. You can do easily it online, either through Proximus’ website or free app.
Alternatively, you can purchase a credit voucher at any of the authorized spots – which include supermarkets, convenience stores and gas stations around the country.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Proximus understandably talks a lot about its 4G network, but unfortunately my phone doesn’t support the right frequencies to get LTE service in Europe.
That disappointment faded fast, though, when I realised just how fast the 3G network was. At almost 30Mbps, it’s one of the fastest 3G speeds I’ve ever seen.
That speed was pretty consistent throughout the country. Great stuff!