Health and Wellbeing
Lectures, group projects, midterms, exams… Being a student can be quite stressful and overwhelming at times. This is why it is very important to take a break from time to time and prioritize your (mental) health.
Health insurance: what’s that like in Belgium?
In Belgium, health insurance is relatively cheap compared to other countries. It is considered to have one of the best healthcare systems in Europe while it also achieves near universal coverage. Belgian health insurance is partly funded by social security contributions and requires residents that are enrolled in a “public” health care plan to pay only a percentage of their healthcare costs (usually between 25%-50%).
Note: If you prefer to claim back 100% of your costs, you can opt for a private insurance at the same time (this section will not focus on this aspect; read more here).
Health insurance: do I have to get that?
Generally, residents are required to obtain an insurance plan in order to benefit from the public healthcare and low costs.
EU students usually receive coverage through the state health insurance system of their home country during their period of study.
Tip: if you have the choice, it could be more cost-efficient and advantageous to be directly insured in Belgium instead.
Non-EU students should check whether their country has an agreement in place with Belgium. Those who don’t qualify for cover must purchase their own insurance.
Health insurance: how do I get that?
Health insurance plans can be done through various health insurance provides (mutuelles). Each mutuelle in Belgium covers most medical treatments, such as specialists, hospitals, prescriptions, pregnancy and childbirth.
Fun fact: Each mutuelle aligns itself with a political or religious group within Belgium, such as Christian, socialist and liberal groups.
Step 0: Apply and get your residence card (see in section X how to get one).
Step 1: Choose a mutuelle.
Step 2: Set up an appointment online or by phone.
Step 3: Choose a healthcare plan from the ones offered.
Step 4: Pay your contribution bi-annually or yearly.
Some popular mutuelles are:
Prices can vary and will strongly depend on your residence status, any income you have as well as the complexity of the plan (e.g. additional hospitalisation insurance will make the plan more expensive). A popular option amongst KU-Leuven students is Christelijke Mutualiteit (CM), where the cheapest annual insurance plan costs roughly 70€ for students without a primary income (having a student job will not affect you).
Health insurance: so, how does it effectively work?
Patients usually pay for the consultations or treatments after showing their residence card. In general, you’ll need to pay first, and then submit a claim to your insurance company afterwards to reclaim part of the cost. This claim is made by posting in the mutuelle’s mailbox the receipt together with a form entailing your personal information in a special envelope (all the materials you will need during this process will be provided to you once you enroll in an insurance plan). The documents will be evaluated and in a couple of weeks you will be reimbursed to your bank account.
In most instances, Belgian health insurance reimburses up to 50–75% of the cost, with the patient responsible for covering the rest. Some mutuelles offer full reimbursement or even reimbursement at the point of payment with certain clinics.
Most doctors in Belgium work within the state Belgian health insurance scheme, while some combine this with private appointments or work entirely in the private sector. You can choose your own general practitioner in Belgium, although if they work in both the state and private sectors make sure it’s clear which service you want. You can also see a medical specialist without a doctor’s referral, but it will be cheaper if you do so through your GP/family doctor. A very useful website for expats is Doctena, where you can search for practitioners based on the languages they speak as well as their specialization.
Payments for hospital treatment follow a slightly different system, as they instead charge patients a fixed daily fee. This fee varies according to your personal circumstances and income. At the end of your hospital visit, you only pay your personal share. The hospital charges your mutuelle directly for the outstanding amount.
Health insurance entitles you to reimbursement on all medical prescriptions. Patients usually pay up to 80% of the price at the counter, depending on their personal circumstances. Your Belgian health insurance company pays the remainder, much in the same way you would pay for hospital treatment. Non-prescription drugs cost more than those prescribed by your doctor.
Over-the-counter medicines (anything from aspirin and ibuprofen to the morning-after pill) are available in pharmacies without prescription. Those will not be refunded by your mutuelle. Be careful, as some pharmacies charge a fixed evening fee on top of the regular price after a certain hour. There are several pharmacies open 24/7 (FR: pharmacie de garde/NL: apotheek van wacht). Find out which one is closest to you by entering your post code here.
Sexual and reproductive health
Belgium stands out as one of the most progressive and exemplary countries worldwide when it comes to promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.
As in most countries, condoms are freely available in supermarkets and pharmacies. However, some mutuelles offer them for free.
There are various kinds and brands of contraceptive pills available, varying greatly in price (can be between €40 and €108 per year). Women under 21 get a discount on all contraceptive pills and some contraceptive pills are free even for them. Some mutuelles repay part of the costs for contraception.
STI testing is recommended in certain cases. You will have to pay a personal contribution for the visit to the doctor as well as part of the lab costs; the exact price depends on how many tests are done. Some people have a right to increased reimbursement or urgent medical care.
Please refer to the links provided at the end of this section for more information on other contraceptive methods.
Mental health and wellbeing
One in three freshmen at KU-Leuven experiences mental health problems. As an international student, it can be especially difficult to adapt to a new country and culture, on top of adapting to the university life itself. It is completely normal to be overwhelmed by the level of difficulty or the exams, especially in your first years of study.
This is why it is important to take several steps regularly to take care of yourself and your mental health.
You should always know how to identify stress symptoms. These can range from feelings (anxiety, moodiness, fears) and thoughts (confusion, self-criticism) to behaviors (irascibility, impulsivity) and physical symptoms (insomnia, hyperactivity, headaches, loss of appetite).
Don’t confuse good stress with bad stress! Good stress energizes you and increases motivation and concentration. Bad stress decreases ability to perform and threatens your well-being, making you feel helpless.
One way to avoid extra stress and anxieties is to learn in advance how to plan your time and study efficiently. STUVO regularly organizes workshops and information sessions on all KU-Leuven campuses in preparation for the exams. Topics usually range from time management and efficient studying to fun stress relief activities.
Furthermore, professors on campus are very open to help their students. If you are having difficulty with a subject, don’t hesitate to go to the office hours or schedule appointments with your professors, as they are very eager to help you! Even asking questions during class can be highly beneficial for your as well as others’ understanding of the subject.
Learn to say NO when you feel overwhelmed. We know that extracurricular activities and student clubs are exciting and fun, but you should carefully balance them with your school work. Knowing when to stop will help you avoid overcommitting and a potential premature burnout. Be open and communicate with your team when you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities – they will be more than happy to support you and help you.
Connect with others and talk about your feelings, no matter how small or unimportant you think your experiences are. Finding support reduces loneliness and helps combat stress.
Other small things such as breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, improving concentration, sticking to a sleeping schedule and regular meals, as well as exercising can be highly beneficial to lowering your stress levels.
If your stress and anxieties persist or worsen despite your efforts to cope, you may need professional help.
Everyone feels down from time to time. However, experienced prolonged or persistent sadness that interferes with your daily life might actually be depression (typically lasting more than a couple of weeks).
There are many events that can trigger depression, from academic struggles, unreasonable expectations of yourself to homesickness and relationship troubles.
The usual symptoms of depression range from negative feelings such as hopelessness, pessimism, lost interest in pleasurable activities and lack of motivation to behavioral (withdrawal from social life) and physiological symptoms (change in appetite, fatigue).
It is of utmost importance to reach out when you experience them. Share feelings with your family, friends, colleagues or faculty staff, try to maintain a healthy routine (regular meals and sleeping schedule, exercising) and challenge pessimistic thinking and negative beliefs. Last but not least, avoid any extra stress or overloading.
If you feel like that does not help you, you might be interested in seeking out psychotherapy with a medical professional.
When to help a friend
Sometimes, we cannot see ourselves that we are in a bad place. For this reason, it is very important to rely on people we trust and, at the same time, look out for them as well.
When should you be concerned for your friend? As soon as you see disruptive behavior that affects their academic and social life. This can range from frequently missing classes to excess fatigue, irritability, constant anxiety or tearfulness, suicidal thoughts, etc.
What should you do? First and foremost, you have to LISTEN. Validate your friend’s struggles. This is of great help to them and might even have a calming effect. Avoid as much as possible minimizing their struggles or concerns (don’t use phrases like “Don’t worry”) and try to resist criticizing or judging your friend’s actions. Work together towards a solution – suggest counseling, resources, coping mechanisms, talking to faculty staff or seeing a healthcare professional.
Nonetheless, remember to take care of yourself: it’s great to be a supportive friend, but you don’t need to be a hero. Remind yourself to always take care of your own needs, too.
Never forget that it is not shameful to reach out if you feel you need help, support or just someone to talk to about your problems – avoid as much as possible brushing them under the carpet. English-speaking therapists are available on campus (for free) as well as throughout Brussels. Costs of therapy sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist can vary but are usually around €50-70 for a 45- to 60-minute session and is partially covered by health insurance plans.
Last but not least, do not hesitate to seek out to us or your practitioner if you need mental health care. Lean on each other and reach out to members of our community if you need help. We are here for you.
Please find below several helplines:
CHS Helpline: English-speaking Community Help Service in Brussels
Community Help Service (CHS) is a volunteer counseling service set up for internationals (adults and children) to discuss emotional problems or offer advice. If you see a therapist through the CHS, costs are discussed beforehand to decide on a suitable charge. The CHS emphasizes on its website that nobody will be turned away due to lack of funds.
CHS Help Line: 02 648 4014 | For anonymous crisis support
Mental Health Centre: 02 647 6780 | Talk with English-speaking mental health professionals
Suicide prevention hotlines
Get advice and support for you or a friend:
For French, call 0800 32 123 | www.preventionsuicide.be
- I need an ambulance – J’ai besoin d’une ambulance (FR); Ik heb een ziekenwagen nodig (NL)
- I need a doctor – Il me faut un médécin (FR); Ik heb een doctor nodig (NL)
- Heart attack – Crise cardiaque (FR); Hartaanval (NL)
- Stroke – Un accident vasculaire cérébral (FR); Beroerte (NL)
- Accident – Accident (FR); Ongeluk (NL)
- Emergency – Urgence (FR); Spoedgeval (NL)
Disclaimer: This section is purely informative and aims to give you a head start in deciding your health insurance status in Belgium and helping you throughout any health issues you might be facing. We are in no way certified practitioners nor do we have any professional experience in treating (mental) health issues. Depending on various factors such as your nationality, status or personal situation, special conditions or rates can apply to your insurance plan. We strongly advise you to thoroughly do your research before deciding on an insurance provider and plan. We are including below several links that might be of help with that. For any specific questions or more accurate information please refer to the STUVO, the student administrative services, the international office or the insurance providers themselves. For any improvements or suggestions, please email us at …