When working in Belgium, you have the choice of being an employee or running your own business, namely becoming self-employed.
There is, however, a third option: self-employment as a secondary activity, called bijberoep in Dutch, in which you undertake a complementary activity in addition to a salaried one. The activities you start as self-employed individual do not necessarily have to be linked to your work as employee—you can start up a side business that is totally different from your main occupation.
Side businesses such as these are becoming more popular; in fact, the National Institute of Social Security for the Self-Employed (RSVZ) reported that the number of those in bijberoep had risen 10 percent between 2005–10. Belgian business advisor Group S explains the process of becoming self-employed as a secondary activity, a growing interest for many expats.
Who can become self-employed with a secondary occupation
There are some rules in regard to who can work as self-employed as a secondary occupation:
- Those with an employment contract must work at least half the number of hours as a full-time employee in the main occupation, which can be in Belgium or abroad.
- Teachers, if they are tenured, must work at least 60 percent of a full-time schedule; non-tenured teachers must work 50 percent of a full-time schedule.
- Those that receive certain benefits, e.g. unemployment or disability, may also register as self-employed with a secondary occupation, but they must check with the benefit provider in order to ensure they are not receiving benefits for which they no longer qualify.
How to register as self-employed with a secondary occupation
The process to register a secondary occupation is the same as registering as a self-employed person as a main occupation in Belgium.
1. Register with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises to receive a company identification number. To do so, you must be able to demonstrate sufficient management skills and, for some regulated activities, you will need specific qualifications. This registrations costs EUR 85. This company identification number is often the same as the VAT number, which must also be activated.
2. Get a permit, if required. Those who are not an EU nationals or not from Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland or Switzerland must receive a professional card, which permits you to work as self-employed in Belgium. Other permits may be needed depending on the type of business, such as a trading, alcohol or tobacco permits.
3. Enrol with social security insurance for the self-employed, where you pay social security costs on a quarterly basis.
Social security for self-employed as a secondary occupation
For those that have a small business outside their main occupation, it may be surprising that you must still pay social security contributions even if they are otherwise employed. Though you do not gain extra social benefits with the additional payments, the contributions for self-employment as a secondary occupation are not particularly high. The same percentages for social security contributions as a freelancer in Belgium apply for those in a secondary occupation, although those that earn less than EUR 1,471.01 are not required to pay contributions.
Advantages of self-employment with a secondary activity
The main advantage of developing your own activity complementary to your salaried one is that you can test your business without taking too many risks.
As employee, you are still paid every month; in case you become incapacitated and can no longer work, you will be covered by the social security. If your employer wants to terminate your contract, he will have to observe a termination period.
There is no time limitation—you can stay self-employed as a secondary occupation throughout your career, provided you remain under employment contract. After a while, if your business is successful, you can decide to stop your employment activities and become full-time self-employed if you wish to do so.