Working self-employed or freelancing in Belgium is an alternative to working for an employer. This guide explains what you need to know.
Belgium is a popular place for start-up businesses and entrepreneurship, and many expats have ventured down the route of self-employment or freelancing in Belgium. If you have a good business idea or simply fancy being your own boss, the good news is that it’s fairly straightforward and not too costly to become a freelancer in Belgium.
This guide to self-employment and becoming a freelancer in Belgium includes information on:
- The difference between starting a business and becoming a freelancer in Belgium
- Who can become a freelancer in Belgium
- How to become a freelancer in Belgium as an expat
- Administrating when freelancing in Belgium
- Banking for freelancers in Belgium
- Taxation for freelancers in Belgium
- Social security, health insurance and pensions for freelancers in Belgium
- Other insurances for freelancers in Belgium
- Earning a secondary income from freelancing in Belgium
- Finding office space when freelancing in Belgium
- Finding work when freelancing in Belgium
- Support, advice and training for freelancers in Belgium
- Useful resources
The difference between starting a business and becoming a freelancer in Belgium
Belgium has over a million self-employed workers, which is close to 20% of the working population. Many of these have started up their own Belgian business while others simply work freelancing in Belgium, contracting out their services to other parties. Although there is much overlap between starting a business and becoming a freelancer, and many of the procedures are the same for both, it’s important to distinguish between the two. If you start up a business in Belgium, you might not necessarily do so as self-employed. If your business is structured as a limited company, you will work for it as an employee. Businesses also have to follow certain formalities and guidelines that don’t necessarily apply to freelancers. If you are a freelancer or self-employed through your business activities (e.g. sole trader or unlimited partnership), all money you make through your trade is treated as your personal income, and you will be responsible for sorting out your own tax and social security affairs.
There are pros and cons to working self-employed or as a freelancer (travailleur indépendant/vervangende ondernemer) in Belgium, so it’s important to consider whether it’s the right path for you before jumping into it. Advantages include:
- The freedom of working for yourself.
- It can open up more opportunities for work, especially in professions such as language teaching, IT consultancy, translation or therapy.
- You can do it as a way of earning an extra income if you have a standard job.
However, disadvantages include:
- You have to keep very detailed accounting records for tax purposes, which means managing a separate bank account if you don’t want to get into a muddle.
- You have fewer pension rights, no protection against unemployment unless you take out personal coverage, and you don’t receive holiday pay.
- You’ll have to apply for a business permit (professional card) if you are from a non-EU country.
Who can become a freelancer in Belgium?
Becoming a freelancer in Belgium is open to anyone of working age regardless of where they come from. Those from outside the EU/EFTA may need a visa to enter Belgium as well as a Belgian residence permit. Certain professions in Belgium are regulated, meaning that only those with the necessary qualifications, experience or license can practice them. You can find details of these on the Business Belgium website.
How to become a freelancer in Belgium as an expat
Obtaining a professional card (Belgian permit) to work as a freelancer
Those from outside the EU/EFTA who don’t have a Belgian residence permit will need to apply for a professional card (carte professionelle/ beroepskaart) to carry out independent work activities in Belgium. You can apply for this through the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country when you make your visa application before coming to Belgium. You may be asked for details such as the nature of the work you intend to do and evidence of qualifications and experience. The card costs €140 and is valid for between 1-5 years. It can then be extended for a fee of €90 per year. More information is available on the Business Belgium website.
Registering as a freelancer
The next stage is to register as a freelancer in Belgium. This involves a number of steps:
- Choosing a trading name – general freelancers usually trade under their own name. Self-employed workers with their own business will be classified as sole traders or sole proprietors and may use their own name or choose to trade under a different business name. You are free to choose your own trading name as long as it does not belong to another company. More information, along with a link to search existing Belgian company names, can be found on the Federal Public Service (FPS) website.
- Registering with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises – before you can start freelancing in Belgium, you need to register for trading. Once you’ve done this, you will receive a unique company or ID number which can also be used as a tax and social security number. This can be done through an authorized office in Belgium (only in French).
- Register for tax and social security payments – all self-employed workers and freelancers in Belgium are responsible for making the necessary tax payments and social security contributions. You can register for both tax and social security at the same time as registering for trading with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises.
Licenses and permits
You can find out if your profession is regulated in Belgium, and whether you will require a license or any specific qualifications, on the Business Belgium website.
Administration when freelancing in Belgium
Freelancers in Belgium need to keep an accurate record of business activities. This isn’t just to make things simpler for you. It’s a legal requirement when it comes to tax administration. You’ll need to keep track of income, expenses and hours worked. This is why it’s important to open up a separate business bank account if you’re freelancing in Belgium to avoid confusing personal and business finances. All financial records will need to be kept for 7 years to comply with Belgian tax laws.
You will also need to issue proper invoices for goods or services provided. You can use this free template invoice to help you create one of your own. Something else you’ll need to think about, especially if you enter into a long-term working relationship with a client, is a contract to protect yourself. This can cover things such as what exactly you are agreeing to provide, timelines, payment rates, terms for late payments and termination clauses. You don’t need to use contracts as a freelancer in Belgium but it might make sense to give both parties assurance. If you’re unsure about this, seek legal help or have a look at the various online help guides such as this one which includes a free downloadable contract template.
For more information on accounting and financial regulations in Belgium, see the FPS website. Details of business accounting software available in Belgium to help with financial administration can be found here. You can also use the Accountable application for bookkeeping and accounting on your smartphone. If you really don’t want the hassle of dealing with the paperwork that comes with freelancing, you can pay a ‘payrolling’ company to take care of all of your business administration.
Banking for freelancers in Belgium
Although not a legal requirement, it’s a very good idea to have a separate business bank account when freelancing in Belgium. This will make it much easier to keep personal and professional finances separate. Belgian banks that offer suitable accounts for freelancers and self-employed entrepreneurs include:
Taxation for freelancers in Belgium
Freelancers in Belgium will need to include their business earnings and profits on their Belgian income tax return. The income tax rate in Belgium is progressive, currently set at between 25-50% of income depending on amount. If you’re a business providing certain goods or services in Belgium, you may also be subject to VAT (Belasting over de Toegevoegde Waarde/Taxe sur la Valeur Ajoutée; BTW/TVA). This is paid on business turnover, with the current standard rate at 21%. If you earn less than €25,000 a year, you won’t have to pay or register for VAT unless you want to.
For full details on taxation for freelancers, including information on tax relief and allowances, see the Expatica guide to taxes for freelancers and self-employed.
Social security, health insurance and pensions for freelancers in Belgium
Self-employed workers and freelancers in Belgium are required by law to join a social insurance fund and make quarterly payments to take care of their social security obligations. You can register for social security as a freelancer in Belgium through the FPS. Once you have your Belgian social security number, you are then free to join a social security fund of your choosing. This will enable you to access benefits including:
- Belgian state pension
- State healthcare
- Child benefit
- Maternity benefit
- Sickness and disability benefit
The National Institute for the Social Security of Self-employed (NISSE) safeguards the social security scheme for self-employed workers and freelancers in Belgium. They provide information on social security providers in Belgium. If you don’t choose a provider within a certain time period of your registration, you will be automatically enrolled to the National Auxiliary Fund for Self-employed.
Self-employed and freelancers in Belgium generally pay a higher percentage of income towards social security than employees, with exact amounts depending on factors such as age and earnings from the last 3 years. Contribution rates are set at around 22% of annual income, decreasing as earnings increase.
Social security for freelancers in Belgium doesn’t cover unemployment insurance. For this, you will need to take out voluntary insurance to cover the risks of experiencing periods of unemployment or lack of earnings. You can also take out supplementary insurance to increase your pension or other benefits such as maternity allowance. See the Expatica pension guide for information on pension options.
Many expats and freelancers in Belgium also take out private healthcare insurance as a top-up for their public coverage and to enable them to access a wider range of private healthcare services. Private health insurance providers in Belgium include:
Other insurances for freelancers in Belgium
There are a number of additional insurance considerations when freelancing in Belgium, some compulsory and some optional. The main types are:
- Public liability insurance – compulsory if you are operating from a business premises. Covers against third party injuries, damage to property or financial loss caused by negligence.
- Professional liability insurance – optional insurance that covers costs associated with professional mistakes or bad advice.
- Vehicle insurance – mandatory for all vehicle drivers.
- Building and contents insurance – optional, but may be mandatory with some business premises landlords. Covers business property and contents from damage cause by accidents or natural disasters such as fires or floods.
- Cyber insurance – voluntary insurance that protects against hacking, data loss or server failure.
Earning a secondary income from freelancing in Belgium
It’s possible to take up self-employment or freelancing in Belgium as a secondary activity to your main job – even if it’s in a totally different sector to your main employment. If you take up freelancing as a secondary activity, you have the same legal obligations as someone who is self-employed or freelancing as their main occupation. This means that you have to register with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises and join a social insurance fund for the self-employed and make quarterly contributions. However, it won’t affect your social security rights as an employee (e.g. you will still be entitled to unemployment benefit if you suddenly stopped working).
To be considered as self-employed in a secondary occupation, your main job must equate to at least half of the standard full-time hours for that job (so, around 19 hours per week in Belgium). More information about this is available on the NISSE website.
Finding office space when freelancing in Belgium
Many freelancers and entrepreneurs in Belgium operate out of coworking spaces, which are particularly popular in Brussels and the bigger cities. For more information on coworking spaces and how to find a space in Belgium, see this handy Expatica guide.
Finding work when freelancing in Belgium
One of the biggest challenges when working as a freelancer in Belgium can be getting your name out there and finding enough work. Thankfully, there are plenty of online resources that can help with this. Here are a few handy sites you can use.
Belgian freelancer websites
You can also check the Expatica guide to finding jobs in Belgium for further suggestions.
Support, advice and training for freelancers in Belgium
There is a wealth of support and advice for budding entrepreneurs and freelancers in Belgium. All three Belgian regions offer support and subsidies for entrepreneurs and small businesses that meet certain criteria. The EU also offers support, which includes financial support for entrepreneurs through the European Investment Fund and an Erasmus exchange program where entrepreneurs and start ups can be funded to spend up to 6 months in another EU country learning from and networking with business professionals.
- Federal Public Service Economy SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy (FPS): information on self-employment in Belgium, much of which is in English.
- Business Belgium: also part of the FPS, has detailed information in English on setting up a business in Belgium.
- UNIZO – membership organization for self-employed workers and freelancers in Belgium, only in Dutch.