Start your business in Belgium on the right foot by reading about the potential hurdles and Belgian regulations for foreigners starting a business in Belgium.
There are over a million self-employed people in Belgium and an increasing proportion of these, especially in Brussels, are foreigners. Find out what you need to start a business as a freelancer or self-employed person in Belgium to make the process easier.
Foreigners can set up a business or work as self-employed in Belgium, although non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals may need a visa to enter Belgium and will need to get a professional card to set up a business. Once you’re living in Belgium, however, the process for setting up a Belgian business is relatively easy for foreigners provided they meet the conditions outlined below.
Who can set up a Belgian business?
You will need to be over 18 years old (16 for craftspeople) to work as a freelancer or self-employed worker (travailleur indépendant/vervangende ondernemer) in Belgium. You will have to register your business and get a company number. You may be asked to provide evidence that you have certain skills or knowledge (eg. a degree), including entrepreneurial and management skills. Unless you are from the EU/EEA or Switzerland, you will also need a Belgian residence permit and a professional card (explained below).
You can work on a self-employed basis as a main activity or as a complementary activity alongside your main job, as long as your employment contract allows it.
Different legal structures for companies and self-employment in Belgium
You can set up your self-employed status as either a:
- ‘natural person’ or sole proprietorship (entreprise individuelle/eenmanszaak), where there is no distinction made between you and your business, one example being freelance workers. You are personally liable for any debts and pay personal income tax, which is higher than company tax.
- ‘legal person’, by setting up a limited company, where the company has its own capital and is a legal entity with rights and obligations but directors are only liable for the amount invested at the time the company was founded. Company tax is much lower than individual tax. A limited liability company (Besloten Vennootschap met Beperkte Aansprakelijkheid/Société Privée à Responsabilité Limitée; BVBA/SPRL) is set up by at least two people as shareholders where liability is limited to the amount of capital invested in exchange for shares. There’s also a one-person version of this, which requires less capital.
- Co-operatives may be set up with at least three people and may have limited or unlimited liability.
Regulated professions in Belgium
Some occupations are regulated in Belgium, which means that you have to fulfil certain conditions before you can start working. Look on the business.belgium website for details on regulated occupations and for more information on what to do.
How to set up as a freelancer or self-employed worker in Belgium
Step 1: Obtain a professional card (Belgian permit) to work in self-employment
> EU/EEA and Swiss nationals don’t need a permit
If you’re an EU/EEA or Swiss national, you can work as a freelancer or in self-employment in Belgium without restriction nor requiring a special permit. If you will be working temporarily in Belgium you must notify the Belgian social security and register on the Limosa website.
> Non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals need a professional card
If you’re a national from outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland, unless you already have a Belgian residence permit, you must apply to get a professional card to set up a business or work in self-employment in Belgium. The professional card acts as your work permit.
You can apply for a professional card (carte professionelle/ beroepskaart) when you apply for your Belgian visa, by contacting the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country before coming to Belgium. They will forward your application onto the Federal Public Services’s Authorisation Service for a fee of EUR 140. You will be advised on what you need to provide, which could include documents containing information about your proposed business and how it relates to Belgium, your finances and your own qualifications and experience.
If you’re successful in your application, the FPS’s Authorisation Service will issue you with your card, allowing you to practise specific activities. This card will be valid initially for two years and up to a maximum of five years. You have to pay a EUR 90 fee. It can be extended for up to five years as long as you have fulfilled tax and social security obligations. If you want to change your activity you have to inform the Federal Public Service Economy SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy.
You can find more information on the Belgian professional card via the FPS website.
Step 2: Register your business
You must register your business and get a company number, which also serves as a VAT and social security number. If you wish to engage in commercial activities you will need to be registered as a trader with the Central Enterprise Databank (Banque-Carrefour des Entreprises or Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen). You may need to be registered for VAT.
You can do all of this through a one-stop-shop or business counter (guichet d’entreprise/ondernemingsloket). There is a fee. There are offices throughout Belgium. You can find the nearest office here on the FPS portal.
If you are setting up a company you may need to draw up articles of incorporation/memorandum of association, by a civil-law notary, and register with an FPS.
Step 3: Open a bank account
You must open a bank account, separate from your personal bank account, for your business use only, whether you are setting up as a self-employed individual or a company. You should put your account number on all your business documents.
Step 4: Social security and health insurance for the self-employed in Belgium
> Freelancers registering with a social fund
Everyone in Belgium has to pay contributions into a Belgian social security fund to provide cover for unemployment, maternity, family benefits and pensions.
If you are self-employed you must register with a fund for self-employed workers by the time you start work or within 90 days of starting your business. The Belgian Social Security portal has a list of appropriate social security funds. If you don’t register with a fund the National Institute of Social Security for the Self-Employed (NISSE/RSVZ/INASTI) will contact you and automatically register you with their own National Fund. If appropriate, you’ll need to show your professional card and residency documentation.
> Health insurance for freelancers in Belgium
You’ll need to take out health insurance and pay regular contributions to a health insurance scheme to cover medical treatment and incapacity to work in Belgium. The Belgian Social Security portal has a list of health insurance funds. You’ll need to have proof of social security contributions to a social fund (see above).
You can read more about the Belgian healthcare system to see what is covered and how to apply.
Finding an accountant or financial expert in Belgium
You can find an expert-comptable/compte fiscal/accountant/belastingconsulent through the website of the Instituut van de Accountants en de Blastingconsulenten (French or Dutch only).
- Federal Public Service Economy SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy: information on self-employment in Belgium, much of which is in English.
- Belgian Social Security: information on Belgian social security, mainly in French and Dutch, but has an English language contact email service.
- Business Belgium: also part of the FPS, has detailed information in English on setting up a business in Belgium.
- Participation Fund: financial support for self-employed people.
- Taxation and charges for freelancers and the self-employed in Belgium.