Government & Law

Social security in Belgium

Expats in Belgium must contribute to the Belgian social security system, which provides benefits for sickness, unemployment, and pregnancy.

Social security Belgium
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Updated 8-5-2024

If you’re new to Belgium, it’s important to get your head around how the social security system works. This includes knowing which deductions come out of your paycheck, and what they cover. It’s also worth knowing how to access benefits if you lose your job, become pregnant, or can no longer work due to sickness or disability. Getting familiar with the social security system also means knowing what type of pension and survivor benefits you can receive as an expat. Keep reading to find advice on the following:

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Social security in Belgium

The National Social Security Office (Office National de Sécurité Sociale – ONSS, or Rijksdienst voor Sociale Zekerheid – RSZ) oversees Belgium’s social security. The system is extensive, relying on payments from workers’ social contributions. Employers pay an additional amount on top of their employees’ salary each month. Social security in Belgium covers a series of benefits, including old-age and survivor pensions, unemployment benefits, insurance for accidents and occupational diseases, and family benefits.

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Photo: Thierry Hebbelinck/Getty Images

The rules and requirements differ depending on whether you are a salaried worker, self-employed, or a civil servant. Residents who aren’t in employment or have low earnings may be able to obtain any necessary benefits from additional social assistance schemes.

Who has to register for social security in Belgium?

The majority of people living and working in Belgium must register for and pay into the social security system. If you are staying in Belgium for longer than 90 days, you can do this by registering at your local municipality. You will then receive a National Register Number. When you start a new job in Belgium, your employer must ensure you’re registered to make the required contributions.

Social security contributions are taken directly from your salary each month. Overall, employees pay 13.07% of their wages into the social security system. Employers, however, pay double – around 27%. Contributions go to the ONSS/RNZ.

The employee’s share of contributions goes towards pensions (around 7.5%), sickness and invalidity insurance for healthcare (3.5%) and benefits (1.2%), and unemployment coverage (1%). Additionally, employers contribute towards cover for occupational diseases and accidents at work.

An additional special social security contribution is payable by most workers in Belgium. This varies from €9.30 to €60.94 per month, depending on your household’s income. The final amount payable is adjusted at the end of each year. Overall, there is an annual cap of €731.28 on contributions.

Receiving social security in Belgium

Everyone living and working in Belgium is entitled to social security coverage. However, how much you need to pay depends on whether your country of origin has a social security agreement in place with Belgium. Belgium has social security agreements with all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and 25 non-EEA countries.

Some of these bilateral agreements allow you to transfer or combine your benefits. For example, the EU’s agreement ensures residents only make social security contributions in one country at a time. This allows you to avoid double taxation. To clarify, if you need to make a claim in Belgium, any periods of insurance, work, and taxation in your home country can be taken into account.

If your country doesn’t have a bilateral agreement with Belgium, you might need to make social security contributions in both countries. It’s best to seek advice from your country’s embassy in Belgium or the National Social Security Office (in Dutch, French, and German).

Unemployment benefit in Belgium

Workers in Belgium may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they lose their job. To qualify, you must have worked either 321 days in the last 21 months or 624 days in the last 42 months, depending on your age. Additionally, you must reside in Belgium, have lost your job through no fault of your own, and be able to prove you are actively looking for a new job. You should also register with one of Belgium’s public employment services:

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How much benefit you can receive depends on your most recent salary, whether you have dependents, and how long you worked in your previous job. Generally, employees can benefit from 65% of their last salary for the first three months of unemployment. The benefit then reduces to 60% of their salary for the next nine months. There is a cap of €2,754.76 for the first six months and €2,567.49 for the following six months. The amount you can receive may decrease after the first 12 months. You can find out the exact stipulations on the European Commission’s website.

Self-employed workers can’t access unemployment benefit as they don’t have a set place of work. However, you must register with a social insurance fund, which will offer protection should you need it. This protection can include a transitional benefit payment, which is available for up to a year in some instances of unemployment.

Sickness benefits in Belgium

If you can no longer work due to an illness or accident, you may be entitled to income replacement benefit. This benefit is provided by the National Institute for Sickness and Invalidity Insurance (INAMI or RIZIV – website in Dutch and French).

Eligibility rules vary depending on your job. For example, salaried employees must have paid into their mutual insurance fund for at least 12 months. They must also report their incapacity for work within 30 days of the sickness starting. Self-employed workers need to prove they’ve been making contributions for at least six months. Employees must provide a medical certificate completed by a doctor as evidence of their incapacity for work.

White-collar workers can receive 100% of their earnings for the first month. Meanwhile, manual workers receive 100% for the first seven days. The benefit reduces to 85.88% from the eighth to the 14th day. After that, it falls to 25.88% from the 15th to the 30th day. Self-employed workers are provided with a fixed amount rather than a percentage of salary. The exact sum varies depending on what you earn. Finally, after a month of absence from work, sickness insurance kicks in at a rate of 60% of earnings.

Invalidity benefits in Belgium

If you are still unable to work after a year, your sickness insurance will cease, and you’ll need to apply for invalidity benefit. The Invalidity Medical Council (Conseil médical de l’invalidité, CMI – website in Dutch and French) oversees this allowance. For workers with no dependents, invalidity insurance is provided at 55% of earnings, up to a maximum of €80.84 a day. If you have a dependent, the cap is slightly higher, at €95.54 a day.

Cover is also available for people who suffer an accident in the workplace. Compensation amounts vary depending on your job and the industry you work in, but compensation can include reimbursement of both lost wages and medical costs. The Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (FEDRIS) administers occupational illness cover in Belgium.

Maternity benefits in Belgium

Maternity benefits in Belgium are available to expectant mothers who have contributed to the social security system. The National Office for Family Benefits for Salaried Persons (ONAFTS – website in French, Dutch, and German) administers these benefits and has branches in all major cities.

Maternity leave is available for a maximum of 15 weeks. Six weeks of prenatal leave must be taken before the baby is born, followed by nine weeks of postnatal leave after the due date. Self-employed workers are entitled to a total of 12 weeks’ leave. It is compulsory to take leave the week before the birth and the two weeks immediately afterward.

Employees receive 82% of their salary for the first 30 days (with no maximum cap) of maternity leave. This reduces to 75% of their salary (capped at €110.23 a day) after that. A flat weekly benefit of €499.54 (full-time workers) or €249.77 (part-time workers) is provided to self-employed workers through their insurance fund. Unemployed people get their usual benefit plus an additional 19.5% for the first 30 days (maximum of €116.85). This reduces to 15% afterward.

Paternity leave of up to 15 days is available to fathers and co-parents. This must be taken within four months of the birth. The full salary is payable for the first three days of paternity leave. After that, the maximum pay is 82% of wages, capped at €120.52 a day.

Birth and adoption grants are available to parents in Belgium. The amount payable varies from region to region. In Brussels, for example, a grant of €1,122 is provided for the first birth or adoption, followed by €510 for each one afterward. The European Commission provides a full breakdown.

Child benefits in Belgium

Family benefits in Belgium are available for any children up to the age of 18. This rises to 25 if the child remains in education. In Wallonia, however, the age limit is 21 for children born from 2001 onwards. 

The basic allowance is available to all families, but how much you can receive each month depends on where you live, how many children you have, and the year of birth. In Brussels, for example, you will receive €153 a month for each child born from 1 January 2020 onwards. In addition, parents with lower incomes may be able to benefit from means-tested social supplements.

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Most families can claim a monthly age supplement for their child. In Brussels and Wallonia, parents receive €10.20 a month for children between 12 and 17. This rises to €20.40 a month for those over 18 who remain in education. However, these supplements aren’t available in the German-speaking or Flemish communities. 

Survivor benefit in Belgium

A survivor pension may be available to spouses in Belgium upon the death of their partner.

To benefit, you must be at least 48 years old, have been married for at least a year at the time of death, and not have remarried since your spouse’s death. In instances where the surviving spouse doesn’t meet the minimum age requirement, they can benefit from a transitional allowance for 12 months (if they don’t have dependents) or 24 months (if they do have dependents).

If your spouse was receiving a pension, the survivor’s pension in Belgium amounts to 80% of their salary. However, the benefit amounts to 80% of their projected retirement pension if they were not yet receiving one. Slightly different schemes are available for self-employed workers and civil servants. Above all, it’s a good idea to get professional advice, such as from the Federal Pension Service (SFP – website in French), on the specific eligibility rules.

Health insurance in Belgium

The Belgian health system covers almost all residents of the country, regardless of their employment status. All residents of Belgium must register with a health insurance fund (mutuelle or ziekenfonds).

Belgian healthcare works on a reimbursement basis, and the amount reimbursed varies depending on the type of treatment or care you receive.

Social security for self-employed and freelancers in Belgium

Self-employed workers in Belgium must make social security contributions to a social insurance fund. Self-employed contributions are usually a higher percentage of income than those paid by employees. This is because they must cover some of the contributions that the employer would otherwise pay.

When you first register as self-employed, you’ll need to make ‘provisional’ social security contributions, which are adjusted based on your earnings after three years. Social security statements are sent on a quarterly basis. It’s possible to avoid large bills by estimating your income and making payments in advance.

Self-employed workers can benefit from some social security rights in Belgium, as explained in each section above. They aren’t, however, insured for employer-specific issues, such as accidents in the workplace and occupational diseases.

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