Belgium is uniquely placed in Europe, with this small landlocked nation bordered by economic powerhouses France and Germany, as well as Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
If you’re looking to expand your business interests into mainland Europe, there are few better bases than Belgium – especially when we consider the talented local labour force and comparatively straightforward trading practices. Brussels is referred to as “the capital of Europe” for a good reason!
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Does Belgium welcome overseas businesses?
The Belgian authorities believe very firmly in the free market, so they will welcome any business interest that will benefit the nation and its residents. Admittedly, getting a business off the ground in a post-Brexit landscape can be challenging, but you will find no shortage of opportunities once you have established your interests.
What industries are most popular in Belgium?
The dominant business practices in Belgium in 2022 are:
- Catering, especially food deliveries and takeaway services
- Grocery sales
- Real estate
- Electronic device construction, repair, and maintenance
- Health, fitness, and beauty
Many modern start-ups in Belgium focus on delivering food and consumer goods to customers – the so-called “gig economy” is respected and protected in Belgium. However, opportunities abound for any kind of business that will benefit the nation and its people.
Is it easy to set up a business in Belgium?
If you are a resident of Belgium, it is comparatively simple to set up a business. The snag is that you need to have lived in the country for five years or more to earn a permanent residence permit.
Until then, you can operate as a sole trader by applying for a carte professionelle, also known as a beroepskaart.
Apply for this through the Belgian embassy in London or the Federal Public Service Justice (FPS) in Belgium at the cost of €140 (£120.) Your professional card will be valid for one to five years, and renewals cost €90 (£78.)
Once you are ready to open a Belgian business interest, these are the steps:
How to set up a business in Belgium
- Decide upon your business model
See the section of this guide about Belgian business entity types
- Identify a location to trade in
You’ll need a Belgian address
- Choose your company name
And check with the FPS that this is not already claimed in Belgium
- Register and notarise your company
Do this with the FPS
- Register with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (CBE)
Who will provide you with a company number. This acts as your social security number and VAT number
- If applicable, register for VAT payments
Do this with the Central VAT Office for Foreign Taxpayers (BCAE)
- Register for social security payments through the Office national de sécurité social (ONSS)
And the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (NIHDI), or the National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (INASTI) if you are operating as a self-employed individual
- Open a local bank account
You will also likely need a license from your local authority to operate a business and start trading.
Can I run a business in Belgium while living overseas?
You will need to be a resident of Belgium to start a business in the country, though there is nothing to say you need to remain in the country once you are up and running. Partner with a local if you do not plan to move into the country.
Alternatively, you could open a branch of your business in Belgium and run it from overseas, but you will need a minimum of three directors for this, at least one of whom is a Belgian resident.
Cultural considerations when running a business in Belgium
If you’re going to do business in Belgium, ensure you understand some of the business norms that you’ll encounter. These include:
- While many Belgian associates will speak English, the nation has three official languages – French, Dutch, and (to a lesser extent) German. Take the time to learn the preferences of your potential partners, as speaking French in a Dutch territory may cause offence.
- Belgium is quite formal when it comes to business. Dress traditionally, be punctual, and address associates by title and surname until invited to do otherwise.
- Belgian associates will not be fast to make a decision and prefer to reach a deal in person. Make an effort to visit your partners – do not rely on emails or phone calls.
- Expect to conduct your business in the boardroom. Belgians take their work/life separation seriously, so inviting associates to dinner to discuss a deal will be seen as crossing boundaries.
- Similarly, do not expect to get much done in the summer. Many Belgians like to take their foot off the pedal in July and August, enjoying family holidays during this time, so avoid scheduling meetings.
- Compromise is king in Belgium. You will likely find that trading partners are keen to find a middle ground that suits everybody. Work with this trait, not against it – ultimatums and refusing to consider negotiation will not get you very far.
What business structures are supported in Belgium?
The most popular business structures for a new venture in Belgium are as follows.
|Type of Belgian business entity||What is it?|
|Entreprise individuelle, aka eenmanszaak||A sole trader that lives and works in Belgium. You’ll pay personal income tax on profits, which is likely much higher than the national corporation tax.|
|Société privée à responsabilité limitée (SPRL)||A limited liability company that operates out of Belgium, keeping legal and financial affairs independent of the business owner. An SPRL is sometimes known as a BVBA.|
|Société privée à responsabilité limitée starter (SPRL-S)||A start-up SPRL, with a handful of restrictions – only one person can be recognised as the company’s owner, and this individual cannot hold more than 5% of shares in any other business venture. Most new businesses start as an SPRL-S, then evolve into a standard SPRL.|
|Société anonyme (SA)||A public limited company with at least three directors that is traded on the stock market.|
You can also open a branch of your international business in Belgium, though the authorities prefer overseas traders to open a separate legal entity.
You must appoint at least one local director to represent this interest.
Your parent company will remain liable for financial or legal complications in Belgium, but there is no minimum capital requirement.
Taxation in Belgium
If you want to do business in Belgium, you must understand the taxation rules and regulations that will impact your bottom line.
What is the corporate tax rate in Belgium?
Belgium’s standard corporate tax rate is 25% on all profits, for local and international businesses. Belgium has a double-taxation treaty with the UK, so you will not be charged twice.
What are the employee income tax brackets in Belgium?
All employees in Belgium must pay income tax. The contributions, which are quite high compared to the UK, are as follows.
|Annual salary||Income tax|
|€13,869 or lower||25%|
|€13,870 – €24,479||40%|
|€24,480 – €42,369||45%|
|€42,370 or higher||50%|
Local municipalities will also charge a further income tax, which varies according to the territory. This local tax typically ranges from 2.5 – 9%.
Income tax must be withheld from an employee’s salary at payroll, alongside 13.07% of a wage paid to the ONSS as social security contributions.
How are taxes paid in Belgium?
The Belgian tax year mirrors the calendar year, with all filings and payments due by the following June. So, the 2022 tax year runs from 01/01/22 – 31/12/22, with taxes to be filed and paid by 30/06/23.
Payroll and hiring employees in Belgium
Hiring the right talent can make or break a company. Ensure your Belgian business interests are staffed by the best possible talent.
Does Belgium welcome overseas talent?
Provided an employee has the necessary documentation to live and work in the country, Belgium welcomes skilled overseas hires. A substantial drive has been undertaken over the last few years to bring in the best employees from around the world, as Belgium was considered to lag behind the Netherlands, France, and Germany regarding opportunities for imported talent.
Who needs a visa or work permit to work in Belgium?
Anybody that does not hold a Belgian, EU, EEA, or Swiss passport will need a visa or work permit to live and work in Belgium, alongside a residence card or professional card.
What employee benefits are compulsory in Belgium?
Employees in Belgium will be entitled to the following benefits by law.
- No less than 20 days of paid holiday (24 days if the employee works a six-day week.)
- 30 days of sick leave per year on full pay.
- 27% of salary paid to the ONSS in social security payments.
- 15 weeks of paid maternity leave (82% of salary for 30 days, then 75% for the rest.)
- 10 days of paid paternity leave (82% of salary.)
- 80% of pension payable to a spouse if an employee dies in service.
Employment law considerations in Belgium
At the time of writing, the minimum wage in Belgium for a full-time employee is €1,842 per month/€22,104 per year. This minimum wage can rise multiple times in a calendar year, as Belgium tends to pay higher salaries than most EU countries.
As of late 2022, Belgian employees are entitled to apply to work a four-day week with no reduction to salary, assuming they still complete the same number of contracted weekly hours. You can refuse this request as an employer, but you must provide a compelling reason in writing.
Written employment contracts are not mandatory in Belgium. Any working conditions agreed upon verbally, especially for blue-collar workers, are considered just as binding as a signed contract. Keep this in mind when negotiating terms with employees.
Cultural considerations when hiring employees in Belgium
If you wish to run a business in Belgium that relies upon the local labour force, ensure you understand some of the nuances you will encounter. These include:
- Belgian employees value hard work and efficiency, so they will do all they can for you during working hours. Do not attempt to contact your team outside of this, though – Belgian employees like to keep their work and personal lives separate, and the minute they leave the office, they expect not to hear from you until the next working day.
- Hierarchy is respected in Belgium. Your employees will likely act with reverence toward you, so be mindful of how you speak to them.
- Avoid attempting to prise personal information out of your employees. You may just be making polite conversation by asking somebody what they did at the weekend, but to a reserved Belgian, this can feel like an intrusive question. Allow your employees to make the running when it comes to informal discussions.
- Belgians value equality. Never treat female employees differently to males, so show any behaviours that could be considered discriminatory based on age, religion, sexuality, or other protected traits.
FAQs about setting up a business in Belgium
Still have questions or are seeking a swift answer to a basic query? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about establishing a business in Belgium.
Expect to wait around a month, maybe two, to start trading in Belgium once you commence setting up a business entity.
The most popular business structures in Belgium are Société privée à responsabilité limitée (SPRL), a limited liability company; Société privée à responsabilité limitée starter (SPRL-S), a start-up company; or a Société anonyme (SA), a public limited company traded on the stock market.
BVBA is an acronym for Besloten Vennootschap met Beperkte Aansprakelijkheid – Dutch for “Belgium Limited Liability Company.” A BVBA is the same entity as an SPRL, with identical legal protections and restrictions. BVBA is used in Dutch-speaking parts of the country, while French-speaking territories use SPRL.
Employers pay 27% of an employee’s salary to the ONSS on a monthly basis, while employees will see 13.07% of their salary withheld as a contribution.
A probationary period is optional in Belgium – the minimum standard term was abolished in 2014. Some companies and employees still agree on a probation of anywhere from one month to six months, but this will not be legally binding.
As 27% of an employee’s wage is payable to the ONSS, budget for at least 1.27 times an employee’s salary for every new hire you make – more if you offer additional benefits outside those prescribed by law.
The minimum share capital requirement for an SPRL (including an SPRL-S) or BVBA is €18,600 (around £16,000), of which €6,200 (£5,400) needs to be paid at the point of incorporation. An SA in Belgium has a minimum capital requirement of €61,500 (£53,500,) all of which must be paid up-front.
Yes, you will need a Belgian bank account to trade in the country. Thankfully this is easy to set up – some banks will even let you open an account online from overseas.
The standard working week in Belgium is 38 hours, capped at 48 hours. As of 2022, employees are entitled to request a four-day working week.
Offering a private medical insurance policy and life insurance will typically make your business more appealing to Belgian employees. Beyond this, consider additional perks such as a company car and subsidised gym memberships or sustenance. Do not worry too much about a company mobile phone – Belgian employment law says employees are not obligated to respond to you outside of contracted working hours.
Although employee contracts in Belgium do not need to be put in writing, employees can only be terminated at will with justifiable cause (typically an act of gross misconduct or breach of an oral or written contract) or if mutually agreed with the employee. If neither of these scenarios applies, you’ll need to give notice or offer an equivalent severance package.
Belgian employees are entitled to a minimum of 20 personal holiday days per year. Belgium also observes 10 public holidays.
Yes, an established business can set up a branch of their company in Belgium. You will need to appoint at least one local employee to act as director of this branch, who will be responsible for keeping your trading practices compliant with Belgian law.
You can run your payroll in-house from your Belgian base of operations, team up with a local payroll company in Belgium to manage your payroll on an outsourced basis, or run your payroll from the UK if you are operating a branch.
Belgium’s most common work permit is a Type B, valid for one year and renewable annually, or a Type D visa, granted to employees of a local business for the same period. After living in Belgium for five years and holding a Type B work permit for at least four years, an application can be made for an indefinite Type A work permit and residence permit.
Anybody looking to trade in Belgium that does not yet hold a residence permit, which can only be applied for after five years, must hold a carte professionelle, also known as a beroepskaart.
The CBE is Belgium’s equivalent of Companies House, holding all basic data relevant to a business for the general public to access.