25 July 2018

Setting up a business in Belgium: The first steps to go it alone

Why start a business in Belgium? Some people are motivated by the desire to escape a stifling workplace, others by the drive to be their own boss and reap the benefits of increased job satisfaction and freedom, while for others it may be by necessity rather than choice. Yet self-employment does not have to be a bureaucratic hurdle and the number of people launching their own business continues to rise

Take the leap

According to former federal minister for the middle class, SMEs, self-employed and agriculture Willy Borsus (now Minister-President of the Walloon Government), in 2016 the number of self-employed people in Belgium rose by 23,000 to reach a record of 1,058.522. For 714,412 of them, self-employment was registered as their main activity and 245,035 their secondary activity, while 99,075 retirees also remained active.

What steps must you take to leap into the world of business?

Whether the activity is full or part-time, various options are available. They range from:

  • registering as self-employed,
  • having a supplementary activity in addition to a salaried one
  • and setting up a company.

If you choose the latter, a good accountant may seem an expensive outlay in the beginning, but will smooth life in the long run. An accountant can also help you choose the specific legal status of your business.

Choose the right type of business

There are many different forms your business can take, from having a freelance complementary activity to setting up a public limited company. In addition, there are company branches and subsidiaries. A branch is a commercial activity of a foreign company set up in Belgium, managed by a legal representative of the parent company. A subsidiary is a Belgian company with its own legal personality. For a one-person business (sole trader), there are fewer legal obligations with regard to decision-making, profit distribution and administration. But a company has certain tax advantages. There is a huge variety of corporate types and the mandatory capital depends on the type.

To set up a private limited company, a minimum capital of €18,550 is required, while shareholders establishing a public limited company must present a total capital of at least €61,500. If you establish a private limited liability company or public limited company, the financial plan must be filed with a notary. A notary is also necessary for deeds of incorporation, making any future amendment to the articles of association and possibly closing the company.

Open Bank accounts

When starting a business, you should open a bank account which is separate from your private account. This account must be used exclusively for transactions relating to your professional activity. The account number must feature on all commercial documents such as invoices.

Obtain the professional card

The next step is applying for a professional card to become your own boss. The application has to be submitted through a business counter (Guichet d’Entreprise/Ondernemingsloket). If the Federal Public Service Economy approves your application, you will receive a card which is valid for up to five years. The business counter will help you to register in the national database of businesses, known as the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (Banque Carrefour des Entreprises/Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen).

If you want to set up a commercial activity, the business counter will check your knowledge of business management and professional expertise. Any Belgian diploma of higher education is valid and a diploma or experience acquired abroad may be equivalent. You can also substantiate your professional experience through employment contracts. In some cases, you will have to pass a government exam or call on a business associate who can prove the required skills and will take care of the day-to-day management of the company. If one business counter refuses your application, you can always try another.

Once registered, you will receive your unique enterprise number, consisting of a 0 or 1 followed by nine digits. You need this number in all communication with the authorities and have to include it on your documents, website and showroom window. If you set up a corporation with legal personality, you have to file the basic documents with the registry of the Commercial Court, which will publish a summary in the Belgian Official Gazette.

And now ?

If you are looking for advice at any stage of the process, contact our expat service desk and speak to one of our advisors, or consult our website dedicated to starters. You will find plenty of advice and practical information for a good start.