Belgium Country Facts

We provide comprehensive information regarding, Culture, Work life, Taxation, Visa’s & immigration, Labour Law, recruiting in Belgium and employment contracts.

Global Expansion Made Easy for You

Expanding into Belgium generally comes with challenges, however, partnering with us and using Employer of Record (EOR) eliminates the frustrations you could encounter.

The Kingdom of Belgium is a beautiful northwestern European country, 18 times smaller than one of its neighbours, France. Its population in 2022 was over 11.765 million, and it hosts the European Union (EU) headquarters and NATO. It also shares borders with the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany and has a coastline on the North Sea.

Belgium, as with all nations, protects its borders and documentation is required to enter, whether for holidays, family visits or work purposes. EU and European Economic Area (EEA) citizens and the Swiss come under the freedom of movement agreement and do not require work permits or visas. However, they need a valid passport or National ID for their stay. Some 90 other nations’ citizens can travel visa-exempt for tourism and business purposes for 90 days in 180 days. However, from 2023, they require a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) visa waiver. Around 150 countries’ nationals need to apply for a Schengen visa.

Non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals (a.k.a. Third Country Nationals – TCNs) who are living outside Belgium require a job offer with an employment contract, a Work Permit or Single Permit (combined residence permit) and an entry visa (D Visa). This can be a complicated process for the uninitiated, and companies expanding into the region find Visas and work permits for Belgium to be a significant issue, especially as there are three legislative regions – Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital region – that have their legislatures.

Organising documentation, moving staff worldwide, or recruiting within the new territory, would require an in-house specialist team. Many companies do not have these resources or the time; this is where Bradford Jacobs can help. As a Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) with Employer of Record (EOR) platforms and specialists, we have resources and the time. We are your specialists in hiring staff and ensuring employees meet Belgian work visa and permit requirements with the correct paperwork. As well as having a comprehensive knowledge of work documentation procedures, we keep abreast of changes to the systems and laws, which can be costly if contravened.

The different types of Visas and Work Permits for Belgium

Citizens of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA), or Swiss nationals do not require work permits or visas to enter, stay or work in Belgium. However, they must hold a passport or national ID card valid for their stay and if they are required to register for longer than three months. They can also apply for a foreigner’s ID card. Generally, citizens whose countries do not have a ‘visa-free’ travel agreement or are not part of the Schengen area require a visa to enter Belgium.

Main Visa Categories:

Schengen Visa or Short Stay C Visa: 90-day visa in any 180 days. To visit family, for tourism, business or transit plus others.

Work Visa D Category: To enter Belgium for more than 90 days (including work) applied for through local embassies, consulates and some authorised Visa Centers abroad.

To Work in Belgium

This depends on specific criteria, e.g., nationality, residence, duration of stay or whether an employee or self-employed.

Note: Work permits may be needed even if the employment is for less than 90 days.

Documentation required to work in Belgium

An Entry Visa (D Visa) PLUS one of the following:

  1. Work Permit (Type B) for short-term employment.
  2. The Single Permit (combined work and residence permit).
  3. The EU Blue Card for highly qualified employees.
  4. Intra-company Transfer – employees coming from abroad to work for affiliates in Belgium.

Eligible categories of workers who can apply:

  • Highly skilled or highly qualified
  • Managers
  • Those with occupations on the shortage list
  • Specialists/technicians/executives

Workers need a Work Visa D Category to enter Belgium and obtain it through the Belgian embassy or consulate in their country of residence. This is attached or stamped in the passport with the purpose of the visit, length of stay and whether it is a single or multi-entry visa. To apply for this visa, a worker needs a work permit, which requires an employment contract. The employer applies for the Work Permit.

Work Permits:

Three different legislative regions within Belgium have their own rules and regulations regarding work documentation, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. Foreigners wanting to work in Belgium should check with the Belgian embassies in their home country.

There are two categories of employment:

  1. Short-term. 90 days in 180 days. This may or may not require a permit. For example:
  • Transferring as a seconded or posted worker to a Belgian branch of their company abroad.
  • When providing services to customers or individuals in Belgium.

Note: Part-time or temporary workers must make a Limosa-1 Declaration when not coming under the Belgian social security system.

  1. Long Term. For longer than 90 days, which do need Work and Residence Permits, include:
  • Working for a Belgian-registered company with an employment contract.
  • Long-term transfer to the Belgian branch of the company abroad.
  • Highly skilled workers on assignment.
  • Providing long-term services to customers.

Four different types of Work Permits

  • Single Permit for foreign employees, having a job and employment contract with a Belgian-registered company. A long-term work permit and residence permit combined for highly skilled workers and executives, allowing them to live and work in the country for more than 90 days. The process takes up to four months. It can be:
  1. Unlimited Duration. For those employees who have already been working in Belgium and have had a residency for ten years on a Limited Single Permit or a Work Permit.
  2. Limited Duration for a specific position and employer who applies for the permit. They are issued for up to three years. In 2019, Belgium introduced the EU Single Permit Directive for non-EU citizens wanting to work for more than 90 days. The Single Permit merges the work and residence permits into one document issued through a single application procedure.

Note: Since June 2021, all three regions have simplified the process for the Single Permit application online at the one-stop shop. All documents with the application form are dispatched to the region where the foreigner is employed.

  • Work Permit (Type B) is for short-term employment (less than 90 days) and is for a specific employer and job. The employer applies, which can take two to six weeks to process. It is not renewable, but the employer can apply for a Single Permit.
  • EU Blue Card Scheme: To attract highly qualified and educated Third Country Nationals (TCNs) to work in the EU, including Belgium. The Blue Card entitles holders to:
  1. The same pay and working conditions as Belgian workers, although there is a minimum qualifying salary, which for 2022 was €57,019 (US$57,882) but may differ depending on the region.
  2. Highly qualified workers have no requirement for a Labour Market Test.
  3. Valid for between one and three years, depending on the employment contract.
  4. Have the required qualifications for the EU Card, e.g., degree, diploma.
  • Intra-Company Transfer Permit: Created to make it easier for company managers, specialists and trainees from Non-EU countries to work within the EU when transferring to a branch, subsidiary or affiliate in Belgium from a parent company abroad. Operating in the EU since 2020, implemented in Belgium since December 2021 to facilitate ‘intra-company mobility’.

How to apply for Visas and Work Permits for Belgium?

Citizens of EU/EEA countries and Switzerland do not require work visas or permits but must register their stay in Belgium after three months and receive a Belgian ID Card, which is the E-Card.

For Third Country Nationals (TCNs) wanting to work in Belgium, their employers apply for a Work/Residence permit. Employees apply for the D Visa to enter Belgium after receiving permit approval. Short-term employment (less than 90 days) may also require a permit (Type B Work Permit), but there are exceptions, in which case a Limosa Declaration has to be made.

Work Permits for Long-Term Employment

  1. Single Permit – a combined work and residence permit. These are applied for at a one-stop-shop online, and documentation is sent to whichever region, e.g., Flanders, Wallonia or Brussels-Capital, the employee will be working. A Labour Market Test is required to ensure no Belgian or EU worker can fill the position.
  2. EU Blue Card – a combined work and residence permit, applied through the Single Permit Process, although there is no Labour Market Test.
  3. ICT Transfer came into force at the end of 2021 for companies transferring staff between entities in the same corporate group, from companies outside the EU to branches inside the EU. This is also through the Single Permit Process.

How it works:

  1. The employer applies for the Permit.
  2. Upon approval, the employee applies for the D Visa at a local Belgian embassy or consulate.
  3. Eight days after arrival, register your address.
  4. After a successful residence survey, you receive a foreigner ID Card.

Before applying, check if the documents to be submitted with the application need the following:

  • Translating
  • Notarising or legalising, e.g., qualifications or work experience.
  • Signed electronically or by hand.
  • Should be supplied within a time period/time sensitive.
  • Originals or copies.

General documents during the Single Permit process

  • Application form completed and signed. In some cases, the employee may also have to sign this. The employer needs to be legally resident in Belgium.
  • Passport with 12 months validity with two facing pages for visas.
  • Qualifications from an accredited educational institution.
  • Curriculum Vitae with work experience.
  • Police report no older than six months from applying.
  • Medical report no older than six months from applying
  • Proof of financial stability, e.g., the employment contract with minimum salary required.
  • Proof of residence or accommodation.
  • Health insurance for employees and families (if relevant) generally covers costs of EUR 30,000 (USD 39,454).
  • Marriage and/or birth certificate of family members (if applicable).

From Employer

  • Proof of payment of the Single Permit.
  • Any documentation regarding employment, e.g., a complete description of the position, may be related to occupations on the shortage list. Any Labour Market Test that has been conducted.
  • Company documents such as company registration or employer’s ID and VAT number.
  • Employment contract signed and dated giving details of salary which must comply with legal minimums for foreigners.
  • Supply the National Registration Number of the employee.

Once the employer has submitted the application and documentation online to the One-Stop-Shop, they are checked regarding the employee’s and employer’s eligibility and passed to the Immigration office, which approves or rejects the Residence application and to the relevant Regional offices that grants the work permit. When both are approved, the Single Permit is also given, and the consulate or embassy abroad is notified so the employee can apply for the D Visa to enter Belgium.

Note: To sponsor a Work Permit for a Third national country, the company must be incorporated in Belgium. If not, then you need the expertise of an Employer of Record, such as Bradford Jacobs, who can hire workers and sponsor work permits in Belgium.

Documentation Required for D Visa to enter Belgium:

Photographs and biometrics can be taken at the consulate or embassy (or authorised Visa Centre).

  • Application form for the long-stay D Visa.
  • Two recent passport-style photos.
  • Passport and travel ID documents with copies of all previous visas and data pages.
  • Approvals from Immigration and regional offices, plus granting Single Permit (B34)/EU Blue Card (B29), should have been sent to the appropriate consulate.
  • A medical certificate (no older than three months) gives a clean health bill.
  • Accommodation address
  • A police report of good conduct.
  • Proof of payment of fees for visa.

When entering Belgium after receiving the D Visa with the stamp indicating which Single Permit has been approved, foreigners may also be asked at Border control for proof of funds for stay, accommodation address, return ticket, travel or health insurance, and cover letter from employer.

The EU Intra-Company Transfer was fully implemented in Belgium in December 2021 and followed the same procedure as the Single Permit, although there is no Labour Market Test. Both regional approvals for the work permit and immigration approval for the residence permit are required.

Dealing with tax in Belgium while overseas can be tricky and pose complications that would demand expert guidance. Bradford Jacobs is a front-line specialist with unrivalled international taxation and payroll know-how. Over 20 years of experience in the field ensures our clients and partners comply with every aspect of taxation legislation wherever they operate. We bring global reach and local knowledge to the table – essential for foreign companies moving into Belgium, where regional differences add to the complications.

Bradford Jacobs answers all the questions surrounding Belgian payroll and the broader taxation issues. This includes personal and payroll taxes; social security contributions; consumption and indirect taxes; corporate taxes; withholding and capital gains taxes; and new tax regulations for expatriate workers. Extra complications are posed by Belgium having three legislative regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital region), which have their governments and can impose their regulations. Belgium also has three official languages – French in Wallonia, Dutch in Flanders and German in East Belgium.

This is a lot to consider when building a business in the country – in addition to onboarding staff and complying with employment laws. Our breakdown of tax regulations unravels the red tape and highlights how Bradford Jacobs will assist your company in untying the knots and avoiding the hazards of taxation in Belgium! From locating the brightest talent to running your payroll, our Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) and Employer of Record (EOR) specialists will guide you every step of the way.

Overview of Tax in Belgium

* Belgium’s official currency is the Euro. We give approximate US dollar equivalents but allow for exchange rate fluctuations.

Personal Income Tax (PIT):

Rates apply to residents and non-residents. Four bands start at 25% for income, reaching EUR 13,540 (USD 13,413) up to 50% for income over EUR 42,370 (USD 41,974). The first band is subject to a tax-free allowance of EUR 9,050 (USD 8,965), which can increase due to personal circumstances.

Social Insurance Taxes:

Contributions are tax deductible for employers and employees. Employees contribute 13.07% of income, with employers contributing around 27% of employees’ salaries. A special social security contribution varies between EUR 9.30 and EUR 60.94, collected monthly from net pay. The maximum annual payable amount is EUR 731.28 (USD 727).

Local Income Taxes:

Belgian residents are subject to communal taxes, up to 9%, with a flat rate of 7% for non-residents assessed on income tax due.

Corporate Income Tax (CIT):

Belgian resident companies and foreign companies’ permanent establishments in Belgium pay CIT at 25% on profits. Under the Belgian Companies and Associations Code (BCAC), qualifying companies benefit from a rate of 20% on the first €100,000 (US$99,530) of taxable profits. Insufficient advance payments can incur surcharges of 6.75%.

Indirect Taxes: 

The standard rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services is 21%. Restaurant and catering services are among the categories attracting 12%, with 6% applying to foodstuffs, some pharmaceuticals, and cultural and leisure activities. Zero-rated categories include exports, various European Union interactions and services relating to education, healthcare and social services.

Withholding Tax (WHT):

Unless exemptions apply through tax treaties, 30% applies to dividends, interest, service fees and royalties paid by Belgian corporations to foreign companies and individuals.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT): 

The CIT rate of 25% applies to a company’s capital gains on the disposal of assets.

Personal Income Tax in Belgium

From | Not Over | Tax %
EUR 0 – EUR 13,870 (USD 14,450): 25%
EUR 13,870 – EUR 24,480 (USD 25,505): 40%
EUR 24,480 – EUR 42,370 (USD 44,149): 45%
Over EUR 42,370: 50%

Note: The first band is subject to a tax-free allowance of EUR 9,050 (USD 9,429), which can increase due to personal circumstances.

Individual Tax Rules in Belgium

  • The tax year is from January 1 to December 31.
  • Individuals on payroll have their due taxes deducted by their employer and remitted to the appropriate office of the General Administration of Taxation (FPS) and the National Social Security Office (NSSO).
  • Remittances to the tax authority should be made by the 15th of the month following salary payment to the employee.
  • If tax prepayments are due, they should be made by the 10th day of April, July, October and December.
  • Married couples and legal cohabitants file joint returns even if they are taxed individually.
  • Individuals are tax residents if their primary home or centre of economic interest is in Belgium, according to the Belgian Income Tax Code (BITC). Individuals residing for more than three months must register with their municipality’s population register, in which case the revenue authorities may decide they have become tax residents.
  • Tax residents are liable for tax on their worldwide income; non-residents only on income earned in Belgium.
  • Individuals’ employment income includes salary, fringe benefits such as a company car, commission and bonuses, plus housing allowances.
  • Progressive rates vary from 25% to 50% on taxable income, with a tax-free allowance of €9,050.
  • Under the new expatriate tax regime, as of January 2022, expatriates can be reimbursed for up to 30% of their salary for expenses resulting from their Belgian employment. However, they must not have worked or lived in Belgium for five years before taking up their current role or have resided within 150km (90 miles) of the Belgian border. The expenses are tax-exempt.

Employer’s Social Insurance and Statutory Contributions in Belgium

Belgium’s comprehensive social security system covers family allowances, pensions, reimbursed medical costs and illness or injuries that prevent work. Everyone is entitled to social services support from the Public Social Welfare Centre, CPAS/OCMW.

Foreigners also are entitled to specific allowances and social services, strictly dependent on residency conditions and the nature of their employment. Benefits such as family allowance, pensions and medical costs depend on agreements between Belgium and the employee’s home country and European legislation. Foreigners cannot always claim social security support to the same extent as Belgians.

Employers and employees pay into the social security funds. Contributions are based on total remuneration, including salary, bonuses and benefits in kind. For white-collar workers, the employer remits the equivalent of around 27% of the employee’s pay to the authorities. Employees contribute 13.07% of their remuneration. Allowances include:

  • Sickness benefits
  • Unemployment support
  • Inability to work through illness or incapacity
  • Injuries suffered at work
  • Industrial disease
  • Family allowances
  • Pensions

Insurance is provided by a combination of social security contributions and insurance funds. Employees must contribute to a Belgian health insurance fund (mutuelle) as part of their social insurance contributions, but many boost this with coverage from a private fund.

Corporations planning to extend operations in Northwestern Europe have the option of a subsidiary entity set up in Belgium to test the market. This can be a risky business venture, costly in time and money, with no guarantee of success from the effort and financial investment. A subsidiary established in Belgium is considered a legal entity separate from its parent company due to having its capital and independent administration. Foreign companies typically choose a limited liability company, an SRL in French or a BV in Dutch.

The Belgian Companies and Associations Code (BCAC) simplified the number of company structures to four. The SRL/BV is the default option, flexible for both large and small companies and especially suitable for foreign-owned subsidiaries. But setting up a subsidiary in Belgium is complex for foreign companies determined to handle the process themselves. Belgium has three legislative regions, each offering different potential and challenges and three official languages.

Expanding overseas is a significant step. If the move fails, companies face the added costs and bureaucracy of closing their operation, selling property and paying off employees. The sensible alternative is to use a Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) and Employer of Record (EOR), such as Bradford Jacobs, to find the best local talent and administer your payroll in Belgium. Your company will be up-and-running in days rather than weeks or months without any risks.

How to Set Up a Belgian Subsidiary?

Before taking the first steps into the Belgian economy, foreign companies must decide which business structure best suits their plans. The Belgian Companies and Associations Code (BCAC) simplified the number of company structures to four. The limited liability company SRLin French, or a BV in Dutch, is the default option. This corporate structure has flexibility for both large and small companies and is especially suitable for foreign-owned subsidiaries.

Belgium has three legislative regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital, and although specific differences may apply to each, there are general requirements. These include notarising certain documents such as the deed of incorporation, providing a business plan projecting activity for the next two years, offering goods and services, and proposing human and financial resources. The program must be signed in the presence of a notary.

Other incorporation formalities include:

  • Incorporation takes place at an ‘incorporation meeting’ with a notary public who passes the Incorporation Deed, including the Articles of Association. Shareholders must be present.
  • Open a ‘blocked’ corporate bank account in the company’s name with a financial institution established in Belgium or the European Union. Obtain a bank certificate confirming the capital has been deposited in the account according to the business plan.
  • The capital will be released once the notarial deed is signed.
  • The limited company must lodge its company registration number with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises for the Articles of Association to be published in the Belgian Official Gazette.
  • The language used in official documents depends on the region of incorporation—Brussels-Capital – Dutch and French; Flanders – Dutch; Walloon – French; East Belgium – German.
  • The finalised and notarised Incorporation Deed must be filed with the appropriate Enterprise Court. The company must be affiliated with a Belgian social insurance fund, which can take up to three months.
  • Nominate a company officer to deal with employment documents and official correspondence with the National Social Security Office and the General Administration of Taxation (FPS).

Benefits of Setting Up a Belgian Subsidiary

Generally, a limited liability subsidiary protects the foreign parent company and the shareholders from liabilities. The subsidiary can ‘test the market’ by following its business ideas and entering into different areas of operation for the owning company. The subsidiary can also draw up its contracts and agreements with clients.

Potential direct benefits depend on where the subsidiary is established. Flanders offers financial aid to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) starting in development or established industrial zones. Also, larger companies can apply for funding in the biotech and environmental control sectors.

In Wallonia, a company can receive support for purchasing land, buildings, and equipment and with project-related investment costs and product research. The Brussels-Capital region offers investment grants, initial exemption from withholding taxes in some instances, interest-free loans for industrial research and possible employment grants.

Other benefits for a subsidiary:

  • Easier to obtain potential benefits and incentives and enter into contracts with other Belgian and European Union companies.
  • Subsidiaries will significantly impact clients and suppliers, as they imply more permanency than branches.
  • Employees feel there is more stability and job security than from being with a branch.

Subsidiary Laws in Belgium

The Belgian Companies and Associations Code (BCAC) simplified the number of company structures to four – the partnership, the limited liability company, the cooperative company and the public liability company. The limited liability company is the preferred option for foreign companies opening a subsidiary.

Belgium has three legislative regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital, and although specific differences may apply, there are general considerations between the three. These include providing a business plan projecting activity for the next two years, the goods and services to be offered and proposed human and financial resources. The plan must be signed in the presence of a notary.

Other requirements, responsibilities and formalities apply.

Registration and Documentation:

  • An ‘incorporation meeting’ is held with a notary public, who passes the Incorporation Deed, including the Articles of Association. Shareholders must be present.
  • Articles of Association must include: business name and registered office; net equity and issued shares, directors’ names; financial year and dates of planned annual shareholders’ meeting.
  • A corporate bank account in the company’s name is opened in a ‘blocked account’ with a financial institution established in Belgium or the European Union, which supplies a bank certificate confirming the capital deposited in the account according to the business plan. There is no minimum legal requirement.
  • The limited company must lodge its company registration number with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises for the Articles of Association to be published in the Belgian Official Gazette.
  • The finalized and notarized Incorporation Deed must be filed with the appropriate Enterprise Court.
  • The language used in official documents depends on the region of incorporation: Brussels-Capital – Dutch and/or French; Flanders – Dutch; Walloon – French; East Belgium – German.

Accounts and Taxation:

  • The resident limited company is subject to a corporate tax of 25% on its profits. A rate of 20% applies to the first €100,000 (US$99,580) of Small and Medium Enterprises that meet specified conditions.
  • Accounts must be filed annually with the revenue authority and the Belgian National Bank; Value Added Tax accounts are filed monthly or quarterly.

Management:

  • A minimum of one shareholder who can be an individual or entity.
  • The shareholders have protection against liability beyond their contribution, except incorporators during the first three years in case of misrepresenting the financial plan.
  • The Board of directors meet once a year to prepare annual accounts; shareholders meet once annually to approve accounts and financial statement.

Entering the Belgian market offers many opportunities for international companies considering Global Expansion. Belgium plays a central role in Europe’s commercial and business life despite a geographical location on the continent’s north-western fringe. World-class logistics and infrastructure establish Belgium as a gateway to Europe, within 500 kilometres of 500 million inhabitants – and potential consumers.

Brussels attracts scores of multinational’ headquarters and is just hours from principal business centres such as Paris, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Madrid. Belgium’s frontline role in international affairs is confirmed by Brussels hosting the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, emphasising why the capital city is often called the ‘capital of the EU’. Other international affiliations include the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The economy is driven by a strong service sector, with a nominal Gross Domestic Product of €507.2 billion, 25th globally in 2021. Belgium’s GDP ranks 11th among EU nations and is predicted by the World Bank to reach US$610 billion by the end of 2022. Belgium is a wealthy nation whose world ranking jumps to 18th with a per capita GDP of US$50,413.

Starting a business in Belgium

Foreign companies entering the Belgian Market when undertaking an International Expansion generally take up the option of establishing a legal entity in the country before they hire staff and operate their payroll. However, this is not straightforward due to Belgium’s unique features. There are three legislative regions, Brussels-Capital, Flanders and Wallonia, plus three official languages, Dutch in Flanders, French in Wallonia and German in East Belgium.

The most popular business structure for entering the economy is a limited liability company, known as an SRL in French, or a BV, in Dutch. It is one of four company types recognised by the Belgian Companies and Associations Code (BCAC) and the default option, with flexibility for large and small companies and particularly suitable for foreign-owned subsidiaries.

Although specific registration formalities can vary between regions, they typically include the following:

  • Holding an ‘incorporation meeting’ with a notary public who certifies the Incorporation Deed, including the Articles of Association. Shareholders must be present.
  • Articles of Association must include the business name, registered office, net equity and issued shares, directors’ names, and financial year.
  • Presenting a business and financial plan for the first two years of operation and the source of finance.
  • Opening a ‘blocked’ corporate bank account in the company’s name with a financial institution established in Belgium or the European Union, which supplies a bank certificate confirming the capital deposited in the account according to the business plan. Funds are released when the Incorporation Deed is signed.
  • Lodging the company registration number with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises for the Articles of Association to be published in the Belgian Official Gazette.
  • Filing the Incorporation Deed with the relevant Enterprise Court.
  • All documents must be in the appropriate language for the region where the company is being incorporated: Brussels-Capital in Dutch and/or French; Flanders in Dutch; Wallonia in French.

There are speedier alternatives to launching a subsidiary, however, with Bradford Jacobs opening the door to a hassle-free route into Belgium. Employers can depend on our in-depth knowledge of Belgium and how to navigate its legislative issues that revolve around the Company Act, the Belgian Company and Associations Code and the Corporate Governance Act. You work alongside our Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) recruitment specialists and Employer of Record (EOR) in-country experts to handle every aspect of compliance.

Expanding your business into Belgium

Moving staff across the world involves complications surrounding immigration documentation and work permits. Opening a subsidiary when entering the Belgian market can pose questions. When employees are in place, who will handle payroll? How will your company deal with regulations on taxation, entitlements and benefits, termination and severance?

Drawing up an expansion blueprint is not enough. Belgium is an attractive target for foreign investment, offering various incentives. Still, there are always considerations regarding compliance with relevant laws, including operating in three separate legislatures in Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital regions. Your business plan will have to deal with all these issues.

There are other issues, too. Where will you find manufacturers, offices and distributors?

Finding an Office in Belgium

Belgium’s three legislative regions of Brussels-Capital, Wallonia and Flanders are packed with prospects across a wide range of industries, especially in the chemical sector, which is considered a world-class competitor in the global market, with prime connections to the rest of Europe. Belgium offers a strategic ‘landing spot’ for all businesses, with Antwerp’s port considered the ‘Gateway to Europe’ and the centre of the ARG ethylene pipeline grid connecting Belgian industry to the Netherlands and Germany. Antwerp is also the second busiest container port in Europe.

Also, from budding entrepreneurs to established companies and satellite teams, Belgium has thriving and rapidly developing ‘business clusters’ featuring Innovative Business Networks (IBN) and ‘spearhead clusters.’

Examples of Clusters include:

  • GreenWin: a business cluster in Wallonia that concentrates on environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions in the chemical industry, construction processes, and Green-Tech.
  • Catalisti: promotes a ‘circular economy’ blending chemical processes and technology for sustainability.
  • Flanders Food: alongside food organisations and industry, tackles issues due to climate and environmental changes which affect food production. They aim to make agri-food systems more sustainable, requiring international cooperation.

PlusCap Construction, Eco-building, EquisFair, Infopole ICT Cluster, Skywin, TWEED, TWIST etc.

Examples of Belgian hubs and prime locations for new companies to establish offices are:

  • Brussels: This is the Brussels Business Support Agency, firmly focused on innovation and inspiration for city projects and users, supporting businesses and hosting six specialised innovative clusters.
  • Smart Hub Flemish Brabant: An initiative including five innovative tech clusters: health, food, logistics, cleantech, media and creative industries. Flemish Brabant encircles Brussels, the capital, and its mission is to stimulate innovation and encourage collaboration.
  • Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship: a government agency’s primary goals are to unlock unused economic potential and increase competitiveness.

Foreign employers locating offices in the relevant business hubs and clusters can:

  • Find free support helping them to grow on the international stage.
  • Access coaching, guidance and networking opportunities with related companies.
  • Maximise ideas, knowledge, research and development opportunities.
  • Increases competition and drives innovation.
  • It gives more accessible access to labour and suppliers who can also thrive within these clusters.
  • Encourage other businesses to fill gaps within the group to provide goods and services.

An alternative to renting office premises or working from home is to rent space in office units for small enterprises. As part of their international expansion services, Bradford Jacobs can act as an office broker for companies expanding into Belgium.

Finding a Manufacturer in Belgium

Belgium remains one of the most attractive European countries for foreign investment due to its multilingual, highly educated and productive labour force; its infrastructure and logistics are second to none. A great location with its five airports and four seaports, well-established freight and transportation network – a veritable logistics hub- provides a gateway to the rest of Europe. Manufacturing has always been strong in Belgium, with their main products exported in 2021 being chemical and mineral products; vehicles; transportation; machinery and electrical equipment.

Belgium is also part of the Factories for the Future campaign, the EU’s EUR 1.15 billion’ public-private partnership’, which is taking off in Europe to encourage companies to make changes to enhance sustainability through personnel improvement, technology, digitalisation, integrated engineering, reducing energy consumption, intelligent manufacturing innovation and networking.

Companies that have established their office may need a manufacturer to partner with to launch new products. The right choice can make the difference between success and failure, especially if companies have set their sights on the rest of Europe and further afield. Producing merchandise at the highest quality in the required quantities and on time needs a first-class company. They need to be aware of your business proposals, so they can plan to help achieve these goals, set deadlines and forecast production levels for the future.

Finding a Distributor in Belgium

Mainly open to foreign trade and home to sophisticated distribution systems, including the second-largest European canal network and well-developed infrastructure, Belgium has attracted many foreign companies and, in return, developed a highly competitive marketplace. The retail market, for instance, in 2021 was €92 billion, with the main sectors including food and drinks, clothing and footwear, health and beauty products, electricals and furniture, distributed through hyper- and supermarkets, and discounts stores primarily. Online sales have shown strong growth since 2020 (33%), with over 150 million transactions.

A successful move into Belgium depends on a front-line distributor to successfully move your products around the country or across mainland Europe and farther afieldFinding the perfect partner can be a boon to business, especially when clear and to-the-point communication is required. The initial interaction may be by phone, which might prove difficult in English. In northern Belgium, inhabitants speak Flemish (Dutch); in the south, they speak French, with German spoken in the country’s east. Because of these cultural differences, marketing and advertising should be developed to reflect each region’s population.

Finding a distributor in Belgium can be easy but finding a top-line one is not! This is where Bradford Jacobs and their PEO specialists can guide you, one step at a time, through finding an office to launching your product.

Some Belgian Facts

Capital – Brussels

Population – 11.65 million

Regions and Provinces – 3 regions (the Walloon region, the Flemish region, and the Brussels region) and 10 provinces (Walloon provinces: Liège, Namur, Luxembourg, Hainaut, and Walloon Brabant / Flanders provinces: Flemish Brabant, West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp and Limburg)

Official languages – Dutch, French and German.

Economy and world ranking – GDP €507.2 billion, 25th globally (2021).

Leading sectors – Services (73% of the nation’s employment and 67.7% of the GDP in 2021), Industry (20.85% of the GDP), Trade, Finance, Agriculture (0.50% of the GDP).

Main exports – Cars ($21.9B), packaged medicaments ($21.6B), vaccines, blood, antisera, toxins and cultures ($21.3B), refined petroleum ($12.2B), and diamonds ($8.86B).

Main imports – Cars ($22.6B), packaged medicaments ($17.3B), vaccines, blood, antisera, toxins and cultures ($16.5B), refined petroleum ($11.2B), and diamonds ($8.58B).

Main trading partners – In June 2022, Belgium exported mainly to Germany (€7.96B), the Netherlands (€5.47B), France (€4.54B), the United Kingdom (€2.08B), and the United States (€1.92B). Belgium imported mainly from the Netherlands (€8.25B), Germany (€5.53B), France (€4B), the United Kingdom (€2.77B), and Ireland (€2.72B).

Government – Federal, parliamentary constitutional monarchy.

Currency – Euro.

Advantages and Challenges when entering the Belgian Market

Some advantages of entering the Belgian market include the following:

  • Economy: Free market economy supports international investment, free trade agreements and global trade.
  • Logistics: World-class road and rail system links Belgium to the rest of Europe, plus international airports, the second-largest canal system in Europe, and ports on the North Sea coast for both trade and passenger traffic.
  • Trading: The World Bank’s final ease of doing business report in 2020 ranked Belgium first of 190 nations for trading across borders.
  • Diversity: The three regions of Dutch-speaking Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and German-speaking East Belgium provide varied cultural options for testing the market.
  • Workforce: Reputedly the most productive in the world; well-educated and highly skilled who strike a balance between work and leisure.

Some challenges of entering the Belgian market include the following:

  • Taxation: The number of corporate returns for companies runs into double figures annually.
  • Labour Costs: High earners, with accordingly high rates for personal income tax.
  • Legalities: Issuing patents is territorial between the three regions, so foreign companies need patents in each to protect intellectual property rights.
  • Economy: Susceptible to fall out from Brexit as the UK is Belgium’s fourth largest trading partner.

Belgium does not have a uniform code or legislation dealing with Belgian employment contracts but has many individual statutes, case law, decisions by labour courts and royal decrees. Importantly, Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are often assigned legal status by the government and cover well over 90% of the workforce in the private sector. Collaboration between employers, employees and works committees is an essential and successful element of Belgian employment relations.

Employment statutes and their amendments cover Belgian employment contracts; working hours and breaks; maternity rights; discrimination and harassment; equal pay for men and women; annual leave; temporary and agency workers. CBAs deal with categories including hiring and recruitment; overtime; minimum wages; alcohol and drugs policy; individual and collective dismissals.

In the autumn of 2022, a bill to reform aspects of labour law was due to go before Belgium’s Parliament. Proposals include employees completing their hours in a four-day week, varying the number of days worked in successive weeks, variable work schedules and employees’ entitlement to training. The ‘right to disconnect’ will make it illegal for employers with more than 20 staff to contact their employees by email or other electronic methods for professional reasons or to insist they remain online out of office hours.

The different types of Belgian Employment Contracts

The Employment Contracts Act, amended in 2013, rationalised the differences between blue and white-collar workers regarding notice periods and sickness benefits but generally maintained the distinction. The Act recognises the following types of the contract according to duration:

Permanent, open-ended employment contracts: Not for a specific period, terminated by resignation, retirement or dismissal following the correct procedures. Do not legally have to be in writing.

Fixed-term employment contracts must be in writing, specifying a start and end date or a defined project, after which the contract ends.

Specific assignment employment contracts: Specifies work to be carried out over some time which is not necessarily spelt out, such as harvest work, film work, and writing projects.

Replacement employment contracts: To take the place of an existing employee for a period of time.

Apprenticeship Contracts:  These can be offered to individuals aged between 16 and 18 who attend an educational establishment one or two days per week.

Note: Probation periods:  Since 2014, these cannot be included in a contract.

Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs):  The top-level agreements cover an entirely private sector, with the second level comprising specific industrial sectors and the bottom level covering agreements reached company level. Lower-level agreements can only improve agreements of the level above. In the private sector, well over 90% of employees are covered by CBAs, which generally have legal standing from the government.

Belgian Employment Contracts Requirements

Foreign companies can open a subsidiary to establish their presence – the usual route to hire staff, operate payroll and deal with the revenue and social insurance authorities. The typical choice is to open the equivalent of a limited liability company known as either an SRL in French or a BV in Dutch. After incorporating the subsidiary, employers face other considerations when hiring. These include:

  • Belgian law recognises four types of contracts: open-ended; fixed-term; specific assignment contracts; replacement contracts.
  • Generally, written employment contracts are not legally required but must be used for fixed-term, temporary or part-time employees.
  • Depending on the region of operation, contracts must be in French, Dutch or German. In the Dutch-speaking Flanders region, an English version is allowed. In the Brussels-Capital region, the contract is in French or Dutch, according to the employee’s language.
  • Employees are entitled to ask for a written contract in a language they understand.
  • Contract details should include names and addresses of the employer and employee; employment start date; place of work and job description; salary and payment schedule; working hours and days to be worked; end date in case of a fixed-term contract.
  • Employers must comply with legally binding Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
  • Workplace regulations in the contract should cover work schedules, disciplinary measures, grievance procedures, health and safety provisions and policies regarding drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Copies of the workplace regulations should be sent to the Social Information and Investigation Service. Still, beyond that, there is no legal requirement for lodging contracts with any outside third parties or obtaining approval.
  • Changes can only be made with both parties’ agreement, and any contract that states the employer can make unilateral changes is legally null and void.

There is a more straightforward option. Once Bradford Jacobs’ Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) recruitment networks have located the most talented staff for your company, we step in to steer you through these crucial early moves in the hiring process.

A combination of statutes, royal decrees, case law and labour court decisions and the significant influence of legally-recognised Collective Bargaining Agreements generally covers Employee Benefits in Belgium. Employers must also be prepared for new regulations coming into force after a labour reforms bill goes before the Belgian Parliament in autumn 2022. This could allow employees’ rights to work four-day weeks, alternating the number of work days in successive weeks and varying their work schedules. It will also be illegal for employers to email, call or otherwise contact their staff for professional reasons outside of working hours.

When expanding your company’s presence in a new country, you must ensure compliance with your employment contracts and benefit guarantees. Foreign companies hiring employees in Belgium must operate within this complex framework of legislation and collective agreements that provide safeguards and guarantees for the workforce. Failure to comply with specific rules applying to benefits and entitlements runs the risk of fines and sanctions. Employers must have a firm grasp of what is guaranteed for their employees, which will affect the employer-employee relationship. This is where Bradford Jacobs points you in the right direction, drawing on over 20 years of experience as a Professional Employment Organisation (PEO) and Employer of Record (EOR).

What are the Compensation Laws in Belgium?

Statutes, royal decrees, case law and labour court decisions and legally-binding Collective Bargaining Agreements are the factors governing employee benefits in Belgium.

National Minimum Wage (NMW): As of June 2022, the government increased the national minimum wage to EUR 1,842.28 (USD 1,919.48) per month. Higher minimums can be set by collective agreements at the industry or sector level, but where these have not been agreed upon, the government’s minimum applies. Collective agreements can depend on where the job is and where the employee lives, the role and seniority, and the hours worked per week.

Sick Leave and Benefit: The employer pays statutory sick pay for the first 30 days of incapacity, based on basic salary, taking into account white- or blue-collar status and length of service. Extra days are paid by the Heath Insurance Fund (Mutuelle in French /Ziekenfonds in Dutch). Employers can request a medical certificate and assign an independent medical officer to confirm the illness. Different percentages of benefits apply to manual, blue-collar workers.

Working Hours and Breaks: Daily working hours should be at most eight, between 8 am-6 pm, in principle, due to the ban on night work. Weekly hours should be at most 38 or an average of 38 over a specified reference period but still not exceed 40; compensatory rest days apply as of one day of compensatory rest for every eight hours of overtime. Exemptions apply to transport, energy distribution, hospitals, hotels and hospitality, security and surveillance sectors. Collective agreements and works committees can reduce the number of hours worked and set break terms. In the absence of agreements, workers have a statutory 15-minute break after six hours and must have 11 consecutive hours away from work.

Overtime: Authorised overtime applies when employees work more than nine hours a day or 40 a week unless collective or work agreements provide for fewer working hours before overtime starts. The overtime rate is 50% above the regular salary and twice the regular salary for working on public holidays or Sundays. Maximum limits, including overtime, are 11 per day or 50 a week. A further limitation on overtime is 78 hours in three months. Employees can elect to take a compensatory rest day instead of each eight hours of overtime.

Paid Vacations: White-collar workers’ holiday entitlement depends on the service length and months worked during the preceding year. In practice, employees receive two vacation days per whole worked month in the prior year. That means 24 vacation days (six-days-a-week scheme) or 20 vacation days (five-days-a-week scheme), or 16 days (four-days-a-week scheme) for a completed year of service. Collective agreements may provide for extra holidays. Employees receive a ‘holiday pay bonus’, generally around 90% of their regular salary.

Public Holidays: In addition to national public holidays, other ‘unofficial’ holidays are celebrated that may affect work, varying between the Dutch, French or German regions. These dates may be holidays for civil servants and employees of institutions controlled or supervised by them, such as municipalities or universities. King’s Feast is observed by all administrations (i.e. federal, community or regional, provincial and local), including some schools. Banks may also follow these dates.

National public holidays are:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Easter Monday, March/April
  • Labour Day, May 1
  • Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter
  • Whit (Pentecost) Monday, 50 days after Easter
  • Belgium National Day, July 21
  • All Saints’ Day, November 1
  • Armistice Day, November 11
  • Christmas Day, December 25

Maternity/Paternity/Parental Leave and Benefit: Employed and unemployed receive 15 weeks’ leave (19 weeks for multiple births). Pre-natal leave is generally six, five of which are optional and can be added to the nine weeks post-natal, but the week before scheduled delivery is mandatory to take as leave. The benefit is 82% of salary for the first 30 days (no ceiling); 75% (capped at EUR 104.80, USD 104.30 each day) from the 31st day, paid from employees’ mutual insurance fund. Paternity, or co-parents’ birth leave’, is 15 days paid leave, increasing to 20 days from January 1, 2023, and can be taken up to four months following the birth. Birth leave is a ‘right’ but not mandatory for the employee.

Discrimination: Legislation bans discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, age, ethnic or national origin, religious, philosophical or other beliefs and disability. Further amendments criminalised acts based on racism, xenophobia, and inequality between men and women.

Termination/Severance/Redundancies: Those employed for more than six months can ask their employer to explain the reasons for dismissal. Although employers have no legal responsibility to do so, failure to justify dismissal may lead to a compensatory payment. With dismissal for alleged serious cause, employers must follow strict legal procedures. Regulations for severance pay are detailed in the Employment Contracts Act. Unjustified dismissal during an open-ended contract can lead to claims for between three and 17 weeks’ salary. Failure to comply with laws regarding mass redundancies is a criminal offence. Strict procedures must be followed if collective dismissals occur in 60 days affecting the following numbers:

  • 10 redundancies– employing more than 20, fewer than 100.
  • 10% of employees – between 100 and 300
  • 30 employees – employing more than 300

Notice Periods: The Unified Employment Status Act (2014) aligned notice periods for blue- and white-collar employees. Fixed notice periods apply in the unilateral ending of an indefinite contract. Fixed-term contracts can only be ended unilaterally in the first half of the agreement, up to six months.

Examples of fixed notice periods during the first five years vary from:
Every 3 month of service | Dismissal by the employer | Employee Notice
0-3 months | Two weeks | One week
3-6 months | Four weeks | Two weeks
9-12 months | Seven weeks | Three weeks
15-18 months | Nine weeks | Four weeks
21-24 months | Eleven weeks | Five weeks

*Up to a maximum of 64 weeks’ notice from the employer (13 weeks from the employee) for more than 23 years’ service.

13th Month Salary: The mandatory 13th-month salary is generally paid at the end of the year. It is additional to the vacation bonus, usually around 90% of the normal salary.

Guarantees and Restrictions on Employee Benefits in Belgium

Guaranteed Benefits:

Maternity Leave and Benefit: Employed and unemployed are entitled to 15 weeks of leave, with two periods split between pre-and post-natal, with benefits paid by the individual’s mutual insurance fund.

National Minimum Wage:  If not subject to Collective Bargaining Agreements setting higher minimums, the national monthly minimum as of June 2022 is EUR 1,842.28 (USD 1,833).

Paid Vacations: Employees on full entitlement receive a minimum of 24 vacation days if working a six-day week, 20 days if on a five-day week or 16 days on a four-day week.

Restrictions:

Unemployment Benefit: Individuals covered by social insurance can claim benefits if they have worked between 312 and 624 days in a specified period between 21 and 42 months and be registered as a job-seeker. The benefit depends on the length of unbroken work before unemployment and the length of time since registering unemployed.

Maternity Leave and Benefit: Unless exempt, claimants must have worked at least 120 days in the previous six months and paid the minimum required amount of social insurance contributions.

Social Security in Belgium

Belgium’s comprehensive social security system covers family allowances, pensions, reimbursed medical costs and illness or injuries that prevent work. Everyone is entitled to social services support from the Public Social Welfare Centre, CPAS/OCMW.

Foreigners also are entitled to specific allowances and social services, strictly dependent on residency conditions and the nature of their employment. Benefits such as family allowance, pensions and medical costs depend on agreements between Belgium and the employee’s home country and European legislation. Foreigners cannot always claim social security support to the same extent as Belgians.

Employers and employees pay into the social security funds. Contributions are based on total remuneration, including salary, bonuses and benefits in kind. For white-collar workers, the employer remits the equivalent of around 27% of the employee’s pay to the authorities. Employees contribute 13.07% of their remuneration. Allowances include:

  • Sickness benefits
  • Unemployment support
  • Inability to work through illness or incapacity
  • Injury suffered at work
  • Industrial disease
  • Family allowances
  • Pensions

Insurance is provided by a combination of social security contributions and insurance funds. Employees must contribute to a Belgian health insurance fund (mutuelle) as part of their social insurance contributions, but many boost this with coverage from a private fund. Other benefits include:

Group insurance – Employees are automatically enrolled into two defined schemes with 100% of contributions paid by the employer. These cover retirement capital at age 65, life benefits in case of death before 65, and a disability annuity.

Healthcare insurance covers spouses, partners, and children in case of hospitalisation or critical illness. The employee contributes €15 per year per adult and €7 per year per child, deducted in January.

Accident insurance with 100% paid by the employer for accidents on business trips and varying percentages depending on circumstances.

Citizens of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) can apply for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles them to the same treatments as a Belgian at the exact costs, as long as the card is issued in their home country before they arrive in Belgium.

Recruiting in Belgium allows international companies that have undertaken Global Expansion to activate their business plans. Belgium’s membership in the European Union (EU) means workers from fellow EU nations have free movement into the employment market, along with those from Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Switzerland. Although this widens the net, employers must generally first offer jobs to locals, with some exemptions applying to highly-skilled individuals in skills shortage sectors.

An unusual challenge facing foreign companies stems from Belgium’s three official languages affecting social and business life. Dutch speakers generally have good knowledge of English, particularly in the Brussels-Capital region. Around 60% of Belgians speak Dutch in the northern region of Flanders. In Wallonia in the south, over 30% speak French, with a small percentage in East Belgium speaking German.

Finding and recruiting Top Talent in Belgium is always a primary task, particularly thousands of miles from home base. The recruitment process is rarely straightforward, and reels of red tape must be unravelled. Once staff are in place, employers must comply with strictly-applied legislation that sets out their obligations and protects the rights of employees. This is where Bradford Jacobs’ expertise is vital for taking the smartest recruitment route into Belgium. Bradford Jacobs’ Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) networks have a global reach. We will have your staff up and running in the shortest time. You can trust Bradford Jacobs to put your company’s brightest talent in place.

Recruiting in Belgium

International companies recruiting in Belgium have a broader target market than Belgian citizens. Belgium’s European Union (EU) membership allows workers from fellow EU nations to have free movement into the employment market, along with those from the European Economic Area (EEA) countries of Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Switzerland.

Recruitment is the first stage in making your company successful and competitive in Belgium. However, employers generally must prove that a Belgian or EU national cannot fill vacant positions before being offered to a ‘Third Country National’. This complicates recruiting from major employment markets such as the USA, UK, Australia and Asia. But these restrictions complicate moving staff into the country and obtaining correct immigration and work documentation.

Once employees are recruited and onboarded in Belgium, the employer must comply with responsibilities, including:

  • Registering employees with the National Social Security Office (NSSO). NSSO regulations apply to employees who work on Belgian territory for an employer in Belgium and employees in the Belgian-registered office of a foreign company.
  • Digitally submitting to the NSSO the employee’s Dimona (Immediate Declaration) before they start work.
  • Once employees are working, employers must file the DMFA (Quarterly Declaration), itemising their role, hours worked, and salary payments for checks made by the social insurance and tax authorities.
  • Foreign companies sending employees to work in Belgium, who may work part-time or temporarily, must complete the Limosa declaration before they start work or risk criminal or administrative sanctions.
  • Registering employees with the appropriate local office of the General Administration of Taxation (FPS).

Employees’ Legal Checks in Belgium

When recruiting in Belgium, employees’ pre-hire checks are a grey area to be treated with caution. Checks should be restricted to questions relevant to the position and the applicant’s capabilities, qualifications and experience for the role. Outside of these parameters, candidates have the right to refuse to answer. Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) can prohibit employers from asking certain questions.

Criminal record checks: Must be specifically relevant to the role and sector, such as the security positions.

Education and reference checks: Permissible when relevant to the role and with the applicant’s agreement.

Health and medical checks: Legally required for certain sectors and roles, such as the food industry, transportation and operating heavy-duty equipment.

Privacy: Using social media as a source of information should stay within the guidelines of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and anti-discrimination laws.

Required: Immigration and work permit compliance.

Basic Facts when Recruiting in Belgium

International companies recruiting in Belgium must be aware of basic facts on hiring staff and employment legislation demands:

  • At interviews, employers can ask questions only genuinely relevant to the nature and working conditions of the job. The applicant can refuse to answer questions that violate privacy or anti-discrimination laws.
  • Terms and conditions are generally embedded in CBAs, not laws.
  • Minimum wages can be fixed per industry sector as long as they are not below the average set by national CBAs.
  • Maximum average working time is 38 hours per week and eight hours per day, with exceptions such as shift work and flexi-time.
  • Where authorized, overtime pay is at least 1.5 times the regular rate and twice if performed on a Sunday or public holiday.
  • Oral contracts are permitted generally but must be in writing for fixed-term, part-time or remote working.

After hiring and onboarding new staff, employers must comply with their employees’ statutory entitlements. Mandatory standards include sick leave, working hours, maternity allowances, paid vacations, termination and severance and notice periods. Contracts or legally-binding CBAs can improve all statutory minimums. Examples include:

  • The employer pays the first 30 days of sick leave based on a regular salary, with extra days paid by the Heath Insurance Fund (Mutuelle/Ziekenfonds). Employers require a medical certificate and may request an independent medical practitioner to confirm incapacity.
  • Weekly working hours should not exceed 38, or average 38 over a specified reference period but still not exceed 40 a day, or compensatory rest days apply. CBAs and work committees can set fewer working hours and longer breaks than the minimum of 15 minutes for working six hours.
  • Maternity leave is 15 weeks, usually six pre-natal, with five of those optional, with the balance added to the post-natal period. The last week before the due date must be taken. The benefit is 82% of salary for the first 30 days (no ceiling); 75% (capped at €104.80, US$104.30 each day) from the 31st day, paid from employees’ mutual insurance fund.

Belgians combine being among the most productive workforces globally while enjoying a work-life balance that would envy the rest of the world. Employers are introducing more flexi-time options. New labour law amendments propose allowing four-day weeks and making it illegal for employers to contact their staff after office hours for work-related issues.

The highest standards of education and skills have attracted countless multinationals from around the globe into a business and commercial environment where many are multi-lingual. The latter quality is not such a surprise. Belgium has three regions, each with its language, Dutch Flanders in the north, French-speaking Walloon in the south, and a small German-speaking area in the east. The Brussels-Capital Region is bi-lingual with Dutch and French, while English is widely spoken among the business community.

Belgium is one of the leading business and commercial centres in Europe, with world-class infrastructure underpinning its role as a ‘gateway to Europe’ on the northwest coastline of the continent. Belgium has more than 140 million consumers within a 500km radius. Its international status is underlined by Brussels being considered the ‘capital’ of the European Union and hosting the headquarters of NATO. Other memberships include the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Belgium is a wealthy nation, with its per capita world ranking jumping to 18th with a GDP of USD 50,413. Belgium’s nominal Gross Domestic Product was EUR 507.2 billion, 25th globally and 11th among fellow European Union (EU) members in 2021. The strength of Belgium’s economy is a strong attraction for foreign companies, their staff and job-seeking individuals. However, adjustments will have to be made to the Belgian work culture, not least because of the cultural and language differences between the three regions.

The Basics of the Belgian Work Culture

Language:  Even if advised, the business meeting will be conducted in English, learn appropriate phrases in Dutch, French and German according to the region.

Punctuality:  Be on time for the appointment and call if unavoidably late.

Business Relationships:  Belgians usually prefer doing business with people they know, so building trust is critical. Regional differences may also come into play. In the Dutch-speaking Flanders, the consensus approach prevails, whereas in French Wallonia, the authority may come down from the top in a hierarchical structure.

Negotiations:  Receptive to ideas, Belgians expect to be presented with clear arguments and logical presentations backed by statistics – and expect tough negotiations. Walloons may be more formal than their straightforward Flemish neighbours.

Greetings:  Handshakes, smiles and eye contact are the starting point, with titles generally used at the first introductions until first-name terms are suggested. Respect personal space, and do not assume small talk will stretch to personal details as Belgians like to separate personal life from the professional.

Gift Giving:  Not expected, but something modest, tasteful and from the home country will be appreciated.

Business Cards:  In Dutch, French or German on the reverse side, as relevant to the location, giving your complete information, including academic titles if they apply.

Dress Code:  Don’t be too fashionable – elegant and smart are best. Dark suits and ties for men, dresses, or separates for women.

Business Meals: Belgians enjoy combining business meetings with lunch or dinner, usually at a restaurant; office meetings are typically mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

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