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.
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:
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.
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?
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:
Plus: Cap 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:
Foreign employers locating offices in the relevant business hubs and clusters can:
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.
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.
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 afield. Finding 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.
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.
Some advantages of entering the Belgian market include the following:
Some challenges of entering the Belgian market include the following:
For more information, download our free guide or get in touch with our consultants here