There are several steps you will need to take to launch your freelance business, but the two main ones are 1) Opening a business bank account, and 2) Registering your business with the enterprise counter.
It doesn't take long to do this, so you could be up and running in a day! Just remember to wait for your confirmation from the company register and the VAT office before starting to issue invoices!
Opening a bank account
Start by opening a bank account. Many banks are very keen on getting business customers, so shop around to get the best deals. Do a comparison between the major banks and ask for recommendations from people you know to find the best fit for you.
If you are in a rush, you can simply go with a business account from your own bank as that is often the fastest solution. Several banks offer a business account for free in the first year, giving you some time to shop around later.
The banks will often try to sell you their pension- and insurance solutions, but make sure you think about whether you actually need them and whether you can afford them from a start. Several of these solutions are complementary social security insurance that provide extra protection or pension and are linked to tax breaks. Remember that you can sign up for them at any time, so don't feel rushed into a deal. Enterprise counter
After you have checked that you meet all the requirements to set up a business you need to visit an enterprise counter (ondernemingsloket
), like Partena/Acerta/Xerius/Zenito …
There you will be able to register your business with the Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen (KBO)/Banque-Carrefour des Entreprises (BCE)
is a national databank where all companies are registered. This is also where you apply for your company number, which will be the same number as your VAT number (BTW-nummer/nummero TVA
). The only difference will be that your VAT number will have the prefix BE, so you can use it abroad as well.
If you are not registered with the KBO/BCE you cannot trade legally. Use the following link to search for the business counter closest to you in Dutch
These are the things you need to bring with you when you apply for your company number:
- Residence card, or ID and proof you have applied for residence
- Bank account number
- Proof of business management capabilities (*this condition will be abolished in September 2018)
- If necessary, any extra certificates needed to start a business in a regulated sector, e.g anything food related, law, accountancy… Here is a link to a site by the European commission where you can find all the regulated professions in Belgium and each EU country listed.
The registration fee is about 80€ and needs to be paid on spot with your bank card (but check in advance to be sure). Remember that this is a cost to your company and can be used as an expense claim in your tax declaration, so keep the invoice. Activities
When you register as a self-employed, you will need to state all the business activities you will do. Add here as many activities you can think of as any additions you need to do later will cost you the same administrative fee as when you first registered.
What are activities? Those are simply categories, representing the type of tasks that you plan to perform. For example, as a copywriter you might want to have the code for communication activities. In practical terms, you cannot issue an invoice for a specific service unless that service falls under one of the categories that you have listed as your activity.
But don't go too wild – if you get a check by the government you will need to prove it. Activities are listed based on NACE-codes, you can find them in English here.
Although the codes are in principle harmonised between different EU countries, they can still be a bit different, so check with your contact person at the business counter to be sure that you have the correct codes included in your list.
Besides registering the activities with the business counter (this can be quite a long list), you will also have to choose the top 3-5 activities to declare to the tax authorities. The business counter can do that for you as well. Registering for VAT
As a starting freelancer in Belgium, you have the option to not register for VAT if your annual expected income will be lower than 25,000 EUR. This is a useful option for beginners, or if you are not sure how much you are going to earn in your first year.
If you do decide to register for VAT, remember that this means quarterly VAT declarations and additional administration.
No matter if you decide to register for VAT or not, you will still need to register the company with the local VAT office. The enterprise counter can do that for you. Social security
You will need to pay quarterly social contributions, and the enterprise counter of your choice can arrange this for you. Note that on top of the social contribution you also need to pay the social security provider a fee. This fee can vary between the different providers, so again, do some comparisons. Tip:
a good contact person can be like gold when you have any questions, so do choose a person you have a good connection with, and who communicates well – and quickly! Health Insurance
Belgium has quite a complicated system for health insurance. As a freelancer you need to make sure you are associated with a health fund (ziekenfonds/mutualité
). The contributions for the basic health insurance are paid through your social security contributions, you just need to sign up with a health fund of your choice.
Don't forget the additional health insurances, like the hospitalisation insurance or dental care – as a self employed person you don't have an employer who takes care of this for you!