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Filing Taxes in Belgium: an expat guide

10:01 15/04/2014

April flowers bring May tax declarations
It is that dreaded time of year again. Any day now, you will receive a tax form from the Belgian Finance Ministry in that all too recognizable brown envelope (or perhaps you already have). As expats registered as foreigners in a Belgian city hall, we all receive this tax form. And regardless of your earned income (or possible distaste for the Belgian tax system), we must complete and submit it by June 26, 2014 at the latest. Not doing so means a possible €50-€1,250 fine plus increased taxes! 

Before you start counting the endless nights chained to your desk emerged in tax forms, think again! With access to the right information, filing taxes in Belgium is relatively quick and – dare we say it – easy? So wipe the dust off that brown envelope and start filing with a little help from The Bulletin!

Special delivery
The first question you should ask is: what document did you receive by post from the Belgian Finance Ministry? 

The simplified declaration letter
While most receive the famed brown envelope described above, others receive a letter entitled ‘a proposal of simplified declaration’ (‘proposition de déclaration simplifiée’ 2013 in French or 'voorstel van vereenvoudigde aangifte' in Dutch). This letter will have a calculated amount of taxes you will have to pay or a refund amount that you will receive (or maybe will neither pay nor receive anything). The calculation is made by the tax administration based on the information they have on you. If you agree with this proposal, then filing taxes with this letter holds to its name: simplified. In fact, you don't have to do anything! If you don’t agree with the amount however, you will have to correct the proposal and send it back (before June 26th 2014).

The brown envelope
This is what most registered Belgian residents receive. It contains your 2014 individual income tax form with a 26 June filing deadline. By that time, the tax return should be returned to the tax authorities, duly signed and completed, properly mentioning your taxable income, expenses and deductions for 2013. An outline of its contents is provided here in English.

Different filing formats (and deadlines)

Tax-on-web: your get out of tax filing jail free card
Doing your taxes online using the federal government’s tax-on-web application proves by far the most time efficient option. Made available just a few years back, tax-on-web is an online application that takes information from your Belgian ID and fills in most of the tax forms for you automatically. This means that for most expats, the only task left is to quickly verify the numbers and click send. Not only does it save you loads of time, but also money on posting. But the icing on the cake is that, when using tax-on-web, you also get a later filing deadline: July 17th, 2014. And then, like a Belgian pomme frite, tax-on-web offers a double-fried bonus: tax-on-web filers’ receive a quicker response to their tax assessments.

To use tax-on-web, all you need is your electronic foreigners card (along with a card reader for your computer) or a federal 'token' (to be obtained at your city hall). Finally, those preferring to document their fiscal affairs always have the option to save and/or print a copy of their final tax-on-web document.

Filing on paper (via mail)
For those preferring to work with paper, filing using the paper forms are of course still a possibility and rather painless. These forms need to be signed and sent to the ‘scanning centre’ by June 26th 2014!

Translating your tax forms to English, and then some
Regardless of what format you choose, the largest challenge for expats trying to file taxes tends to be navigating through the many Belgian tax codes, exemptions and deductions that are most often only available in French, Dutch or German.

To help guide English-speaking tax-filers through the Belgian linguistic and fiscal abyss, organisations such as Taxpatria have translated Belgian tax forms into English

Those looking for more than just a word-for-word translation, Belgian University KULeuven offers some useful translations (for those filing in a commune in Flanders and therefore in Dutch) as well as step-by-step practical tips when filling in your forms as a foreign cardholder. 

Bye bye Belgian tax forms, hello refunds?
Not exactly: if you file the return in paper on June 26th, the tax assessment will most likely arrive around March/April next year. Although this is a long time, especially if you are entitled to a tax refund, any additional taxes due also won't need to be paid until spring 2014. As already mentioned, tax-on-web filers usually get a response much earlier.

Still need help? 
Try calling the Federal Public Service Finance contact centre, open 8:00-17:00 daily.   


Written by Kelly Hendricks