Going it alone: Our guide to starting a business in Belgium
If you want to set up your own business or establish yourself as a freelancer, a business counter (guichet d’entreprises/ ondernemingsloket) will help you fulfil the administrative formalities necessary to register in the national database of businesses in Belgium, the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (Banque-Carrefour des Entreprises/Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen).
If you want to start a commercial business, the business counter will first examine your knowledge of business management and your professional expertise.
You can provide proof in the form of your highest diploma or through your professional experience as a self-employed worker or as a manager.
Any Belgian diploma of higher education will do, and a diploma or experience obtained abroad may be equivalent. In some cases, you will have to sit an exam set by the Federal Public Service for Economy, SMEs, Independent Professions and Energy, to obtain a certificate indicating basic management skills.
Under certain circumstances you can also call on a ‘third person’, a business associate who will effectively take care of the daily management of the company. If you opt for one of the most common company types, the basic documents – the articles of incorporation – must be drawn up by a notary.
When 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, on your outgoing documents, your website and your showroom window.
If you set up a corporation with legal personality, like a private company with limited liability, you have to deposit the articles of incorporation with the registry of the Commercial Court, which will publish a summary in the Belgian Official Gazette (Moniteur Belge/Belgisch Staatsblad).
For VAT and specific permits the business counters can also help you. The main required procedure is the VAT identification. The business counter can activate your enterprise number as a VAT number or you can submit an application at your local VAT office. An accountant can also do this on your behalf. Doctors and actors don’t have to be VAT-registered.
If your business trades in foodstuffs, you will need a food permit issued by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (Agence Fédérale pour la Sécurité de la Chaîne Alimentaire/Federaal Agentschap voor de Veiligheid van de Voedselketen). You will have to obtain approval as a contractor in construction if you intend to take part in public tenders in this sector.
For market and street trading, you have to get authorisation for itinerant trading. Depending on your business, you may need to apply for an environmental permit. If copyrighted music is played for clients or staff, you have to pay a fee to Sabam, the Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers.
You are obliged by law to be affiliated to a social insurance fund for self-employed workers. The business counter can give advice on organising registration with a social and health insurance fund and can for example calculate the legal social security contributions. You also have to join a health insurance fund.
To start a business, you have to open a bank account that is separate from your private account. The account number must feature on all commercial documents, like invoices, along with the name of the company.