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How to start a business in Belgium as a foreigner?

Reading time: 5 minutes — Updated on 16 January 2023

In summary

It is possible to start a business in Belgium even if I don’t have Belgian nationality. If this is my case, I just need to know where to go in order to get correct information.

microStart can guide me and finance my project. Depending on my personal situation and needs, microStart can also refer me to other relevant organisations if needed.

Under which conditions can I start a business?

To start as a self-employed person in Belgium (weather I choose to operate as a company or a sole proprietorship) I must:

  1. Have a professional card. This card is mandatory, except if:
    • I have Belgian citizenship.
    • I am a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area or Switzerland.
    • I am married to a citizen of the European Economic Area and I live with this person.
    • I have a valid foreign identity card with an unlimited period of stay.
    • I am recognized as a refugee in Belgium.
    • I meet one of the other exemptions granted in Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia.
  2. Comply with the regulations applicable to anyone wishing to start a business in Belgium.

How to apply for my professional card?

Depending on my personal situation, I have two options:

  1. I am still abroad. In this case, I go to the Belgian Embassy or the consulate in my country of residence.
  2. I am already in Belgium with a valid residence permit. In this case, I go to a business counter, they will submit my application. Before doing so, I find out about the conditions, the procedures, the fees and the documents to provide according to the region where I will register my business (Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia).

What are the conditions to obtain my professional card?

To apply for a professional card, I have to:

  • Choose a business counter (or go to the Belgian Embassy/consulate abroad).
  • Bring all the necessary documents.
  • Pay a fee of € 140 for the application. Once I get my card, I will also need to pay € 90 per year of validity of the card.

Once my application is submitted, an in-depth analysis will be made based on my residence permit, whether I comply with the mandatory regulations and the added value of my business project.

I can find all the details on the application procedure and the decision criteria on the relevant websites of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia.

The application can be:

  • Not eligible: I do not meet the requirements.
  • Rejected: I do not meet the decision criteria, I can file an appeal if I want.
  • Accepted: my business counter will deliver my professional card which has a maximum validity of 5 years (or the Belgian Embassy/consulate if I am still abroad - in this case I will need to apply for a visa to enter Belgium once I have my card).

My administration is taken care of, who can help me to start my business?

  • The local economy offices in Brussels or the support structures for self-employment (SAACE) in Wallonia are organisations giving free assistance to starters in setting up their businesses.
  • In Flanders, organisations such as Starterslabo, Stebo or VLAIO can guide me. With microStart and in partnership with VDAB, these organisations also implement the Jumpstarters project aiming at supporting foreign job seekers (among others).
  • A business counter, such as Partena Professional or Securex, can help me with my mandatory administrative steps and can advise me on the many aspects of setting up my business in Belgium.
  • My accountant is a resource person for every step related to setting up my business. He or she can advise me in case of doubts or needs.

How to finance my business project and get support?

  • microStart offers financing as well as free support services to the persons who do not have access to bank loans. Support services are offered before and after the business set up : information sessions in French or Dutch, training or individual coaching (available in English).
  • microStart offers professional microcredits up to € 25 000 and an interest free loan to the persons who might want it for cultural, religious or ethical reasons.
  • Depending on my situation and my needs, microStart can advise me and refer me to other relevant organisations.

I don’t have a bank account yet, what to do?

  • If I start as a self-employed person and I choose to operate as a company, it is then mandatory to open a professional bank account. This way, I can keep my private and professional accounts separate. If I choose to operate as a sole proprietorship, it is recommended but not mandatory.
  • To easily open a private current account, Moneytrans offers the Smile account. I can open an account online or in a branch. I only need my identity card (or a residence permit valid for at least one year) and a proof of my address.

I want the recognition of my degree obtained abroad, what to do?

  • I can obtain, if necessary for my procedures or simply because I want to, a recognition of my diploma delivered by my country of origin. I can get the information on the procedures to follow on the website of my region : Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia.
  • A diploma recognition can also be useful to prove my business management skills or professional skills (an administrative obligation if I want to start my business in Wallonia or Brussels).

I want more information on my social security rights as a foreign self-employed person, what to do?

  • My social security rights depend on my situation. I can get information on the website of the Belgian government.

I’m starting my business in Belgium but I don’t know the vocabulary of my business sector yet, what to do?

  • I can download the application called FACT (First Aid Communication Tool). It helps me in an audiovisual way to translate the words related to my business sector. The application is available and translated in French, Dutch, English, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Somali.

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