Being self-employed or a freelancer in Belgium

You might have just landed a consultant contract, or maybe you want to launch your own business. Perhaps the precariousness of work in our increasingly “uberised” economies means you simply cannot get an employee contract in your line of work. In any case, you will probably want to have some sort of status that allows you to pay your social security and taxes.

I have recently applied to have the “indépendant” status, and it was surprisingly easy to create my own individual enterprise. You will simply need to choose a social security fund, open a dedicated business bank account, register your company at the Company bank, get a VAT number and sign up for a to a “mutuelle”. Thankfully you can do most of these in the same place.

You can start by choosing a social security fund. The S group has a useful comparative table here. They will take a share of your contribution, but at the end of the day the difference is small – up to 3.65 EUR per month for a 50,000 EUR gross income. I would recommend to shop around and pick the one you like best. I chose one that responded the fastest to my queries. One of them took over 1 week to reply to a meeting request and gave me 3 phone numbers that did not work. In one meeting with your social security fund you should be able to affiliate yourself to it, register as a company and get your VAT number for a cost of around 160 EUR (deductible).

You will also probably need to get an accountant unless you are familiar with filing taxes. The cost will depend on the complexity of your company and will cost at least 600 EUR per year, but probably more. Registering your company is the easy bit. In fact Belgium ranks 16th in the world for opening a company in the Ease of Doing Business index, but only 59th in the ease of paying taxes.  You will probably need some advice on what costs are deductible and how to deduct them.

One of the choices you will be confronted with is to create an individual or regular enterprise. The individual enterprise is easier to set up but the regular enterprise could be more advantageous fiscally, especially if you have to directly employ other people. An accountant can advise you in your choice.

For some self-employed people these solutions will be too expensive or complicated. There is a solution to that called the Société Mutuelle des Artistes (SMart), launched in Belgium in 1998 and now active in France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary. Originally devised for artists, it is now open to any freelance professional that does not wish to be burdened by administration procedures. Their fee is around 6%.

If becoming self-employed is an attractive prospect for you, carefully consider the difference between being an employee and being self-employed. You can find a comparative table here. Basically, you have more freedom, but less rights: no unemployment benefits (unless you already had unemployment benefits before becoming “indépendant”), limited sickness and disability benefits and reduced maternity leave.

There are also different types of support to launch your own business, make sure to take full advantage of the potential benefits offered. Some useful places to get more information are: National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (NISSE), Actiris, Brussels Economy and Employment and the Brussels Region website, as well as the websites of the different social security funds.