Starting a business in Belgium as a foreigner might seem complicated, but it's easier than you think. In this article, you'll learn everything a foreigner starting a business in Belgium needs to know.
Whether or not you are starting a business as a citizen or a foreigner, does not really change the regular process of starting a business. You just need to make sure your papers are in order, which you'll learn all about here.
- Do I need a visa to work in Belgium?
- An overview of all Belgian professional visas
- Best Belgian freelance visa
Step-by-step guide to starting a business in Belgium
1. Do I need a visa to work in Belgium?
Whether or not you need a visa to work in Belgium depends on:
- Your country of origin
- The duration of your stay
Your country of origin
Whether or not you need a visa to work in Belgium has everything to do with where you're from and, even more so, what international association your country of origin belongs to.
These are the associations that make a difference:
- EU/European Union: unites all of its members in a single market that allows free trade of goods, services, capital and labour between its members
- Schengen Area: area of countries without border checks between them to facilitate international travel
- EFTA/European Free Trade Association: free trade and economic integration between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland
- EEA/European Economic Area: extends the economic trade area from the EU and the EFTA to include one another
You can easily check what you need here:
- EU Schengen
- EU non-Schengen
List of non-Schengen EU countries
- Schengen Area non-EU/EFTA
List of non-EU Schengen countries
- Non-Schengen Area non-EU/EFTA
> 3 months: Free Access
< 3 months: Need Passport
List of non-Schengen countries
Duration of your stay
The duration of your stay is the second deciding factor in the type of visa you'll need, if you need one at all. There are 3 types of Belgian visa based on duration:
- Short term: < 3 months
- Long term: > 3 months
- For immigrants: permanent
2. An overview of all Belgian professional visas
Since we're talking about starting a business in Belgium as a foreigner, we will only discuss professionals visas here.
Find a complete list of all possible Belgian visas, professional and otherwise, here.
There are many short term visas, but only 1 short term business visa. The others include the tourist visa, visitor visa and medical visa.
This visa is perfect for short business-related trips lasting less than 90 days or 3 months within a 6 month period.
All non-EU/EFTA citizens need a business visa, unless their country is one of the 61 exempt countries.
Apply for a short term business visa in Belgium as follows:
- Apply at the Belgian consulate or embassy in your country
- Minimally 15 days prior to your visit
- Filled in visa application form
- Valid passport/ID
- 2 recent passport pictures
- Flight details
- Health insurance details
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of financial means to support you during your stay
- Payment receipt for the € 60 visa fee
- Letter from your employer with the reason of your stay/trip OR an invitation letter from a Belgian company requesting your presence
There are 3 different types of longer term, but not permanent, professional visas in Belgium:
- Category a
- Category b
- Au pair
Category b visas are required for specific jobs with sponsorship from your employer. You can apply for category b when the Belgian workforce is exhausted of someone with your specific profile, like managerial positions, athletes, entertainers and academics.
A category c visa you can apply for when you didn't come to Belgium intending to work, like on a tourist or student visa, but end up needing or wanting to work anyway. You can fill any position you are qualified for and are eligible for an extension beyond 12 months with sufficient motivation.
The au pair visa is a highly specific one that you won't need as a freelancer. It is only valid for people between 18 and 26 of age that work as an au pair with a host family filling certain requirements. The visa cannot be extended beyond 12 months.
Looking for a job for an indefinite amount of time? Then the work visa is what you need. After you find a job with a Belgian employer, that employer can then apply for a work visa in your stead. The work visa is also known as a category a.
The entrepreneur visa is another name for the professional card in Belgium, meaning you can be an active self-employed professional. This visa, however, acts as a permit for trade and other business activities, not as a residency permit.
In order to qualify for a professional card, you need a category d visa through the Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country. The visa is specifically meant for professionals or students planning to stay in Belgium.
The Belgium business residence programme applies to you if you are a foreigner or non-EU resident not only starting a company of your own, but also when you invest in a Belgian company. You need to request the permit yearly for 3 years, after which you can become a permanent Belgian citizen.
3. Best Belgian freelance visa
The best Belgian freelance visa you can request depends on what type of stay you're looking for. These visas are perfect options for you as a foreign freelancer in Belgium:
- Business visa: < 3 months
- Category b or c visa: > 3 months
- Entrepreneur visa or professional car: indefinitely
Looking for advice on how to start a business in Belgium as a freelancer or support in being a freelance IT'er? Contact our experts here or learn more in our dedicated blog.