Tips for expanding your business into Belgium
There are many excellent reasons for expanding your business into Belgium. It has an open economy without unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. Its workforce is highly skilled, sophisticated, and educated. It lies in the centre of Europe and many of its premier industrial and economic hotspots.
Furthermore, it’s home to some of the premier multinational bodies like NATO, the European Parliament, the European Commission and Eurocontrol, and houses no fewer than 160 embassies. It has an excellent road, airport, harbour and railroad system making it easy to access 500 million consumers within a compact radius of 800 kilometres.
However, expanding into Belgium will offer you some challenges. Here are some useful tips to make this expansion go more smoothly:
1. Do not enter into expansion lightly
Before expanding into Belgium, do your homework! You need to understand the legal structures for businesses in Belgium, and how the Belgian and the European markets work. Non-EU/EFTA nationals, for example, may require visas and residence permits.
However, there is also a great deal of support available to help you.
- Many Belgian banks are happy to give you advice.
- Enquire about support from the European Enterprise Network and if your business may qualify for any subsidies or support through the European Investment Fund.
- Other useful resources you can draw on include the Federal Public Service Economy, Business Belgium, and Belgian Social Security.
2. Who is allowed to run a business in Belgium?
Some occupations are government regulated in Belgium, which means that there are certain conditions you may need to meet. The Business Belgium website will provide you with details on regulated occupations and information about requirements and processes for starting a business in Belgium. In brief, you will have to:
- Get a number for your business
- Register your business’s name
- Register for VAT
- Register for a health insurance fund
- Register for social security
3. Get to know your new consumers
Belgium consumers are amongst the most highly educated in Europe. They are sophisticated, and generally have a fair amount of disposable income. Dutch and French are the two official languages of Belgium, though German is also spoken. A large proportion of Belgians speak English as well.
There are three main cultural zones in Belgium:
- Flanders, which mainly has a Dutch-influenced population
- Wallonia, containing mainly a French-influenced population
- Northeast Belgium, which has a strong German flavour
However, business documents present an even greater challenge! Business documents are required to be written in Dutch, French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian or Portuguese. If translations are used, they must be certified as true copies of the original business document. It is therefore important that you follow these guidelines in all your business documentation and that your website and social media presence follow suit.
4. You will have to open a corporate bank account
Before establishing a business in Belgium, you will have to open a Belgian bank account. This will have to be for the use of your business only and be separate from your personal bank account. Your account number should appear on all your business documents. These are some of the Belgian banks that offer different business account options:
- Belfius Bank
- KBC Brussels
- ING Belgium
5. Get up-to-date information about the business taxation
This is a very complex subject, and you are strongly advised to get professional help! Understanding Belgium’s legal requirements, bylaws, rules, and regulations is challenging. Working with local and clued-up consultants is crucial for your business expansion.
Also note that Belgium’s intellectual property rights are valid only per the region that they’re registered in. Companies must register a ‘bundle’ of patents in every region in which they’re conducting business.
6. Find out about insurance
Ensure that you become fully informed about the business insurances required in Belgium. While some are optional, several are compulsory:
- Compulsory worker compensation insurance
- Compulsory public liability insurance for all businesses being run from premises.
- Compulsory vehicle insurance
- Compulsory health insurance
- Optional professional liability insurance
- Optional building and contents thereof insurance
- Optional cyber insurance against data loss, failure of servers
- Though not compulsory, it is a good idea to buy voluntary employment insurance
7. Be prepared to provide excellent customer support
Your sophisticated Belgian prospects will expect world-class customer support in Dutch, French, and German. They will expect customer support to be tailored to their needs and preferences, and to have their culture respected.
Belgians value politeness, efficiency, and speedy resolution of problems. When speaking to them, use their titles where applicable. Avoid using first names until a relationship has been established. Particularly in a legal or financial context, a more formal tone is required.
Belgians are generally a down-to-earth and straightforward people. They may feel uncomfortable with an overly enthusiastic manner of speaking or writing.
8. Employing staff in Belgium
Employing staff in Belgium carries the following requirements:
- You have to register with the Belgian National Social Security Office, ONSS, as an employer
- You do this by making an electronic declaration of employment, abbreviated to DIMONA
- You need to make a quarterly declaration to the ONSS detailing the salaries and benefits of employees
Once you have staff working for you, you have to stick to the Belgian labour laws, which includes:
- a working week of 38 hours
- paying the minimum wage as laid down in Belgium
- a minimum of 20 days annual leave (for full-time staff members)
- sticking to guidelines on employee well-being and safety
- providing incapacity and unemployment benefits
9. Finally, have you ticked all the following boxes?
- Do you have sufficient funds for the expansion?
- What are the true costs and the timeframe you need for this expansion?
- Do you have systems in place to manage tax, complying with requirements and the Belgian immigration laws?
- Do you have legal and HR experts lined up to facilitate your expansion?
- Are you aware of the necessary permits and licenses required for your expansion?
- Do you have the capacity to offer multilingual customer service, or should you outsource it?
Belgium’s central location, pro-business stance and open economy offer great business opportunities for expansion. However, you have to be prepared to go several extra miles to thrive in its highly competitive and complex business environment.