Belgium is a great location for foreign entrepreneurs to start a business. The capital Brussels is beating heart of the European Union and the country is hugely committed to attracting overseas investment. There are however a few administrative hoops to jump through before you can open a company, but there are ways to navigate the system if you have the know-how. Here’s a guide on how to start a business in Belgium the easy way.
1. Do your homework on Belgian culture
Belgium has an extremely unique culture which is tied to its four regions after the country was divided up in the 1960s. There is the Flemish region, the Walloon region, the Brussels capital region and the small region of East Cantons. The Flemish community speak Dutch, the Walloon region speak French, the East Cantons speak German and the Brussels capital speak both Dutch and French (although French is more widely spoken.)
Because of this split and the language differences, there are distinctly different cultures and certain tensions between the regions. If you want to pick a more neutral place to set up, then Brussels is your best bet however if you’re an import/export company you may want to set yourself up nearer the huge ports of Antwerp, Zeebrugge or Ghent.
Whatever the location it is wise to make yourself aware of these cultural distinctions so you understand how to target your business to the different regions. The advantages of this means you have a broader customer base to target different products or services.
2. Get your paperwork in order
Like its neighbouring country France, the Belgians are sticklers for correct paperwork and administrative procedures. If you have all your paperwork sorted out from the start, then the process can be smooth sailing. Each director of the company will need to have valid passports from their country and up to date utility bills from their current residence (not cellphone bills but actual water, gas, electric bills and bank statements).
You will also need a business plan which details your potential Belgian customers and why you think your particular company, product, trade or service will thrive in Belgium. The great news for entrepreneurs is that Belgium is the second most densely populated country in Europe which means a fantastic customer reach for business. (And if you include the neighbouring European countries, that means more than 500 million consumers within an 800 km radius!)
To impress the Belgian authorities, there is no point in winging the business plan part of the process. You will need solid reasons as to why you are choosing Belgium to set up your business, as opposed to other European countries. For instance, if you’re an import/export company then you will need to detail your products and its potential for high levels of sales in Belgium.
You will also need to choose your business structure. There are four main choices of business entities in Belgium - branch, subsidiary, partnership, or sole proprietor. Choosing the right one for your type of project is an important step to make sure you get the best out of your business. You will also need some of your paperwork notarised by a Belgian notary for legal purposes. For more help, you can click here to find out all the different requirements for Belgian business structures.
The good news is that once all your paperwork is in order, it only takes one week to register the company and a further week to issue the company with a VAT number. So sorting out your files first is well worth it if you want to set up quickly and efficiently.
3. Dig out your qualifications
Certain professions in Belgium require university degree level expertise and if you want to start a business in Belgium you will have to prove you have that knowledge. Although this seems to be a very stringent rule, it actually safeguards customers and means that any business registered in Belgian has passed a basic competency test before being allowed to trade.
In order to prepare for this, make sure that all the directors of the company have their qualifications and job experience in the field set out on paper for the authorities to check.
4. Get a local agent
Company formation agents who are experts in Belgium can help smooth the way for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the country. They will know all the latest compliance and legal aspects of registering companies and as well as sorting out all the relevant paperwork for you, they’ll be able to navigate the numerous language barriers in Belgium that can cause difficulties for foreign business people.
With a company formation agent, there is also the benefit in being able to sort out a business bank account for your company. As with registering a company, Belgian banks like to know everything about you and what your business will bring to their bank. Along with your business plan, it’s advised that you include financial predictions for your business, and bring evidence of your share capital.
A company formation agent can also put you in touch with local services such as the regional Chamber of Commerce and accountancy services.
5. Find an accountant
Finding an accountant that not only understands the tax implications in Belgium for your business but also speaks your language is a priority. Clear communication between you and accountant will stop you from getting into hot water with the Belgian tax offices.
Using a chartered accountant in Belgium (and not just a book-keeper) will mean you are kept up to date with all the tax changes and possible benefits that will help your business. There are many tax advantages in Belgium that your accountant can help you with if your business is properly structured, including help with tax exemptions and repatriating profits.
Accountants might seem like an unwanted expense when you are first setting out on your entrepreneurial journey but it pays dividends along the line when you start making profits. Accountants can also help you with staff payrolls and help you register with the Belgian VAT department which means you have more time to concentrate on the actual day-to-day running of your business without getting bogged down with paperwork and foreign tax returns.
If they’re based in the region where you’ve set up, there is also the advantage that they may have local business contacts that can help you with recruitment or put you in touch with local business people who can help you with broadening your customer networks.
6. Get more information on Belgian company formation
For more information on easy company incorporation in Belgium, how to open a bank account or for any further issues on how to set up a business in Belgium including notary advice, taxes and VAT, please contact us on 0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us through our contact page and we’ll be happy to help.