Question for freelancers on setting up in Belgium
Thread poster: Laura Tridico

Laura Tridico  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:39
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Dec 29, 2008

I have a couple of quick questions about setting up as a freelancer in Belgium. I lived there for several years before becoming a freelancer, and there is a very slight possibility we might return at some point in the future. We are not EU residents, but my husband would be able to obtain a residence permit for the family.

If we moved I would want to continue freelancing, so I know I'd have to obtain a professional card. But my current questions are:

1) Is translation a regulated profession in Belgium? In other words, would I need to be "licensed" by the state to continue my business? I do not have a degree in translation (though I'll be completing a certificate this year - I do have a U.S. law degree).

2) Is there a requirement to form a company, or can I operate as a sole proprietor as I do in the U.S.?

I know there are loads of tax issues to deal with - I'm just trying to figure out the basic structure at this point. Thanks very much!


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nordiste  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:39
English to French
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some ressources (mainly in French) Dec 29, 2008

Here are a couple of ressources for information:

http://www.becompta.be/ - about taxes, VAT etc. with a forum

http://www.belgium.be/fr/ - official portal of the Belgium administration

http://www.rsvz-inasti.fgov.be/fr/helpagency/starters/index.htm - freelancers and social insurance


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:39
Dutch to English
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Continue trading based in the USA? Dec 29, 2008

I can't give you any information about setting up in Belgium but you may wish to consider continuing paying your taxes in the US if possible (i.e. trading as if you were still based there). I know that you are not supposed to pay taxes twice in the EU so this may be an option.

Good luck!
Marijke


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:39
Flemish to English
+ ...
An attempt Dec 29, 2008

Laura Tridico wrote:

I have a couple of quick questions about setting up as a freelancer in Belgium. I lived there for several years before becoming a freelancer, and there is a very slight possibility we might return at some point in the future. We are not EU residents, but my husband would be able to obtain a residence permit for the family.

If we moved I would want to continue freelancing, so I know I'd have to obtain a professional card. But my current questions are:

1) Is translation a regulated profession in Belgium? In other words, would I need to be "licensed" by the state to continue my business? I do not have a degree in translation (though I'll be completing a certificate this year - I do have a U.S. law degree).


2) Is there a requirement to form a company, or can I operate as a sole proprietor as I do in the U.S.?
I know there are loads of tax issues to deal with - I'm just trying to figure out the basic structure at this point. Thanks very much!


No, it is not regulated, though quite a number of Belgian translators went to an institute for translators and intepreters (of which there are three on the "francophone" side and 4 on the "néerlandophone" side or to the KULeuven/VUB/ULB).

In order to start a business in Belgium, you have to show them that you have adequate business knowledge. There is a kind of management certificate, you have to obtain to start a business. You can obtain this at http://www.efpme.be.

In practise the state believes that everybody with a university level degree has business knowledge, even if he or she studied art history. The knack will be to get your law degree recognized in Belgium.
-*-*--
As an sole trader, the tax-rate was 10% in 1999, now I do not know.
The form most used in Belgium is the bvba/sprl :
To form one you must depose 18600 euros on a bank-account of which 2/3 must be effectively paid.
However, there is such a thing as the European bookshop "ltd", not sprl/bvba. For a ltd, you don't need that capital or go through such a bureaucratic process.
-*-*-*-
You must go to a notary public to certify the minutes at a cost of 500 euros for his signature, not to be paid 30 days later or in 60 days, but immediately.

You must go to the BCO/KBO of your region, which will give you a entrepreneurial number.
Although the treshold in Belgium is 5000 euros turnover per annum, you will automatically get a VAT-number.
That number is also linked to your social security contributions which are about 600 euros nowadays. For that money, you are insured against hospital costs, dental costs and incapability to work due to illness.

You have to pay VAT every three months and 1/3 of VAT in advance if you were previously registered at the VAT-administration.
You also have to pay 1/3 of taxes in advance, based upon the turnover of the previous quarter. If you don't, you get fined.
If the balance paid outweighs the balance you owed, the state will pay you back two years later. In fact, you are a sort of credit-agency for the state (as well as a credit-agency for translation agencies paying at 45-60 days, which is the usual delay in Belgium).
-*-*-*
Make the description on that CBO-form as broad as you can.
For example: translation and other "secretarial services", IT-training and consulting, trading... so that you can deduce just about everything for tax-purposes.
Start learning Japanese at the language institute of the KUL (tax-deductable), so that you can buy a plane-ticket to Japan in business-class and deduct it from taxes. Or see to it that one way or another, visits to your parents in the US are business-expenses.

My acquaintance has a sprl and treats himself yearly to a seminar and business hotel in the Far East to keep up with developments in his field. Every year the sprl makes losses but still continues to exist. Taxes paid to Belgium: 0 or minimal.

Another way to get around a heavy tax-burden is to work p.t.for an all American company with HQ in Brussels and subsidiaries in say Antwerp. You can deduce gasoline costs at the price of gasoline from your to home to say Antwerp, even if you drive on liquid petrol gas (lpg, which is 50% cheaper) combined with translation.
That way you will get money back at the end of the year and the state prefinances your car.

One particular all-American company with H.Q. in the lovely surroundings of Waterloo and stations in Antwerp and Genth even has an expats department that takes care will take care of your work-permit. This company will do anything to keep Americans in compliance with the Belgian law. I used to handle enveloppes for the US-employees with on it: I.R.S Address: well-known Philidelphia, USA. which meant that the executives and other U.S.-personnel did not pay a dime to Belgium.
-*-*-*-
10 years ago, I combined p.t. at an all American winged (75-90% airline discount) company with a and a lot of perks (meal-vouchers) + well-paid with full-time job (9-5 p.m.) as a freelance translator and from 6.00 p.m-9.00 p.m at that company).

That combination takes care of your first class health-insurance, covers all your costs and for the Belgian state, you are self-employed as a second job, not as your main job.
The expat department could see to it that you continue to pay taxes to Uncle Sam.
The new U.S. president still considers 250.000 dollars or 145000 euros as middle-class income. The Belgian state considers it as upper-class income and taxes it at 50%.
With that money it "distributes the wealth" and finances its complex state structure.


[Edited at 2008-12-29 10:59 GMT]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:39
English to German
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Quick question to Williamson Dec 29, 2008

Williamson wrote:

The new U.S. president still considers 250.000 dollars or 145000 euros as middle-class income.



Where did you come up with this information?



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Laura Tridico  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:39
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for all the replies! Dec 29, 2008

It's a lot to think about. Williamson, thanks for all the detail - I was hoping to avoid forming a legal entity but I'm not sure its possible. We're fortunate that my husband's firm would handle the expat arrangements in the event we did go, but I like to know what's in store. I could have insurance through his job as well.

Nicole, I think Williamson's referring to the fact that President Obama would only apply a higher income tax rate to those earning over 250K (or 140K, perhaps for single filers?), essentially treating those below that level as "middle class". In Belgium the maximum tax rates kick in much, much lower. In general the Belgian tax system is viewed as pretty oppressive (thus the focus on finding as many deductions as humanly possible).

Laura


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:39
Flemish to English
+ ...
ltd. Dec 29, 2008

Laura Tridico wrote:

It's a lot to think about. Williamson, thanks for all the detail - I was hoping to avoid forming a legal entity but I'm not sure its possible. We're fortunate that my husband's firm would handle the expat arrangements in the event we did go, but I like to know what's in store. I could have insurance through his job as well.

Nicole, I think Williamson's referring to the fact that President Obama would only apply a higher income tax rate to those earning over 250K (or 140K, perhaps for single filers?), essentially treating those below that level as "middle class". In Belgium the maximum tax rates kick in much, much lower. In general the Belgian tax system is viewed as pretty oppressive (thus the focus on finding as many deductions as humanly possible).

Laura
Correct. In comparison with Belgium, the US is a tax-haven. 25000 euros is an average income which is taxed at 30-35%, 40000 euro is a high income and here a tax-rate of 50% applies. So, people have become very "creative".

With regard to an Sprl or SA, it does not have to be an Sprl. The European bookshop in Brussels is a ltd, registered in the UK and in Belgium. For a limited, the amount of capital required is much lower. The reason behind this is a judgement of the European Court of 2003, which said that ALL company forms in the E.U. are to be considered equal. A ltd= a British ltd.


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