Is it possible to make a decent living as a freelancer in Belgium ?
Thread poster: Hélène Berthet-Bondet

Hélène Berthet-Bondet  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
German to French
+ ...
Jun 26, 2010

Dear all,

I have been working as a freelance translator for only two years... but I'm already asking myself if I should continue since my income are very low and the taxes very high.
Is it a naive illusion to think of making a living as a freelancer ?
Does anybody live in Belgium and gets decent income from translation ?
How is this kind of living compatible with being a mother ?

Thanks a lot in advance for your answers !

Best regards


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:47
Flemish to English
+ ...
Juist like Belgium (again). Jun 26, 2010

Is it a naive illusion to a make living in Belgium at all?
Whether as a freelancer (in which case you are considered as a thief because the state does not know how much you earn and cannot take away 53% of your salary) or as an employee, average salary 1500-1750 euros with a high cost of living) there is not much left over at the end of the month.
If you look at the tax-misery index, France is the champion. However, if you calculate the figures, which country should be the champion?

On the active of balance sheet.
Low VAT-threshold, advanced payment of taxes (money you didn't receive yet), social security contributions of 2500 euros per year, if you were VAT-registered twice, expect to pay one third of your VAT of the NEXT quarter in advance, in some provinces you suddenly pollute more and have to pay extra taxes on your garbage collection, the province also requires more taxes because you are self-employed,

On the passive of the balance sheet:
High living-costs, late payments, low rates, chasing your hard-earned money....
Result: If you stay in Belgium as a translator, you will stay poor or survive.
Only politicians, everything EU (but that is not Belgium) earn a decent living. The rest ends up making ends meet.
Why do you think some Belgians set up an agency in the Dominican Republic or at the lower end of the Tax-Misery Index? "Ons land/La Belgique" the only place to live well on earth, a notion, which is hammered into your head by the state-owned media? If you want to play the
" francophone" card and not pay too much taxes, there is the province of Quebec. Canada is the only place on earth where the profession of translator is highly regarded.

Also, have a look at:

By the way, I am not British, but Belgian and I speak from previous experiences with the Belgian taxman, who is not customer-friendly at all.
In the UK, if you explain why you made a mistake filling out your forms, you won't get fined the first time. Setting up shop does not require a lot of paperwork or hassle.
No notary intervenes (at a cost of 750 euros) if you set up the equivalent of a sprl or SA and the required minimum capital is lower.

As for being a mother, I can't answer. However, an average household of 2.3 people (you, your husband and your child) needs €573.26 a week, or €2,293 a month. Average Belgian salaries are lower than that amount.
When I applied for jobs in Belgium, I always quoted the salary of a management-assistant (secretary). The HRM-recruiter smiled, but when I added "at the institutions of the E.U.", he did not smile any longer.
Earning more money than the avarage employee is seen as a bad thing in Belgium and therefore "work" itself and "working-conditions" are often emphasized.

To end with: on these forums, it is forbidden to discuss politics, but there is no country in the world where language, politics and mismanagement/ a bad structure of a country are so intertwined as Belgium. Belgium equals bureaucracy, political instability, too many rules and regulations, seven parliaments, six governments, waffle-iron policy, too many interest groups and unnecessary intermediaries.
In other countries, governments try to tackle the crisis, in Belgium the government tries to tackle a three-letter word called "BHV". (For those who don't know what that is: google "Belgium" on Wikipedia).
Who pays for all this? Right, Joe and Jane Taxpayer.

[Edited at 2010-06-26 08:49 GMT]


Tai Fu  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:47
Chinese to English
Move? Jun 26, 2010

You are in the EU right? That means any Shengen countries allows pretty much unlimited access to any Shengen member citizens. So you can always move to other EU countries that doesn't have as high of a tax misery. Or else you are always welcome to come to Taiwan. Taxes for foreigners is 20% at worst and that's only for the first year, after that it's only 6%. That means if you freelance you get to keep most of your money. It shouldn't be too difficult to come to Taiwan on a short-term basis but there are lots of Americans and Europeans who teaches English and gets their work visa this way... yes they even hire Germans who barely speaks any English as English teachers!

The only problem with Taiwan is that it's very crowded, and weather wise its very uncomfortable compared to anywhere in Europe.

The good thing about translation (not intepretation) is that most jobs are done online, so if you have an internet connection you can maintain your business, and Taiwan have blazingly fast internet connections.


Jehanne Henin  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
English to French
+ ...
Freelancer in Belgium Jun 26, 2010

I am a Belgian living in Belgium, and despite high taxes, I still earn a very confortable income. Of course, I'm not a mother which means I can work a lot (weekends, evenings), but even working less, I could still earn what I would call a decent income. So no, it's not a naive illusion.icon_smile.gif


Perilla Piolon  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:47
Italian to Dutch
+ ...
me too Jun 26, 2010

I also live in Belgium and I earn a decent income (freelancing), but I work a lot for it (evenings, weekends and I have children). In my opinion this goes for any self-employed activity, the more you work, the more you earn. It is true of course that income tax is very high and the Belgian policy is not exactly "friendly", but you should be able to overcome this with the assistance of a good accountant (payable of courseicon_smile.gif).

Kind regards,


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:47
Flemish to English
+ ...
Which is why Jun 26, 2010

Justine Henin and other Belgian sport-celebrities (T.Boonen, Merckx are based in Monaco or Knokke Le Zoute (where the communal taxes are 0%).

Translation is worth is if you are avaiblable 7/7.
Not if you intend to work 9-5 (opening hours of schools).
If you want to works as a freelancer from 9-5 and still earn a lot under Belgian law, you have to change your activity. IT-programming for big banks earns about 450 euros per day.
If moreover, you have set up your house as training rooms, you can deduce everything from taxes.

As for me, I intend to find out how to set up shop at the very bottom of the tax-misery index. Why is it that a sr.Belgian exec. earning a +100 K salary p.a. is based in one of those countries and not in Belgium?

[Edited at 2010-06-26 12:12 GMT]


Ronald van der Linden  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:47
German to Dutch
+ ...
Maybe it's time to analyse your company? Jun 26, 2010

After 2 years you have experience on how things are going. And, apparently things are not going the way you wanted. So, it's a logical step to start an analysis. Besides the questions below, there are many other factors you could consider, and would perhaps lead to the conclusion that being a freelance translator is not for you, or could lead to improve some areas you haven't paid enough attention to, neglected or simply didn't know, and start improving those areas, give it some time (6 months - 1 year) and if things still don't work out, take the decision to discontinue your activities. In either cases you can decide to take up a part-time job, in order to have at least a steady income base.

What is a decent salary for you?
How much time can you dedicate to your work?
And within that time, do you receive sufficient work? Do you spend a lot of time searching for job opportunities? Or do you promote/market yourself properly so that clients can find you? If you do, could you raise your fees?

Have you tried other areas of translation? (In your profile I see that you are an expert in Wine, and in your translations I see politics/government, technical/engineering, but these areas don't show up in your expertise. Your profile is very short, and in French only. German clients usually like to read German profiles and communicate in German, and potential English clients, would prefer some English text in your profile. Have you thought of setting up a web site? (It doesn't have to be extensive, merely a home page that includes your contact details would suffice, but could give your translation company a boost.)

If you pay a lot of tax, do you have an accountant to help you out with your tax forms, tax deductions and who can offer advice on the fiscal position of your company and/or special tax arrangements for entrepreneurs? Many costs (investment in software, computer, the study area of your home, healthcare, the accountant himself, bank fees, etc.) are tax deductable.

Good luck with the analyzing and decision-making process.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:47
Flemish to English
+ ...
To have a company or not to have a company. Jun 26, 2010

Ronald van der Linden wrote:

If you pay a lot of tax, do you have an accountant to help you out with your tax forms, tax deductions and who can offer advice on the fiscal position of your company and/or special tax arrangements for entrepreneurs? Many costs (investment in software, computer, the study area of your home, healthcare, the accountant himself, bank fees, etc.) are tax deductable.

In practice: Whoever is a freelancer has to pay taxes in advance to the state or gets a fine of 5% (in 1999, can be more now) on his/her total income at the end of the fiscal year. The more you earn, the more you have to pay in advance. In the end, you wind up financing the state.
Even your study area or place where you work is taxed. At the time, I gave them the surface of my mobile and space occupied by my pc, but they could not "appreciate" this surface and reassessed it themselves.
Social security contributions are tax-deductible, but also retroactive, which means that if you have not paid enough in the past three years, you'll get a bill to pay the balance. If you paid too much, have patience and in due time, you will get your money back.
Belgium equals immediate tax-payments, but reimburses after two months.
In other words, how to finance a state that is broke and get an AA++ rating (FWIW)?
Squeeze it out of the working people.
Belgium is not at all interesting for entrepreneurial people, whether their business is thriving or not. The more they earn, the more they will pay.
It is only a friendly country for big corporations for which it set up "coordination centres" which are fiscal islands with a low tax-rate.
To analyse a company, you must first have a company: To start the equivalent of a ltd, you have to go to a notary (who asks a fee of 750 euros) and pay 18600 euros in full in the case of an sprl or 61500 euros in the case of a Société Anonyme.

[Edited at 2010-06-26 17:37 GMT]


Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
how long does it take? Jun 27, 2010

If you stick it out long enough, you'll become established, assuming that you are professional and build a reputation.

I think that translation is far more competitive now than it was 5-10 years ago, but you have to remember that the only way to out-manoeuvre fly-by-night translators is to develop basic skills and work on self-improvement.

But disabuse yourself of the notion that you'll go from near zero earnings to good earnings in even 2 years - unless your're dead good or smart or lucky or all three. Like I said, the market is very competitive, and, in fact, it's full of people who think they might earn a decent living overnight or in the short term. You simply have to outlive them. The ones who make a decent living build up their business AND their skills AND their clientele (by impressing people with their professionalism) gradually but steadily.

[Edited at 2010-06-27 01:04 GMT]


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:47
Flemish to English
+ ...
A link Jul 5, 2010


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