Your Guide to Getting a Belgian Professional Card (and Passport)
So, you're a foreign entrepreneur, and Belgium caught your eye?
That's not surprising since the country boasts a burgeoning open economy, a skilled and multilingual labor force, and an advanced transport system.
Belgium is also a hotspot for innovative startups and investments in industries like biotech, cleantech, fintech, and others. Plus, it's one of the world's biggest exporters and importers.
We could go on, but if you're reading this, you probably already know the benefits of doing business in Belgium.
It's time to set up shop. So, where do you start?
You need a Belgian professional card.
Read on to learn about the requirements, exemptions, and how to apply in four simple steps. Plus, you'll discover how to become a Belgian citizen.
Before we get into the details, let's look at what Belgium's professional card is first.
What is a Belgian Professional Card?
A professional card in Belgium is a compulsory, government-issued document designed specifically for foreign entrepreneurs.
It authorizes non-EU nationals to conduct "self-employment activities" typically defined as:
- Work performed or services provided that fall outside the scope of Belgium's work permit for foreign employees
- Economic activities conducted either as a sole proprietor, agent, partner, or managing partner (remunerated or not) of an association or company
- Freelancing or independent business activities
In short, non-EU foreign nationals need a professional card to start, run, or take over a business as self-employed individuals in Belgium.
Tick All of the Boxes
You must meet certain conditions to get a Belgian professional card.
The Belgian authorities evaluate applications based on the following criteria:
A Valid Right of Residence to Live in Belgium
If you don't have a residence permit as yet, submit your permit application together with your professional card application at the Belgian consular or diplomatic post in your country of residence.
Conversely, if you're already living in Belgium with a residence permit, you can still apply for your professional card at an enterprise counter. In this case, the requirements are more flexible.
Added Value and Economic Benefit
Your self-employment activities must benefit Belgium by adding social, cultural, sporting, artistic, or economic value (depending on your chosen region's specifications).
A business activity or project is generally considered economically beneficial if it:
- Creates jobs
- Promotes exports
- Produces investments
- Fulfills an unsatisfied economic need
- Has innovative, rare, or specialized qualities
- Has a positive impact on local businesses
If you already have a right to reside in Belgium for another reason, the authorities usually assess your application on that basis and disregard the economic benefit condition.
You may be required to prove that you possess the necessary expertise and management knowledge to:
- Perform your business activities
- Fulfill the access requirements for your intended professional activities
- Comply with any other applicable regulatory obligations such as approvals, licenses, etc.
Remember, while a professional card allows you to carry out independent business activities anywhere in Belgium, the specific requirements may differ slightly from region to region.
You Don't Need a Belgian Professional Card IF...
In some cases, a professional card isn't required to be self-employed in Belgium. Here are a few exemptions:
- Belgian nationals
- Citizens of EU member states, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein
- The legal spouse or cohabiting partner of the above citizens
- The legal spouse of a Belgian national
- The spouse or legal cohabiting partner of the self-employed person who assists or replaces their spouse/partner in the exercise of the business activities
- Refugees recognized by Belgium
- Belgian permanent residents
- Foreign national service providers legally residing in another EU state who perform services in Belgium
- Foreign nationals on business trips not exceeding 90 days
You can get a detailed list of exemptions from Belgium's regional authorities.
Now that you know what a Belgian professional card is, the main requirements, and some general exemptions, let's dive into the application process.
Get Your Belgian Professional Card in 4 Steps
Obtaining a Belgian professional card isn't a federal process but a regional one. As such, your place of business or economic activities determine which of the following regions will process your application:
Before you do anything, decide where you want to open your business or perform your professional activities. You can then start with your application by following these steps:
Step 1: Compile Your Application Documents
There are two types of professional card application forms:
- For applicants who don't have a valid residence permit or live abroad (submitted to the Belgian diplomatic or consular post in their resident country).
- For applicants who already have a valid residence permit, such as a registration certificate from the Register of Foreign Nationals or a "model A registration certificate" (submitted to a recognized enterprise or business counter in Belgium).
The authorities typically require the following documents with your application:
- An extract from the criminal or police record such as a certificate of good conduct or an equivalent document issued by your country's authorities
- A copy of your identity card or document
- Identity photos
- A copy of your valid residence permit (if applicable)
- Proof of payment of the application fee (EUR140)
You also need to include a detailed business plan and any other supporting documents such as:
- A CV or resume
- A copy of your diplomas or degrees
- Market study
- Financial analysis and plan
- Draft contracts
- Company statutes
- Any other useful documents
Depending on the nature of your planned economic activities, additional supporting documents may be required.
Step 2: Submit Your Application
Submit your application and all supporting documents to:
- The Belgian consular or diplomatic post in your country (if you're abroad or don't have a residence permit)
- A recognized enterprise or business counter, also known as a "one-stop-shop for business" (if you have the right of residence in Belgium)
Your Belgian professional card application will then be sent to the relevant regional authority for evaluation. Keep in mind that such authority may ask for further clarification on the chosen business activity or request additional documents. Once your file is deemed admissible, an approval decision can reportedly take up to two months, so plan ahead.
Step 3: Get Approval
If your application gets approved, you'll be notified to collect your Belgian professional card at a business or enterprise counter of your choice.
If your application is rejected, you can still:
- Appeal the decision within 30 days
- Lodge another application for a new self-employed activity
- Submit a new application for the same activity after two years
Step 4: Get Ready for Business
Once you have your Belgian professional card, you still need to do a few things to get up and running.
If you're self-employed, you'll need to go to an official one-stop business shop or enterprise counter for:
- Your enterprise number
- Enterprise Crossroads Bank (ECB) registration
- Social insurance fund registration
- VAT registration
If you're starting or expanding your business in Belgium, you must register:
- Your company statutes with the commercial court
- Your company's business activities with an enterprise counter
- Any employees with the National Social Security Office
Your first Belgian professional card is usually approved for a probation period of two years. Generally, though, it's valid for a maximum of five years.
Renewing Your Professional Card in Belgium
You must renew your professional card at least three months before the expiry date.
A new card will only be issued if you meet all of your tax, regulatory, and social security obligations.
Plus, your business activities must still add value or provide economic benefits.
If you decide to branch out with different self-employed activities not included on your current card, you must request an official modification of your Belgian professional card.
You'll need to repeat the application process, though.
Getting Your Belgian Passport
While it's not an automatic guarantee, a professional card can pave the way for Belgian citizenship. It helps fulfill the requirements, which include:
- Legally residing in Belgium for five years
- Being registered in the population register
- Having knowledge of one of the national languages
- Participating in the economy
- Social integration
Once you're a Belgian citizen, you can apply for a Belgian passport. It ranks 4th on the passport index and comes with various perks like:
- Restriction-free travel in and out of Belgium
- Visa-free access to over 115 countries
- Dual citizenship (if your home country allows it)
- Access to the EU labor market
As a Belgian citizen, you'll also enjoy other perks like access to quality education, social assistance, welfare benefits, and more.
Live and Work in Belgium
With a professional card, foreign, non-EU entrepreneurs can enter the bustling Belgian economy, leverage a highly-qualified workforce, and become successful in one of the best countries to do business in.
Make sure you meet the criteria and follow the application process set out by your chosen regional authority. Learn more here.
Once you've been approved, tick off any outstanding requirements and get ready for business.
Stay compliant to renew your Belgian professional card, and after five years, you may be eligible for Belgian citizenship.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.