The right to work or conduct business in the Schengen Area must be verified on a case-by-case basis, considering the immigration laws in each country the person intends to be present in. This article focuses on the position for British citizens on business travel to Belgium.

Short recap: visa exemption

As highlighted in our previous article “ Travel and Work within the Schengen Area: British citizens”, British citizens can enter and stay in the countries of the Schengen Area for 90 days in any 180-day period without having to apply for a short-term visa (the so-called ‘Schengen visa' or ‘visa type C').

This visa exemption does not give British citizens the right to work within the Schengen Area. The right to work must be verified based on the applicable immigration laws in each country the person intends to be present in.

Can British citizens work or conduct business in Belgium?

Unless they are considered as beneficiaries from the Withdrawal agreement (pre-Brexit status), British citizens are not automatically entitled to work or conduct business in Belgium. As a rule, an authorisation to work in the form of a work permit (for less than 90 days) or a single permit (for more than 90 days) has to be obtained in advance.

However, there are several exemptions that may be applicable to enable “work authorisation-free” business travel, including:

  • Exemptions stemming from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the EU and the UK (‘TCA'); and
  • Exemptions stemming from national (and regional) legislation.

What type of “work authorisation-free” business travel is possible under the TCA?

British citizens can work or conduct business as an employee in Belgium for a duration of 90 days in any six-month period as ‘Short-term business visitor' provided that they:

  • Are not engaged in selling their goods or supplying services to the general public;
  • Do not receive payment from within Belgium;
  • Work or conduct business that falls within the following activities listed in annex 21 to the TCA, such as:
  • Attending meetings or conferences, or consultations;
  • Acting as a technical, scientific or statistical researcher doing independent research or research for their UK employer;
  • Acting as a market researcher or analyst doing research or analysis for their UK employer;
  • Receiving training in techniques and work practices which are used by companies or organisations in Belgium, provided this is restricted to observation, familiarisation and classroom instruction;
  • Attending trade fairs and exhibitions to promote their company or its products/services;
  • Taking orders to supply services or goods and negotiating/entering into agreements to sell services or goods;
  • Purchasing goods or services for a company;
  • Installing, repairing, servicing or advising on machinery, equipment, computer software or hardware (or training Belgium-based workers to do this), where either the UK company is the manufacturer or supplier, or is part of a contractual arrangement for after-sales service that was agreed at the time of a sale or lease (this includes under a warranty or other service contract incidental to the sale or lease);
  • Engaging in commercial transactions on behalf of a UK company;
  • Acting as a tour or travel agent, tour guide or tour operator attending a convention or accompanying a tour group from the UK; and
  • Acting as a translator or interpreter on behalf of their UK employer.

Contrary to other EU countries, Belgium did not choose to make any reservations to the TCA regarding the activities permitted as a short-term business visitor. It should therefore be noted that some other EU countries might require a work permit for certain activities that Belgium allows under work authorisation-free business travel.

This exemption only relates to work authorisation. Therefore, it is possible that a Belgian residence permit will have to be applied for if the stay in Belgium is not or no longer covered by the Schengen visa exemption following extensive (business) travel in other Schengen countries.

What type of “work authorisation-free” business travel is possible under Belgian immigration legislation?

British citizens can work or conduct business as an employee in Belgium for certain activities that are deemed to have an insufficient link with the Belgian territory (based on the nature and/or duration of the activities) to warrant an authorisation to work.

A non-exhaustive list of activities for which an exemption can apply (subject to Regional differences) is as follows:

  • Attending internal meetings that do not amount to carrying out their UK role (limited to 20 consecutive calendar days per meeting and 60 consecutive calendar days per year)
  • Attending academic conferences;
  • Installing and assembling certain goods (limited to 8 days);
  • Carrying out certain urgent repair and maintenance work (limited to 5 days per month);
  • Participating in international sport competitions as an athlete (maximum of three months per calendar year);
  • Contributing to artistic performances as an artist or support staff (maximum duration varies depending on Region);
  • Participating in certain scientific programmes as a scientist (maximum 3 months per calendar year);
  • Acting as a sales representative of a company located abroad without a presence in Belgium (maximum 3 consecutive months);
  • Being on assignment as a journalist of a foreign press agency (maximum 3 consecutive months);
  • Giving (and in certain cases following) training sessions (in certain cases including training on the job) at a Belgian entity of a multinational business (maximum 3 consecutive months);
  • Genuine employment under an intra-company transferee permit in the framework of short-term mobility (i.e. where the British citizen holds an intra-company transferee permit for an EU country other than Belgium); and
  • Intra-EU service delivery.

Except for short-term mobility for intra-company transferees, these exemptions only relate to the requirement to obtain work authorisation. In other words, it is possible that a Belgian residence permit will have to be applied for if the stay in Belgium is not or no longer covered by the Schengen visa exemption.

What sanctions are there for non-compliance?

Criminal or administrative sanctions can be applied to the employer where business travel breaches Belgium's legislative framework in the following ways:

  • Illegal employment: where a British citizen performs activities outside the scope of an exemption without an authorisation to work; and
  • Illegal residence: where a British citizen resides in Belgium without a valid residence permit (i.e. where they are an overstayer)

A British citizen who resides illegally in Belgium can also be subject to a temporary re-entry ban or deportation.

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.