Country GuideBelgium

From Global Connections

Belgium’s capital is sometimes called capital of Europe, as Brussels is the host city for a number of the European Union and NATO institutions.

According to the World Bank’s 2016 Doing Business rankings, Belgium ranked first in the world for Trading Across Borders. It also ranked 10th in the world for Resolving Insolvency. The rankings also recognised reforms enacted by Belgium to make doing business easier in the country. This included making transfer of property easier by introducing electronic property registration.

Key facts about starting a business in Belgium:

  • It takes approximately four days and three procedures to start a new business in Belgium; this process is detailed in the Doing Business in chapter
  • A business must obtain authorisation if it wishes to employ a non-European national; employment regulations are discussed in detail in the Labour chapter
  • It takes approximately 110 days and costs EUR780 to request a building permit from the local Municipality
  • A common IT system has been developed between the Offices for Intellectual Property of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to modernise and support all patent related business processes; intellectual property rights are discussed in the Legal Overview chapter
  • Companies that wish to list equity securities on the Euronext Brussels must have published or filed audited annual financial statements for the preceding three financial years; this is discussed further in the Finance chapter

While investing in Belgium is a transparent and straightforward process, it is important to understand the nuances of any local regime. The manner in which people conduct business in Belgium may differ from the home countries of investors. Furthermore, variations on these distinctions may exist in different regions of Belgium and the industry in which a company operates.

Belgium has three official languages: German, French and Dutch. Flemish, which is the local dialect of Dutch, is spoken by the majority of the population, predominantly in the North.

Punctuality is critical when conducting business in Belgium. Business attire is typically conservative; nevertheless, this may vary across different industries.

A handshake is the typical greeting for a new introduction and business cards may be exchanged after initial introductions. Gift giving is not expected in Belgian business culture.

Those looking to establish a business in Belgium will often look to countries across the European Union (EU) as alternative options. While membership of the EU ensures parity in many aspects of the legal, tax and audit regimes, Belgium can be differentiated on the following factors:

  • Belgium is the 10th largest economy in the EU; in 2015, GDP growth was 1.3 per cent
  • Situated between France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxemburg, Belgium is strategically located to provide access to a number of the main European markets
  • Belgium's capital city Brussels is a major centre for international politics and is the de facto capital of the European Union
  • Amongst other incentives, the Government provides a tax deduction of 80 per cent on gross patent income, which leads to a maximum effective tax rate of 6.8 per cent; discussed further in the Trade chapter
  • Highly qualified and multilingual workforce; Belgium ranks within the top five in the world in both primary and higher education
  • Belgium was ranked 21st in the world for the quality of its infrastructure; further details in the Infrastructure chapter

Although there are many benefits of investing in Belgium, foreign investors should remain aware of potential challenges. Belgium is an export-driven economy and is therefore highly vulnerable to fluctuations in global trade flows. The government has also acknowledged that reforms are required to improve the competitiveness of the economy. This includes reforms in the labour market where costs are particularly high; hourly labour costs are the second highest in the EU, behind only Denmark.

This guide has been developed to provide businesses with an overview of Belgium, its legal regime, start-up and market entry considerations, tax and customs requirements and a general summary of the factors that may affect the decision to do business in Belgium. However, the information contained in this document is generic in nature and you should not act or rely on it without obtaining specific professional advice.

Please note that the Country Guides may only be available in English.

Useful Links

1 Ministry of Finance
2 Ministry of Economic Affairs
3 Privacy Commission
4 Immigration Office
5 Benelux Office for Intellectual Property
6 Invest in Belgium
7 Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue

 

Sources

1 FDI Statistics
2 World Bank Rankings
3 GDP growth
4 Infrastructure

 

Download Country Guide - Belgium (3.25MB, PDF)

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This document is issued by HSBC Bank plc. (the Bank). This guide is a joint project with Grant Thornton. It is not intended as an offer or solicitation for business to anyone in any jurisdiction. It is not intended for distribution to anyone located in or resident in jurisdictions which restrict the distribution of this document. It shall not be copied, reproduced, transmitted or further distributed by any recipient. The information contained in this document is of a general nature only. It is not meant to be comprehensive and does not constitute financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this document without obtaining specific professional advice. Whilst every care has been taken in preparing this document, the Bank and Grant Thornton makes no guarantee, representation or warranty (express or implied) as to its accuracy or completeness, and under no circumstances will the Bank or Grant Thornton be liable for any loss caused by reliance on any opinion or statement made in this document. Except as specifically indicated, the expressions of opinion are those of the Bank and are subject to change without notice. The materials contained in this document were assembled in January 2016 and were based on the law enforceable and information available at that time.

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