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Hoeveel zelfstandigen zijn er in België?

How many self-employed individuals are there in Belgium and where do they live?

Written by Valesca Wilms, Content Manager
Updated on
Read in 7 minutes

Belgium is a country with many self-employed individuals. In 2022, there were as many as 1,257,356 active self-employed individuals in our country. More than 60% of them live in the Flemish Region, slightly less than 30% in the Walloon Region, and about 10% in the Brussels-Capital Region. But in which cities and municipalities are these self-employed individuals exactly located? We looked into it.

What do we understand by the definition of ‘self-employed’?

To arrive at the figure of 1,257,356 self-employed individuals in Belgium, we consider the broad definition of ‘self-employed‘. By this, we mean self-employed individuals in all different statuses:

  • Company directors in a corporation
  • Full-time self-employed
  • Part-time self-employed
  • Contributing spouses
  • Active after retirement

Number of self-employed and freelancers per region

Of the 1,257,356 self-employed individuals in Belgium, 779,249 live in the Flemish Region, 338,640 in the Walloon Region, and 123,391 in the Brussels-Capital Region.

In Flanders, according to a calculation by Serv, there were as many as 206,018 freelancers in 2022. However, it is difficult to obtain official data for the group ‘freelancers’ because there is no separate legal status for freelancers. Therefore, it is challenging to estimate the number of freelancers per municipality in Belgium.

Based on the data we have, we can assume that approximately one in four self-employed individuals can be considered a freelancer.

How many self-employed individuals are there in Flanders?

In the rest of the article, we only consider those who are exclusively self-employed. Part-time self-employed individuals, student self-employed individuals, and other statuses are therefore not included.

Below, we discuss the Flemish provinces and major cities in more detail.

According to these criteria, there were approximately 790,000 self-employed individuals in Flanders in 2021. Based on data from ‘in cijfers’ and the Crossroads Bank for Social Security, we arrive at the following ranking of the number of self-employed individuals per province.

How many self-employed individuals are there in the province of Antwerp?

According to the latest figures from the City of Antwerp, there were 46,600 self-employed individuals in 2020. Among them, 35,651 were exclusively self-employed (this count took place in 2021).

In both categories, Antwerp is by far the municipality with the most self-employed individuals. Given that Antwerp is the largest city in the country, this is a logical fact.

Apart from Antwerp, there are several other cities and municipalities with several thousand self-employed individuals, but the difference between the provincial capital and other municipalities is larger here than in other provinces.

A striking 28.4% of the total number of self-employed individuals in the province of Antwerp reside in the city of Antwerp. The top 5 municipalities together represent about 42.6% of the total.

Lastly, it’s interesting to note that a significant 16.9% of the residents in Schilde are self-employed, which is the second-highest average in Flanders.

How many self-employed individuals are there in the province of East Flanders?

In East Flanders, the provincial capital Ghent represents a substantial portion of the self-employed population, accounting for 18.6%. Aalst makes a good effort to keep pace, but there are no other cities in the rest of the province with more than 5,000 self-employed individuals.

The top 5 municipalities together represent 34.8% of the total number of self-employed individuals in East Flanders. This indicates a better distribution compared to Antwerp, although other provinces exhibit slightly better distribution.

In East Flanders, Sint-Martens-Latem stands out as the municipality with the highest density of self-employed individuals. Moreover, it’s the only municipality where more than one in five residents is self-employed.

Where do self-employed individuals live in West Flanders?

In West Flanders, the provincial capital Bruges also serves as the most represented city. However, it accounts for only 10.1% of the total, indicating a much better balance in this province.

Interestingly, smaller municipalities sometimes host thousands of self-employed individuals. For instance, Kortrijk performs better than provincial capitals like Leuven and Hasselt.

Knokke-Heist is another notable case. Despite being relatively small, this municipality boasts 5,413 self-employed individuals, making up 16.3% of its total population. This makes Knokke-Heist the fifth most entrepreneurial municipality in Belgium.

Where do self-employed individuals live in Flemish Brabant?

In Flemish Brabant, the provincial capital Leuven is home to the majority of self-employed individuals. Additionally, there aren’t as many self-employed individuals per municipality. The top 5 municipalities only account for 24.1% of the total, making this province the one with the best distribution. However, it’s noteworthy that most self-employed individuals are located in the Flemish Periphery (Vlaamse Rand).

Where do self-employed individuals live in Limburg?

Limburg has the smallest number of self-employed individuals among the Flemish provinces, but it also has the fewest residents overall. In Hasselt, 6,964 self-employed individuals reside, which accounts for 12% of the total number of residents in Limburg. The distribution is comparable to other provinces, although most self-employed individuals seem to live centrally within the province.

Fun fact: Herstappe is the municipality with the fewest residents in the country (78), yet it has 14 self-employed individuals, making up an average of 17.9%. This is the second highest percentage in Belgium.

Self-employed individuals in the Brussels-Capital Region

In the Brussels-Capital Region, there are a high number of self-employed individuals per municipality, which is logical considering there are only 19 municipalities.

The city of Brussels itself has the highest number of self-employed individuals, totaling 13,072. This represents 14.8% of the total in this region.

The five largest municipalities together account for 55% of the total number of self-employed individuals. This indicates that other municipalities have relatively fewer self-employed individuals. For example, only 5.2% of the residents in Sint-Jans Molenbeek are self-employed. This is one of the lowest percentages in both Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region. Yet, there are a total of 5,087 self-employed individuals in the municipality, placing it in the top 20 in the country in terms of the number of self-employed individuals.

How many self-employed individuals are there in Wallonia?

Out of the 1,257,356 self-employed individuals in Belgium, 338,640 live in the Walloon Region. Meaning that only 26.92% of the self-employed individuals in Belgium are based in Wallonia

Let’s have a closer look at where the most self-employed individuals are exactly based.

Where do self-employed individuals live in Hainaut?

Hainaut leads in Wallonia. Here, it’s not the provincial capital of Mons, but Charleroi that has the highest number of self-employed individuals.

When we consider the major cities, it’s notable that most self-employed individuals are located in the southern part of the province, in cities along the E42.

Where do self-employed individuals live in the province of Liège?

In the province of Liège, the provincial capital accounts for 14.4% of the total number of self-employed individuals. The rest of the top 5 municipalities represent a much smaller portion of the total. This indicates that there are few major entrepreneurial cities in the province, but also few cities where entrepreneurial activity is very low.

Interestingly, the city of Liège is also the most entrepreneurial municipality in Wallonia. Nationally, the municipality ranks only sixth in terms of self-employed individuals.

Self-employed individuals in Walloon Brabant

In Walloon Brabant, we observe a similar story to Flemish Brabant; most self-employed individuals reside near Brussels. The neighboring municipality, Waterloo, even has more self-employed individuals than the provincial capital, Wavre.

However, there is much less dispersion in this province compared to Flemish Brabant, as 40.1% of self-employed individuals live in the five most entrepreneurial cities.

Self-employed individuals in Namur

In the province of Namur, there are many self-employed individuals in the provincial capital, specifically 7,113 or 20.7% of the total. Additionally, there are a few other municipalities with just over 1,000 self-employed individuals. However, overall, there aren’t many self-employed individuals living in this province.

Self-employed individuals in Luxembourg

In Luxembourg, there are few self-employed individuals, but it is also the province with the smallest population. Percentage-wise, it is comparable to other small provinces like Walloon Brabant and Limburg. However, unlike these provinces, there are no real centers of self-employed individuals in Luxembourg.

Most self-employed individuals are located in the more tourist-oriented towns such as Marche-en-Famenne and Durbuy. Interestingly, the provincial capital, Arlon, is not even in the top 5.

Which are the most entrepreneurial cities Belgium?

In 2022, Belgium had 83.7 self-employed individuals per 1,000 inhabitants for the age group between 15 and 74 years. For cities where more than 10% of the population is self-employed, we can certainly say they are more entrepreneurial than average.

Among the top 5 cities per province, there are five where this figure exceeds 10%. Schilde and Knokke-Heist are the absolute leaders. It will come as no surprise that the other three cities are also close to a major city.

Of the municipalities that do not fall within their provincial top 5, Sint-Martens-Latem is the absolute leader. There, no fewer than 1,745 of the 8,310 inhabitants are self-employed. This translates to an average of 21%.

The rest of the high percentages are mainly found in West Flanders. There, the number of agricultural businesses is higher than average in municipalities such as Alveringem, Heuvelland, and Lo-Reninge, but they do not account for as large a proportion of the total as you might expect. With Damme and Zuienkerke, the high percentages are again found around the largest city, namely Bruges.

Where are the highest numbers of self-employed individuals located today?

From this analysis of the self-employed in Belgium, we can conclude that the largest numbers live in the major cities and the Brussels-Capital Region. In the Flemish provinces, the provincial capitals—Antwerp, Ghent, Hasselt, Bruges, Leuven, and Hasselt—each have the highest number of self-employed individuals.

When we look at the municipalities with the most self-employed per inhabitant, it is notable that municipalities around the major cities are particularly popular. Think of Sint-Martens-Latem, Schilde, Zuienkerke, Knokke-Heist, Damme, Brasschaat, and Overijse.

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Valesca Wilms, Content Manager
Valesca Wilms, Content Manager

As a Content Manager at Accountable, Valesca offers her readers an exciting and engaging content experience. Given her own experience as a freelance content marketeer & copywriter, Valesca knows the ins and outs of tax returns for the self-employed. It’s her goal to provide you with easy and understandable solutions to handle your tax returns stress-free with Accountable.

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