What is self-employment and how does it work?

Before you start

Before you register as a self-employed, you need a solid understanding of the differences compared to a job as an employee and how exactly you want to build your business. Here we answer the most difficult questions most people ask our Tax Coaches.

This is what you need to know about self-employment

I’m currently an employee, thinking about starting as a self-employed. What do I need to consider?

Before you start, you should have a clear business idea. Make sure you have your offer clearly defined and know who your ideal target audience is. You might also have to research the regulations and specific permits or licenses for your business type. Also, know what financial resources you need to get your business off the ground. Remember that next to business expenses, you will need to set aside money for social contributions, taxes and often even business insurances. With software like Accountable, you always see how much you earn and how much taxes you have to pay. When that’s all cleared up, it’s time to open a business bank account, register your business with the tax office and apply for a tax number.

What are the requirements to start? Do I need a degree or anything specific?

In most cases, you can start as a self-employed professional without a specific degree or qualifications. However, for some professions, such as doctors or lawyers, a specific degrees and professional qualification is required. Others, such as web designers or consultants, may not require formal qualifications, but having relevant skills, experience, and certifications can enhance your credibility and competitiveness.

If you start as a self-employed person in Wallonia or Brussels, you need a Basic Business Management Certificate. This requirement will no longer apply to self-employed individuals established in Brussels starting from 2024. In Flanders, you do not need this.

How much money do I need to start my business? Can I get founder grants?

There is no fixed amount required by law to start as a self-employed individual in Belgium, but you should have enough capital to cover your initial business expenses. This includes registration fees, office space, living expenses, and taxes. The start up costs for a sole proprietorship (small business) are much lower than the costs for starting up a partnership. Here are some potential sources of funding and support:

  • If you are unemployed, you can possibly apply for several support options to facilitate your transition to self-employment. This includes for example a start-up loan, the retention of the right to unemployment benefits, a transition allowance and more.
  • The government also offers various loans and support for new self-employed or business owners to finance the establishment of your business.
  • There are numerous competitions that are organised for startups and entrepreneurs on a yearly basis. These are often government-sponsored or supported by the government, but there are, of course, many private initiatives as well. The prizes offered vary widely and can include cash awards, coaching programs, access to networks, or assistance with securing funding. Start It by KBC is a great example of such competition.
Can I start a side gig when I’m also an employee?

Yes, you can start as a self-employed in a secondary occupation. But before you do:

  • Make sure that there are no restrictions in your employment contract related to starting as a complementary self-employed.
  • Make sure you understand what additional tax obligations you have and what taxes you have to pay.
  • Remember that your main job has to take up most of your working time and is your main income. Because if your side gig income exceeds a certain threshold, you will be required to make additional social security contributions
  • You need to register your self-employed activity with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises and apply for a VAT number. Additionally, you are also obligated to join a social insurance fund and make social contributions.
I’m currently unemployed, can I still start my own business as a self-employed?

Yes, generally it is totally possible to become self-employed if you were previously unemployed. Also, it can be difficult to finance your start into self-employment. Therefore you can apply for the start-up subsidy for unemployed to receive financial support so that you can successfully become self-employed from unemployment.

Consider that, if you are receiving unemployment benefits and you register a self-employed business, you are typically no longer seen as unemployed, and your benefits may be adjusted or suspended.

What types of self-employment can you choose from in Belgium?

In Belgium, there are different types of self-employment, depending on the activity and legal status. Here are the most relevant types:

  • A sole proprietorship is a type of business that has only one owner who bears full responsibility for the business activities. Legally, the sole proprietorship is a ‘natural person’, meaning there is no ‘legal personality’. As a result, the owner of the sole proprietorship is personally liable and is responsible for all losses and profits.
  • Small business owners (kleine onderneming vrijgesteld van btw/franchisée) often have the legal structure of a sole proprietorship. Small business owners and are self-employed people who earn less than the limit of € 25.000 per year and can therefore be exempt from VAT.
  • Freelancers usually offer their services on a project basis to private clients or companies. They are not tied to a specific employer but work independently, often in a sole proprietorship or a partnership
  • A partnership is a business type you can set up on your own, or you can choose to set it up together with two or more people. A partnership has its own legal personality, meaning that the partners are not personally liable for mistakes or losses the business makes. There are different types of partnerships, such as a private limited company (BV/SARL) or a public limited company (NV/SA), each with different advantages and disadvantages.
  • Liberal professions are for self-employed individuals who primarily offer intellectual services or products from a specific specialization. These often include lawyers, architects, pharmacists, doctors, notaries, psychologists, and paramedics. A few of these liberal professions and professions with a social nature, are exempt from VAT obligations. More specifically, medical and paramedical professions such as doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, midwives, nurses, and caregivers. To find out which liberal professions are exactly exempt from VAT, you can consult the list on the website of the Federal Public Service Finance.

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