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Working in Antwerp

Find out how to get a job and work in Antwerp

If you are planning on working in Antwerp as an expat, you’ll probably appreciate some advice about work permits, key industries, and the city’s general economic climate. Read on to discover all the information you need to start working in this city successfully.

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Employment in Antwerp

At a Glance:

  • The service and industrial sectors employ the most people. Antwerp’s port, one of the biggest in Europe, supplies many jobs, and the diamond and fashion industries also present many employment opportunities.
  • There are different work permits which are based on a variety of factors, such as your country of origin, the length of your stay, and the kind of job you will perform.
  • Income taxes are based on your residency status and Belgium has agreements that protect against double taxation. The social security system is contribution based and divided between several sectors.

Working in Antwerp will place you in the largest city in Flanders, and a major gateway to the wider region. Antwerp is a key financial player, even beyond Belgium. The city accounts for more than one-sixth of the nation’s GDP and employs more than one-eighth of the population of Flanders. Therefore, you’ll feel like you’re working in a major city, even if Antwerp itself is rather compact!

Antwerp’s Economy: Opportunities in the Service and Industrial Sectors

In Antwerp, most people are employed in the service sector, which accounts for some 75% of business in the city. But the impressive growth in this sector has also been matched by the expansion of the industrial sector, which now represents one-fifth of the city’s economic activity. The agricultural sector accounts for a very small proportion of the wider region’s GDP. Indeed, you won’t find many people working in agriculture in Flanders. It actually has the lowest percentage of people employed by this sector in the entire EU. As an expat you will probably, therefore, find employment in the service or industrial sectors.

Skilled-employment opportunities within the city are numerous; however, Antwerp does have a high-rate of unemployment amongst youths and unskilled residents from disadvantaged groups.

The closure of the Antwerp Stock Exchange in 1997 shifted Belgium’s financial sector to the capital, Brussels. If this is your field of expertise, working in Antwerp is less ideal than Brussels, but there are still opportunities out there.

The Biggest in Europe: Antwerp’s Port

Antwerp’s economic life has long been connected to its existence as a seaport and is inseparable from the city’s favorable geographic location. Its transportation links and modern infrastructure make the city a European trading center, so those working here have plenty of contact with foreign companies.

The port is one of the largest in Europe, and is characterized by its bustling activity. Many people working in Antwerp are in some way connected to this hub of industry — the port itself directly and indirectly employs almost 150,000 people. Each week ships sail to 325 destinations, heavily involved in international trade. If you would like more information on Antwerp’s port, check out the Port of Antwerp website.

From Diamonds to Fashion: Jobs in Antwerp

The port and the city’s other industrial activities have attracted many commercial agencies, commission agents, import and export firms, banking establishments, insurance companies, road transportation enterprises, and railways. You are sure to be able to find a job in Antwerp amidst this wide range of options!

Other important industries include the manufacture and sale of photographic and electronic equipment, and, of course, the diamond trade, which has made Antwerp famous around the world for the last 500 years! There are thousands of diamond specialists working in Antwerp doing a yearly trade of about 56 billion USD!

Given the popularity of shopping in Flanders and Antwerp’s impressive fashion scene, many retailers see the city as a favored place to invest. So, working in Antwerp might credibly involve working in fashion and/or retail, the latter being one of the top three sectors with the most job vacancies.

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Work Permits for Antwerp

After Brussels, Antwerp is one of the key cities for expats who choose to work in Belgium. Employers have therefore generally had plenty of experience in dealing with work permits for expats. The method of applying for a permit and successfully beginning your employment in Antwerp is outlined for you below. Like other EU countries, whether or not you are an EU national makes a big difference when it comes to working in Antwerp.

What You Need to Know about Work Permits

EU nationals can work in Antwerp without a work permit. All other foreign nationals require a work permit, too. It is the responsibility of the employer, rather than the employee, to obtain this. However, you should still be aware of the various types of work permits available.

  • The A Permit is given to foreigners, usually B Permit-holders, who have been employed in Antwerp (or Belgium in general) for at least four years (out of ten). If you qualify for an A Permit, you have the right to change jobs and employers without having to change your work permit.
  • The B Permit is the most common type of permit, and the one your employer obtains for you when you begin working in Antwerp; it is valid for one year. Unlike the A Permit, it is tied to the job for which you moved to Antwerp. Any change of employer requires a new permit. Under the B Permit, the employer has to prove that no Belgian national could reasonably fill your position within the company. All you need to do is fill out the application forms, and provide a medical certificate from a doctor approved by the Belgian embassy (or consulate) in your country of residence. Of course, more processes are involved in obtaining a visa once your work permit is issued.
  • The C Permit is applicable to people with limited residency status, such as students or refugees who wish to find temporary work in Antwerp.

If you wish to change from a B Permit to an A Permit, you need to obtain the forms from the VDAB job center in Antwerp and file them yourself; your employer is not directly involved in the process.

Bothersome but Necessary: Taxation

Your residency status will determine how you pay income tax. If you are a foreigner who qualifies as a Belgian resident, you will be taxed on your entire income. However, if you do not yet qualify as a Belgian resident, you will only be taxed on income arising from Belgian sources.

You can evaluate your residency status as follows. If either your physical presence, for over 183 days per year, or the place where your assets are managed is in Belgium, then you will be classified as a resident. This is just for tax purposes; you must still obtain a residence permit to live in Antwerp.

The tax authorities in Antwerp will inform you if you are liable to pay income tax. If this is the case, you will have to file your tax return by 30 June each year for income earned during the previous calendar year. For more detailed information, in Dutch, French, or German, visit the TAX-on-web site.

Some expats may be eligible for a tax-free allowance to cover the extra costs — such as travel and relocation — of the expat lifestyle. Please contact your local tax authority to ascertain whether or not this affects you. If it does, you are allowed a maximum claim of roughly 11,000 EUR a year.

Regulations concerning Double Taxation

When it comes to double taxation, EU nationals are protected from it, even though regulations may vary per member state. In addition, Belgium has made treaties with numerous countries outside the European Union as well. Those treaties regulate any issues which might arise from the tax authority of the source country interfering with that of the country of residence. It is possible to download a complete list of taxation treaties from the FPS Finance website.

An Overview of the Social Security System

The Belgian social security system is contribution based and it is divided between “classical sectors” and “social assistance”.  Each month the employer pays between 30% and 40% of the employee’s salary into the social security fund. In addition, around 13% of the employee’s gross salary is automatically withheld for social security contributions.

Those who are self-employed pay their quarterly social security contribution to the social insurance fund they are affiliated with. This contribution is provisional and it is calculated based on the self-employed person’s net professional labor income in the third calendar year preceding the year for which the contribution is due. The quarterly contributions start at around 700 EUR per quarter.

The Difference between EU and Non-EU Countries

EU/EEA nationals have the same rights and duties as Belgian citizens when it comes to social security. In fact, they pay the same contributions, receive the same benefits, and keep their rights to benefits, regardless of where in the EU/EEA they reside, as contributions always add up. Nevertheless, as an expat you will probably have to cut through quite a lot of red tape.

Many countries outside the EU have signed social security agreements with Belgium to assure that no social security contributions and benefits are lost. For more information on the individual agreements, consult the website of the Belgian Social Security Portal

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Updated on: December 06, 2018
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