Working in Brussels
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Find out how to get a job and work in Brussels
Starting work in Brussels soon or want to? Brussels is a welcoming and international location, but to fully enjoy your time, you need detailed info on the city; we’re glad to help! InterNations GO! gives you the know-how on work permits, taxes, healthcare, and social security for expats.
Employment in Brussels
- Brussels offers job opportunities in European institutions, numerous IGOs, and NGOs.
- Taxation rates depend on your residency status. Double taxation can be avoided thanks to treaties that Belgium has made with a number of countries.
- Social security offers the same rights and duties for nationals and expats alike; healthcare is mandatory and it covers up to 75% of medical expenses.
- There are several work permits which apply to different situations.
As an expat working in Brussels, you will be part of an international community. At least 30% of the inhabitants are foreign residents. The reason why so many foreigners are currently living and working in Brussels is mainly the city’s status as a center for international politics.
Many other enterprises in the city’s service-oriented economy directly or indirectly depend on the presence of so many foreign politicians, diplomats, and administrative staff working in Brussels. However, multinational companies with their regional or global headquarters in Brussels also provide jobs for foreign nationals.
The Greatest Job Providers: The EU, IGOs, and NGOs
The largest international organizations by numbers of employees working in Brussels or its environs are, without any doubt, the EU and NATO (the latter based south of Brussels in Mons). The main EU institutions which have their staff working in Brussels are the European Commission and the European Council. Based in the European Quarter in the east of the city, the Commission alone is said to claim a quarter of the city’s total office space for its employees.
Other large international organizations located in Brussels include, for instance, the World Customs Organization and Eurocontrol. In addition to (and because of) all these inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and NGOs, there are several hundred lobbying consultancies working in Brussels and, allegedly, more journalists and ambassadors than in Washington, D.C. There’s also a small but significant industry sector: Brussels’ breweries are not only world-famous, but they also provide employment for quite a few people.
All about Taxes in Brussels
As a foreigner working in Brussels, how your income tax is calculated in Belgium depends on your residency status. You may work in Brussels without qualifying as a Belgian resident: in this case, you will only be taxed on that part of your income which you receive from Belgian sources. However, if you are registered in Brussels and physically present more than 183 days per year, or if your asset management is based in Brussels (even if the assets are elsewhere), you will be classified as a Belgian resident for tax purposes.
Expats may be entitled to a tax-free allowance to make up for extra expenses commonly associated with expatriate life, such as travel and relocation costs, housing, and school fees, provided these are not covered by the employer. You should contact the tax authorities to find out whether you qualify. The allowance is capped at roughly 11,000 EUR per year, or around 30,000 EUR in exceptional cases, e.g. for activities of a controlling or coordinating nature or for scientific research.
If you are classified as a Belgian resident, you have to file a tax return at the end of every financial year (same as the calendar year). This can be done online via the FPS Finance website (French and Dutch only). The tax authorities of your community will inform you whether you are liable to pay income tax as a foreigner working in Brussels.
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Social Security in Brussels
No Need to Worry about Double Taxation
EU nationals working in Brussels don’t have to worry about double taxation: they are protected by various EU treaties to that effect. Belgium has signed double taxation treaties with a number of countries outside the EU as well. These treaties regulate any issues which might arise from the tax authority of the source country interfering with that of the country of residence. A complete list of taxation treaties including details of the individual arrangements is available on the FPS Finance website.
An Overview of the Social Security System
Everyone who receives a salary from a company in Brussels automatically contributes approximately 13% of their gross monthly salary to the Belgian social security system. The amount will be directly deducted from your salary and transferred to a social security fund, together with a contribution of almost 25% from the employer.
The self-employed pay their quarterly social security contribution to the social insurance fund they are affiliated with. This provisional contribution is calculated based on the self-employed person’s net professional labor income in the third calendar year (reference year) preceding the year for which the contribution is due. The quarterly contributions start at around 700 EUR per quarter.
There are different social security schemes for employees, the self-employed, and civil servants. The seven so-called classical sectors of the Belgian social security system include: old age and survivor’s pensions, unemployment benefits, insurance for work accidents and occupational diseases, family benefits, compulsory insurance for medical care and benefits, and paid annual leave. The latter, however, is only paid out of social security funds to blue-collar workers; other employees have individual arrangements with their employers.
Social Security Safeguard for Non-EU Member States
EU/EEA nationals residing in Brussels have the same rights and duties as Belgian citizens when it comes to social security. They pay the same contributions, receive the same benefits, and keep their rights to benefits, no matter where in the EU/EEA they reside, as contributions always add up. However, while this sounds nice in theory, you will often face some bureaucratic obstacles when it comes to claiming certain benefits.
Several non-EU member states have signed social security agreements with Belgium to make sure that no social security contributions and benefits are lost. For the exact terms and conditions of individual agreements, please refer to the website of the Belgian Social Security Portal and click on your country.
Currently, there are bilateral social security agreements between Belgium and the following countries: Algeria, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Congo (DR), Croatia, India, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Morocco, Montenegro, the Philippines, San Marino, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, and the USA.
Healthcare and Work Permits for Brussels
Of Crucial Importance: Health Insurance
Health insurance is compulsory for everyone in Belgium. If you work in Brussels and pay social security contributions, you will automatically be insured under the government scheme. However, you are responsible for registering with a health insurance fund. This can be a mutual insurance fund, a regional service of the Auxiliary Fund for Sickness and Invalidity Insurance, or the Health Insurance Fund of the Belgian National Railway Company Holding.
Most mutual insurance funds are associated with a certain profession or religion, but in practice they are now open to everyone. More information on registering with a mutual insurance fund can be found on the Social Security Portal; the information is provided in French, Dutch, and German.
What Does Your Health Insurance Cover?
Your insurance covers up to 75% of your medical costs as long as prices conform to government-approved guidelines. Check with your doctors whether a) they are registered as econventioneerd/conventionné (i.e. follow those guidelines) and b) whether the treatment they offer is on the standard nomenclature of medical dispensations (a list detailing all types of medical care to be reimbursed).
Please note that you are expected to pay for any visit to the doctor upfront. To receive reimbursements from your health insurance, you need to attach a sticker (provided by your fund) to the bill and send it in. Some people opt for additional private health insurance to cover the non-refundable share of medical costs.
Handy to Know: Medical Facilities in Brussels
You can register with any doctor of your choice. It is also possible to see a specialist without first consulting a general practitioner. The website Médecin Généraliste Bruxelles helps you search for a GP by area or language; the English-language helpline CHS can also provide you with details of English-speaking doctors and medical advice; finally, the US Embassy has a list (by region and specialty) of English-speaking doctors.
Brussels’ five big public hospitals are united by the IRIS network. Three of them are university hospitals: the Brugmann University Hospital, the Saint-Pierre University Hospital, and the Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital (QFCUH). The Jules Bordet Institute is an independent hospital devoted entirely to cancerous illnesses and the IRIS Hospitals South make up a generalist institution on four sites south of Brussels. In addition, there are several private clinics in Brussels, which are not necessarily better, but they often specialize in specific illnesses.
Pharmacies are open during normal opening hours, but in every area there’s always one pharmacy on 24/7 duty. To find an open pharmacy, consult the Service de garde. When collecting a medical prescription, the reimbursement rate is applied directly: you needn’t pay the full amount.
Which Work Permit Is Right for You?
All non-EEA nationals and some “new” EU citizens who want to work in Brussels are legally obliged to obtain a permit. The transitory period for the “new” EU member states, Romania and Bulgaria, expired on 31 December 2013, so citizens of these countries may now work freely in Belgium. The following types of work permit are available:
- A Permit: This one is only aimed at foreigners already working in Belgium on a B Permit. It is exclusively granted to people who have been working in Belgium for a minimum of four out of ten years. The advantage of an A Permit is that its holders are no longer tied to a specific job and can change employers at will.
- B Permit: Your prospective employer needs to obtain this on your behalf before you start working in Belgium. It is valid for one year and commits you to the job for which it was originally granted. The employer must prove that the vacancy cannot be filled by an EU citizen or permanent resident of Belgium.
- C Permit: People with a limited residency status, e.g. students or refugees, can apply for this permit if they want to take up temporary work. C Permits are not tied to a specific job or employer.
How to Attain a Work Permit
A B Permit will automatically be granted if your employer has received authorization to employ you. You need this work permit to apply for your visa. If you want to upgrade from a B Permit to an A Permit, you should contact the Brussels authority responsible for work permits: the Cellule permis de travail (Work Permit Unit) of the Ministère de la Région Bruxelles-Capitale (Ministry of the Brussels-Capital Region), Gare du Nord (Brussels North Station), Rue de Progrès 80, 1035 Brussels.