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Self-Employment in Belgium: Know the Rules

If you’re moving to a new country for the sake of a lifestyle change rather than because your employer is sending you elsewhere, self-employment can be one of the best ways to ensure you still make enough to pay the mortgage whilst maintaining a level of control over what you’re doing and when. A huge number of expats choose this route, and there are countless websites devoted to helping people who want to live a freelance life. The benefits are obvious: getting up when you want to, dictating your own working hours, choosing which clients you can work with and perhaps pursuing something that has always been a dream job but never felt within reach. It’s not an easy route, though, and with more and more people wanting the flexibility to choose their own working lifestyles, competition is hotter than ever.

Beyond the usual difficulties, of course, there is also the added issue of trying to work out how to go self-employed in a new country. Many places have different tax laws for people who work for themselves, and as anyone who has done it in their home country will know, this can be confusing even when you speak the language and understand the culture.Recently, Belgium reinstated the LIMOSA registration system, which was relaxed somewhat during the first part of 2013. The system aims to ensure that all workers in Belgium have social security numbers and are legally allowed to work there. However, understanding exactly what you need to prove can be difficult. We’ve put together a quick guide to setting up your own business in Belgium.

What are the LIMOSA regulations? The acronym stands for Landenoverschrijdend Informatiesysteem Migratie Onderzoek Sociaal Administratief, and was originally brought in to stop people without social security numbers from working as contractors. It was suspended until July 2013, when all of a sudden people who had been working for themselves or as casual workers for other companies had to register with the system and backdate all their records to ensure they were in keeping with the law.

Whilst this shouldn’t present too much of a problem if you are working for yourself, navigating the sea of paperwork can be hard, and tracing back a paper trail is time consuming. The main things you’ll need to prove are: the existence of a social security number, ensuring that you can (and presumably will) pay taxes; the date you started working in Belgium, whether for yourself or for a company owned by someone else; that any documents you have that demonstrate your skills, qualifications and ability to work were acquired from your country of origin and not from anywhere else within the EU; and your current working status, be it full time employment, freelance or casual work.

Once you’ve overcome the barriers of legal jargon, the next issue to consider is how your business is going to run in a country where diverse languages are spoken. Do you speak French? German? Dutch? If not, you might find it difficult to get work in a country that prides itself on its traditional outlook. Perhaps you only speak one out of three of the local languages. Will you be hiring other people to deal with queries in the remaining two? If so, how will you find them?

Once you’ve worked out the above, you’ll need to make sure that anyone you subcontract for casual work during your time in Belgium is also fully vetted under the LIMOSA regulations. This might seem like a lot of work, but when you’ve been through it once for yourself, replicating it for others shouldn’t be too much extra hassle. At least this time round you’ll know exactly what is required right from the start! Make sure all paperwork is kept up to date and backed up as securely as possible; you’ll need to be able to prove everything conclusively when tax time comes around. And it’s worth bearing in mind that LIMOSA regulations have changed significantly just within the space of this year, so keeping an eye on the local business news is imperative if you don’t want to suddenly find yourself in a tight spot.

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Yes, it can seem daunting. But ultimately, choosing your own hours and doing a job you want to do in a country where you’ve always wanted to live is hugely rewarding, and hopefully worth the initial pain of setting up the paper trail.