Expatriates taking up employment in Belgium will be subject to comprehensive rules and, in some cases, employment visa requirements.
The Global Mobility Services team at Grant Thornton Belgium can help expatriates and their employers to deal with the Belgian visa and work permit requirements, with Belgian labor law and social security issues, as well as with Belgian income tax items.
In particular we can assist expatriates and their employers to identify Belgian tax planning opportunities, review tax equalisation policies, as well as providing compliance services regarding Belgian tax filing requirements. Quid no payroll services?
Most expatriates will qualify for the special non-resident tax status. We can prepare the formal application for the special tax status to be submitted to the competent tax office within a period of six months following the month of arrival.
Click on each of the areas below to expand for more information:
Before 1 January 2019 The employers of non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals usually needed to apply for a work permit prior to the employee taking up employment in Belgium and the employee needed to obtain a labor card.
The expatriate also had to obtain a residence permit to be allowed to live in Belgium. Where the expatriate’s spouse and family relocate to Belgium, relevant residence permits and separate work permits (where the spouse will also work) will be required. Where the expatriate is an EEA national the above procedure is usually not required.
Since 1 January 2019, non-EEA nationals who wish to work and stay in Belgium for more than 90 days must apply through their employer for a 'single permit' with the competent regional authority. If this request is accepted, he receives a single document attesting that he is authorized to work and stay more than 90 days in Belgium.
The Belgian tax year runs from 1 January to 31 December.
Individuals who are Belgian resident for tax purposes must file their tax return at the latest on the due date indicated on the tax return (generally 30 June). The same rules apply to individuals who are not Belgian resident for tax purposes. When no return is received, the taxpayer should request one by 1 June at the latest.
Tax payers providing their tax consultant a proxy to file the tax return on their behalf through the so-called Tax-on-Web application are granted an extended filing due date till later in the year, usually in October for Belgian tax residents.
For employees and directors taxes are normally already deducted at source. When no withholding tax needs to be deducted, taxes will become payable within a period of two months following the receipt of a tax bill. Married taxpayers (or legal cohabitants) file a joint income tax return. However professional income is taxed separately on behalf of each taxpayer. Investment income and real estate income is taxed on behalf of the member of the household who is the legal beneficiary of this type of income.
|Taxable income||Tax payable|
|€0 – 13,440.00||25%|
|€13,440.00 – 23,720.00||40%|
|€23,720.00 – 41,060.00||45%|
All tax amounts are increased by the applicable municipality taxes, which are imposed at rates between 0% and 9%. The municipality tax is calculated on the amount of income tax due.
For non-residents, the final tax due is computed in the same manner as for Belgian residents, with personal allowances being allowed if non-residents are taxable on at least 75% of their worldwide income in Belgium. No municipality tax is due, but an additional federal tax at a flat rate of 7% on the amount of the individual’s income tax is payable.
A tax free amount of €8,990.00 is normally available, possibly increased for dependent children and specific circumstances. Lump sum (up to €4,880.00 for employees) or itemized business expenses can be deducted.
Special flat rates apply to different type of income depending on their nature (severance payments, accrued capital under life and group insurance contracts, etc.) but regular progressive tax brackets are in principle automatically applied whenever they appear to be more advantageous.
Sample income tax calculation for a non-resident executive (with application of the special tax statuts):
Underlying assumptions: single taxpayer, 20% foreign working days.
|Cost of living allowance||10,000.00|
|Total employment Income:
(of which €11,250 are assumed as tax free allowances (TFA) under the special tax regime for foreign executives)
|Social security contributions (TFA increased with travel exclusion) (13.07%)||(6,004.03)|
|Travel exclusion (20%)||(8,549.19)|
|Standard business expenses||(4,880.00)|
|Municipality taxes (7%)||542.01|
|Special contribution for social security||330.30|
|Total income tax||8,615.37|
The residents of Belgium are taxed on their worldwide income in Belgium and the non-residents on their Belgian source income.
Under Belgian tax law, the place of tax residence is governed by several criteria and is generally defined as the place where an individual has his/her permanent home (ie generally where the family is living) or where an individual has his/her center of economic interest (ie place where an individual manages his/her private affairs).
The Belgian tax code provides also for a refutable assumption that an individual is a tax resident of Belgium when he/she is registered in the National Register of individual persons in Belgium. This registration takes place in the municipality where the individual resides. Moreover, Belgian tax code provides for an irrefutable assumption of tax residency when in case of marriage or legal cohabitation, the family resides in Belgium.
However, expatriates (certain foreign executives, specialists and researchers) who qualify for the special non-resident tax status continue to be considered as tax non-residents during the whole period of their assignment to Belgium. (see below 'expatriate concessions').
Belgian tax law provides for the following four categories of taxable income:
- Earned income, including employment income, director fees, self-employment income, business income and retirement income
- Real estate income
- Investment income, including dividends, interest and royalties
- Other miscellaneous income.
For each category of income the net taxable amount is determined as the gross income received minus a number of deductions specific to the income category. In addition, several deductions and allowances can be set off against the total net taxable income.
As mentioned above, where duties are performed in Belgium, any remuneration received in respect of these duties is treated as Belgian sourced income and, therefore, subject to Belgian income tax regardless of the expatriate’s tax residence status (subject to the relevant double taxation treaty).
In general, where the benefit is enjoyed in Belgium, a Belgian income tax charge will arise. Therefore, housing, meal allowances, provision of a car and relocation allowances will come within the charge to Belgian income tax in addition to the individual’s salary.
Foreign executives or specialists qualifying for the special non-resident tax status are taxed on all income derived from their employment activity (salaries, bonuses, fringe benefits,…) from which are excluded the portion of the employment income related to the number of days worked outside of Belgium (so-called 'travel exclusion').
Special rules apply for the determination of the foreign working days certain expatriate allowances or expense reimbursements (see further). The foreign nationals qualifying for the special non-resident tax status will not be taxed on supplementary recurring and non-recurring expenses which are incurred as a result of their recruitment or transfer to Belgium, whether paid as lump sum allowances or as specific reimbursements of expenses (ie housing allowances, cost of living allowances, tax equalisation, home leave, school fees at an international school, etc).
Depending upon the function exercised by the foreign executive, the maximum annual excludable expenses or allowances amount to €11,250.00 or 29,750.00. However, the above ceilings do not include reimbursement of school fees or the reimbursement of moving expenses.
As already indicated, these foreign executives are considered to be non-residents for tax purposes. As such, they cannot claim tax treaty benefits as a Belgian tax resident.
The conditions to obtain the special tax status can be summarized as follow:
- the employing company must be part of an international group
- the employing company must be a commercial organization
- the expatriate must be a foreign national
- the expatriate must exercise a managerial function
- the expatriate must demonstrate that he/she has kept the center of his/her economic interests outside of Belgium.
We can assist in preparing the formal application which must be filed at the competent tax office within a period of six months following the month of arrival.
There is principally a requirement for the expatriate’s employer to deduct Belgian withholding taxes from the assessable employment income. The amount of withholding taxes is determined according to specific tables provided by the tax administration. The employer can deviate from these tables directly implementing the tax benefits of the special tax status by reducing the amount of withholding tax withheld.
Where income has been subject to tax twice (in Belgium and a foreign jurisdiction) expatriates who are Belgian tax residents may be granted relief by the Belgian tax authorities where provided for in the relevant double taxation treaty or relevant internal tax legislation.
In determining the taxable amount of the employment income, compulsory social security contributions paid either in Belgium or abroad are fully tax deductible. Professional expenses can be claimed either by itemising the expenses actually made or on a lump sum basis using the standard business expenses deduction. A wide range of deductions may be taken against the net income subject to conditions and limitations.
Most allowances are however only available to non-residents if they earn at least 75% of their worldwide income in Belgium.
Tax reductions are granted either by the federal or regional government for specific expenses such as life insurance premiums, loans used to finance real estate acquisitions or renovations, the purchase of service vouchers, child care expenses, charitable contributions, etc.
A law of December 2017 introduced, in the event of a change of tax residence during the calendar year, a limitation on certain tax benefits. The latter limitation is applied prorata temporis.
In general, capital gains are tax free in Belgium. Only capital gains on Belgian real estate (short-term assets) may be taxable under certain conditions.
Inheritance tax rules and taxes differ according to the Region where the deceased had his/her fiscal residence in Belgium.
Substantial differences exist between the rates applied by each regional authority. Special rules apply with respect to the transfer of a family-owned business and to the transfer of a family home to a surviving spouse, legal cohabitant or other cohabitant (except in direct line). Readers should obtain up-to-date information regarding these rules.
Under existing law, the estate of a deceased resident consists of the resident’s worldwide assets. Belgian jurisdiction over estates of deceased nonresidents is limited to the nonresidents’ real estate located in Belgium. The definition of resident for inheritance tax purposes may differ from the definition used for income tax purposes. Nonresident status for purposes of the special expatriate tax regime (see Section A) does not automatically apply for inheritance tax purposes.
Inheritance taxes and gift taxes on donations of immovable property are levied according to sliding scales, depending on the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased or donor. However, preferential flat rates apply to gifts of movable property.
Gifts are subject to gift taxes (but many exceptions can apply). Transfer taxes apply to various asset (principally property) transfers and leases at rates ranging from 0.2% to 12.5%.
The expatriate’s Belgian tax residency status will determine whether investment income such as interest, dividends etc., will become liable to Belgian income tax.
Interests are in principal subject to a withholding tax of 30% (15% under some conditions). Dividends are taxed at a rate of 30%. Expatriates qualifying for the special non-resident tax status may only be taxed on Belgian source interest and dividend income.
Royalties can be subject to a specific taxation to the extent that they are not regarded as a professional income.
A tax is levied on the annual rental value of the immovable property. The rate varies according to the region in which the property is located.
Where duties are performed in Belgium, a charge to Belgian Social Security may arise. When the expatiate is treated as an employee, he/she will be subject to personal social security contributions of 13.07%, this rate applies to the monthly gross compensation without ceiling. The employer will also be required to contribute about 25% of the relevant income and benefits to Belgian social security system.
Social security contributions must be collected at source along with the withholding taxes.
Different rates apply to self-employed activities, including activities of directors. For income year 2021, social security contributions are levied at a rate of 20.5% on net income up to EUR60,638.46 and at a rate of 14.16% on income between EUR60.638,46 and EUR89,361.89. Income in excess of EUR89,361.89 is not subject to social security contributions. The annual maximum contribution for self-employed activities is therefore EUR17,166.28 (increased by 3% to 5% for administration fees for the social insurance fund).
Mandatory social security contributions are deductible for income tax purposes.
An individual who is liable to Belgian social security contributions is also required to make a special social security contribution.
The maximum amount of this contribution is EUR731.28. The special social security contribution is not deductible for income tax purposes. For self-employed workers and directors, the special social security contribution is included in the above-mentioned rates for self-employed activities.
Where the expatriate is seconded from an EU jurisdiction and holds the relevant documentation (A1) an exemption to Belgian Social Security will apply (limited in time – usually five years).
Where the expatriate is seconded from a jurisdiction outside the EU with which Belgium holds a Bi-Lateral Agreement and the expatriate holds the relevant documentation (certificate of coverage), an exemption to Belgian Social Security will apply (limited in time).
Where the expatriate is transferring from a jurisdiction that does not fall into one of the above categories, the Belgian rules will determine his liability to Belgian social security taxes.
Expatriates benefiting from the special tax status who are subject to Belgian social security are allowed to exclude the tax free allowances also from social security. Moreover under certain circumstances these tax free allowance can be increased with the travel exclusion resulting in an additional social security saving (both for the employee and the employer).
The taxable moment is at the time of “grant” of the stock options under the condition that the employee accepts the offer in writing within the sixtieth day following the offer date. The taxable benefit is at that moment determined on a lump-sum basis. The basic rule is that the taxable benefit amounts to 18% of the value of the underlying shares for an option valid for a maximum of 5 years. This percentage is increased by one percent per year started after the 5-year maturity period of the option. The percentage thus obtained can even be reduced by half if certain conditions are met. Normally, the taxable benefit is exempted from social security contributions. The capital gain realised upon exercise and sale of the shares is tax free.
When the offer of the options is not accepted within the sixty-day period referred to above, taxation will occur at exercise. The taxable benefit will be determined as the positive difference between the market value of the shares at exercise and the exercise price. Social Security contributions will normally also be due. Subsequent capital gains upon sale of the shares are tax free.
There is no wealth tax in Belgium.
For foreign nationals who do not qualify for the special non-resident tax status and who perform duties outside of Belgium, split payroll arrangements could be considered thus reducing the overall tax burden.
Company cars normally constitute a tax effective fringe benefit.
Deferred compensation schemes can be set up subject to certain conditions. Stock options offered by a foreign employer are preferably granted before the assignment to Belgium as taxation may occur at grant.