If you would like to start a self-employed activity in the Brussels-Capital Region but you're not a Belgian or European national? What should you do?
First of all, you must determine whether you are subject (or not) to the obligation to have a "professional card". This authorisation, which is equivalent to a work permit or the single permit for foreign employees, is a required document and a prerequisite for most non-EU nationals to be self-employed in Belgium. Let's take a closer look.
Professional card: does it concern you?
To find out, you need to meet these three criteria:
- You are not a Belgian national; nor are you a national of one of the European Union Member States; nor are you from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.
- You do not have a valid foreigner's identity card or a Certificate of Registration in the Register of Foreigners (CIRE) for an unlimited time.
- You would like to start a self-employed activity in the Brussels-Capital Region, either as an natural person or as a representative of a company or association.
Do you meet the three conditions above? Then, in principle, you must obtain a professional card before being you are allowed to start your activity in Brussels.
Certain categories of nationals are exempt from the professional card. For example:
Do you think you fall under one of these exceptions? View the complete list or contact Brussels Economy and Employment to check that you meet the conditions.
From 1 January 2021, British nationals must obtain a professional card in order to be able to carry out a self-employed activity in the Brussels-Capital Region, unless they already had a residence permit in Belgium on 31 December 2020 and, as such, have applied for a CIRE type M or N.
More information on the Brussels Economy and Employment website and on the Immigration Office website
What is a professional card?
This is a prior authorisation, allowing non-European nationals to start a self-employed activity (as a natural person or a company representative) in Brussels.
This means that you must first submit your application and wait for a positive decision, before you can proceed. Your application for a professional card is reviewed by Brussels Economy and Employment, using three main criteria:
1. THE RIGHT OF RESIDENCE
- Do you already have a temporary residence permit in Belgium? For example, a model A registration certificate or a certificate of registration in the register of foreigners? The administration then verifies the "reason" for this stay and its validity;
- Don't have one? Then you must apply for it when you submit your application for a professional card (at the diplomatic or consular post of the country where you are authorised to reside).
2. COMPLIANCE WITH REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS
You must also demonstrate that if you are granted the professional card, you will be able to meet the obligations of all self-employed persons in Belgium.
- Are you able to demonstrate a basic knowledge of business management? (this formality is still required in the Brussels-Capital Region)
- Can you meet the specific requirements for certain professions?
For all these questions, you can directly contact an approved enterprise counter of your choice.
3.The "relevance" of your application to the region
This criterion is based on an overall analysis of your project, in order to evaluate its usefulness for the Brussels-Capital Region. In other words: what are the advantages of your self-employed activity for Brussels? Economically (job creation, productive investments, economic spin-offs, innovative activities, etc.), financially, artistically, commercially, technologically, etc.
Tip: make your file as complete as possible
The better documented your project, the "simpler" it will be to review. It is therefore in your interest to provide as much information and as many explanations and tangible elements as possible, in order to facilitate understanding and to be able to prove its usefulness, feasibility and viability for Brussels:
How do you apply for the professional card?
WHERE TO SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION?
There are two possible "routes", depending on your "right of residence" (so it's not a choice):
- Do you already live in Belgium (with a valid residence permit)? Then you can go to an approved enterprise counter.
- Are you still abroad? Then you must contact the Belgian diplomatic or consular post in your country of residence.
WHAT ARE THE MINIMUM DOCUMENTS TO BE PROVIDED?
- A completed and signed application form. Choose the one that matches your situation:
- An extract from the criminal record (certificate of good conduct);
- A copy of your identity card;
- Two identity photos;
- Your business plan (maximum 20 pages) as well as all other documents necessary for reviewing your application.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
You must pay a fee of 140 euros when you submit your application. If you obtain your professional card, you will also be charged 90 euros per year of validity, at the time of issuing. For example: a two-year authorisation will cost you an additional 180 euros.
WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE?
Your application is forwarded to Brussels Economy and Employment for review, based on the criteria explained above. The administration may contact you to request additional information. The processing time depends on the complexity of the file and the additional research to be done. There is no set processing time, but the process takes at least a few weeks.
The analysis can then lead to one of three different decisions:
- Your application is not eligible
- You do not meet the eligibility requirements for the professional card. For example, if you have submitted your file to the approved enterprise counter, even though you do not have a valid residence permit in Belgium.
- Your application is refused
- This means that your file does not meet the criteria for analysis. You will be notified of the refusal and its reasons via the diplomatic or consular post or via the enterprise counter.
- You can lodge an appeal with the Minister of Employment of the Brussels-Capital Region, within 30 days. All the details are included in the decision.
- Your application is approved
- The professional card will then be issued to you by an approved enterprise counter of your choice (even if you live abroad), where you must, at the same time, complete the other steps involved in starting your business. If you have applied for your professional card (or a renewal) through a diplomatic or consular post, you will also need to apply for a D Visa through that post.
Characteristics of the professional card
Here are some other things you should know:
- a two-year "trial": the first professional card is generally granted, on a probationary basis, for one or two years (renewable).
- authorised activities: the professional card explicitly lists all the activities you are authorised to perform. To change your authorisation or to start another self-employed activity, you must request an amendment to the first authorisation.
- "dependent" on residence: the validity of the professional card is always linked to the right of residence. This means that if you no longer have a valid residence permit in Belgium, you will no longer be able to carry out your self-employed activity. And if your professional card expires, in principle, your residence permit will also expire.
- Renewal: for greater peace of mind, you should request the renewal of your professional card early enough, and at least three months before the expiry date. You can submit it to an approved enterprise counter and you must provide a series of documents (among others, fiscal, social and accounting) to prove that your project meets the criteria for granting the professional card.