All non-Belgians wishing to exercise a self-employed professional activity, either as natural persons or within an association or a partnership in fact or in law must be holders of a professional card under Article 1 of the 19 February 1965 Act.
A professional card is the document authorising a foreign self-employed person to exercise a specific activity as a self-employed person on Belgian territory, in a certain capacity and for a certain period (1 to 5 years maximum). A certain number of categories of foreigners working in a self-employed capacity are exempted from the requirement to possess a professional card.
Certain categories of foreigners are however exempted from holding professional cards – the exempted categories concerned are listed and explained below.
As of 1 January 2015, the Belgian Regions are competent for the regulatory framework and the implementation of economic migration policy. This means (the processing and) the issuance of professional cards and work permits A and B.
Applications for professional cards are still submitted via the same channels:
- Via the diplomatic post for persons residing abroad;
- Via the one-stop-shop for business support for people who already have a valid residence permit in Belgium.
Definition and aim
The professional card is the authorisation required to exercise an activity as a self-employed person on Belgian territory for each foreigner who:
- will exercise this activity in the capacity of a natural person or as a representative of a partnership or an association (whether remunerated or not);
- does not have the Belgian nationality;
- does not have the nationality of one of the Member States of the European Economic Area (the 28 Member States of the European Union and the three EFTA countries: Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein);
- does not have the Swiss nationality;
- is not exempted from this formality because of other reasons.
Through these regulations, the authorities aim at finding an equilibrium between, on the one hand, the expectations of foreigners wishing to take up activities as self-employed persons and, on the other hand, the economic, social and cultural interests.
Principle of territoriality
As of 1 January 2015, the three Regions (Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region) are competent for issuing professional cards. From that date onwards, the applications for a professional card will be submitted through the appropriate channels to the Economic Migration Service of the competent region.
To define the territorial delimitation of powers between the three Regions (Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region), the following criteria are applicable:
- the competent Region is defined by the place of the operating unit (place of business);
- if there are activities in various establishments, the registered office is taken into consideration;
- if there is no operating unit in Belgium, the place of the effective activity is taken into account.
In specific terms this means that you must clearly choose the place where you want to establish your self-employed activity (operating unit or place of effective activity) before submitting an application. On the basis of this choice, the competent Region is determined.
There are three criteria for awarding (or refusing) a professional card:
- the right to reside: if you do not have a permit for residence in Belgium, an application for this residence permit must be lodged at a diplomatic mission or consular post simultaneously with the application for a professional card;
- compliance with regulatory obligations: for a first application it is examined whether you have access to the profession (link is external) (link is external), if this is required for your activity. If you have questions about access to the profession or if you do not have access, you can contact a recognised one-stop-shop for business support for more information. If you lodge an application for renewal, it is also examined whether you have paid your taxes and social security contributions correctly.
- the importance of the project: its importance is assessed in terms of economic value. For example, it is examined whether it meets economic needs, creates employment, involves useful investments, what economic impact it has on enterprises in Flanders and whether it promotes export, innovative or specialised activity. Another evaluation may also be conducted to determine whether the project is of value to society, culture, art or sports.
For applicants having a long-term resident status in another EU Member State, the profile of the person involved (relevant work experience, diplomas, etc.) as well as the current and expected income are evaluated instead of the economic value. For a renewal application, the guaranteed average minimum monthly income of someone aged 20 with minimum 12 months of seniority is tested as reference amount.
Source: https://www.werk.be/en/information-services/professional-cards/general-principles; consulted on 04/01/2018