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Any natural person who exercises a professional activity in Belgium for which they are not bound by a contract of employment or a status is considered as a "self-employed person". There is no subordinate relationship.
A self-employed person is subject to their own social status and benefits from a specific social security regime. The social status of self-employed workers does not only provide for obligations, it also provides for rights.
The Different Categories of Self-Employed Persons
Self-Employed as a Main Activity
If your self-employed activity is your only source of professional income (full-time occupation), you are considered to be self-employed as your main activity. You are subject to the social status of self-employed persons as the main activity, which entails rights and obligations, including affiliation to a social insurance fund for self-employed persons and the payment of quarterly social security contributions.
Self-Employed as a Side Activity
People who are self-employed as a side activity carry out another professional activity simultaneously, which is their main activity:
- either as an employee;
- or in teaching;
- or as a civil servant.
The formalities to be carried out in order to exercise a self-employed activity as a side activity are identical to those for a self-employed person as their main activity.
As a self-employed person in a side activity, you are also subject to the social status of self-employed persons. You must, therefore, join a social insurance fund for self-employed persons and pay quarterly social security contributions. However, you will continue to benefit as a priority from the social benefits of the system to which you are subject, by virtue of your main activity or status (employee, civil servant, pensioner).
You can be considered as a self-employed person as a side activity:
- If you are an employee, a temporary worker or a non-designated teacher: the number of hours worked in the context of your salaried or temporary activity must be at least half a month;
- If you are a civil servant: you must work 200 days or 8 months a year and the working hours must be at least half a month;
- If you are a designated teacher: you must work at least 6/10ths of a full timetable;
- If you are unemployed: you must be a beneficiary of unemployment benefit and be authorised to carry out your self-employed activity on an incidental or occasional basis;
- If you receive an allowance paid by the mutual insurance company: your disability must be at least 66% and the allowance paid to you must be at least equivalent to the pension of a self-employed person at the “single” rate.
If you are unemployed, you also have the possibility of starting a secondary (supplementary) self-employed activity without losing your right to unemployment benefits for 12 months. It is the "Tremplin-indépendants" (Self-employed springboard) measure. For more information on the conditions of eligibility for the benefit, you can consult the information sheet T158 of the NEO.
An assistant is a natural person who assists or replaces a self-employed person in the exercise of their activity without being bound by an employment contract. The assistant is often, but not necessarily, a family member of the self-employed person.
The assistant can only act for an individual and not for a company. However, they can act as an assistant for the agents of a company (managers, directors).
If unmarried, assistants are only subject to the social status of self-employed persons on 1 January of the year in which they turn 20.
The following assistants are not tax liable as self-employed assistants:
- Occasional assistants (irregular assistance that does not extend over more than 90 days per year);
- Assistants (students) receiving child benefit (under 25 years of age).
The Assisting Spouse
An individual is considered to be the assisting spouse of a self-employed person when they meet the following criteria:
- They are the partner of a self-employed person (in the context of a marriage or cohabitation contract);
- They effectively assist their self-employed partner (regularly or at least 90 days a year);
- They do not receive income from another professional activity or a replacement income which gives entitlement to social security benefits at least equivalent to those of the self-employed.
Managers, Directors and Active Partners
Within a company, the managers, directors and active partners are considered as self-employed workers and are, therefore, subject to the social status of self-employed workers.
The Self-Employed Student
It is possible to become self-employed as a student. This status offers a preferential system for social security contributions.
In order to qualify for self-employed student status, you must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 18 years of age and not more than 25 years of age;
- Be registered as regularly attending courses in an educational establishment, as your main activity, in Belgium or abroad, with a view to obtaining a diploma recognised by a competent authority in Belgium;
- Engage in a professional activity for which the social status of self-employed persons is required.
What Are your Obligations?
As a self-employed individual, you are subject to the social status of self-employed persons. As such, you are required to:
- join a social insurance fund for the self-employed;
- pay quarterly social security contributions.
What Are your Rights?
The social status of self-employed workers does not only provide for obligations, it also provides for rights. Once you have complied with the legal requirements, you will acquire rights to:
- Family benefits;
- Health and disability insurance;
- Maternity insurance;
- Paternity and childbirth allowance;
- A pension;
- Bridging rights;
- A caregiver's allowance;
- A bereavement allowance.
This matter was regionalised during the 6th State reforme. Since 1 January 2019, each Region has had its own system of family allowances, with its own amounts and rules. The applicable system is determined according to the domicile of the child.
Health and Disability Insurance
The social status of the self-employed includes health and disability insurance that covers health care and incapacity for work.
As a self-employed person, you are legally insured against minor and major risks (e.g. visiting the doctor, buying medicines) in the same way as other workers (employees, civil servants).
Incapacity for Work
Insurance against incapacity for work is specific for self-employed workers. It provides you with a replacement income in case you need to pause your professional activity due to illness or an accident, subject to certain conditions:
- Compensation begins from the first day of incapacity if it lasts more than 7 days;
- Starting from the second year (period of disability), your benefits are increased.
If you are self-employed or an assistant, you may be entitled, at the end of your pregnancy, to a maternity allowance during your rest period. There are, however, a number of conditions that must be met.
Among other things, you will be exempt from paying social security contributions and your rights will be maintained for the quarter following the birth.
Benefits are granted for a maximum of 12 uninterrupted weeks, or 18 weeks if the maternity rest is taken half-time. Maternity rest consists of a compulsory rest period and a freely chosen part. In the event of a multiple birth, you will receive an additional week of optional rest or two weeks if you take your maternity leave on a half-time basis.
Maternity assistance in the form of service cheques is also offered after childbirth, provided certain conditions are met.
Paternity and Childbirth Allowance
For self-employed fathers and co-parents, a paternity and childbirth allowance is granted when your child is born. This is a fixed daily allowance in the event of an interruption of activity for a maximum of 20 days (or 40 half days). If the father or co-parent only takes time off work for a maximum of 8 days (or 16 half days), he may, in addition to the fixed allowance, also benefit from the birth assistance (a one-off payment of EUR 135 to compensate for the costs incurred via an approved household assistance scheme).
In addition to the retirement pension for self-employed persons at the end of their career, there is also a survivor's pension for the surviving spouse.
If you wish to obtain a higher pension, you can, under certain conditions, sign up fora free supplementary pension agreement.
You can benefit from standard bridging rights in the following situations:
- In the event of a forced interruption on a temporary or permanent basis of your self-employed activity (due to a natural disaster, damage to a building or equipment, a fire, an allergy, a decision of a third party economic actor, an event with economic impacts or a bankruptcy);
- In the event of official termination due to economic difficulties.
This bridging right will allow you to:
- Retain certain social rights (healthcare reimbursement, incapacity for work, disability and maternity allowances) for a maximum of 4 quarters per triggering event;
- Obtain a temporary financial benefit for 12 months per triggering event.
You can benefit from the bridging right throughout your career for a maximum of 8 quarters and 24 months.
You can interrupt your self-employed activity, completely or partially (at least 50%), in the event of a serious illness of a relative or friend at the end of their life (palliative care) or to care for your disabled child.
Over the course of your career as a self-employed person, you may benefit from the bridging right several times. Once you have exhausted the "basic package" (the first twelve months of benefits/four quarters of maintaining social security rights), you can benefit from additional months/quarters, depending on the number of quarters for which pension rights have been built up in the interval between the previous interruption/cessation and the new interruption/cessation.
You can temporarily interrupt your self-employed activity in the event of the death of a family member (spouse, cohabiting partner, natural, adopted or foster child). You will receive an allowance for a maximum of 10 days (not necessarily consecutive) to be taken within a period starting on the day of death and ending one year after the day of death.
For more information on the social status of self-employed workers and their rights and obligations, please contact the following bodies:
Federal Public Service Social Security
Directorate General Legal expertise (self-employed) – Expertise juridique
Soutien politique Indépendants
Administrative Centre Botanique
Boulevard Jardin Botanique 50 box 135
Tel.: +32 2 528 64 50
Fax: +32 2 528 69 77
Website of the FPS Social Security
National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (NISSE)
Quai de Willebroeck, 35
Tel.: +32 2 546 42 11
Fax: +32 2 511 21 53
Website of the NISSE