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4 Things You Should Know about Working in Belgium

By andrew - February 22, 2013 (Updated: December 1, 2015)

4 things you need to know about working in Belgium

I’ve worked in Belgium for eight years. In that time, I’ve discovered a number of rules about working here, which may be confusing or different from elsewhere. Today I’ll share information about four things you should know about working in Belgium.

Work Permits

First, you will require a work permit. This is not required if you are a citizen of one of the European Union states, the states of the European Economic Area, or Switzerland. Under EU laws, EU citizens are entitled to live and work in any of the EU states. In the last 7 years, this was expanded to include the countries of the European Economic Area (EU + Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland.

Your employer must apply for your work permit at their local commune. The employer must justify your position is one that cannot be filled by a local person.

There are three types of work permit:

  • Permit C – 1 year validity, unlimited employers, non-renewable – typically issued to foreign nationals with a limited residency status (e.g. refugee, students, etc).
  • Permit B – 1 year validity, single employer, renewable – this is the most common work permit. If you change employers, your new employer must apply again for a work permit. You are entitled to renew this permit every year. After 4 renewals and 5 years of residency in Belgium, you will be entitled to a Permit A.
  • Permit A – Unlimited duration, unlimited employers – allows you to work for any employer (in Belgium) for any duration.

Once your employer receives the work permit, you must take it, with 3 passport sized photos and any other supporting documents, to your commune’s foreign resident desk, where they will issue you a residence permit and an ID card.

If you aren't from an EU country, you'll need a work permit for Belgium

If you aren’t from an EU country, you’ll need a work permit for Belgium

If you are living in Brussels, plan to get to the commune early, as the foreign resident desks are often open only until noon and there is usually a line up well before they open.

13.92 Months of Salary

Did you know there are 13.92 months in a year? In Belgium, employees’ salaries are divided into 13.92 months, to provide extra income, at the times of year when expenses are highest.

In the spring, usually May, you will get an extra 92% of a month’s salary, as vacation pay (pécule de vacances) and at the end of the year, you will get an extra month’s bonus (the 13th month). It’s not free money; companies simply divide your gross yearly salary by 13.92 to get your monthly salary.

Calculating your salary is a bit different in Belgium

Calculating your salary is a bit different in Belgium

Salaries are paid monthly, which is less of an issue for other Europeans, but likely a surprise for North Americans.  This means you will need to budget your spending across the entire month.

Salaries are also indexed, meaning they are automatically increased each year, based on  the health index (consumer price index minus tobacco, fuel, diesel and alcohol). Practically, this means each year, the government measures the cost of a particular “basket” of necessities (bread, fruit, vegetables, etc). The change in the cost of this basket from year to year is the basis for your salary adjustment.

Indexation keeps salaries in line with the cost of living. However, it is a topic of some debate, as it forces company costs up, even while their business may be in decline. Belgium is one of the remaining few countries with such a law.

Paid Time Off

Compared to North America, Belgians enjoy more vacation time during a year. This provides a better work/life balance.

  • An employee working 5 days a week for a year is entitled to 20 days of annual leave, plus 10 public holidays.
  • If any of the public holidays fall on a weekend, that day becomes a floating holiday, which the employee is entitled to use like any vacation day.
  • Your annual leave is provided all at once at the start of the year, based on the number of months worked in the previous year. Therefore if you join a company on January 1st, you will need to work for a whole year, before you get your vacation days.
  • Annual leave does not carry over if you don’t use it.
  • Employees are also entitled to sick leave. There is no maximum number of days, but each incidence must be accompanied by a doctor’s sick note.
Annual leave is only earned in Belgium, after your first year.

Annual leave is only earned in Belgium, after your first year.

The way annual leave is earned has been subject to criticism. Waiting for up to a year to take a holiday does not promote a healthy work-life balance and is counter to some EU laws. In fact, in 2012 the EU challenged these rules resulting in Belgium introducing “subsidiary holiday” rules. This latest change allows a new employee to take a holiday within their first year, using the money from their 13th month bonus. It is still not quite what the EU directives mandate, but it is a step forward.

Parental Leave

We’ve heard from many expat parents Belgium is one of the best places to have children, but it is not the most generous, in terms of parental leave. Working women are entitled to leave work, up to 6 weeks before delivery, and stay home for a total of 15 weeks. Fathers are entitled to 10 days off, which must be taken within the first month after the baby arrives, but they are only paid 82% of their salary.

Of course, this kind of information changes over time, as new rules take effect. To get more information, here are some useful links:

  • Belgium.be – Official information about living in Belgium and available services. Information is provided in English, French, Dutch, and German.
  • VDAB – Flemish Public Employment Service; has information about employment. A useful document is the Working and Living in Belgium guide.
  • NewInTown.be – Contains basic information about living in Belgium. Information is provided in French and Dutch.
  • WorkPermit.com  – A site dedicated to providing immigration information for a large number of countries, including Belgium. Site is in English.

Have you encountered some unusual employment laws in Belgium? Share them with us in the comments.

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

Read more from Cheeseweb.eu
Andrew
Andrew is our resident tech-geek and is normally found lurking behind the scenes on CheeseWeb.eu doing things with code that Alison finds mysterious. He comes out of hiding occasionally to write about history and technology. He is also part of the duo that produces Tech Brew, a podcast about beer and technology in Belgium. He loves castles, driving on narrow, twisty mountain roads and relaxing with a glass of peaty Scotch. Follow Andrew on Google+
Andrew
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16 comments

  1. Comment by Rachel

    Rachel February 22, 2013 at 12:29

    Andrew – not all of this is strictly true everywhere (well, it can’t be, can it!) If you move company within Belgium and show proof you worked the year before, you get holidays in the first year. Also, my company allows us to carry over up to 10 days of holiday to the next year. But not the floating holidays.

  2. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew

    Andrew February 22, 2013 at 12:53

    Thanks for sharing, Rachel! Yes, the reality of how holidays are handled differ a bit with employers. Good to know when discussing contracts with them how they are going to handle it. Especially important if you already booked a vacation!

  3. Comment by Amy

    Amy February 22, 2013 at 16:14

    Good Information Andrew. Thank you.

    “The employer must justify your position is one that cannot be filled by a local person.”

    Can anyone shed any light on how an employer goes about doing this. What must they show or provide?

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew February 23, 2013 at 13:53

      Thanks for commenting, Amy. Great question and one which is subject to some judgement. I recommend you read through the information on irisnet.be about Type-B work permit and employment permit (click on the link “How to obtain an employment permit and the type-B work permit pertaining to it”). This page, and linked pages, provides more information about the rules for qualifying for a work permit. Hope that helps!

  4. Comment by Margaret

    Margaret February 23, 2013 at 00:31

    The rules differ from company to company. The minimum annual leave is 20 days but some companies give up to 30 days. Yes, you get leave this year for the days worked last year but during your first year you are entitled to take leave without pay. If you leave a company they will pay you for the vacation you are entitled to so when you start working with a new company you can take leave but they will deduct pay from your salary (as you were already paid by the previous company). This sometimes comes as a surprise to people so it is important to budget for it.

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew February 23, 2013 at 08:21

      Thanks for sharing, Margaret. Great input and I’m sure it helps people to know to budget for it.

  5. Comment by Vinnie

    Vinnie February 25, 2013 at 02:23

    Hi Andrew! First time in your blog and this post immediately got my attention. It was interesting to know about 13.92 months salary and I also feel that the need to work for an entire year before you become eligible for your first vacation is a little stringent.

    I would like to know that once you grab your Permit A, how easier it becomes to become a full citizen?

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew February 25, 2013 at 10:16

      Hi Vinnie, Welcome and thanks for visiting! Hope you find the site useful and you’ll be back for more! 🙂

      The requirements for citizenship are based on the number of years you’ve lived in Belgium. Basically, after 3 years, you can apply for naturalization which takes 2-4 years (yes, years). After residing in Belgium legally for 7 years (this will change to 10 years if it hasn’t already) you can follow a process via your commune which takes 4-6 months.

      Some sites containing information include:

      * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_nationality_law [EN]
      * http://www.bruxelles.be/artdet.cfm?id=4875 [FR]

      Also, you can read about our (ongoing) experience with the citizenship process at: http://cheeseweb.eu/2012/11/applying-belgian-citizenship-eventually/

      Hope that helps!

      • Comment by Vinnie

        Vinnie May 13, 2013 at 17:03

        Hi Andrew! Sorry got back to this blog, after quite some, has been keeping quite busy. Yes indeed your reply was very helpful along with the very informative links.

        Many thanks!

  6. Comment by Evelyne White

    Evelyne White February 26, 2013 at 02:45

    Thanks Andrew! I wish I’d read this 5 years ago. It only took me about 4 whole years to understand why in the world there were 13.92 months instead of 12 but I still don’t get why 13.92 instead of 14! I still don’t fully understand the paid time off and the concept of your employer paying for time off one year ahead of time, hence the reason you need to wait a full year at a new company to qualify for paid leave…

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew February 26, 2013 at 12:58

      Thanks for commenting, Evelyne! I’m sure there is a historical reason for the .92, but I don’t know what it is. Likely something to do with union negotiations. These are just a few of the mysteries of Belgium. 🙂

  7. Comment by someone

    someone February 26, 2013 at 13:19

    My first serious job , which was programmer and network administrator (and anything else the dinosaurs working there <.< couldn't handle) .
    They gave me the same vacation days as everyone else but they weren't paid vacation days.
    The problem there was my working days wouldn't have been sufficient to have a full congés payés the next year. But due to the nature of the job , the amount of days I simply needed to work outside office hours was so large , my overtime compensated for that.

    What I'm trying to say is , when looking for a job , have a long talk with your employer about those things. There's always some middle ground to be found.

    My second job was a lot better where hours/vacations were concerned (programming division of a group of hospitals). I had my weekly quota of hours I needed to work. The workplace opened at 6:00 and closed at 22:00. one simply needed to clock in and out whenever was convenient. Any hours done over the weekly quota were to be taken in vacation though , so offices tended to be deserted starting November.
    There are very good jobs to be had in Belgium , take the time to look around.

  8. Comment by Ericka

    Ericka March 4, 2013 at 13:39

    Can you point me to a resource for starting a new business in Belgium?

  9. Comment by Gabriel

    Gabriel March 17, 2013 at 17:10

    It definately depends on the company. I’m in a fortunate position to be with a company that is quite lenient with the rules and will make a plan!
    I should have been here when my child was born. In South Africa you get 3 days family leave a year for funerals, family emergencies and parental leave. I took a week but had to use my annual leave for the shortfall and I’m glad I did! Being new parents is quite intimidating and being able to do it as a team is very important I think. 10 Days would have been magic!

    • Comment by Andrew

      Andrew

      Andrew March 17, 2013 at 17:45

      Thanks for commenting, Gabriel, and welcome to Belgium! 🙂

      There are pluses and minuses to every location I think. It does help to know more about your options though! We haven’t done the parenting thing here, but I’m sure it has its challenges as well.

      Thanks again and we hope you enjoy Belgium!

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