In this article, you will learn:
- What a professional card is
- How to apply for a professional card as a non-EU resident, student and complementary freelancer
- Tips and tricks for a successful application
- How to renew a professional card
Throughout this article, Chris Chinting Kuo shares his personal experience in getting a professional card.
With an accounting degree and prior marketing experience in Taiwan, Chris moved to Gent and started his software career at OTA Insight as Product Go-To-Market Manager. To get more flexibility and experience in different companies, Chris wanted to switch from employee to self-employed/freelancer.
He applied for a professional card and changed his status in Belgium from employee to self-employed. One year later, he renewed his professional card and got extended residency.
Chris is an experienced product marketing manager with expertise spanning the consumer products and travel & tourism sectors, covering both B2C and B2B (including SaaS) models.
What is a professional card?
The professional card gives you permission to perform a self-employed activity as a foreigner in Belgium.
EU citizens and people from Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein or Switzerland don’t need to apply for a professional card.
- Partners and family members of people with Belgian nationality or EU citizens living at the same Belgian address.
- People with a specific residence permit and certain refugees
- Foreign artists, journalists, athletes, students…
- Business trips
- Partners who assist or replace their husbands or wives
What is the difference between a professional card and a work permit?
A work permit is for salaried employees, a professional card is for people who want to engage in self-employed activities.
How to apply for a professional card?
- Fill in this form. There are professional cards for two purposes.
- Self-employed in main occupation – This article will focus more on this type of professional card as the process and documents required are more stringent.
- Self-employed in secondary occupation (min. 50% in main occupation) – This applies when you already work in Belgium with a valid work permit and a residence permit. While the application process is similar, fewer documents may be needed and there’s a higher possibility of getting approval.
- Gather the necessary documents:
- These documents are mandatory for any type of business:
- Copy of valid passport or equivalent travel document
- Copy legal residence
- Extract from the criminal record (no older than 6 m)
- Certificate VKS4 (sec. education) or higher
- Proof that at least 120% of income support is achieved.
- Business and financial plan, incl. liquidity prognosis = your costs and earnings – here is a template provided by the government.
There are more documents required, depending on whether you apply as a one-person business, as an owner of a limited company, or as a student or artist. See the full list of the required documents here (in Dutch).
The documents need to be in Dutch, French, German or English. When applicable the documents need to be translated by a sworn translator. Be sure to add the original documents to the application too.
- Submit your application
If you have an official address in Brussels or Wallonia:
Submit your application via a business counter e.g Securex.
Please note that if your business is based in Brussels that you need to prove your basic knowledge of business management either through experience or by doing an exam. See more via 1819.
If you have an official address in Flanders:
Submit your application to the Flemish authorities via the WSE portal here (only via desktop). This can also be done via an authorized representative such as Securex business counter. They will review your application, give tips about your business plan and make sure everything is complete and submit the application for you.
If you don’t have an official address in Belgium yet:
If you don’t live in Belgium yet you need to submit your professional card application together with the application for a residence permit via the embassy of the country where you are residing.
- Pay the application fee of 140€
- Wait for the decision (1-3 months)
- Take the card to the administrative service centre of your municipality to change your status and update your residency. They will give you a new residence permit with a duration of your professional card + 3 months.
- Start your business. Check the start2freelance guide in English, Dutch, or French by Securex for more information.
- Your card is valid for 1 year. Your residence is linked with your professional card. See below for more information and how to renew your card.
How to apply for a professional card for freelancing on the side
If you want to freelance on the side and you currently hold a work permit and work for an employer in Belgium you need to apply for a professional card for self-employed in a secondary occupation.
Follow the same process as above, except you don’t need a business plan and financial plan. The process is rather straight forward and not many documents are needed. You will need to show proof that you have a job on the side, this can be done by showing a contract or payslips.
Please note that you will have to pay social security contributions when you do activities as self-employed next to your job.
If you are looking for more tips about starting a business on the side, check out our guide If you are looking for more tips about starting a business on the side, check out The ultimate guide to freelancing next to your job in Belgium.
You can also contact one of the business counters, e.g Securex and they can guide you through the steps.
“This procedure was fairly simple. I applied for a professional card for side activity while I was still an employee. Since I had my employment as my activity and income, I didn’t have to provide many documents to get this professional card.
Around 2-3 weeks after my application I was granted the professional card and was able to start freelancing on the side right away.”
How to apply for a professional card as a student
Follow the same process as above, with the difference that you need to show proof that you are studying, e.g with a certificate from the school.
Tips for a successful application
Value for the region and your motivation
When applying for a professional card you need to convince authorities through your application that what you do is of great value to the region in Belgium where you will set up your business. Your motivation should be genuine and shows that you understand what it takes to be integrated into the community and shows that you’re trying your best to be part of it.
The value can be of
- Social, cultural or sporting importance
Economical: meets a need relating to the economy, job-creation, useful investments, economic impact on businesses, openness to exports, helping local businesses grow, hiring local businesses, providing digital skills or
Innovative: New products and/or services, improvement of existing products/services, collaboration with Incubator/accelerator or knowledge institute or
Social, cultural, artistic or sporting importance: For example; if you are an internationally renowned trainer in a specific sport or contacts with the Belgian cultural sector. Ideally, you should already have an assignment linked to your activities to use as proof.
Most important of all, you need to think about “Why your activity has to be in Flanders/Brussels/Wallonia, instead of other countries in Europe”. For example, Flanders has been investing tremendously in the tech scene. If your expertise lies in Tech and startups, then this is a strong connection you can elaborate in your application.
In general, follow news from the governments and see what sectors they value. Connect the value you bring to what the governments care about.
Furthermore, prior to the professional card, were you an employee or a student in Belgium? If so, connect the dots in your application and show that you’re already integrated into society.
For example, you already speak local languages at a certain level or are taking language courses. Or you’ve already worked in Belgium have experience in working with the locals and have connections in your network. While your motivation needs to sound business-related, emphasizing your passion for the local culture and society can help you build a strong case.”
The business- and financial plan
Securex suggests that you add the following information to your business plan:
- Who are you?
- What will be your activity?
- How will it contribute to Flanders’s economy?
- What’s your market?
- How is your price setting?
- What’s your marketing plan?
- Any investments?
- Any job creation?
Try to only mention one activity even though you might do more. For example, marketing consulting and selling art online. Imagine being the official assessing your application, having more than one activity sounds like you’re not focused and unsure of what you want to do with your business.
Save your and their time by specifying what your business is focused on. Otherwise, you will have to clarify later on anyways, or even worse, get rejected.
Difference between a limited company and a sole proprietorship
If you apply for a professional card for a limited company you will also need to add a draft of your act of constitution.
If you are starting a limited company you should apply with a classic business plan where you demonstrate at least:
- Sufficient starting capital
- Proof of job creation AND investments
- Positive impact on the economy of Flanders
While in both cases, the application will need to explain points 1 to 5, an application involving a BV will need a more elaborated answer on points 6 and 7.
For a sole proprietorship, you may not have investment, but you need to craft a clear plan that can drive constant and relatively stable income streams for your business. As for job creation, think about potential contractors you may need for your business. For example, are you going to hire a local accountant? Do you need a marketing agency/freelancer to help you with marketing if that’s not your expertise? The point here is that you’re “creating jobs” in the region and creating business for locals.
Financial plan and Accountant
As a sole proprietor: you don’t need an accountant to apply for a professional card. But if you have already found an accountant, share your plan with them. Having an accountant as part of your business and financial plan may strengthen your application.
As a company owner: you need an accountant anyways, so make sure you have your accountant to help especially with your financial plan.
Check this article for tips on finding an accountant as a freelancer in Belgium.
In my case as a sole proprietor, having an accountant review my business plan was nice to have but not necessary. Because only I would know what my business is about and how I am going to run it. Therefore, if you’re applying for a professional card as a sole proprietor, accountants are there to support you, but you are the one to clearly make sense of your business.
When it comes to your financial plan, accountants can definitely help you check if your numbers and projections make sense, especially if you don’t have an accounting or business degree.
In my case, I prepared a 3-year projection of potential income and expenses, including the costs I would incur for an accountant, advisors, equipment, and marketing resources.
I demonstrated that my business was well thought through and that I knew what I was getting myself into. Moreover, the officials would definitely want to know how much you project to earn in order to sustain your business.
You might also need some evidence to support your projection. How? See the next section “Letter of intent and reference”.
You will need to show that you will earn enough to cover your own costs of living and that you will not need any financial help.
- Proof that at least 120% of income support is achieved. From 1.1.2023 this amount is 1.969,00 euros for a family.
- To demonstrate your financials add copies of e.g your bank statements, tax returns, invoices, accounting reports and possible asset valuations.
- Projected income is also important to be shown in the financial plan. If you are married, showing the income of your spouse can also help.
Letter of intent and reference
While it’s not clearly stated on official websites, you may be asked to provide letter(s) of intent and reference letters after you submit your application.
- Letter of intent: To show that you’re already in contact with potential customers and they have the intent to work with you.
- Reference letter: Did you already work or study in Belgium? Get relevant reference letters to demonstrate your skill sets and expertise.
After I submitted my application I got asked to submit references or letters of intent, so I collected 2 letters of intent from potential customers and 2 references from colleagues at my former Belgian employer.
What can go wrong? How to solve it?
- Your application gets rejected
Apply the feedback you received for the rejection and try again. It might be that you have to wait 1 year before doing the next application.
- You’re waiting and still didn’t hear back?
You can check directly with the professional card team for the region if you’ve been waiting for 2+ months and your residence is expiring soon. Politely follow up on the progress and check if extra information needs to be provided.
I got my professional card, what’s next?
- Collect your professional card from your business counter.
- Set up your business (whether it’s a sole-proprietorship or a limited liability company) with the help of your accountant or directly with the business counters.
- Update your residence permit. Make an appointment with your municipality. They will remind you of the documents you need to bring to get a new residence A card based on a professional card. Inform them you are looking to change your status from employee/student etc to self-employed.
- Go to the appointment
- In the case of a first professional card, your municipality can decide on the residency. Normally you should get a new residence A card with the validity of your professional card + 3 months
How to renew a professional card?
Tips: Start applying on time (3 months before your existing professional card expires).
Follow the same procedure as when applying for a new card but add the updated documents:
Extra docs to provide:
- Updated motivation letter
- Explanations on your activities during the period of the first professional card
- Tax/social security/VAT payment receipts
- New letter of intent, new contracts, new invoices
The renewal will indeed be very similar to the first application except your actual business performance may be compared to what you said you were gonna achieve in your first professional card application.
Be prepared to explain why your numbers didn’t look as good as you projected if that’s the case, or why a certain customer didn’t end up working with you. Be honest with your answers and share your contingency plans.
Unexpected circumstances happen and everyone knows it. If things didn’t go as expected, we are definitely the ones who are concerned the most. Therefore, you should be well prepared for what’s next.
- Show email conversations or letters of intent for your next potential customers.
- Demonstrate certifications you got during the first professional card period to showcase your new skills.
- Share what you’ve learned in the period and how you’re going to improve your business in the coming years.
- Update your revenue projection (I was asked to provide the projection for the next 3 years from the renewal) and how you will achieve it.
After you get the renewed professional card, how to renew/extend the residence permit?
- Your municipality can’t decide on your extension directly with your renewed professional card. They will send your case to Brussels (national immigration office) for approval
- You need to provide:
- The renewed professional card
- All the taxes, social security payment proof, invoices, and VAT (basically all the things that you submitted for the professional card).
- The national immigration office will approve/reject your stay. In case of approval, you can make a new appointment with the municipality to extend your residence.
Departments for professional cards per region
Here are the contact details of all the departments for professional cards per region. Please note that when you get a professional card you can do business in all areas of Belgium.
Departement Werk en Sociale Economie
Koning Albert II laan 35 (bus 20), 1030 Schaarbeek, België
02 553 08 80
Brussel economie en werkgelegenheid
Directie Economische Migratie
Direction générale de l’Economie, de l’Emploi et de la Recherche
Service Public de Wallonie
Département de l’Emploi et de la Formation professionnelle
Place de la Wallonie 1
E-mail : email@example.com
German speaking area
Ministerium der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft, Abteilung Beschäftigung, Gesundheit und Soziales,
Tel.: 087 59 64 86, fax: 087 55 64 73,
This article is made in collaboration with Securex. We thank also Chris for sharing his insights and Rebecca Poulsen for proofreading, editing and adding her points of view.
Rebecca is an American citizen who moved to Leuven Belgium to complete a Master’s degree at KU Leuven. Once graduated, Rebecca began looking at options to do digital marketing freelance work while living in Belgium and is in the process of applying for a professional card.
Please note: While we have done our best to make sure this information is accurate, rules and regulations change and each individual situation might be different, so it is always a good idea to check with appropriate authorities for the latest information. Consequently, the authors do not assume any responsibility or liability for any issues or damages stemming from the use of the information found on this website. If you notice errors or omissions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org