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Условия на живот и труд

Belgium

Belgium

Source: EURES The European Job Mobility Portal. For up-to-date information visit the Living and Working Conditions section about Belgium on the EURES Portal.

How to find a job

In Belgium, several routes can be taken to find work and job vacancies:

Public employment services

  • In Wallonia: Le Forem
  • In Flanders: the VDAB
  • In the Brussels- Capital Region: Actiris
  • In the German-speaking Community: the ADG.

Other labour market actors

  • Recruitment and selection agencies
  • Selor (the Belgian Federal Government’s civil service selection agency)
  • Businesses
  • Temporary employment agencies.

Media

  • Internet
  • Social/professional network sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

Press

The national press is a good source of job advertisements, especially at the weekend. The most important Dutch-language newspapers are as follows: De MorgenDe Standaard,

Het NieuwsbladDe TijdHet Laatste Nieuws. Meanwhile, the leading French-language newspapers are as follows: La Dernière HeureLe SoirLa Libre BelgiqueLa MeuseL’Echo. In German: GrenzEcho.

Local advertising newspapers and regional newspapers (VlanJobsRégions, etc.).

There are also many ‘hidden’ vacancies; in other words many vacancies are never published. This means that speculative applications can also be worthwhile. The ‘hidden’ jobs market can be accessed via business directories, social media and business networks, newspaper articles and other labour market analyses in professional journals, etc.

How to apply for a job

CV

Most employers read the CV before reading the cover letter. Your CV acts as your business card. It must highlight your strengths and skills in order to grab the attention of the employer. Your CV therefore needs to be easy to read, attractive and clearly structured. The CV should contain:

  • Personal details –state your name, address, telephone number (include the country code if you live outside Belgium), email address and Skype address at the top of the page; no photo (except where this is important for the job or if the employer asks for it). In order to prevent any form of discrimination in recruitment, no private details need be provided (age, nationality, family situation, sex).
  • The role or post for which you are applying –quote the job title or desired position in the heading (use Belgian job titles).
  • Experience –this is the most important part of your CV. It makes sense to list your most recent experience first. List all the roles you have held and provide a short description of each. Use keywords to identify the most important tasks you have performed and mention any responsibility you have held (the number of people under your management, budget responsibility, etc.) and/or provide information about the company (number of employees, turnover). Also indicate your professional successes and the important projects that you have carried out. New graduates may mention traineeships or other professional or personal experience (voluntary work, any traineeships, etc.).
  • Education –list your most recent education first and do not go back further than your secondary education, or even your higher education. Also include the title of your dissertation and/or your thesis and your results where appropriate.
  • Additional training –here you should list any seminars and training programmes in which you have participated that are relevant to your desired role and the company you are applying to.
  • Knowledge and skills –this part of your CV is your chance to show that you have demonstrable expertise in a particular area, for example computer know-how, technical knowledge or other skills.
  • Knowledge of languages –this information is best mentioned in a separate section, as language skills are of great significance in Belgium (French in Wallonia and Brussels, Dutch in Flanders and Brussels and German in the German-speaking Community). Use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages to determine your level (language use in practice).
  • Interests –outline any sporting and cultural activities and voluntary work you undertake – this gives the employer an idea of your personality. Also include certain general skills that can be used in a professional context.

Personalise your CV – demonstrate creativity and take care with the layout; showcase your practical skills (know-how) and be honest. Be careful with the titles of qualifications and other designations that are specific to your country of origin and may be unknown to the employer.

Also think about posting your CV online so that recruiters can see it. The majority of job-search websites allow you to do this.

Cover letter

Write a separate cover letter for each application, tailored to the company and the vacancy. The cover letter is how you introduce yourself to a potential employer. Describe your personality and your profile. Make clear what your strengths are and how you differ from other candidates with the same qualifications. Make sure that your letter immediately stands out.

In a speculative application, you are applying for a job at a particular company, but without responding to a specific advertised vacancy. The process for writing a cover letter is therefore less obvious as you cannot tailor your letter to a particular post. In this case it is important to set out your career goals clearly and convincingly. Always bear in mind that there are no catch-all guidelines for a good cover letter and that every employer will have their own personal opinion.

Finding accommodation

It is not all that difficult to find accommodation in Belgium.

Renting or buying accommodation

Available housing is publicised by means of orange and black signs bearing the words te huur / à louer (to let) or te koop / à vendre (for sale) in Dutch-speaking and French-speaking areas respectively. Most Belgian local, regional and national newspapers carry advertisements for properties for rent and for sale. You could also use an estate agent or view advertisements on the internet.

Temporary accommodation

Hotels are relatively expensive. Youth hostels and B&Bs (bed and breakfast accommodation) are cheaper alternatives. More information can be obtained from the local tourist information centres.

In the summertime, rooms are sometimes offered for rent in student residences in university towns.

Advertisements for rental accommodation can be found on the internet and in local newspapers. Information centres such as ‘Kotdiensten’ (‘kot’ = student room) and ‘Infor Jeunes’ (information for young people aged up to 25) offer very useful information.

Recognition of diplomas and qualifications

The importance of transparency and mutual recognition of diplomas as a crucial complement to the free movement of workers

The possibility of obtaining recognition of one’s qualifications and competences can play a vital role in the decision to take up work in another EU country. It is therefore necessary to develop a European system that will guarantee the mutual acceptance of professional competences in different Member States. Only such a system will ensure that a lack of recognition of professional qualifications will become an obstacle to workers’ mobility within the EU.

Main principles for the recognition of professional qualifications in the EU

As a basic principle, any EU citizen should be able to freely practice their profession in any Member State. Unfortunately the practical implementation of this principle is often hindered by national requirements for access to certain professions in the host country.

For the purpose of overcoming these differences, the EU has set up a system for the recognition of professional qualifications. Within the terms of this system, a distinction is made between regulated professions (professions for which certain qualifications are legally required) and professions that are not legally regulated in the host Member State.

Steps towards a transparency of qualifications in Europe

The European Union has taken important steps towards the objective of achieving transparency of qualifications in Europe:
- An increased co-operation in vocational education and training, with the intention to combine all instruments for transparency of certificates and diplomas, in one single, user-friendly tool. This includes, for example, the European CV or Europass Trainings.
- The development of concrete actions in the field of recognition and quality in vocational education and training.

Going beyond the differences in education and training systems throughout the EU

Education and training systems in the EU Member States still show substantial differences. The last enlargements of the EU, with different educational traditions, have further increased this diversity. This calls for a need to set up common rules to guarantee recognition of competences.

In order to overcome this diversity of national qualification standards, educational methods and training structures, the European Commission has put forward a series of instruments, aimed at ensuring better transparency and recognition of qualifications both for academic and professional purposes.

  1. The European Qualifications Framework

The European Qualifications Framework is a key priority for the European Commission in the process of recognition of professional competences. The main objective of the framework is to create links between the different national qualification systems and guarantee a smooth transfer and recognition of diplomas.

  1. The National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARICs)

A network of National Academic Recognition Information Centres was established in 1984 at the initiative of the European Commission. The NARICs provide advice on the academic recognition of periods of study abroad. Located in all EU Member States as well as in the countries of the European Economic Area, NARICs play a vital role the process of recognition of qualifications in the EU.

  1. The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS)

The European Credit Transfer System aims at facilitating the recognition of periods of study abroad. Introduced in 1989, it functions by describing an education programme and attaching credits to its components. It is a key complement to the highly acclaimed student mobility programme Erasmus.

  1. Europass

Europass is an instrument for ensuring the transparency of professional skills. It is composed of five standardised documents

  • a CV (Curriculum Vitae),
  • a language passport,
  • certificate supplements,
  • diploma supplements, and
  • a Europass-Mobility document.

The Europass system makes skills and qualifications clearly and easily understood in the different parts of Europe. In every country of the European Union and the European Economic Area, national Europass centres have been established as the primary contact points for people seeking for information about the Europass system.

Types of employment

Employment contracts are governed primarily by the Law of 3 July 1978 on employment contracts. That law applies to workers employed in the private sector and members of staff in the public sector who are not governed by Staff Regulations.

In addition, certain specific pieces of legislation cover particular situations such as agency work, service voucher workers, sports professionals, etc.

The employment contract is a key element in the relationship between the worker and the employer. The rules attached to the contract may vary depending on the worker’s status (operative, employee, sales representative, domestic worker, student, etc.), the working time (full or part-time work), or even the duration of the contract (permanent or fixed-term contract).

Types of employment contract

A. Types of contract defined by duration

  • Open-ended employment contract: the end date of the employment contract is not stipulated (i.e. it is for an unlimited duration).
  • Fixed-term employment contract:the end date of the employment contract is stipulated (contract for a fixed period or for specific, defined work).
  • Employment contract for specific, defined work: in this kind of contract, the work to be done is clearly stipulated (e.g. acting in a film or fruit-picking on a farm).
  • Replacement contract:this kind of contract may be concluded to replace a permanent employee whose contract has been suspended for a reason other than short-time working on economic grounds or because of weather conditions, a strike or lock-out.
  • Employment contract for temporary work and agency work: an employment contract for temporary work or agency work may only be concluded in the following circumstances: replacement of a permanent employee, temporary and exceptional increase in workload, performance of exceptional activities, placing an agency worker with a view to permanent recruitment (= integration), employment within the scope of an employment scheme approved by the region for the long-term unemployed and recipients of financial social assistance and the provision of artistic performances and/or production of artistic works on behalf of an occasional employer or user (via a Kunstenloket– advice desk for artists)

B. Contracts defined by service volume

Full-time employment contract: the employment contract is concluded for the maximum hours of work in the company.

Part-time employment contract: the employment contract is concluded for shorter working hours than is normal within the company.

C. Specific contracts

  • Studentemployment contract
  • Sales representativeemployment contract
  • Domesticemployment contract
  • Contract for home-working
  • Professional artistsand sportspersons

Young workers

In Belgium, a minor (a person under the age of 18) can enter into and terminate an employment contract, with the express or tacit consent of a parent or guardian. In the case of opposition by a parent or guardian, the minor may request that the juvenile court give its consent.

Up until the age of 15, all young people must be in full-time education. After 15, they are no longer required to remain in full-time education provided that they have completed 2 years of full-time secondary education (irrespective of whether they have passed). The obligation to remain in full-time education ends at the age of 16. From that point on, young people can be in part-time education and combine learning with working.

Under a student employment contract, young people in full-time education can work full time (max. 475 hours a year) from the age of 15.

Seasonal work

In Belgium, there is no single uniform regulation for seasonal work. In order to deal with production peaks and periods of increased activity during certain periods of the year, Belgian employers are allowed to hire casual, seasonal or extra workers. The relevant legislation and the types of employment contracts differ from one industry to another. The existing systems aim to limit undeclared work by offering employers the option of paying lower social security contributions and providing social security and a guaranteed salary to employees.

https://www.vdab.be/seizoenarbeid/contract-en-loon

Agriculture and horticulture: the seasonal worker form

Seasonal work in agriculture and horticulture is subject to specific regulations that provide the necessary flexibility which is essential in that industry.

The seasonal worker form replaces an employment contract. Each working day recorded on the form corresponds to a daily contract. The contract is therefore automatically terminated every day without having to follow a specific procedure. The employer decides every day which person to hire without the need for a new employment contract.

The first employer provides the worker with the seasonal worker form. Each working day must be recorded on the form, stating the start and end times. The employer is required to sign this form at least once a week. If the seasonal worker subsequently works for another employer, they must present the form to that employer and continue to record all further working days. Workers must present the form in the event of an inspection.

The number of working days per year is limited depending on the type of farming company and crop:

Sector

Number of working days

Agriculture (farming, field crops)

30

Horticulture (cultivation of fruit and vegetables, trees and flowers)    

65 

Chicory cultivation

100

Mushroom cultivation

100

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the number of working days was doubled for 2020.

  • The gross hourly wage is set annually and varies according to the sub-sectors from EUR 9.46 to EUR 11.33. This wage is subject to a withholding tax of 11.11%. The employer is also obliged to contribute to the costs of travel between the place of residence and the place of work
  • Working hours can be up to 11 hours a day and 50 hours a week, depending on the urgency of the work. No allowance is paid for working overtime. Work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays is also permitted without additional compensation. Please note: work may start very early (at 5.00 a.m.).

Tourism and hospitality

In the tourism and hospitality sector, employers can make use of different types of special employment contracts in order to respond to periods of increased activity. It should be noted that in this sector, student labour is widely used during the holiday season.

  • seasonal workeris defined as: a worker who is bound by an employment contract for a period of at least 2 months during the period from 1 May to 30 September with weekly working hours amounting to at least three quarters of a full-time job and who is employed by the same employer in a seaside resort, spa or tourist centre. The worker is subject to the normal regulations of temporary employment contracts. Employers of seasonal workers pay a lower rate of employer’s social security contributions and a favourable system is in place for calculating wage indexation and grading according to seniority.
  • Flexi-jobs(https://www.vdab.be/flexi-job) enable workers who are already employed by one or more employers to take on an extra job with another employer in the sector or through a temporary employment agency under favourable terms.  This system allow employers to call on workers according to the needs of their business. The employer and the employee must conclude a written framework contract for a fixed or indefinite period, which defines the on-call conditions and the applicable remuneration. In addition, each shift must be agreed upon in an oral or written contract. The normal employee and employer’s contributions are not due for flexi-jobs. The worker keeps the full gross wages. The minimum hourly wage is EUR 9.18.
  • Casual or extra workersare employees who are hired in the hospitality industry under a fixed-term employment contract for a maximum of 2 consecutive days. This contract does not have to be in writing.

For more information on specific employment contracts and seasonal work, see

An employment contract is an agreement under which an individual – the employee – undertakes to work for another party – the employer – in exchange for payment and under the latter’s authority. The four essential elements of an employment contract are therefore as follows: the contract; the work; the pay; and the authority of the employer (a subordinate relationship).

The individual elements of an employment contract (e.g. the nature of the work, a description of duties if defined by a collective bargaining agreement, the working hours and the place of work) cannot be unilaterally modified by the employer or the employee. A contract must be performed under the conditions, at the time and in the place agreed. Any changes to an employment contract can only be made with the consent of both parties. If the employer or the employee unilaterally modifies one of the essential elements of the agreement, this is deemed to constitute a breach of the employment contract. The employer or employee can then give notice of the breach and demand payment of compensation in lieu of notice. This rule does not apply to all changes. The employer, who is responsible for operating the company, may carry out restructuring and reorganisation if necessary for compelling economic reasons, provided this does not significantly alter any essential element of the employment contract. Under the law on employment contracts, any clause by means of which the employer reserves the right to modify the working conditions unilaterally is null and void.

An open-ended employment contract need not necessarily be in writing. All other employment contracts and the contractual clauses must be stated in writing, however.

In practice, employers often use written employment contracts in order to prevent problems with regard to proof.

The following employment contracts must be drawn up in writing:

  • Student employment contracts.
  • Fixed-term contracts and contracts for specific, defined work.
  • Contracts to work as a replacement.
  • Contracts for part-time employment.
  • Contracts for temporary or agency work.
  • Contracts for home working.

The following clauses must be drawn up in writing:

  • Trial period clauses (trial periods have not been permitted in new contracts since 1 January 2014, except in exceptions – see point 5.3).
  • Non-competition clauses.

Use of languages:

In Belgium, the language to be used in company relations is regulated. Dutch must be used when the employer’s place of business is in the Dutch-speaking region, French when it is in the French-speaking region, and German when it is in the German-speaking region. Undertakings established in the bilingual Brussels Capital Region must draw up documents in Dutch for their Dutch-speaking staff and in French for their French-speaking staff.

Working hours

In Belgium, working hours (the time during which the worker is at the disposal of the employer) must not exceed 8 hours per day or 38 hours per week (on average over the course of a year). In principle, it is forbidden to work more than the legal working hours, outside the applicable hours of work, on Sundays, on public holidays and at night.

Exemptions with and without prior authorisation: it is possible, however, to derogate from the principle of 8 hours per day and 38 hours per week. In some cases, exemptions are possible with prior authorisation and provided that the work does not exceed either 11 hours per day or 50 hours per week. It is up to the employer to request this authorisation. Exemptions without prior authorisation are also possible. The maximum daily working hours can thus be extended to 9 hours where the total weekly number of hours is spread over a 5-day week and there is provision for half a day, a day or more than a day of rest per week, not including a Sunday. In the case of work that cannot be interrupted, working hours must not exceed 12 hours per day. In most cases of force majeure, there is no limit. If work arrangements include night work, a collective bargaining agreement must be concluded with the trade unions. Such work arrangements may be introduced by amending the existing arrangements.

Flexible working hours: flexible working hours should not be confused with flexitime. The latter allows workers more freedom to choose when they begin and end their working day. Flexible working hours, on the other hand, are set by collective bargaining agreement or as part of the work arrangements. Flexible working hours allow normal working hours to be extended (though not beyond 9 hours per day and 45 hours per week), and the application in the company of working hours that differ from the normal ones, providing employees are informed by posters displayed in public 7 days beforehand.

Compensatory leave and overtime: in most cases where working beyond the statutory working hours is authorised, either in the context of regular work arrangements or in the context of overtime, compensatory leave must be granted. Such leave must be granted in such a way that normal, average weekly working hours are respected over a given reference period. Overtime is paid at a minimum of 150% of the normal rate, or 200% in the case of work on Sundays or public holidays.

Sunday work: working on Sundays is forbidden by law. Some activities may be performed on Sundays, however, for example when the normal work of the company does not allow these activities to be performed on another day of the week, in addition to work in certain undertakings and institutions (hotels and catering establishments, healthcare establishments and services). Workers who work on Sundays are entitled to compensatory leave during the 6 ensuing days.

Night work: it is prohibited to work between 20.00 and 6.00, but exemptions may be granted. They apply to both male and female workers, provided that they are at least 18 years of age. Night work is permitted where the nature of the work warrants it. Thus, night work is permitted for instance in hotels, the entertainment sector, newspaper firms, healthcare, preventive healthcare and hygiene establishments, pharmacies, agricultural work, artisan bakeries, care and housing facilities, etc.

Leave (annual leave, parental leave, etc.)

Annual leave

In Belgium, full-time employees are usually entitled to 4 weeks’ leave a year. This leave gives entitlement to holiday pay.

However, the calculation of the number of days’ leave and holiday pay is different for blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, apprentices, workers in the arts and civil servants.

https://www.socialsecurity.be/citizen/fr/conges-credit-temps-et-interruption-de-carriere/vacances-annuelles ; https://www.rjv.fgov.be/nl/vakantiegeld

Special leave

Circumstantial leave: a salaried worker in Belgium is entitled to take time off work and still receive the normal salary in the case of important family events, civil obligations or court appearances.

Leave for compelling reasons: you have the right to be absent from work for compelling reasons. Compelling reasons are deemed to be any unforeseeable events that require the urgent intervention of the worker, provided that the execution of the employment contract makes this possible. For example: a person living with you is involved in an accident, your home is damaged by fire, etc.

Such leave must not exceed 10 working days in a calendar year. This leave is unpaid, unless agreed otherwise between the employer and the employee.

Career break

If you wish to take a temporary, partial or complete career break, there are a range of possibilities, in both the private and the public sector. During this period, you may be entitled to a benefit.

10 national public holidays in Belgium

1 January (New Year’s Day)

Easter Monday

1 May (Labour Day)

Ascension (6th Thursday after Easter)

Whit Monday (7th Monday after Easter)

21 July (National Day)

15 August (Assumption)

1 November (All Saints’ Day)

11 November (Armistice Day)

25 December (Christmas Day)

Federal public services are also closed on 2 November, 15 November (King’s Feast) and 26 December.

Pay

In Belgium, salaries are not fixed by law.

In most cases, they are fixed through collective bargaining agreementsCollective bargaining agreements are concluded between trade unions and employers, at either company or sector level.

Each collective labour agreement sets basic rates and contains arrangements for index-linking of pay and any gratuities such as year-end bonus, lunch passes and premiums for working shifts, nights, weekends, etc. On the other hand, holiday pay is governed by specific legislation.

The salary shown on your employment contract is your gross salary. Your net salary is your gross salary minus certain deductions and is the amount you actually receive (in cash or in your bank or post office account).

The two main deductions are:

  • social security contributions, which are paid to the Belgian National Social Security Office (ONSS/RSZ). They are used to fund replacement income (pensions, unemployment benefit, etc.) and supplementary payments (healthcare reimbursements, child benefits, etc.). They amount to 13.07% of the gross salary of employees in the private sector;
  • and ‘pay as you earn’, the tax deducted monthly from your pay. This is calculated according to your gross taxable salary (i.e. the gross salary indicated in your employment contract minus social security contributions). It also varies according to family circumstances and other complex rules.

If no specific salary scale applies, workers are entitled to the guaranteed monthly minimum income. This minimum amount is determined by an intersectoral collective bargaining agreement. The (gross) minimum wage for all workers aged 18 and over and in full-time work is EUR 1 625.72. Workers under the age of 18 and students under the age of 21 receive a lower amount, depending on their age.

Workers may dispose of their salaries freely. Employers must not restrict this freedom in any way whatsoever. Salaries must be paid at least once a month for white-collar workers and twice a month for manual workers.

Salaries must be paid no later than 4 working days following the period concerned, except where a collective agreement or labour regulation sets a different deadline (the maximum is 7 working days).

All pay discrimination, particularly on gender grounds, is illegal. https://werk.belgie.be/nl

End of employment

 

A. Commitments when an employment contractends:

  • upon expiry of the term for fixed-term contracts;
  • upon completion of the work in respect of which the contract was concluded for specific work;
  • when one of the parties so desires (resignation or dismissal) for open-ended contracts;
  • by mutual agreement among the parties (for all contracts);
  • on the death of one of the parties (for all contracts): an employment contract automatically ends on the death of the worker. This does not apply to the death of the employer;
  • in a situation of force majeure having a long-term impact (for all contracts).

B. Forms of termination common to all contracts

  • Immediate termination for good cause:either party may terminate the contract for good cause without notice or compensation. A strict procedure must be followed, otherwise the termination will be null and void. The party invoking the compelling reason must prove its existence. Any serious failing that makes all professional cooperation between the employer and employee immediately and definitively impossible is regarded as a good cause.
  • Termination with notice: where a contract has been entered into for an indefinite period, each party may terminate it with notice. The communication giving notice must indicate the beginning and end of the notice period.

Notice must be communicated either by registered letter, which takes effect on the third working day after the date of dispatch, or by a court bailiff.

An employee may also give notice in writing to the employer, in two copies. The employer signs one copy as proof of receipt

  • Acts equivalent to termination:Certain acts performed by one of the parties may modify the working conditions to such an extent that it is equivalent to the immediate termination of the contract (e.g. unjustified absence for several days without having informed the employer).

C. Limitation of the right of dismissal

In some cases and with respect to certain categories of workers, the law provides for limitations on the right to dismiss an employee.

D. Pensions

There are three pension systems in Belgium:

  • pensions for employees (general system);
  • pensions for the self-employed;
  • pensions for established civil servants.

In principle, the statutory retirement age is set at 65 for all three employment models: employees, the self-employed and civil servants for a career spanning a 45-year period. You can take early retirement under certain conditions, which vary depending on your professional situation. In 2030, the retirement age will increase to 67.

Pensions are generally calculated by:

  • the National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (NISSE) if you were self-employed;
  • the Federal Pensions Service if you had a career in the civil service or as an employee.

The pensions of individuals who worked outside the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and who paid contributions to the Office for Special Social Security Systems (DIBISS/ORPSS) are paid by the latter. The responsibilities of the DIBISS/ORPSS (formerly the Office for Overseas Social Security (DOSZ/OSSAM)) in respect of overseas social security were transferred to the National Social Security Office (RSZ/ONSS) on 1 January 2017. FAMIFED is responsible for child benefit.

Your pension amount is calculated on the basis of three parameters: work history, salary and family circumstances.

The healthcare system

Organisation of healthcare

Today, the vast majority of the Belgian population has access to healthcare. The social security and healthcare systems are constantly evolving to ensure that anyone with a health problem receives the right quality of care.

When you are ill, you generally go to see your general practitioner (or tending physician), who is responsible for primary care. You might sometimes then be referred to a specialist, who may see you in their own practice, as part of a multi-disciplinary group practice, or in a hospital. In other cases, you may need emergency care.

Medical costs

Compulsory insurance for medical care and benefits

As a policyholder or dependant you are entitled to a reimbursement of the compulsory insurance for medical care and benefits if you are affiliated with an insurer (a health insurance fund, the Auxiliary Fund for Sickness and Invalidity Insurance (HZIV/CAAMI) or SNCB/NMBS Holding’s National Healthcare Fund (HR RailCare), the Belgian railway workers’ health insurance fund). For example, the costs of GP consultations are reimbursed, there are lump-sum payments to cover admission to hospital, and benefits are payable in the event of you becoming unable to work or becoming pregnant.

Basic reimbursement

Compulsory insurance for medical care entitles you to basic reimbursement. This covers the reimbursement of certain medicines and a range of services provided by medical practitioners, such as doctors, dentists, physiotherapists and nurses.

Specific reimbursement

Some groups are entitled to a higher level of allowance due to their specific situation. They therefore pay less for most medical services. Moreover, under certain conditions, it is possible to apply to the Special Solidarity Fund (BSF/FSS) for certain medical benefits that are not covered by health insurance.

Maximum charge

Thanks to the compulsory medical care insurance system, health insurance funds reimburse a large proportion of medical costs. Nevertheless, the portion that you have to pay yourself can mount up, for example if you have a serious, chronic or long-term health problem. The maximum charge system ensures that patients’ healthcare expenditure remains within certain limits.

Private insurance

Most health insurance funds offer supplementary insurance, on top of the compulsory insurance for medical care, for an additional charge. You can also take out insurance of this nature with a private insurance company.

Supplementary private insurance covers, for example, hospital admission, the purchase of spectacles and contact lenses, some dental treatments, some vaccinations, taking care of sick children and medical care abroad.

The precise cover provided by such insurance differs from one health insurance fund to another and, sometimes, even within one insurance fund, from region to region. If you want to know what services you have to part pay, the best thing to do is to contact your health insurance provider.

Source: http://www.belgium.be/fr/sante/

Income and taxation

In Belgium, salary levels are determined by collective bargaining, not by law or on the basis of rules issued by the state. The collective bargaining agreements vary by sector and job. The agreements apply to all workers. Nevertheless, limits on pay rises have already been imposed by law in order to preserve Belgium’s international competitiveness. There are certain standards governing wages, and set minimum wages.

The Social Legislation Inspectorate monitors these agreements in order to protect workers. Trade unions and the internet can provide more information on wages and other matters concerning labour law and employment contracts. Wages are expressed as gross salaries per hour or per month.

There are two types of deductions from an employee’s gross salary: social security contributions and income tax. Social security contributions are always 13.07% of total wages. To calculate the net amount, you must deduct your social security contributions and income tax from your gross salary. The level of income tax varies according to your family circumstances (depending on whether or not your partner works and how many children you have). Note: child benefit is a nominal amount that is paid independently of other information. It is not taxed. The amount of child benefit received depends on several factors: family circumstances, number of children, etc.

Taxpayers are entitled to a tax-free allowance, meaning that a portion of the taxable income amount is not in fact taxed. Any income exceeding the tax-free allowance is taxed. This taxation is progressive, which means that the percentage of tax rises as the income increases. The tax scale consists of a number of income brackets and therefore a number of taxation brackets.

The table below shows the income bands and percentages for 2020:

Up to EUR 13 440

25%

From EUR 13 440.1 to EUR 23 720

40%

From EUR 23 720.01 to EUR 41 060

45%

Over EUR 40 060.01

50%

The law provides for various tax reductions and surcharges depending on the type of income, expenses during the taxable period, elements that may reduce the tax amount, such as pension fund contributions, etc. It is therefore a good idea to consult a specialist (e.g. the tax authority itself, a bank or a tax adviser).

If you are resident in Belgium, the tax return procedure is as follows: every resident of Belgium receives a tax return form. As a rule, this form must be submitted to the office of the Ministry of Finance in your place of residence before the end of June in the year following the year worked. If you live in Belgium, you also pay local taxes. These vary from place to place.

You can file your return online via ‘Tax-on-web’.

The education system 

Right to education

Freedom of education has been recognised as a fundamental right in Belgium since it became an independent state in 1830.

Primary and secondary education is free of charge, and an extensive system of social subsidies and study grants has been established. Today, Belgium’s level of education is one of the highest in Europe.

Organisation of education

As a result of state reform, education became a competence of the communities on 1 January 1989. At the same time, schools were given greater autonomy. Initiatives can come from both the authorities and private individuals. The ‘authorities’ cover municipalities, provinces and the communities.

There are three main educational structures: community education, subsidised independent education – primarily Catholic – and subsidised public education, organised by the municipalities and provinces.

Compulsory education

Education is compulsory for a 12-year period, i.e. between the ages of 6 and 18. Children aged 5 may attend nursery. Primary education is spread over 6 years, as is secondary education. Secondary education comprises three levels and begins at the age of 12. Each level covers two academic years. From the second year the availability of choices increases. There are four pathways in secondary education: general, technical, arts-based and vocational.

Higher education consists of university and non-university education.

There are a small number of schools in Belgium that are not recognised by the authorities. These are private schools that are neither financed nor subsidised with public funds. This category includes European and international schools. Private schools that allow inspections by the public authorities issue diplomas equivalent to those awarded by free and state schools.

Vocational training

In Belgium there are many public and private bodies that provide training. Some courses are free of charge, while others are very expensive. Some lead to a recognised qualification or diploma, while others do not. It is therefore important to check as carefully as possible whether a course you are considering is worthwhile and really does meet your needs.

Depending on the region in which you live, different public services can provide you with information on the education and training pathways available: the VDAB in FlandersLe Forem in WalloniaBruxelles Formation for vocational training for French speakers in the Brussels Capital Region (the VDAB serves Dutch speakers living in Brussels) and the Arbeitsamt in the German-speaking Community.

Cultural and social life 

Cultural and social life

Belgium’s rich cultural history stands up well to comparison with the cultural tradition of larger and older European countries. This is indisputably reflected in the arts: many Belgian masters played an internationally leading role. They continue to enjoy international renown alongside numerous contemporary artists (in a variety of spheres): painting, literature, detective novels, comic strips, architecture, music, the performing arts, cinema, fashion, exhibitions and more. All of them demonstrate the particularly creative spirit of the Belgians.

The Belgian people are also famed for their gastronomy: chocolate, biscuits, pralines and a vast range of beers. Invented by monks, beer has become the national drink. No other country can compete with the quality and diversity of our frothy brews. Belgium also ranks among the crème-de-la-crème of modern ‘haute cuisine’. The country enjoys an excellent gastronomic reputation on the international stage.

Belgium is also known for its inventiveness. Some examples, among many, include boat lifts and developments in aviation.

There are two major tourist attractions: the Ardennes, an essentially unspoilt natural area, and the Belgian coast, which boasts around 15 seaside resorts. Both Belgian and foreign visitors are also attracted to a number of other places, such as towns of historic and/or cultural interest.

Sport is also very important in Belgium. Not only are there professional sports such as football, cycling, judo, volleyball, tennis and motocross, in which the Belgians are among the best in the world, but there is also a lot of amateur sport. There is a lively and varied range of club activities, from scouting and tango to archery. In the accessible countryside of the Ardennes, you can climb, abseil and ski (on both natural and artificial slopes) or enjoy cycling or hiking. Compared to many other European countries, cafés and nightclubs stay open late into the night.

The Belgians are characterised as bons vivants but reserved and cautious. It is sometimes said that you only hear a true Belgian speak when they are eating.

Text last edited on: 09/2021

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