Working in Belgium

The Belgian business environment is fast-paced and demanding. With a skilled and productive local workforce, it’s a tough job market for an expat to crack. But new opportunities are emerging as the country’s economy continues to make a strong recovery from the global financial crisis.

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Doing business

Strategically located in Western Europe, Belgium has an open and diverse economy. An important political capital, it’s home to many inter-governmental organisations, NGOs and embassies – and the high percentage of diplomats and civil servants helps to create a globally minded, multilingual workforce.

Belgium’s services sector accounts for almost three quarters of its economy. The country is also a heavyweight in the export industry – its main exports include pharmaceuticals, cars, metals, diamonds, plastics and electronic equipment.

There are few restrictions on bringing capital into the country and a number of tax incentives for investors, making Belgium an attractive place to do business. In The World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Survey, it was ranked 42nd out of 190 countries, with particularly high scores for trading across borders and resolving insolvency.

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Business culture

Belgium’s diversity means its business culture can be confusing. There are stark contrasts between the Dutch- and French-speaking communities – so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the differences.

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Flemings and Walloons

Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons have different communication and management styles. Flemings are more direct and formal, with flatter organisational structures and a good grasp of English. Walloons prefer hierarchical structures with a clear leader – and they place more importance on rank, title and authority. They also tend to be less direct in the way they communicate.

Flexibility

All businesspeople in Belgium insist on compromise, even when it doesn’t benefit either party. Belgians are known for their flexibility – they’re inclusive and will debate issues at length to ensure a good outcome for everyone. A potential downside to this collaborative process is that change can happen slowly.

Language

It’s common for Belgians to be multilingual and most speak at least Dutch and French. You may struggle to keep up when colleagues switch between the two languages in a conversation.

Meetings

Belgians prefer structured meetings with a clear focus and an agenda. Punctuality is very important – so you should always call and apologise if you’re running late.

Fast facts

Business languages

Dutch, French and German

Business hours

Usually from 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Dress

Belgians take their appearance seriously and are known for being stylish. Businessmen and women tend to dress formally and conservatively.

Greeting

A handshake is the standard business greeting. Initial meetings are about getting to know one another and may involve small talk, but first names are seldom used.

Gifts

Gift giving isn’t part of Belgian business culture.

Gender equality

Men and women are treated equally in business.

Expat salaries

Salaries in Belgium are generally divided into 13.92 months rather than 12. This means your monthly take-home pay will be lower, but you’ll get two extra pay cheques: one in spring (pécule de vacances) and one at the end of the year. Belgians pay some of the highest tax rates in the world, but some expats are charged much lower rates if they’re only going to be in the country short term.

Negotiate wages in Net; Gross seems much higher than it is when you consider the very high tax in Belgium.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.