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How to get help for your income tax return 2018

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Latest update: May 2018

Note: personal income tax in Belgium is a complex and demanding topic, so our article does not pretend to be able to answer all your questions. What we hope to give you are some useful guidelines and an overview of different options for finding more information. As such, TheSquare.Gent and its writers do not accept any responsibility for any use of the information found in this article.

This article speaks about personal income tax. This tax is paid annually by all natural persons (i. e. not companies) who receive income in Belgium, be it as employed or self-employed persons. If you are not sure about your tax obligations, you should check with the local office of the Belgian tax authority.

Tax residence

The Belgian state takes a very simple approach to tax residency for natural persons: anyone who is registered as living in Belgium automatically becomes a tax resident here. The exception are students on Erasmus exchange and foreigners working under the so-called ‘expat regime’ (who still need to pay taxes on the income obtained in Belgium). The tax situation of PhD students depends on their status with the university (scholarship or employment).

Once you become a Belgian tax resident, you should be aware that all Belgian tax residents are liable to taxation on their worldwide income and gains. This means that for as long as you are considered a Belgian tax resident, you will need to pay taxes in Belgium on all your income, obtained anywhere in the world. Yes, this also includes rental income from your house in Brazil, stock trading income from Luxembourg and the income from your farm in Spain.

Double taxation – or not?

Are you considering keeping double taxation residency? In other words, you plan to pay taxes in your home country and in Belgium? In this case the double-taxation avoidance agreements apply: basically, bilateral contracts, stating that they will not tax an individual for the same income twice. However, this does not mean that you do not owe any money to the Belgian state – in most cases, it simply means that you will only pay the maximum tax rate only once.

Here is an example of this rather confusing principle: let’s say you are renting out your house in Portugal, but you are a tax resident of Belgium. Since taxation of rental income is the priority right of the country in which the property is located, this income will need to be first declared and taxed in Portugal.

Let’s say that in Portugal you only need to pay a tax of 500 EUR per year for that income. But, in that hypothetical situation, if that rental income had been taxed only in Belgium, you would have had to pay 800 EUR per year. Because of the double-taxation agreement, you won’t need to pay 1,300 EUR (500+800EUR) of tax, but only 800 EUR: 500 EUR to the Portuguese state and 300 EUR to the Belgian state. You will still need to declare this income in both countries and tell the Belgian state how much you have already paid to Portugal.

What is good to know is that you are also entitled to any tax deduction that applies to that same type of income in Belgium. If you haven’t requested any tax benefits for that same type of income in the other country, of course.

Reporting foreign bank accounts to the Belgian Central Bank

All foreign bank accounts of Belgian tax residents must be reported to the Belgian Central Bank. This means that if you had a bank account in another country, which was open for any amount of time in 2017 (even if it was for just one day), you need to report this on a special form. This form can be filled in online or on paper. The paper version exists in Dutch, French and German.

In general, you need to report all foreign bank accounts by the time you file your first tax return, no matter how long they might have been open for. If you are not sure whether you might have done this already, you can check your file on the website of the Belgian Central Bank. You will need your e-card (residence card), pin code and a card reader.

The National Bank of Belgium building © NBB Museum

If you have received a simplified tax declaration (voorstel van vereenvoudigde aangifte), but you haven’t yet declared your foreign bank accounts with the Belgian Central Bank, you cannot use the simplified tax declaration. In that case, you need to manually enter your declaration via Tax-on-web (see below).

Please note that you will also have to declare to the central bank any changes in your foreign bank accounts or the closure of the registered bank accounts.

Important deadlines

The deadline for submitting your tax declaration on paper is 29th June, 2018 (note that your declaration has to arrive at the tax authority by that date!). If you are submitting your tax declaration electronically, via the Tax-on-web application, the deadline is 13th July, 2018. The Tax-on-web does not take long to set up, however, you will need a Belgian e-card (residency card with the electronic chip) and a card reader.

The card reader can be purchased at any electronics shop and some banks, like Belfius, offer bank card readers that can also read e-cards. Tax-on-Web is accessible via the MyMinfin website (the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance) and available in French, Dutch and German.

Please note that since you are living in Flanders, all the papers related to your tax declaration will be sent to you in Dutch.

Considering the complexity of the system, it will probably come as no surprise to hear that the calculation of your taxes takes some time. The tax authority itself is rather vague about the exact time – it can take up to a whole year before you receive your final statement (aanslagbiljet). This will summarise your income and costs and provide the final calculation. During the year, you can check on Tax-on-web whether your statement has been sent out already.

If the government needs to refund your overpaid taxes, this will take about 2 months from when you received the final statement. If you still owe money to the tax authority, the invoice will state the deadline by which you will have to settle the amount. Usually, this is about 2 months after the invoice date.

If you cannot afford to pay the entire amount at once, you can request to pay your outstanding tax in instalments. This is not an automatic right, but in most cases the tax authorities do approve such requests. Do not wait with this until the payment deadline has passed, as you will incur additional costs. You can submit this request via Tax-on-web.

Where to find information

The Belgian tax authority is fully aware of the complexities of its system, so it offers several useful aids for those who need help filling in their forms:

  • Simplified tax declaration (voorstel van vereenvoudigde aangifte): a number of people with a “stable fiscal situation” (meaning pensioners or people receiving unemployment allowance) will receive a pre-filled simplified tax declaration. The tax authority will basically fill in the tax declaration for you, based on the data it holds. If this happens to you, you should check the form carefully, and if you find it is correct, you sign it and send it back to the tax authority. If there’s a problem, you will have a chance to change it.
  • General telephone number: 02 572 57 57 (this is the general contact telephone number of the Belgian tax authority. They can help you in German, Dutch and French.)
  • Contact the team responsible for the local tax office in Ghent (tax residents are organised alphabetically into Tax Teams). Additionally, the contact details are also displayed on your tax declaration. Don’t wait to contact them too long, they get extremely busy as the end of June approaches.
  • In person at the local tax office in Ghent (Zuidertoren). Their offices are open daily from 9am until noon, and in the month of June from 9am until 3pm.
  • Attend one of the local info days. At these info days, the tax authority employees help people fill in the tax forms. You need to bring all your relevant documents (proof of Belgian and foreign income, your family papers if any etc.) and be prepared to wait in line.
  • Attend info days at shopping centres. The 2018 one in Ghent will happen on Saturday, 26th May, at the shopping centre Zuid.

Assistance for deaf and hard of hearing

The Gent local tax office in Zuidertoren offers an interpreter (in Flemish sign language) for deaf and special arrangements (in Dutch) for hard-of hearing people. This service is available during the usual office hours of the tax authority (weekdays, 9am until noon).

What should I bring with me?

When going to the info days or the local tax office, you should bring the following documents:

  • Your ID-card (Belgian residence permit with electronic chip and your proof of nationality) and/or the paper tax declaration that you have received
  • Annual statements and other papers on your income (specifically, ‘fiche 281.10’, this data is usually already available to the tax office)
  • Proof of payments for any purchases or sums that could be included in your tax deduction (mortgage payments, life insurance, donations to certified organisations, costs of childcare, energy-saving expenditure, alimony/spousal maintenance payments …)
  • Any information about your foreign income (payslips, information about your foreign movable and immovable property income)

Digital Belgium

There are 2 ways you can fill in your tax form: online and on paper. If you decide to go digital, note that you will automatically keep receiving the annual invitation to fill in the forms electronically.

When you choose the digital method of filling in the tax declaration, you can sign in with your e-card reader or with the smartphone app called itsme. The advantage of the itsme app is that you can use it to identify yourself with a number of other companies and services, for example banks and phone companies.

Succession rights (inheritance tax)

This is not exactly an income tax issue, but it is still important for expats. There are two things you need to know: firstly, Belgium has high taxes on succession. The tax rate increases with decreasing familial connection (so, first level heirs, like children, pay less tax than second-level heirs, like aunts).

Secondly, if your inheritance involves two EU countries (i.e. you are dealing with a cross-border inheritance case, for example you are a resident of Belgium and you have inherited property in Sweden), some simplified rules have been put into place at the EU level. Nonetheless, these do not deal with taxes, as those remain a national prerogative.

Note: the information on this page is based on the information found on official government and local websites, and on the experience of the authors. While we have done our best to make sure it 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.

Nina
Nina came to Ghent many years ago via several other countries, ditching the big city lights for the towers and rivers of Ghent. She has lived in Vienna, Cantabria (Spain), Maastricht, Luxembourg and Brussels. Now she enjoys creating beautiful design, exploring space and talking to people. She is also on a mission to make Ghent and Belgium more welcoming to expats. You can contact her at nina@thesquare.gent

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