Latest update: May 2020
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.
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 (and in your tax declaration). This means that if you had a bank account in another country, which was open for any amount of time in 2019 (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.
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. The federal service Finance has a website with FAQ regarding the declaration of foreign bank accounts and life insurances.
The deadline for submitting your tax declaration on paper is 30h June 2020 (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 16th July 2020. 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 if you are living in Flanders, all the papers related to your tax declaration will be sent to you in Dutch.
You can also authorise an accountant to file your tax declaration on your behalf. In that case, the deadline for submitting the tax declaration is 22nd October 2020.
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): an increasing number of people with a “stable fiscal situation” (meaning pensioners, people receiving unemployment allowance, people with single incomes) 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, 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 at 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.
- [Important: because of the Corona virus, the face-to-face contact with the tax office is limited. Please use the telephone numbers and email to contact the Ghent tax office]. In person at the Infocenter, located at the local tax office in Ghent (Zuiderpoort). Their offices are open daily from 9am until noon.
- Because of the Corona crisis, all the info days are cancelled in 2020. If you need help filling in your tax declaration, contact the phone number that is mentioned on your tax declaration papers to obtain a date and time for your appointment with a tax advisor. They will fill in your declaration for you and send it to you for validation before it is finalised. Note that you will need to validate the tax declaration in order to finalise it.
- Note that because of the sensitive nature of tax regulations, the officials can only help you: a) in the language of your community of residence (for Ghent, that means in Dutch), and b) only in one of the 3 official languages of Belgium (German, French or Dutch, but not in English). If you are not comfortable with Dutch, try to get advice from an accountant. Many accountants are happy to offer the first consultation for free, which might be enough if you just need a simple explanation. For a full declaration, you would need to pay the full fee to an accountant.
Assistance for deaf and hard of hearing
Because of the Corona crisis, the help for the deaf and hard of hearing is also being provided through remote interpretation through the MyMMX platform. If you use the Flemish sign language, you will first need to register with the organisation CAB. All the details about the appointments and the required tools can be found on the website of Doof Vlaanderen (in Dutch).
If you do not use the Flemish sign language, you can authorise someone else to make a telephone appointment with the tax authority in your name by contacting the number on your tax papers. They will need to know your full name, your Belgian national registration number and all the documents and information relevant for your 2019 tax declaration.
Note that at other (non-Corona) times, the Gent local tax office in Zuidertoren offers an interpreter in Flemish sign language. This service is available during the usual office hours of the tax authority (weekdays, 9am until noon).
What should I bring with me?
For your appointment with the local tax office you will need the following documents:
- Your Belgian national identification number (it can be found on your Belgian ID-card or the Belgian residence permit with an electronic chip) 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)
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.