Ease of Doing Business Rank: 46
Belgium is a western European country. The Netherlands borders the north, the English Channel lies to the west, France is to the south, and Germany is to the east.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Dutch is the most widely spoken as a first language (55%), followed by French (36%) and German (0.4%). However, many inhabitants speak more than one language.
English is the most widely spoken foreign language (38%), followed by Spanish (5%), Arabic (3%), Italian (2%) and Turkish (1%).
The 2019 population estimate is 11.54 million.
According to 2019 population statistics, Antwerp is the largest city (525,935), followed by Ghent (262,219) and Charleroi (262,267).
The country also has 81 municipalities with populations over 30,000. The remaining population lives in over 500 smaller communities.
The top industries in Belgium are food processing, paper manufacturing, glass, chemicals, textiles, steel, metallurgy, petroleum refinery, finance, research and development, hi-tech, pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and machinery.
The Times Higher Education World Rankings includes one Belgium university in the top 100 in the world and seven more in the top 500.
The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks Belgium’s educational system 13th out of 149.
The most common type of business entities in Belgium are Starter Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Company and Joint Stock Company.
The overwhelming majority of businesses are in the form of a Limited Liability Company.
Belgium offers an exemption, credit or tax reduction on the net amount due after deduction of foreign taxes and expenses. Calculations depend on the source of income and may include royalties, interest and the economic cost of the use of capital. Excess foreign tax credits are non-refundable and may not carry forward in some cases.
The country also offers an investment deduction in addition to normal tax depreciation on patents, environmentally friendly R&D and energy-saving investments. A one-time 13.5% is available for the current calendar year. Qualifying R&D investments enjoy a 20.5% on depreciation which they can choose to spread over multiple years.
Alternatively, companies may choose a tax credit that reduces the tax due on patents and R&D. Credits are refundable if unclaimed for five subsequent tax years.
Belgium also forgives 80% of the payroll tax withheld for researchers with a qualifying degree employed in R&D programs. The country also offers a deduction on patent/innovation income of 85%, regardless of business size.
SMEs may qualify for deductions of between 8% and 20% on acquired or created assets. However, deductions do not apply to research. Companies without taxable profits can carry forward any or all of their credit indefinitely.
Brussels is the capital, financial center of the country and the administrative center of the European Union. However, Antwerp is a large port city with a high concentration of petrochemical industries.
Belgium has 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including many in Brussels. Fourteenth-century guildhalls, the elegant Grand Place and Art Nouveau townhouses are just a few of the sights in this bustling city.
The canals and Belfry on the main square of Bruges date back to the medieval era. The 366 steps to the top of belfry culminate in a panoramic view of the city’s many church spires and steeple roofs.
Belgium is also home to Flanders, an important site during World War I. The battlefields and cemeteries are both pilgrimage sites marking the many lives lost during battle.
Waterloo marks the location where Napoleon lost his infamous battle in 1815. A memorial lion sculpture sits atop a conical hill amidst an agricultural field.
Gravensteen is one of Europe’s best surviving examples of a moated fortress and was once the grand home of the counts of Flanders. Its thick, high walls still stand in the center of town on the banks of the river Lieve.
The majestic Gothic Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent towers over the city at 89 meters. It was built between the 14th and 16th centuries and houses a Flemish masterpiece, stunning stained glass windows, and a crypt filled with tombs and frescoes.
Belgium also offers many areas of outstanding natural beauty. The Meuse Valley features dense forests dotted with small towns near limestone cliffs. The region offers hiking, cycling and other outdoor activities. The Semois Valley also offers densely wooded areas and the scenic Semois River. It is especially enjoyable during wildflower season.
Belgium also teems with culture and features several world-class museums. The Magritte Museum in Brussels includes the world’s largest collection of surrealist René Magritte. The Horta Museum showcases the home of the famous art nouveau architect, Victor Horta. The In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres recounts the history of World War I in the Belgian region of West-Flanders.
The Romans conquered the area in 57 BC and it became Gallia Belgica. When Rome collapsed in the 5th century AD, German-speaking Franks dominated the area and introduced Christianity.
The Frankish Empire crumbled in the 10th century and Flanders, the approximate area of Belgium today, emerged as a powerful semi-independent realm. Trade and the region prospered.
By 1549, seventeen provinces in present day Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg became one indivisible territory under the Catholic Church. In 1795, after the French Revolutionary wars, Belgium became part of France.
The French were defeated in 1814 and the United Netherlands was created. However, the Belgian Revolution of 1830 led to the separation of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as three distinct nations.
A provisional Belgium government declared independence in 1830 and in 1831 the national congress adopted a constitution. The reigning king industrialized the area and expanded the territory to include the Belgian Congo.
During World War I and World War II, Belgium suffered due to its strategic location. The country claimed neutrality in both wars, but Germany invaded in both cases. Allied forces liberated Belgium in 1944.
Today, the Kingdom of Belgium is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The country has a well-developed free market economy and is one of the founding members of the European Union.
According to the 2011 census, most inhabitants identify as Belgian (75%), followed by Italian (4.1%), Moroccan (3.7%), French (2.4%), Turkish (2%), Dutch (2%) and other ethnicities (12.8%).
Figures from 2009 suggest most Belgians are Roman Catholic (50%), followed by Protestant and other Christian (2.5%), Muslim (5%), Jewish (0.4%), Buddhist (0.3%), atheist (9.2%) and those with no religious affiliation (32.6%).
According to Forbes’ 2019 Best Countries for Business, Belgium is the 20th best country in the world for conducting business.
The 2019 Index of Economic Freedom rates Belgium 48th globally and states, “Belgium’s well-diversified economy, based on transport, services, manufacturing, and high technology, has long benefited from openness to global trade and investment.”
World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings rate Belgium 46th for ease of doing business in the world.