Third country nationals can acquire Belgian residence through investment by following two cumulative procedures: one procedure to obtain a professional card and a second procedure to obtain a residence permit.
The legal basis for the acquisition of a professional card in Belgium is the Act of 19 February 1965 regarding the exercise of self-employed professional activities by foreigners. The Royal Decree of 2 August 1985 implements this Act.
The legal basis for the acquisition of a residence permit in Belgium is the Act of 15 December 1980 regarding the access to the territory of Belgium, the residence and expulsion of foreigners
Belgian legislation does not explicitly provide for residence for investors. However, a foreigner can obtain a professional card and on this basis also residence. Hence it is always about self-employed professional activities, always in the context of business. However, the legislation does not speak about pecuniary disbursement, this is possible, but not necessary.
The third country national can also obtain a professional card as, for instance, CEO of a multinational company which has its place of business in Belgium.
he rule is that every foreigner who exercises self-employed professional activities in Belgium has to have a professional card. However, the Royal Decree of 3 February 2003 provides exemptions for specific categories of foreigners.2 Exempted from the obligation to have a professional card in order to exercise self-employed professional activities are: (1) citizens of Member States of the European Economic Area and specific family members (2) the spouse of a Belgian citizen and specific family members (3) foreigners with a permanent right of residence in Belgium (4) refugees who are recognised in Belgium (5) the foreigner who assists his spouse in the self-employed professional activities (6) foreigners who are in Belgium for business trips for less than three months (7) foreigners who are in Belgium for conferences for less than three consecutive months (8) foreign journalists for less than three consecutive months (9) foreign sportsmen for less than three consecutive months (10) foreign artists for less than three consecutive months (11) foreign students taking up a traineeship in Belgium (12) foreigners taking up a traineeship in Belgium in the framework of development co-operation or exchange programmes based on reciprocity.
The professional card is personal and stipulates the activities which are carried out by the professional card holder.4 The validity of the professional card is limited to five years, but the card can be renewed. The professional card depends on the right of residence of the foreigner in Belgium: in the event of the abrogation of the residence permit, the validity of the professional card automatically ends.
The application for a professional card is lodged at a local Enterprise Office if the self-employed foreigner resides legally in Belgium, that is to say if the foreigner has a ‘certificate of registration model A’ or an ‘electronic residence card type A’.7 If the foreigner has (not yet) a right to reside in Belgium, the application for a professional card is lodged at the Belgian embassy abroad
No financial thresholds in Professional Card Act/Implementing Royal Decree, however, financial considerations are taken into account on the basis of guidelines of the competent authority.
The competent authority has specific guidelines concerning minimum income, minimum investment, not becoming a burden of Belgian social security, etc. It is not necessary to buy or purchase property, but this can be taken into account as decision is based on case by case basis.
First, a D-Visa is granted in order to enable the third-country national to enter Belgium. Within 8 days from arrival the third-country national must go to the municipality of his place of residence in Belgium in order to get registered in the Register of Foreign Nationals and in order to request the issuing of a residence card type A.
The residence card type A is usually granted for one year and this gives the right to reside in Belgium for one year. The residence card can be renewed annually.
The foreigner obtains the right to be self-employed in Belgium when he or she obtains a professional card. Then the foreigner also has the right to market access and the right to be active in the business.
Article 191 of the Belgian Constitution determines that all foreigners on Belgian soil benefit from the protection provided to persons and property, except for those exceptions provided for by the law. On the basis of this provision, third country nationals who have a professional card and legally reside in Belgium can benefit from the same rights as Belgian nationals regarding working conditions, freedom of association, education and vocational training, access to social security services and access to goods and services
Statistics provided in the table below cover the requests and grants of professional cards. Not every holder of a professional card is an investor. For instance, also the managing director of a large company can be the holder of a professional card.
Total no. of requests for residence
No. of requests for professional cards
No. of successful applications
No. of turned down applications
+- 66 %
In Belgium, residence rights are a federal issue. In particular, the Immigration Office, as part of the Home Affairs Federal Public Service, is entrusted with granting residence permits.
The Belgian embassy abroad (in case of residence of the applicant abroad) or a local enterprise office (in case of legal residence of the applicant in Belgium) will accept the application for the professional card and send it to the competent region. Applications submitted to a region that is not competent are declared inadmissible.
Belgian Nationality Code, a foreigner who has reached the age of 18 years can obtain Belgian nationality by declaration after five years of legal residence in Belgium if he proves his knowledge of one of the three national languages as well as his social integration and economic participation.
The last two conditions are deemed to be fulfilled after having worked as a self-employed person in Belgium for a continuous period of five years and having paid during this period the required social security contributions.