By Uglobal Staff
Location, location, location. That’s just one thing Belgium has going for it when it comes to attracting foreign investors, immigration experts say.
“Centrally located, just a few hours from the major European cities, and culturally diverse due to a constant influx of foreigners, Belgium is deemed an attractive destination for every investor who seriously considers conquering European volumes,” Emmanuel Ruchat, managing partner at Lexial law firm, said.
Of course, those kinds of conquests are much easier for entrepreneurs who are Belgian and, by default, European Union residents as they can travel and do business more freely throughout the continent.
“Many businessmen from non-Schengen countries show a keen interest in obtaining residency and citizenship to facilitate them an access not only to the Belgian, but also a lot of European markets,” Ruchat and his associate Monika Frackowiak said. “Moreover, the Belgian permanent residency lets them benefit from the opportunities offered by Belgian labor market and makes it easier to obtain equivalents of their Belgian authorizations in other European countries.”
Most of the time, spouses and minor children can easily become residents as well.
Unlike other countries where a foreigner needs to only invest a certain amount in a specific way, Belgian law requires actual economic or professional activity that will benefit the country’s economy. Lexial clients, for example, seem to prefer investing in their own projects, the firm’s lawyers said. Financial, construction, and IT sectors have been particularly appealing.
“Actual economic activity is a strict requirement,” Christine Sullivan, senior manager at Fragomen Global LLP, said. “I advise clients who would like to obtain residence on the basis of passive investment to look across borders to France, Luxemburg, or the Netherlands where there are more investment permit options.”
Sullivan said it’s important to be well prepared and have a solid business plan with realistic financial projections.
The path to Belgian residency begins with obtaining a professional card and takes about six months. However, unlike other countries with a formal investment program, Belgium doesn’t have high investment thresholds or government fees.
Sullivan said entrepreneur applicants are a minority among those seeking Belgian residency, but those who do choose this route usually continue the legal proceedings until they become citizens.
“It is my experience that entrepreneurs and investors are often more focused on their long-term situation and are also more proactive in planning for their future when they migrate,” she said. “We often combine citizenship advice with our assistance with the residence process.”
Investors can qualify for permanent residency or citizenship after five years of uninterrupted legal stay. Dual citizenship is an option, providing that the investor’s native country allows it as well.
Interest in Belgian residency spans the globe. Fragomen and Lexial work with clients from the United States, Middle East, and China.
Ruchat and Frackowiak said the first strategic decision their clients and other potential investors need to make is where in the country they want to run their business – Brussels, Wallonia, or Flanders region. This is because the Federal Ministry of Economy stopped dealing with professional cards a few years ago. Instead, regional authorities handle the cases and make the final call.
The lawyers said Wallonia is the most flexible and “eager” to welcome foreign investors in an effort to decrease unemployment.
“Flanders seems faithful to its reputation of business-friendly spirit and administrative efficiency, but probably rather selective on economic level,” they said.
Immigration experts said they see an increase in Belgian professional card applications each year as people become more aware of the advantages of holding a Belgian residency and running a business in the country.
“Until recently, Belgium has remained off the radar for many investors, entrepreneurs and their advisors,” Sullivan said. “However, this is changing. More people now recognize Belgium has an affordable, desirable, and easy option.”
Ruchat and Frackowiak agree. They said Belgium’s appeal to foreign investors makes it competitive.
“Its flourishing international trading relationships provide great advantages for start-up entrepreneurs and have a big impact on the tendency of Belgian authorities to facilitate processes related to company incorporation and management,” they said. “Moreover, the anti-protectionist policy of Belgium makes it clear that the local market keeps seeking to diversify and expand its trade opportunities with other countries by trying to maintain investment climate.”
European investors have some advantage over businessmen and women from other parts of the world who might not speak any of Belgium’s official languages and need more time to familiarize themselves with the European ways of doing business.
“On the other hand, those non-European businessmen have a lot to offer due to their worldwide connections and capability to think out of the box, not strictly following the set standards, Ruchat said. “They certainly help European businesses to deploy and improve.”