Social Security in Belgium
In Belgium, there are separate rules and separate institutions for the salaried, the self-employed and civil servants. The salaried are covered for seven sectors: medical care, unemployment, pension, family, accident, work-related injury, and vacation. This will be arranged by your employer, who will pay around 25 percent on top of your salary into a social security fund, and you’ll contribute an extra 13 percent from your salary. The National Institute of Social Security for the Self-Employed (RSVZ-INASTI) is the association in charge for the self-employed, and covers benefits for medical care, incapacity for work or invalidity, maternity insurance, family benefits, pensions and bankruptcy. With regards to civil servants, the rules differ as social security can be claimed through the relevant governmental department. Additional support systems available in certain circumstances are financed from government funds. These provide for pensions, unemployment benefits and family benefits. Family benefits Salaried persons, self-employed persons and civil servants are all entitled to family benefits. Persons who are not entitled to family benefits from any Belgian, foreign or international scheme, there is a 'guaranteed family benefit' in the social assistance system. Family benefits comprise the ordinary child's allowance, the orphan's allowance, the lump sum allowance for children placed with private persons, the additional allowances (social allowances, allowances for children suffering from disorders or handicapped children, age allowances, the allowance for single-parent families and the yearly age allowance), the maternity fee and the adoption fee. Three persons are involved in the family benefit system: the beneficiary, the qualifying child and the allottee. Unemployment The sector “unemployment” is principally discussed as to its major function of providing the worker with a replacement income in case of involuntary loss of salaried employment. However, the sector has a much larger action radius: support in case of temporary unemployment, support in case of partial or total interruption of work (career interruption/time credit), support in case of partial resumption of work; it also provides support to persons who are in training and to baby minders; it also fosters the resumption of work for high-risk groups (activation) and supports the development of neighbourhood services (local employment offices and services cheques). In principle, the sector of unemployment is exclusively aimed at salaried employees. Self-employed people cannot resort to the unemployment scheme, as they do not pay any contributions for it. However, self-employed persons who cease work, but who have worked as salaried persons before (or who have been unemployed), can still be entitled to unemployment benefits on particular conditions. Although they do not contribute to the unemployment scheme either, permanently appointed civil servants benefit from a specific scheme which enables them (under certain conditions) to be entitled to unemployment benefits in case of dismissal. All salaried work which is subject to social security contributions for the sector of unemployment can thus open the entitlement to unemployment benefits. This is e.g. not the case for "occasional work", for student work and for domestic staff work. Accidents at work All salaried persons are covered against accidents at work and accidents on the way to and from work. Self-employed persons are not subject to these regulations, but they can always fall back on the sickness and invalidity insurance from the self-employed persons' scheme. Civil servants have their own specific scheme, it is based on other legislation as for salaried persons, but it does show many similarities. Maternity/paternity leave Pregnant women are entitled to a maternity leave and an allowance during that leave. Also the other partner is entitled to have a 10 day leave. Annual vacation The vacation fee for employees and civil servants is paid directly by the employer. It is clear that the self-employed, who are not insured for the annual vacation sector, do not receive any vacation fee. Social assistance What if suddenly you are all alone and you are not entitled to any unemployment benefits? What if your old-age pension is insufficient? What if you are disabled and you are unable to work? What if you do not receive any family benefits? What if you slip through the 'social security net'? Fortunately, there is a solution! There is an even larger social security net that, in principle, no one can miss or slip through: social assistance! In fact, social assistance does not belong to social security in the strict sense, but it is part of the overall social protection for the Belgian population.
The compulsory insurance for medical care is not only destined to salaried or self-employed persons and civil servants, but also to the unemployed, the retired, the persons who are entitled to the integration wage, the disabled, students, orphans, non-accompanied under-aged foreigners, etc. as well as to their dependants who qualify to be dependants: spouses, couples living together, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. The Belgium healthcare system is divided into state and private sectors, with fees payable in both, funded by a combination of social security contributions and health insurance funds. With mandatory health insurance, patients are free to choose their own medical professionals and places of treatment. Patients generally pay costs upfront and are reimbursed a proportion of the charges for medical and dental fees, hospital care and treatment, maternity costs and prescriptions through their health insurance fund (mutuelle / ziekenfonds). Some alternative treatments are also reimbursable if carried out by a qualified doctor. Many people top up their cover with private insurance to get a full refund of all medical costs. Doctors work in public and/or private settings. Dentists are almost all private. Hospitals and clinics are private and usually managed by universities, religious organisations or mutuelle / ziekenfonds. If you go to a doctor or receive other medical treatment, you first have to pay the full amount in exchange for a medical receipt or certificate. Then, you take the certificate to your insurance institution (health insurance fund), which partly refunds you. If you have a prescription of an acknowledged practitioner, you do not have to pay the full amount at the chemist's, but the reimbursement rates are applied directly In case of a stay in a general hospital, the patient fee is a lump-sum amount, in addition to the medical drugs. As part of the social security enrolment process, all employees and self-employed must register and start making contributions to a health insurance fund (mutuelle / ziekenfonds). Contributions are 7.35 percent of your gross salary (3.55 percent deducted at source; 3.8 percent paid by your employer). Self-employed people pay the full 7.35 percent through social security payments. You and any dependents are covered. If you hold an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) you can use this until you take up permanent residence and/or employment; then you have to register with a mutuelle / ziekenfonds like everyone else. You will receive a social security card (known as Carte SIS, now eID) to take to the health provider of your choice. Charges are then partially or refunded by your health insurance fund. The amount of reimbursement varies according to the treatment and your personal circumstances but, for example, most people can claim up to 75 percent of the cost for a normal doctor's consultation or minor treatment. For hospital stays, you pay a fixed amount for accommodation; medical fees are paid directly by the insurer. You can take out extra insurance to cover amounts not refunded. Check the details of your cover with your own mutuelle / ziekenfonds; for example if you’re self-employed you will only be insured for major health problems and may want to take out extra cover. Note: you may not be able to qualify for reimbursement for six months after joining a mutuelle / ziekenfonds unless you are able to provide proof that you have paid social security contributions in your home country. Everyone enrolled in a health insurance plan in Belgium is automatically covered for invalidity, provided they’ve worked for at least 120 days in the six months immediately preceding the accident or illness causing the disability and are incapacitated by a minimum of 66.66 per cent. Benefits are equivalent to 65 per cent of previous earnings if you have dependants, or 45 or 40 per cent if you don’t (the lower figure applies if there’s other income in the household), and are payable until you reach the age of 65, when the standard old age pension replaces them.
Unemployment Unemployment benefits are paid only when you become unemployed involuntarily. To qualify for benefit, you must be fit and available for work, so you must enroll with the national employment office and register with your local benefits office on a regular basis. Unemployment benefits in Belgium are subject to complicated requirements and restrictions, depending on your age, work experience and family situation. To apply for benefits, you can go to one of the many trade union-run unemployment agencies, you don’t have to be a member, or to the state-run Auxiliary Fund for Payment of Unemployment Benefits You must register with the state employment service (VDAB in Flemish-speaking areas, FOREM in Walloon or ACTIRIS in the Brussels region) and go to the unemployment agency twice a month to ‘discuss’ your job hunting progress (i.e. to show that you’re making an effort to find work). While receiving unemployment benefit, you aren’t permitted to work, and this means any activity that might bring a material advantage to you or your family, including home improvements! If you have a secondary profession, you may resort to this only if you were practising it at some time during the three months prior to losing your principal job and had declared it for tax purposes. Even then, you aren’t allowed to engage in this profession between 7am and 6pm, as this is when you’re supposed to be looking for a job in your main line of work.
To get social benefits, you will need to sign up with one of a number of specialised organisations or a health insurance company (mutuelle/mutualiteits), which act as collection agencies for the national social security offices. Once you are registered, they will send you a Social Security Identity Card (SIS), which is needed to get prescription drugs and other medical services. Belgium has reciprocal social security arrangements with EEA countries and Switzerland, as well as 22 non-EU countries, including Australia, Canada and the US. Under these arrangements, you can claim and be awarded many of the same benefits as Belgian citizens, provided you carry out the necessary paperwork (ie. registering with your town hall or getting your residence visa, if applicable). Anyone posted to Belgium short-term is unaffected by Belgian social security as long as they are an EEA or Swiss national, or from a country that has an international social security treaty with Belgium. If you or your spouse work in Belgium but are insured through the social security system of another EU country, you can claim social security benefits from that country. If you wish to claim benefits in Belgium, your contributions to the foreign scheme are taken into account when calculating your eligibility.
In order to claim an old age pension, you must have reached a certain age, 65 (this will increase in 2025 to 66 and in 2030 to 67) and have made contributions for a minimum period. Early retirement is possible. In 2016 you can go on early retirement from the age of 62 after 40 working years, at the age of 61 after 41 working years and at 60 after 42 working years. In 2019, these numbers will be increased with 1 year Special conditions often apply to civil servants, miners, railway company employees and other groups. Survivor's pensions A survivor's pension is only granted to widows or widowers, according to the professional past of their deceased spouse. Just like with retirement pensions, you have to meet a few conditions to be entitled.
Old age pensions under the Belgian state system are based on retirement at 65 after 45 years of contributions (including periods on unemployment or disability benefits). Women are permitted to retire at 60, with 40 years’ contributions. It’s possible to apply for reduced early retirement benefit at the age of 60 under certain circumstances, although the government ‘encourages’ those needing or wishing to take early retirement to contribute to private ‘bridging pensions’ ( prépensions conventionnelles). The basic state pension is 75 per cent of average lifetime wages for those with a dependent spouse, and 60 per cent for all other retirees. You should apply to the administrative offices in the commune where you live around a year before you reach retirement age, as it can take this long to process the paperwork (this is Belgium!), especially if you’ve made contributions in other countries that need to be taken into account. Pensions are paid monthly by direct deposit into your bank account. You may continue to work after the age of 65, although your pension may be ‘adjusted’ (i.e. reduced) for earnings above certain levels.
Under EU regulations, you must be given credit for contributions made to the state pension systems of other EU countries, and Belgium has social security treaties with some non-EU nations (e.g. the USA) that may allow you to receive full or partial credit for contributions made in those countries. Belgium has a convention for pensions with all EU member states as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Belgium also has bilateral treaties for pensions with Algeria, Australia, Canada, Chile, the Philippines, Republic of Congo, Croatia, USA, Israel, Morocco, San Marino, Tunisia and Turkey.