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Forms of business: types & comparisons

The Belgian business forms you can choose from

When starting a business, you have to make a lot of choices. Which legal form you give to your business, for example. Are you starting a business as a subsidiary activity or are you brave enough to jump straight into a main activity? And are you going into business on your own or in partnership with others? These decisions are decisive for your business. Take a look at your options here.

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What does your business form mean?

Your business or legal form is the legal structure chosen for your company or organization. For example, the various business forms determine your level of liability, the type of administrative work you need to accomplish and a few tax-related factors.

In Belgium, you opt for a sole proprietorship or a company/partnership. This decision determines how you pay taxes, whether and how you hire employees and how you involve others as advisors, co-owners or investors in your business.

Distinct types of business forms

So, if you want to start working for yourself, first decide whether to opt for a sole proprietorship or a company.

  • For a sole proprietorship, you as a natural person are the same entity as the legal entity of your business. You can only choose this form if you are in business on your own.
  • With a company, your business is a separate legal entity, unless you choose a partnership.
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Sole proprietorship

With a sole proprietorship, your business is not separated from your status as a natural person. You ARE your business, so to speak. As a result, you can only set up a sole proprietorship on your own.

Some features:

  • Quite simple to set up
  • No start-up capital required (apart from your setup costs)
  • Full personal liability
  • Tax: personal taxes on all your income
  • Just you, no partners

Do you want a similar flexible business form with partners? Then a partnership might be what you are looking for.


There are 6 types of company in Belgium. We can divide these into two groups based on liability:

Limited liability companies:

1.    Private limited company (bv/SRL)

2.    Public limited company (nv/SA)

3.    Cooperative society (cv/SC)

Companies with unlimited liability:

4.    Partnership

5.    General partnership (vof/SNC)

6.    Limited special partnership (CommV/SComm) 

Finally, you can also conduct commercial activities with a non profit association (vzw/ASBL). In this case, you may make a profit, but you cannot distribute the gain to yourself. You have to reinvest it in the disinterested purpose of your association. 

As well as liability, the companies also differ in other ways. So, examine each form thoroughly to make sure you choose the right one, or seek advice from our experts, tailored to your business.

All about companies

Sole proprietorship or company?

Whether a sole proprietorship or partnership is better for your business depends strongly on your own needs. Although it may seem that a sole proprietorship is beneficial for a small business and a partnership for a larger one, there are a lot more factors at play.

A few key questions to help you choose:

  • Do you want to go into business alone or with partners?
  • Do you want limited or full liability?
  • What do you estimate your annual income at?
  • How much do you need to invest in your business to get started? Working equipment, stock, rental, etc.
Compare forms of business

Main or subsidiary activity?

The choice between main and secondary occupation goes well beyond the number of hours you work. If you want to start up as your main job, your self-employment will prove your only income. If you want to stay in paid employment, you start up as a secondary occupation. But choose carefully:

  • If you are employed less than half-time and start your own business, it is automatically considered as your main occupation.
  • If you leave salaried employment and are self-employed as a secondary occupation, you automatically switch over to main occupation.
  • If you are employed half-time, you receive social benefits through your employer, otherwise you have to provide them yourself.

So, it is best to make a very conscious decision about what you want to do. Not just for now, but also for later.

Compare main and secondary occupations
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