What to do when you finish studying in Belgium? Wat doen wanneer je studies eindigen in Belgie?

I’ve noticed it’s pretty difficult to get a full summary of information when something in your life changes. One of them being finishing your studies (congratz for that!).

Your diploma

This is what you’ve been working pretty hard for. The majority of the schools provide you with a confirmation paper, which is not yet your diploma. The poor dean of your faculty needs a couple more months to put his signature on your fancy paper! You’ll probably receive it later in the mail, or you’ll have to go pick it up. If you start working, your employer wants to have a copy (don’t give them the original) of your diploma. If you’re lucky enough to start working soon, then you’ll only have your little paper. This will suffice for now, but you’ll have to provide a copy when you receive your diploma.

You’re now (almost) officially unemployed

Unless you start working the day after you graduate, you’ll be considered unemployed by the Belgian state. They just don’t know it yet (you know, because instances in Belgium don’t really communicate). Get ready to pull up your sleeves and find your way to VDAB (Resp. ACTIRIS, Le FOREM or ADG for non-flemish regions). You can simply create an account on their website and mark when your studies finished. From this moment your “beroepsinschakeltijd” starts. This means that your 1-year waiting period starts. If you’re still unemployed by then, you will be eligible for unemployment payment by the RVA. If you do find a job, the VDAB will magically know about it! (wauw!). It’s possible that you’ll receive a letter from them stating that you should hurry up and find a job (even if you’ve already signed the contract). Sometimes there still is a bit of delay…

Social security (sociale zekerheid) & health funds (ziekenfonds)

So far you’ve probably enjoyed your parents’ health insurance (CM, Neutraal Ziekenfonds, Partena…). They pay back expenses you made at a doctor (though that’s almost never 100% in Belgium). When you start working, you’ll have to get your own, but the good thing is you can choose. Your parents might be with CM because of the fun camps they organized for children. If you don’t have children, you might enjoy others better. Maybe you wear glasses? Some of them pay back more for a new pair. Compare and choose! The subscription fee you pay per month is with most almost the same (€ 6-8 per month)

An organization like CM is in fact just spending the money they receive from the government. The subscription fee you pay them won’t cover your hospital bills 🙂 What does pay for yours and others’ bills is the social security percentage (called RSZ) you pay on your salary. If you ever did a student job, this was the 2-4% of “taxes” you were paying. Now that you’ll become a full time employee, it will be a bit more (13,07%). With this money Belgium pays people who get sick or have a handicap, or when they go on pension. At some point in time, you’ll use this system too. It’s a social system, so we all contribute to each other.

50 euros when you get 26 (vlaamse zorgkas)

Surprise, you turn 26! A magic letter enters your mailbox stating that you have to pay €50 per year (no birthday gift). This is a subscription fee for another institution and is mandatory. It’s an extra support for people who need it a lot (for example handicapped). It’s strange that this does not come from the social security, but since this is something Flemish, it’s the Flemish government that decides.

Much of this information is also summarized in a brochure from the Flemish goverment. Make sure to check that out too!

Your first payslip

To finish this post, I’d like to go over a typical payslip quickly. I’ve borrowed this one kindly from the Jobat website.

I’ll refer to the first column as identifier.

000: You salary before taxes (bruto). This is what you usually negotiate with the employer. Your employer still pays more than this amount (that’s called werkgeversbijdrage, for your information they have been added to the overview as “patronale lasten”)
220 & 290: Are holidays. These usually impact stuff like Maaltijdcheques (045) because you don’t receive them for days not worked

On this total amount the RSZ (social security) is calculated, which is 13,07%. A workbonus reduces the amount of social security when you have a “low salary”. This is awesome, because you pay less Social Security. It also means that if you get a salary increase, that the workbonus decreases. Therefore you will see little difference in your received money for a while.

Substracting the RSZ brings us to the taxable amount. On this you will pay “bedrijfsvoorheffing”. This is an advance on taxes (not the actual taxes) and are estimated by the company – and hopefully as close as possible to the taxes you have to pay. The calculation is totally nuts, it includes your family situation, how much you worked and how much you earn but also other factors. What’s important to know is that the tax is “progressive”. This means that you will have different taxation rates for different amounts. e.g for €0 – €7000 you pay 0%, for €7000 – €15000 25% and so on.

045: Mealtickets. The weird thing in Belgium where you get a special salary for food. The only ones getting better from this are the companies selling the mealtickets. You always pay part yourself (045) and part by your employer (615) and you get them for days worked. Nowadays a lot of these are provided on a card. Another special thing are EcoCheques, which you might get yearly (€250) to spend on eco stuff. I usually have difficulties spending this money. There have been many discussions about cancelling this overhead, but today (14/02/2017) this discussion has once again been postponed.

680: To make the social security healthy again (you know, more people are getting older, so less money is added; more is consumed), a special social security contribution has been added. Simply put: we now pay more than 13.07% for social security.

708: Everything below here is informative.

There’s much more that can be on your pay slip. Stuff like “voordeel alle aard” (a car, laptop or mobile phone’s value) can be added to your bruto salary. Tax is then calculated, and the voordeel alle aard is substracted again. You can also receive a netto contribution (something from €50 – €150) for things like car wash, a credit card, making sure you are representative. But you can also have a netto cost (a forfait for something, sometimes this replaces the voordeel alle aard).

If you’d like to know more, make sure you pass by the HR office. Good luck on your job!
If you’re interested in what it looks like from a Chinese perspective then check out Lin Jiang’s post!

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