The tax privileges for foreign diplomats, consular officers, and international staff members are generally based on two treaties: (i) the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961; and (ii) the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963. There are also the ‘Headquarters Agreements’ between Belgium and the international organisations established here. It specifies the privileges of diplomatic and consular missions and forms the legal basis for their immunity. The system is largely based on the ‘principle of reciprocity’: no privileges are granted to a foreign official here, unless Belgian personnel receives similar privileges in the official’s home country.
In general, diplomatic and consular officers do not have to pay Belgian income tax on their earnings. The principle of tax exemption allows countries to organise the activities of their diplomatic mission without taxation, as well as allowing staff members and their families to operate normally in Belgium and to purchase goods and services for their personal use. In applying specific tax provisions for diplomatic missions and their staff, Belgium makes no distinction between Embassies, Permanent Representations (EU), Permanent Delegations (NATO), and Diplomatic Missions (EU/NATO). Holders of a permanent residence permit and Belgian nationals are never tax-exempt.
Family members like spouse and children who hold a special residence permit will often have no access to the Belgian labour market, unless a bilateral agreement is in place. This applies to all professional activities, including those carried out on a part-time basis, as well as paid internships and student jobs. If they are allowed to exercise a gainful activity, they will consequently be subject to Belgian labour law, tax, and social security rules.
In this context it is important to determine the country of tax residence since all taxable income must be declared and taxed in that country. With some exceptions, most international civil servants that have their tax domicile abroad before moving to Belgium will continue to be considered a tax resident in their home country (‘exception of fiscal residence’). Only if the spouse started a separate gainful activity here and registered in the national civil register, could this create the presumption that the spouse should be considered a Belgian tax resident instead. The ‘tie-breaker rules’ in the relevant double tax treaty could provide a solution for situations of dual tax residency.
Family members whose tax residency is established outside Belgium are in that case subject to non-resident income tax. They will only be taxed on their Belgian salary or independent earnings (i.e. Belgian source income). If the partner has diplomatic status and the spouse caries out a gainful activity in Belgium or abroad, they will be considered single taxpayers for Belgian filing purposes. That means they will never be taxed jointly.
TAXPATRIA® can help you determine your Belgian tax status and assist you with your personal (resident or non-resident) tax filing.