Directive 2005/36 on the recognition of professional qualifications

Enterprises that are established in another Member State may decide to expand their activities to Belgium. The conditions for proving professional qualifications differ according to whether the enterprise:

  • sets up an establishment in Belgium;
  • or is only temporarily or occasionally active here.

1. Professional qualifications

Directive 2005/36/EC establishes which rules the host Member State must follow if you have obtained professional qualifications in your home Member State that allow you to pursue your profession there.

To benefit from the directive, the following conditions must be satisfied:

National of a Member State

Considered as a Member State: every state that is part of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA: the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and Switzerland.

Cross-border character

You must have obtained your principal professional qualifications in another Member State or another country than where you want to pursue your profession.

Example: Directive 2005/36/EC applies to an Italian engineer who did all his/her qualifications in Italy and wants to work in Spain as an engineer, or a French physiotherapist who did all his/her qualifications in Belgium and wants to work as physiotherapist in France. But the directive is not applicable to a doctor who is a Hungarian national who got his/her qualifications in Hungary and also wants to work as a doctor there.

Professional qualifications

Directive 2005/36/EC solely concerns the recognition of professional qualifications and professionals. Professionals are people who have the required qualifications to pursue a profession.

Recognition of professional qualifications is of course only necessary if you want to pursue a regulated profession. If the profession is not regulated in the host Member State, you are free to pursue it.

To be able to benefit from the recognition provided by the directive, you must be legally established in your home Member State (when it concerns free provision of services) or fully qualified there (when it concerns establishment).

Directive 2005/36/EC sets out that for a limited number of professions it is also possible to have your professional qualifications verified via a European Professional Card (EPC).

2. Difference between provision of services and establishment

The rules vary depending on whether you want to permanently establish yourself in another Member State or work there temporarily.

You “establish” yourself if you set yourself up in a Member State in a stable, long-term manner.

Example: a Belgian speech therapist who leaves Belgium and sets up a practice in France establishes him/herself in France; a Slovakian engineer who is employed by a Czech company on a permanent contract establishes him/herself in the Czech Republic.

In these instances you can apply the rules of directive 2005/36/EC concerning establishment.

If you are legally established in one Member State and want to temporarily pursue your profession in another Member State, then you are providing a service in this latter Member State and you can apply the rules for the provision of services. The temporary character of the services is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Example: a Spanish veterinary surgeon who fills in a temporary position at a veterinary practice in Portugal for three months, is providing a service in Portugal; an Estonian doctor who looks after patients three days a month in Latvia, is providing a service in Latvia; and a Spanish diver who goes to work on an oil platform in the United Kingdom for four months, is providing a service.

3. Temporary provision of services

To apply the rules for the provision of services, you must be legally established in a Member State, which is the Member State of establishment. You are legally established if you fulfil all the conditions to pursue a profession in a Member State and there are no (temporary) bans on you from pursuing that profession. You can be established as an employee or as a self-employed person. You do not necessarily need to be practicing the profession at the time that you are considering providing a service.

Example 1: You are a French architect, registered with a professional association, and you are legally established in France, even if you do not actually pursue the profession of architect; conversely, if you are not registered with the professional association, you are not legally established.

Example 2: You work in Belgium as a veterinary surgeon and are employed by a veterinary practice. You are legally established in Belgium.

If neither the profession you are qualified for, nor the training, is regulated in the country where you are established, the host Member State can demand that you have pursued the profession for one year in the Member State where you are established. However, they cannot make this demand if you are pursuing a profession:

  • in the domains of manufacturing, trade or industry, as listed in Annex IV of Directive 2005/36/EC;
  • for which the system of automatic recognition applies: doctor, nurse responsible for general care, dental practitioner, veterinary surgeon, midwife, pharmacist or architect.

When you come to Belgium to provide services for the first time, the competent Belgian authority can demand that you inform them in advance with a written declaration, including details of any insurance cover or other means of personal or collective protection with regard to professional liability. This declaration is renewed once a year, if you are planning to provide temporary or occasional services in Belgium during that year. You may submit the declaration by any means you see fit.

A prior check of the professional qualifications can be demanded for these professional activities

Here is a list of regulated professions as well as the competent authorities in regard to temporary and occasional provision of services.

4. Establishment

Regarding establishment, three systems are in place:

  • General system for the recognition of evidence of training;
  • Automatic recognition;
  • Recognition of professional experience.

General system for the recognition of evidence of training

  • When a Member State requires professional qualifications to gain access to or to pursue a regulated profession, the conditions that the host Member State applies to applicants who possess an attestation of competence or the formal qualifications which are required in another Member State for the access to or pursuance of said profession must be the same as for its own nationals.
  • If the profession or training is not regulated in the home Member State, the applicants must have pursued their profession full time for at least one year in the last ten years.

The competent authority of the host Member State can demand that the applicant enters an adaptation period for a maximum of three years or takes an aptitude test in one of the following cases:

  • when his/her training comprised substantially different subject matter to the training that is required in the host Member State;
  • when the profession in the host Member State has one or more regulated activities that do not exist at that level in the home Member State and the difference is a specific, compulsory training that is focused on substantially different subject matter.

Automatic recognition

The host Member State recognises the formal qualifications that satisfy the minimum training conditions set out by the directive (you can find the formal qualifications in Annexes V and VI of Directive 2005/36/EC).

The following professions fall under that system:

  • doctors;
  • nurses responsible for general care;
  • dental practitioners;
  • veterinary surgeons;
  • midwives;
  • pharmacists;
  • architects.

Recognition of professional experience

This recognition primarily concerns trading or manufacturing professions (see Annex IV of Directive 2005/36/EC).

A professional who has a certain amount of professional experience, potentially supplemented with a training course, can obtain this recognition via an EU declaration.

More information about the EU declaration in Belgium 

Attached you will find the list of regulated professions and the competent authorities regarding permanent establishment.

If you establish yourself in Belgium, you must register with the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises (CBE). To do so you must get in touch with a business one-stop shop.

5. European Professional Card (EPC)

Directive 2005/36/EC also sets out the possibility, for a limited number of professions, to have your professional qualifications verified via a European Professional Card  (EPC). The aim of this instrument is to make the recognition of professional qualifications easier and quicker by allowing the competent authorities in your home country to take a number of actions. However, the EPC is not obligatory to verify your professional qualifications.

If you choose to apply for an EPC, you must first get in touch with the competent authorities in your home country.

The European Professional Card can be obtained for the following professions:

  • Physiotherapist
  • Nurse responsible for general care
  • Pharmacist
  • Real estate agent
  • Mountain guide

Need more information?

You can find more useful information in the FAQs section of the Belgian Assistance Centre for the Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Be-Assist).