International non-profit association legal form

International non-profit association legal form

Short introduction

Brussels as place for international associations has benefited from the commitment of people wishing to establish a purpose driven organisation in a geographically well positioned city and with the right level of infrastructure and expertise allowing their long life. 

From international perspective, being a decision-making place Brussels and Washington DC have developed some similarities regarding the knowledge of the local tourism and economic authorities, creation of societies regrouping associations and developing a lively ecosystem for information and practice exchange among them.

The figures contained in the Union of International Associations Yearbook confirm that Brussels Capital Region has the highest number of international associations on its territory, with over 2300 of them, while Washington DC follows nearly in numbers together with the District Columbia surrounding cities.


International non-profit association status

When establishing an association with international character in Belgium, those setting up the organisation mainly choose between being:

  • Non-profit organisations and associations (NPA) – ASBL (in French) and VZW (in Dutch)
  • International non-profit associations (INPA) – IASBL (in French) and IVZW (in Dutch)

The international non-profit association is a specific form that exists in Belgium for 100 years and its anniversary has been recently celebrated by the Federation of International Associations in Belgium – FAIB.

The basic characteristics of the International non-profit associations compared to a standard association are the following:

  • Definition of international character of activities of the association
  • Royal decree recognising the entity
  • Wider choice for the form of general assembly and internal governance
  • Flexibility regarding internal organisation
  • Freedom of languages in association proceedings that do not require official publication

In the last decade around 70 new effectively operational organisations with the INPA legal status are estimated to have put their seat in Brussels per year according to Belgian Official Gazette. While the number of entities published is higher, however some of them are branches of a foreign based entity or the publication concerns a renewed legal form of an already locally existing entity.

Concerning the legal requirements for the setup of an association, all new entities shall follow the provisions of the recently adopted new Code for Societies and Associations that applies for them as from 1 May 2019, and that gives more possibilities regarding economic activities and direct transfer of legal form from abroad.