1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Colombian government actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI). The economic liberalization reforms of the early 1990s provided for national treatment of foreign investors, lifted controls on remittance of profits and capital, and allowed foreign investment in most sectors. Colombia imposes the same investment restrictions on foreign investors that it does on national investors. Generally, foreign investors may participate in the privatization of state-owned enterprises without restrictions. All FDI involving the establishment of a commercial presence in Colombia requires registration with the Superintendence of Corporations and the local chamber of commerce. All conditions being equal during tender processes, national offers are preferred over foreign offers. Assuming equal conditions among foreign bidders, those with major Colombian national workforce resources, significant national capital, and/or better conditions to facilitate technology transfers are preferred.
ProColombia is the Colombian government entity that promotes international tourism, foreign investment, and non-traditional exports. ProColombia assists foreign companies that wish to enter the Colombian market by addressing specific needs, such as identifying contacts in the public and private sectors, organizing visit agendas, and accompanying companies during visits to Colombia. All services are free of charge and confidential. Priority sectors include business process outsourcing, software and IT services, cosmetics, health services, automotive manufacturing, textiles, graphic communications, and electric energy. ProColombia’s “Invest in Colombia” web portal offers detailed information about opportunities in agribusiness, manufacturing, and services in Colombia (www.investincolombia.com.co/sectors ). The Duque administration – including senior leaders at the Presidency, ProColombia, and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade – continue to stress Colombia’s openness to foreign investors and aggressively market Colombia as an investment destination.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign investment in the financial, hydrocarbon, and mining sectors is subject to special regimes, such as investment registration and concession agreements with the Colombian government, but is not restricted in the amount of foreign capital. The following sectors require that foreign investors have a legal local representative and/or commercial presence in Colombia: travel and tourism agency services; money order operators; customs brokerage; postal and courier services; merchandise warehousing; merchandise transportation under customs control; international cargo agents; public service companies, including sewage and water works, waste disposal, electricity, gas and fuel distribution, and public telephone services; insurance firms; legal services; and special air services, including aerial fire-fighting, sightseeing, and surveying.
According to the Colombian constitution and foreign investment regulations, foreign investment in Colombia receives the same treatment as an investment made by Colombian nationals. Foreign investment is permitted in all sectors, except in activities related to defense, national security, and toxic waste handling and disposal. There are no performance requirements explicitly applicable to the entry and establishment of foreign investment in Colombia.
Foreign investors face specific exceptions and restrictions in the following sectors:
Media: Only Colombian nationals or legally constituted entities may provide radio or subscription-based television services. For National Open Television and Nationwide Private Television Operators, only Colombian nationals or legal entities may be granted concessions to provide television services. Foreign investment in national television is limited to a maximum of 40 percent ownership of an operator.
Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing: To practice in Colombia, providers of accounting services must register with the Central Accountants Board and have uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registry. A legal commercial presence is required to provide data processing and information services in Colombia.
Banking: Foreign investors may own 100 percent of financial institutions in Colombia, but are required to obtain approval from the Financial Superintendent before making a direct investment of ten percent or more in any one entity. Foreign banks must establish a local commercial presence and comply with the same capital and other requirements as local financial institutions. Every investment of foreign capital in portfolios must be through a Colombian administrator company, including brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management companies.
Fishing: A foreign vessel may engage in fishing activities in Colombian territorial waters only through association with a Colombian company holding a valid fishing permit. If a ship’s flag corresponds to a country with which Colombia has a complementary bilateral agreement, this agreement shall determine whether the association requirement applies for the process required to obtain a fishing license. The costs of fishing permits are greater for foreign flag vessels.
Private Security and Surveillance Companies: Companies constituted with foreign capital prior to February 11, 1994 cannot increase the share of foreign capital. Those constituted after that date can only have Colombian nationals as shareholders.
Transportation: Foreign companies can only provide multimodal freight services within or from Colombian territory if they have a domiciled agent or representative legally responsible for its activities in Colombia. International cabotage companies can provide cabotage services (i.e. between two points within Colombia) “only when there is no national capacity to provide the service.” Colombia prohibits foreign ownership of commercial ships licensed in Colombia. The owners of a concession providing port services must be legally constituted in Colombia, and only Colombian ships may provide port services within Colombian maritime jurisdiction, unless there are no capable Colombian-flag vessels.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The WTO most recently reviewed Colombia’s trade policy in June 2018. https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp472_e.htm
New businesses must register with the chamber of commerce of the city in which the company will reside. Applicants also register using the Colombian tax authority’s (DIAN) portal at: www.dian.gov.co to obtain a taxpayer ID (RUT). Business founders must visit DIAN offices to obtain an electronic signature for company legal representatives, and obtain – in-person or online – an authorization for company invoices from DIAN. In 2019, Colombia made starting a business a step easier by lifting a requirement of opening a local bank account to obtain invoice authorization. Companies must submit a unified electronic form to self-assess and pay social security and payroll contributions to the Governmental Learning Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, or SENA), the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, or ICBF), and the Family Compensation Fund (Caja de Compensación Familiar). After that, companies must register employees for public health coverage, affiliate the company to a public or private pension fund, affiliate the company and employees to an administrator of professional risks, and affiliate employees with a severance fund.
According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, recent reforms simplified starting a business, trading across borders, and resolving insolvency. According to the report, starting a company in Colombia requires seven procedures and takes an average of 10 days. Information on starting a company can be found at http://www.ccb.org.co/en/Creating-a-company/Company-start-up/Step-by-step-company-creation ; https://investincolombia.com.co/how-to-invest.html ; and http://www.dian.gov.co .
Colombia does not incentivize outward investment nor does it restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Bilateral Investment Treaties and Free Trade Agreements: Colombia has free trade agreements or treaties with investment provisions with the United States, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, MERCOSUR, CARICOM, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the Republic of Korea, and Venezuela. Colombia has signed a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, but it is not yet in effect. Trade agreement negotiations are underway with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore. Additionally, Colombia has stand-alone bilateral investment treaties with China, France, India, Japan, Peru, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Bilateral Taxation Treaties: Colombia has active Agreements for the Elimination of Double Taxation in Income Tax Matters with the Andean Community of Nations, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It has signed but not yet implemented additional treaties with France, Italy, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates, is currently negotiating agreements with Germany and the Netherlands, and has expressed interest in renewing negotiations with the United States. It has Agreements to Eliminate the Double Taxation of Air and Maritime Navigation Companies with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Italy, Panama, the United States, and Venezuela.