This information is derived from the State Department's Office of Investment Affairs, Investment Climate Statement. Any questions on the ICS can be directed to EB-ICS-DL@state.gov
Last Published: 7/31/2017

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

The Colombian government actively encourages foreign direct investment (FDI).  In the early 1990s, the country began economic liberalization reforms, which 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 (Superintendencia de Sociedades) and the local chamber of commerce.  All conditions being equal during tender processes, national offers are preferred over foreign ones.  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 government entity that promotes international tourism, foreign investment, and non-traditional exports in Colombia.  Procolombia assists foreign companies that wish to enter the Colombian market and addresses 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.

Business process outsourcing, software and IT services, cosmetics, health services, automotive manufacturing, textiles, graphic communications, and electric energy receive special priority.  Procolombia’s “Invest in Colombia” web portal offers detailed information for opportunities in agribusiness, manufacturing, and services in Colombia.

 

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 are 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 operator; 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 service; insurance firms; legal services; and special air services including aerial fire-fighting, sightseeing, and surveying.

According to the World Bank’s Investing Across Sectors indicators, among the 14 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean covered, Colombia is one of the most open economies to foreign equity ownership.  With the exception of TV broadcasting, all other sectors covered by the indicators are fully open to foreign capital participation.  Foreign ownership in TV broadcasting companies is limited to 40 percent.  Companies publishing newspapers can have up to 100 percent foreign capital investment; there is a requirement, however, for the director or general manager to be a Colombian national. 

According to the Constitution and foreign investment regulations, foreign investment in Colombia receives the same treatment as an investment made by Colombian nationals.  Any investment made by a person who does not qualify as a resident of Colombia for foreign exchange purposes will qualify as foreign investment.  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.  However, there are export incentives relating to the operation of free trade zones.

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.  Colombia’s national, regional, and municipal open-television channels must be provided at no extra cost to subscribers.  Foreign investment in national television is limited to a maximum of 40 percent ownership of the relevant operator.  Satellite television service providers are only obliged to include within their basic programming the broadcast of government-designated public interest channels.  Newspapers published in Colombia covering domestic politics must be directed and managed by Colombian nationals. 

Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing:  To practice in Colombia, providers of accounting services must register with the Central Accountants Board; have uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registry; and provide proof of accounting experience in Colombia of at least one year.  No restrictions apply to services offered by consulting firms or individuals.  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.  Portfolio investments used to acquire more than five percent of an entity also require authorization.  Foreign banks must establish a local commercial presence and comply with the same capital and other requirements as local financial institutions.  Foreign banks may establish a subsidiary or office in Colombia, but not a branch.  Every investment of foreign capital in portfolios must be through a Colombian administrator company, including brokerage firms, trust companies, and investment management companies.  All foreign investments must be registered with the Central Bank.

Fishing:  A foreign vessel may engage in fishing and related 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.

Telecommunications:  Barriers to entry in telecommunications services include high license fees (USD 150 million for a long distance license), commercial presence requirements, and economic needs tests.  While Colombia allows 100 percent foreign ownership of telecommunication providers, it prohibits “callback” services. 

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” according to Colombian law.  Colombia prohibits foreign ownership of commercial ships licensed in Colombia and restricts foreign ownership in national airlines or shipping companies to 40 percent.  FDI in the maritime sector is limited to 30 percent.  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; however, vessels with foreign flags may provide those services if there are no capable Colombian-flag vessels.

 

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In the past three years, the government has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews (IPRs) through a multilateral organization such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
 

Business Facilitation

New businesses have to first register with the chamber of commerce of the city in which the company will reside.  Since May 2008, applicants can go online to register at the National Tax and Customs Directorate’s (DIAN) web portal.  The portal provides access to information and speeds up the process of starting a business.  The chambers of commerce portals also offer clear and complete information (in English) on the business registration process.  Beside the registration with the chamber and the tax authority, companies must register a unified form to self-assess and pay social security and payroll contributions.  The unified form can be submitted electronically to the Governmental Learning Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, or SENA), the Colombian Family Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, or ICBF) and the Family Compensation Fund (Caja de Compensacion 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.

Colombia went up 19 spots from 80 to 61 on the 2017 Doing Business report in terms of starting a business.  According to the report, starting a company in Colombia requires six procedures and takes an average of nine days, a considerable improvement in number of procedures and days over the past two years.  Information on starting a company can be found at the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce’s" Steps to Create a Company" webpage and Invest in Colombia’s “Steps to Establish Your Company in Colombia online guide.

 

Outward Investment

Procolombia, the government’s FDI promotion agency, also promotes Colombian investment abroad.  The “Colombia Invests” web portal offers detailed information for opportunities in the priority sectors of agribusiness, manufacturing, and services for Colombian investors in a range of countries.  Procolombia also offers a network of foreign contacts and plans commercial missions.

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.



Colombia Economic Development and Investment Law