So you’ve decided you want to start your own business in Colombia, you’ve spotted an opportunity or you have committed to a business idea that you think might work. You have overcome the fear of failure and taken those first steps to making your idea a reality – researching the market, looking for capital – and hopefully you have an initial business plan and an enthusiastic partner to join you in your new venture.
Now you want to formalise your business and start operating as soon as possible. It is important to get the paperwork right from the beginning, because the way that you register your company can have implications for your taxes as well as the scope of your company’s activities further down the line.
Dealing with the bureaucracy can be pretty daunting for Colombians, and even more so for non-Colombians who are working in a new country and often in a non-native language. However, the basics are pretty straight forward and there is a lot of help available if you know where to look.
You can register your business yourself – the basic information is available for free in your local Cámara de Comercio (Chamber of Commerce), through their web page, or you can get personalised information if you pay them a visit. You might need the help of a lawyer or a consultant to explain legal and tax details depending on the complexity of your business.
In order to register your company you will have to deal with three different institutions.
The Chamber of Commerce
Public entity that regulates the creation of new companies from a legal perspective.
Colombian Tax and Revenue Department, Departamento de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales (DIAN)
Adds your new company to the tax system by giving you a unique tax number.
Private bank of your choice
You will need to open a bank account for your business.
The basic steps for registering your company are:
- Collect the information and documents that you need (see below). Fill out the necessary forms – available online or in the Cámara de Comercio.
- Go to the information desk at your local Cámara de Comercio and ask for personalised assistance in registering your company.
- Present the completed forms, along with photocopies of the ID of all owners, partners and legal representative.
Present the notarised constitution document.
- Once all documents have been reviewed and approved, pay the inscription fees (0.7% of the capital of your company + around COP$40,000 in additional fees).
- Next, you need to fill in a form called Pre-RUT, which is available on DIAN’s website (under ‘solicitud inscripción RUT- Tipo inscripción – Cámara de Comercio’). Filling in the form can be complicated, especially if you don´t know what taxes you need to pay, so make sure you ask for help in the Cámara de Comercio – they will even download and print it for you.
- Once you have that form you need to open a business bank account. Take the form, a copy of the ID of the legal representative, and a letter explaining who will be managing the bank account to the bank of your choosing. (Be aware that different banks have slightly different requirements and different charging systems, so pick your account carefully).
- Take the bank account certificate back to the DIAN office along with a copy of the ID of the legal representative. They will give you a NIT (Tax ID number), which is essential for all aspects of payment. The legal representative will also need to obtain a NIT of their own.
- Finally, you need to take the NIT back to the Cámara de Comercio and update your registration with the definitive tax number.
- Now you are officially in business, but sadly the bureaucracy is not over. You need to get a good accountant on board who can explain the different types of taxes, where to pay them, how to declare them, how to register your business expenses – and everything else you need to do to avoid being fined. You will also need to register your trademark with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.
There are numerous ways of getting help registering your business: your local Cámara de Comercio will offer workshops and information, although sometimes the information provided might not be as detailed as you might like, which is when you should hire a consultant, a lawyer or an experienced accountant.
First things first
There are a number of things you need to consider and prepare before going to the Cámara de Comercio:
Luisa León is a business consultant who specialises in helping international companies and individuals to navigate the various legal and administrative requirements, including founding companies and organising visas.