Whether it is getting a Colombia divorce, setting up a Colombia business, buying real estate in Colombia, or making an investment in Colombia we can provide the legal counsel and strategies to expedite and protect your interest. During my ten plus years in Colombia I have used or worked with many Colombian attorneys, and the vast majority of Colombian lawyers are more inclined to take advantage of their clients than to honestly represent you.
When you use our legal help you will receive an honest appraisal and precise timelines for achieving your objectives. You will know your options and the facts, cost, risk and benefit for the path you choose. Colombia is a country of regulations, bureaucracy, bribes, kickbacks, misinformation, incompetence and deception. As an American with a public record that can be searched on the web for honesty and exceptional service, I will personally oversee the process of managing your legal endeavors in Colombia. With us, you will get a savvy, English speaking, honest Colombian lawyer who has the contacts, experience and knowledge to get what you need along with the security of knowing those skills won’t be used against you.
Colombian Lawyer: Our Expertise Finds Solutions
- Colombia Family Law. Colombia divorce (easier to obtain when married in Colombia), Colombia marriage (including absentee marriages where you do not need to be present in Colombia), Colombia adoption, child custody matters, or a prenuptial agreement in Colombia that can protect any property purchases you make in Colombia, even after your marriage.
- Colombia Real Estate. Title searches and study of title documents. An American buying property in Colombia will always be overcharged, up to two to three times more than a local. We can find and negotiate real estate purchases in Colombia and manage your rental property. We will show you how to protect your property and how to transfer your money out of Colombia if you sell those assets (steps need to be taken before your purchase or you won’t be able to transfer all the money out of Colombia).
- Colombia Business. Employment and labor laws, regulations, contracts, legal documents and licenses needed for starting a small business or corporation in Colombia.
- Colombia Investments. Banking, money transfers, regulations and taxes in Colombia.
- Colombia Immigration Visas. We can help you get a permanent Colombian resident visa.
- Colombia Retirement. All arrangements for retiring in Colombia.
- Colombia Export and Importing. International trade, licensing and customs.
- Colombia Litigation. Negotiation of conflicts, on civil matters we can represent you in the Colombia courtroom.
- Professional English Speaking Colombian Attorney. Call us for a consultation 305 396 6436.
What´s the Business Climate Like in Colombia?
Doing business in Colombia can be very difficult. Corruption is imbedded in their system, integrity is in short supply and labor laws and regulations are anti-growth and business. The lack of a good educational system in Colombia requires that you train your employees starting from the most fundamental level. For example, if you have an office employee on the phone that happens to be alone in the office and another phone rings, the simple concept of picking up the ringing phone will not evolve on its own. You will have to introduce it. The first time I saw this and asked, “Why didn´t you pick up the phone?” I was told “impossible how can I pick up another phone when I am already on the phone?” In lieu of being effective you will often hear why the objective or task is “impossible” when all that is needed is a little innovation, persistence or common sense that you would think would not have to be explained, but in Colombia will need to be. Achieving the end result regardless of the obstacles is not how most Colombians are wired. While most Colombians will agree with the ideals of goal setting, that is about as far as it goes, as for achieving the goal, that lesson must not have been taught. Due to the excessive supply of cheap labor, few Colombians have been trained to understand and employ an efficient and effective work style. Multitasking is rarely seen and I don´t believe they even have a word for multitasking in Spanish. No one does it, so no need for the word. Giving flexibly and latitude to Colombians is an invitation to be taken advantage of. Expect to give comprehensive training with much repetition before having a good work force in place.
Good management skills in Colombia are hard to find as well. Many managers in Colombia think that their job is only carrying the title of “boss”, yelling when things doesn´t go right and making the employee pay for their mistake instead of just making sure things went right to begin with. The working knowledge of one´s field is very limited compared to the States. It is likely that if you have a nonprofessional side-interest it would exceed what a Colombian would know if it were his educated and paid profession. For example, if your hobby was carpentry you most likely would have more knowledge and skill in carpentry than a Colombia whose profession, livelihood or business was carpentry. Often businesses will guarantee that they can fix or do something only for you to find out that they can´t, because they don´t know what they´re doing, yet they´ll still expect payment because they tried. This lack of professional knowledge or responsibility for performance makes the overall quality of the work force in Colombia very poor.
The work ethic is bad, too. There is a mentality for doing as little as you can get away with. Those that excel above the group are pressured to slow down and not work like a “slave.” Many with no job and minimal marketable skills actually believe that certain work is beneath them. They would rather not work than do what they consider is “maid´s” work. Work before play is not their motto. Colombia has more national holidays then any country in the world. On a holiday ask a Colombian what holiday it is and they won´t know, because there are too many to remember. Pay incentives won´t get them to work harder either. Most aim only to cover their immediate needs and there is no drive to get ahead. Few take pride in their work. It´s just a motion to survive off of. If you take a look at most commercial or private houses or buildings that have been repainted you will see paint that was meant for the walls also on the doors, moulding, windows, plants and floor. If you look at the craftsmanship of almost any building you will see things that were just not done right. Most Colombians have no eye for details or, and in some cases, for the big picture either. Barranquilla doesn´t even have a drainage system. Somewhere along the line that important aspect of the infrastructure was left out. So when Barranquilla has a strong thunderstorm the roads flood, traffic comes to a stop, and cars and people float down into the river and sea.
Customer service is not a high priority of most Colombian companies. You will often have to wait in long lines and be told to do things that defy logic. When I first tried to open a Colombian bank account I was told that I had to first show evidence that I had already had a Colombian bank account for the last six months. When I told the bank representative that if I had had a Colombian bank account then I wouldn´t be there to open a new one, she said sorry but those were the rules. I then pointed out that if every Colombian bank had this requirement, how would anyone be able to open a bank account, ever? Sorry, those were the rules. Canceling your cell phone plan, a quick phone call to the phone company right? Not in Colombia. When I went to the main Movistar office in Barranquilla to pay my bill and cancel my cell plan, I was told I could not do so. I could only cancel the plan approximately three days prior to the start of the new billing period, the 26th of the month. On the 20th of the next month I called Movistar (since one source of information is rarely correct and complete in Colombia) to find out what I needed to do to cancel my plan. I was told I needed to write a cancelation letter and bring a copy of my ID. So to sign-up for their plan I didn’t need a copy of my ID or a letter requesting service, but to leave I do. That same day I brought these two items to the main Movistar office in Barranquilla to cancel my service. As the clerk was processing my cancelation, she said I would also need to personally talk to a Movistar representative by phone in Bogotá to confirm my cancelation. So I am directly talking to a Movistar representative in their main office with my cancelation letter and I need to repeat my request over the phone to another representative in another city. I was then told I could not cancel the upcoming month, because I needed to do so by the 16th of the month. I then talked to the manager of the office and pointed to the person who told me to come on the 23rd not the 16th of the month. She asked if I had any “physical evidence” that this occurred, and wouldn’t you guess, I was not wearing my video hat to capture everything I did that day. After some argument the manger tells me that it does not really matter what the clerk said, because she is not an employee of Movistar she works for a staffing company that Movistar hired and does not know very much. You can’t have a disagreement with anyone in Colombia without some form of inanity hitting you in the face. So the person I was talking to behind your counter wearing your uniform was not really part of your company, therefore everything she said doesn’t count. I then appealed to the manger to take care of a five-year customer and do the right thing and cancel my plan. She said she empathized with me, but the system is set and locked in Bogotá and that she does not have the capability of assisting me. So much for empowering the employees who have direct contact with the customer the means to satisfy the customer. Prior to using our own lodging we were referring clients to a hotel. I asked hotel management for a lower rate based on the volume of business we were providing. We made a deal to cut the rate 5% and I was told I had the lowest corporate rates possible. About one week later I see my rates went up to where they were before. I asked, whats going on I just negotiated my rates down one week ago. And they say, yes, we know, but the rates went up this week. I once received delivery of some furniture (late of course) and one piece was wrong. Instead of the furniture company taking it back right then and there and delivering the right piece, I was told that I had to return it, as if I am going to rent a truck to make the return. I was once picking up a cell phone that had been repaired under warranty. I had lost my receipt from when I dropped it off, but I had other identifications and the purchase receipt. The store branch was small. They remembered who I was, yet told me that in order for me to pick up the repaired phone I first had to go to the police station, report that I had lost my receipt, and then come back and show them the police report. Again if doesn´t make sense, that´s how it´s done in Colombia. You will find that businesses in Colombia will have a very regulated mentality in their methodology, with very little concern for meeting deadlines, streamlining, being on time, or doing what they say, which will then interfere with you meeting your deadlines.
Customer complaints don´t go over very well in Colombia either. Typically they start off by telling you that you don´t have a problem. If you continue to complain they will acknowledge that you do have a problem, but that it´s your fault. Accelerating your complaints will then win you an acknowledgement that the problem is real, not your fault and will go away on its own. Here´s one client´s experience with a major hotel where you would expect to receive good customer service: “As you know we had our wedding at the (largest hotel chain in Colombia) and had guests from the United States. We and our guests notice that our money kept in the safe was short upon checking out. We went back the following month, stayed at (the hotel) and noticed this time that the safe in our room didn’t even lock properly. Again, I noticed another shortage of US$300. I informed the manager of the missing money. He did nothing. He did’t even inform the police of the theft. I had informed them that if it happened again I would contact the police personally. I was then told by the hotel that I would not be able to come back and stay. I have spent well over US$12,000 at this hotel. It is important for other Americans to know about this so it won´t happen to them.” So he brought a legitimate complaint to a major Colombian hotel and their business solution to prevent such a problem from happening again was to blacklist him from their hotel.
Another business difficulty with Colombians is that, incredibly, they often don´t do things in their own best interest. This makes negotiations and dealings more difficult. When Americans negotiate with each other they normally understand what would be a good deal for the other based on the market environment. I believe that since very few Colombians have money, the minority with most of the wealth and land holdings have no need for flexibility. If they don´t get their price and terms it doesn´t matter to them, because they already have all they need and would rather feel good about holding firm in their position regardless of the lost opportunity to make more money. Now no surprise that the work force it is not looking out for the best interest of the business. But what is surprising is the extent of how business owners aren´t either. On many occasions I have purchased items and wanted to buy more of what had run out. I´d then ask the small business owner to call me when more inventory arrives. Not once have I ever gotten that call, yet when I drop by the store again the items are there. On many occasions I have agreed to buy something where the business needs to first measure or do something at the office or house, but they never show or call. In some cases all they have to do is simply deliver the product I am willing to buy, but they never show up. I find it unfathomable how Colombian business owners are not opportunistic in their own business interest and can neglect basic customer service and follow through.
Banking and accessing cash in Colombia is another hardship. Since Colombia is a destination for laundered money, legitimate businesses get to bear the brunt of the added restrictions, regulations and the outright refusal of many banks (including U.S. banks) to do business with them. Very few things are automated in Colombia, so paying for basic services will require trips to a bank or payment center. The infra-structure is also unreliable. Being an American will means that anything not store-bought will be offered to you at a price higher than the going rate. If you use a Colombian to act on your behave for a better purchase price they will take a slice of the action and you will still pay more.
Now if all this was not bad enough the most difficult hurdle in having your own business in Colombia is that most of your employees will try to steal from you. It doesn´t matter if you pay two or three times more then anyone else. They are still going to steal from you. It is not unusual for store owners to have employees frisked before leaving their job. When not closely supervised most employees will steal time, making it hard for many small business owners to take a vacation or leave the office. If you have a service business then you can expect your employees to steal your clients. I have often been approached by employees on a service call telling me that they can fix, service, or sell me something on the side for less money. Imagine running a business where most of your employees will be trying to take a piece of the action away from you whenever they can. Instead of representing you they will be competing with you. Many small business owners have family making up their work force to better protect their interest at the sacrifice of competence. If you hire relatives and friends – a common practice in Colombia – you are drawing from a restricted labor pool and accessing less talent. Big companies aren´t immune either. I have been to the biggest chain stores in Colombia where their employees have offered to personally sell me something for less money. Now where would they get such items to personally sell me if not by stealing from the very store they work for? Excessive crime outside the work environment also creates a security burden and it´s not unusual for Colombian businesses to pay “protection” money to criminals and neighborhood gangs.
Colombia is a permanent work in process. So, unless you are an active, adventurous, on-site owner in Colombia with strong management and control skills, you just won´t make it. The lack of preparedness and understandings of the realties of Colombia has befallen many Americans who think that providing capital is all that is needed. Colombia is a nation of over forty-five million people, yet you will find very few successful North American business owners. If there were good business opportunities here, gringo business owners (like me) wouldn´t be such a rare sight. For those still undeterred by the difficult challenges with doing business in Colombia, I am available for consultation.
Do Not Rent a Car in Colombia
Why, what can go wrong? You bought insurance, and you’re on vacation to see some of the wonderful countryside of Colombia. And if a minor accident does occur, at most, you’ll be delayed a couple of hours. Well, you would think so, but not in Colombia. Your vacation is about to get ruined. First, any accident will be deemed your fault. The Colombian justice system is not fair to Colombians, as a foreigner you being blameless will never be considered. The transportation police will write-up that you smashed into the other vehicle with the front of end of your car, even though the physical evidence will show that the front of end of your car is untouched and it’s the back-end of your car that is damaged due to being hit from behind. Such details won’t matter, because the traffic investigators won’t be taking any photographs to contradict their version of the accident scene. Ok, well it is a good thing you are fully insured, who cares if they say it’s your fault, you can now go on your way… but no you can’t. They are now going to tow your fully functioning car away, which you will pay for. There also going to tow the “victims” car away, because remember Colombia’s justice system is not fair to Colombians either. The transportation police will then ask you to sign a document that if you look carefully will say you are at fault. Don’t sign it. You now have to contact your insurance company, so that you can get your car back. Ok, so now I may be delayed a couple of days and then I’m back on the road to paradise. Wishful thinking. You now have to spend time collecting and supplying information to the insurance company, they’re not going to do that for you. You will then find out that your car can be held for weeks, if you are lucky, and if not months. Of course you are going to pay for the storage of the car, because a racket squeezes you every way it can. If you did not pay for the insurance to cover such a bizarre scenario, which one would not image existed, you’ll be paying for the rental of the car while it sits on the pound. If you do not return the car, which is your responsibility, you will then lose your deposit. So do you really want to rent a car in Colombia where they treat an innocent victim as a law-breaker?