Many members of Bolivia’s private sector have had direct exposure to U.S. and European business customs and practices. The exchange of business cards is a common practice at the beginning of the meetings and can be initiated by any of the participants. Punctuality for social engagements is not strictly observed and should not be expected. Normally, meetings need to be confirmed multiple times before they occur, and the meeting time may still change last minute. If you are hosting the meeting, it is recommended to call and email your counterparts to confirm the day before as well as a few hours before the meeting. WhatsApp is the most common form of communication in Bolivia. Hosting a meal is a good business practice and may lead to a more fruitful discussion than a quick meeting. Business dress is conservative, especially in the cities of La Paz and Cochabamba. Due to its warmer climate, Santa Cruz business dress is more casual. Company logo gifts are very common and welcomed.
Foreign firms should be prepared to deal with government officials and complicated bureaucratic procedures. The importance of occasional personal visits from U.S. executives, as well as prompt, responsive handling of communications, cannot be overstated. This is especially true given the crucial role of local business agents and representatives in Bolivia. After establishing a relationship, local representatives generally expect to visit the parent company’s facilities and headquarters to become better acquainted with the company’s personnel and operating techniques.
Travel requirements, restrictions, health, and safety conditions are subject to change. To access the most current travel information for Bolivia, please refer to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Specific Information Sheet at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Bolivia.html.
The Bolivian visa application (http://portalmre.rree.gob.bo/formvisas/ ) can be submitted by mail or in person at any Bolivian consulate Tourists can apply for a visa upon arrival to Bolivia. If an applicant is traveling to visit friends or relatives in Bolivia, a letter of invitation specifying the host’s address meets the invitation letter requirements.
Bolivia has several non-immigrant visa categories, including:
- Tourist Visa: U.S. citizens visiting Bolivia require tourist visas. U.S. citizens may apply for a visa in Bolivian consulates or at the time of arrival. Beginning in May 2018, tourist visas for U.S. citizens have a validity for ten years from the date of issue. This visa allows applicants to visit Bolivia to do some tourism and pleasure. Most tourist visas are valid for 30 days (one entry) and can be extended for 60 more days (in Immigration Offices).
- Specific Purpose Visa: Allows applicants to enter to Bolivia in order to work, do business, legal representations, volunteering, religious purposes, civil acts like marriage or dual citizenship, etc. You must apply for a specific purpose visa before entering Bolivia. Because the immigration authority must authorize all specific purpose visas, it is recommended to apply at least one month prior to visiting Bolivia. For more information, please refer to https://www.boliviawdc.org/en-us/consular-affairs/visas/determined-object-visa.
- Multiple Entry Visa: Multiple Entry Visas are issued for a period of one (1) year and are renewable for similar periods to foreign citizens that engage in investment or business activities to periodically enter and exit Bolivian territory. https://www.boliviawdc.org/en-us/consular-affairs/visas/multiple-visa
The Bolivian government reserves the right to accept or deny requests for indefinite residence. For additional information, please refer to the National Migration Service https://migracion.gob.bo and boliviawdc.org
U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): State Department Visa Website.
The local currency is the Boliviano (BOB). It is freely convertible to other currencies, mainly U.S. dollars, at Bolivian banks and exchange houses. The exchange rate has remained fixed, at BOB 6.96 /USD 1 for selling and BOB 6.86/ USD 1 for buying, since October 2011. Traveler’s checks, dollars, and major currencies may be exchanged in banks, exchange houses, and major hotels. Most automated teller machines (ATMs) in large cities offer cash withdrawals in either Bolivian currency or U.S. dollars.
Internet service is becoming increasingly prevalent and is available throughout Bolivia but is generally still limited to the larger cities. Internet cafés are widely available, and there is some 4G service where cell phone coverage is available. Most hotels in larger cities offer internet service. Although coverage and bandwidth are increasing, Bolivia still has one of the most expensive and slowest internet services in the region. Cellular phones are popular in the major cities and towns. Coverage is good in the larger cities but can be poor to non-existent in rural areas. Aggressive competition has led to some of the lowest prices in the hemisphere. The top service providers are Entel (State-run), Telecel/Tigo (Millicom), and Nuevatel/Viva (Trilogy International). When planning to use your own cell phone, you must check with your service provider about coverage areas and international plans. Cell phones on GSM technology, such as AT&T or T-Mobile will usually work in the larger cities. CDMA technology from Sprint and Verizon may not work. You may also purchase a compatible SIM card from one of the local companies (ENTEL, Viva, or Tigo) for $3-5. Pre-paid airtime cards for these SIM cards are available in the provider’s offices, kiosks, and through street vendors. Phones must be unlocked and should be registered at a cell-phone company if you are planning to use them for more than three days. After this period, the service will be suspended until the device is registered. Keep in mind that unlocking the phone may be a violation of the contract with your U.S. carrier. Most of Bolivia has 220V voltage, however certain places, such as in La Paz, use 110V, and visitors will need a voltage converter for non-dual 110V voltage devices. Even with dual devices common with certain newer laptops and smartphones, you may still need an adapter to fit a flat pin 110V plug into a round pin 220V socket.
Within local jurisdictions, taxis are available and are generally inexpensive. For safety, travelers should use a radio taxi as opposed to a shared taxi. At night, it is best to only take taxis that you have called for. Taxi fares from the El Alto airport to La Paz range from 70Bs to 130Bs ($10 to $19). Within the city, fares generally range from $1.50 to $5.00, depending on the length of the trip. Rental cars are available but are expensive. Other types of public transportation, such as buses and “trufis” (shared vehicles), though cheap at $0.20 to $0.45, are harder to navigate and are therefore not recommended for visitors. The system of cable cars in the city of La Paz is a safe and economic way of transportation to some popular destinations, with the advantage of avoiding traffic congestion.
Travelers can fly directly to Bolivia from the United States via the Bolivian national airline, Boliviana de Aviación (BoA). You may also obtain international flights within South America and beyond via LATAM, Avianca, Gol, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Amaszonas provides services to more domestic destinations.
Ground travel within Bolivia is sometimes difficult as limited infrastructure hinders land transportation. Paved roads connect La Paz to Desaguadero (on the Peruvian border), Arica (in northern Chile), Oruro, Potosí, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and Trinidad. However, most roads in Bolivia are not paved, especially in rural areas, where gravel and dirt roads are common. Other roads are often impassable or extremely slow-going due to seasonal rains and poor maintenance.
The Bolivian railroad system is divided into two non-connecting segments. The western segment connects La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosi, Sucre, and Oruro with Chile, Peru, and Argentina. However, one should check to ensure trains routes are running due to potential maintenance issues. Maintenance has been more regular on the eastern segment linking Santa Cruz to Brazil and Argentina.
Bolivia has 37 official languages, including Spanish and 36 indigenous languages. The most prevalent of the indigenous languages are Aymara and Quechua. All business officials who work with international partners speak Spanish and many speak English, but use of English should not be expected.
Much of Bolivia is 10,000 feet above sea level and higher. Be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and take precautions before you travel. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information about Travel to High Altitudes. We recommend checking with your doctor before traveling to La Paz.
Please visit the Embassy’s COVID-19 page for more information on COVID-19 in Bolivia.
Bolivia is subject to extreme drought and shortage. During the dry season, many neighborhoods, particularly in La Paz, Potosi, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca, and Oruro, may not have regular running water.
Medical care in large cities is adequate, but of varying quality. Medical facilities are generally not equipped to handle serious medical conditions, and risk of infection is high. Emergency medical care outside of large cities, in rural areas, and inside national parks is inadequate. For emergency services in Bolivia, dial 110.
Ambulance services are limited to non-existent. Injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for an ambulance. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are widely available. However, many pharmacies only stock generic brands.
Water treatment methods do not meet U.S. standards. Avoid consuming unfiltered tap water. Sanitize all produce, and ensure all meat products are completely cooked, due to higher risks of salmonella or other contaminants.
The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria, Dengue, Rabies, Yellow fever, Chikungunya, Zika. Be up to date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
Office hours vary from city to city. In La Paz and Cochabamba, office hours are generally 09:00 to 12:30 and 14:30 to 18:30. In Santa Cruz, office hours are generally 08:30 to 18:30 with a two-hour lunch break. Almost all banks in Bolivian operate from 9:00 to 16:00, but a few extend their services until 18:00. Some government offices also work from 8:30 to 16:30, without stopping. It is important to verify the opening hours of each institution before preparing a schedule.
New Year’s Day January 1
Plurinational State Day January 22
Carnival February 20-21
Good Friday April 7
Labor Day/May Day May 1
Corpus Christi Day June 8
Aymara New Year June 21
La Paz Day (Only in La Paz) July 16
Independence Day August 6
Cochabamba Day (Only in Cochabamba) September 14
Santa Cruz Day (Only in Santa Cruz) September 24
All Saints Day November 2
Christmas Day December 25
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings:
Personal effects not exceeding $1,000 are exempt from duties.