Leveraging and maintaining wide personal and business networks is key to finding a good partner in Bolivia. Business is contact-driven, so knowing the right people in the right places is essential. Bolivians prefer direct communication in making deals, hierarchy is very important in the decision-making process, and bargaining is common. Spanish is the preferred language although some businesspeople do understand or speak some English. Although slowly changing, men still dominate in the business world, raising barriers for entry for women entrepreneurs. The major business regions with established distribution channels for exporting would be Santa Cruz, La Paz, El Alto, and Cochabamba. Most of the population lives in these cities and most international business activity concentrates in them. Companies considering conducting business in Bolivia should carefully weigh the advantages and risks of potential investments and conduct extensive due diligence before committing funds. U.S. companies are also advised to make considerable efforts upfront in identifying the right partner, agent, distributor, or representative prior to entering the market. A local representative can work with U.S. companies to research market opportunities and to establish sales networks. Retaining competent Bolivian and outside legal counsel is often required to successfully navigate Bolivia’s informal business practices and bureaucracy. Please be aware that Bolivian courts do not recognize any international arbitration processes, and even Bolivian businesses struggle with adjudicating any recompense for claims. Foreign companies are also vulnerable to expatriation efforts from the ruling party.
U.S. exporters can contact the commercial unit at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz to obtain a market briefing, assistance in locating an agent, distributor, or partner, and for help arranging appointments during business trips to Bolivia at commerceLaPaz@state.gov
U.S. small businesses may also contact their local Department of Commerce U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) for information on the exporting process or Small Business Administration.