The principal venues of commercial transactions are wholesale and/or retail outlets, either in a local market, local shop or at an established chain; a direct sales force; an agent or distributor; and selling directly to the government, cooperatives, and other local organizations. Exporters should consider the requirements of the product and its potential market when choosing a distribution channel.
Most wholesale establishments and modern retail outlets are concentrated in Abidjan. These include company headquarters, regional offices, bank branches, insurance companies, supermarkets, car dealerships, and specialty stores. Most small shops and retail stores are sole proprietorships whose owners have limited management capability.
Using an Agent or Distributor
Exporters should consider using an agent or distributor with a well-established network. This is the recommended entry strategy, not a requirement from the law.
The U.S. Commercial Service provides a range of fee-based services that can help U.S. companies locate reliable local agents and distributors through an International Partner Search (IPS), which is a customized search for qualified local representatives, agents, or distributors. More assistance can be provided through additional services, including the International Company Profile (ICP) and the Gold Key Service (GKS). Information regarding these programs is available through the U.S. Commercial Service website as well as by contacting your Export Assistance Center.
Establishing an Office
The Côte d’Ivoire Investment Promotion Center (Centre de Promotion des Investissements en Côte d’Ivoire, CEPICI) offers one-stop-shop services to foreigners seeking to establish an office in Côte d’Ivoire. Businesses can register their presence online or in person.
To register your business in person:
- Prepare all the required documents per this Exhaustive List of Required Documents;
- Submit completed documents to CEPICI’s One Stop Shop (Guichet unique);
- Pay the registration fees: 27,500 CFA (approximately $55), plus 2.5 percent of the office leasing value.
To register your business online:
- Prepare all the required documents;
- Create an account at the Côte d’Ivoire Investor Services Portal;
- Complete the business registration form and attach all required documentation;
- Pay the registration fees.
There are four common business models in Côte d’Ivoire. In all four, non-Ivoirians are allowed to hold more than 51 percent of the company’s assets (except for sectors mentioned at page 4), although exceptions to this law sometimes occur and can be mandated by government decree.
- Joint Venture (Association et Participation)
- Subsidiary of a Foreign Company (Succursale): The establishment of a branch of a foreign company is not allowed until it is registered with the Tribunal de Première Instance of Abidjan. Once registered, the subsidiary is regarded as an Ivoirian entity and is legally independent of the parent company.
- Limited Liability Company (Société à Responsabilité Limitée, SARL): As part of reforms to improve the business environment, CEPICI abolished the minimum capital requirement of 1,000,000 CFA (approximately $2,000) required for the creation of any SARL. It now requires payment of 15,000 CFA (approximately $30) for business registration. SARLs must have at least one shareholder. No share certificates are issued.
- Stock Corporations (Société Anonyme, SA): Stock corporations are required to have at least one shareholder. (Note: U.S. dollar values are approximate and depend on the current exchange rate.) Each share must have a nominal value of at least 10,000 CFA (approximately $20) and there is a minimum capital requirement of 10,000,000 CFA (approximately $20,000) for closely held SAs, and 100,000,000 CFA (approximately $200,000) for publicly traded companies. Directors’ meetings must be held on a regular basis. If a corporation has share capital below 2.5 billion CFA (approximately $5 million), there is a stock registration tax of six-tenths of one percent of the value of the stock for the company. For corporations with capital valued above 2.5 billion CFA (approximately $5 million), the registration tax rate is reduced.
Other business forms include regional offices, sole proprietorships, local agency or distributorship arrangements, various entities that are similar to limited and general partnerships, and wholly- or partially-state-owned companies. All business entities must register within 30 days of commencement of activity. If SARL or SA is the chosen business type, the following must be filed with the Commercial Registry: a copy of the company by-laws; the minutes authorizing the establishment of the company (SA form only); and the name of the manager (SARL) or director (SA).
Companies must submit an annual balance sheet and profit-and-loss accounts to the Ministry of Economy and Finance and a Declaration of Commencement of Business with the Tax Department of the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, and the National Social Security Fund. If the entity contemplates the importation or exportation of goods or materials, it must register as an importer or exporter with the Department of External Trade of the Ministry of Commerce. Prior to establishing a business in Côte d’Ivoire, it is advisable to consult a local attorney.
Franchising is an authorized business structure in use in Côte d’Ivoire. Parties interested in franchising must conduct discussions directly with their potential partners. The market is receptive and offers a range of quality potential partners in various sectors. Franchisees of large American fast-food restaurant chains are already present.
Direct Marketing is used in Côte d’Ivoire but is not common practice. Marketing firms, internet, and social media are efficient channels to reach targeted audiences in the country.
Joint Ventures are permitted in Côte d’Ivoire. Parties sign an agreement and register as such with the Investment Promotion Center.
International express-delivery firms such as UPS, DHL and Federal Express are present and mainly cover international deliveries. Small local firms handle domestic deliveries. Standard delivery time for an international parcel to arrive in Côte d’Ivoire, when using a commercial delivery service, is a maximum of two weeks, and express delivery packages can arrive within two days.
U.S. businesses interested in the West African market in general should always check the reputation of their business partners before any engagement. Exporters should verify liability and compliance of their prospects, especially distributors or agents who would buy or collect and sell before paying. The U.S. Embassy in Abidjan can assist U.S. companies with researching the bona fides of companies based in Côte d’Ivoire. Such assistance ranges from a simple due-diligence check to the more sophisticated International Company Profile, https://www.trade.gov/international-company-profile.