Colombia - Commercial Guide
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services

Provides information on any manufacturing sectors or services where only citizens or a sub-set of the population in that country are allowed to own or sell.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

Foreign investors face exceptions and restrictions in the following sectors: television concession and nationwide private television operators, radio broadcasting, maritime agencies, national airlines, legal practices, and shipping.  Investment in financial, hydrocarbon and mining sectors are subject to special regimes.

All foreign direct investment that involves the establishment of a commercial presence in Colombia requires registration with the Superintendent of Corporations (‘Super Sociedades’) and the local chamber of commerce. Colombian law regulates the number of foreign personnel in several professional areas such as architecture, engineering, law, and construction where firms with more than 10 employees may not have more than 10 percent of general workforce or 20 percent of the specialists can be foreign nationals.

Economic needs tests are required when foreign providers of professional services operate temporarily; residency requirements restrict trans-border trade of certain professional services such as accounting, bookkeeping, auditing, architecture, engineering, urban planning, and medical and dental services.

A commercial presence is required to provide information processing services and to bid on Colombian government contracts.
Accounting, Auditing, and Data Processing: In order to practice within Colombia, providers must register with the ‘Central Accountants Board’ (‘Junta Central de Contadores’) and must have an uninterrupted domicile in Colombia for at least three years prior to registration. 

Advertising, Radio, and Television Services: Open television programming is subject to the following restrictions: 70 percent of programming during prime time (7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.) must be nationally-produced, additionally, 50 percent of programming between 10:30 p.m. and midnight as well as between 10 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. The national Television Commission charges foreign-made ads double the national rate for airtime compared to local-content advertising. Concessions to provide radio broadcasting services can only be granted to Colombian nationals or private entities legally constituted in Colombia.

Electricity: Only companies legally incorporated in Colombia before July 12, 1994 may engage in the simultaneous generation, distribution, and/or transmission of electricity under Law 143 of 1994, article 4.

Fishing: Foreign vessels may engage in fishing and related activities in Colombian territorial waters only through association with a Colombian company holding a valid fishing permit. Additionally, if a ship’s flag corresponds to a country with which Colombia has a complementary bilateral agreement, this agreement shall determine whether the association requirement applies.

Hydrocarbons/Mining: In order to provide services directly related to exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons within Colombia, any legal entity under laws of any other foreign country must establish a branch, affiliate or subsidiary in Colombia unless the service is provided for less than one year (Law 685 of 2001, articles 19 and 20). Foreign companies may assume 100 percent of investment and risk activities in all exploration and production contracts. Oil companies may obtain the right to exploit fields for 30-years or until the land is depleted. There is a sliding-scale royalty rate on oil projects that establishes a five percent royalty rate on the smallest oil fields with an upper limit of 30 percent on the larger fields.

Legal: Legal services are limited to those licensed under Colombian Law where foreign law firms may enter the market by forming joint ventures with local law firms.

Transportation: Foreign companies can only provide multimodal freight services within or from Colombian territory if they have a domiciled agent or representative legally responsible for its activities in Colombia. Only Colombian ships may provide port services within Colombian maritime jurisdiction; however, vessels with foreign flags may provide those services if there are no Colombian-flag vessels capable of doing so (Decree 1423 of 1989, article 38).

Travel and Tourism Agencies: Foreign investors must be domiciled in Colombia to provide travel and tourism agency services within Colombia under Law 32 of 1990, article 5.

For more information please see the U.S. State Department Investment Climate Statement.