Starting a business in Guatemala is relatively easy and there is an established legal framework allowing you to set up shop, with rules and benefits similar to those of a limited liability corporation (LLC) in the United States. Known as Sociedades Anonimas (Anonymous Societies), S.A.s are popular in Guatemala and commonly follow the name of a company much like "Inc." does in the United States. Liability with a S.A. is limited to how much money has been put into the corporation. Many foreigners also use S.A.s to purchase property in Guatemala.
To form a Sociedad Anonima, two people appearing before a lawyer execute the articles of incorporation, including a minimum initial investment of Q5,000. This is generally done via a deposit into one of the local banks linked to the national financial system. Each shareholder owns at least one share of stock. The business can be headed by a sole administrator or multiple administrators designated to positions such as president and vice president. The framework also gives you the opportunity to name your company's legal representation. Foreigners are free to form S.A.s but cannot constitute the legal representation unless they have Guatemalan residency.
Once the articles of incorporation have been met before a lawyer, he or she will register your company in the Registro Mercantil General de la Republica (National Mercantile Registry). Once registration is complete, the respective shares are officially issued to company shareholders and the respective company credentials are issued. A tax ID number (NIT) is also issued at this time.
The final step is the issuance and legalization of the company's books - a total of six covering accounting and legal issues. A seventh book documents shareholders' meetings. All of these are presented to the Superintendencia de Administracion Tributaria (SAT) for review and legalization. SAT is similar to the I.R.S. These books, once legalized, document the company's internal affairs and stock transfers. They are privately kept by the company shareholders.
Once these steps are completed and the company is legal, you are free to open and run your business.
It is best to have an English-speaking lawyer to better explain to you the terms of incorporation and to prevent unpleasant surprises. The national language of Guatemala is Spanish.
Al Argueta has been a travel writer and photographer since 1999. His work has appeared in "Conde Nast Traveler," "Caribbean Travel & Life" and "National Geographic Adventure." He has also published two guidebooks, "Moon Guatemala" and "Moon Living Abroad in Guatemala." Argueta has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and Latin American studies from Pennsylvania State University.