A 12-Point Checklist for Firms Opening New Offices in Latin America

Even though Latin America is an exciting destination with much to offer companies and individuals, much consideration must be given to the practicality of relocating to the region. …

Even though Latin America is an exciting destination with much to offer companies and individuals, much consideration must be given to the practicality of relocating to the region. Gloria Zuluaga, a manager with Medellin Executive Relocation in Colombia whose clients come from the US, Canada, Europe and India, advises that whoever is spearheading the relocation effort first be very clear on what the company wants and needs, and then assess price and services.

Following are the top recommendations to help your company when considering a move to Latin America:

  1. Explore Options – Once you have heeded Zuluaga’s advice, research the region and identify where your company is most likely to flourish. Each country – and the areas within each country – offers different skills and geographical advantages.
  2. Check on Infrastructure – Find out which countries have a robust energy supply, reliable connectivity, wireless services and cell phone coverage. This will be a key factor in your decision-making process. Venezuela has earned a bad reputation for its rolling blackouts whereas Chile has a good reputation for reliable services, as does Colombia, where Bogota has adapted the latest 4G technology.
  3. Study Security – The amount of hearsay that surrounds the Latin America security situation is mind-numbing. Examine the real crime data – and it is strongly advised to research specific data on the area within the metro area where you and your employees expect to live and work. The US State Department admitted to Nearshore Americas a few months ago that the generation of ‘security alerts’ is not based on an actual methodology. In other words, trust your own judgement before that of Uncle Sam’s.
  4. Know the Process – Become familiar with the basic requirements to open a business in your chosen country, and the rules and regulations that apply to your industry before entering the country. This will save a lot of time, money and frustration in the long run. A good place to start is by reviewing the latest edition of the Ease of Doing Business Report.
  5. Understand the Talent Pool – Speak with local recruitment agencies to find out if there is a wide enough pool of people to dip into that possess the particular skills you are looking for. Generally, wages will be lower in most Latin American countries than in North America or Europe. It is also recommended that you hire a local – native – HR Manager to help navigate the sometimes tricky employment laws.
  6. Consider Cost of Living – This is particularly important when home office staff are being relocated. Will the company be paying for, or subsidizing, housing expenses for them? What will your staff members expect? An apartment, a house or something else? Work with a local real estate agent to find the best housing options.
  7. Know Visa Requirements – If staff members are relocating, make sure that you know what the visa requirements are far in advance of them entering the country. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. A good place to start is with the country’s embassy or counsel closest to your current location.
  8. Quality of Life – Moving to a new country is an adventure and sometimes that makes it more important to find at least some of the “comforts of home.” Will the new location offer familiar cafés, restaurants or shops? Finding these places can help with the culture shock and make the adjustment period easier.
  9. Mind the Culture Gap – While familiarity is important, it is also a good idea for newcomers to assimilate with the local community. And remember, it is their country, not yours. Don’t make general assumptions about Latin Americans or the mistake of expecting things to operate the way you are accustomed to. While some aspects might be the same, others like punctuality (sometimes lax), business dress (sometimes more formal), the “courting” process (personal relationships take precedence and this can take a while to develop) differ from North America and Europe.
  10. Aprender español – It is a good idea to fund Spanish classes for your employees in advance of their arrival in the new country. These classes should continue once they have made the move and until they feel comfortable with the language.
  11. Get Connected – Plugin to local investment advisory and networking groups, such as Internations, the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, A Small World, and attend local expat social and networking events such as Gringo Tuesdays. Connect with your home country’s embassy to be invited to social, cultural and business events and join various Chambers of Commerce.
  12. Hire a Local Attorney and/or Relocation Expert – This is an extremely valuable service that cannot be underestimated. These professionals can help with all of the above items, and much more.

Of course, there are many other factors to consider, but this list should give you a framework from which to work when considering Latin America as your company’s next destination.

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