By Sara Chaca
While most expats who move to Ecuador simply desire a stress-free life or restful retirement, some feel the urge for creating commercial products or services in their new “home away from home.” If you are one of those energetic types not ready for retirement, the following information is for you.
To legally do business in Ecuador, including one involved in importing and exporting products, there are several steps you need to take.
First, you must obtain an Ecuadorian tax ID number, or RUC, issued by the Ecuadorian Internal Revenue Service (SRI).
Then, you must register with the Servicio Nacional de Aduanas del Ecuador (SENAE), the national customs service of Ecuador. To do this, you must pick up a “token,” or a USB flash drive, at the Registro Civil (Civil Registry) office in Cuenca, Quito or Guayaquil. This needs to be coordinated by obtaining an appointment at the Civil Registry office through the website of the Banco Central. It typically takes at least 10 business days to schedule an appointment. The necessary documents and requirements that you must provide the Banco Central to make an appointment include:
- Your RUC number from SRI (Banco Central’s online system will verify your RUC’s validity).
- Your last month’s electric and water bill for the address from which you plan to do business.
- A print-out of the email from Banco Central with the day and time of your appointment at the Civil Registry office.
Once you complete this, you will need to pay a fee to the Banco Central clerk of about $80 in cash for them to provide the USB token. Within three business days following receipt of your token, you are then permitted to register with SENAE via their online system known as “ECUAPASS”, as per a portal accessible on their website. Each time you begin a new registration procedure (“tramite”) on the ECUAPASS system, there will typically be around an 8 business day delay for you to be able to import more of (or import for the first time) your product(s) to Ecuador.
Please note that the desired or necessary form of company, corporate constitution, accounting methods, number of partners for any importer or product creator and container shipping costs/procedures is and shall be beyond the scope of this article.
The following documentation is required for purposes of importing products into Ecuador:
- Commercial invoice
- Original or copy of the bill of lading or airway bill
- Insurance policy in accordance with the insurance law
- Income tax registry number (RUC)
- Certificate of origin when applicable (to qualify for tariff preferences,if available)
- INEN-1 certificate (standards compliance) – this itself can be around 10-20 day process depending on if it is the first time that the particular product is brought into Ecuador (if is a brand new product then this can take several weeks and the documentation needed is typically obtained from “Codex” or “Panamericanas” (at the Importer’s selection), which both such organizations establish the international normative rules for any particular product.
- An ARCSA food sanitary registration for processed food products OR a health certificate for animal, plant, or by-products that meet AGROCALIDAD’s import requirements the Ministry of Health must also grant prior authorization (sanitary registration or notification) for imports of processed foods, food ingredients, beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, reagents, natural products and pesticides
In conjunction with these documents, ALL shipments to Ecuador must include detailed weight information, including net weight and individual gross weight of each product. Labeling in Spanish is also required.
If your business plan is to export products from Ecuador to any other countries, whether for a self-created product or for an already existing product in Ecuador that you didn’t self-create, then you must STILL comply with the above mentioned procedures, in addition to complying with each destination country’s own individual requirements (for which you’ll need to contract the services of a specialized customs agent in each such country in order to do so). This is besides the fact that to be able to export ANY type of food product from Ecuador to any other country, you’ll need to additionally comply with the rules of the internationally respected “Food and Agricultural Organization” (FAO) for norms related to edible products.
In addition, in order to export products outside of Ecuador, you will also need to register as a shipper with the Ecuadorian government’s online system known as “Exporta Fácil” (i.e. for the export of products having a maximum value of up to $5000 and a maximum shipping weight of 30 kilograms for each individual shipment). Becoming an exporter of and from Ecuador can take up to several months to establish, depending on the type of product(s) and a number of other factors.
If your plan, however, is to instead create a new product here in Ecuador itself (i.e. thus not actually importing a product from another country to Ecuador), then in that such case, you will INSTEAD of the above mentioned procedures, need to engage in separate registration/certification procedure(s) with that of the “Ministerio de Industrias y Productividad” (or “Ministry of Industries and Productivity”) via the applicable portal accessible on their website (the specific portal varies based on the type of product and procedure you wish to engage in). In addition, for self-created food products, the Ministry of Health must also grant prior authorization (sanitary registration or notification) for imports of processed foods, food ingredients, beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, reagents, natural products and pesticides. This registration process typically takes up to 30 to 60 days, but can vary considerably, again depending on the type of product(s) and a number of other factors.
In conclusion, there are other factors and considerations in and of Ecuadorian import law (i.e. in June of 2018 the list of products with Harmonic Codes for Import purposes to Ecuador will beneficially open up and expand), notwithstanding other possible import taxes and regulations (including both expected and unexpected changes thereto), and so this should only be used as a general guide, rather than in the context of a “how to book”.
Finally, competent Ecuadorian legal counsel, in coordination of their own contracted food engineer (for food products) and/or industrial engineer (for non-food products), is highly recommended for any pursuit with respect to the importation or creation of any product(s) in or for Ecuador, especially when done so with the intention being one of “for profit”.
Sara Chaca is a Cuenca attorney who specializes in providing legal services to expats. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 099.296.2065.