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Bolivia: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Bolivia

Bolivians tend to be formal in their business dealings. Men should wear suits and ties; women should wear knee-length skirts or trouser suits. Typical business greetings include a firm handshake (don’t forget eye contact). Business meals are popular but avoid arranging anything on a Friday evening when restaurants are packed and lively. Major events are usually held at Expocruz in Santa Cruz and Fexbol in La Paz.

The best months for business are April, May, September and October. Avoid the Christmas period, Easter, Carnival week (February) and Independence week (first week of August).

Office Hours

Businesses are normally open daily 0800-1230 in the mornings and from 1430-1830/1900 in the afternoons. Traditionally, they have a 2-hour lunch break at midday, where people will go home to have lunch with their family. However, many businesses are now switching to the horario continuo, where businesses remain open during the lunch hour (0800-1800 with 1 hour off for lunch). Generally, people do not eat at their desks nor do they stay in the office: they will either go home or eat out.

Economy

Despite its wealth of natural resources, notably mineral deposits, oil and natural gas, Bolivia has the second-lowest per capita income in South America. The GNI per capita stands at US$2,040 (World Bank, 2011), and around two-thirds of the nation's population lives below the poverty line. Unemployment stands at 7.9% (2010 estimate).

Agriculture today accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP with soybeans the major cash crop, sold into the Andean Community market, plus sugar and coffee, while beef and hides are valuable export earners. There is also a substantial illegal trade in coca, the plant source for cocaine, which provides a livelihood for many peasants.

Bolivia's trade with neighbouring countries is growing, aided by preferential trade-agreements with the Andean Community. Bolivia’s top trading partners in 2011 in terms of exports were Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Japan, Peru, South Korea, Belgium, China and Venezuela. Bolivia's government remains heavily dependent on foreign assistance to finance development projects.

GDP

US$24.6 billion (2011).

Main exports

Natural gas, soybeans and soya products, crude petroleum and tin.

Main imports

Petroleum products, paper, aircraft, prepared foods and insecticides.

Main trading partners

USA, Japan, Brazil, Argentina and Peru.

Keeping in Touch in Bolivia

Telephone

ENTEL, Bolivia's national telephone company has offices in most towns and cities where you can make national and international calls. Local calls are cheap while long-distance are relatively expensive. You can also use a phone card to call home, which can be bought at street stalls, ENTEL offices and shops. Calls to the USA and Europe cost around Bs1 per minute on the cards. You can also use a coin-operated phone box for local calls.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with a limited number of international mobile phone companies; travellers are advised to check with their mobile phone service provider. Local pay-as-you-go chips are freely available for unlocked phones from companies such as Viva, Tigo and ENTEL. They cost around Bs15 (which you get in credit). Coverage is average.

Internet

Internet cafés are available in most towns and cities. They charge around 3 to 5 bolivianos per hour. Don't expect the same speed as at home: in many places it is still dial-up. Some internet cafés will also offer net phone or Skype services. Hotels, hostels and cafés may also offer free Wi-Fi access.

Media

Media ownership is highly concentrated. Bolivia's media is dominated by privately run press and broadcasting outlets. Freedom of the press is upheld and self-censorship is usually exercised when dealing with reports of social unrest and political machinations, but attacks on journalists do still occur. Low literacy levels impede upon newspaper readership; radio tends to have precedence and remains the most democratic of media resources in the country. Try Radio Cadena Nacional (RCN), the major national radio station.

The main daily papers published in La Paz are El Diario and La Prensa – the latter has good foreign coverage. Santa Cruz dailies include El Deber and El Mundo, but these have an extremely regional focus. In Cochabamba, Los Tiempos is particularly good. International press is hard to find, although The Economist, Time and Newsweek can be found in city centres and at international hotels.

Many households in Bolivia do not own a television set. There are seven state channels and other terrestrial channels offering news, popular telenovelas and sport. Big hotels in cities will offer cable with international channels including BBC World and CNN.

Post

Airmail to Europe and the USA takes between one and two weeks to arrive, the rest of the world takes longer. Letters cost around Bs10-15. Parcels up to 2kg cost around Bs100 per kilo. You can send letters certified which is more reliable, and there are international courier services such as FedEx and DHL in major cities. Most main post offices offer a poste restante service by which you can receive mail.

Post Office hours

Opening hours are generally Mon-Fri, 0830-2000, Sat 0830-1800, Sun 0900-1200.

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