Jurisdiction Spotlight: Guatemala

Guatemala offshoreGuatemala has most of everything one has come to expect from a Spanish-speaking tax haven in South America: territorial taxation, low taxation, secretive banking, and a very comfortable lifestyle. Guatemala has however suffered a problematic past which has left the country lagging behind its peer in many regards.

If you can suffer working with underdeveloped banks and somehow make it out successfully on the end of the long tunnel that is international bank account opening in Guatemala, this is one of those few jurisdictions where you can hide money and there’s no sign of any realistic improvement any time soon.

Corrupt, war-torn, and poor – Guatemala has quite a bit in common with for example Liberia. Life in Guatemala is however generally safer and more peaceful. Once you pick up Spanish, it’s easy to get settled in and comfortable in Guatemala as a foreigner. Most, however, opt for Panama or Costa Rica (or even Uruguay) instead.

Geography and Demography

Guatemala map

Map from Wikipedia.

Full Name: República de Guatemala (Republic of Guatemala)
Official language(s): Spanish
Other major languages: None
Type of government: Unitary presidential republic
Legal system: Civil law
Area: 108,889 km²
Timezone: UTC-6
Population: 16 million
GDP per capita: 7,000 USD
Currency: Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ)

Incorporation and Business


Guatemala is not generally regarded as a tax haven, let a lone a problematic one. It does not come with anywhere near the stigma of Panama or Costa Rica when it comes to tax evasion.

However, to many, Guatemala is still synonymous with war, sociopolitical instability, and more or less rampant corruption coupled with crime and money laundering. This reputation is in parts well deserved and in parts an unfair remnant of a troubled past.


Incorporation in Guatemala can take a long time.

While time to incorporate is in theory just a couple of days,it usually ends up taking several weeks to complete. Incorporation cost is usually very high compared to Panama and even Uruguay. The high costs are largely due to complexity in paperwork and lack of competition.

Sociedad de Responsibilitad Limtada (SRL)

To form an SRL company in Guatemala, the following requirements must be met:

  • Minimum one director. Can be corporate.
  • Minimum two shareholders. Can be corporate.
  • No residency requirements on directors and shareholders.
  • A local legal representative must be appointed.
  • Minimum 2,000 GTQ paid-up share capital.
  • Registered office in Guatemala.

Sociedad Anonima (SA)

There is an SA legislation available and frequently used. Requirements are very similar to SRL:

  • Minimum one director. Can be corporate.
  • Minimum two shareholders. Can be corporate.
  • No residency requirements on directors and shareholders.
  • A local legal representative must be appointed.
  • Minimum 5,000 GTQ paid-up share capital.
  • Registered office in Guatemala.

The shareholders of an SA are not subject to public disclosre.


Territorial taxation, whereby only locally-sourced income is taxable.

The tax rate on locally-sourced income is 25%.

Record Keeping

In line with international standards but because it has to be done in Spanish, most people outsource the whole procedure.

Public Records

Names of directors and shareholders (except for SAs) are subject to public disclosure in the Registro Mercantil.


Banking with local banks in Guatemala is generally underdeveloped and does not compare favourably with Panama in terms of service sophistication and quality, whereas larger international banks ride on the rails set up by their international infrastructure.

Foreigners and non-residents typically bank with Banco Internacional, Banco Industrial, Banco Azteca, and Citibank Guatemala.

Banking Secrecy

The Guatemalan professional and banking secrecy laws come together to form a banking secrecy that is currently impenetrable without account holder’s consent.

Guatemala is not able to honour requests for information and has not signed up for AEOI. Foreign court orders are rejected, even when there is suspicion of severe crimes.

While there is some pressure on Guatemala to improve on this, the authorities have hitherto not shown any signs of taking this pressure seriously. The Guatemalan authorities are able to penetrate banking secrecy for local tax matters, and that’s well enough for them.

Guatemala does not have any significant amount of foreign wealth, hence the pressure not being particularly strong. The jurisdiction does however struggle with being on various grey and black lists due to its banking secrecy and non-cooperation.

Open a Bank Account in Guatemala

“Great, so how do I open a bank account in Guatemala?”

It is a mixed bag and it’s all about connections.

Call up a bank in Guatemala and don’t expect the conversation to go very far. It’s not that they don’t want you as a client. It’s just that the person picking up the phone very often has no idea how to handle non-residents and terminate the call.

Opening a bank account in Guatemala as a non-resident foreigner (and sometimes even as a resident foreigners) is practically synonymous with using an intermediary.

With an intermediary, though, practically anything is possible. The account opening procedure is about as painful as in the rest of this region, spearheaded by the compliance officers at Panama. If you’re opening a company and bank account in Guatemala, try to start the account opening procedure as early as possible because you might end up waiting two to four months from day one to having company and bank account set up.

Minimum deposits are usually low and banking fees are for the most part reasonable, but international wire transfers are expensive.

International banks present in Guatemala often allow remote account opening for pre-existing clients.

Banks in Guatemala

Banks are supervised by the Superintenda de Bancos de Guatemala while the economy as a whole is supervised by the Banco de Guatemala.

There are 17 banks licensed in Guatemala:

Living in Guatemala

Some see it as a country seething with opportunities. Some see it as a scarier version of Costa Rica.

It’s not as well-developed as Panama or Uruguay nor is it as accessible as Costa Rica, but Guatemala can still be very charming and comfortable to live in.

You’ll definitely need to pick up Spanish — and quickly. This is a country where English will not get you very far outside of the main tourist areas.


Citizenship is something foreigners settling in Guatemala rarely go for. The republic is not a big fan of dual citizenship, although it’s technically allowed under some circumstances.

Obtaining citizenship requires a minimum of five years of uninterrupted residence.


The territorial taxation system can become very attractive to those with foreign-sourced income as it can very often be enjoyed free of tax in Guatemala.

Taxation in Guatemala is generally low. Personal income is taxed at a mere 5% to 7%. Capital gains are subject to a tax rate of 10%.

Final words

Guatemala is a very interesting jurisdiction and one that often is forgotten about – more so than even Uruguay.

The republic can offer tax free companies formed under territorial taxation, and with an impenetrable banking secrecy to boot.

The downside is that the country is still recovering from war. While most of the wounds have healed, the country still has many challenges to overcome.

For the adventurous, Guatemala has some very impressive rainforest to explore.

See also

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