lunes, 22 de febrero de 2016

Owning a boat on Guatemala Lake and rivers

Very often people are surprised how very few boat are on Lake Atitlan. And very often if you know somebody with a boat he will tell you that it is great to have one either for cruising or fishing..
But most of the foreigners have no idea about the rules going along owning a boat in Guatemala.

There are three steps
  1. Get a plate (a matricula) for the boat
  2. Get a driving boat license
  3. Get a navigation license for the boat.
3 Steps registration

The first thing you have to know is that you need a plate for your boat, like for a car.. For that you need to register it with the Naval base of Panajachel. It has to be registered with the SAT the tax department. The tax will be according a ladder of cost that is defined by the SAT people. See in our annex the different cost associated with different kind of boat.
Placa - Maticula for the boat
Then you have to give a name to your boat. After that when all your paper are in order present the boat for inspection. The inspection is aimed to check that all the lights on your boat are working, that you have a first aid kit, an anchor with ropes, life jacket and a small tool box. Then when you have your boat Plate-Matricula you have to paint it on your boat as well as the name of the boat or with a sticker. And you have to carry with you your license plate with you or at least a copy of it to be presented to the Marina  patrol upon request.

Guatemalan Marin Patrol

The second thing is to get then the Navigation license.. which is basically the permit to navigate with your registered boat.. It is more or less the same process and you have to take the boat again for inspection.
Process to get the Navigation License

Finally the boat license.. which is the hardest to get for a foreigner.. why?
Because you have to take a test and it is maybe 2 times a year in Panajachel at the Marine Base and it is in spanish.. No possibilities so far to get a transfer of a foreign boat license..

Boat license Process
Now all these requirements are very inexpensive in terms of cost as the boat license is less than $10
the Navigation license is $ 20 and the boat matricula fee is less then $ 30. The most expensive part is the taxes. Now if you can't do this personally you have to give a power of attorney to somebody that can do it for you (except getting the boat license) .. We at Atitlan Solutions have ample experience in this matter as we have registered several boat for foreigners or locals.. as well as experience in importing boats.

sábado, 23 de enero de 2016

What is the minimum Salary


The mínimum salary has been something not everybody understand as it is for some of the expat a foreign concept..

In Guatemala the employer-employee relationship is protective, this means that the law protects workers against employer and sets minimum employment benefits for the worker, the employer must meet mandatory obligations.

According to the legal framework in Guatemala , as son as an employer hire an employee verbaly or with a contract starts the relation , despite contracts being mandatory.

Among the benefits that every employer must comply are : ordinary salary and bonuses, Aguinaldo , working hours, holidays , dismissal and severance , Individual employment contract and rights of the pregnant woman .

So you might wonder why nobody in your surrounding  pays the mínimum salary to their employe(es)…

Well there are several facts that I have detected since I’m doing property management and work with expats…and often I hear the following...

It is a third country so labor has to be cheap…

The first thing people think is that because Guatemala is a third world country the salary are notably cheap… and indeed if you ask around specially outside the cities you find out that the salaries are low… but still all the families have the same needs like foods, education, health.. and you have to ask yourself if what you pay is enough to cover their basic needs.

Not knowing the labor law…

Most of the expats don’t speak spanish neither have ever open a guatemalan law book… therefore the ignorance or the lack of learning give space to a grey área that allows to not respect the guatemalan legal frame. It is like people are living in a now rules country where they can't do pretty much what they want because they don't realise or want to realise what is the legal frame of their hosting country.

Because my employee is happy with what I’m paying him….

Indeed he knows that is better  off  with some money than no money and in a country where
almost half the population is under 19, you will always  find another person willing to work for less. But the problem is not about wanting to be paid the mínimum salary, it is that to fight to get the employee to pay it will take financial ressources they don’t have and also very often they don't know the laws made to protect them. So it is more by resignation than free acceptance. And not paying the legal mínimum salary deprives him of much needed resource to send kids to school, eat better or be able to face medical emergency.

Life is cheaper outside the cities  people are paid less…

It might be the case in some áreas and a fact that for example often they don’t pay rent or don’t have  a budget for transport as people living in big cities  but still their needs are the same  and the cost of the basic food basket  according the Institute of statistic of Guatemala (INE) is of  Q 3,358 per month. This basket is composed of 26 products that reflect the need of a family of 5.3 members.

We can’t give a raise every year as they would get use to it.…

Like we don’t live in a dynamic world where all year long we see prices going up
and cost of living increasing. It is like you don’t know that if, at least, you don’t keep up with inflation you are losing buying power every year.

Most of the expat choose to live in a foreign country because of a better quality of life. At one moment or the other they provide jobs to the local community which run from building, gardening, house keeping for example.
Sometimes some also give to locals charity or give off their time to the local community.
Still it is important to know the legal frame of the country you choose to
settle  as being a guest you would think that you want to behave as you would like foreigners to behave in your own countries.

The object of  Minimum Salary

The minimum amount that must be paid to a person for work done within a given period, calculated whatever form , and it can not be decreased in the employment relationship , which is guaranteed by law to cover the minimum needs of the worker and his family.

Who decides the minimum wage ?

The Executive Agency , after consultation with the organizations of employers and workers and other organizations representing the National Wage Commission and the Joint Commission Minimum Wage and the Monetary Board and the Guatemalan Social Security Institute .

When the minimum wages are fixed ?

The minimum wages are set from the month of January each year .

Definition of the fault?

Art 269.  the infractions or violations by action or omission committed against the provisions of this code or of other labor laws or Social Security, are punishable by fine.

A very important things to know when you termine your relation ship with your employee and viceversa…

Art 261  Actions to terminate the contract worker

The rights of the workers to declare  finished and with good cause their working contract terminated prescribe in the term of twenty working days from the time the employer gave him cause for separation or indirect fired. It means that past these 20 working days the worker can’t claim compensation.

Art 262 .Acciones del empleador contra retiros injustificado

The rights of employers to claim against workers who retire from his post without notifying his employer prescribed in the term of thirty working days from the separation moment. Meaning that after 30 days you can’t demand your employee for abandoning his job.

And one more thing when you have employe working for you permanently and they have worked one year then they are entitled to vacations.. and you can't pay them the vacation .. they have to take them.. 

lunes, 4 de enero de 2016

2016 New Minimum Salary

Guatemala 2016 Minimum Salary

As it is usual now every starting of the year the government fixes the new legal minimum salary for the year.. It is divided between Farm and Non Farm Activities Q 81.87 per day  and Exportation activities and maquila is Q 74.89 per day.

The one that interest the expat community which hires employees is the first one..

Because 2016 is a bisextyle year meaning February will have 29 days.. There for the calculation of the minimum salary is as follow

Q 81.87 x 366 days = Q 29,964.42 divided by 12 month = Q 2,497.04 plus the Q 250
of " the bonificacion incentivo."

The minimum to be paid being Q 2,747.04

Now remember that it is not only what the worker will receive as you will have to pay in July the Bono 14 and in December the Aguinaldo..

So if you prorate these 2 extra months your worker will receive average per month Q 2,913.20.

Now the basic food basket for a family of four is estimated at Q 3,507.60, which is the amount per month that a family of four should receive to live correctly .  It is a fact as well that outside the big cities the cost of living is lower.

Currently there is a new law allowing differentiate salaries in 4 Municipalities of Guatemala : to name them Masagua Escuintla, Guastatoya and San Agustin Acasaguastlan, El Progreso and Estanzuela Zacapa. Where the minimum salary for maquila will be Q 1,677.00 plus bonificacion incentivo of  Q 250.00 making a total of Q 1,927.00 by month.

There is an ample debate in the country about these differentiated salary as some a in favor of them to stimulate local jobless economy and others considering that it creates citizen of 2d class... This country is in great need of political policy on work, employment as most of the time the government solved temporary the need to increase the salary through decrees like the one of bono 14, aguinaldo, bono incentivo.. instead of defining a modern, flexible salary policy.

miércoles, 16 de diciembre de 2015

What is the Aguinaldo....Guatemala Labor Code

December is a special month for expats in Guatemala.

When you hire a person as your gardener, maid, choffer,, you name it.. you acquire obligations toward them. The  relations between workers and employers in Guatemala, are regulated both by the Constitution of the Republic, in article 102 which established the minimum employee benefits and  in the Labour Code, which develops more extensively constitutional precept.Always remember that in Guatemala the employer - employee relationship is protective, this means that the law protects workers against employer and sets minimum employment benefits for the worker, that the employer must meet mandatory.  .Among the benefits that every employer must comply you have: ordinary salary and bonuses and Aguinaldo.
And December is the month of the Aguinaldo. According Decree 76-78.
We are going to review the most important articles..
Article #1  All the employers are obligated to give to their workers annually in concept of Aguinaldo, the equivalent of 100% of their salary they perceive monthly for a year of continuous work o proportionally according what correspond.

Article # 2  . It can be paid half in december before the 15th and half in january in the second part of the month.

Article # 5 it can't be accumulated.

Article # 7 A written receipt has to be made

Article # 8  It has to be paid in currencies and can't be replaced by anything else.

Article # 15. The aguinaldo can be reduce of  the income tax, and it is not affected by the payment of the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security.

So because it is expected by your worker you have to make provision in your accounting for the payment of it.. Most of the worker like to have it paid in once on the 15th of December.
I prefer to pay it one week before..
- because there are less people at the bank
- because your worker is less subject to be robbed as on the 15 th of just after everybody has more money and very often a great time for thieves
- always remember to document the payment
- if you pay the Bono Incentivo the Aguinaldo doesn't include it as you pay only on the ordinary salary.
If your employee is not full time working for you but work 150 days a year he is entitle to it.
The aguinaldo is calculated from the 1st of january of the year to the 31st of December of the same year.

Now I always encourage the worker receiving this extra month to think very much how they will use it. Encouraging them to save part of it. To spend it wisely for their kids, education..

If you have any doubts or questions feel free to contact me..

Remember this information is product of my experience in property management and won't replace the legal advice of a lawyer.

martes, 20 de octubre de 2015

Five most important things to do when buying real estate in Guatemala

5 most important things
to do when buying  property
 in Guatemala

Guatemala is probably not your usual investment destinación. Unless you are a Guatemalan expatriated or have relatives that are Guatemalan you will have Little or no knowledge about how to buy property in Guatemala. Investing in real estate in a foreign country is a serious mater.

But for a foreigner deciding to buy real estate here might be a challenge and a whole new experience.

-       First thing you need to work with a Realtor.
      An authorised realtor that has a proper license to represent you.  Yes it does exist in Guatemala. Realtor profession is regulated and it is your best guarantee against scammer, unethical and unprofessional ones. You will hear of people that have managed to buy without a realtor but it all depends of your level of investment and willingness to take financial risk. The bigger the investment the more you want to be protected from any bad surprised. Don 't hesitate to check with the Chamber of Realtor of Guatemala for professional ones.

Why? Because he will  represent you and working with non legal realtor might turn out to be a nightmare if anything goes wrong.Now a realtor speaking your language is a must as you might not fully dominating the local language.

-       Second get legal assessment with a lawyer – notary that does regularly real estate transactions.  And preferably one that speaks your language.
In Guatemala lawyers are also notaries and some decided to work more the notary part of their professions, others the lawyer part and the gran majority both. Laws do change and a lawyer not versed regularly in real estate transaction might miss some important information. In Guatemala real estate has complex consequences better to be well informed.

-       Third you have to understand that you will be confronted with a diversity of way of owner ship that might disconcert you. In  Guatemala you will encounter several way of owning real estate as for example..:  land lease from  the government through the OCRET office, proper register titled backed up by the government, rights of possession that you can  compare to squatters rights and some times comunal land…
Depending the status of the property you are buying you will have to decide if it is worth your money to rely on less than a proper registered title. Now if you buy in urban áreas most probably you will encounter proper registered title.

-       Fourth consult with your notary which limitations can affect your property.  Guatemala doesn’t have a lot of institutions having a say on the use of a property but they do have some like OCRET, MARN, CONAP, Consejo de Protection de la Antigua (if you buy in Antigua Guatemala)…  So for example if you buy on ocean or lake front you will find out that the lease you will get from the government  only lease you the land up to 20 mts from the waterfront as you have to leave 20 mts of public space. If you buy in certaines áreas or steep hills you might be in an área of mudslides and classified by CONRED (the Government Agency for Civil Protection) as inhabitable  and therefore might not get the building permit you seek. If you buy in a city with strong colonial history like Antigua or in the Center of  Quetzaltenango then you will find out that you can’t do what you want with the property you are trying to acquire. Know what you are buying and what you can do with your real estate project.

-       Fifth under which legal form you want to acquire your property: single owner, under a Guatemalan C Company, a foreign company… Depending your choice, it will influence  your taxes during ownership, at the moment of sell, or for your heirs if you plan to inherit it to them.Not being familiar with the Guatemalan taxes frame  you need to get proper advices in order to optimize the fiscal impact of owning real estate.

viernes, 28 de agosto de 2015

New Algae bloom in Lake Atitlan

Since 2009 Lake Atitlan had not experiment a blooming of this importance.. But these last two years have been particularly hot and dry. The temperature of the lake has been rising and currently above 23o C which is very hot for a lake of this size at this altitude.

 Amsclae the high authority in charge of the quality of the water in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala has issued the following report:

Solola, August 19, 2015

One concern of the institutions involved in the conservation and study of Lake Atitlan, is the deterioration of the same, which leads to the proliferation of algae, and in particular may result in a flowering of cyanobacteria. On Monday August 3rd of this year, a proliferación cyanobacteria was reported, which was later determined to be caracterized as flourishing level (greater than 2 million cells / liter). Following this event, the Department of Research and Environmental Quality Authority for the Sustainable Management of the Basin of Lake Atitlan and its surroundings (AMSCLAE) in coordination with the University del Valle of Guatemala highlands campus (CEA - UVG) conducted one limnological sampling on 5 and 10 August. During monitoring, water samples were taken for analysis, which was performed on the two institutions mentioned.According to the analysis of samples of phytoplankton, three genera of dominant  cyanobacteria were encountered and Limnoraphis Dolichospermun and were accompanied by Microcystis, all of  the Phylum Cyanobacteria. The analysis performed on a sample taken on August 17 determined that only
Limnoraphis predominated. Counting and identifying the microscope does not determine the presence or absence of toxicity, therefore Asociación Friends of Lake Atitlan sent water samples from the lake abroad (University of California, Davis and University of Wausau) in coordination with AMSCLAE, UVG  - IARNA and for the analysis of cyanotoxins and is awaiting the results. If it turns out that this blooming produces cianotoxinas, this could represent a serious threat to the health of the population.
The high
temperature of the environment and water  due to prolonged heat wave, and the availability of nutrients in the lake, then the income from runoff of the rainy season from May to July to Lake Atitlan and the steady income from sewage, create conditions conducive to the development of phytoplankton.
Importantly, this is not the first flowering of cyanobacteria in Lake Atitlan. In 2009 has been
the strongest  flourishing in the lake to date, and from that year was reported, there have been other smaller blooms. In 2009 and 2013 samples were sent for toxicological analysis and found negative. The increase today is the strongest  since 2009 and is considered to not be the last.

AMSCLAE with the support of national and international scientific community, the College of Engineers Guatema (IGC), the Guatemalan Association of Sanitary Engineering (AGISA), the Regional School of Sanitary Engineering (ERIS) and non-governmental environmental organizations and government present in the department of Solola, are promoviend since mid-2012, the development of a comprehensive master management of sewage and drinking water in the municipalities of Lake Atitlan Basin plan. Funding to execute this plan come from a grant from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID) and are being managed by the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB). Unfortunately, the plan was stalled. The development and implementation of the plan is INFOM sole and absolute responsibility and the risk of losing the donation runs.

General recommendations for prevention to the population1. Do not be alarmed, these recommendations are specifically preventive. 

2. Do not drink the water directly from the lake ..
3. If fish are eaten, should be cleaned properly, removing the skin, gills and
internal organs.. 

4. It is not advisable to swim in the lake and recreational activities in it as long as this danger. If you do it is at your own risk.
 5. Do not wash or irrigate vegetables with this type of water. 
6. Basin communities which  take their drinking water directly from the lake, must: 
    Start storing rainwater for consumption when it rains.
    Filtering of the water with carbon filters to make it suitable for consumption.
7. Do not get in the water to remove cyanobacteria, that does not help.  

     Draw it stimulates their growth. 
8. Do not perform cleanups of lake water for the duration of the flowering 
9. Be pending AMSCLAE releases for information on the results of monitoring prepared by the relevant institutions.
Therefore, the departmental coordinator for disaster risk reduction (CODRED) institutional declares yellow alert cianaobacteria outcropping on Lake Atitlan.

Any questions

Atitlan Solutions is an active member of Lake Atitlan Friends of the lake Asociation always looking for solutions to contribute to a better lake. Right now we have a fundraising going through Indiegogo to equipped a laboratory to study the lake scientifically.. feel free to contribute at the following link.

lunes, 13 de julio de 2015

5 important things to know about OCRET

One of the biggest issue in Guatemala and particularly in the lake area is the absence of cadastre.
So currently there are several situations related to this.
First of all  OCRET, which by law would be the biggest land manager around the lake, only work from the legal frame given by the Constitution. Which means that for this office any land , on the lake for example, included in the 200 mts from the water front has to be leased from the government. But OCRET currently doesn't have a clear knowledge of what is clearly land government and what is registered land (clear title registered before 1956 in the registry of the property).
They are building their cadastre from the lease request made by particular or companies around the lake. And it happens that sometimes the OCRET pretension is challenged by locals authorities. Which is the case for Santiago Atitlan, ( it has a clear title registered it seems in 1920 that includes all the water front ) in discussion  San Marcos La Laguna and Santa Cruz as they seems to be as well challenging the OCRET hold.
Some some might wonder if it is proper to register or not.
Well my recommendation, under the current situation,  is to register with OCRET.
Why ? Because as foreigners it is the only way to secure your land rights particularly.  And the cost associated with the registration is not that high that shouldn't be undertake.
Now what will happen if it happens that the land is not under OCRET umbrella like it is happening in Santiago?
Well the current solution is that OCRET will hand the contract to the Municipality and this will have to respect the terms. Which is an important security as at least for the next 20 or more years of your contract you know what will be your status.
At the moment nobody knows what will be the legal form that will articulate the "rights of possession" that ones acquired on a land belonging to a big registered property owned by a Municipal government. The OCRET contract will at least give you a structure.

The other big challenge with OCRET definition of the 200 mts is where is the 200 mts limit it is known by everybody that the lake level is fluctuating over times. So if during the last 40 years it has been going down, opening new space for colonisation by chalets , public beaches... since Hurracan Stan the lake has been coming up substantially and the trend seems to be since 7 years, on the rise.
Which move way upp, the upper limit of the 200 mts particularly in the areas where the shore has a gentle slope like San Juan La Laguna, San Pablo, San Marcos La Laguna.
So a piece of land that have been out of the OCRET hold, now might be under the OCRET law.

I'm strongly advocating to find a technical solution to control the level and the easiest solution would be to put an over flow as the ones you have in a bathtub . The easiest way would be to do it in San Lucas Toliman. This will allows to define the highest level that the lake can reach and allows the villages and the waterfront owner to invest in infrastructure that will last. Not as it is happening currently. Just remember the numerous brand new piers paid by INGUAT that ended up under water.

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