As the calendar turns toward April 15th, everyone in the US knows what’s coming: tax day. While the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has updated their systems, and there are dozens of tax management tech products, many people still have to file via a paper 1040 form that takes 6-8 weeks to process. Compare that to Chile, a less “developed” country according the most of the world, where paying taxes is as simple as logging on to the Servicios de Impuestos Internos (SII, Chilean IRS) website to see all your paychecks and spending from the year. On Chilean tax day, people can immediately if they’ll get a refund and how much it will be, which then shows up in your bank account automatically in 1-4 weeks.
Electronic tax filing systems are not unique to Chile. Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico allow people to pay taxes online or even via app, using a personal identification number like a Social Security number.
However, not all of Latin America is so progressive when the time comes to pay taxes. According to the World Bank, Brazil’s tax policy is one of the most complex in the world, so much so that doing taxes requires over 2000 hours per year, compared to 291 in Chile, 311 in Argentina, and Colombia with just 239. Latin American countries also have Value Added Tax (IVA in Spanish) that you have to pay monthly included in their totals.
Across the region, government ministries are rapidly introducing new methods to simplify and speed up the taxpaying process. Here are some of the ways Latin American governments are working to improve the often-painful process of paying your taxes.
Even in the United States, the process of finding and buying property, as well as securing a mortgage, is not an easy one. In Latin America, where real estate agents are often not officially licensed, countries use notaries instead of escrows, and mortgage rates can be staggeringly high, buying a property in Latin America can be much more difficult. Most Latin American countries lack an MLS (multiple listing service) so there is no central place to search for properties, no exclusivity for brokers, and prices for the same property can differ from broker to broker. It can be hard to know whether you are getting a straight deal when the process for researching properties and brokers is anything but transparent.
Even in countries such as Chile, which is one of the more developed real estate markets in the region, renting an apartment as a foreigner can be daunting. Local landlords usually require significant paperwork before signing a lease, including a cosigner, local employment documents, proof of local taxes, and other documents most foreigners do not have. Landlords may also require your monthly income to be triple or quadruple the monthly rent, meaning that renting many properties is out of reach even for well-paid locals.
In 2013, Vijay Kailas, a fellow Start-Up Chile entrepreneur and I started Andes Property to help foreigners buy, rent or invest in properties in Latin America to help provide more clarity into this market. In 2014, my fund, Magma Partners, made Adrian Fisher’s PropiedadFacil our first investment. Adrian has been involved in the real estate tech sector since 2012 in Argentina, Chile and now the US with PropertySimple, so we had significant experience in the real estate tech sector.
Because of a lack of information, low levels of competition in the Latin American real estate market and corruption in certain markets, potential property owners can take on risks when buying a property that they wouldn’t otherwise take on in the US, where we take many of our existing systems and platforms for granted.
In January 2018 Magma Partners teamed up with Chinese coworking business, Kr Space, to launch the first China-Latin American accelerator to connect Chinese and Latin American entrepreneurs and investors.
With the recent news that Tencent invested $180M into Brazilian neobank Nubank at a $4B valuation, we’e seeing Chinese interest and investment in Latin America move beyond the common infrastructure projects backed by the Chinese government. The Chinese private sector is taking note of Latin America’s growing tech ecosystems and is capitalizing on opportunities to help the region follow a similar development path to China’s.
As the US pulls further away from Latin America, China is becoming an increasingly important partner for startups and companies across the region looking for investment and direction. As President Trump’s trade war intensifies, Chinese FDI into the US has dropped by 92% to $1.8B, while Chinese FDI to Latin America has surged to $15.3B in the first half of 2018.
This move by China is a strategic one. Latin America is ripe for investment and China and Chinese companies could be interesting partners for the region.
For one, Latin America is now a mobile-first market with over 200 million smartphone users. It is the second-fastest growing market for mobile in the world, and Latin American consumers are becoming quick adopters of new technologies and global apps.
You would think that in 2018 you could pay almost any bill online. But that’s not the case in many Latin American countries, although the process is becoming easier.
While companies such as Xoom, Multicaja, and Nequi are streamlining online payments in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, respectively, many people still find themselves queuing up in three-hour lines to pay their utilities, credit cards and other bills every month.
One expat in Mexico explained how he used five different payment methods for his electric bills over ten months because the rules changed each time.
So how do people keep track of their payments and wade through the bureaucracy each month to pay their bills? What happens if you send a payment late or the providers send the bill to the wrong tenant? It depends on the country.