If you are looking to expand your business to Central America, exporting to Guatemala presents many opportunities.
It is the largest economy in Central America and one of the most stable in Latin America. It benefits from various economic unions, welcomes foreign investment, and has a large, youthful population.
Latin American Cargo has extensive knowledge and experience in Guatemala’s business culture and customs processes. We have put together this guide to help you understand your potential new market.
Guatemala’s geographical location, customs unions, competitive market, and thirst for foreign trade and investment make it a potentially lucrative market.
Guatemala is Central America’s largest economy. It has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $76.7 billion (2019) and an average growth rate of 3.5% – one of the most stable in Latin America.
As an importer, you may benefit from various customs unions and economic partnerships:
If you are a U.S. exporter, you may have a market advantage as Guatemala values U.S. brands for their quality and aftersales support.
Key sectors for opportunity include infrastructure, transport, and power generation, with Guatemala being the leading electricity exporter in Central America. There is also a keen interest in apparel and its associated brand roll-out.
Fuels and manufactured goods dominate the country’s imports. This contrasts with Guatemala’s more traditional food-based exports, such as bananas, spices, and coffee.
The USA – Guatemala’s biggest trading partner – was responsible for a third (33%) of all the country’s imports in 2021, totaling $8.73bn.
These were the top exports to Guatemala in 2021, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database, compiled by Trading Economics:
The U.S. Department of Commerce claims U.S. goods imports alone supported around 25,000 jobs in Guatemala in 2015.
Interestingly, in 2020, Guatemala was the world’s biggest importer of iron ingots ($54.4m).
Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America and one of the most stable in Latin America, but it is not without its challenges. You will need to be aware of:
Restrictions on imports into Guatemala are generally not as extensive as in other Latin American countries, but there are several key ones:
Before embarking on any business ventures, check with a customs broker that your goods are allowed to be imported into Guatemala.
If you already do business in Central America, the customs procedures for Guatemala should be familiar.
They are harmonized under the Central American Uniform Customs code, meaning you benefit from uniform documents and electronic transactions.
But there are specific challenges related to importing into Guatemala – challenges that Latin American Cargo has the experience to support you through.
While there have been changes made by the Guatemalan Tax and Customs Authority (SAT) to improve and streamline customs procedures, you may still face setbacks in accessing preferential tariffs or reaching the market quickly.
Depending on your product, there may be extra documentation requirements. And they may be complex. Make sure you factor this into your planning.
Understanding customs duties for Guatemala will be crucial for you in deciding whether to enter the market or not.
If you are a U.S. exporter, you will benefit from the CAFTA-DR free trade agreement that allows more than 80% of industrial and consumer goods enter duty-free. The remaining tariffs are due to be phased out by 2026.
Encouragingly, 98% of U.S. agricultural products already have zero tariffs. If you are an exporter of yarn, textiles, or apparel goods, there are significant opportunities; nearly all are duty-free and quota-free if they satisfy the rules of origin.
Any remaining industrial goods – and most agricultural products – have tariffs of 15% or below. But there are exceptions, with tariffs of up to 40% for alcoholic beverages and up to 20% for tobacco cigarettes, some vehicles, and firearms. The average applied rate on all products is approximately 2.4%.
You will need to be aware of quotas on certain agricultural products. Some have already been abolished, and others will be phased out in the next few years.
Tariff-Rate Quotas (TRQs) apply to 12 products, including rough rice, white rice, beef, ice cream, milk, white corn, butter, cheese, and other dairy products. The rice TRQ will phase out in 2023 and powdered milk in 2025.
Visit the Tax and Customs Authority (SAT) website to get more information about customs duties.
The documentation needed to import to Guatemala can be complex, depending on the product and country of origin. The U.S. International Trade Administration has much helpful information, which we summarize below.
Meanwhile, if you are looking to export chemicals used in agriculture, you will need to consult with the Technical Directorate of Plant Health of MAGA. It keeps a list of pesticides not permitted in Guatemala. All pesticides must be registered with Plant Health.
If you are importing medical devices, pharmaceutical products, and cosmetics there are certain documents you must have:
In addition, surgical devices which cut the skin or a membrane or touch blood – such as syringes – need an inscription (registration). You must renew it every five years.
Sea, air, and road are the key means of transportation to, from, and within Guatemala.
Depending on the urgency of your shipment and your transport budget, our team of logistics experts is ready to guide you on choosing the best mode of transportation when exporting to Guatemala.
The government is prioritizing public investment in infrastructure in its desire to be part of a Northern Triangle logistics hub. Currently, it is focusing on urban planning, smart cities, modernizing ports and airports, and building new highways.
The two biggest seaports in trade volume are Santo Tomás de Castilla on the Atlantic coast and Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific Coast. Puerto Barrios on the Atlantic coast is also a significant entry point for imports.
Capacity concerns are prompting investments in new and existing ports. The construction of El Arenal port next to Barrios has recently been given the go-ahead.
In relation to air freight, Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City has the main airport for cargo.
The capital also benefits from being on the Pan American Highway route. Urban congestion can, however, frustrate travel in and around the city.
New key road infrastructure projects are coming online regularly, including plans for a new highway to connect San Bernardino, Mazatenango, and Cuyotenango.
Be aware that the road network in Guatemala is a tale of two halves. Key highways tend to be in good condition, such as those that go to Lake Atitlán, Petén, and Quetzaltenango. These contrast with the often poorly maintained secondary and tertiary roads.
Other transport options are limited. Guatemala currently has no operational rail network, with routes mainly taken out of use in the 1990s and 2000s.
Interestingly, up to 730km of waterways are navigable during the high-water season, but these represent a minimal share of transportation.
Guatemala has many trade benefits, These include its geography, stable economy, various customs agreements, and plentiful opportunities for a vast range of products.
Latin American Cargo is your specialist Guatemala logistics partner. We understand the market, its import demands and processes, and how to expedite your route to market.
Start exporting to Guatemala today! Contact us now!
Get the latest news on the latin american import/export market
Ecuador has different logistic laws and prohibitions when it comes to shipping, [...]
What’s more important to you when choosing a freight forwarder, low price, or [...]
Latin America is still a very exotic continent for many people. It holds the pro [...]