Things you didn't know about Bolivia

 

 

The Plurinational State of Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America. It was named after the 19th century leader Simon Bolivar, who fought for independence in the continent. Most foreign residents in Bolivia live in the major cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba and Sucre.

The country is rich in natural resources, with natural gas accounting for 50% of the economy’s total exports. Its main industries are mining, smelting and petroleum. More half of the working population is employed in the services sector, 39% in industry and 14% in agriculture.

Bolivia is a colourful destination in every sense of the word. It is home to dozens of indigenous groups that speak more than 30 languages. It is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. Here is a quick guide to your stay in this South American paradise. 

Things you should know

1. Visa requirements

The general types of visa required for entry to Bolivia are: tourist visa, specific-purpose visa, student visa. Citizens from the following countries are exempt from the tourist visa requirement, though they are required to present passport valid for 6 months:

Germany

Andorra

Argentina

Australia

Australia

Austria

Belgium

Brazil

Canada

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Croatia

Denmark

Ecuador

Slovenia

Slovakia

Spain

Estonia

The Philippines

Finland

France

Greece

Hungary

Ireland

Iceland

Italy

Japan

Latvia

Liechtenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Mexico

Monaco

Norway

New Zealand

The Netherlands

Palestine

Panama

Paraguay

Peru

Poland

Portugal

United Kingdom

Czech Republic

Sweden

Switzerland

Turkey

Uruguay

Vatican

Venezuela

Foreign students may apply for a visa by submitting the following documents:

  1. Duly completed application form
  2. Passport (valid at least 6 months)
  3. Police record, with a translation in Spanish
  4. An address in Bolivia
  5. 2 recent photographs, without glasses
  6. International vaccination certificate yellow fever
  7. Acceptance letter from the school or training institution
  8. Studies certificate
  9. Certificate of good economic status (such as a bank certificate)
  10. Travel parents’ authorization (for minors) 

2. Taxes on individuals

Individuals, locals and foreigners, are taxed only on their Bolivian-source income. What are Bolivian-sourced income? These are income from goods/assets located or utilised economically within the country.

The personal income tax rate in Bolivia is 13%, computed on gross income after deduction of social contributions and other law-mandated concepts.

Social security contributions, shouldered by employees, are at 12.71% calculated on gross salary with a threshold of 60 minimum national salaries. If you earn more than 13,000 bolivianos, you are subject to social tax charges.

The other taxes that may be applicable to you are the value-added tax (VAT) and property tax on real estate and vehicles.

3. Public holidays in Bolivia

Since 2010, Bolivia has been celebrating January 22nd as a public holiday for the adoption of the new constitution. The holiday, known as Plurinational State Foundation Day (Dia del Estado Plurinacional), is in recognition of the multi-cultural nature of the nation. The holidays celebrated in Bolivia are as follows:

January 1

New Years’ Day

January 22

Plurinational State Foundation Day

February 8-9

Carnival

March 25

Good Friday

May 1

Labour Day

May 26

Corpus Christi

June 21

Andean New Year (Winter Solstice)

August 6

Independence Day

November 2

All Souls’ Day

December 25

Christmas Day

People in the administrative capital also celebrate La Paz Day every July 16th. Take note that when a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, Friday or Monday may be designated as a day off. 

Interesting Cultural Facts

 

 

They have a large indigenous population

According to latest data (published in 2013), about 41% of the Bolivian population or 2.8 million people are members of indigenous groups. The largest among the 36 recognized indigenous groups are the Quechua and the Aymara. Approximately 20% of the total land area in the Bolivian territory is collectively owned by indigenous peoples under the status of Native Community Lands.

In 2009, President Evo Morales promulgated the new constitution recognising Bolivia as a plurinational state or one with a multi-cultural nature. Morales is the country’s first indigenous leader and the longest-serving president so far.

Mestizos, the second-largest race, comprise 26% of the population. About 14% of the people in Bolivia are whites, mostly living in the key cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

Roman Catholic dominates Bolivia

Similar with the rest of Latin America, the Roman Catholic Church maintains a dominant presence in Bolivia. A 2013 study revealed that 76% of the population are Catholic although only a quarter are actively practicing the religion. Protestants comprise 17% of the population while 5% are either atheists or agnostics. The other religions in Bolivia are Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. The Bahá'í Faith, which arrived in the 1940s, is the largest international religious minority in the country.

Under the present constitution, Bolivia is a secular state. The law of the land mandates religious freedom, prohibiting the government from interfering with religious exercise.

Bolivia has 30+ native tongues

Do you know that there are 37 official languages in Bolivia? Don’t worry. You can manage with daily life with basic Spanish, which is spoken by 75% of the population. The other widely-used languages in Bolivia are Quechua and Aymara. English is mainly spoken in large cities such as La Paz and Santa Cruz.

Different variations of Spanish spoken in Bolivia:

  • Andean
  • Camba
  • Chapaco
  • Valluno
  • Vallegrandino 

Andean Spanish, which is preferred in urban areas, had been influenced by indigenous languages. Camba Spanish is popular in Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando, while the Chapaco variation is the choice in Tarija and Sud Chichas.

Interesting leisure sites

Bolivia may be a poor country in terms of per capita income, but it’s immensely rich in natural resources and landscapes. The South American destination is known for Salar de Uyuuni, the “largest mirror on Earth”, a 10,582 sqm salt flat. Tourists flock to Palacio de Sal or the Palace of Salt where the structure, walls, ceiling and furniture are made of salt blocks. Another notable attraction is a clock on the National Congress building in Laz Paz that runs backwards. The “clock of the south” is said to encourage Bolivians to “treasure their heritage and show them that they could question established norms and think creatively.” 

 

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Living the Bolivian way

 

 

Protect yourself from diseases

Foreigners are strongly advised to get vaccinated against infectious diseases as the degree of risk is regarded as “very high” in Bolivia. All visitors are required to secure an International vaccination certificate yellow fever. For additional protection, have vaccinations for hepatitis A, dengue fever, and malaria.

In August 2016, Zika virus-infected Aedes mosquitoes were detected in Bolivia. The virus, which can cause birth defects, can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus. The most common symptoms are fever, rashes, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika although there are easy ways to protect yourself such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellents and sleeping under a mosquito bed net.

Don’t eat fast-food

In 2013, McDonald’s, one of the world’s largest fast food chains, closed it last stores in Bolivia. Why? The concept of “fast” and processed food is not aligned with the country’s large indigenous population. According to Hispanic blog El Polvorin, Bolivians define a good meal as one that has been prepared with “love, dedication, certain hygiene standards, and proper cook time”.

Each region in Bolivia has its own cuisine. In higher and colder areas, people put a lot of spices in their dishes. People in low-lying areas usually feast on yucca, vegetables and seafood. Some of the best Bolivian dishes you should try include Papas Rellenas or stuffed potatoes, the spicy pique a lo macho, the savory Buñelos and the staple quinoa.

Be a fan of superstition

Bolivia’s customs and traditions take root from a wide range of origins, from indigenous practices to Spanish culture. Generally, families and communities in the country are close-knit. Many generations are living under the same roof and co-habitation is a norm. Bolivians, similar with other former Spanish colonies, observe Catholic traditions in marriages, baptisms and funerals.

Many Bolivians are highly superstitious people. Traditional healers are still preferred over modern medicine in many rural areas. There’s also a lot of folklores you should hear about.

Locals, especially in rural provinces, may show their curiosity over foreigners by asking too much questions. Bolivians love to converse and learn from other cultures. Some topics you should veer from are those concerning political issues or criticisms towards religious groups. Although the Gospel is something many Bolivians are open to talk about. Feel free to chat with them, though you may need to brush up your Spanish.

 

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