How to start an NGO in Peru as a foreigner

In recent articles, I’ve talked about how to obtain a rentista visa for Peru and ways to get a Peruvian passport. Now, it’s time to tackle a totally different topic: NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations) which contribute to the society in various ways, from empowering women in the Andean and jungle regions, to educating people on how to live an environmentally-friendly life or by supporting cultural projects in big cities.

Foreigners often team up with locals to make an impact together. People who want to start an NGO are often skilled professionals but are lacking legal knowledge, especially if they come from abroad and are not at all familiar with the Peruvian legal system. At NVC Abogados, we always regard it as a pleasure when we’re asked to help set up an NGO in Peru. 

In this article, I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about NGOs in Peru. However, before I start, I’d like to introduce two NGOs to you that I’ve been involved with and which I find particularly outstanding:

1. Por Eso Perú is a Dutch NGO which helps small communities who live at heights of more than 4,000 meters under extreme climatic conditions. The NGO helps them cultivate vegetables and fruits in greenhouses and also engages in educational activities. I helped found Por Eso and held the position of the NGO’s vice-president when they started in 2009. Nowadays, I still assist them as a legal advisor ad honorem. 

2. Sinfonia por el Perú is one of the most important cultural projects in Peru. One of its founders is the famous Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. They teach children and teenagers classical music for free. I was their legal representative during the first 5 years of their existence and continue to follow their activities.

Let’s now take a closer look at what needs to be considered if you plan to start an NGO in Peru.

How many people are needed to start an NGO in Peru?

At least three people are needed as founding board members. They may also occupy positions on the managing board for a limited period of time (usually 2 or 3 years). More founding members or active partners are possible. Active partners have voting rights, can participate in the board meetings and can be elected for official positions of the NGO. 

I recommend that the NGO has only 3 trusted board members as this makes it easier to hold obligatory meetings, according to Peruvian laws, and to approve agreements. It is of course possible to have more members, but in our experience, it is much better to start with  a small group of official members.

For practical purposes, I recommend that the board director is given the power to administer financial transactions with his signature alone. If two people are needed to sign for financial transactions, it’s not possible to do it online and this may cause problems if the second person is frequently abroad, for example.

Can an NGO be started by people who are neither Peruvian citizens nor have a residence permit?

It is possible with a special permission to sign contracts. However, in such a case, it’s a good idea to have an authorized representative who can represent the NGO (“representante legal” in Spanish) at government offices if necessary. When we work with NGOs at NVC Abogados, we’re normally given power of attorney to do the paperwork at SUNAT, Migraciones, the Ministry of Labor, APCI and the municipalities.

It is also possible to open a bank account on behalf of the NGO and all the papers can be signed by the chairman even though they are not yet a resident in Peru.

In our experience, many things become easier when the chairman resides in Peru. It will not only help with the paperwork but is also better viewed socially. It shows that you have roots in the country. It’s also important to remember that you may not spend more than 183 days per year in Peru with a tourist visa.

Which documents have to be handed in to register the NGO properly?

Registering an NGO in Peru is very easy. The following documents need to be presented for the registration process:
Peruvian DNI (identity card) or identity card for foreigners (carné de extranjería) for founders who live in Peru
Passport with valid tourist visa for founders who don’t reside in Peru. The passport needs to have permission to sign contracts. This permission can be obtained online.

In Peru, it’s possible that one person can authorize another person to represent them. This authorization needs to be given in the presence of a notary in Peru or abroad. In this way, an NGO can be registered even though one founder is not in Peru at the time of registration.

It is important to protect the NGO’s name which can be done at Sunarp, the government office which is responsible for the registration of NGOs, among other things. The registration process takes 7 working days. 

It is also important to get the description about the NGO’s objectives right and advisable to have a lawyer check it. Words like “sells”, “services”, “consultancy” or “income” are not seen as appropriate for an NGO and may cause SUNAT to reject tax exemption. On the other hand, words like “social assistance”, “education”, “cultural activities” or “charity” should be found in the description of the NGO’s objectives. 

What types of NGOs are there?

In Peru, two types of NGOs can be registered:

  • Foundation
  • Civil association

The majority of NGOs in Peru are civil associations, although many people are not aware of that and talk of NGO or foundation. However, legally, they are normally registered as civil association according to the Peruvian Civil Code which has been effective since 1984.

It’s also important to define the NGO’s social objectives in agreement with the Civil Code and the Income Tax Laws and its regulations. In this way, you can take advantage of the tax benefits such as tax exemptions or tax-free donations. The text of the statues of your NGO has to agree with the tax rules and limits.

Do NGOs have to pay taxes or any other kind of recurrent fees?

NGOs can be exempt from income taxes as they perform non-profit activities and their monetary income derives from membership fees, member contributions and donations.

Remunerated services are possible but they are never for profit.

In order to obtain such tax benefits, they must be requested by the interested party, they’re never granted automatically.

The legal deadline to obtain the income tax exemption is 45 business days. The request can be made together with the application of the NGO’s tax ID (RUC).

Once the NGO has been granted income tax exemption by Peru’s fiscal authorities (SUNAT), this can be applied:

1. to the registry of the donation receiving entity (which is also Sunat) so that the NGO can issue donation receipts for monetary donations or donations of goods. (The NGO needs to issue a special declaration about the donations every year, usually in May)

2. to the registration as NGO at APCI (Peruvian Agency for International Cooperation). This registration is important if the NGO will receive financial or technical support from abroad (donations made by people outside Peru).

When an NGO acts as an employer, their obligations are the same as those of any for-profit company because in this case, the labor law protects the employees.

It is very common in Peru that so-called ‘volunteers’ enter the country with tourist visas which is legally not correct and which I don’t advise to do as a lawyer. It is possible to apply for a Volunteer Visa which grants temporary residency ( 6 months and possibly extend 6 more) and has to be applied for at a Peruvian Consulate abroad before entering the country. It implies that the holder of such a visa doesn’t receive any salary. However, it is legal that the volunteer receives free accommodation and food and possibly a small daily allowance.

How is an NGO monitored by the Peruvian authorities? What kind of obligations are there?

The government can monitor or intervene at any time, depending on the topic. Monitoring by Sunat for tax obligations is frequent. Any tax exemptions are always temporary and need to be renewed every 2 – 3 years. Sunat has the right to revoke tax exemptions if the NGO changes their social objectives or gets involved with activities which are not listed as their social objective, such as paying dividends (which is only possible for a profit-oriented company).

If the NGO has employees, the Department of Labor, ( and its technical legal office, the SUNAFIL) will monitor if the NGO pays all worker benefits such as pension scheme contributions, health insurance and also fees if illegal work was detected (for example foreign employees without a valid work visa).

Sunarp will intervene when they discover that the NGO’s activities don’t agree with their statutes and they use their status as a non-profit organisation for other purposes.

What are the benefits of an NGO in comparison to a private social project?

  1. An NGO is a legal entity. 
  2. It can benefit from tax exemptions. 
  3. It can receive donations from Peru and from abroad and it can issue donation receipts which can be handed in for tax reduction (according to Peruvian laws, a company can currently donate a maximum of 10% of its net income).
  4. It can request the reimbursement of VAT of monetary donations if the project was approved by the APCI.  ( www.apci.gov.pe
  5. An NGO will continue to exist if its founders pass away or leave or if it becomes part of another social project. 
  6. The profits have to be reinvested to support the social objectives of the NGO, they are never distributed among the founders.

Can an NGO have paid employees? What implications does this have in comparison to volunteers who run the NGO?

An NGO can have paid employees for their routine work. The salaries should comply with national standards as it’s the NGO which is doing social work and not their employees. If an employee is also a board member, he or she should receive a minimum or basic salary as the NGO’s assets are not meant to support the lifestyle of the board members.

Volunteers normally come for 6 months with the option to extend for another 6 months. However, there is no work relationship between the NGO and volunteer as he or she is not legally an employee. As mentioned above, volunteers may be provided with accommodation, food and a daily allowance for transportation etc. They often don’t work full-time (in Peru, working full-time means a 48-hour work week not including breaks).

Can an NGO own property? If yes, do they have to pay taxes for the property?

As a legal entity, an NGO can have its own assets, paid for through its own funds or with money from contributors, cooperators and associates. Once an NGO is the owner of a property, it has to pay property taxes. These taxes have to be paid always from January 1st of the year when the property was purchased. In certain cases, no taxes need to be paid. Please consult the following website to learn more (available only in Spanish): 

https://www.sat.gob.pe/websitev9/TributosMultas/PredialyArbitrios/Informacion

If the NGO owns a vehicle, vehicle taxes need to be paid during the first three years if the car is new or from its registration with the Automotive Registry if it’s a used imported car. 

Do you need more information? Please use the form below to contact Sergio Vargas of NVC Abogados directly: 

Sergio Vargas
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