Update: A Guide to Uruguay’s Legal System and Research


By Pablo Sandonato de Leon

Update by Juan Troccoli, Mariana Barua and Juan Fischer


Juan Ignacio Troccoli is the Tax Partner of Fisher & Schickendantz, one of Uruguay’s leading law firms. He manages the Tax, Corporate and Accounting Department of the firm, integrated by 15 CPA’s and 45 auditing and support staff. He specializes in advising local and foreign clients on fiscal, finance and accounting topics, cross border transactions, international tax structures and setting up operations within Uruguay to serve worldwide clients. He also advises several multinational institutions such as the World Bank Group and the national Industrial Chambers in Uruguay.


Mariana Barua is a senior associate with Fisher & Schickendantz in Montevideo, Uruguay. She was appointed Assistant Professor for Civil Law in the University of the Republic of Uruguay in 2010 and in the Catholica University of Uruguay in 2012. She is a frequent author of article and has contributed to several books and journals. She studied at the University of Lima and earned her J.D. in 2004 (Magna Cum Laude). She studied part of her career at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She practiced law for five years in Lima, and afterwards moved to Montevideo to practice law. She received her LL.M. Degree from the University of California, Davis, in 2008 and is currently studying a Master in Civil Law (with emphasis in Contracts) at the Catholic University of Uruguay.


Juan Federico Fischer is the managing partner of Fisher & Schickendantz, one of Uruguay’s leading law firms. Both a lawyer and an M.B.A., he manages the firm’s foreign investment consulting unit, advising multinationals and individual investors in foreign direct investments in real estate developments, acquisition of local companies, agricultural enterprises and privatizations.


Published July/August 2016

(Previously updated by Pablo Sandonato de Leon in Jan/Feb 2010)

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Table of Contents


1.1. General Information

1.2. Country Information

2.     THE URUGUAYAN STATE                

2.1. Frontiers

2.2. Form of Government

2.3. Administrative Divisions

2.4. Institutional Background

2.5. Territorial Administration


3.1. General Background

3.2. Sources of Law

3.3. The Law and its Procedures

3.4. Interpretation of the Law

3.5. Codification and Decodification of the Law

3.6. The Resolution of Conflicts

3.7. Applicability of International Law in Uruguay

3.8. Conflict of Laws (Private International Law)

3.9. Recognition of Foreign Rulings


4.1. The Supreme Court of Justice

4.2. Courts of Appeal

4.3. Courts


5.1. Citizenship

5.2. Status of Foreigners


6.1. Domestic System

6.2. Some Treaties to which Uruguay is a Party

6.3. Criminal Law on Grave Offences against Human Rights and Humanitarian Law


7.1. Marriage

7.2. Concubine Union (Civil Unions)

7.3. Child Law


8.1. Partnerships

8.2. Corporations

8.3. Groups of Economic Interest

8.4. Consortia

8.5. Foreign Companies in Uruguay


9.1. Temporary Admission

9.2. Free Trade Zones


10.1. Preferential Trade Agreements

10.1.1.    ALADI

10.1.2.   MERCOSUR

10.2. Multilateral Trade Relations



12.1. International Regulations Ratified by Uruguay

12.2. Environmental Impact Study


13.1. General Background

13.2. Labor Contract and Labor Conditions


14.1. Value Added Tax (VAT)

14.2. Income Tax

14.3. Business Activities Income Tax (IRAE for its acronym in Spanish)

14.4. Physical Persons Income Tax

14.5. Net Wealth Tax

14.6. Specific Internal Tax (IMESI for its acronym in Spanish)




17.1. Constitutional Law

17.2. Administrative Law

17.3. Public International Law

17.4. Integration Law

17.5. Human Rights

17.6. Family, Matrimonial and Successions Law

17.7. Contracts and Obligations Law

17.8. Commercial Law

17.9. Intellectual Property

17.10. Conflict of Laws (Private International Law)

17.11. Labour Law

17.12. Procedural Law

17.13. Tax Law

17.14. Criminal Law









1.1.          General Information



The website of the Investment and Export Promotion Institute, called Uruguay XXI, includes general data of Uruguay, and is published in English.


1.2.          Country Information

Uruguay is located in a strategic geographical area in the region, it is a buffer state between Brazil and Argentina and a gateway to the basins of the River Plate and the River Parana. Its population has a high literacy rate and there is a large urban middle class. Income distribution is relatively even, infrastructure is good, and telecommunications are well-developed. There is an adequate and dependable juridical framework. Regarding governance and governability, Uruguay is known in the region for its political and economic stability. It is a market-oriented economy in which the state still plays an important role.


Uruguay is a major destination for regional and extra-regional investment, and provides market opportunities in information technology, telecommunications equipment and chemicals. Major infrastructure projects in the pipeline are: the Paraná-Paraguay River Transportation System, energy projects (combined power plant, transmission, and wind), railway rehabilitation, port projects and cellulose and wood chipping plants.


More information regarding Uruguay’s economy can be found here (copy and paste the URL into a browser).


At a diplomatic level, Montevideo hosts the headquarters of a number of regional international organizations: the Secretariat and the Permanent Representatives Commission, as well as the Parliament of MERCOSUR; all three organs of MERCOSUR; the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for its Spanish acronym, created at Montevideo in 1980); the Postal Union of the Americas, Spain and Portugal (UPAEP); and the Inter-American Children’s Institute, a subsidiary organ of the Organization of American States.


Uruguay is ranked second in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in Latin America, second only to Chile, and 21th globally[1].


More information regarding rankings where Uruguay leads can be found here (page 4).




2.1.          Frontiers

To the North and Northeast: with the Federal Republic of Brazil; to the East: with the Argentine Republic; to the South-Southwest: with the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean


2.2.         Form of Government

Semi-Presidential, Proportional, Representative Republic.


2.3.         Administrative Divisions

19 departments [“departamentos” (pl.) “departamento” (sing.)]: Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo, Colonia, Durazno, Flores, Florida, Lavalleja, Maldonado, Montevideo, Paysandú, Río Negro, Rivera, Rocha, Salto, San José, Soriano, Tacuarembó, Treinta y Tres.


A map of Uruguay with all its Departments can be found at the website of the Military Geographic Service of Uruguay (Servicio Geográfico Militar).


2.4.         Institutional Background

Rule of Law and democratic values are a constant in the civic life of the country, with exceptions in the late 19th Century and between 1972 and 1985.


The President and Vice-President of the Republic are elected by direct, universal and secret ballot, as are the legislators, both national (in a bi-cameral system of Senators and Representatives, the latter also known as “Diputados”) and departmental, and the departmental executive branch (“Intendente Municipal”). The legislative branch, in a joint session of both Chambers (General Assembly) elects citizens to constitute the jurisdictional organs: namely, for judicial justice (the Supreme Court of Justice), for electoral justice (the Electoral Court), and for administrative justice (Contentious Administrative Court); all of whom are known as “Ministers”. It also elects the members of the disbursements and payments external control organ (Court of Audit).


The President of the Republic is elected for a period of five years, non-renewable consecutively. According to most received constitutional doctrine, the President is only the Chief of State; while the office of Chief of Government corresponds to the President acting in Cabinet (with his Ministers). The President acting with one or more Ministers, or with the entire Cabinet depending on the issue, constitutes the Executive Branch. It is said that Uruguay’s system is not entirely presidential because, even though the President elects his Ministers freely (according to the Constitution); he can only do so from amongst citizens who, through Parliamentary support, are assured of their permanence in office. State Ministers can be censured by Parliament.


The Legislative Branch is composed of three organs: the Chamber (House) of Senators, the Chamber (House) of Representatives and the General Assembly (both Houses in joint session). Members of this branch are also elected by universal and secret ballot by means of an integrated system of proportional representation (albeit in a weakened version). The Vice-President of the Republic is President of the Senate, which has thirty-one members. The House of Representatives has ninety-nine members.


As a remnant of early and mid-twentieth century state interventionism, the state is still engaged in commerce and industry, acting through autonomous entities and decentralized services, which have varying degrees of independence from the Executive Branch.


A brief comment about Uruguayan form of government can be found on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is published in Spanish.


The Constitution of Uruguay sets the main features of Uruguayan Government. It can be found in Spanish on the website of the National Office of official Printouts and Publications (Dirección Nacional de Impresiones y Publicaciones Oficiales) (article 82 and the following).


2.5.         Territorial Administration

Territorial administration is decentralized and carried out in 19 Departments, each of which has its own non-autonomous executive branch (the executive authority is the Mayor, or Governor, known as the Intendente) and legislative branch (Departmental Council). The Departmental Council is composed of thirty-one honorary members (councillors), who pass regulations which are legally binding within the territory of the department. The Council must approve the departmental budget (that is, the budget proposed by the Council itself and the Executive Authority).


The national budget is five-yearly, with yearly balances and indispensable adjustments. The initiative in budgetary issues is the exclusive responsibility of the Executive Branch, except in the cases of the controlling organs and the decentralized services and autonomous entities.




3.1.          General Background

The Uruguayan juridical system comprises a code of Civil Law based on the Spanish legal system, since Uruguay’s territory was once part of the Kingdom of the Indies, whose sovereign was the King of Spain.


This code can be found in Spanish on the website of the IMPO Legal Publications for purchase, and on WIPO site where the code, updated as of Feb 26, 2010) is available in ENG for download as PDF.


The current Constitution was approved in 1967 (with amendments in 1989, 1994, 1996 and 2004). It establishes that laws should be written and passed by Parliament and enacted by the President of the Republic.


Uruguay has adopted the Civil Law system; however, sentences issued by jurisdictional justice (Courts of the first instance, Higher Courts and the Supreme Court of Justice), are used as a guide in subsequent trials; although they are not binding (do not constitute a legal precedent).


Sentences of Higher Courts and the Supreme Court can be found in Spanish, in the National Public Case-Law Database (Base de Jurisprudencia Nacional Publica)


In issues pertaining to property rights and their guarantees, secured interests in property and contracts are recognized and enforced. Mortgages exist, and there is a recognized and reliable system of recording such securities. Uruguay’s legal system protects the acquisition and disposition of all property, including land, buildings, and mortgages. Nevertheless, execution of guarantees is usually a slow process.


3.2.         Sources of Law

The only two sources of Law in Uruguay are the Constitution and the legislation. Custom is only a source of law when the law expressly refers to it, and settled views among scholars and case law are only used as instruments of interpretation.


Sources of law are established by the preliminary title of the Uruguayan Civil Code, articles 1, 3, 9 and 16).


The structure of the Uruguayan juridical system is strongly pyramidal in shape, with the Constitution at the apex. Below the Constitution is the Law (and Departmental Council decrees—departmental legislative acts which are binding within their territory—the decrees of the Executive Branch, Ministerial Resolutions, etc.)


3.3.         The Law and its Procedures

Bills may originate amongst the citizens (by means of a popular initiative, both for the passing or the repeal of a law), in the Legislative Branch (in any of the two Houses of Parliament) or in the Executive Branch. However, legislative initiatives in matters related to the budget, public expenditure, tax exemptions, and minimum wages are the exclusive prerogative of the Executive Branch (in its capacity as leader of the State’s economic policy), as are bills which are declared urgent.


This is established in articles 79, 85, 133 and 305 of the Uruguayan Constitution.


In every case, Bills must be considered and passed by both Houses. Thus, a Bill passed by one of the Houses must be sent to the other, but if the latter fails to pass it and rejects it; the Bill will not be approved and may not be submitted again during the same year’s session. On the other hand, if the House receiving the Bill should only have observations or addenda to include, the Bill is returned to the originating House which, if it accepts the observations or addenda, will communicate this fact to the other House and send the Bill directly to the Executive Branch so that the process may continue. However, if the originating House does not accept the observations or addenda and insists upon the original Bill, an assembly of both Houses may be requested (General Assembly), which will reach a decision, by a majority of two-thirds of the votes, passing one of the two Bills or drafting a new one.


Once a Bill is passed by both Houses, it is sent to the Executive Branch to be enacted and published. However, if the Executive Branch should have objections or observations, in total or in part (veto), the Bill must be returned with the objections or observations to the General Assembly, within a peremptory term of ten days. The General Assembly is convened and must decide, by a majority of three fifths of the members present in each of the Houses, whether to accept the Executive Branch’s modifications, or to reject them, maintaining the Bill which was previously passed. If, after thirty days, the General Assembly has not expressly rejected the modifications, they will be taken as approved. On the other hand, if the assembled Houses reject the Bill returned by the Executive Branch, it will not be passed and may not be submitted again during the year’s session. If, however, the Executive Branch’s modifications are reconsidered, the Assembly will vote nominally, for aye or for nay, and each voter’s vote and justification is published in the press.


3.4.         Interpretation of the Law

The interpretation of the Law is regulated by the Preliminary Chapter of the Civil Code. The established method is referred to in doctrine as the “logical-systematic” method and consists of interpreting the text and context of a law, avoiding abstract results which may not be just. Thus, if the letter of the law is clear, it must be applied: “the literal meaning of a law may not be ignored, under the pretext of consulting its spirit”. On the other hand, if the literal meaning of a law is not clear, the intention or spirit of the law, as clearly manifested by the law itself, or by reliable records of its application, may be invoked. The historical method is, therefore, only auxiliary.


3.5.         Codification and Decodification of the Law

National legislation is heavily decodified, in spite of the existence of ten Codes: Civil, Commercial, Criminal, Civil Procedures and Criminal Procedures, Mining, Water, Rural and Tax. The Civil Code was passed in 1867, the Commercial Code in 1865 and the Criminal Code, in 1934. The remaining Codes are more recent but in every case, are evidently outdated, with the sole exception of the General Procedural Code, of 1988, which has been used as a model for procedural codes in various Latin American countries.

There are at present innumerable laws which expressly or tacitly modify the regulations contained in the codes and which generate practical difficulties for those who must apply the law, and students. The problem is also invested with systemic significance, in view of the general obsolescence of juridical institutions which are somewhat anachronistic and others which lack regulation, in particular taking into account the advances of science and technology in the last few decades.


The phenomenon of decodification in Uruguayan Law has not been fully taken into account by national doctrine, but it is a serious problem, which requires attention.


3.6.         The Resolution of Conflicts

In Uruguay, juridical controversy may be resolved in one of two ways (except where the law states otherwise): judicially or extra-judicially. The first consists of applying to the Judicial Branch’s institutions; the second, to the institutions of conciliation and arbitration existing in Uruguay or abroad. The Uruguayan Stock Market has a Conciliation and Arbitration Centre; which also officiates as an International Court of Arbitration for the MERCOSUR.


Legislation in Uruguay establishes a procedure for arbitrating tribunals (Articles 472 to 507 of the General Procedural Code). International arbitration tribunals may be guided by Uruguayan law or by foreign law, without distinction. Legislation recognizes the full effectiveness of foreign findings and sentences, which are submitted to exequatur procedure for their enforcement. The possibility is also established enabling national judicial institutions to suggest cautionary measures before an arbitral award is approved.


Uruguay is party to several of the principal international agreements regarding international arbitration, such as the Obligatory General Arbitration Treaty, of 1922; the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, of 1958; the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of other States, of 1965; the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, of 1975; the Inter-American Convention on Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments and Arbitral Awards, of 1979; the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad, of 1993, the MERCOSUR Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, of 1998; the MERCOSUR-Chile-Bolivia Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, of 1998 and the Ibero-American Multilateral Agreement on Social Security.


3.7.         Applicability of International Law in Uruguay

The negotiation, signing (of assent or adherence) and ratification of treaties is the responsibility of the Executive Branch, in its capacity as the conductor of Uruguay’s foreign policy. Once a treaty is signed, the Executive Branch sends it to the Legislative Branch for approval. In Uruguay, this is effected by means of a law, in both the formal sense (the same process is followed as in the case of a regular law) and the material sense (the text of the law which approves a treaty usually uses the following terms: Aprúebase el tratado..... sucrito por la República el..., that is, “the treaty… is hereby approved... subscribed by the Republic on...”). The only formal difference regarding other types of law is that the Legislative Branch may only pass or reject the treaty; it may not, obviously, introduce modifications or amendments. Once the text has been approved, it is sent to the Executive Branch, who now has a double task: as a law, it must be enacted (and ordered to be enforced within the national territory) and published (in the official Gazette). However, as a treaty, the Executive Branch is also responsible for depositing the instrument of ratification, a procedure carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


The approval of a treaty by means of a law generates a problem concerning the hierarchy of the treaty within the legal system, since the Constitution lacks any express or tacit reference to the subject. Doctrine is not in agreement in this matter and jurisprudence very rarely expresses an opinion on international treaties and, when it does, it refers to the laws which approve them. It may be seen that Uruguay is an extremely dualistic country.


There is a problem regarding the method of interpretation of treaties, which has not been taken into account by jurisprudence, although it has, however, been considered by Uruguayan internationalist doctrine. As each treaty is also a law, a judge could interpret it in accordance with the procedures laid down for the interpretation of laws; on the other hand, as it is also a treaty, it must be interpreted according to the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (which is also in force in Uruguay as a law). Furthermore, as the text of a treaty is legally binding, due to its nature as a law, it could be modified internally by a subsequent law (“lex posterior derogat legi priori”). All this could generate, in our view, different and irreconcilable interpretations (due to the lack of provision as regards the hierarchy of international treaties) or a regulatory conflict, with the consequent danger of incurring international liability.


Some of the treaties to which Uruguay is a party:


Uruguay has approved or ratified the following amongst other treaties.




3.8.         Conflict of Laws (Private International Law)

The Uruguayan juridical system provides a series of solutions regarding Private International Law, or the conflict of laws, established in the Appendix to the Civil Code, and in the Treaties on Private International Law of Montevideo, of 1889 and 1940, both still current. Regulations in this matter are of “ordre publique”, and thus may not be modified by agreement of the parties.


It is also established that in Uruguay, “in no case, [shall] foreign laws which manifestly contravene the essential principles of international public order on which the Republic bases its juridical individuality” be enforced (an expression which doctrine has used to define the concept of “public order” in the matter of conflicting laws).


The solutions are:










3.9.         Recognition of Foreign Rulings

As established in the General Procedural Code, rulings issued in a foreign country in matters of civil, commercial, family, labor and public administrative law; rulings issued in criminal matters, with regard to their civil effects when these refer to private persons or interests; and rulings issued with regard to such matters by International Courts; shall, in Uruguay, be endowed with imperative, evidentiary and final effect. In other terms, foreign rulings shall be recognized and enforced in Uruguay, if appropriate, without any need for review regarding the background of the matter which is the object of the proceedings related to the rulings which were issued.


Foreign actions of voluntary jurisdiction come into effect in Uruguay so long as they comply with the requirements established hereinafter, in all relevant ways.


In order for a foreign ruling, on both contentious and voluntary jurisdictions, to be effective in Uruguay, it must comply with the following conditions:


i)        It shall comply with the external formalities which are required in order to be considered valid in the originating State;

ii)      The ruling and any necessary accompanying documentation must be duly legalized in accordance with the laws of Uruguay, unless the ruling has been remitted through diplomatic or consular channels, or through the proper administrative authorities;

iii)     The ruling must be duly translated, if appropriate;

iv)     The Court issuing the ruling must have jurisdiction in international areas enabling it to rule in the matter, in accordance with the law, unless the matter is of the exclusive jurisdiction of the country’s courts;

v)       The defendant shall have been duly notified or summoned, in accordance with the law of the State in which the ruling originates;

vi)     The parties must have been duly provided with legal counsel;

vii)    The rulings must have the status of res judicata in the State in which they originate, and;

viii)  The rulings must not manifestly oppose the international principles of public order in Uruguay.


In order to request fulfillment of a foreign ruling the following supporting documentation is required:


i)      An authenticated copy of the ruling;

ii)    an authenticated copy of the necessary exhibits providing evidence that items “v” and “vi” of the previous listing have been complied with, and;

iii)   An authenticated certification to validate the fact that the ruling has the status of res judicata.


The enforcement of a foreign ruling is limited only to rulings which are subject to enforcement. A request for enforcement must be submitted to the Supreme Court of Justice of Uruguay. Once the petition has been submitted, a summons is issued to the party involved, who will be issued with a twenty-day notice. The Court Prosecutor is then heard and a resolution is issued, which is not subject to appeal. If enforcement is confirmed, the sentence is remitted to the competent court, so that it may act in accordance with the appropriate procedures according to the nature of the sentence.


Recommended further reading on the Uruguayan legal system:





Justice in Uruguay is centralized in the Judicial Branch, which has national authority; that is, there are no autonomous judicial institutions within each department or city.


The Judicial Branch is organized on the basis of its independence with respect to the other governing branches in the State, and of the functional independence of the judicial institutions which compose it. That is, there is no functional hierarchy between the various institutions of the Judicial Branch, in the exercise of the jurisdictional function. In its administrative activities, however, all institutions and offices of the Judicial Branch are subject to the authority of the Supreme Court of Justice.


The institutions of jurisdictional justice in Uruguay are: the Supreme Court of Justice, the Courts of Appeal, District Courts (Juzgados Letrados), Peace Courts (Juzgados de Paz) and Rural Courts (Juzgados Regales).


The average duration of civil suits in Uruguay has increased as a consequence of the increase in judicial activity. In 1998, 968 judgments were rendered in the first instance in civil matters, and 245 in the second instance. A total of 1284 judgments were rendered in civil matters in that year. In 2007, 1328 judgments were rendered in civil matters and 418 in the second instance. A total of 1746 judgments were rendered in civil matters in that year. In 2013, 1730 judgments were rendered in Montevideo in the first instance in civil matters, and 1602 in the second instance. A total of 2973 were rendered in civil matters in that year.  In 1998, the average duration of a civil suit was 18.5 months for the first instance and 4.4 months for the second instance, whilst in 2007, the duration was 26.3 months for the first instance and 5.8 months for the second instance.[2] In 2013, the average duration of a civil suit in Montevideo was of 21.1 months for the first instance, and of 5.4 months for the second instance.


4.1.          The Supreme Court of Justice

The Constitution establishes that the responsibilities of the SCJ (Supreme Court of Justice) are:


i)      To judge all offenders against the Constitution; to intervene in matters  regarding the Rights of Persons; in admiralty cases; in matters related to treaties, pacts and agreements with other States; to find in cases involving accredited diplomats in the Republic, in cases established by International Law;


ii)    To declare the unconstitutionality of laws—whenever a law, or a regulation which is legally binding, must be applied. A favourable pronouncement in answer to a petition (put forward by any person who considers himself injured in his direct, personal and legitimate interest—by way of action, or exception, or ex officio) results in the inapplicability of the regulation in the specific case;


iii)   To find in cassation appeals relating to criminal issues and non-criminal issues, lodged against sentences passed in the second instance by the Courts of Appeals, as well as by District Courts of the first instance, based on the existence of a violation or erroneous application of a legal regulation, either with regard to its subject matter or to its form;


iv)   To find in appeals for review in criminal and non-criminal issues (an appeal for review is an extraordinary means of impeachment used—in the face of a sentence passed with the authority of a matter which has been tried—in order to exercise certain grounds for exception expressly established by the law, with the object of obtaining the reversal of the impeached decision);


v)     To protect departmental autonomy (of mayors—“Intendentes”—or Departmental Councils);


vi)   To settle disputes of jurisdiction between two or more tribunals of the Judicial Branch;


vii)  To pay annual visits to prison establishments, exercising the power of pardon (which extinguishes the crime).


The SCJ is composed of five judges, elected by the General Assembly with a majority of two thirds of the votes of the total number of members.


4.2.         Courts of Appeal

The Courts of Appeal find, in the second instance, in appeals lodged against sentences of the first instance passed by District Courts in the respective areas. The Courts of Appeal are specialized according to subject matter; at present there are Courts of Appeal in the following areas: Civil, Family, Labour and Criminal.


4.3.         Courts

The Court is the basic jurisdictional unit; the difference between a Court and the Courts of Appeal being that the Courts find in the first instance and are individual, whereas the Courts of Appeal find in the second instance and are composed of a tribunal (three members). Courts may be of three types: District, Peace and Rural.


District Courts (“Juzgado Letrado”)

District Courts are of two kinds: District Courts of First Instance, with territorial jurisdiction within the department of Montevideo, and District Courts of First Instance in the Interior, with jurisdiction in departments other than Montevideo (in Uruguay, the area beyond the capital city of Montevideo is known as the “interior” of the country).


District Courts of First Instance

Although their full name includes the term “of First Instance”, this is a redundancy, as, in fact, there are no District Courts of Second Instance. Furthermore, District Courts of First Instance act as appeal courts for Peace Courts, so the name is not entirely apt.


Specialization of the District Courts, according to subject matter, is as follows:








Claims and pleas with regard to legitimate and natural filial relationships and to civil status; actions related to marriage and the situation of spouses; legal separations, divorce, marriage annulments, alimony or maintenance payments and visiting rights; guardianship, tutelage, administration of children’s assets; suspension, limitation, loss and restitution of parental authority; emancipation, coming of age rights and permission to make use of assets; adoption and legitimization through adoption; declarations of incapacity, guardianship and absence; matrimonial assets system; inheritance procedures; and personal or patrimonial matters arising from concubinage.





District Courts of First Instance in the Interior

Their territorial jurisdiction is in the departments in the interior of the country (outside of Montevideo), whereas their material jurisdiction comprises various matters: criminal, labour and customs; and in civil matters, commerce, property, family and minors. They also find in the second and final instance in appeals originating against sentences passed by the Peace Courts within their territorial jurisdiction.


Peace Courts (“Juzgado de Paz”)

As in the case of the District Courts, Peace Courts are of four types, and their jurisdiction is distributed according to two criteria: territorial and monetary.


Departmental Peace Courts in the Capital

These Courts find in non-contentious judicial matters, which are outside the orbit of Family District Courts, whatever the monetary sum involved. Also within their jurisdiction are contentious matters; civil, commercial and of property when the monetary sum involved does not exceed a fixed amount which is determined annually (in 2007; approx. USD 7,000).


Offence and Misdemeanour Courts: find in a single instance in cases which arise from offences committed within the department of Montevideo; however, their involvement in forensic procedures is minimal.


Departmental Peace Courts in the Interior

Their territorial jurisdiction is limited to the department in the interior of the country in which they are located. In material terms they find: in the first instance in contentious matters, civil, commercial and relating to property, involving monetary sums not exceeding an amount fixed annually (in 2007; approx. USD 3,800 or 1,700, depending on the case); in voluntary jurisdiction; non-contentious jurisdictional actions, whatever the sum involved.


Peace Courts in Cities, Towns or Villages in the Interior

These Courts find in single instance in contentious matters, civil, commercial and relating to property, involving monetary sums not exceeding an amount fixed annually (in 2007; approx. USD 1,700); and in the first instance, in matters involving sums exceeding that amount but not exceeding an amount fixed annually (in 2007; approx. USD 3,800).


Rural Peace Courts

These Courts find, in the first instance, in civil, commercial and property suits involving monetary sums not exceeding an amount fixed annually (in 2007; approx. USD 1,700).


Recommended further reading on the Uruguayan judicial system:






5.1.          Citizenship

Citizens of Uruguay (known as “Orientales” from the country’s official name, República Oriental del Uruguay) may be natural or legal citizens.


Natural citizens are:


i)               every man and woman born within the territory of the Republic, and;

ii)             Children of an Uruguayan mother or father, whatever their place of birth, if they become residents in the country and register at the Civil Registry Office.


Citizenship does not extend jure sanguinis beyond the first generation. That is, the children of the persons described in (ii) do not transmit Uruguayan citizenship to their children, according to legislation regarding nationality and citizenship.


The phrase “become residents in the country” is understood to imply the carrying out of actions which make the individual’s intention in this regard unequivocally manifest; such as, for example, remaining in the country for over a year; renting, promising to acquire or acquiring real estate in order to reside in it; installing a place of business or industry, becoming employed in the public or private sector, or “other similar actions which provide evidence of intention”.


Legal citizenship may be requested by any person who:


i)               shows evidence of good conduct, has established a family within the Republic; owns a certain amount of capital or a property in the country or practises a science, art or industry; and has been a habitual resident in the Republic for three years; or

ii)             shows evidence of good conduct, has no family in the Republic, but some other of the qualities mentioned above, and has been a habitual resident in the country for five years.


In addition to the above conditions, it is required that the foreigner:


i)               should be free of physical or mental handicaps which may prevent him or her from acting freely and reflexively;

ii)             should not be legally prosecuted for any criminal case which may derive in a sentence of more than two years;

iii)            should be over 18 years of age;

iv)            should not have been sentenced for a crime, to banishment or disqualification from the exercise of political rights;

v)              should not habitually engage in morally reprehensible activities;

vi)            should not belong to social or political organizations which, by means of violence or propaganda inciting to violence, tend to destroy the basic foundation of nationality.


The rights inherent to legal citizenship may not be exercised until three years have lapsed since the citizenship was granted. The existence of any of the reasons for suspension referred to in Article 80, will be an obstacle to granting citizenship.


However, the General Assembly may, notwithstanding, grant special grace and favour citizenship, when an individual’s notable services or significant merits should so warrant.


There is no provision for jure matrimonii citizenship in Uruguay.


5.2.         Status of Foreigners

Entry to Uruguay is free, and there are no prior permits, invitations, visas (in some cases), nor vaccinations required. Foreigners arriving in Uruguay may remain for 90 days, without paid employment. This may be extended to a further 90 days at the request of the interested party.


Citizens of the following countries does not require visa to enter Uruguay: Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Granada, Guatemala, Guyana, Holland, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea Republic, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta (Republic of), Malta (Sovereign Military Order of), Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts And Nevis, San Marino, Saint Vincent And The Grenadines, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Serbia, Seychelles Islands, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United States and Venezuela. (See here).


There is no discrimination in law or in fact between nationals and foreigners, except as regards the exercise of political rights and those rights which are inherent to nationality, such as employment in the civil service.


Recommended further reading on citizenship and status of foreigners in Uruguay:





6.1.          Domestic System

The Constitution devotes its second chapter to the protection of Human Rights. In this section, the article establishes that: the inhabitants of the Republic have the right to be protected in their enjoyment of life, honor, freedom, safety, work and property. No-one may be deprived of these rights except in the cases determined by laws which are established in the general interest.


The Constitution expressly protects the right to the status of a person in the eyes of the law, to personal integrity; it prohibits slavery, protects personal freedom, establishes judicial guarantees and the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, indemnity, the protection of honor and dignity, identity, freedom of conscience and religion, and of association, protection of the family, the right to nationality and to a name, the rights of children, the right to health-care, education, recreation, culture, to private property, to freedom of circulation and residence, political rights, equality in the eyes of the law, judicial protection, progressive development and minimum guarantees in times of exception.

The right to Petition is also acknowledged. By means of this right, any administrative authority is required to rule upon any petition presented by the holder of a legitimate interest in the execution of a specific administrative act, and to resolve the administrative appeals which may be made against its decisions, following the appropriate procedures established for the due process of the matter, within a term of 120 days, from the date when the final action took place, in accordance with the applicable law or regulation.


6.2.         Some Treaties to which Uruguay is a Party

Uruguay is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its Optional Protocol; the American Convention on Human Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the Convention against the Taking of Hostages; the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery; the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (approved by law N° 17,109); and the Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (approved by law N° 17,670); amongst others.


At the Inter-American level, the most significant are the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities; the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons; the Inter-American Convention on International Traffic in Minors (approved by law Nº 16,860); the Inter-American Convention on Support Obligations (approved by law Nº 17,334); and the Inter-American Convention on Jurisdiction in the International  Sphere for the Extraterritorial Validity of Foreign Judgments (approved by law Nº 17,533), amongst others.


6.3.         Criminal Law on Grave Offences against Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

International Crimes as established in article 5 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court have been incorporated into domestic law, and are therefore also offences under national law. It should also be mentioned that, according to domestic law: The Eastern Republic of Uruguay has the right and the duty to adjudge acts prescribed as an offence under International Law.


The country will grant neither asylum nor refuge when there are sufficient grounds to believe that a person has committed the crimes in question. Such crimes are imprescriptible (meaning that they are not affected by any statute of limitations), and cannot be the object of any amnesty or pardon.


A particular feature of these crimes is the fact that the victim, his or her family and/or the person who has presented the charges are a part of the criminal process; they normally would not be in the case of regular offences under domestic law.




According to domestic legislation, genocide is committed when there is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group; but also a political, or an associative group; or a group with a self-identity based on gender, sexual orientation, culture, society, age, different capabilities, or health.


Genocide can be committed through regular means, but also through torture, forced disappearance, imprisonment, sexual aggression, forced pregnancy, inhuman or degrading treatment, the intentional subjection to deprivation of resources which are indispensable for survival; through a serious disruption of health; to the systematic expulsion of persons from their homes or through conditions of existence which can hinder persons from pursuing their way of life or give rise to the full or partial physical destruction of the group.    


Crimes against Humanity:


Are those established in article 7 of the Rome Statute. However, domestic law has incorporated other acts as crimes against humanity. Those acts are: “political murder”, “forced disappearance”, “torture”, “grave deprivation of freedom”, “sexual aggression against a person deprived of liberty” and “the association to perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes”.


A political murder is committed by an agent of the State, or by a private individual with the authorization, support or acquiescence of an agent of the State, because of political, associative, religious, cultural or gender-related opinions or activities; or because of the victim’s adherence to a political, associative or religious collective or to a group with an identity by reason of its sex; or to a social sector.


A forced disappearance is committed by an agent of the State, or by a private individual with the authorization, support or acquiescence of an agent of the State, and consists in the imprisonment of a person, followed by the unwillingness to inform of that deprivation of liberty or the refusal to provide information about where that person is to be found. This crime persists until the person is found, or news is received about his or her whereabouts.


Torture is committed by an agent of the State, or by a private individual with the authorization, support or acquiescence of an agent of the State, and consists in the torture of persons under his or her custody or control, or of a witness, expert or similar person, in a judicial procedure. An act of torture can also be perpetrated through moral suffering; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or any act leading to the elimination or decrease of physical or mental capacity, even if causing no pain or suffering.


A grave deprivation of liberty is a deprivation of liberty when committed by an agent of the State, or by a private individual with the authorization, support or acquiescence of an agent of the State.


A sexual aggression against a person deprived of liberty is committed by an agent of the State, or by a private individual with the authorization, support or acquiescence of an agent of the State, and consists in sexual aggression against a person deprived of freedom or under his or her custody or control; or against a person presenting charges under criminal justice, or against witnesses, experts or similar persons.


An association to perpetrate genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes is committed by persons who gather to commit one or several of the crimes described above.


Recommended further reading on Human Rights in Uruguay:





7.1.          Marriage

Marriage is regulated as in most Civil Law systems. Marriage creates a link between persons and a community of property for goods acquired by them in the future. Divorce is incorporated in national law and can be granted upon the fulfillment of certain requirements.


7.2.         ‘Concubine’ Union (Civil Unions)

The de facto union between two persons living together without being united in marriage is protected under Uruguayan law. For this to occur, the two persons must live together united by a sexual interest in an exclusive, singular, stable and permanent manner for an uninterrupted period of five years; and must not be united in marriage.


Concubinage gives rise to a duty of reciprocal assistance, both personal and financial regarding the expenses of the common household; partners must assist each other in all needs related to sustenance even after the concubinage is over (but limited only to the period of time the concubinage actually existed, and only in cases in which one of the partners is in need of this assistance), and owe each other a duty of reciprocal fidelity. The law authorizes a state of community property to be created, in the same terms as in a marriage. As it is protected by law, concubinage gives rise to the same prohibitions as marriage with regard to the contract between the partners. They cannot sell, buy or donate to each other. As regards inheritance, concubines are considered to be in the same degree as if they were married.


Concubines or any interested persons, with a brief justification, are enabled to request judicial recognition of the union. The purpose of this is to enforce any of the duties entailed by concubinage and/or to create the community property.


Concubinage is ended by death, at the request of any of the partners (without expression of cause) or by the declaration of absence.


7.3.         Child Law

All children and adolescents, without distinction, enjoy the rights which are inherent to their condition as human beings. There are special regulations for the protection of children and adolescents who are disabled. With regard to procedural issues, children are allowed access to the courts in defense of their rights, although their appearance is not mandatory. Protection is accorded to all children and adolescents subject to the State’s jurisdiction, independent of ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion or any other condition.


Parents or persons legally responsible for children and adolescents have a duty to: respect them, feed them, watch over their health and their clothing, as well as their education, and to provide guidance. These persons should also provide monetary assistance, or in kind, in order to satisfy, according to the particular circumstances of each case, all needs related to sustenance, lodging, clothing, health and the expenses related to acquiring a profession or trade, education, culture and recreation. This duty is not transferable, cannot be renounced, cannot be impounded, is not subject to compensation and does not expire. As a further safeguard for the protection of children, it is forbidden for a person who provides sustenance to leave the country without providing sufficient guarantees for the period during which he or she will be absent.


Recommended further reading on Family Law in Uruguay:




Corporations and Companies enjoy ipso facto legal personality and are incorporated by contract, either by natural persons or moral entities, domestic or foreign, with the object of pursuing a trade or commercial activity and the participation in the earnings and the assumption of debts. There are seven types of corporation.


8.1.         Partnerships

Current applicable corporate law authorizes the participation of corporations in the capital of other corporations, up to the limit of the social capital. SAFIs (see below) are not so authorized.


These are Limited Liability Companies whose capital is divided into quotas of participation of equal value. They are cumulative, indivisible and non-negotiable. Partners’ liability is limited to the amount of their participation. The number of partners cannot exceed 50. There is no minimum required capital. Partnerships are managed and represented by one or more persons, either partners or not.


8.2.         Corporations (Public Limited Companies)

Their capital is represented by shares, which can be presented as negotiable shares, and which represent an undefined proportional share of authorized stock. There is no statutory minimal amount for their capital. Normally, capital should be incorporated in the national currency; unless the main purpose of the corporation is the investment in assets existing abroad (an authorization is required in this latter case). Shares are commercial documents representing shareholders’ participation in a corporation, their rights and obligations. Shareholders’ liability is limited to the amount of their shares in the company. Management and representation of a corporation is entrusted to a manager or a Board of Directors, unless otherwise established in the act of incorporation. The Shareholders’ Meeting is the sovereign body of the corporation. A government department oversees the constitution, function and liquidation of corporations, including dissolutions, transformations, mergers, spin-offs and changes in their authorized capital.


There are two types of corporations:




Investment Financial Corporations (“SAFI” for the Spanish acronym: Sociedad Anónima Financiera de Inversión):


These are corporations whose main purpose is foreign investment. Even though their incorporation is currently abolished, SAFIs existing before the adoption of Bill 18,083 continue to exist. They have enjoyed a privileged tax system, but as a consequence of the Bill which will come into force on 1 January 2011, they will be governed by the standard tax system.


Unlimited Companies

The members of an Unlimited Company are liable, jointly and severally, without limitation, for the full amount of the company’s obligations. They are governed by Corporate Law.


Limited Partnerships

These companies have two types of partner. There are partners who are liable, jointly and severally, without limitation, for the full amount of the company’s obligations. And there are partners (silent or sleeping partners) whose liability is limited to their original contribution when the company was incorporated.


Limited Shareholding Partnerships

These companies also have two types of partner. There are shareholding partners who are liable, jointly and severally, without limitation, for the full amount of the company’s obligations. And there are partners who are only liable for the original value of their shareholding. In these companies, the first type of shareholder may hold negotiable shares.


Mixed Companies (Capital and Labour)

In these companies, the shareholding partners are liable to the same extent as partners in unlimited companies (see above), whereas the partners whose contribution is their labour, are only liable for unperceived profits.


Temporary or Participative Companies

These are companies whose sole object is the realization of specific and transitory business, undertaken by one or more agents. They are not legally incorporated and therefore, third parties can only claim rights or assume obligations with regard to the individual agents, whose liability is unlimited.


8.3.         Groups of Economic Interest

These involve a contract between two or more persons, either physical or legal, whereby they constitute an organization with the purpose of facilitating or developing the economic activity of its members, or to improve or increase the product of these activities. They are legally incorporated, but not intrinsically entitled to obtaining and distributing profits amongst its associates.


The participation of their members cannot be represented by negotiable shares and the managers incorporate the groups in all their relationships with third parties as well as in all activities consistent with its objectives. For their part, the members of the group are jointly and severally responsible for all obligations assumed by the group.


 A Group of Economic Interest is not a business company, but nonetheless, it is classified within the category of plurilateral contracts related to unassociated organizations.


8.4.         Consortia

These involve a contract between two or more persons, either physical or legal, who come together temporarily in order to undertake a task, perform a service or supply certain goods.


They lack legal status and each party must undertake its specified activity in accordance with the terms of the contract, answering personally to third parties regarding the obligations assumed in said undertaking, service or supply, without joint responsibility unless specified.


A consortium is managed by managers or administrators and represented by the administrator or whoever is nominated by the consortium.


8.5.         Foreign Companies in Uruguay

Uruguay recognizes their validity, subject to confirmation of their existence by means of reliable documentation testifying to their incorporation and their decision to operate in Uruguay. Foreign companies are subject to the laws of the place in which they are incorporated, provided that these are not contrary to Uruguayan public international legislation. However, a foreign company may only carry out sporadic activities and take part in valid legal activities in a court of law.


On the other hand, if they wish to undertake activities included in their objectives, on a regular basis, establishing branches, they must register their contracts and decision to establish their residence in the Republic, with the National Commercial Registry (Registro Nacional de Comercio), indicating their address, administration and representation. The company’s minimum issued capital will be legally specified.


Recommended further reading on Corporate Law in Uruguay:





Uruguay has taken measures to encourage private investment, within a framework of legal and financial security.


Law Nº 16,906, known as the “Investments Law”, of 1998, constitutes (together with a series of decrees issued by the Executive Branch) the basic legal framework for investment in Uruguay. It declares that the promotion and protection of national and foreign investment is in the national interest. The Law defines foreign investment as any capital originating abroad.

The basic principles of this law are as follows:



There are no restrictions to the transfer of technology, one hundred percent foreign ownership is allowed, except where restricted for reasons of national security.


9.1.          Temporary Admission

Products may be imported into Uruguay under temporary admission or drawback provisions, exempt from import duties, in order to be processed, assembled, transformed or integrated, but they must be re-exported within 18 months.


The system applies to raw materials; parts and accessories; motors; packaging and packaging materials; matrix, molds and models; intermediate goods; agricultural products and products that are part of the manufacturing process.


9.2.         Free Trade Zones

These are areas within the territory which are enclosed and isolated and in which industrial, commercial and services activities are carried out, under a special legal system of customs and fiscal exemptions and state monopoly exclusion. Enterprises acting in a FTZ are exempt from all national existing or future taxes.  The introduction of goods and services into a FTZ from Uruguay or abroad is exempt from taxation as is also the circulation of goods and services within a FTZ, from VAT and IMESI taxes.


All types of activities are allowed, be they commercial, industrial, service-related or others. The law allows storage and warehousing, manufacturing, and financial and data processing, and related activities to take place within FTZs. Corporations authorized to act in FTZ can also function abroad.


Eleven FTZs are located throughout the country (one public, one of mixed ownership, and seven private). MERCOSUR regulations treat products manufactured in all member state FTZs as extra-territorial. Products manufactured by Uruguayan or foreign firms in Uruguayan FTZs are not eligible for MERCOSUR certificates of origin. Furthermore, these products do not benefit from MERCOSUR customs union advantages and must pay the MERCOSUR common external tariff when entering member countries.


Goods, services, products and raw materials of foreign and Uruguayan origin may be brought into the zones, held, processed, and re-exported without payment of Uruguayan customs duties or import taxes (temporary admission); and goods of Uruguayan origin entering FTZs are treated as Uruguayan exports for taxation and other legal purposes.


The only additional cost to employers is the contribution to social security for Uruguayan employees. The employer does not pay social security taxes for non-Uruguayan employees if those employees waive coverage under the Uruguayan social security system. However, Uruguayans must comprise 75% of a company’s labor force. There exists a project of law at the Parliament to diminish this to 50%.


Recommended further reading on Foreign Investments Law in Uruguay:





10.1.       Preferential Trade Agreements


10.1.1.   ALADI

Uruguay is a member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI for its acronym in Spanish), since its creation by the Treaty of Montevideo, in 1980. Within the framework of ALADI, Uruguay has subscribed to 37 Partial Scope Agreements (AAP for its acronym in Spanish) and ten regional agreements with regard to tariff preferences.


Within the framework of the ALADI Agreements, Uruguay signed a Free Trade Treaty with Mexico on November 15, 2003, establishing a Free Trade Zone between both countries and stipulating that the treaty’s provisions would prevail in case of incompatibility between them and the provisions of the treaties and agreements both countries are party to, including the WTO and MERCOSUR Agreement. Both parties undertook to eliminate tariffs as from the date on which the Agreement came into force, with the exception of car manufacturing, crude oil and its by-products, and the products contained in the list of exceptions.


10.1.2.  MERCOSUR

Uruguay was a founding member, together with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), in 1991, by the Treaty of Asuncion. At a later stage, Venezuela and Bolivia joined the MERCOSUR.


The aim of MERCOSUR is to establish a common market which includes the free circulation of goods, services, capital and labour between the member countries. The Additional Protocol to the Treaty of Asuncion on the Institutional Structure of MERCOSUR (Ouro Preto Protocol), signed in 1994, granted MERCOSUR legal status in international law. 


MERCOSUR signed Free Trade Agreements with Chile (1996), Bolivia (1996), Mexico (2003), Peru (2005) and Israel (2007). On 2011 MERCOSUR signed a Free Trade Treaty with Palestine.


MERCOSUR also signed Free Trade Agreements with Egypt (2010) and with Southern African Customs Union (SACU), with are currently not in force.


10.2.      Multilateral Trade Relations

Uruguay hosted the inauguration of the GATT Uruguay Round, and is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) and the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR).


Trade relations with neighbouring Argentina and Brazil are less important than in the past, but are still significant. In late 2004, Uruguay and the United States signed an Open Skies Agreement, which was ratified in May 2006. In November 2005, Uruguay and the United States signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which was subsequently ratified by both legislatures and came into force on November 1, 2006.


Uruguay also has BITs with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Panama, Poland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. BITs with Armenia, Portugal and Sweden are pending ratification. In addition, Uruguay has signed Double Taxation Agreements with Germany, Korea and Hungary.


As regards multilateral trade relations, Uruguay was a signatory of the International Bovine Meat Agreement and the International Dairy Agreement, both plurilateral, which were terminated in late 1997, but it is not a signatory of the WTO’s other plurilateral agreements. Uruguay took part in the WTO’s extended negotiations on financial services, but did not participate in negotiations regarding telecommunications. As a mainly agricultural country, Uruguay has suggested that agriculture should be fully included in multilateral trade regulations, eliminating internal support and export subsidies, and at the same time, opening up new market access opportunities for agricultural products. It considers that it is essential to agree upon special and differentiated treatment for developing countries, in order to meet their development needs and maintain fair proportionality with respect to the more substantial commitments developed countries must adopt.


Since its last review in 2012, Uruguay has taken part in fifteen cases within the framework of the WTO’s mechanisms for the resolution of differences, in one case as a complainant, in a second case as a respondent and in third case as a third party.


Uruguay participates in the negotiation processes related to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA-ALCA).  



In 1998 and 1999, Uruguay passed trademark and patent Legislation; and in 2003 it passed new TRIPS-compliant copyright legislation. This copyright law represented a significant improvement over the 1937 law; however, IPR enforcement remains ineffective.


Patents are protected by Law. Invention patents have a twenty-year term of protection from the date of filing. Patents for utility models and industrial designs have a ten-year term of protection from the filing date and may be extended for an additional five. The law provides a lax definition of compulsory licensing and vaguely defines compensation as “adequate remuneration” to be paid to the patent-holder.


Trademarks; under this law a registered trademark lasts ten years and can be renewed as many times as desired. It provides prison penalties of six months to three years for violators, and requires proof of a legal commercial connection to register a foreign trademark. Enforcement of trademark rights is adequate and has improved in recent years as a result of an intense anti-smuggling campaign.


Uruguay is a party to the Berne and Universal Copyright Conventions, and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property; and signed the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT) in 1997.


Recommended further reading on Intellectual and Property Rights Law in Uruguay:




The basis for regulation in this area in Uruguay is to be found in Article 47 of the Constitution, which states that protection of the environment is in the general interest. Persons must abstain from any act which causes severe depredation, destruction or contamination of the environment. The Law shall regulate these provisions and may establish sanctions for violators.


In accordance with the Constitutional mandate, the Law 17.283 published on December 12th, 2000, has established that the following are of general interest: the protection of the environment, the quality of the air, the water, the soil and the landscape; the conservation of biological diversity and the configuration and structure of the coast; the reduction and adequate handling of toxic or hazardous substances and of waste materials of any kind; the prevention, elimination, mitigation and compensation of negative environmental impact; the protection of shared environmental resources and of those located outside the areas under national jurisdiction; regional and international environmental cooperation and participation in the solution to global environmental issues; as well as the formulation, instrumentation and application of a national environmental and sustainable development policy. The right of the inhabitants of Uruguay to be protected in their enjoyment of a healthy and balanced environment is recognized, as is the duty of persons (physical and legal, public and private) to abstain from any act which causes severe depredation, destruction or contamination of the environment.


The legal definition of “environmental damage” is given as: any significant loss, reduction or detriment which is inflicted upon the environment.


The right of the State to sponsor an environmentally sustainable development model, protecting the environment and, if it should be deteriorated, restoring it or demanding that it should be restored, is established.


The following are established as basic principles of environmental policy: that Uruguay be acknowledged as a “Natural Country”; the establishment of policies of prevention and precaution in environmental management; the protection of the environment as a commitment undertaken by society as a whole; the trans-sectorial nature of the issue; informed environmental management and access to information afforded to any person interested in the subject, and the increase and strengthening of international cooperation in the issue. 


Among other regulations, it is forbidden to release or emit into the atmosphere, direct or indirectly, substances, materials or energy beyond the maximum limits or in contravention of the conditions established by the Ministry of Housing, Land Use Planning and Environment.


To this end, this Ministry will take into account the levels or situations which may endanger human, animal or vegetable health, harm the environment or cause risk, damage or serious discomfort to living beings or assets.


The protection of the environment is declared to be in the general interest; as are: the production, import, export, transport, packaging, labelling, storage, distribution, commercialization, use and disposal of all chemical substances to ensure adequate levels of environmental protection against the adverse effects derived from normal use, accident or waste they may generate or derive in. Similar provisions exist in the matter of environmental protection; conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, prevention and control of environmental risk derived from the creation, manipulation, utilization or release of genetically modified organisms as a result of biotechnological applications, the introduction of live organisms; acoustic contamination; prevention and control of risks derived from the use and disposal of packaging, the prohibition to commercialize gasoline, paint, pipes and containers which contain lead; as well as the creation and management of a Natural Protected Areas National System.


12.1.       International Regulations Ratified by Uruguay

Uruguay is party to numerous international conventions in this field, such as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol on Substances which Deplete the Ozone Layer; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; the MERCOSUR Framework Agreement on Environment; the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa; the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, and its Protocols of 1976 and 1992; the International Convention on the Constitution of the International Compensation Fund for Damages Caused by Contamination by Hydrocarbons; the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection and the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, among others.


12.2.       Environmental Impact Study

By Executive Branch decree of 1994, it was established that activities, construction and building works among others, would require “Prior Environmental Authorization” when: they include the extraction of minerals which require the opening of quarries or galleries, new perforations or re-opening quarries, galleries or perforations which have previously been abandoned and whose original authorization has not been subject to environmental impact evaluation; or the exploitation of fossil fuels whatever the method of extraction.


The procedure for the issue of the Prior Environmental Authorization calls for the following steps:


i)      communication of the project; classification of the project; Prior Environmental Authorization request; clarification of the project; public audience; and,

ii)    a Ministerial resolution.


The Environmental Impact Study must contain:


i)      the characteristics of the receptor environment; in which the main characteristics of the surroundings must be described, existing effects be evaluated and sensitive or risk areas be identified; all of which should be carried out under three aspects: the physical environment—water, soil, landscape, etc.; the biotic environment—fauna, flora, aquatic biota, etc.; and the anthropic environment—population, activities, use of land, sites of historical and cultural interest, etc.  


ii)    the identification and evaluation of impacts; in which both negative and positive environmental impacts should be identified and assessed, and the following aspects taken into account: foreseeable direct and indirect impacts, single and cumulative; as well as risks derived from the environmental situation resulting from the execution of the project; prediction of the evolution of negative environmental impacts, comparing the situation of the environment with and without the execution of the project, quantification of identified environmental impacts, both geographically and temporally, and comparison of results, with the current situation and with the standards allowed; 



iii)   establishment of mitigation measures, in which the measures of mitigation to be adopted will be identified and developed and the calculation of residual environmental impact if the measures are adopted, will be presented. The following aspects must be taken into account: the mitigation measures which must be applied in order to reduce identified environmental impacts; risk and contingency prevention plans; the compensatory or restorative measures which it will be necessary to adopt; the project’s environmental management plans; and the programmes for abandonment which it may be necessary to adopt.


iv)   Plans for follow-up, control and auditing; which must contain a monitoring plan for the environmental factors included within the project’s area of influence. A term of 150 days is established for the authorities to resolve a Prior Environmental Authorization request.


Recommended further reading on Environmental Law in Uruguay:





13.1.       General Background

The cultural level of Uruguay’s population makes it possible for a Uruguayan worker, within the context of Latin American countries, to be considered as enjoying a high to medium standard; therefore, qualified labour for new projects is not difficult to obtain. The Constitution guarantees workers’ right to work, to organize themselves in associations, and to strike. Legislation establishes that union members are protected by law against dismissal for union activities. Labour unions are nominally independent from the Government. Sympathy strikes are legal. 


Labour relations are regulated by a complex and anachronistic mesh of legal provisions regarding labour contracts, minimum wages, holidays, working hours limitations, overtime, working conditions, social security, labour accidents, firing indemnity, workers’ unions and collective negotiations. Labour relations are basically governed by agreements with the unions. Generally, company owners are members of associations within the business sector and, in turn, workers may join the appropriate union. Union agreements, however, will affect all workers within each sector. 


13.2.       Labor Contract and Labor Conditions

Labor contracts may or may not be drawn up in writing; their duration may be for an indefinite period or for a specific trial period, or for three months. After that term, the contract becomes unlimited in duration and the worker is inscribed in the company’s books as a full employee, unless the employer should decide otherwise. If a term was agreed, and the worker is dismissed before this term has passed, the employer must pay him the salaries owed until the term is over. If a term was not agreed, cancellation of the contract generates the right of the employee to ask for an indemnity. Indemnity due to a worker who has been dismissed in these terms amounts to one month’s updated salary for each year or part of a year worked, up to a maximum of six months, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract. Finally, if a term is agreed and the worker is dismissed after this term has passed, no indemnity is owed to him.


The normal workday is eight hours long, with a maximum of 44 hours a week; these limitations do not apply to management positions. The hours worked beyond those limits are considered to be overtime and are paid at double the rate for normal hours. Overtime on Sundays and holidays, is paid at 2.5 times the value of normal hours.


Complementary benefits established by law are paid holidays (between twenty and thirty days, according to length of service), an extra payment—a bonus (divided into two halves, payable in June and December) and a second extra payment, known as “holiday wages”, which is paid before the worker takes his or her annual holiday; that is, in total, at least fourteen payments are made to each worker every year. 


In 2006, Congress passed a Law on the Promotion and Protection of Labor Unions, rendering illegal any discriminatory action affecting the employment of unionized workers, providing for the reinstatement of the employee if any infringement of the law is proven. Also in 2006, the left-wing government approved a decree on the “Prevention of Conflicts and Regulation of Worker Occupation of the Workplace”, which provides for obligatory negotiations between employer and employees prior to employees resorting to the occupation of the workplace. However, the decree validates the occupation of the workplace as a legitimate extension of the right to strike, provided that all previous steps have been followed.


A law approved in May 1998 provides incentives for companies to hire young people, including a reduction of between 12-18% in employer social security and healthcare contributions.


Employer and employee contributions to the Social Security system amount to close to 19%, with a reduction of up to 13% in the case of the manufacturing industry. Social security payments are high and increase employers’ basic wage costs by almost 50%. The social security system currently allows for retirement at age 65 for both men and women.


The government provides six months of unemployment benefits, which can be extended in some cases.


Labor-related actions have a special statute of limitations, prescribing after one year after the end of the labor relation; and in these actions the employee can only ask for labor related credits generated five years back from that date.


Workers who become disabled on the job receive a monthly pension from the government equal to 70% of their salaries plus free medicine and medical care.


On 2014 a law was passed establishing the criminal liability of the employer in case of workplace accidents, when it is proven that the employer did not comply with the law, exposing his employees to great danger.


Uruguay has ratified most ILO conventions that protect workers’ rights, and generally adheres to their provisions.


Recommended further reading on  Labour and Social Security Law in Uruguay:




Uruguay’s tax system was substantially reformed on July 1, 2007. In general terms, and for the moment, it is possible to describe the system as follows.


14.1.       Value Added Tax (VAT)

VAT is imposed on the circulation of goods and services, as well as imports. The basic rate for this tax is 22% and the minimum rate is 10%, which is applied to prime necessity and medical products.


14.2.       Income Tax

The structure of income tax in Uruguay is based on the following:


i)               the payment of tax on corporate and company income, imposed by the Business Activities Income Tax (IRAE for its acronym in Spanish),

ii)             income tax on physical persons, imposed by the Physical Persons Income Tax (IRPF),

iii)            Non-Resident Persons Income Tax (IRNR).


The principle of territorial source is preserved in the taxation of income, according to which taxation is applied exclusively to income deriving from activities undertaken, or assets located, or economic rights exercised; within the country.


A Uruguayan tax resident has levied the dividends and interests obtained from abroad, at a rate of 12% and the law acknowledges an automatic tax credit if some tax has been paid abroad. New tax residents in Uruguay are 5 years exempted of this taxation on dividends and interests from abroad.


14.3.       Business Activities Income Tax (IRAE for its acronym in Spanish)

The taxation base for this tax is net fiscal income; however, simplified systems have been devised for small and medium enterprises and agricultural tax payers. The amendment of the tax system in 2007 included transfer price rules. The transfer pricing system considers the more widely accepted international methodologies, based on comparability and free competition.


14.4.       Physical Persons Income Tax

This tax is a variation of the system known as dual taxation. The main characteristic of this system is the differential treatment afforded to income derived from labour in relation to income derived from capital. It is designed to cover all income derived from Uruguayan sources, whatever its origin (category), plus dividends and interests obtained abroad.


a) Category I: Capital Income. This is generated by all income originating in this area, such as interest, rents, bonuses, distribution of dividends, capital profits and other similar sources. The general proportional rate is 12%. However, interests on fixed term deposits for a term of over a year in local currency or in indexed units will be taxed at a proportional rate of 3%, and interest on fixed term deposits for a term of under a year in local currency, with no readjustment clause, will be taxed at 5%. As regards profits and dividends for the basic amount subject to this tax, these will be taxed at a proportional rate of 7%.  Interest and dividends obtained from abroad are taxed at 12%. Public debt bonds and income from provisional savings funds are exempt.


b) Category II: Income from Labour.  Unlike capital income, in this category a system of progressive rates is used, applicable to every stage of income, with an individual non-taxable minimum, and specific admissible deductions.  Rates go from 0 to 30%.


14.5.       Net Wealth Tax

This tax is applied to assets existing within the country at the end of the financial year, at a rate of 1.5% for industrial, commercial and agricultural enterprises; 2.8% for banks and financial enterprises, and 2% for all other legal persons. Taxation of physical persons is by means of progressive rates, from 0.7 to 1%, on amounts above the exemption level (approximately USD 105,000).


14.6.       Specific Internal Tax (IMESI, for its acronym in Spanish)

This tax is applied to the first sale of certain goods, such as beverages, tobacco, fuel, cosmetics, vehicles, etc.; at variable rates according to the product. Together with VAT, this tax adds to approximately 70% of total tax revenue.



The General Registry Office is part of the Executive Branch (Ministry of Education and Culture), although it is technically autonomous.  The principle registry offices are the following:


The Property Registry Office, with two departments, Estates—decentralized in 19 Offices, one in each departmental capital—and Mobile Property, which is subdivided into: Motor Vehicles Registry, Non-Removable Pledges Registry and Aircraft Registry. 


The National Personal Acts Registry Office has national jurisdiction and is centralized in Montevideo, with five departments: Interdiction, Universality, Matrimonial Regime, Powers of Attorney, Domestic Partnerships.


The Legal Persons Registry Office is also national in its jurisdiction and centralized in Montevideo. It includes four registry offices: the National Commercial Registry and the Civil Associations and Foundations Registry, Agrarian Entities and Cooperatives.


In each of the registries are inscribed, at the request of the parties involved, the actions pertaining to the matters appropriate to each office. Inscribing an action at the Registry Office does not validate content which is null or subject to neither annulment, nor does it rectify vices or defects which these actions may suffer from.


The object of registration is to publicize the existence of actions, legal business, and recordable judicial and administrative decisions and, depending on the case, to ability to grant exceptions against third parties exist. The system is based on the principle of good faith, according to which it is presumed that the third party is unaware of register inaccuracy. All Registries have been computerized since 1998.



It is not necessary to be a citizen in order to practise Law in Uruguay. Foreigners can practise law, if authorized by the competent national authority.


In order to practise law in Uruguay the following conditions must be fulfilled: possession of a degree which qualifies the holder to practise law, to be 21 years of age and be enrolled in the registry, and to have been sworn in by the Supreme Court of Justice.


Prosecution for a willful or ultra-intentional crime is grounds for disqualification of a person from the exercise of the legal profession if the illicit action, by its nature, is incompatible with the dignity and decorum of the same. Judicial sentences of suspension or privation of freedom also constitute grounds for disqualification.


A culpable offence is not grounds for disqualification; that is, when mens rea, as it is known in common law, is not present.


Legislation expressly establishes the professional responsibility of lawyers: Lawyers are responsible to their clients for any damage or harm with which they may legally be attributed.


Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Justice and may be applied in the following cases:


i)               When during the practice of their profession they show, in writing or by their actions, a lack of the respect due to magistrates;

ii)             when in the defence of their clients they express themselves in inappropriate or offensive terms against their colleagues or the opposing litigants;

iii)            when they disobey the magistrate, when called to order during an oral declaration in court;

iv)            if they allege events the false nature of which is proven in the writs or introduce appeals which are expressly forbidden by law.


Disciplinary measures may be:


1)     Caution;

2)    Warning;

3)    A monetary fine;

4)    Temporary suspension which may not exceed the term of a year, from the exercise of the profession.


All of these decisions are open to the administrative appeals which may be applied to any administrative action.


It is not compulsory to belong to the bar association; a lawyer may practise without belonging to the Uruguayan Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados del Uruguay). The aims of this institution are, among others, to encourage a spirit of unity and professional solidarity; to keep the cult of Justice alive; to support the improvement of judicial and administrative organization and the respect for the essential principles of the Constitution; to favour the perfection of the juridical system; to maintain relations with similar professional entities, both national and foreign; to encourage national juridical production; to carry an exact copy of the Registry of Lawyers; to ensure that the duties which professional ethics imposes are strictly complied with; to defend the rights and interests of the legal profession; to assist and guide recent graduates in all the issues which arise from the practice of the profession.


The Bar Association in Uruguay also contains a Court of Honour, composed of nine members. This Court will find in any matter related to the professional ethics of a Lawyer or which may affect the dignity and honour of the national legal profession or of any of its representatives in particular, submitted to its consideration by any interested party or ex officio. The ruling handed down by the Court of Honour must be founded and will state whether the conduct under review has violated the ethical rules which a Lawyer must observe during the practice of the profession, or has affected the dignity and honour of the national legal profession. Members of the Court of Honour are forbidden to comment on the resolutions of the Court, either in public or in private.



Most of the following books are still available through the publisher.


17.1.       Constitutional Law


Classic Treatise:




Essential Bibliography:



Additional Bibliography:













17.2.       Administrative Law


Classic Treatise:



Essential Bibliography:









Additional Bibliography:
















17.3.       Public International Law


Classic Treatise:



Additional Bibliography:







17.4.       Integration Law


Essential Bibliography:



Additional Bibliography:







17.5.       Human Rights


Essential Bibliography:




Additional Bibliography:





17.6.       Family, Matrimonial and Successions Law


Classic Treatise:






Essential Bibliography:







Additional Bibliography:








17.7.       Contracts and Obligations Law


Classic Treatise:



Essential Bibliography:





Additional Bibliography:











17.8.      Commercial Law


Classic Treatise:



Essential Bibliography:







Additional Bibliography:




















17.9.       Intellectual Property


et al. El Nuevo Derecho de Autor Uruguayo. Universidad de Montevideo. Montevideo, 2003





17.10.    Conflict of Laws (Private International Law)


Classic Treatise:



Essential Bibliography:



Additional Bibliography:






17.11.     Labour Law


Classic Treatise:





Essential Bibliography:




Additional Bibliography:














17.12.    Procedural Law


Classic Treatise:


·       COUTURE, Eduardo J.:


o   Estudios de Derecho Procesal Civil. 3 vols. Montevideo, 1956.

o   Fundamentos de Derecho Procesal civil.


Essential Bibliography:





Additional Bibliography:







·       COUTURE, Eduardo J.: Proyecto de Código de Procedimiento Civil. Buenos Aires, 1945.




17.13.    Tax Law


Classic Treatise:




Additional Treatises:









17.14.    Criminal Law


Classic Treatise:



Essential Bibliography:




Additional Bibliography:













The main juridical book publisher is: Fundación de Cultura Universitaria, whose titles can be ordered through the Internet.


Other juridical publishers are:




Electronic databases in Uruguay are not much developed, yet some links are available:

Congress (“Parlamento”) provides a website with free access containing all laws enacted since 1935, legislative procedures, and other relevant legislative information.


Another electronic database with Uruguayan Legislation can be accessed at the website of the National Office of Official Printouts and Publications (Dirección Nacional de Impresiones y Publicaciones Oficiales) http://www.impo.com.uy/bases.


Constitutions and Codes

All Uruguayan Constitutions and most Codes can be found (in Spanish only) on the Parliamentary website (copy and paste the URL into the browser). The different codes are listed (copy and paste the URL into the browser). Some English versions of Uruguay’s codes are available on the WIPO Country Profile – National IP Laws and Regulations page (Civil, Penal, and General Procedure Code).


The Civil Code is available here.


The Commercial Code is available here.


All of these links are free and no registration is required.


Law, Jurisprudence and Doctrine Websites










Government sites provide institutional information and news about their respective fields.


Executive Branch: These websites contain links to other public offices.




University education has only recently been open to the private sector, and thus, some diffidence is still perceived in some sectors of society towards private universities, even though they offer fine rates of production and professionalism.


Currently, there are five Universities (one public and four private), and eleven University-institutions.

A full list of approved law schools may be found in the Ministry of Culture and Education website.


There are five Law Schools in Uruguay, one public and the others private, offering law degrees authorizing graduates to be admitted to the practice of the law.


Universidad de la República (Udelar):

The largest University in the country; offers Law degrees and master’s degree programmes.


Information on the University may be found here.


The Udelar Law School website is here.


Universidad Católica del Uruguay “Dámaso Antonio Larrañaga” (UCU or UCUDAL):

A private, Catholic (Jesuit), university certified in 1985. The first private University in the country.

Offers an undergraduate and a graduate programme in Law.


Information on the University may be found here


The Law School website is here.


Universidad de Montevideo (UM):

A private, confessional university certified in 1997; offers both undergraduate and graduate law degrees.


Information on the UM, is available here.


Law School information can be found here.


Universidad de la Empresa (UDE):

Also a private University certified in 1995; offers an undergraduate law degree.


Information is available here.


Universitario de Punta del Este (not a University but a University style-Institution):

A private institution certified in 2000, which offers graduates a law degree. More information about the University can be found here.