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The consumer

Consumer Profile

Lebanon has a population of almost 5.5 million people (2020 est.) with a negative growth rate of 6.7% in 2020 (CIA Factbook). There are 57.7% Muslims (28.7% Sunni, 28.4% Shia, smaller percentages of Alawites and Ismailis), 36.2% Christian 36.2% (Maronite Catholics are the largest Christian group), 5.2% Druze 5.2%, and a very small number of Jews, Baha'is, Buddhists, and Hindus.

The median age is 33.7 years. 20.72% of the population is between 0 and 14 years old, 15% is between 15 and 24 years old, 46.7% is between 25 and 54 years old, 9.6% of the population is between 55 and 63 years old and 8% is 65 years or older. 88.6% of the population lives in urban areas and the urbanisation rate stands at 0.75%; the majority of the people live on or near the Mediterranean coast, and of these most live in and around the capital, Beirut; favourable growing conditions in the Bekaa Valley, on the southeastern side of the Lebanon Mountains, have attracted farmers and thus the area has a smaller population density. Beirut, the capital city, counts around 2.2 million people. The average household counts 4.3 people.

The literacy rate stands at 95.1%, 96.9% for the male population and 93.3% for the female population. In Lebanon, English or French with Arabic are taught from early years in schools. English or French are the mandatory medium of instruction for mathematics and science for all schools. Education is compulsory from age 6 to age 14. The percentage of the population as a whole with at least some secondary education (aged 25 and above) is 54.2%. For the percentage of the female population with at least some secondary education, the figure drops to 38.8%.

Purchasing Power
The Lebanese GDP per capita (PPP) is estimated at USD 15,327.3 (World Bank, 2019), after decreasing for two consecutive years. Against a backdrop of what is the country’s worst economic crisis in history, Lebanon’s unemployment rate has surged past the 30% mark. A person working in Lebanon typically earns around LBP 2,280,000 per month. Due to political and economic crisis, the country is experiencing hyperinflation: in June 2020, Lebanon’s inflation rate was 20%, month-on-month, with prices that had nearly doubled compared to one year earlier. The World Bank projected that the poverty rate may reach 40-50% at the end of 2020.
Gini index in Lebanon was reported at 31.8, according to the latest figure from the World Bank collection of development indicators. According to studies in Lebanon, women and men working in the public sector earn similar wages, but women working in the private sector earn substantially less than their male counterparts, as confirmed by the low Gender Inequality Index score of the country, which is ranked 145th out of 153 countries (OECD Development Centre, 2019).
Consumer Behaviour

Purchasing in Lebanon is marked by a lack of trust between buyers and sellers owing to high price differences among retailers, the prevalence of counterfeit products and the relative weakness of the Consumer Protection Directorate. Marred by political instability, the refugee crisis and the economic downturn, Lebanese consumers have little confidence in their economy.

According to Nielsen reports, “rapid urbanisation and changes in households are also influencing buying decisions of global consumers. Meanwhile, the household continues to shrink at the same time. Therefore, it’s not surprising that consumers say they seek out products which make life easier (31%) and convenient to use (31%), while around one in five consumers are looking for products suitable for small households (18%) and tailored to a specific need (15%)”.

E-commerce is rather weak in Lebanon; a survey conducted by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade indicates a variety of issues that slow the growth of e-commerce in the country including the high cost of building an online market, lack of confidence on the part of Lebanese buyers in transactions conducted over the internet, high costs of shipping packages and a lack of awareness among the population about the internet and its capabilities. A regulatory framework was only recently put into place for e-commerce, as an attempt to spur its growth in the country.

Data analysis produced from a consumer survey in Lebanon testing the socio-demographic and external factors affecting customer behaviour, demonstrated high-levels of awareness toward the importance of protecting the environment and its resources. Additionally, it showed a great responsibility on the part of Lebanese consumers who expressed their willingness to behave in a responsible manner through their involvement in ecological actions. However, Lebanese society remains conservative and Lebanese consumers are only willing to change their behaviour and habits in a way acceptable by Lebanese society.

Consumer Recourse to Credit
Consumer credit is now an important component of Lebanese household debt. Consolidating its uptrend over several years already, consumer credit is now essential to maintaining a certain standard of living. In parallel, the wealth of credit offers from commercial banks is encouraging Lebanese households to subscribe more and more. By necessity or under the influence of seduction, many people sometimes end up with several credit cards. There is a high risk of delinquency, which is detrimental for the consumer as well as for the issuing banks. The government is trying to limit this trade and, since 2014, monthly repayments of credits must not exceed 35% of the monthly income of the debtor household. In November 2019, American Express reduced the credit limit and cash advances of customers with cards issued in Lebanon.
Growing Sectors
Alcoholic drinks, dairy, baked goods and shelf-stable vegetables, as well as tobacco products.
Consumers Associations
Consumer Lebanon
 

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Importing & Distributing

Import Procedures
Any customs declaration must include the following documents:

  • Declaration form based on the Single Administrative Document (SAD)
  • Bill of lading
  • Packing list
  • Commercial invoice (original)
  • Delivery order (to prove ownership of goods)
  • Quietus from the Social Security Office (must not have expired at the day of registration of SAD), required only for commercial and trade establishments
  • Contract of sale between importer and seller in the country of exportation, or a letter of credit from the bank stating that the invoice value is paid or will be paid in a specified time limit (may be requested for value verification only in case customs officers doubt the invoice value)
  • Certificate of origin issued by the authorized party of the country of exportation if the invoice does not mention the origin of the goods, or in case the importer wishes to benefit from preferential treatment if the exporter is not approved by the customs authorities of the exporting country

Depending on the type of imported good, a number of other documents may also be required, including import licenses, certificates of conformity to mandatory standards, or phytosanitary certificates.

For more information on the other documents or the procedures required by the other authorities such as the measures of prohibition, the import license, the certificates and all other conditions, it is necessary to refer to the "Restrictions and Prohibitions-Circular 1" accessible on the website of the Lebanese Customs Administration.

Specific Import Procedures
It is necessary to present a certificate of free sale for cosmetics. This document, required prior to shipment of goods to obtain an export permit may also accompany the shipment. For more information, please refer to the website of the Lebanese Customs.
Distribution channels
The main actor on the Lebanese market is the importer, who plays the role of an agent and benefits from a network of retailers. He is in charge of marketing, negotiating sales contracts, etc. Wholesale trade is carried out by the biggest Lebanese importers. Foreign exporters rely on local companies both to receive the imported products at the Beirut port and Beirut-RHIA after they are cleared by local or international expeditors from the customs authority and subsequently to distribute them in the market.
Although traditional markets and souks exist in Lebanon, most products are distributed through modern retail stores, shopping malls, department stores and supermarket chains spread throughout the country.
Major shopping malls and department stores in Lebanon include ABC, Beirut City Centre, Beirut Mall, Beirut Souks, CityMall, and Le Mall. Major supermarket chains include Carrefour, Le Charcutier Aoun, Fahed Supermarket, Metro Superstore, Monoprix, Spinneys, and The Sultan Centre (TSC).
Although the country has been facing severe economic and demographic challenges, in 2019 retailing posted a moderate growth, with modern grocery retailers performing better than traditional grocery retailers. There are online stores, auctions, etc. but they are limited by the fact that there is not yet any appropriate legislation to protect transactions.
Distribution market players
Concerning domestic  trade, modern distribution networks have become more and more common. Super and hypermarkets, malls and similars represent 30-35% of current consumption.
There are about 90 hypermarkets with regional and international names such as Monoprix, Casino Geant, Spinneys, Coop and BHV. Added to that there about 300 small businesses and thousands of grocers.
Retail Sector Organisations
Ministry of Economy and Trade

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Operating a Business

Type of companies

Joint Stock Company (SAL)
Number of partners: Minimum 3 partners / shareholders.
Capital (max/min): Minimum capital of LBP 30,000,000 with 25% to be paid at time of registration.
Shareholders and liability: Limited to the extent of the share capital
Private Limited Company (SARL)
Number of partners: Minimum 3 partners / shareholders, with a maximum of 20.
Capital (max/min): Minimum capital of LBP 5,000,000 wholly paid-up at time of registration.
Shareholders and liability: Limited to the extent of the share capital
General Partnership (SNC)
Number of partners: Minimum 2 partners.
Capital (max/min): No minimum capital.
Shareholders and liability: Unlimited liability
SCA or partnership limited by actions
Number of partners: Minimum 2 partners.
Capital (max/min): No minimum capital.
Shareholders and liability: Unlimited liability for general partners. Liability limited to their investments for limited partners.
SCS or partnership limited by shares
Number of partners: Minimum 2 partners.
Capital (max/min): No minimum capital.
Shareholders and liability: Unlimited liability for general partners. Liability limited to their investments for limited partners.
The holding company, subject to Decree Law no.45 of June, 24 1983 and its amendments.
Number of partners: Minimum 3 partners.
Capital (max/min): Minimum capital of LBP 30,000,000.
Shareholders and liability: Limited to the extent of the share capital
The offshore company subject to Decree Law no.46 of June, 24 1983
Number of partners: Minimum 3 partners.
Capital (max/min): Minimum capital of LBP 30,000,000.
Shareholders and liability: Limited to the extent of the share capital
 
Setting Up a Company Lebanon Middle East & North Africa
Procedures (number) 8.0 6.3
Time (days) 15.0 19.5

Source: Doing Business - Latest available data.

 

Cost of Labour

Minimum Wage
According to the government data, the minimum wage is LPB 675,000 per month in 2020 (or LPB 30,000 per day).
Average Wage
The ILO does not have any data on average wage in Lebanon. It is now estimated at LPB 2,280,000 per month.
Social Contributions
Social Security Contributions Paid By Employers:
  • Family allowances: 6% (on a maximum of LBP 1.5 million per month)
  • Sickness and maternity: 8% (on a maximum of LBP 2.5 million per month)
  • Compensation pension: 8.5% (no ceiling applies)

Social Security Contributions Paid By Employees: Illness and maternity 2%.
 

Intellectual Property

National Organisations
National Office for the Protection of Intellectual Property.
Regional Organisations
Arab Society for Intellectual Property
International Membership
Member of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)
Signatory to the Paris Convention For the Protection of Intellectual Property
 

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Tax Rates

Consumption Taxes

Nature of the Tax
VAT (Value-Added Tax)
Tax Rate
11%
Reduced Tax Rate
Export of goods and services and export-related services, international transport, and some of the intermediate operations are zero-rated.
Other Consumption Taxes
Excise taxes are levied on certain beverages and spirits, tobacco products, gasoline, and vehicles.
Inheritance and gift tax rates vary from 3% to 45%, depending on the amount received and the affinity to the deceased or donor after deducting special exemptions applicable to estate beneficiaries. These tax rates apply cumulatively to all gifts and inheritances made by a specific donor to a specific recipient.
 

Corporate Taxes

Company Tax
17%
Tax Rate For Foreign Companies
A corporation is considered resident in Lebanon when it commences business activities from a fixed place for a period exceeding three months in any 12-consecutive month period (or for six months for contracting activities).
Capital Gains Taxation
Capital gains on the sale of assets (tangible, intangible and financial) are taxed at a rate of 15%. The rate goes up to 20% for the assets of oil and gas companies.
Income from disposal of shares realised by a company whose main activity is the acquisition of investments is subject to 17% corporate income taxation.
Main Allowable Deductions and Tax Credits
Organisation and start-up expenses are amortised over a period of three to five years.
Interest on business loans is deductible (under certain conditions), while interest paid on the taxpayer’s capital is not. Bad debts are deductible if all means for collection of the debt did not succeed. Gifts given by the company in-kind to customers when the amount of each gift exceeds LBP 1 million/person/year and when the total value of gifts in kind exceeds 1% of the turnover are non-deductible.

Employees’ life insurance premiums are deductible as long as they are included in the employees’ benefits subject to payroll tax. Other deductible expenses include: rent of business premises or their depreciation if the premises are owned by the taxpayer; reserves for severance payments, pensions, and disability payments; advertising and publicity expenses (within certain limits); travel, telephone, and vehicle expenses; etc.
Charitable contributions are deductible when made to certain organisations.

Net operating losses can be carried forward up to three years (indefinitely for oil and gas companies). The carryback of losses is not permitted.
With the exception of the corporate income tax, taxes and duties incurred in the course of business are deductible.

Other Corporate Taxes
Employers are responsible for withholding and declaring payroll taxes on behalf of their employees. Payroll tax is levied at progressive rates of 2% to 25% (for the bracket in excess of LBP 225 million per year). Social security contributions are borne by the employer, as follows: 8% for the maternity and sickness benefit schemes (on a maximum of LBP 2.5 million per month), and 6% for the family benefit schemes (on a maximum of LBP 1.5 million per month), plus 8.5% of total annual earnings for the end of service indemnity (without any limit).

A built property tax is levied on rental income from Lebanese real property, at rates ranging between 4% and 14%. When transferring ownership of real estate, registration fees of approximately 6% are applicable.

A 0.4% stamp duty is levied on most contracts. Stamp duty is also levied on the capital subscription and capital increase. A fixed stamp duty of LBP 5 million is levied on oil and gas companies for exploration and production agreements.
An annual lump-sum license fee applies at the following rates: LBP 2 million for joint stock companies, LBP 750,000 for limited liability companies, LBP 550,000 for establishments assessed based on real profit, and LBP 50,000 for taxpayers assessed on assumed profits.

Other Domestic Resources
Ministry of Finance
Consult Doing Business Website, to obtain a summary of the taxes and mandatory contributions.
 

Double Taxation Treaties

Countries With Whom a Double Taxation Treaty Have Been Signed
Tax treaties signed by Lebanon
Withholding Taxes
Dividends: 10%; Interest: 10%; Royalties: 0% (residents)/7.5% (non-residents).

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