10 International Business Customs That You Should Know Before You Go

Brittany Reed

Business is business, right? Yes and no. As times have changed, the business world has changed along with it (hello, casual Fridays). But some countries have not only stuck with traditional customs, they expect others to stick right along with them and too casual a meeting could spell disaster for your business.

When travelling internationally, you should know a bit about:

  • The language; greetings, introductions, and conversational guidelines. For example, in Ireland, first names are encouraged, while in Germany, Monsieur and Madame are the common titles of respect.
  • Your appearance; the do’s and don’ts of dress, body language, and gestures. In Sweden, Israel, and Singapore, it’s casual dress for all, while everyone else will be expecting business attire. 
  • Behaviors; dinning out, gifts, conducting meetings, and general behavior. When it comes to meetings in France, sticking to the agenda is important, though interruptions are allowed. 
  • Religion; some countries take their religion very seriously even relating it to business. 

Doing your research on individual countries can yield you a lot of fun and interesting facts about diversity and beliefs.

The Top 10 Customs You Should Know
10) In Russia, expect to wait a bit when it comes to your business meeting, but don’t ever show up late. Russians can be as late as they desire and will not be apologetic, but they expect Americans to be on time, if not a few minutes early. This is a test of your patience.

9) In Israel, the workweek runs from Sunday to Thursday. You won’t conduct any business on Fridays as the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown and all work is suspended until Saturday night after dark.

8) When visiting France, is it okay to let your host know if you do not speak French, but it is very important that you apologize for your lack of knowledge.

7) Japan still holds business cards in high regard. When travelling to Japan, have plenty of them with you and be sure they are dual sided, printed in both English and Japanese. When handing out your business card, present it with both hands, Japanese side up.

10 International Business Customs That You Should Know Before You Go6) Expect to eat during business meetings in Spain. Lunches and dinners are an extremely important part of the business culture; it is how relationships are established. And don’t expect dinner until after 9pm.

5) If your business takes you to the United Arab Emirates, ditch the use of your left hand. It is considered unclean and is only used for hygiene. Gesture, pass documents, and eat with your right hand; and don’t ever point at another person with either.

4) When conducting business in India, remember that the cow is sacred, so avoid wearing products of leather to meetings and refrain from ordering beef at your business lunch.

3) In Brazil, there is no such thing as personal space. Standing or sitting extremely close and using physical contact during conversation is to be expected. Although tempted, do not back away as this is seen as disrespectful.

2) In sharp contrast to those in Brazil, personal space is important in Great Britain. Keep your distance and don’t touch others in public. Handshakes are standard and simple.

1) Gift giving at a business meeting is very important in China. There are many rules that should be considered before making your purchase. When giving the gift, the Chinese might refuse it a few times, but you must be persistent until they accept.

Now that you know a few things that you never knew, be prepared before you head out to do business in any country. It just might help you seal the deal.

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