Top 10 Tips on International Business Customs

There are many business customs those living in the United States might not even notice: shaking hands when meeting someone new, trading business cards, and doing business lunches are just a few examples. When doing business abroad, however, the rules may change. Knowing and observing international business customs is important to develop successful business relationships and avoid embarrassment. Learn this list of the most important business customs abroad to ensure a positive international business experience.

1. Don't Mind Personal Space

In many countries, such as Brazil, being in close proximity to the person who is speaking is a sign of trust. This is important in establishing long-term relationships, which is integral for most businesses. Stepping away can be a sign of disrespect, so make sure not to instinctively step back.

2. Use Business Cards Properly

Many countries have specific rules about the proper distribution and receiving of business cards.

o   business customs in international markets For example, when doing business in China, both hands must be used in receiving and giving a business card. When living in Japan, it is customary to receive someone’s business card with a bow. As a general rule, treat a business card as a gift and with respect. You should also have business cards printed in both English and the language of the host country. 

3. Take a Name in the Country's Native Language

Those intending to do business in a country for an extended period should strongly consider taking a name in that country’s native language. In places such as China, this demonstrates good intentions and a long-term interest in business partnerships.
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4. Don't Lose Face

The concept of “face” is very important in many cultures, such as those found in Japan, Italy, China, and Brazil. This means you should try to not to embarrass someone or cause them to “lose face.”

Thus, instead of approaching a problem directly (such as delays in deadlines), you should take a softer approach. Show respect and focus on adding to the ideas of the other rather than attempting to correct or discipline. Avoid pointing out mistakes in front of peers or strangers.

5. Be Punctual

Always be on time even if it is customary for locals to be a few minutes late. It is always better to be on time than late.

This is especially true in places like Russia where Americans are often “tested” to see if they will show up on time even if their Russian counterparts are frequently late to meetings.

6. Embrace Business Relaxation

In places such as Finland, being asked to spend time in a sauna is a sign the business relationship is progressing well. This is similar to golfing in the United States. Instead of declining the invitation or feeling uncomfortable, make an effort to participate in a local cultural tradition and be enriched.

7. Give Gifts

In China, it’s important to bring a gift to business meetings. However, do not expect the gift to be immediately received. It is customary for a gift to be declined up to three times before it is accepted. When a gift is finally accepted, it is proper for the giver to show gratitude to the receiver.

8. Be Aware of Local Dietary Restrictions & Religious Beliefs

Spend some time researching country guides before arriving to be prepared for local dietary customs. For example, never order or eat beef in India as it is considered sacred by many people living there. It is also important to follow local customs for eating food. In India and some places in the Middle East, eating with the left hand is considered unclean, so only take and eat food with the right hand. Chinese business banquets include many rounds of toasts, meaning those drinking alcohol should pace themselves.

9. Don't Break the Silence

Silence during a conversation can seem unbearable to many Americans. However, this is not universal. In Finland, for instance, long periods of silence are common during meetings and provide an opportunity to reflect on the meeting before rushing to take action. Resist the temptation to make an unnecessary interjection just to break silence.

10. Be Aware of Body Language

The right or wrong body language can significantly affect one’s ability to do business abroad. Keep hands out of pockets – a sign of disrespect in many places, including Russia and Ireland. The “okay” hand signal is not widely accepted in many parts of the world, such as Brazil, where it is considered rude. Also note that hugs and cheek kisses are quite common in many countries, such as Brazil or Belgium.


Since business customs in international markets vary, take the time to learn local business customs overseas before doing business abroad. By combing through this guide, you will be well-equipped to conduct business overseas. As you are learning these international customs, find out about the top 10 most portable careers and you can be immersed in other cultures. 

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