Business Etiquette Around The World

Matt Di Vincere (Chief Editor)
Last Edited Apr 11, 2023

Etiquette is a code of behaviour for social interactions according to contemporary conventional norms within a society or group. We all know that because we’ve been raised so by our parents, and then learned more of them in the many years of school. Basic stuff that is familiar to everybody (even though not everybody chooses to apply it), but have you ever think what the normal etiquette is in other countries? How different or similar they are?

Business etiquette differs from country to country; knowing how to handle yourself in each meeting could go a long way toward getting what you want out of that deal. That’s why we collected the main points you need to pay attention to, as these are the key pillars of international business etiquette.

Article’s Highlights


The globalizing economy encourages a multicultural workplace, and having strong knowledge of business etiquette can differentiate you from others in a competitive job market or simply enable you to be more confident in a variety of situations when you engage with foreign people. While we mostly cover foreign exchange topics for businesses, exchanging money at the best exchange rate won’t go as far in international business as being accustomed to their cultural rules —

List Of Countries Covered by Money Transfer Comparison:




What to do:

  • Be punctual or arrive a little early if you are the guest.
  • Present and receive cards or gifts with both hands.
  • Do not point with your finger, instead use your open palm.
  • Wear dark coloured, conservative suits.
  • The Chinese are born negotiators, so be sure that your starting price leaves room for negotiation.

What to avoid:

  • Wearing jeans, they are not acceptable for business meetings.
  • Women should avoid wearing heels and dresses with a low neckline – the Chinese don’t approve of women who show too much skin.
  • Do not write on someone’s card unless so directed.
  • If drinks or food are offered by the host, be sure to accept it; it’s rude to refuse them.




What to do:

  • Even though Indians are not very punctual themselves, they still expect punctuality from their foreigner’s counterparts.
  • Say no to the first offer of coffee or tea because you will be asked several times – this is part of the protocol.
  • Because saying “No” is considered rude, be sure to opt for terms like “possibly”, “I will try”, or “we will see”.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t lose temper in any situation as this will make you lose respect.
  • Using your left hand for important things like eating.
  • When at a restaurant, avoid ordering beef products as the majority of the Indians have religious restrictions.




What to do:

  • Both men and women should dress conservatively.
  • Showing that you know to use the chopsticks at dinner will impress your Japanese counterparts.
  • Always show respect to the elderly person in the room.
  • Because they avoid saying “no”, be sure to phrase your question in such a way that they can reply with “yes”.

What to avoid:

  • Never raise your voice or get too confrontational during negotiations.
  • If you want to give a gift of any sort, be sure to avoid the number 9.
  • The Japanese non-verbal communication is a big part of their culture, so be sure to pay attention to your gestures and facial expressions.



Israel flag

What to do:

  • Adopt a relaxed attitude as Israelis are more likely a relationship oriented culture. Even in business, they will be informal so, although you may be expected to wear a suit if dealing with a large corporate, for smaller startups it is completely fine to dress casually and comfortably.
  • Due to their tendency to multitask, Israelis can be unpredictable so be prepared for spontaneous meetings and when you already established an appointment provide the agenda and reconfirm.

What to avoid:

  • Avoid establishing meetings in September and October as this is a period of important Jewish holidays and even when working, the business hours are shortened.
  • Avoid politic topics in discussions.


South Korea


What to do:

  • Prepare before meeting a South Korean as there is a strict protocol to be followed as greeting.
  • If you don’t have a personal connection with the one you’re doing business, it is a must to get introduced by a third-party.
  • Plan the appointments with 3-4 weeks in advance.
  • Be direct and concise when answering questions as, when it comes to communication, “less is more” in their culture.

What to avoid:

  • For a South Korean, the business card is an important indicator of how will treat the person so do not write on somebody’s business card in their presence.
  • Avoid raising questions that don’t require a direct response as they have a tendency to reply with only “yes” to questions.
  • Do not remove your jacket unless the most senior South Korean does so.
  • Do not give a gift that is more expensive then what they could afford to give you.




What to do:

  • Network and engage with a large number of contacts and take time to build a personal relationship before doing business as Iranians prefer more the ones they know and ones they respect than what you actually know.
  • Adhere to Taarof, their system of politeness which refers to a courtesy behaviour they adopt in an attempt to appear vulnerable so that you will need to appear humble as well – eg. when the tea is offered don’t accept it immediately but rather wait for them to insist.
  • When dining check if your spouse is included on the invitation list, as Iranians are conservative and restricted to members of the same sex which makes them socialize separately.
  • Iranians judge people on appearances so, though conservative, dress well to impress.

What to avoid:

  • Avoid meetings during Ramazan (Ramadan).
  • Don’t rush a meeting and don’t even look at your watch as you’ll not be trusted.
  • Don’t use high-pressure tactics even if their tendency is to drive a hard barging and even threaten you to terminate the negotiation in the attempt to make you change your position.




What to do:

  • Follow the strict rules of protocol greeting which is to raise your both hands and join your palms with the fingers pointing upwards as you would pray, lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and the forehead.
  • When attending meetings, first wait to be told where to sit as they have strict rules about the rank and position in the group.
  • Pay attention to your body language as non-verbal communication is often more important.
  • Expect for more meetings before you establish a relationship.

What to avoid:

  • When receiving a business card don’t place it immediately on the table or in a business card case. Take a few seconds to look at the information and even make some comments, it is view as an act of politeness.
  • If possible avoid situations which would require Thai counterparts to reply with “No” as they have a difficulty to say it.
  • Do not openly criticize a person as for Thai this is a form of violence.





What to do:

  • If you don’t master the language, start the meeting with an apology for not knowing their language as it will aid in developing the relationship.
  • Appointments are necessary, and ideally should be made with 2 weeks in advance.
  • Dress in a well-tailored suit.

What to avoid:

  • Avoid exaggerated claims, as the French don’t appreciate hyperbole.
  • Avoid bright colours and wearing flashy jewellery.
  • Don’t be offended if you are interrupted.




What to do:

  • A firm handshake is the traditional form of greeting.
  • Both men and women dress in conservative dark suits and white shirts.
  • Be very punctual. Being even just a few minutes late might leave a bad impression.
  • Formal communication is the best choice for meetings.

What to avoid:

  • Sit only where and when you are invited to sit.
  • Do not wear ostentatious accessories.
  • Chewing gum when talking with someone.
  • Humour is not appreciated in a business context, especially if a prior relationship doesn’t exist.




What to do:

  • Dress well as high-quality suits are a sign of success.
  • Be sure to make a good first impression as it is a lasting impression in Italy.
  • Give special attention to the senior persons present.
  • Wait until you are invited to a first name basis.

What to avoid:

  • Avoid giving anything in a quantity of 17 as this number is considered to bring bad luck.
  • Avoid using high-pressure sales tactics.
  • In the north, people are pretty direct when talking about business. In the south, they like to get to know a person before conducting business.




What to do:

  • If a business meeting is held at a restaurant, be sure to be on time.
  • Table manners are Continental and do not rest your elbows on the table.
  • If going to a pub, pay for a round of drinks for the whole group.
  • Be sure that you can back up your claims with strong facts.
  • A simple handshake is a norm for both men and women, upon meeting and leaving.

What to avoid:

  • Being too personal with the questions you ask.
  • Going straight to the business talk – be sure to make a brief amount of small talk before.
  • Avoid keeping too much eye contact as you can make people feel uncomfortable.




What to do:

  • Be more formal and reserved at the initial greetings.
  • Use an indirect negotiating style as they can be tough negotiators.
  • Romanians have a hierarchical business culture so expect for business decisions to pass multiple layers of approval.
  • Prepare for dinner protocols as table manners reflect good behaviour.

What to avoid:

  • Do not rush into getting to know a person and avoid making exaggeration claims as Romanians are reserved, private and do not trust strangers.
  • Avoid confrontational behaviour and pressure tactics.
  • Don’t be late at meetings but be prepared to wait.




What to do:

  • Punctuality is very important. If you know that you will be late even for 5 minutes, be sure to telephone and explain why.
  • Norwegians prefer to get right to the business. There is no small talk.
  • Negotiations are direct, and that’s why often price is the most important factor.

What to avoid:

  • Do not interrupt someone when speaking, but come back to your desired subject when is your time to speak.
  • Be sure to respect the deadlines. If you don’t, you will be seen as not trustworthy.
  • Avoid exaggerated claims as everything needs to be backed up with stats.





What to do:

  • A simple handshake and a smile is enough for the first interaction.
  • Maintaining eye contact shows interest.
  • Be punctual, but be prepared to wait for a little for your counterpart.
  • If receiving a gift, open it immediately.
  • If offering a gift, a bottle of imported spirits is always a good idea.

What to avoid:

  • Pouring wine back-handed is considered impolite.
  • Do not start eating before the host invites you to do so.
  • Avoid direct confrontation.
  • Wait for a toast to be completed before you take the first sip.




What to do:

  • If possible, being introduced by an upper-level executive can make all the difference in a negotiation or business meeting.
  • Expect to answer personal questions about your personal background or family.
  • A simple handshake is the norm until the relationship evolve.

What to avoid:

  • Everything can be delayed, so be prepared so that you don’t appear irritated.
  • If you are invited to dinner at a Mexican’s home, don’t be too punctual and arrive 30 minutes late.
  • Red flowers and marigolds have a negative connotation.




What to do:

  • Men should wear conservative, dark coloured business suits. Three-piece suits typically indicate that someone is an executive.
  • It is advisable to hire a translator if your Portuguese is not fluent.
  • Because Brazilians prefer to make business with people they know, the way you present yourself will reflect on your company’s image.

What to avoid:

  • Do not appear impatient if you are kept waiting. Brazilians see time as something outside their control.
  • Do not rush them or appear impatient. Brazilians take their time when negotiating.
  • Avoid criticizing someone in public.




What to do:

  • Depending on the location of the people you meet, be sure to use an appropriate communication style. Francophones are generally more indirect than Anglophones.
  • Shake hands with everyone at the meeting upon arrival and departure.
  • Academic titles are important in Quebec so be sure to use them when referring to someone.

What to avoid:

  • If you are used with a communication style that is very direct, try to soften your tone so you don’t appear threatening.
  • Canadians are reticent to discuss personal matters with business associates.
  • Don’t make exaggerated claims without having strong data to back it up.




What to do:

  • Address people by their honorific title (Mr., Mrs., or Miss) and their surname, until a personal relationship has developed.
  • Jamaicans expect punctuality even though they don’t respect it all the time.
  • Even if it’s not always apparent, the hierarchy is very important. So be sure to pay attention to the most authority.

What to avoid:

  • Going too much in detail or beating around the bush for too long. Be direct in what you want.
  • Bargaining is expected, so be sure that you won’t put your best offer at first.
  • Don’t dive directly into the business subjects. Expect some small talk before that.




What to do:

  • Shake hands before and after the meeting. Men should wait for a woman to extend her hand first.
  • Expect some small talk before starting the meeting.
  • Colombians are seen as indirect communicators, so be sure to pay attention to the body language.

What to avoid:

  • Do not rush a meeting if you see that it takes longer than anticipated. They will last as long as it is needed.
  • Avoid confrontations and publicly exposing mistakes made by someone at the meeting.
  • Don’t be too personal too quickly. Wait for the other party to initiate a change to first names.



South Africa

south-africa flag

What to do:

  • If you are a woman in a position to conduct a meeting, be prepared to receive a condescending behaviour and be tested. Women still don’t have senior level positions in South Africa.
  • South Africans like win-win situations, so be sure to make it look that way.
  • If you need to negotiate something, be sure to start with a realistic figure because South Africans don’t like to haggle over price.

What to avoid:

  • Do not interrupt someone if they are speaking.
  • Don’t rush deals.
  • If you present a gift, be sure to do it with your right hand.




What to do:

  • When you first meet a Kenyan shake your hands shortly as they shake hands longer only with those they have a personal relationship.
  • If you’re going to greet a person older or of a higher status than you, lower your eyes because this is a sign of respect in their culture.
  • Control your emotions and have a moderate negotiation style as Kenyans pride themselves on their emotional control and perceive anger as a sign of instability.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t be too direct or frank in communication as they are sensitive and their tendency is to use metaphors or analogies.
  • Don’t rush a meeting to start as it is preferred to wait for your host determine when it is time to begin.
  • Never use left hand when giving a gift, instead use right of both hands.




What to do:

  • As per Hshuma, their concept of Shame, which occurs when other people know that they have behaved inappropriately, you should know Moroccans’ tendency will be to do things that make them look good in public and avoid embarrassment or awkwardness; so when it comes to business, it is important to verify one more time what you have agreed on with a Moroccan person in front of others.
  • Moroccans judge people on appearances, so pay attention to the dress code and how you present yourself.
  • Be patient as decisions are reached after long deliberation.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t schedule meetings on Fridays between 11:00 and 15:00, their prayer time.
  • Don’t criticize or use high-pressure tactics.
  • Try not to wear expensive accessories.



nigeria flag

What to do:

  • First of all try to observe the situation carefully before determining your behaviour, as communication styles vary from region to region; some of them could be very indirect in communication and some of them could be extremely direct.
  • Take time to know them personally prior to conducting business.
  • For Nigerians, titles are important so do use honorific/ professional/ academic titles next to your surname.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t rush the greeting moment as it is extremely rude in their culture.
  • Never present or receive a business card with the left hand and never write on your business card.
  • Do not use exaggerated claims when presenting a business case as they will think it is too good to be true.



Ghana flag

What to do:

  • When greeting them maintain eye contact and use honorific titles to address them.
  • Greet the most senior person first.
  • Ghanaians have an indirect communication style and instead of a reply, expect silence as a reaction to an uncomfortable question.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t rush the greeting moment as it is extremely rude in their culture.
  • Try to avoid telling jokes in a meeting, even though Ghanaians enjoy telling jokes but this is more to show you they are becoming relaxed with you.
  • When dining, don’t sit until they are telling you where to sit.


Sri Lanka


What to do:

  • Expect that Sri Lankan women may not want to shake hands with men so that you’ll have to wait for a woman to extend her hand.
  • Facial expressions are very important in their culture, and they will avoid showing a “lost face” expression, which is why when you do business with Sri Lankans, pay attention to maintaining face, as it is important for all communications.
  • Be patient and take time to meet face to face the top level person of the company, as usually, they are the only decision maker.

What to avoid:

  • Do not put people in awkward situations.
  • Don’t avoid eye contact or make long pauses.
  • Don’t use somebody’s first name until you’re invited to do so.


Concluding Words

Each country has its own set of rules as to what is acceptable and what’s not. What’s positive and what’s negative. If you want to conduct business around the world, be sure you are aware of the local conceptions. Don’t be rigid with your own cultural rules and limitations because what would be considered good business etiquette in one country can the exact opposite in another country. As globalized and internationalized this world has become… you must know who you are dealing with and how to deal with them (if you want to do well in international business).


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