What is International Business Etiquette?

For people who travel a lot to do business in different countries, it’s important to have knowledge of the customs and rules of decorum that are different from their own. Etiquette is more about providing basic social comfort for people you meet rather than following fixed rules. Business etiquette changes from country to country and even in different regions within a country. If you read the Ehsan Bayat profile, for instance, you can get an idea of the broad range of areas in which such successful business people work.

Some Tips for Different Countries

Business is conducted in Asia a bit more formally than in much of Europe, with the possible exception of Germany. Here are some tips for doing business in Asia.


It’s recommended to bring a small gift from home to a business meeting in China. It shows respect and commitment. The gift should not be wrapped in black, white or blue paper and should not be a clock because clocks symbolize death. It’s considered rude to open a gift upon receiving it. Business meetings are very formal, and dinner meetings may have many rounds of toasts. 


Japanese business culture is very formal but also very friendly. They may or may not shake your hand, so it’s best to wait until they offer their hand. However, they will bow when they are introduced to you. Exchanging business cards is a formal act at the beginning of a meeting. You should face your colleague and give your card with both hands. It is rude to push a card across the table. If you take junior staffers to a meeting, make sure they don’t sit across from a senior team member. 


You should arrive on time to meetings, but expect that others may arrive a bit late. During discussions, it’s recommended to avoid using the word ‘no’ and say things like ‘possibly’, ‘we’ll see’ or ‘I’ll try’. If you eat in a restaurant with business colleagues, don’t order beef. It may offend someone. If you eat with your hands, as many people do, only use your right hand to touch the food. The left hand is considered unclean. 

Business Etiquette in South America


Business meetings in Brazil often run late, but it is considered rude to leave a meeting before it officially ends. You can expect Brazilians to stand close and use physical contact during discussions. This inspires trust, which inspires long-term relationships. Brazilians are passionate about their sporting events and holidays, so it’s not recommended to schedule any business meetings during or near these celebrations. 


You may be kept waiting for a business appointment. The more important you or your company is, the less time you’ll be kept waiting. Business cards are exchanged at the beginning of a meeting and should be admired. Chileans like to chat socially before starting business. Don’t be in a hurry to start the meeting. They may ask about your family and expect you to ask about theirs. 

Many businesses have offices in multiple countries, and even small, ecommerce companies have customers from around the world. If you are planning a trip to a foreign country to conduct business, it will make your job easier if you take the time to learn a few tips on the customs and culture of that country.