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The Need and Impact of International Business Etiquette

International business etiquette is not just about appropriate behaviors, gestures, and communication rules. It entails building meaningful professional relationships and nurturing an environment where everyone feels secure and comfortable.

International business culture and etiquette define the customs and conduct that should guide your interactions with clients and employees from other countries. Business etiquette around the world varies according to the regional culture and standards. It includes everything from punctuality and the firmness of a handshake to your body language and how you negotiate deals.

When growing beyond borders and doing business in a foreign land, you must research the local etiquette and customs to understand their business methods. Every country has its traditions and etiquette for general interaction and business meetings. What may be considered respectful in your country may be inappropriate in another country’s culture. Thus, understanding foreign cultures and international business practices is crucial for multinational businesses.

This article explores the myriad international business practices and customs prevalent worldwide.

Why is International Business Etiquette Important?

Good business etiquette helps you make an excellent first impression. It displays professionalism and respect towards clients and their work culture. Blatant ignorance of a foreign country’s culture and customs can cost you valuable business deals. With globalization encouraging business across borders, awareness of global business etiquette is a mandate for conducting international business.

Business etiquette defines your character, temperament, attitude, and core values. International business etiquette is essential since it represents how you interact with potential clients and stakeholders when conducting business across multiple countries.

Business etiquette is like an unwritten code of conduct applicable to different scenarios and is pivotal for professional success.

Let’s discuss the importance of understanding global business etiquette and cross-cultural communication when expanding across international borders.

Foundation for long-term business relationships

Developing trust and reputation is an integral aspect of business relations. Good business etiquette is a great way to solidify international business relations. When dealing with international clients, building trust and respect becomes crucial. Respectful, courteous, and professional behavior exhibits your personality and enhances your reputation.

Helps land important business deals

International business etiquette is the foundation on which you can build long-term professional relationships. By showing sensitivity toward foreign cultures, you can land important business deals. When your business etiquette is on point, it improves communication with your global clients and creates a mutually respectful atmosphere.

Makes a good impression on international recruiters

International business etiquette can help attract the attention of big international clients. If you are applying to a multinational company, understanding the country-specific business culture and etiquette can help you impress potential recruiters or clients.

Develops sensitivity towards other cultures

International business etiquette covers cross-cultural customs and norms. It is crucial for those dealing with customers and clients spread globally and belonging to diverse cultures. Knowledge of the business etiquette in foreign countries helps you understand the perspectives and ideas of others without unintentionally offending them. It shows you respect them and value their professional space.

Enhances your brand image

Clients appreciate professionals who are well aware of their customs, ethics, and culture. This quality speaks volumes about your brand – it gives you a truly global outlook. Naturally, good business etiquette helps you get recognized.

International Business Etiquette Tips You Should Know

International business etiquette varies across cultures and countries. Moreover, working across borders is often tricky because there is no universal code of conduct – the rules and norms that work in Italy or Russia may not be acceptable in India or China.

International business etiquette often includes subtle cultural influences that one may easily overlook, hampering valuable business relationships.

So, here are some beneficial tips to help you confidently navigate global business etiquette.


First impressions matter, especially when interacting with foreign clients/customers. The simple act of how you greet a person in a business meeting shows your stance towards their culture and values. One wrong gesture can create an awkward situation and jeopardize potential business relationships.

Shaking hands, placing the hands in a praying position, hugging, etc., are traditional non-verbal greetings. Verbal greetings differ with cultures and countries. For instance, “How are you?” is common among Australians and Americans, whereas “How do you do?” is more acceptable in British culture. Moreover, these questions are followed by a short and formal answer – “I’m fine. How are you/How do you do?”

Use of names and titles

Be mindful of your body language, gestures, and words when interacting with international business prospects. While using last names is formal and customary in some countries, others are more comfortable addressing business counterparts by their first name. Learning people’s titles and names before meeting show that you are well aware of business ethics.

For example, it is appropriate in the UK, Denmark, and France to use titles unless the other party suggests using first names. On the contrary, using first names is widely acceptable among Americans, even in formal situations. Likewise, it is common in Thailand to address people by their first names and use last names in written communication or on ceremonial occasions. Contrarily, Germans rarely use first names when doing business. In France, people usually address business contacts respectfully by “Monsieur” and “Madame”.


The punctuality norms vary across the globe. For instance, meetings in Latin American cultures frequently run late, whereas business meetings in Central Europe generally begin on time. Germans and Japanese value punctuality, and it is rude to be late for business meetings in Japan.

Regardless of where you are doing business, being on time is the generally accepted norm. Punctuality shows your respect for others’ time. Punctual people speak of professionalism and commitment. It is an essential aspect of global business etiquette.

Business card protocol

Business cards are highly valued,  especially in Asian countries. It identifies a person with their businesses. Usually, people give business cards to potential clients or customers to create a lasting image – something that they may use in the future when requiring a person’s services. However, business card protocol differs across countries.

For example, Asian countries consider the business card extremely important – it represents the person. In countries like Japan, people present business cards with both hands, and as a sign of respect, you should read them to yourself while still standing in front of the person. On the other hand, it is not rude to accept a business card and put it away immediately in Western countries.

Gift-giving custom

Giving meaningful gifts to your clients is often a much-appreciated gesture. Even if gift-giving is not anticipated, it displays courtesy and helps you establish a healthy relationship with business associates. However, the gifting etiquette should not violate FCPA laws prohibiting bribery.

For instance, the Japanese business culture focuses on the gift-giving ritual rather than the gift itself. The greatest time to present a gift is towards the end of your visit, preferably not in an attention-grabbing manner. Furthermore, it is a sign of respect in Japan to offer gifts with both hands.

Learn Appropriate Negotiating Skills

Negotiations on international transactions can be a little tricky. There can be some complications due to the cultural difference between the client and your company. However, you can mitigate this issue by getting accustomed to nature of agreements in the new market.

To illustrate, business negotiations in Brazil usually start with a degree of skepticism. To establish a strong, trustworthy business relationship, professionals often schedule frequent meetings, business lunches, and dinners with their clients/vendors.

Business Etiquette Around the World

Establishing good international business relationships goes beyond planning and organizing business meets – it’s also about how you conduct yourself and communicate with foreign clients. This is where your knowledge of international business etiquette comes to play.

While there are some industry-standard etiquettes, you must be mindful of the country-specific norms.  We will walk you through the basic business etiquette of a few countries.

Business etiquettes in Japan

  • Bowing is the quintessential Japanese way of greeting each other. Handshakes seldom occur, and you should let your Japanese counterpart initiate them.
  • Gift-giving custom is prevalent in Japan. However, you must be careful when and how you present your gift. For instance, giving an unwrapped gift is not acceptable.
  • People in similar positions usually sit across from each other, but a junior employee should never sit across from their senior.
  • The group’s senior members typically lead business meetings while juniors speak less as a sign of respect.
  • In Japan, saying ‘no’ is especially sensitive. Even if you disagree with something said, it is customary that you respond with a ‘yes.’

Business etiquettes in China

  • It is best to adopt a conservative dress code during business meetings in China.
  • Avoid physical contact when conversing with your Chinese counterpart.
  • Like Japan, China also has a gift-giving ritual, and you can present a gift to your client/business partner. However, you must remember a few things like using both hands while offering a gift and avoiding blue, black, or white wrapping paper. Also, never gift a watch as it represents death in Chinese culture. Here, it is customary for a person to decline a gift thrice. However, you must insist that they take it. The same rule applies when somebody’s gifting you something.
  • While Mandarin is the official language of China, be wary of other commonly spoken languages such as Shanghainese and Cantonese.
  • After concluding a business meeting, allow your Chinese partners to leave the meeting room first.
  • If you have Chinese roots or have moved to China for long-term business, you can take a Chinese name and use it while doing business there. It is considered a sign of respect.

Business etiquettes in Brazil

  • Physical contact during conversations is common in Brazil and is a sign of trust between business partners.
  • Although business meetings typically last longer than scheduled, it is rude to leave a meeting early.
  • While Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, some parts of the country also speak Spanish and German.
  • It is common to invite business partners for lunches and dinners to establish strong business relationships.

Business etiquettes in Germany

  • Business meetings in Germany are highly formal. So, avoid informal conversations and topics when meeting German clients.
  • It is customary to let the oldest member enter the room first during business meetings.
  • Germans are very hardworking and punctual. Hence, be respectful of their work ethic and arrive on time for business meetings.
  • Germany follows a conservative workplace dress code, but it may vary across cities.
  • Workplace hierarchy is essential in Germany. So, you must respect the chain of command for workplace decisions.

Business etiquettes in India

  • While handshakes are standard business etiquette in India, some Indians may use the namaste, a greeting gesture involving placing your hands in a prayer position accompanied by a slight bow.
  • English is widely used for business transactions in India, followed by Hindi or, in some cases, even regional languages.
  • Saying ‘no’ can be considered rude in India. Instead, use phrases like ‘possibly’ or ‘we will see.’
  • Avoid saying ‘thank you’ at the end of a meal your business partner offers. It is considered insulting and payment on your behalf for the meal.
  • Structural hierarchy is pretty standard in Indian businesses, and decisions are generally made at the highest levels.

Business etiquettes in The United Kingdom

  • Punctuality is an essential trait among the British. So, we suggest you don’t keep your British business partners waiting.
  • A firm handshake is the usual greeting in professional situations.
  • British people highly value their personal space, and it is considered impolite to put yourself close to them.
  • Try to remain formal during the first meeting and address the other person using their last name unless they specifically introduce themselves with their first name.
  • The business dress code in the UK is conservative and formal.
  • Britishers generally refrain from using direct statements and commands. Hence, try to use indirect speech to appear cordial and respectful.

Business etiquettes in Canada

  • A handshake accompanied by a quick exchange of pleasantries is the appropriate greeting gesture in Canada.
  • Business communication is usually direct and concise.
  • Making eye contact is extremely important during business meetings in Canada.
  • The dress code is usually formal, often depending on the weather. So, dress according to the occasion and weather.
  • Canadians appreciate punctuality, and it is unacceptable if you are more than 15 minutes late for an evening social event.

Business etiquettes in The United States of America

  • Americans often conduct business meetings over breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • Avoid giving presents to your US business partners since it is considered bribery.
  • Greetings and first contact in the US are straightforward. A simple hello and handshake are appropriate for in-person meetings.
  • Calling someone by their first name is acceptable. However, if you are unsure, ask the other person how they want to be addressed.
  • Americans are comfortable with a relaxed and open body language but are careful not to stand or sit too close since they enjoy personal space.

Business etiquettes in New Zealand

  • Physical greetings are limited to handshakes during formal business meets. Make sure to arrive on time for such meetings.
  • New Zealand has an egalitarian work environment. So, avoid throwing around your rank and title in workplaces.
  • Since New Zealanders are pretty direct in their business communication, use factual evidence and data to back up your statements.

Business etiquettes in Australia

  • The people of the island nation are not very formal. Hence, a handshake and smile are deemed appropriate greetings.
  • Punctuality is a lauded professional trait, and offering presents is not part of Australian business etiquette.
  • Australians are upfront during business interactions. They demonstrate modesty as much as they appreciate it.
  • Australia has a collaborative work culture. Hence, decision-making is usually a  collaborative effort between the top management and ground-level associates.

Wrapping Up: How Multiplier Can Help?

International business etiquette is highly nuanced – it is a multifaceted aspect of global business relations. It demands a degree of cultural mindfulness and sensitivity towards another’s values and workplace conduct. When establishing a business abroad, these qualities play a crucial role in strengthening your foothold in the foreign market. After all, foreign business expansion involves multiple layers, including global employee onboarding, payroll, tax management, etc.

Multiplier can help ease your international business ventures with flexible and effortless PEO and EOR solutions. An all-in-one platform, Multiplier offers a wide range of services ranging from employment contract generation and global payroll management to benefits administration and expense and leave management.


Q. What is international business etiquette?

International business etiquette refers to the gestures, customs, and behaviors people follow in professional situations in other countries. Business etiquette varies across cultures and countries, guiding your interactions with foreign clients and business partners.

Q. Why is international business etiquette important?

Knowledge of international business etiquette is necessary for conducting meetings with foreign clients and business partners and, building meaningful professional relationships while respecting their cultures.

Q. What are five examples of professional etiquette?

Here are five professional etiquette tips you can keep in mind during business meetings:

  • Make an excellent first impression
  • Use courteous  language
  • Use handshake as the professional greeting standard
  • Aim for formal and data-driven conversations
  • Be punctual
  • Follow a proper dress code

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