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Understanding International Business Etiquette


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Updated on:
April 11, 2024
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Updated on :

April 11, 2024
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Understanding International Business Etiquette

Navigating international business requires more than just knowledge of trade and economics. In today's interconnected world, respecting varied cultures and understanding international business etiquette is crucial to successful cross-border relations. However, international business etiquette is about more than just proper conduct, hand gestures, and communication guidelines. It involves building strong professional relationships and creating a comfortable and safe environment for everyone.

Especially when expanding your business overseas, you must be familiar with international business etiquette. Every nation and region has its customs and protocols for social interactions. What is appropriate in your culture could not be appropriate in another country's culture.

This article examines the various international etiquette by country that are prevalent globally.

What Is International Business Etiquette?

International business etiquette refers to the set of culturally appropriate behaviors, customs, and social norms guiding interactions and relationships across different countries and cultures in a business context. 

It is essential for professionals engaging in international business to understand and respect these etiquettes to effectively communicate, negotiate, and build successful partnerships with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

The goal of business etiquette is to foster positive interpersonal connections. Etiquette is not about following laws and regulations but creating an atmosphere where others feel secure and at ease, which may be done by improving communication.

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Why is International Business Etiquette Important?

One of the most significant trends over the past ten years has been the increase in globalization. As a result, cross-border trade has increased dramatically. The ability to successfully conduct business worldwide depends on cross-cultural understanding and intelligence. 

Businesses that recognize the importance of teaching such etiquette, improving communication skills, and promoting cultural acceptance have a competitive advantage. In their absence, cultural differences might surface in everyday encounters, like greeting, handshakes, table manners at business meals, body language, spoken words, email, texts, and other face-to-face interactions.

Moreover, as employees directly reflect the company’s cultural and personal values, it is important to establish a business ethics and international etiquette policy that combines both values and behavioral guidelines. This will foster a courteous, ethical atmosphere for internal and external stakeholders. 

International Etiquette

Tips on Improving International Business Etiquette

International business etiquette is essential for communication, building stronger relationships with partners, and growing internationally. Here are some international etiquette tips you should know.

Learn How To Use Names And Titles Correctly

Using names and titles correctly while greeting the people you meet can help create a culture of recognition, respect, and consideration. Moreover, it is an easy way to connect to their identity and make the most out of their attention as you interact with them. 

Until the other person advises using first names, stick to using titles in France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and many other nations. You can use their last name followed by the title when meeting them.

In Germany, for example, only some people who conduct business use their first names. Titles like "Herr/Frau Direktor" are occasionally used in Germany to denote a person's stature, standing, and rank. 

In Thailand, people use their first names to address one another and save their last names for official situations and written correspondence.

In Belgium, refer to business contacts who speak French as "Monsieur" or "Madame," but refer to those who speak Flemish as "Mr." or "Mrs."

Use Proper Salutations

First impressions only happen once, but they have the potential to be long-lasting. Even something as basic as how you greet someone can make a big difference, especially if you're from a different culture. This is why you should stick to shaking hands and giving a warm, friendly smile when greeting someone.

Consider the level of formality if you are in an English-speaking culture. Compared to the "How are you?" that is typically more appropriate with Americans and Australians, "How do you do?" is more formal and British. Additionally, keep in mind that these utterances are more ritualistic than questions. When asked, "How are you?" most people will respond with a short "I'm fine. "How are you."

Maintain an Appropriate Distance

The physical distance at which individuals greet one another could differ in different countries. People in Western nations typically stand around 1.5 meters apart, so they may shake hands without moving forward. On the other hand, in some Asian nations, the greeting distance is slightly wider (two meters) as they bow down to greet. At the same time, the distance tends to be shorter in many Arab countries. It’s important to understand these nuances.

Business Etiquette Around the World

For individuals going on business trips, preparation is crucial. Building relationships with colleagues, conducting meetings, and exhibiting respect for local culture can help businesses make the most of their travel. 

The following sections provide a brief overview of business etiquette in Japan, Germany, India, the USA, and the UK. 

Business Etiquette in Japan

In Japan, greetings commonly involve bowing. However, handshakes are also acceptable if initiated by a Japanese person. Punctuality is essential, and formal attire, like a suit and tie, is expected. Senior members typically lead business meetings, and seating arrangements often position individuals of similar ranks opposite each other, preventing juniors from sitting across from seniors. 

The exchange of business cards often follows a formal procedure, holding even greater significance than in China. Moreover, constructive criticism should be avoided in front of large groups. Sensitivity surrounds the word "no," it is customary to respond affirmatively, even when disagreeing with meeting discussions.

Business Etiquette in Germany

Punctuality is greatly esteemed in Germany; thus, arriving on time for business meetings is essential. A structured approach, with direct and concise communication, is preferred, and small talk and humor are generally omitted. It is customary to address individuals by their titles, such as Mr. or Ms., even if the relationship is close. 

Besides, wearing your suit throughout the meeting is essential, as removing it can be perceived as impolite. Additionally, upon entering a business meeting, it is courteous to allow the oldest person to enter, adhering to established etiquette.

Business Etiquette in India

In India, greetings often involve a handshake, preferably with the right hand. At the same time, some also opt for the traditional gesture of folding hands and saying "Namaste." Initially, gifting is anticipated once a rapport is established with the client or business partner over several meetings. Like Japanese culture, "no" is considered impolite in India. Instead of outright refusal, phrases like "we will see" or "possibly" can be employed to convey reservations without using a direct "no."

Business Etiquette in the USA

In the United States, punctuality is highly valued, reflecting respect for time and money. When greeting clients, colleagues, or associates, a firm handshake is customary, with a firmer handshake leaving a more favorable impression. Addressing individuals by their titles and last names is the norm until invited to use first names, a transition that often occurs swiftly. 

Business meetings can occur during meals such as lunch, dinner, or breakfast. This indicates that Americans do appreciate small talk before getting down to business. Gifts to business partners may be viewed as potentially inappropriate, so a simple thank-you card is a more suitable token of gratitude. Business cards may carry a different significance than in other cultures; they might not be exchanged during meetings or, if exchanged, might not receive immediate attention.

Also Read: How Businesses Can Establish Clear Company-Wide Goals

Cross-border Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette in the UK

For people working in the UK, time holds immense value. Hence, punctuality and arriving on time are often considered a form of respect. Moreover, physical gestures like hugging, kissing, and touching are typically reserved only for family and close friends. This indicates that professionally related people must respect personal space and have certain boundaries. 

Go Global With Skuad

In an increasingly interconnected global business landscape, mastering international business etiquette is paramount for cross-border collaborations. Adhering to customs such as greetings, punctuality, dress codes, and communication styles can significantly enhance professional relationships and pave the way for business partnerships. 

As the world becomes more interconnected, Skuad offers innovative solutions for organizations to seamlessly build globally distributed teams and tap into a diverse pool of talent from over 160 countries. Skuad empowers businesses to hire, onboard and pay international contractors and employees, without establishing local entities.

In essence, a thorough understanding of international business etiquette, combined with Skuad, equips businesses to thrive in the global arena by embracing diversity and bridging time zones. Book a demo to get started. 


Why is business etiquette so important in the business world?

Business etiquette is crucial in the business world because it sets the tone for professional interactions and relationships. It helps establish a positive impression, build rapport, and create a conducive environment for effective communication and collaboration. Demonstrating proper etiquette reflects respect for cultural differences, enhances professionalism, and can lead to successful negotiations, partnerships, and long-term business relationships.

What is the difference between ethics and etiquette?

Ethics and etiquette are related concepts but have distinct differences. Ethics refers to a set of moral principles and values that guide individual and collective behavior, often involving questions of right and wrong. It deals with fundamental principles such as honesty, integrity, fairness, and accountability. On the other hand, etiquette focuses on culturally accepted norms and behaviors, guiding how people interact and communicate in social and professional settings. While ethics deals with broader moral principles, etiquette is more specific to social conventions and expectations.

Is business etiquette the same as ethics?

No, business etiquette and ethics are not the same. Business etiquette pertains to culturally appropriate behaviors and manners in a professional setting, guiding interactions and communications. It involves aspects like greetings, communication styles, dress codes, and meeting protocols. Ethics, on the other hand, refers to the moral principles and values that govern ethical decision-making and behavior, encompassing honesty, integrity, respect, and fairness.

Is business etiquette and corporate etiquette the same?

While similar in nature, business etiquette and corporate etiquette can be considered subsets of the broader concept of etiquette. 

Business etiquette encompasses appropriate behaviors and manners in various professional contexts, including meetings, negotiations, and networking. 

Corporate etiquette, on the other hand, specifically relates to the conduct and behavior within a corporate or organizational environment. It includes office decorum, communication within the organization, and interaction with colleagues and superiors.

About the author

Sandeep Patel is a Content Marketing Manager and Strategist. Over the last five years, he has created and managed content for global brands and fintech startups. He is passionate about remote work and using tech for a better work-life balance.

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