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Considerations When Conducting Business Internationally

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 2 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Doing Business Internationally

There will be many aspects to consider if you are doing business internationally. Firstly if you’re travelling overseas on business regularly, you’ll have to get used to adjusting your body clock constantly and in certain countries, the likes of Spain being the most obvious example, you’ll soon become familiar with the concept of ‘siesta’ when many businesses shut down between around 1pm and 4pm in the afternoon and public holidays will be different to those which we have in the UK too. However, there will be many more complex issues to have to take into account which will be predominantly connected to local culture, customs, traditions and law.


The best way to conduct business in any part of the world is to find out about the place you’re travelling to before you go. In addition to doing your research about the company you’re visiting, you should take some time to get to know a bit more about the cultural, economic and political background of the place you’re visiting. In having more of an understanding about these areas, you’re less likely to commit any faux pas when you’re there. Chances are that you may have colleagues who have been there before you so if you can, ask them about things such as how to greet people, how to behave accordingly, how to dress and, perhaps most importantly, try to find out about things that might offend local people that you might not have been aware of. Here are some of the main considerations you should be thinking about.

Use of Language

No foreign businessperson is going to expect you to learn their language overnight but it’s useful to get yourself a basic phrase book so that you’re able to show courtesy to your host. Even just learning how to say the likes of ‘please’ ‘thank you’, hello’, ‘goodbye’ and a few other simple phrases will always go a long way in determining a person’s perspective of you. Also, be aware of your own use of English. Speak more slowly than normal if your host hasn’t got a great grasp of English and don’t use slang expressions or industry/business acronyms or jargon which they might not understand. Don’t be too ambitious in trying to say too much in their language either. Literal translations can often come out very differently unless you know what you’re talking about and you could be entirely interpreted in a totally different way than how you intended so keep it simple.

Be Businesslike

You’ll want to establish trust with your host so act businesslike. Make sure you turn up for any scheduled meetings on time (in fact, better to get there a little early) and be dressed appropriately and make sure that you know the exact location of the meeting and that this has been verified by your host. It may well turn out that they might have a casual approach to timekeeping and turn up late, but better not to take any chances yourself. Also, find out any local customs with regard to how they conduct business lunches in case you’re invited to one.

Avoid Being too Familiar

You’ll obviously want to make a good impression on your host but it’s important not to become too familiar too soon as what you may perceive as acceptable behaviour may be viewed very differently by your host. For example, American businessmen can show a tendency to be eager to touch people, the old pat on the back or hand on the shoulder type thing and to call people by their first names. However, doing that in somewhere like Asia could make your host feel very uncomfortable indeed so be very careful how you relate to people as many cultures adopt very formal attitudes towards meals, conversation and meetings.

Cultural Considerations

Make sure you understand the basic aspects of the culture of the country you are visiting. You should get familiarised with the different attitudes that might be held in relation to gender, education and religion, in particular.

It can be totally different doing business with people from overseas from doing business with people from your own country so no matter how good you are at your job and how well you relate to people here, don’t leave anything to chance and find out more about a country and its culture and background before you head out there if you want to ensure that you leave only good impressions behind.

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