Researching International Business Customs Before the Trip

International Business Customs in Business Practices

If you’re engaged in international business, chances are at some point, you’ll need to travel to the country in which you have or conduct business.  Whether it’s China, Russia, Vietnam, France, or some other country, knowing the international business customs is imperative.  In fact, since English is the business language for most countries, it is often more important than knowing the local language.  There are some unique international business customs around the world and today’s blog seeks to highlight just a few of them.

United Kingdom

Don’t giggle or laugh when you find yourself in a board room full of U.K executives all tapping their nose.  Though this might seem like an awkward or silly thing to do, the act of tapping your nose in the U.K indicates to the people in the room that what is about to be discussed should be considered highly confidential and private.  Keep your eyes open for this gesture to avoid accidentally sharing secret information that was intended to stay in the room.


Americans seem to look for any excuse to do business deals outside of the office.  Restaurants, golf courses, parties or even dinner parties at each other’s houses are all  favorite non-office locations for business meetings. Finland takes it to the next level and it’s much...hotter.  In Finland, to help build the business relationship, individuals relax in 125-degree sauna and steam rooms. So, don’t decline an invite to the sauna as it is a good sign that the business relationship is moving in the right direction - and make sure to hydrate!

For business meetings that actually take place in the office, don’t be alarmed by long periods of silence as this is a common occurrence during meetings.

United Arab Emirates

In most Middle Eastern countries, the left-hand is considered unclean and used strictly for bodily hygiene.  As a result, be aware of your left-hand while business meetings in the U.A.E.  Even if you’re a “lefty” in the U.S., use only your right hand to shake hands, eat, pass documents and sign things.  Using your left hand can be considered an insult.


If you find yourself all alone in a Russian meeting room, don’t despair.  Russian business  persons do not always arrive on time.  In fact, they often show up as late as they desire and are very often unapologetic.  This is not a character flaw, as being late is actually to test the U.S. counterparts and their patience.  So when you find yourself waiting…keep waiting!


Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts!  When traveling to China for business, be ready and armed with gifts to hand over to your Chinese counterparts.  Don’t be discouraged when your gift isn’t eagerly accepted when you first try to deliver it.  In China, the tradition is for gifts to be refused up to three times before finally being accepted.  Just remember to keep offering the gift until its finally taken.


Don’t order or wear anything that was once a cow.  In India, the cow is considered a sacred animal and it can be seen as a sign of disrespect for you to order any type of beef dish or wear any type of leather while at business luncheons or meetings.  Unsure what meat you can eat?  Order the same meat choice as your Indian counterparts or just stick with vegetables.


Say goodbye to your personal space while traveling to Brazil on business.  While personal space is highly valued in the U.S., particularly in business situations, it is quite the opposite in Brazil where it is common for one to stand incredibly close to you, read over your shoulder, and hover or use a lot of physical contact while talking.  While you might be startled and want to back away, try not to as it may be considered disrespectful.

Also, while in Brazil, try to keep your “OK” hand signals to a minimum.  While it is customary in the U.S. to throw up an “OK” hand signal with your hands, it is considered rude in Brazil.

International Laws Are Important Too

The above is just a quick glimpse into some of the more distinctive international business customs in countries where many U.S. businesses transact business.  To avoid destroying a business relationship over something silly such as using the “OK” hand signal during a meeting, it’s important to do independent deeper research before attending a business meeting or constructing a deal with a foreign company.  To avoid a business disaster because you don’t know or follow the many international laws that govern international business transactionscontact the attorneys at Whitcomb, Selinsky.

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