Here in the UK, there is very little involved in business card etiquette. They’re simply given out to people without any big deal with regard to their significance. However, if you are conducting business overseas there are some points of etiquette you must be aware of.
Business Card Etiquette in the UK & USA
For the most part, exchanging business cards in the UK and USA is simply a quicker way of giving your contact details to somebody who may be able to use your products or services.
In these countries, they’re considered little more than a networking tool. You’ll probably find that you don’t give them out to everybody and pay little heed to them most of the time.
However, when you conduct business in certain countries overseas, it’s very different. The giving or exchanging of business cards needs to be done in the correct manner. Failing to follow the correct business card etiquette for the country you are visiting can cause offence.
Not a great way to start a business relationship with an overseas partner!
General Business Card Etiquette Overseas
The business card is an internationally recognised method of offering a fellow businessperson your contact details. If you travel overseas on business a lot, you should take a good supply of cards with you.
If you are travelling to a country whose language is not English, you should have one side of the card translated into the local language.
You should always present your business card with the foreign version side up, not the English side.
Accepting Business Cards
In many countries overseas, it’s considered disrespectful if you immediately put the card you are offered into your pocket.
You should study it for several seconds, comment on it or clarify any information before putting it away. Also, you’d usually offer a business card at the beginning or the end of a meeting.
Here are a few more specific examples of what you should and shouldn’t do.
Middle East Business Card Etiquette
Always present your card with your right hand, never your left. Our guide on doing business in the Middle East also has some great advice about how to deal with shaking hands when you first meet. It is very important not to break a handshake in the Middle East, let your host deterimine it’s length.
China Business Card Etiquette
Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese and in gold coloured lettering as that is considered auspicious.
You should also try to find out the local dialect of the people you’ll be meeting with. For example, Cantonese or Mandarin and have the card tailored specifically.
The card should feature your name and your job title. If your company has been established for a very long time, it’s useful to state the year it was formed on the card.
When offering the card, you should do so with both hands and if you’re receiving a card, make sure you study it and comment on it. Don’t just stuff it in your jacket pocket and never write on it in the person’s presence.
Japan Business Card Etiquette
To give and receive business cards in Japan is quite ceremonial. You should, therefore, invest in high quality cards and keep them in good condition by keeping them in a business card case.
Treat both the giving and receiving of business cards with the same degree of respect as you would show the person him or herself.
Status is important in Japan so make sure your title is prominent on the card. And, whilst it’s perfectly acceptable to give your card with one hand, make sure you accept one with both hands.
Don’t put it away in your pocket at a meeting, keep it on the table in front of you. If you are meeting several people at once who have all given you their cards, not only is it respectful to keep all the cards on the table in front of you until the meeting has concluded but it’s also useful in that, in placing them in front of you in the order in which people are seated, it will help you remember their names.
India Business Card Etiquette
Business in India places a great emphasis on academic achievement. In addition to your name and job title, your business cards there should also state any university qualifications you have or any other kind of honour.
As in the Middle East, always use your right hand when offering a business card. If the local dialect is Hindi, then you’d not normally need to print one side of the card in that language as most business people who speak Hindi can also speak English.
Preparation is Key
As you can see, the way other cultures perceive business cards is very different to our own. Whilst failure to adhere to the correct etiquette might not cost you business, the fact that you have taken the time and trouble to observe the correct etiquette will have indicated the respect you have for your hosts.
In business this will only stand you in good stead. So, if you are travelling on business to foreign countries that have not been featured here, it’s important that you find out all you can about what’s considered the proper etiquette in the country you’re travelling to.
You might also wish to read our guide on proper seating arrangements in a meeting for business. If you are expecting important overseas visitors, paying attention to where you seat them will help set the right tone for your meeting.