Considerations When Conducting 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.

businessperson travelling internationally at an airport

Also, in certain countries, for example Spain, you’ll soon become familiar with the concept of ‘siesta’. This is when many businesses shut down between around 1pm and 4pm in the afternoon. Public holidays will also be different to those which we have in the UK.

However, there will be more complex issues to consider which are connected to local culture, customs, traditions and law.


Researching the Country You’re Travelling to

The best way to conduct business in any part of the world is to research where you’re travelling in advance.

When 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. You may have colleagues who have been there before you. If you can, ask them about things such as how to greet people, how to behave, and how to dress.

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 basic phrases such as ‘please’ ‘thank you’, hello’, ‘goodbye’ will go a long way.

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. Don’t use slang expressions or industry jargon which they might not understand.

Don’t be too ambitious in trying to say too much in their language either. Literal translations can be inaccurate. Unless you have a good grasp of their language you could be interpreted in a very different way than intended.


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.

You should be dressed appropriately, and make sure that you know the exact location of the meeting. 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. However, it’s important not to become too familiar too soon. 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. Pat on the back or hand on the shoulder type of contact is common. They also like to call people by their first names.

However, doing that in somewhere like Asia could make your host feel very uncomfortable indeed. 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 be familiar 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.

Make sure you 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.


Doing Business in Specific Countries

We have more guides on conducting international business. You might find the following useful:-

  • Doing Business in the Middle East – a guide to the basic points of business etiquette in the region.
  • Get your first meeting off to a good start by understanding business card etiquette abroad. Exchanging cards has some finer points of procedure in different countries, and you’ll need to be aware!

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