Business travel etiquette – APH offers tips when travelling abroad for business

Corporate travel continues to be an essential part of any business and statistics highlight the industry is continuing to grow, with the average travel spend for European businesses more than doubling between 2016 – 2019*. To help the rising number of UK business travellers prepare for international trips and to ensure they are as successful as possible, the award-winning airport parking operator, APH has put together a guide highlighting the cultural customs when it comes to polite etiquette in popular destinations for business travel.

The guide draws attention to cultural customs that should be upheld and acknowledged when visiting 10 destinations such as Japan, the UAE and the USA. The guide compares the recommendations behind greetings, gift giving and dining, business attire, as well as the appropriate decorum when handing out business cards.

First Impressions Count

Shake hands

Although shaking hands is unsurprisingly the most universal form of greeting a business associate, travellers should only use the right hand when shaking hands in India and the United Arab Emirates, as accidentally using the left hand is considered unclean. In Brazil and Canada it is polite to greet women with a kiss on both cheeks and in China, Singapore, India and the United Arab Emirates, it is custom to greet the most senior or eldest person first out of respect. When entering a Japanese meeting room it is customary to knock three times but travellers should make note not to knock two times because this is the traditional way to check if a bathroom stall is occupied.

Giving and Receiving Gifts

Gift giving is an important part of international business protocol, especially in Japan and China, where gifts should be taken to the first business meeting. In these countries, presents should be given and received with two hands and should never be opened in front of the giver. Similarly, gifts of four and nine items should be avoided as they are considered unlucky in Japan, as are white flowers and potted plants which are associated with funerals and sickness. Business gifts are also appreciated in the United Arab Emirates, where they should be opened as soon as they are received, and in India where sweets are the number one choice of gift. However, in Singapore, Ireland and Australia, gifts are not essential for business meetings and furthermore, in Brazil giving a gift to a business associate is seen as a form of bribery.

Giving and receiving gifts

Table Manners

Dining with new contacts is a great way to build relationships but in Singapore, Brazil and Australia business discussions should be kept away from mealtimes and when dining in Singapore it is polite to let your host order for you. A great way of creating rapport with business associates ‘Down Under’ and in Ireland is paying for a ‘shout’, or a round of drinks. For business travellers visiting India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates it is considered inappropriate to ask for alcohol when it is not offered. It is also custom here, as in India, to only eat with the right hand because the left hand is considered unclean. Other faux pas that should be avoided in Japan and China include; leaving chopsticks straight up in rice bowls and using chopsticks for communal dishes when sharing plates of food. It is also important to remember that fish in China should never be flipped over on a plate as this is bad luck and symbolises a fishing boat capsizing. And, whilst slurping food is a dinner time no-no in the West, in China and Japan it is good practice to slurp noodles.

Dress to Impress

Fashion-forward folk will be pleased to know that clothes and accessories worn to a business meeting in Brazil are almost as important as the meeting itself. On the other hand, when travelling for business in countries such as the USA, the UAE and Canada, formal and conservative suits are essential, especially for women working in the UAE where clothing should cover the shoulders and knees. Business travellers in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore should make a conscious effort not to show the bottom of their shoes when they sit during meetings as this is considered rude and for those travelling to China, white clothing should be avoided since this is worn at funerals.

Business Card Etiquette

As with meetings in the UK, it’s expected that business cards will be exchanged when meeting a new contact. The act of presenting business cards is important, since in the UAE and India business cards should only be touched with the right hand. Likewise, in Japan, Singapore and China business cards should be shown with the utmost respect and received with two hands. Rushing to put business cards straight into wallets or stuffing them into back pockets is highly frowned upon in Japan and Singapore and instead they should be left out face-up during meetings and put away after. Lastly, it is common practice when travelling to destinations such as Brazil and Canada’s French provinces to print business cards in English and also the local language.

Small Talk Matters

When travelling for business it always pays to be punctual and prepared for small talk. However, business travellers visiting Japan and Singapore should embrace silence as this is valued more than an abundance of talking. It is also important to respect working weeks that are structured differently, for example when conducting business meetings in the United Arab Emirates it is best to schedule these for Thursday or Sunday so that Friday can be observed as a holy day.


AUSTRALIA

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Give gifts from your home country
• Open gifts when they’re received

DON’T
• Give business gifts

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Place napkin on lap for the whole meal
• Wait until everyone is served to start eating
• Pay for a round of drinks (a shout) at the pub

DON’T
• Talk about business when out for drinks
• Slurp food

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress according to the weather
• Wear business suits
• Wear dark colours

DON’T
• N/A

GREETINGS

DO
• Shake hands
• Smile
• Make eye contact

DON’T
• Say ‘G’day mate’

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Hand out business cards on introduction

DON’T
• Include information other than facts and figures

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Be direct
• Be modest

DON’T
• Focus on building relationships
• Be offended when Australians use colourful language


BRAZIL

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Give gifts at social gatherings
• Open gifts when they’re received
• Send flowers to your host the day after they have hosted you

DON’T
• Give gifts at business meetings
• Give purple or black because these colours are associated with mourning

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Accept coffee
• Use knife and fork for all dishes

DON’T
• Talk about business

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress with fashion in mind
• Wear polished shoes

DON’T
• Wear cartoon ties or ties with images
• Wear yellow and green

GREETINGS

DO
• Shake hands
• Kiss women on both cheeks

DON’T
• Use the ‘ok’ sign

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Exchange business cards during introductions
• Hand out business cards printed in English and Portuguese
• Hand out business cards with the Portuguese side facing up
• Give everyone present your business card

DON’T
• N/A

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Make small talk

DON’T
• Expect business deals to made during first meetings
• Talk about politics or Argentina
• Schedule a meeting between 12-3pm


CANADA

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Offer gifts after a deal is closed
• Unwrap gifts immediately
• Unwrap gifts in front of the giver

DON’T
• Give white lilies

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Focus on business
• Accept invitations to post-work drinks

DON’T
• Start eating until whole table has been served
• Eat while walking or on the street

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress according to the weather
• Dress conservatively
• Wear suits

DON’T
• Wear strong scents

GREETINGS

DO
• Firm handshake
• Kiss on both cheeks when well acquainted
• Maintain eye contact

DON’T
• N/A

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Have business cards printed in French and English
• Give everyone present your business card

DON’T
• N/A

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Be direct
• Respect everyone regardless of rank or status
• Remember your manners

DON’T
• Arrange meetings on Monday
• Arrange meetings on Friday


CHINA

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Bring a gift
• Give and receive gifts with two hands
• Refuse gifts before accepting

DON’T
• Offer a gift of four items
• Offer a gift of black or blue colours
• Open a gift in front of the giver
• Give clocks
• Give sharp objects

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Slurp noodles
• Accept alcohol
• Sample all dishes
• Tap on the table when tea is refilled

DON’T
• Eat or drink before the host
• Point your chopsticks at other people
• Leave chopsticks straight up in rice
• Lick chopsticks
• Use chopsticks for common plates
• Don’t leave an empty plate
• Flip fish to eat the other side because it is bad luck

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress conservatively
• Wear red because it is lucky

DON’T
• Wear black or white because this is associated with mourning and funerals

GREETINGS

DO
• Shake hands
• Address the eldest or most senior person first

DON’T
• Shake with the left hand
• Don’t shake hands sitting down
• Hug

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Receive business cards with two hands

DON’T
• N/A

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Be punctual
• Remove shoes when entering homes

DON’T
• Write in red ink
• Shake your leg
• Talk about religion
• Talk about politics


INDIA

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Take gifts to homes
• Give sweets
• Add an extra rupee for luck when giving money

DON’T
• Give leather gifts to Hindus

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Ensure water comes from a bottle
• Eat with the right hand only

DON’T
• Ask for alcohol when it is not offered
• Decline food

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Wear smart business attire
• Wear traditional Indian clothing

DON’T
• Wear silk

GREETINGS

DO
• Greet the eldest or most senior person first
• Use the traditional ‘Namaste’ greeting
• Shake hands with male colleagues

DON’T
• Shake hands with the opposite gender
• Shake hands using the left hand because this is considered unclean

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Hand out business cards printed in English
• Give and receive business cards with the right hand
• Include level of education on business card

DON’T
• Translate business cards into Hindi

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Accept invitations to homes of business contacts
• Remove shoes when entering homes

DON’T
• Use the word no
• Point
• Talk about religion


IRELAND

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Take chocolates or wine if invited into a home

DON’T
• Give business gifts

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Take meetings at the pub
• Organise business lunches

DON’T
• Organise business dinners

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress formally
• Dress conservatively

DON’T
• N/A

GREETINGS

DO
• Firm handshake
• Maintain eye contact

DON’T
• N/A

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Exchange business cards at the start or end of a meeting

DON’T
• Be offended if people don’t carry their business cards to hand out

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Make jokes
• State your opinions
• Engage in small talk

DON’T
• Be offended if someone makes a joke at your expense


JAPAN

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Wrap gifts
• Give and receive gifts with two hands
• Take a gift to the first meeting
• Tell your host that you are going to give them a gift
• Refuse gifts before accepting

DON’T
• Offer a gift of four items because this is considered unlucky
• Offer a gift of nine items because this is considered unlucky
• Give white flowers because they are associated with funerals
• Give potted plants because these are thought to encourage sickness
• Open a gift in front of the giver

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Slurp noodles
• Place chopsticks in parallel when pausing during a meal
• Sip tea after the host
• Accept drink invitations

DON’T
• Use chopsticks for common plates
• Hover chopsticks over dishes
• Lick chopsticks
• Leave chopsticks straight up in rice
• Pour yourself a drink

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress conservatively
• Wrap kimonos left over right

DON’T
• N/A

GREETINGS

DO
• Bow
• Knock 3 times before entering a room

DON’T
• Use overly expressive hand gestures
• Use the ‘ok’ sign

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Receive business cards with two hands
• Place your business card below your counterparts
• Keep business cards out and face up until after the meeting

DON’T
• Put business cards in pockets or wallets
• Cover the person’s name

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Remove shoes when entering homes and Tatami rooms
• Cover tattoos
• Enter elevators in order of status
• Embrace silence

DON’T
• Blow your nose in meetings
• Point
• Openly display money


SINGAPORE

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Give a gift when invited to a home

DON’T
• Give business gifts

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Engage in long mealtimes
• Allow the host to order
• Place chopsticks on a chopstick rest
• Wash hands before and after a meal
• Show you’re finished by placing the spoon and fork together on plate

DON’T
• Ask for alcohol when it is not offered
• Talk about business
• Share leftovers
• Refuse initial offerings of food

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Wear light suits
• Dress in smart casual attire

DON’T
• Wear a jacket
• Show the bottom of shoes when in meetings

GREETINGS

DO
• Greet the most senior person first
• Shake hands when meeting and leaving

DON’T
• Bow unless you are bowed to

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Always give your business card
• Give and receive business cards with two hands
• Treat business cards with respect

DON’T
• Print business cards in local languages
• Put business cards in your back pocket
• Write on business cards

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Be punctual
• Make small talk
• Be direct
• Embrace silence

DON’T
• Point with the forefinger
• Touch a person’s head
• Pound the fist on an open palm
• Display emotions during meetings


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Open and examine the gift in front of the giver
• Give personal gifts
• Give gifts at the end of meetings

DON’T
• Give gold jewellery or silk garments to men
• Give flowers because these are reserved for special occasions

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Accept coffee
• Shake coffee cup once finished
• Eat with right hand only
• Tip 10%

DON’T
• Ask for alcohol when it is not offered
• Consume pork

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Dress conservatively
• Dress modestly
• Women should cover their shoulders and knees

DON’T
• Wear clothing that comes above the knee
• Show the bottom of shoes when in meetings

GREETINGS

DO
• Greet the most senior person first
• Shake hands using the right hand – the left hand is considered unclean

DON’T
• Shake hands with the opposite gender

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Print business cards in Arabic and English
• Give and receive business cards with the right hand
• Give business cards at the beginning of meetings

DON’T
• N/A

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Be punctual
• Build relationships
• Engage in small talk
• Schedule meetings on Thursdays and Sundays
• Remove shoes when entering homes

DON’T
• Rush into talking about business
• Schedule meetings on Fridays
• Conduct meetings during Ramadan


USA

GIFT GIVING

DO
• Give gifts from your home country

DON’T
• Give money
• Be offended if someone cannot accept a gift e.g. government agents

DINING ETIQUETTE

DO
• Place napkin on lap
• Serve women first
• Tip 15-20% of the bill

DON’T
• Tuck napkins under the chin
• Start eating until whole table has been served

CLOTHING GUIDELINES

DO
• Wear suits

DON’T
• Wear open toed shoes

GREETINGS

DO
• Shake hands
• Hug if you’re well acquainted
• Return smiles

DON’T
• Take phrases such as ‘see you later’ literally

BUSINESS CARD ETIQUETTE

DO
• Hand out business cards

DON’T
• Be offended when cards are quickly put away

GENERAL ETIQUETTE

DO
• Engage in small talk
• Be punctual
• Expect informalities and openness
• Be direct
• Focus on business

DON’T
• Waste time
• Interrupt people
• Sit in silence

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