Business Culture around the World

24 June 2021

Taking the time to learn how business dealings are done in your chosen location will not only make it easier to settle in, but it will also display a level of respect and consideration to your managers and colleagues and help you to succeed in global business. 


Let’s look at business culture in the top 10 expat locations around the world. It is important to remember these are not always hard and fast rules and they may vary, they are intended as a general overview: 

In Japan bowing is the most common greeting but sometimes a handshake may be offered as well. People are referred to by their title and surname until instructed to go by first names. Business cards are a large part of Japanese business culture - they are given and received with two hands and must be kept in immaculate condition. 

In China you greet people in a business meeting with a handshake starting with the most senior and oldest person first. People are referred to by their title and first name until instructed otherwise. Face to face is preferred when conducting business and the hierarchy of age and ranking is hugely important. Gifts may be declined a number of times before acceptance. 

Business cards are given and received with two hands and kept in pristine condition. You should make a point of studying a business card received and either repeat their name or comment on their position to show interest. 

One of the most important things to remember with company culture in the UAE is never to use your left hand when shaking hands, passing documents, sharing company cards or dining as the left hand is for maintaining bodily hygiene. Using your left hand can be seen as disrespectful.

Shaking hands is the preferred greeting in UAE and people are called by their title and surname until invited to use first names. Business cards are used and should include Arabic translations. Business meetings are usually relaxed and the planned structure can change. It is acceptable to take phone calls or reply to text messages during meetings. 

Similar to UAE you should avoid using your left hand in India as it is considered unhygienic. Greetings should be in the form of a gentle handshake and be aware that traditional Indian women may not shake hands with men. Business cards are used and should include a Hindi translation. 

Personal questions are common in India. This includes questions around how much money you earn. The word “no” is considered to be rude and instead people will say “maybe”. Indian businesspeople can sometimes arrive late to meetings but you should arrive on time. 

When conducting business in the USA you should greet people with a firm handshake. First name terms are usually used but you should wait for an invitation to do so to be polite. Business cards are used in the USA.

In USA business meetings some small talk is acceptable before discussing business, however, when business is being discussed it is often direct and to the point as time is considered precious especially in larger firms or big cities. Punctuality is important for the same reason. 

Similar to the USA, shaking hands with everyone is the approved greeting style. Business cards are also used. When people interact first they use titles and surnames until instructed to switch to first names. 

In the UK day to day business is done face to face, by email, on video call and over the phone. Non-personal small talk about the weather, the weekend or sports is acceptable and usually takes place at the beginning of meetings before discussing business. Being on time for meetings is extremely important in the UK. 

Though French people are known for greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek, in French business you greet each other with a handshake. Everyone is referred to by Madame / Monsieur with their surname until a first name basis is established. Business cards are used in France and should be handed to the receptionist upon arrival. The French appreciate any effort to speak their language so try to learn some useful phrases.

In meetings and day to day communications you should remain professional and stick to business. High levels of detail are expected when discussing tasks and projects. 

A firm handshake is the preferred style of greeting in Germany and people should be referred to as Herr / Frau with a surname. Punctuality and efficiency are a huge part of German culture and even their public transport system runs like clockwork with very few delays. Germans are almost always on time for meetings and expect the same from others. 

In Germany work life and personal life are kept separate and small talk in the office should be limited to discussing general topics such as sports. In meetings small talk is kept to a minimum and business is discussed in a direct, to the point manner that may be misunderstood as rudeness. 

In Italy a handshake is often the first style of greeting between people followed by kissing (or pressing) the cheeks once a relationship has been formed. People are called Signor / Signora with their surnames until a first name relationship is reached. Business is very relationship driven in Italy. People like to establish an element of trust before business dealings. 

Written communication is often used as an initial point of contact and meetings can run over time when decisions need to be made as Italian businesspeople like to carefully evaluate all considerations when making a decision. 

A handshake greeting is used in Spain and people are called by their title and first name i.e., Senor or Senora until invited to use first names. Business cards are used in Spain. Meeting agendas are also used in Spain but often do not get followed. 

Face to face communication is preferred by Spanish people and first meetings are often used to create relationships before discussing business at a second meeting. Personal life can be discussed in initial meetings. In Spain multiple people may speak at the same time or interrupt and it is not considered to be rude. 


If you are considering an assignment overseas remember to research the local business culture for your location and look after your health and wellbeing with international health insurance from Allianz Care.