Different countries, different customs: Are you planning a business trip on the American continent? Then you too will notice that across the Americas (also known as NORAM in the business world), cultures are quite different. When it comes to business appointments with international partners, it is therefore particularly important to know one way or another. But how can you ensure proper business etiquette in the Americas? What is acceptable and what is not?
In our article you will find the most important business travel etiquette in the Americas for business trips on the American continent, from the USA to Argentina, to Brazil, Mexico, and from Canada to Panama.
Business connections are the be-all and end-all to put your company in the spotlight on international business trips. The code of conduct on business trips, also known as “business etiquette”, applies on the American continent just as it does in other countries. However, there are some key regional differences.
Business relationships in United States
Whether it’s New York or L.A., Americans come across as very friendly and personable at business meetings. They often maintain an informal business environment where trust quickly builds. Although they are often very warm and hospitable, Americans do not necessarily seek to develop personal relationships with business associates.
Deals are viewed as purely professional and there is little connection to the personal lives of those involved. Despite the informal atmosphere, you should not allow yourself to be tempted to reveal too much about yourself. Keep it friendly but professional. Also, with new business relationships, you should focus more on establishing your reputation or brand, aside from initial niceties. You can read more about this in our guide with tips for business trips to the USA.
How to handle business relationships in Argentina
Like most Latin American countries, Argentina relies heavily on things like flexibility in timing and building strong relationships before doing business. However, the country has a history heavily influenced by Europe and almost 85% of Argentina’s population are descendents from European countries such as Italy, Austria, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Therefore, there are many customs and rules that are more reminiscent of mainland Europe.
Small talk is part of good manners in Argentina. Possible topics are football, the opera, family and current events. Be sure to avoid political topics like the Perón years and the Falkland Islands. To earn the trust of Argentine business partners, you need to spend time with them. This can be dinner, but also private family celebrations. Also an important rule: everything is negotiable, and nothing is final until the contract is signed!
The pillars of business relationships in the Brazilian culture
Like most Latin American countries, Argentina relies heavily on things like flexibility in timing and building strong relationships before doing business. However, the country has a history heavily influenced by Europe and almost 85% of Argentina’s population is descended from European countries such as Italy, Austria, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Therefore, there are many customs and rules that are more reminiscent of mainland Europe.
Doing good business in Mexico
Mexicans attach great importance to observing business and meal times. While offices often work from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m, there are a total of five traditional meals from Desayuno at 7am to Cena at 8 p.m.
Business lunches are extremely popular in Mexico and often last two hours or more. There will likely be smoking and drinking, and discussions about family, current events, and other social topics are encouraged. The key to success in Mexico is patience. While business meetings often start on time, they take a long time and involve a lot of small talk. Aggressive negotiations are not welcomed. But business cards are important. Definitely bring more than you think.
Panama business communication
Trust is gained in Panama, by making small talk and being interested in topics that are important to Panamanians, such as family and sports. You should also accept invitations to business meals and always offer to pay the bill.
Greetings & how to address people
How you greet your business partners on international business trips is extremely important. These initial meetings are designed to build trust and respect, and you gain that by respecting the culture of the country and knowing customs about how to greet and address people. As rule number one, you should always plan for the jetlag factor when traveling to America. Here are a few tips on how to overcome jet lag on business trips. Nothing is worse than looking at potential business partners with tired eyes at the first meeting!
Business greetings in Panama
At business meetings, you should first shake hands with all Panamanian colleagues present and exchange business cards. These should have an English side and a Spanish side, and the Spanish side should definitely be facing up when handed over.
Since Panamanian companies are hierarchical, it is important to address your counterpart correctly, first the title, then the last name. And don’t use their first names!
Greetings in the US
In a business environment, a firm handshake and a friendly smile are appropriate. On the other hand, physical contact, such as kisses on the cheek or hugging, is less popular. Americans don’t attach much importance to names and titles and often address each other by their first names.
Meetings regularly start with a few minutes’ of small talk before participants get down to business. Since Americans are also masters of customer service, you should pay particular attention to comfort and etiquette with customers.
If at the end of a meeting you hear the suggestion, “We should have lunch sometime,” you don’t have to take this invitation literally. This is mostly meant more as a courtesy and means more that you should keep in touch.
How to greet in Argentina
When you meet someone in Argentina for the first time, your counterpart will really appreciate it if you address him or her in Spanish. Most of the time, your conversation partner will quickly suggest switching to another language.
There is a defined protocol for greetings in a business environment. The oldest or most important person is greeted first. Offer a firm handshake with direct eye contact and a welcoming smile. Don’t be surprised if the other person maintains relatively close physical contact during the conversation; this is common in Argentina. You should also address those present by their title plus last name.
Greetings in Mexico
In the beginning, business relationships in Mexico are rather formal. Never address your Mexican business partners by their first names until instructed to do so. Use title and last name instead. When it comes to physical contact, Mexicans tend to be friendly and cordial. Even if you choose to shake hands as your usual greeting, you may still be hugged by men and kissed on the cheek by women.
How to greet in Brazil
When greeting a woman in Brazil, or being greeted as a woman in Brazil, you can expect a kiss on both cheeks. Shaking hands is usually reserved for men. You should also shake hands with everyone present when entering and leaving the room. The tone is quite cordial in Brazil, so hugs and pats on the back are not uncommon.
When you meet someone for the first time, it’s polite to say “muito prazer” (translated: “the pleasure is all mine”). Expressions like “como vai” and “tudo bem” are common ways to say hello when you already know someone.
Punctuality can be a touchy subject in America and cause a lot of confusion. You should definitely find out beforehand what is expected of business partners in each respective country.
Although Brazilians sometimes treat time as an abstract concept, you should be on time and don’t show frustration or impatience at delays. Don’t set an end time for meetings and schedule meetings between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. or 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Timeliness in Panama
Punctuality is important, although Panamanians are generally quite easygoing and may keep you waiting. Meetings start with a lot of small talk before getting down to business, so give yourself plenty of time. However, it should be said that punctuality is a matter of courtesy. Even if Panamanians themselves are often relaxed and easy going about time, the agreements made with foreign partners are usually respected.
When arranging a business meeting, it is customary to confirm the date and time several times in advance. This shows that the meeting is important to you. You should also be on time to make a good impression. However, your Mexican counterpart may not always be on time. Start and end times are often understood to be relative.
Be punctual in the US
Punctuality is the be-all and end-all in the US across all business travel destinations. Being late is a waste of both time and money. It is common in the States to show up on time, start quickly, and stick to the agenda. Time is a precious commodity and it can be considered impolite to be late.
Punctuality in Argentina
Showing up on time is important. Argentines are generally punctual at business meetings as punctuality conveys a person’s respect for time and attentiveness to the other person.
How to dress
Nothing is more awkward than arriving at a business meeting and realizing that the dress code is more formal than how you are dressed. Before you travel, you should definitely find out what clothing is expected of business partners.
Go business casual in the United States
Women should wear suits, dresses or skirts. Men should wear a black, gray or navy blue business suit with a tie. However, many companies hold Casual Friday, and some high-tech companies follow a “dress down” concept, tending to be quite casual with jeans, hoodies and sneakers on a regular basis. You want to make sure you don’t dress too formally on those occasions as you might feel out of place.
Go stylish yet formal in Argentina
Business attire in Argentina is formal and conservative, yet stylish. Men should wear dark, conservative business suits. Women should wear elegant business suits or dresses. Quality accessories are important for both sexes.
In Panama opt for business casual
Formal business attire is typically worn in the financial sector, at high level government meetings, and at some social business meetings. In most cases, business casual attire is acceptable (jacket and no tie or shirt and tie, no jacket).
Go formal in Mexico
In Mexico, business is a formal affair, so men are more likely to dress in dark suits and wear ties. Likewise, women tend to wear conservative suits or dresses. Especially in large Mexican cities, a lot of value is placed on the external appearance at business meetings. You should always wear formal clothes and avoid casual outfits or even sneakers for business meals.
Dress to impress in Brazil
Brazilians pride themselves on dressing well and looking well-groomed. Men should dress conservatively in dark suits. For women, elegant suits or dresses are the order of the day. It’s also important to wear quality accessories to meetings to convey a sign of status and power. Any clothing that is a mixture of green and yellow should be avoided as these are the colors of the Brazilian flag.
Are you planning to travel to another country? Then you can find our article on business etiquette in EMEA countries. Want to learn more about getting the most out of your job and organizing business trips like a pro?
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*Sources: All content has been verified by native speakers from each country, with some information coming from the following additional sources: