When doing business outside of the United States, it is always important to keep in mind the etiquette rules of the host country. Being prepared and acting in accordance to the culture will put you at less of a disadvantage when conducting business.
Know your business associate’s title
In America, business meetings have become informal. Even people who are meeting for the first time often call each other by their first names. This is not acceptable in Latin America. One needs to earn that level of familiarity. Thus, you should only use a business associate’s first name when invited to do so. Until then, be sure to get the person’s title so you may address him or her properly. Know whether you should use a formal usted or informal tu.
Additionally, in Mexico, in formal situations, someone with an academic degree should be referred to by his or her title. For example, at a bachelor’s degree level, use ingeniero (engineer) and licenciado (attorney). For someone with a master’s degree, it is common to use the title “maestro.” Be sure to use “doctor” if the person has obtained his or her doctorate.
Don’t worry about being late for meetings
If you tend to be late for meetings, you’ll feel right at home in most Latin American countries. On the whole, most business people in Latin American are lax on punctuality. It is not typical to watch the clock in the way Americans often do. Being as late as 30 minutes in not only usual, but quite acceptable. That said, not everyone will follow this rule. Law offices and accounting firms may expect you to show up at the appointed hour. However, you will likely still be greeted in a friendly manner if you are tardy.
Before getting straight to business in a meeting, spend a little time with social talk. Be open, warm and friendly. Remember that Latin Americans see you as more than a representative of some faceless corporation. They are interested in you. It is not unusual to talk about family before discussing any business. Do avoid discussions on politics, national differences or racial or ethnic issues.
Keep your hands under control
Many hand gestures that Americans consider normal are offensive in other countries. This is especially true in Latin America. If doing business in Argentina, do not put your hands on your hips. This is considered a challenge to another person. In Mexico, do not put your hands in your pockets. This is considered rude. As it is in many other countries, the symbol of “ok” — thumb and forefinger together — is offensive in Brazil. Avoiding such a gesture anywhere outside of the United States is good practice.