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Business Etiquette In Mexico

Mexico flag outside skyscrapers

Mexican businesses differ significantly from their American counterparts. And while the two nations may have an increasing number of similarities, understanding their differences, and incorporating them into your business strategy, can give you can edge when it comes to trying to secure a deal.

Dress Conservatively

In Mexico, appearance can play a role in the initial success of your meeting with a prospective business partner. From the clothes you wear to the vehicle you arrive to the office in, your hosts will be making small determinations about you and your company.

One of the best ways to start off on the right foot is by wearing a well-tailored dark suit. Conservative colors and styles are preferable, so plan on solid dark grey or navy suits. If you have a nice watch, wear it. However, don’t over-accessorize.

Businesswomen should also lean towards more conservative styles. Dresses and suits are both acceptable, but stick with muted colors rather than anything bright.

When it comes to more casual events, plan to over-dress. Business casual is generally acceptable, but ask your host if you’re not sure what is expected.

Cultural Differences

Though the two nations share a border, the United States and Mexico have very distinct approaches to crucial business elements.

Openness/Personal Space

Mexicans tend to be incredibly friendly. While your first interaction will likely be formal, you can expect it to quickly evolve into something more casual. While this is a sign that the deal is going well, it can make some people uncomfortable.

As you get to know your host, they may become more physical. It is common for Mexican men to grab onto other people’s arms or greet friends with a hug. Do not avoid these interactions, as it is seen as rude.

Additionally, while most Americans respect personal space, the concept is less prevalent in Mexico. Most social and business interaction will be done in very close proximity. Again, do not try to back away from this. At best, your host will take this as unfriendly. They might even consider it an insult.

Time Is Not Money

Most companies in the United States believe the saying “time is money” is nearly synonymous with business. Mexicans have a different saying: “In the US everyone lives to work, but in Mexico we work to live.”

Don’t expect anything in Mexico to start right on time. For business meetings, you’ll still probably want to arrive on time, but don’t expect your counterpart to.

Outside of the office, you’ll want to plan on arriving later than invited. Generally, half an hour late is acceptable, but it might depend on the social situation. If you’re absolutely unsure, you can ask your host.

You should also expect this to factor into actual business. While Americans are used to strict deadlines, Mexicans usually view them as general goals. This is something you’ll have to consider when planning your deal.

Business Meals

Most business in Mexico is done between people on friendly terms. It is rarely as simple as one company making a deal with another. If you’re given an opportunity to socialize outside of the office, take it. Business meals are one incredible opportunity to do just that.

What To Expect

In Mexico, entertaining is generally done during either lunch or breakfast.

Lunches will start early in the afternoon (usually around 2 or 3 p.m.) and can last several hours. Don’t expect to talk much business during these, either. They are meant to allow the two parties to get to know each other better.

If it’s a breakfast, it’ll usually be around 9 a.m., but even these can last around two hours. There might be some business talk here, but wait until your host brings it up.

How To Act

Depending on the location, you might bring a small gift. If you’re invited to a house, send flowers before the event or bring them with you. If you do, avoid red flowers and marigolds, both of which have negative connotations in Mexico. White flowers, however, have a very positive meaning.

In most cases, you’ll be introduced by your host, but this might not always be the case. If there is a larger group or you don’t think you’ll be introduced, it is okay to do so yourself. Ideally, do this before sitting down.

You’ll likely be told where to sit, so wait until your host directs you. Once at the table, keep your hands above the table. Your wrists can rest on the edge, but they should stay visible.

If You’re Hosting

If you’re hosting the meal, you can expect at least some sort of a fight when it comes to paying for the bill. To prevent this, make arrangements beforehand. Ideally, host the meal at your hotel and have it charged to you. If you have to do it in a restaurant, make arrangements to pay either before the meal or immediately after.

The Decision Making Process

Sometimes, decisions are made at a slower pace in Mexico. You should expect multiple meetings, perhaps over multiple trips, before making any real progress towards a deal. There are, however, some things you can do to streamline the process.

Setting Up The Meeting

Ideally, schedule every meeting at least two weeks in advance. You’ll also want to verify the date and time about a week beforehand, since they can frequently be canceled and postponed.

You should also hire an interpreter before you leave. Almost all business in Mexico is conducted in Spanish, so having a fluent speaker as part of your group is crucial.

The Initial Meeting

Arrive on time. Your host will likely arrive later, so a few minutes won’t be a big deal, but punctuality is still appreciated.

Like an American meeting, you’ll probably start with a handshake and quickly exchanging business cards. If you can, have one side of your business card translated into Spanish and present the card with that side up.

After the formalities, you can expect some small talk for a few minutes before flowing into a very loosely structured meeting. Don’t bother with an agenda because it’s unlikely to be followed.

If you plan on brining your host a gift, make it small. Ideally, give them something with your company’s branding on it. Gift giving, however, is not expected.

Closing The Deal

When sending a team to Mexico, make sure to include at least one higher level executive. You should also avoid sending a lawyer. By doing this, you’re telling your host that you’re serious about the deal, but you’re also trusting enough not to immediately involve a legal team.

Try to interact in person as much as possible. Email and phone calls are fine for quick verification, but any real business should be done face-to-face. Not only does this help improve your odds at building a relationship, but businesses in Mexico are incredibly unlikely to do business any other way.

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