Mexico Business Etiquette: 11 Do’s and Dont’s

Mexico Business Etiquette
Business etiquette in Mexico is strongly based around building personal relationships. Get to know your business partners and engage in social discussions with them. Despite this friendly and personable style, Mexican business is also very formal; be sure to dress well and respect the status of your business partners.

1. Be Prepared to Wait

Punctuality is not as important in Mexican business as it is in the States and Canada. It is likely that your Mexican counterpart arrives for meeting after the scheduled start times – even up to half an hour after business dealings were supposed to begin!

However, I recommend you arrive on time for scheduled appointments. Be prepared to wait, and try not to take any offence at perceived lateness; it is simply down to cultural differences, not any intended rudeness.

2. Dress to Impress

Mexicans have an excellent dressing sense, just like business counterparts in Italy. Mexico’s business culture is highly based around status, and one way to show your success is to dress smartly.

Business attire for both genders usually consists of dark-colored suits. Businesswoman usually wear makeup at work. If you are doing business in Mexico City, expect a more formal dress code than in other parts of the country.

Even in social situations, be sure to dress well if you want to be taken seriously. Ensure your clothes are ironed, well laundered, and properly fitting.

3. Handshakes and Hellos

The regular business greeting is to shake hands. Handshakes in this country are not as firm as in some parts of the world, especially Europe. Don’t be surprised if this is accompanied by some other physical contact (i.e.,. a touch on the elbow).

business handshake in Mexico
Business handshakes are not firm in Mexico

They are relatively formal; therefore, addressing your business partners by their proper titles and last names is important. At the initial meeting, introduce yourself using your full name and title.

4. Slow and Steady Meetings

Business meeting unfolds slowly and may not stick to the scheduled agenda. Expect polite small talk before the business chat begins, and do not be surprised if the conversation moves at times to unrelated topics.

Entertaining and hosting are important parts of business meetings. Breakfast and lunch meetings are common and tend to run for a long time (up to and beyond two hours).

5. Business Cards in Spanish

There is no specific etiquette related to exchanging business cards. Since not everyone in Mexico speaks English, having special cards printed with Spanish on one side is a good idea. If this is the case, presenting the Spanish side first to your business partners is polite.

6. Status is Key

Rank and status are very important in Mexican business culture. At the start of an exchange, be sure to identify the most senior person in the room and address them as your first port of call.

Having an executive or high ranking official on your negotiation team is also important. This will make you more respected and taken more seriously in this hierarchical culture.

7. Slow Negotiations

The Mexican negotiation process is slower than other North American countries. They like to take their time and leave space to haggle; trying to rush through quick decisions will likely backfire and lead to discontent. Deadlines are considered guidelines, so don’t panic if a decision takes longer than planned.

Trust and harmony are as important as facts and figures for Mexican businesspeople. They like to make deals with people they like and get along with; the social side of negotiations is just as important as the business side. If possible, try to conduct face-to-face negotiations to build strong personal relationships throughout the process.

8. Get the Hang of Business Lunches

Business lunches are a common part of the business process. Try not to bring up business first; allow your counterpart to start the conversation. It is common for whoever sent the invite to pick up the bill, though if you are a client, it is polite to offer. Splitting the bill is not advised. Allow time for small talk at the end of the lunch.

9. Exchanging Gifts

It is common for small gifts to be exchanged after an initial meeting. Though this is not a requirement, gift giving helps to set up a feeling of good will between the two parties. Branded gifts from your company are appropriate for a business meeting.

If you are invited to a social event, bringing a small gift for the host is polite. Wine, chocolate, or flowers are good options; avoid marigolds or red flowers.

10. Communication

Though Mexico has a formal business etiquette, it is common for businesspeople to get emotional during negotiations. Try not to be shocked or put off by this; it’s a sign that your Mexican counterpart is engaged in the process, not that they are angry.

It is best to keep your body language open and friendly. They are gregarious and friendly, and will respond well to friendliness.

Though English is commonly spoken across Latin America, do not assume that your business partners will be fluent. Especially at the first meeting, ensure you have a translator present to improve the functionality of a meeting.

11. Work culture

The typical working week runs six days, from Monday to Saturday. A working week is a maximum of 48 hours, or 8 hours worked a day, with workers entitled to a day off every six days.

The country has seven national holidays, four bank-holidays, and one traditional holiday. Workers are entitled to at least twelve days and up to twenty days of annual leave.

Businesses are, unfortunately, still quite male dominated. According to the OECD, ‘less than half of Mexican women of working age participate in the labor market.’

It also struggles with corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Mexico as 126 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption free business, with a score of just 31 out of 100 (0 meaning completely corrupt, 100 meaning completely clean).

What are the most common business etiquette mistakes in Mexico?

  • Shying away from physical contact. People here are very friendly and sociable. Handshakes are a must; hugs and kisses are common as you get to know people. Try not to be standoffish, as this might cause offence.
  • Gestures. There are some cultural differences in Mexico that could cause offence. The western ‘ok’ sign (thumb and forefinger together) is vulgar in Mexico. Conversely, the middle finger is often used to gesture, which might take foreigners by surprise.
  • Documents. When handing out documents, be sure to give them out individually and hand them to every member of the meeting. Dropping a stack of papers onto the table, or sending a big stack to be past around, can be interpreted as rudeness.
  • Sarcasm. They are fun loving and enjoy a joke; however, sarcasm is not a large part of their humor. Sarcasm is rude and offensive and should be avoided!

What are the 4 basic values of business relationships in Mexican Culture

  • Personal Relationships and Networking. Business in Mexico is all about the personal. Similar to business customs and etiquette in Russia, your couterparts want to get to know you and build a personal relationship, not feel like they are dealing with an accountant or computer.
  • Loyalty. It’s a key tenement of Mexican culture, and this is equally true in business. Be sure to be honest and loyal in your business dealings, and you will create partners for life; if you are disloyal, you could get yourself blacklisted and struggle to find partners to work with going forward.
  • Strong Hierarchy. The most important person in the room will be expected to make the decisions, with others there to fulfil their own specific roles. Be sure to adhere to the hierarchy of your counterparts business structure.
  • Status Consciousness. This is reflected in the way you dress, the way you present yourself, and the titles you have earned. Be sure to show your qualifications and to respect those of your partners.

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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