Doing business internationally is a nerve-wracking ordeal for anyone, especially trying to figure out business etiquette in a foreign country. But don’t worry! We’re here to help you with business etiquette in Colombia.
Colombian business etiquette is a small segment, a mere reflection of the country’s culture. Over time, many get used to cultural nuances and learn what NOT to do, often the hard way — by making mistakes!
But business professionals (aka YOU) don’t have time to pick up on the little things on a two-day business trip.
So here are 10 tips to help guide your reunión:
REMEMBER!: These tips ARE NOT 100% guaranteed to be the same across every single person and every single company in Colombia. These can change based on the type of people and company cultures you are interacting with.
Make sure you feel out your unique business relationships while keeping these tips in mind.
1. Dress Well
First impressions are always important, but they are an especially big deal in Colombian business etiquette, so you have to dress to impress!
This means that both men and women have to be very well-groomed and put-together. That means tailored suits, hair styled, makeup on, and nails manicured.
Why? It gives seriousness to the working agenda. Dress better than you usually would back home.
Keep in mind that you are not only representing yourself, but you’re also representing your company and your country as a whole.
2. Handshakes First, Kisses Later
As a rule of thumb, when you are first meeting a Colombian in a business setting, you will always do handshakes first. After you get to know each other and are acquainted, then you may do the cheek-to-cheek greetings.
Note: The cheek-to-cheek is done between two women or between a man and a woman, but is almost never done between two men. Handshakes are always the go-to.
3. Start with Small Talk
Initial conversations should be friendly and light. Before getting started with the meeting, talk about the flight, the hotel, or the city. Keep it surface-level, nothing too serious or intrusive.
4. Remember Small Personal Space
Similarly to other Latino cultures, Colombians have a closer talking distance than Americans and Europeans, even in business culture. So don’t be too alarmed if your definition of personal space is bigger than theirs.
5. Prepare for Negotiations
Though obvious, it is important to know what you’re discussing forward and backward when negotiating in a meeting.
When speaking on behalf of your firm, you must know the business strategy, findings, information, and news of not only your own company but also your partners’ company and your respective countries.
It goes back to you representing your country and company; you don’t want to leave a bad impression by not being prepared.
Try reading over this Colombia economic overview to arm yourself with knowledge before your important meeting.
6. Try to Avoid Monday’s for Meetings
Meetings with foreign partners are usually done mid-week and end on the weekend. This is because people want to enjoy the social aspects of a Friday night and let their guard down during the weekend.
In addition, with tons of the 17 public Colombian holidays falling on Mondays, you are sure to accidentally book an appointment during a puente. A word used to describe a really long weekend that extends into Monday.
They love their puentes!
7. Keep Business Hours in Mind
Usual business hours follows closely to those of the United States. Whereas in the U.S. business hours are usually a solid 9 AM to 5 PM, in Colombia, you will find their hours starting as early as 7:30 AM and finishing around about 5:30/6 PM.
That depends, of course, on the city you are in!
In the north and near the coast, you will find people working later and finishing earlier than in places like Bogotá where they are up at the crack of dawn to get to work!
Business hours will depend on the company culture, the region of the country you are in, and the traffic! If you are on public transport in Bogotá (taking the transmilenio) you might not get to the office until much later!
8. Come Hungry for Long Lunches
While not as long as the famous 2 to 3-hour lunch in France, those in Colombia range from 1 to 2 hours. Many employees go out and eat lunch together, but lunch may be catered when there are foreign partners in the office.
9. Practice your Spanish, but Bring a Translator
Colombians appreciate it when you speak Spanish or make an effort to do so!
Most Colombians will be happy to help you practice your Spanish skills — they may even think it’s cute.
But, don’t think that two years Spanish will cut it. Bringing a translator or interpreter on your team is KEY to iron out legalities. Or make sure to partner up with native English speakers so nothing gets lost in translation!
It would also be helpful to have translated any materials pertinent to your business expansion plans into Spanish before your arrival.
10. Arrive on Time, Or Don’t?
Like many other Latinos, Colombians are known to be slightly later than the hands of the clock. This isn’t to be taken in a rudely. Many don’t mean to be late, but traffic is often complicated, not to mention the added difficulty of the Pico y Plata and the frustrations of public transport in the city.
Don’t be too late, though! Compared to the rest of the Latin Americans, Colombians watch the clock a little more closely in Colombia.
Being tardy by 15 to 20 minutes is excusable for Colombian business meetings since that’s the time everyone socializes prior to talking business.
|What is the Pico & Placa? |
Pico & Placa is a driving restriction that aims to alleviate traffic congestion in Colombia, literally meaning “Peak [of traffic] and [license] Plate.” It impedes driving through certain areas, depending on the day, the time, and the car’s ending number of the license plate.
In Bogotá, license plates with even endings have restrictions on even days, while those with odd endings have restrictions on odd days, with 0 considered as an even number. The Pico & Placa is lifted on the weekends.
Topics to Avoid with a Colombian
While it may seem alluring to talk about Pablo Escobar and the drug trade in the 80s with a real Colombian, DO NOT. It’s culturally insensitive and makes you look out-of-touch and uneducated.
Besides Pablo Escobar, here are some general topics to avoid in conversation:
- Narcotrafficking at any point in Colombian history
- Guerrilla warfare
- Criticisms of the Catholic Church
We recommend reading over a brief timeline of Colombian history since 1948 to understand why it’s important to avoid those topics.
Instead, talk about the many great things that drew you into the country — amazing music and artists, athletes, dancing and food, beautiful beaches, and a can-do attitude.
Colombians as Business Partners
Colombian people are famous for their warmth and friendly demeanor, business partners included. They’re known to be very hospitable, especially to foreign visitors, so that they enjoy their time in the country and come back with their friends.
When doing business in Colombia, it’s important to express appreciation and gratefulness to not only your partner but to the country as well.
One way to show appreciation to the country is to be a little knowledgeable about Colombia’s culture and economy. Try reading over this Colombia economic overview to
Forming personal relationships is essential for success, so don’t be afraid to befriend your partner(s)!
Managed to Master Business Etiquette in Colombia?
Now that you’re an expert in Colombian business etiquette doing business in Colombia will be so much easier!
Want to expand your business to “the gateway of South America?” Connect with our multilingual marketing team and LATAM experts at firstname.lastname@example.org to jump right into the Colombian market.