Etiquette at work

Tips for conducting business overseas

Monday, I learned I am going overseas in about two weeks to teach business etiquette. Needless to say, planning for the trip is in overdrive. Arranging it has reminded me of some necessary details in preparing for any overseas business trip:

Passport. Mine expired in May. I didn’t jump on renewing it until June. Now I’m very glad I didn’t procrastinate further. I paid slightly more for expedited service, and the passport got back to me in two weeks. Still, check your passport and be proactive about renewing it.

Visa. Check carefully about any visa requirements for the country you are entering. When I went to Vietnam a few years ago, I was told I could get a visa at the airport. That was true, sort of. I could get a visa if I had a passport photo. I didn’t. Fortunately, milling around was a man with a camera who, for a fee, took my picture. Lesson learned. Travel with a couple of extra passport photos, just in case.


Customs. Customs vary among countries and even within them. Take time to learn the customs of the country you are visiting. You can check websites including the CIA’s and State Department’s as well as those of the countries you are visiting. Online travel websites, such as Lonely Planetor Culturegrams, are other resources.

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Dining etiquette. Familiarize yourself with which hand you use to eat and with different types of utensils. When not sure, follow the lead of your host.

Toasting customs. Find out who toasts first and if and when you should offer one. Brush up on how to make a toast. Remember, shorter is better. Learn the local word for “cheers” or “to your health.”

Greetings and introductions. In the United States, everybody shakes hands, but overseas be particularly mindful with whom you initiate a handshake.

Attitude toward time. In some cultures being late is normal, while in others it can ruin the chances of a deal.


Attire and appearance. Defer to the more formal. It’s easier to dress it down than dress it up.

Gifts for hosts. Gifts are an important part of overseas business interactions. Just be sure your hosts’ company doesn’t have a policy against receiving gifts. It would be embarrassing to offer a gift only to have it be refused.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to