Business travelers within the United States quickly learn tactics to navigate the hassles of getting from one place to the next. Those tactics are helpful for overseas travelers as well, but they have additional issues to consider.
Before leaving, do your research. Check country websites, the CIA World Factbook website (it has information on many of the countries you might visit), and travel books available on your destination. Ask colleagues who have been to a particular country for advice. And if your company has an office in the country you are visiting, use that resource. In addition consider:
■ Generalizing and stereotyping.
Be careful to understand the difference. While most of the people in any society might typically behave a certain way, that doesn’t mean everyone does. Respect the individual.
■ Time considerations.
Americans may focus on punctuality, but other cultures may place less importance on it. By understanding this different view of time, you can relieve frustration that you may experience when the person keeps you waiting.
■ Laws and customs.
Find out about laws relating to alcohol and drugs, personal behavior, and gender issues. Possession of even a tiny bottle of alcohol in Saudi Arabia could land you in jail. Prescription drugs that are OK in the United States may not be allowed elsewhere. Holding hands, displays of affection, even the taking of photographs may cause you problems.
■ Decision making.
In some societies, the individual solves problems and makes choices. In a collectivistic society, the individual defers to the group. Even though a person might seem to agree with you, no decision is really possible until the group agrees.
Even if you don’t have a trip planned, be sure to have a valid passport so you are ready if a trip is later required. Check visa requirements well ahead of time. It can take weeks to get a visa for some countries.
Prior to leaving for Vietnam recently, I was told I could easily get a visa at the airport. What I didn’t know was I needed to have a passport photo. Panic ensued until I found an enterprising person, who, for a fee, took the photo on the spot. Now, I carry extra passport photos whenever I travel overseas.
E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.