How to Say It - Doing Business in Latin America by Kevin Michael Diran

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A Guide to Etiquette in Latin America

“Latin Americans prefer to do business on personal level and have a subtly negative attitude towards remote communications.”

Before you do business in Latin America, you must first familiarize yourself with the region’s cultural values and customs. One of the most important requirements to doing business in these countries is a social network. Latin Americans prefer face-to-face business, so setting up such negotiations requires a reference or personal introduction to individuals you wish to deal with.

To increase your chances of meeting with a prospect, befriend his colleagues or friends and consider joining organizations he or she participate in. Your first meeting with a prospect will require a great deal of socializing, and very little emphasis, if any, will be placed on business. Do not bring up a business deal or transaction during this meeting.

Unlike the United States, Latin America does not put a great deal of emphasis on privacy, so be prepared to respond to questions surrounding your background. The family unit is very important to Latin Americans, so changing the topic to family matters can work in your favor.

Certain tips can make your travels in Latin America more productive. For example, you can more easily obtain a tourist visa to enter Latina America from the U.S. than a business visa, and you can do this even if you are on a business trip that involves a little tourism. Remember that a court can overrule a business contract, if you signed it in Latin America without possessing a business visa.

When traveling, you should use taxis, as it will be safer than driving by yourself in a rental car. Homicides are more common there than in the U.S. Since access to doctors and hospitals is more limited, you might want to purchase a health insurance policy that will cover the cost of an evacuation to North America for medical treatment.

Consider hiring a “bilingual personal assistant” to help with translating, scheduling and directions. Having an assistant will also give you the prestige needed to gain a prospect’s trust. Finding a translator is easier if the local U.S. consulate provides you with a directory of local translators. To minimize travel time, find dedicated driver – called “hotel cars” in some parts of Latin America. “Labor courts” often ask why your company in the region would fire an employee, so you should retain the services of a lawyer when hiring in Latin America. While technically illegal, bribes are a part of Latin Americans’ daily lives. With a small bribe, you can motivate civil servants to speed up any process, and police corruption is rampant.

Both verbal and body language are important when communicating. Don’t put your hands on your hips or in your pockets, and you should never point at others. Avoid using profanity with “God” or “Jesus” involved. Don’t discuss business when visiting a restaurant and avoid such topics as politics, immigration and natural disasters. Above all, you should always be professional.

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