by Jacquelyn Smith |
You’re probably familiar with common business practices in the U.S. and less accustomed to the way things are done abroad. That’s OK; most people are in the same boat. But if you do plan to travel for work, you should know that many of our customs don’t fly overseas–and you’ll want to do the necessary research before you go.
“It’s not only important to prepare for a business trip abroad, it’s essential,” says Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach. “If this is your first business trip outside of the U.S., due diligence in learning about the country you’ll be visiting is a must. You’ll be interacting with colleagues with country-specific business acumen and your lack of knowledge will be evident and damaging.”
Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, and host of the YouTube channel FromGradToCorp, agrees. “It’s essential to prepare because there are so many more chances for things to go wrong compared to a domestic business trip,” he says. While abroad, you’ll be dealing with different people, different customs, and different rules.
“It’s important to remember that when you travel abroad for business, you are not just representing yourself, but also your department, your company, and your country,” he adds. You are an ambassador and should act accordingly.
Without adequate preparation, you’ll not only appear naïve and unsophisticated, but you run the risk of insulting the very people you want to impress, Kurow says. “Or worse, you could be labeled as clueless and not ready for a position with global reach. International experience is the proving ground for many a rising executive. Not doing your homework before you travel abroad could have a serious negative impact on your future career. It doesn’t get much more important than that.”
If you become sick or have a bad case of jet lag—which could easily happen if you don’t prepare properly—you won’t be 100% focused on what you need to be focused on, and this can certainly affect your productivity while you’re overseas, Teach adds.
“Without doing the necessary research, it’s possible you could offend the people you’re working with, you could lose an international account, and worst-case scenario, you could lose your job.”
He says the best advice is to study the country you’re traveling to. Know the culture and customs of the people who live and work there, and plan your trip so that you have some time to rest before your business begins. Speak to other businesspeople who have previously been to that country on business and ask them for advice. Furthermore, act like a local, not like a tourist, he says.
“With so much on the line for an international business trip, every detail must be thoroughly examined,” Teach adds. So to help you with those details, we’ve constructed a brief guide for business travel abroad. Rules and customs vary by country—and it’s important to know those specifics before you go—but here are some universal things to think about.
For starters, Teach suggests you ask yourself the following questions before you go on your next business trip abroad:
- Is my passport up-to-date? Is it within 6 months of expiration? (If so, you need to renew it as some countries won’t accept it.)
- Do I need a visa?
- What vaccinations are required? Do I need anti-malaria pills?
- Is altitude sickness a possibility?
- Is the water drinkable? (If not, don’t order drinks with ice cubes, don’t order salads which are washed, and don’t let water get into your mouth when you take a shower.)
- What is the currency exchange rate?
- What is the time difference? (Jet lag is the enemy of every business traveler.)
- What is the dress code? (In Muslim countries, women especially need to cover up as much as possible.)
- What are some of the customs in that country? (For example, in Japan, it’s customary to spend a lot of time reading a person’s business card when they hand it to you.)
- What are some of the laws of the country? (In Singapore, gum chewing is illegal.)
- Are handshakes or bows acceptable when greeting someone? How much pressure should I apply in the handshake?
- Is it expected that I socialize with the people I am working with after business is concluded?
- Is a gift appropriate for the people I’m working with?
- If I’m bringing my own equipment for a PowerPoint presentation, what type of electrical adaptor is required?
- Will any security be required?
- Do I need travel insurance?
- Who can I contact in case of an emergency?
- How do they conduct meetings there?
- Do I need to learn the language? (It’s best to learn a few key words which your hosts will appreciate.)
Kurow adds that you’ll need to know how to show respect in the country you’re traveling to, how you make the initial introduction, what rules apply to tipping and who pays for the meal.
“For example, in Japan, business cards are exchanged using both hands, as are gifts,” she says. “Dressing conservatively, in a dark business suit, is expected. If you adhere to the ‘casual business attire’ approach so ubiquitous in the U.S., you be getting off on the wrong foot immediately.”
In addition, you’ll need to observe carefully once you arrive, she says. “Americans tend to be friendly and open. Don’t assume that the modus operandi you use at home will work abroad.” Before you say the first word or try to make your presence known, watch and listen to how others interact.
There are also thousands of websites and books with useful information about business travel abroad. Use them to research all of the above before you go. Here are just a few great resources you’ll want to check out:
- For travel books with information about travel documents, weather, tipping guidelines, and local customs, Teach suggests Frommer’s, Fodor’s, or Lonely Planet books.
- To learn more about safety and security, visit the FBIs Safety and Security
for the Business Professional Traveling Abroad page.
- For guidance by country, visit the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s‘Travel advice by country’ page, the Executive Planet website, or the U.S. Department of State website.
- For news about hotels, transportation, food and anything else, visit the Business Traveller website.
- To read about international etiquette, manners and culture, visitCyborLink.com.
- Download the CultureGuides mobile app for information about local customs by country.
- For travel alerts and warnings, visit Travel.State.gov.
- To learn about the food in other countries, visit FoodByCountry.com.
- For guidelines on tipping in foreign countries, check out The World Traveler’s Guide to Tipping: 50 Tipping Customs for 25 Vacations.
- For information on the required travel documents, visit the individual country’s government travel site (i.e. http://travel.state.gov/).
“After your business is concluded, try to take advantage of your trip by allowing some extra time to do some sightseeing,” Teach says. “Many business travelers are on tight schedules and really don’t get enough time to soak up the local atmosphere. This is unfortunate because they may never be in this situation again, so try to fit an extra day or two into your schedule in that foreign city as long as it doesn’t cost your company any additional money,” he concludes