Business Protocols and Customs for Hosting Foreign Investors

While investors from Canada and the United States typically have similar business cultures, protocols and customs, this is not always the case with investors from other parts of the world. If you are hosting a prospective foreign investor, it is important that you research the business culture, protocols and customs of their country of origin.

Business Culture

Business cultures vary from country to country, with some more or less formal than others. The business culture can impact many aspects of the hosting visit and it is therefore important to be aware of any cultural differences. For example, business dealings may proceed at a different pace than North Americans are accustomed to because of the importance placed on certain cultural values. There may also be a particular way in which you should greet a visitor from a foreign country, and a standard handshake is not always appropriate.

Personal Relationships are Important

Businesses frequently rely on personal relationships to succeed.  While certainly true in North America, this can be even more important in other cultures where strong personal relationships are of paramount importance in any business dealings.

Meeting Protocol

It is important to be well-prepared for any meetings you have scheduled during the visit. Here are some helpful considerations:

  • Plan the agenda carefully
  • Be clear on what language the meetings and events will be conducted in, which will most likely be English. If anyone in the investor delegation does not speak English, you should ensure that you or the investor has made arrangements for translation.
  • Ensure that the meeting room is set-up appropriately, including a seating plan that recognizes the seniority of individuals within the investor delegation
  • If possible, have available relevant materials in the investor’s language that can be provided to senior executives within the company who may not speak English
  • Expect to dress in formal business attire

Meal Events

Hosting meals in local restaurants or arranging for specially catered events is appropriate, as is making it clear that the investor and delegation are the guests of honour. 

Here are some things to consider when hosting meals:

  • Alcoholic beverages are considered taboo by some cultures and part of business in others
  • The most senior representative of your community may want to propose a toast
  • The community should pay the bill and this is best done behind the scenes
  • If there is a private room or seating area with a great view, make sure that you reserve this for this event
  • Meal events are an opportunity for social interaction and conducting business

Giving Gifts

Gifts should be small and representative of your region (e.g. small crafts, carvings, books or other souvenirs). You may also want to take a picture of the visitors within the community and have it developed and framed prior to their departure. Gifts are best given at the end of an introductory meeting and/or at a farewell dinner. Some cultures have particular superstitions about types of gifts and how they are wrapped, which should be researched prior to the visit.

Other Protocols

You may also want to consider the following:

  • The incidence of smoking in some foreign countries is higher than that of North America. You may need to accommodate this by allowing for breaks and directing your visitors to areas where they can smoke (including arranging for smoking accommodation).
  • All community participants involved in the hosting visit should have business cards at hand, making it easier for the investors to keep track of who they’ve met.
  • Punctuality is very important in some cultures and not at all in others. This is important in relation to any scheduled activities, so be sure to allow for flexibility where needed.
  • Usually, any technical information should be provided in metric units, however this should be confirmed.

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