Kara Ronin, International business etiquette expert and founder of Executive Impressions, shares with IDEAL her top 10 tips for international business travel
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an ambitious employee, you may have been given the opportunity to expand your horizons and travel internationally for business. International business trips can be really exciting. They can open up a world of opportunity for you both professionally and personally. But just as much as a new destination can become a new adventure, the different culture and business environment can overwhelm and confuse even the most experienced professionals.
To help you feel more prepared and confident for your next international business trip, I want to share with you 10 of my top tips for your international business travel.
Research the country and culture you’re going to
The more knowledge you have of the country and culture, the more prepared you will look and feel when you meet your international business partners. Learn as much as you can about business etiquette in the country you’re going to. Pay particular attention to the expectations as to women in business; they may be different to what you’re used to in your home country.
Take a folder to store your passport and travel documents
Keeping your passport, itinerary and any entry or exit cards you may need in the one folder can really help speed up the process at immigration, and it makes you feel more prepared and less flustered. I highly recommend printing copies of all your travel documents and itinerary before you depart. Don’t rely on electronic copies on your tablet or smartphone. You never know when they’ll run out of battery.
Use plane-friendly toiletries
You’ll want to make your in-flight experience as comfortable as possible while at the same time being courteous to those sitting around you. Spraying perfume may instantly revitalise you at the end of a long-haul flight, but won’t be pleasant for others around you if they’re allergic or sensitive to that particular scent. Instead of spray perfume, use roll-on perfume as a light, travel-friendly alternative.
Pack a dark, conservative suit
In some cultures, the professional dress code is highly conservative. If your international business partner belongs to such a culture and you want to connect with them better, a conservative outfit is what you should pack. Add to your suitcase a dark suit in navy, black, or charcoal, and a crisp business shirt. You can add elegance and personality to your suit with unique buttons, a scarf, or jewellary.
Pack closed-toed shoes and stockings
Depending on the country you’re travelling to, your peep-toe heels may not be appropriate for business meetings. In some cultures, you’ll only be considered professional if you wear closed-toed shoes. Pack into your suitcase a pair of closed-toed heels and hole-free stockings in case you’re asked to remove your shoes before entering a room.
Take a business card case
When you’re about to exchange business cards with your international business partner, you’ll really impress if you use a quality business card case. Taking your card out of a quality business card case says that you’re somebody who cares about the smaller details. Placing the other person’s card into your business card case says that you hold that person in high regard.
Learn how to exchange business cards
In some cultures, such as the US, UK, and Australia, it’s acceptable to use one hand when exchanging business cards. In other cultures, such as Japan and China, you must use both hands to convey the right amount of respect to the other person. Before your trip, find out whether people in that culture use one hand or both hands to exchange cards.
Adapt your handshake
In Western business cultures, we’re often taught that a firm handshake is how you project confidence and power in the business world. As professional women, we take particular care to convey this exact image when we greet somebody for the first time. But how do you think somebody from China would interpret this type of handshake when they’re more accustomed to a gentler handshake with less eye contact? To avoid overpowering the other person when you greet them, loosen the grip of your handshake just a little.
Soften your eye contact
A firm handshake is often accompanied by direct eye contact in Western business cultures. It helps to enhance the trust factor. But if you use this direct eye contact during your business trip to Asia, it could make you look aggressive and overpowering instead of confident and trustworthy. When you meet somebody for the first time on your international business trip, relax your eye contact a little.
Be aware of your personal space
Depending on the culture in which you grew up, you may need a large amount of space around you to feel comfortable when talking to others, or a small amount. In most Western cultures, it’s usually an arm’s length. In Asia or Latin America, it’s often much smaller. When you’re on your international business trip and you feel someone edge away during conversation, you may be standing inside their personal space. Don’t move toward them. Respect that person’s personal space if you want to be able to connect with them.
Kara Ronin is an international business etiquette expert and founder of Executive Impressions. Drawing from 10 years of living an international life, she started the Executive Impressions blog to guide, inspire, and elevate ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs toward an international mindset and an amazing career. Visit the Executive Impressions blog to get fabulous tips on international business etiquette and claim your free 7 Step Networking Roadmap. Connect with Kara on Twitter @execimpressions.