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More than a border separates our neighbor to the south—including in the business world. While Mexico has state-of-the-art business savvy and connections and is highly sophisticated in its dealings with foreigners, it is a unique country with a business culture all its own. If you go with an open mind, however, you’ll find that it is certainly a pleasure doing business in Mexico.

First Impressions

We all know they’re the most important, so here’s a hint on how it works in Mexico.

  • Standard business attire for Mexicans is a dark suit on the conservative side, with a tie, of course. Some junior executives in certain industries (most notable the tech industry) can be more casual. Attention to detail is always welcome: a pressed shirt and suit, polished shoes and a neat haircut will go a long way. Women also tend to dress conservatively, though always in a classy and fashionable manner.
  • Casual situations call for (again) well-pressed pants and shirts—no shorts, especially not in Mexico City, and don’t even think of wearing tennis shoes to a meeting unless it’s on a tennis court. Fine resort wear in resort cities in acceptable: provincial cities and coastal resort towns such as Acapulco and Los Cabos don’t require the same formality of dress as Mexico City, Monterrey or Guadalajara, for example. Here, a traditional guayabera (an embroidered cotton shirt worn untucked) with slacks for men and simple dresses for ladies are quite acceptable. Don’t try the guayabera tactic in Mexico City, though. They might mistake you for a waiter.
  • Tennis whites and proper golf attire are also a necessity, even when staying at a beach resort.

Meeting and Greeting

  • When you first meet, address the party with the more formal usted—more than likely you will be asked to drop formalities and use the less formal if it’s appropriate. The usted is also commonly used for conversations between people of different hierarchies or social standings to convey distance as well, for example, a boss with a secretary, or an employer with the cleaning staff. It’s also used with older relatives, even though they will use the informal with the “younger set”.
  • Names in Mexico come in threes: the first name, the paternal last name and the maternal last name. All three as used in writing, but verbally, only the first two are usually put to use. Titles are a big status symbol and extremely important, so be sure to include it when mentioning the person’s name. Upon meeting, men always shake hands—once a personal relationship is developed, you might find yourself enveloped in the traditional abrazo (hug), a sort of one-handed affair with a couple of hearty pats on the back.
  • When the meeting is between people of the opposite gender, a handshake is more than appropriate under business circumstances (wait until it’s offered by your female counterpart); socially, a light kiss on the cheek is usually offered upon meeting and departure. Follow the lead of your Mexican contact—remember, it will be seen as cold and even rude to just stand there with your hands at your sides, much less in your pockets. Personal space in Mexico is different than in the U.S. There they tend to stand more closely to one another and touch each other more (i.e., on the shoulder or arm) when speaking. They also tend to speak in a quieter tone of voice, particularly in public settings such as restaurants.
  • Things can seen a little more convoluted in Mexico and that includes communications. Americans tend to be straightforward, while Mexican professionals prefer courtesy overall—because it’s impolite to turn anyone down, a negative response is often cloaked in a “maybe”. This is a totally different style than we’re used to, and not to be taken as an offense. Negotiations take time, effort and quite a bit of socializing. Adjust your expectations accordingly and you will find it easier to conduct your business. It might also help to remember that while mañana literally means tomorrow, it can also simply mean later, as in, sometime in the near future.
  • The term “networking” was practically invented in Mexico, meaning negotiations center around relationships. Small talk, inquiring about the family, sharing your positive experience in Mexico—all this is part of the meeting. Business deals are conducted over meals—breakfast or lunch—and usually involve copious amounts of good food, great coffee and maybe a drink or two, though even the appearance of impropriety is scrupulously avoided. Take advantage of the time together to develop your relationship—those in the know say that Mexicans work best in a partnership: handshakes seal deals. Don’t confuse a partner or a personal business relationship with those impersonal “contacts” that fill Rolodexes back home.
  • Some of the most successful business partnerships in Mexico are joint ventures. As a partner in one, you are already considered a friend and can very well become part of the familia. When in Mexico, prioritize the Mexican way: family first, business second. Invitations to a private home for Sunday comida is a sign of trust and should be considered an honor. A gift for the lady of the house is in order—fine wine or beautiful flowers are a good choice—and plan to stay for the duration. “Quick visits”—meaning stopping by for a “few minutes”—won’t endear you to anyone. Relationships are the basis for a long lasting business venture in Mexico, so relax and enjoy the hospitality, keeping negotiations and the like back in your briefcase at your office.
  • Along the same vein, you might want to do some “relationship building” even before you leave home. Securing credible personal introductions to the appropriate parties in Mexico in the organizations you want to conduct your business in is well worth your time. You can obtain these either through a mutual friend or an appropriate professional.

Title Etiquette

Mexicans are very status conscious in business as well as socially. It is evident in most things, such as clothing, addresses and the like, but nowhere more in evidence than in the professional titles. Professionals with a degree are usually referred to by their title, sometimes prefaced by Señor or Señora, such as Señora Secretaria or Señor Presidente. Some of the most common titles are Licenciado/a (professional e.g. Lawyer, BSc, etc), Ingeniero/a (engineer), Doctor/a (doctor), and Arquitecto/a (architect), followed by the surname. This is usually mentioned in the introduction; sneak a look at the business card you just got if it isn’t. If there isn’t a professional title, use Licenciado(a) as a courtesy title. Once a relationship has developed, you will probably be asked to drop the formalities and call a person by his or her given name.

Appointment Alerts

So you’ve all heard of the mañana symptom, but don’t confuse it with inaction. Things get done at their own pace in Mexico, and if you’re doing business here, it behooves you to go with the flow.

  • The main meal of the day, la comida, usually begins around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and can last at least a couple of hours. Unlike at home, alcohol is a common component of the meals, even if it’s a business lunch. If you prefer to keep it shorter and non-alcoholic, we suggest a breakfast meeting, though remember that in Mexico, relationships are key and are more likely to be cultivated over a lengthy comida.
  • Although workers who live close to the office will tend to go home for lunch, most business meals are conducted in restaurants. Splitting the bill is not at all common in Mexico: whoever made the invitation or is trying for the business pays for the bill. If you already have a relationship, usually the parties take turns treating each other.
  • Avoid scheduling appointments right after the comida—you never know how long it will take. Relax and enjoy the food and the company, and talk business as it comes up. Aggressive sales tactics and hard sells are usually considered rude. Make Mexico a part of a long-term business strategy—contacts need to be made in person, so don’t expect a fax or a phone line to substitute. While mañana might want to rear its ugly head somewhere in your subconscious, don’t let it. Go with the flow and realize that you are dealing with an entirely different culture. Be flexible with your deadlines, and don’t expect to conclude your business in a couple of days and a couple of phone calls.
  • Don’t be offended if your contacts don’t show up punctually: they will always have a good reason for being late, so be gracious.  Punctuality in Mexican business culture can be a little more flexible than not. Nonetheless, Mexicans are accustomed to North Americans arriving on time, and most Mexicans in business, if not government, will try to be return the favor. Social events never start at the exact time stated on the invitation. Actually, punctuality in social occasions can even be considered rude, as even your host might not be ready! Thirty minutes late is not late at all. If you are doing the inviting, remember the 30-minute window will apply to them as well. And forego to write in an “end time”; leave it open.
  • The best months for you to conduct business visits in Mexico are January to June and September to November. Avoid the two weeks before and after Christmas and Easter. Mexican business hours in the cities are 9:00 a.m. until perhaps 6:00 p.m. Government offices may be open much later, until 9:00 p.m. or more. Lunch is often a key business venue that extends from about 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Senior government people can begin lunch as late as 4:30 p.m.

Brush Up On Your Spanish

Don’t assume everyone speaks English: though your business associates will probably be fluent, we highly recommend your making an effort to learn at least the basics of the Spanish language if you will be doing business in Mexico on a regular basis. Any attempt you make will be warmly received and noted as a clear sign of your interest and your respect for their culture. However, if it is not a language you can communicate freely in, you should have an interpreter lined up to attend meetings with you.

  • Making yourself understood in English also depends on your accent. You do need to speak clearly, but not like you’d speak to a child. Most Mexicans learn English from Americans, and as would happen to any other person, a heavy accent might make it a bit difficult for them to understand your point.
  • Do remember that any correspondence you receive in Spanish should be answered in Spanish. Also, according to Mexican law, all marketing material, warranty information, labeling, manuals etc. that you expect to ship in needs to be in Spanish. It’s also a good idea to leave translated documents with your contacts; it’s a sign of goodwill and also serves to ensure that they will be informed of anything relevant to the business at hand.
  • It’s also good to know that most professionals do not open their own mail: this task is usually done by secretaries and most do not speak English. Invest a little extra money making sure all your pieces are in Spanish—it will save them from going in the round file.

Take Your Time

Americans always seem to be in a hurry—at least that’s the impression they may give to their Mexican counterparts. In Mexico, things are a little different.

  • Don’t discount anybody. Businesspeople usually have subordinates or secretaries that sometimes act as “gatekeepers”, as do many of their counterparts in the U.S. It pays to spend a few minutes of your time with them before an important meeting. Keep in mind, though, that only the top person in charge has the authority to make a decision.
  • And before you go to Mexico, do some research before you head across the border: keep up with the news, read trade publications, ask colleagues who’ve been there. Mexicans take pride in knowing about our country—return the favor and you’ll be glad you did.


  • Make it a point to learn at least some Spanish if you will be doing extensive business in Mexico.
  • Business meetings usually take longer than in the United States.
  • Professional titles are used extensively.
  • Business can be conducted over meals—alcohol is an accepted component.
  • Social activities are an important part of your business relationship.
  • Avoid being overly aggressive in your negotiations.
  • Yes doesn’t always mean yes—Mexicans are very tactful and avoid rudeness at all costs.
  • Business cards are always exchanged during meetings.
  • Though some establishments offer “no smoking” areas, smoking is very common in Mexico, even during mealtimes.
  • Small talk is not wasted time in Mexico.
  • Punctuality, though usually flexible in social settings, is key for government appointments and most official business events.
  • It is customary to send a greeting card or small gift during Christmas to key business contacts.
  • The appearance and presentation of letters, memos, reports, promotional literature, or any other type of document you present in your business dealings, are considered very important and will be subject to scrutiny
  • One should never throw documents on the table during a business meeting. This gesture is considered highly offensive.
  • In Mexican business culture, although subordinates are encouraged to give their input, only the highest person in authority (frequently the owner of the company) makes the final decision.


When traveling to Mexico for business or for pleasure, don’t forget to take along your current SkyMed International medical evacuation services membership. It’s affordable peace-of-mind that’s priceless if you need it!

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