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Latin America

Business Etiquette in Latin America

Latin America stretches from the Texas border to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. Latin America is predominantly Catholic among its Spanish and Portuguese speaking populations and primarily non-Catholic among its native inhabitants. The culture is predominantly patriarchal in nature. Rigid divisions between work and home exist: Men are in business and women are at home with the family.

Anyone going to Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile, or Peru should know enough about the current political climate to avoid discussions that might skewer business dealings.


Handshakes are firm and relatively brief. Constant eye contact during a handshake is crucial in Mexico and Argentina. Men shake hands with man and women shake hands with women in some countries. In Brazil, Peru, and Mexico, men and women also shake hands, with the woman extending her hand first.

Male friends hug each other upon seeing each other. Female friends kiss each other on the cheek and touch each other's arms. And throughout Latin America, expect your conversational partner to stand close to you and look you in the eyes. Don't move back and don't waver in your eye contact.

Names and Titles

When you meet for the first time use your last name and whatever titles you have. Latin American surnames are composed of both the paternal name, which comes first, and the maternal name.

Business Attire

You won't go wrong by dressing conservatively: suits and ties for men, unrevealing business suits and long dresses for women. Argentina is probably the moat formal of the Latin American countries and Brazil the least formal. Venezuelans enjoy expensive accessories, as long as they're good taste.

Dining and Entertaining

Business lunches are common throughout Latin America, and usually long, from 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Dinner is a purely social event, and can occur very late; it's not unusual to sit down to dinner at 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. throughout Latin America. In general, you should keep your hands above the table at all times while eating, and pass food and drink with your right hand.


You may be a few minutes late for dinner across the region, but you should never be early. Small host gifts are accepted in most Latin countries. Venezuelans do not entertain at home very much. It's an unusual honor to be invited, so make the host gift something special.

Social Taboos

Be aware that the following gestures can cause problems:

1. The sign for "OK" formed by your forefinger and thumb is offensive in Brazil.

2. Putting your hands on your hips is a gestures signaling a challenge in Argentina, and putting your feet on the table is rude.

3. Raising your fist to head level is a gesture associated with Communism in Chile.

4. Putting your hands in your pockets is rude in Mexico.

Designed by Joseph Boike, Eliana Ibarra & Justin Cox