7 Tips For Doing Business And Living In Mexico

03/24/2017 10:52 am ET Updated Apr 03, 2017
Photo: Paola Guevara

Mexico has a rich, inviting culture, known for sharing a border with the United States and also for its large variety of exportable goods. Spanish is the official language and English is the most popular second language. Both are spoken in most multinational firms.

Mexico is the United States’ top exporter and third largest trading partner. According to Forbes’ list of The Best Countries for Business in 2016, Mexico is ranked at number 65. Its strong sense of religion, familial values, and tradition make this North American country one to visit for business and pleasure.

Before traveling to Mexico, read these cultural tips to ensure a successful business experience:

1. Formal vs. Informal Conversations:

Business communication in Mexico is formal, including the formal manner of speaking Spanish, especially with international business visitors, people you just met, elders, and work colleagues. This formality shows respect and courtesy. Informal speech is reserved for close family members, people of the same generation and younger, and those without higher authority. If you’re unsure, use the formal until invited to do differently.

2. Titles & Forms of Address:

When doing business and meeting a Mexican for the first time, using titles is important to the formal social culture. To address a person of higher authority, highlight their importance by using señor for mister, señora for missus, and señorita for miss. You will be well received.

3. Greetings:

When greeting, men will typically shake hands; if they are close colleagues, they will pat each other on the back while handshaking. Most men wait for the women to initiate a handshake. Women may shake hands in business and kiss on one cheek in social settings. Business professionals value smooth, interpersonal relationships in an unhurried and friendly manner.

4. Personal Space & Distance:

It is a cultural norm to stand at roughly one arm’s length distance in the workplace. This is just a few inches closer than the average distance in the U.S. Mexicans are known to be physically expressive with their gestures. Expect an affectionate touch on the shoulder or arm during an interaction.

5. Direct & Indirect Communication: It is crucial to read body language. Mexicans have a high-context communication style which means non-verbal body language conveys meaning. In contrast to the U.S., with a low-context communication style stressing “say what you mean” and “get to the point.” For example, in Mexico a person’s professional status indicates the respect to be shown. Many times this respect element is of much higher value than what is explicitly being stated.

6. Time Concept:

Time is fluid and flexible. Punctuality is not adhered to in everyday life, regardless of personal or work life. In fact, it is recommended you arrive at least 30 minutes after the scheduled time because tardiness is expected.

7. Mealtimes:

Lunch in Mexico is the main meal of the day, occurring between 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., typically lasting an average of 2 hours. A siesta, or nap time, occurs during lunch. One of the main reasons why lunch is so important and lengthy is due to Mexico’s family-orientated culture. Taking a break from work to eat with family is a cultural norm. Quality time with loved ones during the middle of the day is essential for businesspeople to relax, unwind, and enjoy family.

With its friendly people, great food, and beautiful beaches, Mexico is a wonderful country to visit. These seven tips will add to your success in one of the largest, most vibrant countries in Latin America.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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