Business cards are an important networking tool used to exchange contact details all around the world, but depending on the culture of the country you’re doing business in, they can be used very differently. If you’re planning on handing out business cards internationally, here are our top business card etiquette tips to help your business trip run smoothly.
What Does Business Card Etiquette Mean?
Business card exchange etiquette refers to how you give and receive business cards with a business connection and is all about presenting yourself professionally. In some cultures, it’s more respectful to hand over your card with your right hand and not your left, whereas in other cultures, order of ranking determines when you should hand your business card over.
In this article, we’ll be going over some of the most common ways to exchange business cards in different countries.
Asian Business Card Etiquette
In many Asian countries, business cards are a ceremonial part of meeting new contacts, and there are often lots of unspoken rules you’ll need to follow to show your respect.
Business card etiquette in China
Much like in Western business meetings, business card exchanges in China happen right at the beginning of a business meeting. As a sign of respect, Chinese business cards are always given and received with two hands, and it’s best to stand up during the exchange. It’s also common courtesy to give out business cards one by one, and turning up to a business meeting without your business cards does almost irreparable damage to the business relationship.
Even if the people you’re meeting with can read and write in English, you’ll be expected to have printed double-sided business cards, with your details in English on one side and in Simplified Chinese on the other. During the exchange, ensure your business cards are Chinese side up. We recommend getting lots of business cards printed, as almost everyone you meet will want to receive one.
Once you’ve received a business card, it is polite to study the card for a while before placing it down on the table next to you or carefully putting it away in a business card pocket holder. Never place the business card in your pocket and don’t write on the card once you’ve received it – all the information you need should already be on the card!
Japanese business card etiquette
Business cards are also known as ‘Meishi’ in Japan, and play an important part in professional rituals in Japanese business. Meishi business card exchange and its proper method are key to proving your manners and their delivery will impact your business relationship.
Japanese business card etiquette is a ritual based on hierarchy; in a group setting, those with a higher ranking are the first to exchange business cards, working their way down in rank to the lowest position. As you’ll need to exchange business cards with everyone in the business meeting, it’s essential to stock up so you don’t run out.
Having your cards to hand out quickly will be sure to impress, so you should also invest in a sturdy pocket case for your business cards. Although it’s not necessary to have bilingual business cards in Japanese business meetings, this can go towards making a great first impression.
When you offer your business card, do so with your right hand holding the corner of the card so that your fingers don’t obscure your details or company logo, and then take a bow. Use both hands to receive their business card and thank them for the card, before taking the time to examine it.
Once you’ve received the card place it down next to you on the table.
Business card etiquette in India
Although business card etiquette in India is more casual than in other Asian countries, there are still traditions you should follow when handing out your business cards.
In India, business cards are handed out in both business and casual settings, usually after an initial handshake and greeting. As you’ll be handing them out frequently, it’s highly important to bring lots of business cards with you. In fact, not having enough can be seen as rude.
Although shaking hands is common, especially in the big cities of India, men generally shake hands with men and women shake hands with women, but due to religious beliefs, handshakes between men and women are rare and must be at the woman’s initiative. In absence of a handshake, it’s custom to use the greeting of peace, Namaste. Hold your palms together under your chin, smile, bow slightly and say ‘Namaste’ for this greeting.
Hierarchy is important in India, so you should always greet the most senior person first. When greeting someone, make sure to use their title and last name unless you’re given permission to call them by their first name – and get used to people calling you sir or madam.
When exchanging business cards, make sure to give and receive with your right hand and the left hand is considered unclean. It’s also important to hand over the business card text-side up so the recipient can read the card when it’s given to them.
American Business Card Etiquette
Depending on whether you’re attending business meetings in North or South America, etiquette for exchanging business cards varies greatly. Here’s how to hand over your business cards in different countries in the Americas.
Business card etiquette in the USA
US business card etiquette is a lot more relaxed than some of the other countries we’ve covered so far on this list. However, there are a few business card etiquette tips for making a good first impression with new business clients you should follow.
Firstly, your cards should always be neat and crisp, and never dirty or dogeared. Business card cases are inexpensive and can help keep your business cards protected until you need to hand them out.
If you’re at a networking event, getting the timing right for handing out your business cards is crucial. Wait until the topic of conversation turns to business before passing your business card to someone, otherwise you may come across pushy and rude.
When receiving a business card from someone else, it’s polite to take a moment to read the card and ask a question about their business before putting it away. Although some cultures find writing on business cards rude, this isn’t the case in the United States, so feel free to note down the answer to their question on the card to show interest. Similarly, you could write a personal number or email down on your card before passing it to a contact to make potential clients feel special.
If you’re at a conference or meeting with people with more senior authority, wait for them to hand out their business cards before offering your own.
Business card etiquette in Canada
When handing out business cards in Canada, you should generally follow the same rules of etiquette we ran through above for the USA. However, one key difference is that your business cards should be bi-lingual, with French and English translations on your card.
Business card etiquette in Mexico
Business relationships in Mexico are built on personal relationships, meaning face-to-face meetings go a long way compared with cold calls and emails. Because of this, business cards are commonly used when meeting a new potential client.
In Mexico, business cards are usually handed out at the end of a business meeting or at the start during introductions, but it’s best to feel out which option is preferred in the moment, as some meetings will favour one or the other.
You can either print your business cards in Spanish, or double-sided with one side in English and the other in Spanish. If you decide to print bilingual business cards for your meetings, make sure to hand your business card over with the Spanish side facing up.
Along with this, greetings tend to be physical in Mexico, with men shaking one another’s hands if they are strangers, and hugging if they are closer. A man and woman may exchange a light kiss, though the woman must initiate this. Women may pat each other on the forearm or shoulder, or if they know one another, may kiss on the cheek.
Business card etiquette in Brazil
In Brazil, business meetings run in a similar way to that in Mexico, however, business cards should be handed out right at the beginning during your introductions.
Business card etiquette in Colombia
Business cards can be handed out at any point during a business meeting in Colombia, depending on when feels the most natural. One of the most relaxed countries for business card etiquette, Colombians will also readily accept your details on a notecard or piece of paper if you’ve forgotten to bring your business cards with you.
Middle Eastern Business Card Etiquette
For business card exchanges in the Middle East, make sure to include all the key details normally found on a business card, such as name, email address and phone number. Depending on the Middle Eastern country your business event is taking place, the etiquette around handing out business cards can change.
- In the UAE, business card exchange is relaxed and you can hand them out at any point to anyone
- In Bahrain, business cards can be handed out to anyone in a business setting, so it’s essential to take lots with you
- In Israel, there are no specific rules, but business cards are generally handed out at the beginning of a business meeting
In all Middle Eastern countries, be sure to hand out your business cards with your right hand, as using your left hand can be seen as very disrespectful.
Business Card Etiquette in Europe
Business card etiquette varies across Europe, and although the traditions around business card exchanges aren’t quite as strict, there are still a number of rules you should follow, depending on where your business meeting is taking place.
Business card etiquette in France
As a sign of respect, you should print and hand out bilingual business cards for your business meetings in France – one side your native language, and the other in French. You should also ensure that your surname is in capital letters to make it stand out.
Business cards aren’t just for networking in France – candidates at job interviews can also hand them to an interviewer to make sure they’re remembered throughout the hiring process.
But if you are handing them out at networking events, it’s a good idea to keep them in pristine condition in a pocket business card holder, making sure there’s enough room for business cards you receive to go inside the holder as well.
Business card etiquette in Germany
In Germany, business cards are seen as very personal as they’re used to give away your personal contact details that should be kept confidential. Therefore, you won’t need to take many on your business trip – just a few nicely designed ones! Only give your business cards to people you develop a personal relationship with, rather than everyone at the networking event.
Business card etiquette in UK and Ireland
In the UK, business card use is very casual and involves very little – if any – ceremony. Business cards are handed out to any potential business contact or client, both at work events and casual networking opportunities in personal settings. They’re seen as the quickest way to give your contact details to someone who may wish to use your services in the future.
However, it is recommended that business cards are handed out at the beginning of meetings, but as long as good manners are used, they can be given out at any time. You will not be expected to or obliged to hand out a business card in any professional setting, although it can help the impact your networking skills have on your business.
Although not considered bad etiquette to put business cards directly in your pocket, this can leave them looking bent and dishevelled, which is not the representation you would particularly want for your business. Instead, it’s best to keep them in a pocket holder or in your wallet to keep them looking neat and professional.
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