Ellen Russell

Business etiquette abroad can be a total minefield where different customs and cultures are at play.

Inadvertently offending your host or a potential customer can be embarrassing at best.  Luckily we have etiquette expert Ellen Russell on hand to share her top tips to doing business overseas – with finesse.

  1. Research any country you might be visiting and get a small notebook to write down essential information. Try to learn to speak a few words such as Hello and Goodbye, Yes, No, Please, Thank you and Where is?
  2. Work out your itinerary carefully leaving enough time in each destination. Check the weather forecast for the countries you will visit and take this as a rough guide for the clothing you will need. Also check out the accepted business attire for the country you are visiting.
  3. For each country, make sure you have some cash ready on arrival for such things as taxis and for tipping if appropriate. Find out the etiquette on tipping before you travel, as in some countries such as Japan, it is an insult to tip.
  4. Research the acceptable mode of greeting for each country you are visiting. Do not assume that they will be similar or that each person you meet in that country will use the standard greeting.  Take your lead from the person you are meeting.  Do obtain a copy “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands”. You can also Google this information.
  5. Always look at the reviews for possible hotels or book with a credible travel agent who will ensure you have suitable accommodation. Companies such as Maiden Voyage send inspectors to vet any hotels before making recommendations. They have a strict criteria, specifically for women travelling alone. Try to book accommodation as near as possible to the venues you will be visiting. Be aware that most hotels charge for Wi-Fi connection and often for breakfast. Facilities such as pool, gym, spa, hairdressers and beauty salon can be seen on the hotel website.
  6. Each evening before you retire make a short list of the day’s events and the people you have met. Write down the names of any important contacts and what you discussed, remembering to write how you agreed to move forward.
  7. When you use a taxi ask the driver to agree the fare or use a meter, otherwise do not use that taxi. It is common practice for the taxi drivers in many countries to charge any fee they wish for the journey. On one occasion in Malaysia a group of six of us used two taxis. One used the meter and the other didn’t and the difference in the fares was quite staggering.
  8. Arrange and reconfirm any meetings you intend to have before you leave home, however, on arrival it may be necessary to rearrange times and places, so be prepared to be flexible. Also be aware that other opportunities may present themselves while you are travelling and these may alter your priorities.
  9. Many cultures have different attitudes to time keeping so be prepared. Your business associates may arrive hours after the original meeting was planned; this is their normal approach to doing business and wouldn’t expect you to comment on the lateness.|
  10. Remember to take a very good supply of business cards (it is better to have too many than too few). Each country will have a different code of practice regarding business cards. Therefore again I suggest you refer to “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands” for the countries you are visiting.

Ellen offers international training in business and social etiquette including areas such as: improve your confidence in the work place, poise and posture, how to make introductions, skilful conversation, digital etiquette, dress codes, table manners, interview skills and  handling conflict. Ellen delivers training worldwide and is regularly consulted by both local and national radio stations and has contributed to a number of television programmes. Ellen’s work has been widely published and is read regularly in almost thirty countries.

For more information visit

Ellen’s courses are certified for continued professional development (CPD)


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