Doing business in Mongolia can be both challenging and very rewarding at the same time. Adapting to the way of life here can take time. In Mongolia, things may not run on time or as smoothly as you are used to in the Western world.
Mongolia is called the Land of The Blue Sky and has a harsh climate with temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in the winter months and plus 30 degrees in the summer months. Be prepared for the culture shock. It may look like a modern capital but the city is also one of the world’s most polluted cities with a lot of dust in the summer.
Walking around the capital you could be fooled into thinking you were in a modern European city with expensive designer stores and swanky bars but it really isn’t like other capital cities. There is a lack of order and structure. Every summer there is a shortage of hot water and you can go for weeks without, except in the more expensive hotels, and the amenities aren’t to the same standard that you would find in other places in Asia. The diet is also heavier and the country isn’t that great for vegetarians, as meat is the staple diet.
There is a divide in the capital and a contrast between the middle class and working class. The office workers live in apartment buildings and the poorer people live within the ger district on the city outskirts without proper amenities. Be prepared to see some drunken locals as Mongols like their vodka and typically drink it straight, so you may see a few stumbling around the streets during the day.
Knowing a few phrases of the language really helps to get by. Not many people speak English here, with some speaking Russian. Mongolian can be a difficult language to learn but smiling and body language is definitely universal here.
Doing Business Here
Although doing business here is more flexible and relaxed than the UK, there appears to be a lack of order and structure within the workplace and the city itself.
Mongolian’s can be wary of westerners and can take time to trust you before they accept you into their group. Mongols tend to be very direct so it’s best to always look people in the eye when speaking to them. The person who called the meeting is the one who should start the discussion and keep things moving forward. When greeting others, a handshake is enough with no other physical contact, as people generally just say “Hello.”
Mongolians expect other nationalities to adapt to their way of doing things so don’t expect meetings to start on time as it is not considered rude to be late. People tend to show up when they are ready and are scheduled to a particular time, and even transport runs later here.
Mongolian women are so stylish and you’ll often see them walking around wearing tight dresses even during the day. For business wear either a mid-length skirt or a suit with a blouse to look more professional than those choosing to wear tight dresses. Hand over your business card with either your right hand or both hands, and receive either with the right hand or both.
Wear good comfortable working shoes as the roads are crumbling and often just dug up and left so high heels aren’t recommended.
Westerners in Mongolia
There aren’t many westerners in Ulan Bator and the tourists that come generally spend more time in the rest of the country exploring the landscapes. The younger generation are more westernised and open to other nationalities so with their international experience Ulan Bator will become a more comfortable environment for tourists and business people.
There are a lot of Expat places if you are looking to meet others during your stay. A great networking place is Henneseys – the owner is good at connecting people. The Blue Sky Hotel & Tower is also a great place to meet others and is one of the nicest places in the city. There’s entertainment in the form of karaoke but it is very limited unless you enjoy bars.
Flagging down a taxi isn’t necessarily that safe as anyone in a car can collect you and charge you a fare. For safety, there is now an English speaking taxi firm that you can call called Help Taxi +976 9965 2371.
Although doing business in Mongolia can be somewhat challenging, it is definitely an experience.
Lisa Eldridge is a travel journalist specialising in solo travel. Her background in the travel industry fuelled her passion to see the world and for the last seventeen years, she has travelled extensively as a solo traveller, living and working in numerous countries.