Doing Business in Colombia, by Lisa Eldridge

The Metropolitan Cathedral where the Artisan market is held on the first Saturday of every month.

The Metropolitan Cathedral where the Artisan market is held on the first Saturday of every month.

Colombia is a country very much overlooked by female travellers but the majority of the country is surprisingly safe for women.

Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city is fast becoming known as the “Silicon Valley” of Latin America due to its entrepreneurship, start-up companies and work ethic. Being part of Latin America, it is still a very machismo society but you’ll find women dressed up in Medellin, wearing skinny jeans and tight clothing so there’s no need to worry about attracting the wrong type of attention or feeling that you will stick out for dressing for your curves. The city has come a long way in the last decade and is now a safe place to visit and do business.

Colombians are very polite and tend to stand close to one another, so don’t worry if they sit or stand too close. It’s just part of their culture. They are also very expressive and wave their arms and hands around. Colombian women are known for expressing their emotions whenever they arise so you’ll always know where you stand even in a meeting.

Communication

Although Spanish is the main language here, many Colombians can also speak English. However addressing them in Spanish is polite, as well as by their title or by Señor or Señora until they tell you to call them by their first name. Most women greet each other with a kiss on the cheek but if you are doing business with men greet with a handshake unless they greet you with a kiss first.Colombia 3

Colombians can be similar to us Brits by not being so direct in their communication to avoid offending the other person. However, when it comes to negotiating they expect honesty when talking about prices and figures. Make sure that you speak to the correct person or you could find yourself going round in circles if you don’t liaise with the decision maker.

Although Colombians don’t expect others to be late during business, they are not known for being punctual, especially the women who can take hours to get ready. Being over 30 minutes late is acceptable for them and they may not issue an apology so it is advisable to call them before you leave to meet instead of waiting around.

Colombians love to talk so expect them to ask you about you and find out more before delving into business. Don’t expect meetings to finish on time and a decision to be made in just one meeting either as you may need to meet several times to get the ball rolling. Make sure that you end each meeting by asking what they are doing this coming weekend or asking about their family. Colombians are proud people and like people who take an interest in their country and them as a person.

Culture

Colombians are really proud of their country and especially if they are a ‘paisa’ and come from the Antioquia region of which Medellin is the capital. Although the country is still very machismo, the men have old-fashioned values and don’t look down on women, instead preferring to look after them and open doors and buy drinks to ensure they are comfortable and looked after. Women here either look after a family or are well-educated with a degree and in good paying jobs.

The city of Medellin surrounded by stunning mountains

The city of Medellin surrounded by stunning mountains

Dress

The key to business in Medellin is to dress to impress, and embrace your femininity. Jeans and casual wear is a no go. Ladies tend to stay away from trousers and wear skirts or dresses but avoid short skirts and opt for a pencil skirt instead. Women in Medellin dress immaculately with straight styled hair, perfect make-up and plenty of jewellery with manicured nails and high heels.

Outside of business, expect to be asked to dance by a Colombian man if you are out socially, and most of the time it is only a dance that is requested. If you do get approached and don’t want to dance, just say no. Colombian men are known for having a wife, a girlfriend and a lover and can be very charming. Infidelity is common here and even the women do it although it is as much as the men. You won’t see any Colombian women acting drunk on nights out either as it isn’t acceptable to be intoxicated.

Colombians are very easy-going people and it is easy for acquaintances to become firm friends here.


Lisa EldridgeLisa 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.

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