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How to Do Business in Mexico

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So you want to do business in Mexico? Consider this...

  • Conversations happen at a closer proximity in Mexico than in the United States. Men in Mexico make a lot of physical contact, often touching the shoulders or arms of the other person in the conversation. It is considered rude to pull away in either scenario.

  • When making purchases in a store, place your money in the cashier’s hand, not on the counter.

  • Referring to yourself as a citizen of the United States in Mexico can cause confusion. Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos (The United States of Mexico).

There are plenty of great business opportunities with our neighbors to the south, but there are also plenty of potential pitfalls, not to mention lots of cultural differences between the USA and Mexico.

Keep reading to discover some valuable tips that will help you navigate the often tricky and confusing cultural maze of the Mexican business market...

Important tips

  • Mexicans often use “elaborate, effusive courtesy” when communicating. They may politely say one thing and do another.

  • Eye contact is viewed very differently in Mexico than in the U.S.; not making eye contact in the U.S. can be viewed as untrustworthy, whereas continually maintaining eye contact can be considered aggressive in Mexico.

  • Mexicans view the family as the most important institution in their lives. Hiring and promoting family members is an accepted practice.


  • Though being on time is respected, it is not strictly necessary. You should plan to be at a meeting on time, but be prepared to wait for your counterpart.

  • Plan late arrivals to social functions. If attending a party at someone’s home, arriving 30 minutes late is appropriate. Social occasions within the city often have attendees arriving one to three hours late.

  • Business meetings are typically set for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, at the discretion of the individual you are setting the meeting with. Your appointment should be scheduled a couple of weeks in advance. Make sure to confirm a week prior.


  • Negotiations should be “friendly, gracious, and unhurried.” Be patient and build delays in decisions into your expectations.

  • Relationships matter. Get introduced by a trusted source. If that is not possible, make friends with your contact. Who you are matters more than what company you represent.

  • Dignity is of the utmost importance. Never pull rank, criticize, or humiliate anyone. You should be courteous and diplomatic. How you act is more highly valued than your status or wealth.

  • Over-compromising can be a sign of weakness, but you should build in room to negotiate prices with your first offer.

  • A common barrier in negotiations is “financing the cost of foreign goods and services.” Plan for this.


  • This is an opportunity for building the relationship. Great topics of conversation include your family, your working life back home, popular sites in Mexico, soccer, baseball, basketball, and bullfighting. Do not discuss immigration, Mexico’s territorial losses, or illegals in the United States.

  • Often one person will pick up the check following the meal. It is appropriate to haggle over this, but if your counterpart picks it up, invite them to have another meal at a later time.

  • Business meetings often occur during breakfast or lunch and are usually held at a guest’s hotel. Businesswomen should not meet with their prospect alone, but should invite their prospect’s spouse as well.

For your business document translation needs in Mexico or any country in Central or South America, contact McElroy Translation. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you and your company be successful in your international business ventures.

Morrision, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.



Published - March 2012




Spotlight on Mexico




The People

Mexico is a very class-conscious society where social stratifications are well-defined. Upper class Mexicans will not dirty their hands with tasks they find beneath them. A sense of fatalism is quite strong among many Mexicans, who feel that their path through life is largely preordained. Macho attitudes are inculcated in Mexican males almost from birth, and machismo plays a pervasive role in shaping Mexican culture.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands or give a slight bow when introduced.
  • Bow when greeting a Mexican woman. Shake hands only if she extends her hand first.

Body Language

  • Mexicans generally stand close together when conversing. Don't show signs of discomfort, which would be considered rude by your Mexican counterpart.
  • Mexicans often "hold" a gesture (a handshake, a squeeze of the arm, a hug) longer than Americans and Canadians do.
  • Don't stand with your hands on your hips; this signifies anger. It is considered rude to stand around with your hands in your pockets.

Corporate Culture

  • Punctuality is expected of foreign businesspeople. Your Mexican counterpart may be late or keep you waiting. Thirty minutes past the scheduled meeting time is considered punctual by Mexicans.
  • Spanish is the language of business. You may need to hire an interpreter (preferably a native speaker who understands the language as it is spoken in Mexico).
  • Meet with top executives first. Top-level Mexican executives may not attend subsequent meetings, which often take place with middle-level management and technical people. Don't feel insulted; this shows that discussions are proceeding positively.
  • Negotiations move slowly. Be patient. For Mexicans, the building of a personal relationship comes before the building of a professional one.
  • Expect approximately ten to fifteen minutes of small talk before getting down to business.
  • If offered something to drink (usually coffee), don't refuse. This would be seen as an insult.
  • Take some time for consideration before agreeing to anything. Quick decisiveness is often seen as hasty.
  • A promise does not mean that your request will be carried out. You should always ask for written confirmation of any agreement or commitment.
  • Management or other important people may sometimes make unreasonable or overly aggressive demands to demonstrate their importance within or to their own group. Be aware of such hidden agendas.
  • Personalize everything. Explain how all proposals will benefit a Mexican's country, community, family and, most important, the Mexican personally.
  • Deal-making almost never occurs over the phone (and rarely by letter). Mexicans prefer to do business in person.
  • Your local contact person or representative is very important and should be chosen very carefully. A low-level representative will be taken as an affront by status-conscious Mexicans, who will assume that you are not really serious.
  • The status of your hotel accommodations, the quality of your clothes and watch, and whether or not you arrive in a chauffeured limousine or in a taxi, etc. will be critically appraised by your Mexican counterparts.
  • Be persistent! Don't give up if you don't receive a response to your phone calls or letters right away or if your meetings are continually postponed or canceled. If you give up, your Mexican counterparts might assume that you weren't serious in the first place.

Dining and Entertainment

  • Business entertainment is very important and it is during these events that personal relationships should be developed.
  • Always keep both hands above the table.
  • Don't leave the table immediately after you are finished eating.
  • Drinking to excess is frowned upon in Mexico, especially when it's done by women. Customarily, only men propose toasts; foreign women normally shouldn't offer toasts.
  • Don’t show up on time for a social engagement -- you will be the only one who does, and will most likely be waiting for a very long time (possibly hours).
  • To reciprocate, invite your Mexican counterparts to dinner at a nice restaurant (French or Italian are your best bets). Pay in advance to avoid arguments about the bill.
  • Businesspeople are often invited to visit the home of their Mexican counterparts. On your first visit to a Mexican home, it is best to wear business attire unless specifically told otherwise.


  • Men should always wear a shirt and tie, except at casual affairs. Both men and women should dress conservatively. Recommended colors are navy and dark gray.
  • Women should always wear make-up.


  • While gift giving is not always a necessity when doing business in Mexico, gifts are much appreciated. Suggested initial gifts include non-personal items with your corporate logo.
  • Flowers should always be given when visiting a Mexican home. It's OK to have them sent beforehand, or to bring them with you. If you have them sent, make sure that they arrive before you do.

Helpful Hints

  • Any attempt to speak Spanish is appreciated by your Mexican counterparts and is seen as a gesture of goodwill. Demonstrating knowledge and appreciation of Mexican culture wins friends.
  • Mexicans are very proud of their independence and have a very strong sense of national identity and pride. Never compare the way things are done in Mexico with the way they are done in the United States.
  • Deadlines are often little more than (very) general target dates.
  • Note differences in class and status in Mexico, for such differences are important.
  • Little things count. Not saying good-bye, for example, may well offend and adversely affect your relationship to a much greater extent than it would in the United States.

Especially for Women

  • Women should prepare for some difficulty when doing business in Mexico. Because some Mexican businessmen you encounter may not have had many dealings with women in positions of authority, you should demonstrate your competence, skill and authority.
  • Talk and behavior considered sexist and inappropriate in the United States may well have to be endured in Mexico.
  • Mexican men, business colleagues included, will pay foreign businesswomen many compliments and may even be flirtatious. Graciously accept such banter -- it is usually done with the utmost respect -- while firmly reminding your male Mexican counterparts that you are a businesswoman.
  • Foreign businesswomen should not invite Mexican businessmen to dinner unless their spouses also come along. If invited out to dinner or to socialize by a male Mexican colleague, a businesswoman should make it clear that no opportunity for romance exists. Appearances are important.

    -- Excerpted from the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series by Mary Murray Bosrock. These publications are available for the U.S., Asia, Mexico/Canada, Russia, Europe and South America.



Mary Bosrock
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
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