How to Do Business in Chile
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Chileans are very nationalistic and are proud of their country,
as well as of their literacy — the 95% rate puts them
among the best educated in the world. Predominantly Roman
Catholic (89%), family is the primary structure of society.
The father is still considered the head of the family, but
the mother is an important decision-maker. People are judged
by their educational and family backgrounds, not by race.
Meeting and Greeting
- Chileans are very warm and expect visitors
to reciprocate. They may be formal at first, but move
to friendship very quickly.
- A handshake, a warm hug and one kiss
on the right cheek are common greetings among friends.
- Always greet the head of the household
or most senior person first.
- Chileans stand closer than North Americans
do. Do not back away.
- Never click your fingers to or at anyone.
- Never beckon with your index finger.
- A chin flick means “I couldn’t
care less.” Educated people do not use this gesture.
- Hitting the palm of your left hand with
your right fist is considered a vulgar gesture.
- The business atmosphere in Chile is
more formal than in the rest of South America.
- Punctuality is generally respected and
expected in business. However, be prepared for Chileans
to be thirty minutes late.
- Chileans don’t like to feel pressured
or rushed. Business may be conducted more slowly than
in Europe and North America.
- Expertise is less important than your
personal, family and company background. Family and friendship
play a big role in business, and whom one knows is important.
Red tape can be minimized considerably if you have the
- Establish rapport first. Personal relationships
are vital to How to Do Business in Chile. Some light conversation
is customary before getting down to business.
- Decision-making is centralized and decisions
are made at the top level, although all levels have input.
Visit top-level executives first. Mid-level executives
can follow up on subsequent visits.
- Be prepared to always go through a secretary.
Secretaries are screeners for their bosses.
- It is preferable to conduct business
face-to-face rather than over the phone or via fax. Be
prepared to take several trips to finish a business transaction.
- It is acceptable, but not yet common,
to communicate via e-mail; don’t expect a quick
- Businesslike behavior with a bit of
humor is appreciated. Do not attempt a hard sell approach,
and avoid aggressive behavior.
- Expect to be interrupted. This is not
considered rude, but rather a way of showing interest
- Present a well-organized plan with terms
clearly defined and financial obligations and options
- Chileans are straightforward about negotiations.
Feelings and emotion are important in negotiation.
- Always get written confirmation of agreements.
- Stay at a top-notch hotel; you will
be judged by your accommodations.
Dining and Entertainment
- Business lunches are usually long and
are held in restaurants, hotels or residences.
- Correct European-style table manners
are vital. It is very important to know which flatware
to use. Forks and knives should be used for everything
eaten at a table.
- Keep both hands above the table at all
times, never on your lap.
- Don’t lick your fingers or use
toothpicks — both are considered vulgar.
- Water is not automatically served at
the table. If you want water, ask for it.
- Taste everything that is served. Compliment
the host or hostess on the meal.
- Conversation is free, friendly and open
at the table, but be careful not to speak with food in
- Never leave immediately after dinner.
Stay for conversation after the meal.
- An invitation for drinks at a private
home generally includes dinner. Guests should reciprocate
with comparable hospitality at a later time.
- There are no separate checks. The person
who invites pays. Arrange in advance to pay the bill in
a restaurant if you are the host. You will not be presented
with a bill in a restaurant until you ask for it.
- Always arrive late for social functions.
Being fifteen to thirty minutes late for dinner and thirty
minutes late for a party is customary.
- Appearance is important to Chileans
who favor sophisticated European styles. It is important
to be neatly and cleanly dressed for all occasions.
- Men should wear jackets regardless of
where they are or how hot it is. Conservative, dark suits
should be worn for business.
- Women should wear dresses and suits
for business. Bare legs are acceptable with dresses.
- Chilean women do not favor overtly sexy
- Business gifts are not expected until
a relationship is formed.
- Expensive, flashy gifts may cause awkwardness.
Tastes are conservative.
- Give leather appointment books, quality
pens, cigarette lighters, office accessories, a clock
- Open gifts immediately in front of the
- Bring a bouquet of flowers to the hostess,
or send flowers in advance of a party. Give wine, chocolates,
local crafts from your home, small porcelain pieces or
an art object to hang on a wall. Gifts for children are
- Do not make comparisons between the
United States and Chile.
- Show interest in and talk about family,
- Do not talk about politics or human
rights, especially as a foreigner, unless your host initiates
- When smoking, offer a cigarette to everyone.
Chileans have a saying for those who neglect to share:
“Did you learn to smoke in jail?”
Especially for Women
Traditionally, men have dominated private
and public life in Chile. However, attitudes are changing
at home and in the workplace. Women now make up 30% of the
labor. In addition, many women hold important political
and business positions as ministers and top executives.
- Chile is an easier place for women to
conduct business than other parts of South America. However,
businesswomen may still encounter a machismo ethic.
- Typical North American businesswomen
are often viewed as cold, pushy and non-feminine.
- Men almost always pay the bill in a
restaurant and may be embarrassed if a woman attempts
to pay. This shouldn’t be pressed. Don’t argue.
If it is important for you to pay, make arrangements in
- It is common for men to stare at women.
It is harmless and meant to flatter.
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