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How to Do Business in Spain

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Currently doing business in Spain, or plan to in the near future? Consider this…

  • Spanish is the world’s second most spoken language.
  • Spain has an incredible tourist industry as one of the top 5 most visited countries in the world. In 2007, there were nearly 60 million foreign visitors.
  • Spain is the world’s 14th largest economy and one of the top ten bond markets worldwide.
  • Major industries include textiles and apparel, food and beverages, metal manufacturing, chemicals, shipbuilding, automobiles, machine tools, tourism, clay and refractory products, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment.

As a strong economic power and one of the most visited countries, Spain is quite attractive to many foreign businesses. However, Spain has a number of social and cultural differences from other countries that you must be aware of.

Important tips

  • Spaniards respect doing business with assertive and distinguished counterparts. Be careful not to become overtly friendly too quickly, and never underestimate a Spaniard based on their perceived role in the organization. Make sure to address your counterparts with their titles and last names.
  • Many businesses in Spain have a hierarchical system of management where groups or teams answer to a clear leader. Individuals within a department can make recommendations to their supervisor, but are not allowed to make decisions. Departments tend to be segregated from one another, so quite often line employees and lower management may not understand what happens within other departments.
  • 94% of the population practices some level of Catholicism, and religion strongly influences basic perceptions and behaviors.
  • Women are considered completely equal under the law and are often leaders in education, politics, and the general workforce.
  • Do not give gifts that could be perceived as a vehicle for your company’s logo. If you give flowers, avoid dahlias or chrysanthemums which are related to death.
  • The “okay” hand signature in the United States, making an “O” shape with your thumb and index fingers, is considered vulgar.


  • When going to a business meeting, be on time and be prepared to wait patiently. If it is a social event, ask what time you are expected to show up, not what time the event begins. Make sure if you are planning to schedule an appointment, you do it far in advance and get a confirmation closer to the date.
  • Pay attention to national holidays. If you see one falling either on a Tuesday or Thursday, your Spanish counterpart is likely to take a four-day weekend. Additionally, it is common practice to receive 30 days of paid time off, which is typically used during July and August.


  • It is definitely about who you know. Make personal contacts who can refer you to business prospects and focus on building your relationship with the prospect before doing business. This will make it easier to be chosen for future business, as well as harder for them to choose someone else.
  • Spaniards play it close to the vest. They consider information to be highly valuable and may not be forthcoming with it until it plays in their favor.
  • Business meetings will begin with small talk. Be patient and do not push to business topics right away.
  • Prepare a business card with Spanish on one side and English on the other side, present the Spanish side when handing it to your counterpart.
  • Negotiations can be prolonged. Expect the possibility that you will need to renegotiate areas you believed to be settled previously.


  • Do not have a business meeting before 8:30 a.m.
  • Spaniards prefer to go home for their midday meal, so do not be offended if your offer to take your counterpart to lunch is declined. If you do have lunch with your counterpart, do not mention business until they bring it up; this will often be at the end of the meal over coffee.
  • Dinner is not served before 8:00 p.m., but it can be served as late as 10:00 p.m. From 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., “tapas” fill the gap, which consist of mixed olives, cheese or potato omelets.
  • Spaniards typically invite people to their homes, but prefer to dine at a restaurant. If you are invited to a Spaniard’s home, do not feel obligated to accept, often the invitation is simply out of kindness. If they continue to invite you, then you should accept. In this case it is appropriate for you to reciprocate the invitation.

For your business document translation needs in Spain, contact McElroy Translation. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you and your company become successful in your international business ventures.

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

Published - May 2012

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