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Spanish business etiquette

The Spaniards’ famously relaxed attitude to timekeeping does not extend to you being late for your first business meeting!

Aim to arrive punctually for any business appointments. But a word to the wise, it is possible that the people you are meeting may not be quite as punctual. If you expect this to be the case, you’ll feel relaxed if they are running slightly late and pleasantly surprised if everyone is ready to begin at the appointed time. In general, the Spanish are not offended or irritated by a lack of precise punctuality.

Valued qualities

The importance of trust within Spanish business transactions can’t be overstated. Anyone you will potentially do business with will need and want to find out that you are a person they can trust before they enter into any transactions or contracts with you. It’s a common feature of initial meetings that they will aim to establish a personal relationship before entering into any form of business with you. Expect to be asked and to answer questions about yourself before you can get down to the work side of affairs. In other words, never dive straight into talking ‘business’ as you will be seen as not only rude but also you will be deemed to be rushing in too quickly. This in turn will lose you business.

Modesty and humility are also highly valued qualities. The Spanish will not be impressed by any form of boasting about financial or personal achievements. Similarly, a calm and measured approach is more highly regarded than either assertiveness or aggression.

Loyalty is highly prized and respected. If you win someone’s business, their loyalty will then be linked to you as an individual rather than the company you work for.

Business meetings

These will either take place within the company you are making contact with or could be arranged in a café or restaurant. It is not uncommon for initial meetings to be held over coffee or lunch, as these provide the perfect atmosphere in which to get to know you better as an individual before any business is begun.

A handshake is the recognised formal introduction to any meeting. You may then wish to hand over your business card, unless you have given it to the receptionist prior to entering any meeting being held within a company’s building.  In Spain, men will clasp their new acquaintance’s hand between both of theirs, as a mark of warmth and welcome.

Verbal understandings and agreements have to be reached before any legal or contractual documents are drawn up. The importance of trusting someone’s character and personality before entering into business with them can be most easily understood in these terms: you have to be able to trust what they have verbally agreed with you.

Business dress code

Spanish people place a great deal of store on personal presentation within the world of work.

The dress code is in line with that of the rest of Europe: smart, dark-coloured suits for both men and women, although women are not expected to wear jackets.

Conservative attire is respected with nothing too showy. Elegance and style are preferable to glamour and ostentatiousness. That being said, Spaniards are said to have a penchant for fine-quality and branded goods. Therefore, men and women often accessorise outfits with designer bags, shoes, ties and jewellery.

Printed material and business cards

As a matter of courtesy, always ensure that any paperwork you provide in a business meeting is available in both English and Spanish. It is also advisable to have information on business cards printed in both languages.

If you are not a fluent Spanish speaker, then ensure one of the following: either that the people you are meeting with are able to discuss all matters in English or that there is someone available at the meeting who can translate. You may need to hire the services of an interpreter in some cases.


Spanish companies follow a hierarchical structure, with the individuals within those companies granting those hierarchies both respect and expectations.

Within Spanish business transactions, employees can expect to deal with counterparts in different companies who are in a similar hierarchical position to themselves, on the same rung of the company ladder.

Decisions will always be made by those in charge at the top of the hierarchy and people lower down the ladder will expect many issues and problems to be solved by those at the top.

Bearing in mind all of the above points should ensure that there are no nasty surprises or faux pas in your first business meeting in Spain.

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