Tips for business travel in India

January 17, 2014 |

If your company does international business and has a global travel strategy, you have likely had to spend some time adjusting to various countries' business norms. India is just one country where business is booming. Here are some tips for business travel in India – pass them along to employees to ensure they have successful and productive business trips.

The basics

One of the biggest concerns people have while traveling in India is avoiding the perilous "Delhi Belly" – a sickness from being exposed to new bacteria that causes stomach cramping and other unpleasant symptoms. Here are a few quick tips to stay healthy during your business travel:

  • Only drink bottled water, and check to be sure the cap is sealed. It's even important to remember to brush your teeth with bottled water.
  • Don't drink anything else made with unfiltered water.
  • Do not eat fruit that you have not peeled yourself.
  • Only eat foods that are served very hot and cooked all the way through.
  • Eat at busy places that your Indian partners recommend for your safest options.

Additionally, consult a calendar so that you can plan your international travel around India's many major holidays, and, of course, monsoon season.

Finally, never touch someone on the head or with your left hand, which is considered rude and dirty. It's also rude to point directly at people or objects or to cross your legs in their direction, showing them the bottoms of your feet.

Greetings

Shaking hands isn't a part of Indian culture. Among Hindus, men shake hands with men and women with women, but the sexes do not touch. The same is true of Muslim culture. A standard greeting is a "namaste," during which you press your palms together, as if you're praying, just below your chin and bow slightly or nod. This is a safe greeting to use in any situation, so it should be your go-to, although Westernized Indian women and men in Mumbai and other big cities might initiate hand-shaking to accommodate you.

Make sure to first greet the most senior individual in the group, using his or her title. If you don't know the title or the person doesn't have one, use "Madam" or "Sir." Always avoid calling people by their first names, unless told to do so.

Gifts are often a part of first meetings, as many Indians believe they help one on their bath in the next life. Gifts don't have to be expensive. Present them with both hands to the receiver. If you receive a gift, wait until later to open it.

Additionally, present your business card upon first meeting. Give and receive cards with your right hand only, and put it away respectfully.

In meetings

Developing good, trustworthy relationships is paramount when doing business with Indians.

Unless you're meeting with a very young start-up, engineering or tech crowd, it's important to dress very formally and conservatively in meetings – full suits are a good choice. Also, women should wear closed-toe shoes.

Be patient and avoid high-pressure strategies when in negotiation meetings. Be mindful that sometimes "yes" actually means "I've heard and understand what you're saying," not "I agree with you." Indians have an aversion to saying "no," so pay attention to things like "I will try" or "Possibly."

Don't plan for more than one meeting per day. Often, meetings end with the expectation of drinks and a meal together, rather than one party rushing off for more business.

At dinner

Here are some tips surrounding culinary manners in India so you can successfully navigate the business dinner:

  • Don't seat yourself at dinner; rather, wait for someone to indicate where you should sit.
  • Watch how others eat. In the city, you'll likely be given a fork and spoon and use the fork to push food onto the spoon. In the country, you're more likely to eat with your hands, using bread or rice to pick up the food. Just make sure to only use your right hand when eating – the left hand is considered unclean.
  • Leave a little food on your plate – this indicates that you are full. A clean plate means you are still hungry.

Happy traveling!