What to know about business travel in Brazil

January 17, 2014 |

If international travel is or is soon to be part of your company's business strategy, chances are Brazil is a country near the top of your list, along with the other developing BRICs. If you're sending travelers to Brazil, here's what you need to know about the cultural and business practices in this South American giant:

Greetings

Physical contact is big in Brazil. People often greet each other with a close handshake that involves back-patting and both hands, and it's not uncommon to receive a kiss on one or both cheeks upon taking leave or during even the second meeting. But don't assume anything – it's best to let your Brazilian hosts lead.

Brazilians often hold a steady gaze, are very tactile and prefer close proximity to someone as a sign of trust. This can be intimidating to some people, but remind your travelers of these tendencies so they can adapt and not be misinterpreted as unfriendly.

It's generally OK to use first names, but titles are vital as well. 

Upon first meeting someone in a business context, it's OK to give a small gift, such as an item from your home city. Just make sure to avoid the colors black and purple, which signify mourning in Brazilian culture.

Meetings

The best time to schedule meetings is between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., or 3 and 5 p.m. Lunches often run long in Brazil and are used for less-formal business discussions. Meetings commonly start late, but  when meetings run late, it's considered rude and poor form to exit early in Brazil. It's also important to know that significant decisions are almost exclusively given in person, rather than via email, because eye contact is vital in Brazilian culture. 

Before you go to Brazil, consider having some business cards printed in Portuguese on one side and English on the other. Present the card to your host Portuguese side up. Most executives your company meets with on business travel will speak English, but this is a sign of respect. Additionally, if you do attend meetings where an interpreter is present, make sure to still speak to your host, rather than the interpreter.

Additionally, you might notice that Brazilians are not shy about showing emotion and using exaggerated body language. This isn't usually seen as unprofessional but rather that the speaker is discussing deeply held convictions.

There's often a lot of small talk before meals, and even if it's more than you're used to in an American context, it's important not to rush or seem impatient! This often sets the tone of the meeting. Additionally, everything will go smoothly if you avoid the topics of politics and Argentina.

Dinner

Dinners are meant to be a social situation and a chance to get to know each other. Take a cue from your Brazilian hosts, but it's not standard to talk about business until the after-dinner coffee or brandy is served. Business lunches can last around two hours, and dinners can last three hours or even longer, so schedule this time commitment into your business travel.