How To Exchange Business Cards Abroad

Learn all about how to exchange business cards in other countries and which relevance they have when doing business abroad.
business cards

All around the world, business cards are used for the exchange of contact details. They also help introduce and address each other correctly, especially when foreign names need to be memorised. However, in many countries, business cards also provide essential details about the social status and the position in a finely divided corporate hierarchy. Often, they represent a person in many ways, and you should therefore pay attention to handling business cards with respect. Business cards are an essential tool for structuring business relationships and preparing successful business negotiations in these cultures. So let’s have a closer look at some business cultures around the world:

France – Titles Are Noted Discreetly

In French business life, business cards are exchanged immediately after the first introduction. Since the French society is hierarchically structured, the designations on a business card usually are extensive. Thus, academic degrees and the exact position in the company play an important role. But beware: titles are never mentioned verbally. Instead, they are discreetly taken from the business cards, which makes them even more significant.

A translation of the business card into French is undoubtedly an advantage. The design should be noble. French business cards are often somewhat larger than the credit card format that is common around the world.

USA – Contact Details To Follow-up

In the USA, business cards are used purely to communicate the contact details, not to clarify one’s status or position in the company. For this reason, the business card is usually handed over at the end of a meeting, just before you say goodbye. You are leaving your telephone number and e-mail address for any further communication if required.

If you do not receive a card from your US-American counterpart at the end of a conversation, this may mean that they are not interested in any further contact. You are welcome to ask for their business card though. However, suppose your interlocutor talks himself out, for example, with the excuse that he has run out of business cards or has just been given a new extension number. In that case, you can almost always take this as an indirect rejection.

When designing your business cards, it should be noted that US-American companies use the reverse side for their self-portrayal, claim, logo, advertising, etc. If this is missing on your card, it may damage a good first impression.

Japan – Meishi Are Prestigious 

Japanese society is finely hierarchised and appropriate, and respectful attitudes play a very important role. Business cards (meishi) are regarded as an object of prestige in Japan. At the same time, they offer great help to determine a counterpart’s exact rank and subordinate oneself accordingly.

The exchange of business cards is part of a lengthy greeting ritual. Younger or lower-ranking persons present their cards first. Always take and give a business card with both hands, only hold it at the top edges and always with the Japanese script facing upwards. A slight bow without eye contact is perceived as the respectful way of handing it over. 

Read the business card of your interlocutor carefully. Then place the card in front of you on the table—usually, all present exchange their business cards. So bring a sufficient number of cards with you! Not having enough business cards is considered a major faux pas!

At the end of a meeting, each business card is carefully placed in a case. Never slide it into your pocket! And don’t play with business cards when you’re nervous or bored during the meeting!

Business cards should be written in Japanese or be bilingual. The side in Japanese should show the surname first, followed by the first name. And beware: The less is written on a card, the more important and well-known the person is!

China – Elaborate Colour Scheme

In China, the handing over of a business card also expresses one’s respect for the business partner. Therefore, cards are handed over with both hands and are also accepted with both hands. You should distribute your cards according to the rank of the persons present. Start with the highest ranking.

It is important to give received cards the attention they deserve and perhaps even ask a question to show a genuine interest. Then, you should either place the cards very carefully in a case or in front of you on the table. 

Since the colour white symbolises mourning in China, the style of your business cards should not be too minimalistic. Golden characters and an elaborate colour design are more appreciated. Remember: in China, business cards show a person’s power, rank and social standing. Design, print quality, and paper quality provide information about your status as well.

Bilingual business cards are standard: The Chinese side mentions the surname and then the first name, the English side can correspond to the Western name order. However, it is advisable to print the surname in capital letters to avoid any misunderstandings.

Brazil – A Kink Against Identity Fraud

Also, in Brazil, a business card reflects the status of a person. Therefore, stains on the card or creases cast a bad light on the reliability of the business partner. However, there is one exception: Many Brazilians fold a corner when handing over their business card to demonstrate that it comes from first hand, as identity fraud is a big problem here. For this reason alone, you should make sure that your business cards always come fresh from the case.

To underline your status, all academic titles should be listed on your cards. It may be advisable to upgrade your position in the company according to Brazilian standards. After all, titles in Brazil are often very “lavish”. You need your business cards to show that you are the right man/woman for the upcoming negotiations and are equipped with all necessary powers. Due to the close connection between a person and a business card, cards received are treated with respect.

Use the received cards also to memorise the three-part names of your Brazilian interlocutors correctly: The first name is followed by the mother’s surname and then the father’s surname. After marriage, women replace their first surname with the surname of their husband. When addressing someone, the second surname is used. However, first names are also very quickly used in business life.

Arab States – Identifying The Hierarchy Level

Status and rank are of great importance when dealing with Arab business partners. Your business cards should therefore include all titles and, above all, reflect your position in the company precisely. It is essential that your Arab business partners can immediately recognise the extent of your decision-making authority. This is important because representatives of the same hierarchical level will need to face each other in meetings. Accordingly, it would help if you practised reading the correct information from Arabic business cards. Otherwise, you will have fruitless conversations with people who are not sufficiently empowered to make decisions.

Although business cards convey this critical information, they are handed over quickly and without any formal ritual at the beginning of a meeting. You should therefore take note of all the information immediately and hierarchically classify your Arab interlocutors. 

And don’t forget: Since the left hand is considered impure in the Muslim world, you should hand over and receive busine
ss cards with the right hand only.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

Key Takeaways

  • In some business cultures, business cards purely include contact details.
  • In other regions of the world, business cards also carry a person’s social status.
  • How business cards are handed over and received can vary from country to country.
  • In international business, it is essential to pay special attention to the design of your business cards. 
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