Doing Business in Zambia

Expats doing business in Zambia will find themselves in a politically stable country that has seen positive economic growth in recent years. Zambia is one of the most sparsely populated, yet most urbanised, countries in Africa. The capital, Lusaka, the tourist hub of Livingstone and the mineral-rich Copperbelt are the most important commercial centres and where the majority of Zambia’s population live.

Much of Zambia’s economic growth has been attributed to the privatisation of the mining sector, which has managed to attract much foreign investment in recent years. Zambia is rich in natural resources and is the world’s largest producer of copper. Agriculture is another important sector, and other major exports include fresh flowers, tobacco and sugar.

Despite positive growth, challenges remain to doing business in Zambia; corruption and nepotism are pervasive, and obstacles to economic growth include widespread poverty, poor service delivery and infrastructure, and the country’s rising AIDS/HIV infection rates. These challenges are reflected in Zambia’s ranking in the World Bank’s 2016 Ease of Doing Business Survey, where it was ranked 98th out of 189 countries; dropping a few places since its 2015 ranking. Zambia scored relatively well for getting credit (19th) and paying taxes (47th), but scored particularly poorly for factors such as enforcing contracts (134th), trading across borders (152nd) and registering property (157th). 


Fast facts

Business hours

The standard working week in Zambia is Monday to Friday, with the weekend falling on Saturday and Sunday. Working hours are generally between 8am and 5pm, which includes an hour lunch break.

Business language

English is the official language of Zambia and the most widely spoken in business circles. Expats working in more rural areas and in mining communities will do well to learn key phrases and greetings in the relevant local dialects.

Dress

Business attire is usually smart, although men are not expected to wear a suit and tie, but this depends on the company and industry. Smart trousers and a shirt are usually acceptable. Women should dress conservatively and avoid exposing their shoulders and legs.

Gifts

Gift-giving in business circles is not common and with the prevalence of corruption, may be misconstrued as a bribe. 

Gender equality

Women have equal rights in Zambia, although men still occupy most senior roles in Zambian business.

Greeting

A firm handshake is the norm when greeting in Zambian business circles. If greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. Titles are important in Zambia and should be used when greeting associates, especially in official government circles. The most senior individuals in a room should be greeted first.


Business culture in Zambia

Business culture in Zambia is formal, both in terms of communication and personal appearances. First names are hardly ever used in business circles and addressing someone by their first name may be considered rude in some situations. Associates should be addressed formally and using their title and surname.

Culture

Expats doing business in Zambia will need to learn patience when it comes to dealing with local associates and the bureaucratic procedures that accompany business dealings; meetings are never rushed and contract negotiations can take time. In line with this, Zambians are friendly and genuinely interested in other people; a proper greeting and small talk are common at the beginning of meetings, with conversation covering topics such as family, one’s health and sport. 

Management

Business structures in Zambia are hierarchical and decisions are made from the top. Unfortunately, corruption remains an ongoing concern in Zambian government and business circles and it’s not unusual to be faced with the expectation of extracting a bribe in order to make connections and win contracts. Networking and making important connections within the business and political sphere may go a long way to opening up opportunities to doing business in Zambia.


Dos and don’ts of business in Zambia

  • Do always greet Zambian associates politely

  • Don't address a Zambian colleague by their first name unless invited to do so first

  • Do be prepared to start meetings with small talk about personal matters

  • Don't rush Zambian counterparts. Business dealings take time in Zambia and it’s important to always be polite and respectful. 

  • Do dress smartly for business meetings. First impressions are important, as are appearances.

  • Do be prepared to network and make important connections within Zambian business and political circles in order to facilitate commercial opportunities

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