Doing business in Mexico
Mexico is ranked a respectable 35th (out of 183 countries) in the World's Bank "Ease of Doing Business" rankings – excelling in the criteria of 'dealing with construction permits', and 'closing a business'.
Business culture in Mexico
The defining characteristic of business culture in Mexico is that successful, productive business relationships are invariably built on personal trust and familiarity between individuals. In Mexico, business is ideally conducted face-to-face, and among people who know and trust each other. If at all possible, try and organise your initial introduction to a potential business partner through an existing contact of theirs. Also bear in mind, that – due to this more interpersonal approach – business can often proceed slowly in Mexico, with people looking to cement personal relationships before getting down to the 'ins and outs' of negotiations.
Although many Mexican businessmen speak perfect English, Spanish is the official language of business in Mexico – and learning a few choice words and phrases, will go a long way toward ingratiating yourself with your new associates.
Although management structures in Mexico remain hierarchical (at worst, they can even be a little paternalistic), business etiquette in Mexico is marked by a combination of formality and real warmth, friendliness, and openness between individuals.
Use titles ('Señor' and 'Señora') until strictly instructed not to do so, but do not shrink away from engaging in personal discussions with your colleagues. Remember, in Mexico, your qualifications, expertise and work experience – as important as they are – will not serve you as well as your ability to develop personal relationships with your associates.
Business meetings must be scheduled in advance (not during siesta time!), and then confirmed a few days before they are due to take place. It is important for you to be punctual, but bear in mind that your hosts might not show you the same courtesy in return (don't take it personally). Meetings often begin with some small-talk – this is to encourage people to get to know each other – and will proceed at the pace determined by the important role-players present.
Even though executive company decisions are always made by the person in the highest authority, junior employees are encouraged to share their opinions during meetings, and to engage in debate.
Bear in mind that, in Mexico, it is very rare to hear the word 'No' being used in a direct or confrontational way – direct refusals are seen as rude. If you don't like someone's idea, or if they don't like one of yours, a gentler, more diplomatic expression – 'Let's wait and see', 'Let me think about that one first' – should always be used.
Expats should also be aware that displays of emotion are common during business meetings in Mexico. These might be uncomfortable to witness at first, but are regarded positively in the Mexican workplace – as illustrations of emphasis, engagement, and passion.
The dress code for the Mexican business world is smart and formal, with an emphasis on style. Men wear ties, dark colours, and accessories, and the basic assumption is you'll endeavour to look as good as you possibly can! Women also dress smart and stylishly (business suits are widely worn) – and will often go to work in high heels and make-up.
There is no accepted, standard procedure for the transfer of business cards, although these are often swapped. Make sure one side of your card is translated into Spanish, and make sure your professional qualifications are listed on your card.
Attitude toward foreigners in Mexico
Mexico is a friendly, welcoming place to do business – and foreigners shouldn't experience too much difficulty in assimilating themselves into Mexican corporate culture. Bear in mind, however, that not being able to speak Spanish will obviously alienate you a little from the general public, and that – in some areas of the country – suspicious, or even hostile attitudes towards Americans may be commonplace.
Starting a business in Mexico
Foreigners are able to start a business in Mexico, though it is not the easiest process in the world.
Steps for registering a business in Mexico
- Obtain the authorisation for your company name online and file a draft deed of incorporation with the public notary
- Sign the deed of incorporation in the presence of a public notary, obtain a Tax Registry Number (RFC), and then file the deed with the Public Register of Commerce
- Register your company with Mexico's Social Security Institute (IMSS)
- Register for payroll tax with the local tax administration (Secretaría de Finanzas del Gobierno del Distrito Federal)
- Give notice of opening a mercantile establishment to the local government (Delegación)
- Register your new company with the National Business Information Registry (Sistema de Information Empresarial, or SIEM)
Doing business in Mexico: Fast facts
Business language: Officially Spanish, though English is widely spoken
Hours of business: Generally, 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (with a two or three hour siesta in the early afternoon)
Dress: Smart, formal, stylish
Gifts: Not usually given at business meetings – though a small token of your sincerity might be appreciated. If invited to a colleague's home, be sure take along some wine, sweets or flowers (avoid red petals and marigolds).
Gender equality: Ostensibly, women are treated as equals in the Mexican business world, often rising to senior positions.
However, as has been mentioned, business in Mexico can still follow paternalistic patterns – and the presence of machismo in the workplace is, regrettably, sometimes still a reality that expat women will have to deal with
Do's and don'ts of doing business in Mexico
- DO - be willing to invest in personal relationships with your colleagues
- DO - learn to relax, and to take things as they come
- DO - learn at least a little bit of Spanish – you'll find that Mexico's culture will offer itself up to you if you do
- DON'T - be impatient, pushy or rude. Let things develop at their own pace
- DON'T - be blasphemous, especially during business meetings
- DON'T - feel frustrated if your good ideas are not used immediately. Mexican businessmen are open-minded, but may be slow to change their ways