Doing Business in Mexico

a local businessman doing business in Mexico
Expats doing business in Mexico will find this North American country a friendly, hospitable place to further a career. Nonetheless, expats are advised to familiarise themselves with the nation's business culture and corporate etiquette.

Mexico is a country whose rich culture permeates all aspects of life, especially in business. Expats wanting to do business in Mexico should consider the cultural nuances of the country’s business climate, otherwise they are at risk of being caught off guard, offending or even missing out on various business opportunities. 
Mexico is ranked 39rd (out of 189 countries) in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings for 2015 – performing well in the criteria for getting credit (12th), resolving insolvency (27th) and trading across borders (44th).

Business culture in Mexico

The defining characteristic of business culture in Mexico is that successful, productive business relationships are invariably built upon 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, expats should try and organise their initial introduction to a potential business partner through an existing contact of theirs. Due to this interpersonal approach, business in Mexico can often proceed slowly, with people looking to cement personal relationships before getting down to the "ins and outs" of negotiations.

Although many Mexican businesspeople speak perfect English, Spanish is the official language of business in Mexico. Learning a few choice words and phrases will go a long way toward ingratiating expats with their associates.

Although management structures in Mexico remain hierarchical (at worst, they can be paternalistic), business etiquette in Mexico is marked by a combination of formality and genuine warmth, friendliness and openness between individuals.

Expats should use titles (Señor and Señora) until strictly instructed not to do so, but should not shrink away from engaging in personal discussions with their colleagues. Remember, in Mexico, a person’s qualifications, expertise and work experience – as important as they are – will not serve them as well as their ability to develop personal relationships with associates.

Business meetings must be scheduled in advance, and then confirmed a few days before they take place. It is important for expats to be punctual, while bearing in mind that their hosts might not show the same courtesy in return (not to be taken personally). Meetings often begin with 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 engage in debate.

Expats should 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; and if someone doesn't like an idea, a gentler, more diplomatic expression, such as 'Let's wait and see' or 'Let me think about that', is usually used.

Expats should 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. Emotions are considered 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 that people endeavour to look as good as they possibly can. Women also dress smart and stylishly (business suits are widely worn) and often go to work in high heels and make-up.

There is no standard procedure for the transfer of business cards in Mexico, even though they are swapped frequently. Expats should make sure that one side of their card is translated into Spanish, with this side face up when the card is handed over. Professional qualifications are often listed on business cards in Mexico.

Attitude toward foreigners in Mexico

Mexico is a friendly, welcoming place to do business – and foreigners shouldn't experience much difficulty assimilating themselves into Mexican corporate culture. Expats should bear in mind, however, that not being able to speak Spanish will alienate them from the general public. In some areas of the country, Americans have been known to be treated with suspicion and even hostility.

Doing business in Mexico: Fast facts

Business language: Spanish is the official language of business in Mexico, though English is widely spoken.
Hours of business: Businesses usually run from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, with a two or three hour siesta in the early afternoon.
Business dress: Business dress in Mexico is smart, formal and stylish. People are expected to put a certain amount of effort into their business attire and appearance.

Greeting: Business greetings in Mexico are usually a handshake with a slight bow. It is important to use someone's title when greeting them, as it is a sign of status and valued highly in Mexico. Someone without a title should be referred to as Señor or Señora, followed by their last name.
Gifts: Gifts are not usually given at business meetings, though a small token of sincerity might be appreciated. Expats invited to a colleague's home should take along some wine, sweets or flowers, but should avoid red petals and marigolds.
Gender equality: Women are ostensibly treated as equals in the Mexican business world, often rising to senior positions. Nevertheless, business in Mexico can still follow paternalistic patterns, and the presence of machismo in the workplace is, regrettably, a reality that many expat women have to deal with.

Dos and don'ts of doing business in Mexico

  • Do be willing to invest in personal relationships with colleagues
  • Do learn to relax, and to take things as they come
  • Do learn Spanish – Mexico's culture will offer itself up to those who 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 good ideas are not used immediately. Mexican businesspeople are open-minded, but may be slow to change their ways.

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