With a multicultural and ethnically diverse population, the Philippines offers a vibrant and dynamic business environment. Expats doing business in the Philippines will be players in one of the biggest Southeast Asian markets. Its strategic location has made the country a potential gateway for investors into the wider Asian region, so many multinational companies have bases in the Philippines.
Filipino and English are the two main languages of business in the Philippines. Many Filipinos also speak Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.
Business hours are typically from 8am to 5pm, with a one-hour lunch break, while most offices are closed on weekends.
Business dress in the Philippines is formal. Most men wear suits or formal office attire, while others wear the traditional barong tagalog, a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt usually worn without a tie. Light suits and dresses are acceptable for women, as Filipinos generally dress for the weather.
A handshake and a smile are the usual forms of greeting. Always greet the eldest or most senior person first.
Gift-giving is widely practised in the Philippines, especially after signing a business deal. Gifts should not be overly extravagant, and the popular choices include flowers, sweets, perfume and spirits.
Women are largely treated equally in the Philippines, and there are many successful women in Filipino business circles.
Business culture in the Philippines
Filipino business culture is a mix of East and West. Although geographically part of Southeast Asia, the country has strong European and American ties that extend into everyday social interactions and business culture. Although the business practices are Western, Eastern traditions and cultural norms still play a central role.
The Philippines has many family-owned businesses, and family is an important part of the culture, so family relationships often equate to business relationships. It is also common to find several family members working for the same organisation, and this shows that networking and building close interpersonal relationships with Filipino counterparts is critical when doing business.
Business structures in the Philippines are hierarchical, and decisions lie with the senior executives. That said, group input also plays a role in making decisions.
Filipinos are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality, and this extends to the business environment. Filipinos also place great emphasis on polite language and gentle conversation. When speaking, the tone should remain neutral, and expats should avoid direct questions.
It is best to conduct business dealings in person. Only once a polite conversation is concluded should expats proceed to negotiate agreements. Filipinos enjoy conversations about their friends and family, but it is best to steer clear of topics such as politics, religion and corruption.
Business communication is often indirect, and expats should be aware of this to circumvent miscommunication. A 'yes' may not necessarily mean an agreement has been solidified.
Moreover, physical gestures and their meanings are significant. Filipinos tend to use their eyes, lips and hands to convey a plethora of messages. Raised eyebrows and a smile indicate a silent 'hello' or a 'yes' to answer a question. Fixed eye contact between men is considered aggressive.
To Filipinos, the concept of 'saving face' and maintaining self-esteem is imperative. Public displays of anger, trying to prove someone wrong in front of others, or disrespect for a colleague's rank or position can cause a loss of face. New arrivals should avoid criticising a Filipino associate publicly.
Newcomers should not be surprised if Filipino colleagues or friends make frank comments about their appearance or ask personal questions about their age, salary or how much something costs. Such questions come from curiosity, and the comments are generally meant in a light-hearted manner.
Dos and don'ts of business in the Philippines
- Do treat Filipino associates with respect and refrain from offending anyone in public or during meetings.
- Don't be surprised if Filipino counterparts ask personal questions. These should be answered politely.
- Do remember that Filipino business culture is personal, so newcomers must nurture and respect personal relationships.
- Don't make direct eye contact, as staring is considered rude.
- Don't wag a finger at someone or curl a finger to summon someone, as these gestures are considered ill-mannered.
►For more on work culture and business etiquette in the country, see Working in the Philippines
Are you an expat living in Philippines?
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