9 Tips for Business Meetings in Colombia – Business Etiquette

9 Tips for Business Meetings in Colombia – Business Etiquette

Colombia-MICE is part of the Pelecanus Travel Group. We are located in Bogota, Colombia. We are specialized in corporate travel and all services around Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions. 

We’ve listed 9 tips (do’s and don’ts) to help you have a successful business meeting in Colombia.

But before, here are the first things you should know about Colombia:

Capital city Bogota
Language Spanish
Currency Colombian peso – COP
Business hours Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5 pm

*Some companies also work on Saturdays, but Sundays are free.

*There are 19 national holidays throughout the year. Most of them are on a Monday.

*Schedules might vary depending on the company or the region.

1. Plan and arrange meetings in advance

As with every kind of event, planning early will always be better. It is advisable to arrange meetings a couple of weeks or even a month in advance. Be sure to call the person you want to meet, because e-mails have hardly any validity in Colombia. 

In any case, confirm meetings and appointments again or even several times in the hours or days before. 

Even all these measures do not protect you from canceling an appointment at short notice. In the local culture, almost everything is confirmed in each case; it’s all about saving face. The truth usually only comes to light as soon as it is unavoidable and usually too late for alternative planning. 

2. Don’t rush the schedule in Colombia

As an explanation to the last point, Colombians – generally speaking, live a laid-back life. Schedules are important but times are not taken as rigorously as in other cultures. They take time before and after meetings to drink a tinto (black coffee) or to catch up with their partners or colleagues.

SSo do not stress out if it’s been 10 minutes and the meeting hasn’t started. As said, punctuality is rather flexible here. 15 minutes is what it usually takes to formally start a meeting unless anything extraordinary happens. Don’t take it as an offense, go with the flow. But don’t be too late either. It is, therefore, advisable to include extra time in your agenda in between meetings. 

3. In Colombia, get to know your partner first

Commonly, locals want to know about their (potential) partner or client before getting down to business. Colombians feel uncomfortable negotiating with a stranger. So, take the time to talk about your previous experience in Colombia and to share stories.

To be more specific, in Colombia, the level of basic trust among people is low. Business by handshake does not happen here. Written contracts are used for everything, and even then the trust of contractual partners is limited. On the one hand, this is related to history; on the other hand, the state institutions in Colombia do not function ideally, to put it diplomatically.   

Likewise, an obvious lie is not necessarily qualified as a lie here. It is more a form of communication. Among Latinos, people understand each other well and are aware of this, but coming from European culture, this can be quite confusing.   

4. Don’t be too straightforward

Although people from Colombia are known to be extremely friendly and welcoming, you should think carefully about what you say to them.

Latin American culture is more sensitive – somewhat different than that of Europeans, for example. Therefore, if you have something positive to say, say it. But if you have bad news to deliver, don’t be too direct, try to phrase it diplomatically. 

Colombians are emotional and very easily feel personally attacked and offended. Sometimes a little criticism is enough. Usually, you are presented with a large number of excuses and excuses. In Colombia we also say: “La culpa es de la vaca”, the cow is to blame. 

So be careful, such an incident can destroy an entire business relationship. 

5. Learn about Colombia beforehand

Colombians generally love all foreigners. If you know a little about Colombia, you will quickly take Colombians to your heart. Moreover, it is considered a sign of respect. If you also speak a little Spanish, perfect!

It is best to do a little research to know the basic things about their economy and culture. Plus, you will have a topic to break the ice with your partner.

6. Don´t make jokes about drugs, war, religion, and Pablo Escobar 

In general, don’t bring up topics like guerrilla warfare and the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. The long-time conflict that has struck the country has left deep scars and it is too early to come to terms with them. Colombians feel strong emotional pain and, in some cases, shame when discussing such topics.   

You can rather talk about their biodiversity, their cultural richness, and the booming sectors of their economy. 

7. Try to speak Spanish in Colombia 

As a Swiss, I’m used to adapting to foreign negotiating partners and speaking their language whenever possible. I am also used to speaking English with expats who have been living in Switzerland for more than 10 years, as they have not learned any of the 4 national languages there in all these years. 

A kind of ignorance that is certainly more pronounced in some nations than in others. 

Language is not only important for negotiations but also the basis for understanding a culture. This is all the more important in Colombia because many things work differently here. Do you want to do business in Colombia and gain trustworthy contractual partners? Learn Spanish! 

8. Choose the right clothes in Colombia 

Now, this is a less crucial aspect, but wearing the right clothes will make a better first impression of you.

Clothing varies by city and its climate. If you are used to wearing elegant suits, Bogota or Medellin will be perfect. A tailored suit is almost standard here, depending on the industry. In addition, the climate in these cities is appropriate for suits –Bogota is actually a high city at 8,530 ft above sea level. 

On the contrary, in coastal or warmer-climate cities such as Cartagena, Cali, Pereira, and Yopal, the culture – and dress code, is more uncomplicated. Business casual is a good fit here. 

9. Always include extra time in your program while in Colombia

Be generous with your time planning in all cases. For example, if you have arranged different meetings at different locations in Bogota, the general traffic congestion can quickly throw a spanner in the works. Likewise, as said, meetings or events usually do not start on time at the specified time.

Also, Colombians are very spontaneous and it is likely that your potential Colombian business partners will invite you for an off-business occasion. This might be lunch, dinner or even a weekend in their weekend house in the countryside.   

You might also be interested in knowing how organizing a business meeting in Colombia works and what to expect of an exhibition in Colombia.