Ok, so you’ve made your brand count globally and at this point you have either launched your business or finally nabbed that elusive position that you have had your sights set on for years. This career move or business venture will take you all over the world to countries you have only dreamt about or watched on Nat Geo and the Travel channel. Lets not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. Before you grab your passport and your Herschel duffle bag, it is wise to invest a bit of time upfront so that you can be self-assured that you have all your bases covered.
Follow these guidelines to make certain that your credentials are cleared, your currency is correct and that you have packed appropriately based on the weather, business practices and the cultural customs in that country as to ensure that your travel plans go off without a hitch.
1. Valid Visa: Before anything, you want to make sure that your passport is valid. You also want to confirm whether you need a Visa or not, what the exchange rate is and most importantly what the cultural customs are in that particular country you are doing business in. Also, be certain that there aren’t any travel warnings and vaccine recommendations in that area before hand.
Because of potential travel restrictions, it is imperative that you plan ahead and know exactly when your passport expires. Some countries like the Galapagos Islands and many places in Europe like Croatia and Germany won’t even let you through customs if your passport expires within six months of your scheduled traveled date or what is called the six-month validity requirement.
Prior to your departure double check whether you need a Visa for the country you are traveling to. And no, not the Visa credit card endorsed by Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, but the travel document typically approved in advance that allows you to visit a particular country for leisure or business. Avoid being the guy that was detained because the customs officer asked him for his visa and he pulled out his debit card, not knowing that a travel visa was mandatory in that country. (That really happened to me, don’t judge me). Destinations like Tanzania, Ghana and Vietnam all require Visas upon entry. Surprisingly, Brazil does have a time frame, usually during low tourism season when their visa policies are much more laxed. There are however some countries like Turkey that will grant you a visa in the airport, for a small chunk of you travel funds.
2. Currency Exchange: There are varying philosophies on how to weave through transactions and exchange rates in foreign lands. I have had people suggest exchanging all your American currency stateside, others suggest using your card everywhere. Most people recommend an amalgamation of both card and exchanged cash.
But if you think about it, your currency aptitude is not only about how much you are spending on your trip, but it’s also global economics. In some circles having your finger on the pulse of the current state of international currency and exchange rates is the single most important factor to one’s travel country to country. On the surface the currency situation may only concern you because of the company’s budgetary constraints for your planned expedition. But if you drill deeper currency exchange rates represent the value of one country's money compared to another.
Different currencies are affected by the strength of the countries' economy, which is an element of consideration on what type of fiscal shape that country or business is in. That can be pivotal in their decision to enter into long-term business deals with your firm.
3. Tipping the Service: It can get even more tricky when the conversation of tipping etiquette arises at a business dinner. It is not customary to tip most places outside of the US. A terminus like Australia, Japan or Switzerland don’t believe in tipping at all. When dining in coastal Accra, Ghana they frown upon tipping because it can off-set the normal flow of the workforce and economy. So it is not only important to know the cultural and financial customs but important to know why as well.
4. Proper Etiquette: Sharpening your cultural customs acumen can make your business trip a whole lot easier. I can’t stress this enough to other globe trotting professionals. Understanding when to bow, shake hands or how many Garrett’s popcorn tins to bring the Sultan’s many wives is paramount when doing business internationally. For example, in some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia the cheek to cheek “kiss” acknowledgement is standard when greeting a potential business associate or dignitary. In fact, it is considered rude if you don’t adhere and can stall your architecture contract bid to design the next Olympic stadium before it starts. Oh and I hope you are not a lefty. In the UAE, your left hand is considered unclean and only used for body hygiene purposes. Or for instance, in China it is customary to bring a gift to your first business meeting, even though it could be refused the first three times you extend the friendly gesture. I learned the importance of exhibiting persistence in this scenario the hard way several years ago.
One cultural faux pas can leave you kicking yourself on a long flight back home or even worse, it could cause an international kerfuffle, like when President Obama hugged Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma in 2012, leaving the state counsellor stunned and confused. Reading up on each countries cultural customs in business is highly recommended so that you fully maximize your time spent with potential customers and partners.
5. Pack Smart: Packing is so crucial to the way your trip flows, especially in business. You want to pack lite, efficient and smart whether your travel is work related or for leisure or a little bit of both. You definitely want to research the electrical situation well in advance. I know some hardcore travelers that say repeatedly “All I need is my phone charger and my international adapter and I’m good”. I haven’t graduated to that point yet but it would be wise to invest in a multi-pronged international adapter before your trip. Oh and fellas, pick up a battery operated Bevel trimmer before hand as well. It will make shaving and grooming a lot easier.My excursion to Paris, Morocco, South Africa and Zurich all in a 14 day span really reinforced the importance of the pack smart philosophy. I went from balmy and wet in Paris, to beach weather in Cape town, to full out winter in Switzerland. Having garments for all those climate changes in one checked bagged was challenging but so worth it.
Your business attire can get tricky depending on where you go too. It is not uncommon in places like Tunisia, Turkey and some parts of Iraq to require women to wear a hijab or head scarf all the time, especially when conducting business; no matter your ethnicity or religious beliefs are. Got a meeting anywhere on the continent of India? Its not far fetched for a foreign business man to be dressed in a full Kurta or a women to be draped in a Saris as a sign of immense respect. Cultural attire concessions like this can go a long way in building rapport quickly and closing business.
So whether you are the individual Kanye was referring to in the song Otis or an experienced traveler, it is important to remember this. Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture, and are the building bricks for developing their business practices. One must note that cultural influences, communities, attitudes and behavior vary within and across nations and within and across ethnicities, and are strongly embedded in the fabric of what a country truly is.
“You ain’t accustomed to walking through customs, you ain’t been know where huh?” – Kanye