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Business Customs (Chile)

There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings with Chilean business representatives to break into this market. Chileans expect a personal relationship with suppliers. Initial communication by phone or e-mail is far less effective than a personal meeting. Further, mail campaigns generally yield meager results.

However, U.S. business representatives will find that business practices in Chile and the United States are generally similar. The business day usually begins at 9 a.m. and ends between 6 and 7 p.m. Lunch breaks usually do not begin before 1 p.m. If there is business to be conducted, two or even three-hour lunches are not uncommon. Although social occasions rarely begin at the indicated time, business meetings usually do.

Do not rush business meetings. Courtesy is very important and efforts to rush a business deal are unlikely to meet with success. It is important to shake hands with everyone in the room upon arriving and leaving. Among Chileans, it is customary for men to kiss women they meet for the first time on the right cheek. However, U.S. businesspeople should shake hands with Chileans women, until a friendly relationship has been established.

Many Chilean businesspeople are well-educated professionals who travel internationally and speak English. However, not all speak English, and foreigners will often find the ability to speak Spanish very useful, if not an absolute must. Product marketing and promotional literature should be in Spanish. It is also advisable to have business cards printed with English on one side and Spanish on the other. Generally, cards are presented to everyone in a meeting.

Appearances are an important part of Chilean business. Dress codes are generally formal and conservative - suit and tie for men and discreet business suit (skirt or trousers) for women. Men tend to put on their jackets when leaving the office, even if it is just for lunch. Business attire becomes less formal outside major cities and in certain sectors.

It is advisable to use the services of the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, or other organizations such as the American Chamber of Commerce, industry associations, and other intermediaries, rather than relying on a direct "cold call" approach. The U.S. Commercial Service in Chile offers a complete package for the businessperson to meet with potential business partners.