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Philippines – Meeting Etiquette

Doing business in the Philippines relies heavily on personal relationships.  Ideally, introductions should be arranged through a third party.  One must allot a significant amount of time for socializing to build rapport and familiarity.

Basic tips:

  • Arrange appointments in advance, but telephone shortly before to reconfirm. Regular office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. English is the main business language.
  • It is acceptable to be up to 15 minutes late for meetings but it is best to be punctual even when others are not.
  • Normal business attire for men is a formal suit and tie, or the local-style long-sleeved shirt. For women, a modest suit or dress may be brightly colored.
  • Address people by their professional title if they have one (e.g. Dr., Architect or Attorney); or by Mr., Mrs. or Ms. preceding their surname. First name terms, or the nicknames often used by Filipinos will follow soon after, especially if they are at ease with you.
  • Normal greetings include a handshake with a smile. Refrain from intense eye contact as this is considered rude and confrontational.
  • Business cards are exchanged following initial greetings, and should be inspected subtly. Unlike in other Asian countries, the exchange of business cards is not overly formalized. Yet, it is still of importance. Present and receive business cards with both hands. Your title and position should be reflected on the card as this indicates the influence and status you may have.
  • Initial meetings are mainly to get to know one another. Formal negotiations rarely occur during the first meeting. Some small talk is expected. Be prepared to be asked about a lot of (harmless) personal questions about your marital status or even about business endeavors. You may, of course, politely side-step these questions.
  • Communication styles are courteous, reserved and most often indirect. Filipinos will try to avoid a direct refusal or confrontation as this may cause someone to “lose face”, which is unacceptable. To raise your voice, show impatience, or to interrupt your business partner is considered terribly disrespectful.
  • Business culture is hierarchical with decisions being made at the top of the organization but based on prior consensus from others. Decision-makers may not be present at meetings but will be briefed afterwards. Negotiations are often held outside the office, in social venues or on the golf course. Be prepared for a lengthy decision-making process.