South America: great weather, even better food, fantastic music, and a thriving business culture. If you are looking for a place to establish your international business prowess, one of South America’s unique countries might be a good fit for you. However, each country has its own personality and set of customs. We’re going to break down some of  the social traditions practiced South America’s most densely largest populated countries–Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina–and provide some tips for navigating your international business transactions.




The Brazilian people are warm, personal, and passionate individuals who pride themselves on looking put together and having impeccable manners. Naturally, first impressions and dress are very important. (If you’re having a business meeting, make sure your suit has been tailored and dry cleaned, and consider shining your shoes.) They are creative, intelligent risk takers who put family first and believe strongly in education.


Spanish is the official language of most of South America. However, in Brazil, the national language is Portuguese. Keep that in mind when you’re making introductions!


Touching, back slapping, and other physical contact is considered the norm, and the Brazilian people have a tendency to stand close together. Even if this custom seems foreign to you, don’t back away. It’s considered rude and unfriendly to do so.


Brazilians are also known for their animated gesticulation. When it comes to business culture, meetings are favored to other interaction, and usually proceed at a leisurely pace. Therefore, it’s best to let the conversation turn to business naturally. Then, if you’re signing any legal documents, hire a local lawyer or accountant. It shows good faith and will help you avoid offending your new business partners.




The country of Colombia is one of the most successful, prosperous nations in South America. Many of their customs are similar to that of Brazil. However, there are a few distinctions.


One of the hallmark’s of Colombian business is the tendency to be thirty minutes late to meetings. Don’t take this too personally. Colombians like working at casual pace and, “I’ll phone you tomorrow” might mean, “I’ll call you next week.”     


The wage gap is pronounced, but the economy is experiencing a growing middle class. Be sure to shake hands with everyone when entering or leaving a room! Also, make every effort not to yawn. Signs of sleepiness can be mistaken for disinterest.




Chileans, on average, are much more formal in their business transactions than the rest of South America’s countries. Many Chileans value punctuality and expect business meetings to proceed on time. However, don’t be surprised if meeting commence thirty minutes late. Chileans are used to doing business with the rest of South America, so late meetings aren’t completely out of the question!


In general, avoid aggression and proceed with an air of civility, grace, and humor. Also, don’t be surprised if you are directed to a secretary first. Chilean business people still use secretaries as “gatekeepers” for their bosses.




Most of Argentina’s population actually comes from Europe and Russia, and their business culture reflects their heritage. They are socially progressive, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan. Argentinians are known for their tough negotiation style, so be prepared to argue your case. Business deals can be long and require multiple meetings.
However, don’t cut out the small talk. It’s best to let your Argentinean business partner bring up business and then follow suit. Lastly, make sure to get everything in writing; if not, contracts have a tendency to be renegotiated.