Tips for Doing Business in Colombia
Colombia is now classified as an emerging nation and there is an active international business community doing business in the country. Within the private sector, at least with larger companies, most business owners are cultured and well travelled. It is not uncommon for them to travel to the US or Europe for training, seminars, tradeshows and tourism. Here are a few tips for doing business in Colombia.
Colombia has distinct geographical regions and these may impact the way business is managed. On the coast, due to the heat, the locals may be more relaxed. Certainly the average labourer moves at a slower pace. Inland, notably in the department/state of Antioquia the people pride themselves for being hardworking and motivated.To imply that Colombians, across the board, operate with the ”manaña principle” would be an error. While there is a percentage of people that are still somewhat cavalier about being prompt for business appointments, generally business is taken very seriously. At times, it appears that organization is done at the last minute so it is better to allow extra time between appointments. In Bogota, this is particularly important as the city is extremely large and the roads are often very congested. Schedule your meetings well in advance but call the day before to reconfirm the time and date.
Once again the climate may affect how business is done. Due to the heat it is impractical to do business in the coastal regions in business attire. With Bogota being much cooler, business attire does apply. In Medellin, you will find a mixed approach but many people work in ”smart casual”.
Official Colombian time is UTC-5 (Coordinated Universal Time). This places Colombia in the same time zone as Eastern Standard Time, however Daylight Savings in not observed so the time is the same as New York in the winter and Houston in the summer.
The Colombian workweek is 48 hours and as a result offices have a variety of work hours commencing anywhere from 7:30 a.m. and closing as late as 6:00 p.m. Lunch hours may be up to 2 hours in length. Some businesses may work a half day on Saturdays.
Colombians celebrate many holidays. If you are planning a business trip it is advisable to avoid holiday periods. In Easter week or ”Semana Santa” and Christmas break (mid-December to mid-January) business virtually comes to a standstill. Long weekends or ”puentes” may be challenging as well.
Colombian Holiday Schedule 2013
- 1 Jan – New Year’s Day
- 7 Jan – Epiphany
- 24 Mar – Palm Sunday
- 25 Mar – Saint Joseph
- 28 Mar – Maundy Thursday
- 29 Mar – Good Friday
- 31 Mar – Easter Day
- 1 May – Labor Day / May Day
- 13 May – Ascension Day
- 3 Jun – Corpus Christi
- 10 Jun – Sacred Heart
- 1 Jul – Saint Peter and Saint Paul
- 20 Jul – Independence Day
- 7 Aug – Battle of Boyacá
- 19 Aug – Assumption of Mary
- 14 Oct – Columbus Day
- 4 Nov – All Saints’ Day
- 11 Nov – Independence of Cartagena
- 8 Dec – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- 25 Dec – Christmas Day
This is a very formal country and there are common courtesies that are important to observe. It takes time to do business in Colombia. Don’t rush a negotiation or press for a decision. Part of the business process may be very social and if you receive a invitation, accept it graciously as this is an opportunity to build the relationship. When you meet someone new, a handshake is a typical form of introduction. Once people know you better, you may be greeted with an embrace. On departing, a handshake or an embrace is usual as well.
Titles are important and unless you have a previous relationship, don’t use a first name. North Americans have become quite casual but in Colombia, use Señor or Doctor or Professor or whatever is appropriate. Age, seniority and education are important details to acknowledge.
It is adviseable to have your promotional materials translated into Spanish. While many individuals in management positions are well educated and speak English the seriousness of your intent to do business in this country will be reinforced by having your presentation in Spanish.
Some Colombians, especially professionals may actually be hesitant to speak English. If they don’t feel they speak perfectly or that they have a significant accent they may avoid a conversation in English.
Colombia is open for business. By following some simple common courtesies, opportunities abound. Allow time to build relationships. Enjoy the beautiful country, rich and diverse culture and a very hospitable people.
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