Doing Business in Mexico

If you’re relocating to Mexico for work, you might run into some unexpected surprises or challenges when working with coworkers or conducting business. Doing business in Mexico can be quite different than doing business in the United States or other countries. Below highlights some of the glaring (and not so obvious) differences when working in Mexico.

Communication

Spanish is the most common language spoken throughout Mexico and is the official language for government purposes. Those working for large global companies often conduct business in English, but this practice is less common than doing business in some European countries, such as Germany. It is beneficial to know some Spanish when conducting business in Mexico, and colleagues will appreciate the effort to try and speak their language. When exchanging business cards, it is also considerate to have a Spanish translation if your card is in English.

Personal relationships are incredibly important, and forming a positive relationship with someone can go a long way when negotiating or discussing business. It is not uncommon to go out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner as a first meeting and have a discussion on everything but business, in an attempt to form a relationship. Decision-making will take into consideration relationships, even if this affects the efficiency of a process. Because of this, the need for trust between individuals and relationships is paramount. Unfortunately, this behavior can also encourage the circumvention of rules, sometimes leading to corruption. 

Having good taste and a put-together outwardly appearance is also a large part of Mexican culture and is reflected in the clothes local businessmen and women wear. When in doubt, dress more formally and take pride in your appearance, especially when meeting someone for the first time. For men, accessories such as watches, tie clips or cufflinks are common, while women take the time to do their hair and makeup and often accessorize with jewelry.

Timing

Another aspect of Mexican business customs that expats may find to be different is the importance of time (or lack thereof). Mexicans have a much more fluid view of time and are rarely punctual. It is perfectly acceptable to arrive for social events over an hour late. In fact, if you arrive sooner, you could risk interrupting the host as they get ready.

Because Mexicans tend to organize their day according to tasks that must be accomplished and the relationships they depend upon in order to complete them, timeliness is less important. For business meetings, it is acceptable to be five to 15 minutes late. However, it is always recommended that a new employee or visitor arrive on time, though the meeting won’t begin until the decision makers arrive. Meetings tend to not follow any type of formal agenda, and are meant for open communication and the sharing of ideas.

Tip: never question those who arrive late; there is always a reason, but it is unimportant to know why.

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Mexican workdays typically start later in the day than US or European workdays. Days may begin slowly, but it is not uncommon for people to stay late in the office to complete tasks. Mexican business people may also take a longer (and later) lunch, as it is their largest and most prominent meal of the day.

August is a popular time to take vacation in Mexico, so avoid scheduling important meetings around the month as there’s a good chance employees have plans to be out of the office. Other times when business slows is mid-December into January and the week leading up to Easter (Holy Week in Mexico).

Doing Business

Mexico has a very formal and hierarchical cultural that translates into the business world. Mexicans demonstrate great respect for seniority, and the division between classes, positions at work, and other areas of authority have great meaning and value. The Mexican workplace is heavily layered with individuals at the top having the decision-making authority. Staff in lower positions are expected to follow along and challenge as little as possible. This practice of following orders from those in greater power is also common outside of work.

Mexican behavior is generally other-dependent, with strong individual action taken to demonstrate responsibility to the larger group. Be patient – decisions aren’t made quickly. Most individuals in a business setting will seek the opinions and support of co-workers before making a large decision. When resolving conflicts, be careful as to not offend coworkers, as criticism can be taken personally and could affect personal relationships.

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Ultimately, doing business in Mexico could be described as ‘work hard, play hard.’ While Mexicans place value on achievements, they also recognize the importance of living life to the fullest. When it comes to work-life balance, Mexicans know how to walk the tightrope, rarely holding work higher than their personal life.

For more information on popular Mexico City neighborhoods for relocating expats, visit our explore page.