Doing Business in Chile
Expats doing business in Chile will find themselves in one of the least bureaucratic states in South America. The country is among the best-managed economies in the region and is known for being very open to foreign investment. Many international companies have looked at Chile as the starting point for managing or expanding their business in the rest of South America and, as such, numerous multinational corporations have chosen Chile, and specifically Santiago, as the headquarters for their South American operations.
The positive business environment in Chile has been reinforced by the country’s ranking in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2018, where Chile ranked 55th out of 190 countries surveyed. The country scored particularly well for dealing with construction permits (15th).
The business day in Chile usually runs from 8.30am or 9am to 6pm or 7pm, Monday to Friday, with a lunch break between 1pm and 3pm. The summer months of January and February are when most people go on holiday. It’s important to keep this in mind when scheduling meetings in Chile as it may be difficult to conduct business during these months.
The language of business in Chile is Spanish, although many executives will also speak English.
Business dress in Chile is formal and conservative. Men should wear a suit and tie for formal business meetings. Women tend to wear business suits and generally avoid wearing bright colours or excessive jewellery.
Gifts are not expected until a relationship is formed and are not usually exchanged at a first meeting. If invited to a Chilean’s house, flowers, wine or chocolates are appropriate. Gifts are normally opened straight away.
Women have made strides in achieving gender equality in Chilean business and politics, more so than any other country in South America. However, there is still an element of machismo evident in the business culture of Chile.
A firm handshake and direct eye contact are appropriate when greeting Chilean business associates. Expats should use a person’s title and last name when greeting them. If unfamiliar with their title, it's best to use "Señor" or "Señora".
Business culture in Chile
Chile has a highly educated population with a high literacy rate. As such, expats doing business in Chile will likely be working with highly qualified individuals, many of whom have been educated abroad, travel internationally and can speak English.
Status in business
Business culture in Chile is quite formal and conservative. Appearance is important, as are status and respect. Business structures in Chile are hierarchical and decisions are made at the top. It’s therefore helpful to hold meetings with top-level executives first.
Chileans prefer to conduct business face-to-face and building long-lasting personal relationships is important to doing business in Chile. Meetings will often start with polite social talk and it’s not uncommon for Chileans to ask questions about an associate's personal life and family. Business can be seen as being conducted between people rather than companies, with Chileans preferring to do business with those they know and trust. As such, concluding business in Chile can take some time and expats should exercise patience and be prepared to invest time in building long-lasting, trusting relationships.
Dos and don’ts of business in Chile
Do be on time for meetings
Do attempt to build personal relationships and be prepared for small talk prior to getting into business discussions with Chilean associates
Do maintain direct eye contact when conversing with Chilean business associates
Don't talk about politics or human rights during business meetings
Do always greet the most senior person first
Don't be offended if you are interrupted while talking in meetings; this is not considered rude but rather shows enthusiasm and interest in the conversation
Don't use too many hand gestures when speaking to Chilean associates as many may be considered rude. In particular, don’t hit your left palm with your right fist, as this is considered an offensive gesture in Chile.