While Ghana is not the most popular destination among expats looking to set up their own business, entrepreneurs are attracted to the country mainly owing to its natural resources, industrious and well-educated workforce, as well as the fact that English is the language of the Ghanaian business world.
Ghana was ranked 118th out of 190 countries included in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. It scored relatively well for getting credit (80th) but fell short in areas such as resolving insolvency (161st) and trading across borders (158th).
For new arrivals interested in starting a business, there is much research to be done, and expats will need to take the necessary steps to understand the inner workings of Ghanaian business culture and business etiquette to avoid culture shock.
Setting up a business in Ghana
Expats can set up a business in Ghana through the Registrar General's Department (RGD).
Expats must do their research on the types of business they can set up, including a limited liability (local) company or an external company or branch. Each organisation type comes with its own requirements and investment fees. Most requirements include information on the name of the company, its directors, and the shares and capital investments.
Directors or the local branch managers require a Tax Identification Number (TIN) to register a business.
Every company that is at least partially foreign-owned must be registered with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). These could be joint ventures, foreign-owned entities or trading entities. Conditions are subject to change and so the GIPC website should be visited to see exact capital requirements based on the type of entity.
Expats should seek the assistance of a professional advisor with full knowledge of business, banking and tax law in Ghana if they wish to set up a business.
Usually, Monday to Friday, from 8am to 6.30pm, though this varies. Banks are open from 8.30am to 3pm while government institutions often run from 9am to 5pm. Shops and some banks are open on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm, though most are closed on Sundays.
Handshakes are the norm in professional settings. Expats should always address people using their titles unless told otherwise, such as Madam and Sir or Mrs and Mr.
Dressing formally is generally appropriate in most corporate environments. Businesswomen often wear modest suits with skirts or trousers, while businessmen wear suits and ties. African print material is also worn, often on Fridays.
While gifts are not necessary, they are generally welcome. Gifts need not be expensive as the thought is more important than the value of the item. Gifts should be given using either the right hand or both hands.
Women are gradually gaining more equality in the workplace. However, female representation at senior management levels remains fairly low.
Business culture in Ghana
Ghana's business environment is underpinned by impressive economic growth and steady innovation in the business sector. The work environment is a unique blend of formality and traditional Ghanaian culture. As such, respecting hierarchy and maintaining relationships with colleagues is important to succeeding in business in the country.
Ghanaian business culture is hierarchical and people gain respect as a result of age, experience, wealth and their position within a company. Older people are viewed as being wise, and not addressing seniors appropriately is considered disrespectful in Ghanaian business circles.
Professional and academic titles are valued in Ghana, so if a business contact has credentials, expats are advised to address them accordingly. Expats should wait to be invited to refer to their colleagues using their first names before doing so. While older people generally prefer to be addressed formally, the younger generations speak to one another more casually.
The concept of timekeeping in Ghana is far more flexible than it is in western business culture and punctuality isn't overly important. Expats should leave a time buffer between meetings to accommodate for earlier meetings that start or run late.
Networking and small talk
Ghanaians appreciate business associates who take the time to inquire after their health and family before beginning formal business proceedings. It's considered rude to rush initial greetings and move straight onto business.
Initial business meetings in Ghana are about business associates getting to know one another and working out whether a future business relationship is likely to work on a personal level. Therefore, expats should expect to spend a fair amount of time on relationship and rapport building and they shouldn't be surprised if no actual business matters are discussed in the first meeting.
Expats doing business in Ghana may find that the communication style among local business people is somewhat indirect. This means that people take care not to touch on topics that could cause tension. Ghanaians generally avoid turning down an invitation from a business associate and expats are advised to accept all invitations possible.
The concept of maintaining 'face' or honour is important in Ghana. Ghanaian businesspeople hate to lose face. If new arrivals ever find themselves in a situation where a counterpart could lose face or end up being embarrassed, they are likely to find the room filled with silence. Silence is a common means of communication in Ghana. If someone is uncomfortable with a question or they do not feel colleagues would appreciate their response, they will rather stay silent to avoid creating an uncomfortable situation.
Dos and don’ts of business in Ghana
Do address seniors and those with academic or professional titles in the appropriate manner. Hierarchy is an important part of Ghanaian business culture.
Do leave a time buffer between meetings. The concept of time is flexible in Ghana and meetings tend to overrun.
Don’t expect to get down to business at the first meeting. Ghanaian people enjoy getting to know their colleagues on a personal level before beginning any formal business proceedings.
Don’t use the left hand when offering gifts to a business associate or when receiving them.
Don't embarrass a business contact at a meeting. Ghanaians value the concept of 'maintaining face' and will try to avoid uncomfortable situations.