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Expats doing business in Argentina will quickly learn that this South American country values personal relationships and respects and defers to seniority. It also identifies more with its European roots than the Latin American influence in the country.
Argentina's economy hasn't always been the most stable historically, yet it is still one of the largest economies in South America. Its primary industries are in services and manufacturing, agriculture, information and communication technology (ICT) and tourism.
Argentina is ranked 126th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020. The country's highest scores were in the categories of protecting minority investors and enforcing contracts.
Traditionally, the workday in the provinces of Argentina is from 8:30am to 8pm, with a three to four hour siesta in the middle of the day. The labour law states that people can work a maximum of eight hours a day, and 48 hours per week.
Spanish is Argentina’s official language, but it is slightly different to that spoken in Spain. English is spoken in large cities like Buenos Aires, but less so in outlying areas. Business is conducted in Spanish and expats who do not have a good grasp of the language will need an interpreter. Business cards should be Spanish on one side and English on the other. It should be presented so the Spanish side faces the recipient.
Appearance is important to Argentinians. It is therefore important to look stylish and presentable. Argentinian dress code varies depending on the type of business meeting and industry. Business attire is usually formal and conservative. Men should wear dark business suits and women should wear suits or reserved dresses.
Gifts are not expected in a business setting until a relationship is formed. A bottle of imported spirits is a gift that is usually appreciated as tax on spirits in Argentina are high. Gifts are opened immediately when they are received.
A simple handshake with eye contact is the preferred business greeting in Argentina. The oldest or most senior associate should be greeted first. Keep in mind that Argentines usually keep close physical contact when speaking to someone.
Titles and level of education are important in Argentina. Before meeting someone, it is advisable to know something about their education. For example, if the person is a doctor, use the appropriate title when greeting.
Women have equal rights in Argentina, but there are generally more men in senior roles than women. The machismo culture also impacts the way women are treated in business. It is common for women to be subjected to supposedly harmless everyday sexism in the workplace; men in Argentina are known to deliver lewd comments. In many corporate cultures, efforts are being made to wipe out this behaviour, but it still happens. This is a real challenge for women in business.
Business culture in Argentina
Argentinians are generally family-orientated people, which translates into the way they conduct business. Close, personal relationships are valued, respect is given to older associates and more loyalty is shown to individual people than to companies as a whole.
It is common to hold business dinners in restaurants. Meals are for socialising and you should avoid talking business unless your Argentinian colleague brings it up. Usually, the person who sets the invitation pays the bill.
It's extremely important for expats to network and build meaningful relationships if they want to succeed in the business world in Argentina. Interestingly, nepotism and name-dropping are not frowned upon and even though it might feel strange at first, expats should feel free to use both these tools to their advantage.
Honour is incredibly important in Argentina's culture. Argentinians disapprove of publicly criticising or correcting a business associate. Nevertheless, Argentines can be quite direct and sometimes even blunt, but yet still manage to be tactful.
Argentines are quite expressive and emotive in their communication. They are known to ask questions that some may consider personal. It can be considered impolite if one does not ask these kinds of questions. Interrupting others while conversing is also common, and is viewed as a demonstration of interest in the conversation. Also, if there are multiple people in a conversation, Argentines may speak louder to be heard. Raised voices are the norm and do not necessarily indicate agitation.
This expressiveness means Argentines use many gestures to bring their point across. Personal space is virtually non-existent, and touching another person’s arm or back is a common and widely accepted practice. Maintaining eye contact while talking to someone is believed to show a sense of honesty and interest in the person who is speaking.
Argentines usually aim to avoid conflict or confrontation. If people disagree over a topic, they would usually address the differences in opinion indirectly and tactfully. Argentines go to great lengths to keep situations as calm as possible.
Argentinian society, in general, is rather status conscious and local business structures tend to be hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top level of the company. This makes business move slowly because decisions often require several layers of approval. Expats therefore need to show respect to those in positions of authority.
Argentinian companies can be described as having 'relationship-driven hierarchies'. It is therefore crucial to develop close, personal relationships before starting to do business with Argentines. Engaging in courtesy discussions and going for lunch or dinner with a business partner are great ways to socialise and build a strong relationship.
When arranging a business meeting in Argentina, it is necessary to make an appointment one or two weeks before the intended meeting. The meeting should be confirmed a few days before the date. Appointments should be made by email or telephone, but meetings should always be face to face, as telephonic meetings or written communication are seen as overly impersonal.
Argentines are generally punctual when it comes to business engagements, and expats should always be on time for meetings. Punctuality shows respect for the other person’s time. It's common for meetings to begin with some small talk to break the ice, and it's not uncommon for first meetings to focus solely on getting acquainted. Jumping right into discussing business may seem impolite. Meetings may not end on time, and displaying a sense of urgency may be viewed with mistrust or rudeness. It's also a good idea to have any documents available in both English and Spanish.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in Argentina
Don’t use one finger to point, but rather use the whole hand
Do make an effort to learn Spanish; it will go a long way with Argentine co-workers
Do arrive on time for meetings
Do use Señor or Señora to address colleagues if their exact title is not known
Don’t be afraid to socialise with colleagues; it is common for business associates to be friends outside of the workplace
Do show respect to those in positions of authority
Don’t raise topics relating to Argentina’s past and present political issues
Do inquire into the well-being of a colleague’s family, spouse or children