Expats looking to do business in Jordan will likely find opportunities in the country’s growing economy – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the process of doing business is always a smooth one.
In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, Jordan ranked 75th out of the 190 countries surveyed. The most notably troublesome areas included dealing with construction permits for which the country ranked 138th, and starting a business where it ranked 120th. But it’s not all bad news as Jordan ranked highly in the area of getting credit, where it took 4th place and also paying taxes, ranking 62nd.
Despite any bureaucratic shortcomings, the warm nature of the Jordanian people certainly helps negate these and there has been a notable improvement to business processes in recent years.
The workweek in Jordan runs from Sunday to Thursday. Business hours are usually 8:30 to 13:00 and 15:30 to 18:30, but as Jordanians aren’t sticklers for time this can vary.
While Arabic is the official language of the country, most international business dealings are done in English. However, expats would do well to learn a few key Arabic phrases, and for the convenience of Jordanian associates, business cards should be printed in both Arabic and English.
Jordanian businesspeople are well dressed and expats should follow their example. Men should dress the same as they would for doing business in the West; smart business suits are fine, and casual wear should not be worn in an office environment. Women should ensure all sleeves are elbow length or longer and should wear high necklines and skirts that fall below the knee.
Gifts are not expected at initial meetings, but a small gift may be given if invited to a Jordanian’s home. Do not give alcohol. Sweets or flowers are appropriate as long as they’re not too lavish.
Women are underrepresented in the workplace in Jordan, but expat women report that this doesn't seem to impact much on doing business as a woman in the country.
Handshakes are the standard greeting in Jordan and eye contact is important. Men should, however, wait for women to initiate a handshake. The most senior person, usually the eldest, should be greeted first.
Business culture in Jordan
As in any new place, it may take expats some time to get used to the Jordanian way of doing business. As the state religion, Islamic ideals affect the workplace as do the strong cultural values held by Jordanians.
In Jordan, time is more loosely defined than what expats may be used to. Jordanians prefer to deal with things organically and value spending time with people and building relationships over chasing deadlines. As a result, meetings or social gatherings may often begin later than the appointed time. It’s best not to follow suit in arriving late, though, as this may be thought of as rude or unusual behaviour from a Westerner. Instead, aim to be on time but not to be early for meetings. When setting up a meeting, expats should be aware and respectful of the five daily prayer times.
Jordanians are famous for their hospitable spirit and friendly nature, and this extends to business dealings. The first five to 10 minutes of the first business meeting will often be devoted to getting to know one another, and values such as respect, friendship and trust are paramount in business dealings and personal matters alike. Often locals will take a great interest in the personal lives of foreigners and may pepper them with questions that may seem nosy or prying. Expats shouldn’t take offence at this; it is simply the Jordanian way of showing interest in getting to know new arrivals. Any social invitations should be accepted and reciprocated at a later date. If at all possible, do not decline such invitations as this could damage the business relationship.
Jordanians don’t often show strong emotions, except sometimes anger, and even this is rare. Affection is not openly expressed and public displays of it, even between a married couple, are not appropriate. If faced with a situation where they must confront someone about something, Jordanians will always do it privately and expats should afford locals this same courtesy. Having a public confrontation would cause the offending party to ‘lose face’ and this is unacceptable.
Dos and don’ts of business in Jordan
Do be patient if a Jordanian associate arrives at a meeting late
Don’t jump right into business at the start of the meeting
Don’t expect to drink alcohol as part of socialising – most Jordanians are Muslim and don’t drink
Do avoid talking about Israel or politics, even if locals seem keen to chat about these topics
Don’t ask Jordanian men about female family members – some will find this suspicious